Lovers with Open Minds, Friends with Benefits

Chapter 291 – Requiems

** Author’s note: This is a longer one, dear readers, but we felt it important to keep the whole thing together. **

“Is it possible? To do vell?”

“Yes, sir, it’s not tough to do with the right equipment.” Cody tamped down on his curiosity. Elric had handed him this marvelous photo of himself as a younger man wrapped in the arms of two gorgeous people who obviously adored him. He asked for a reprint since it was torn but his tone implied he was in no mood for questions.

Cody closed the portfolio and placed it on the table. “Tomorrow afternoon. I’ll bring it by.” He dared to reach out to stroke the white hand lying on the back of the chair. “Are you OK, sir?”

“Soon, my dear,” the Prince answered softly. “Soon I think I shall be.”

Elric arrived home to the quiet of his house and the storm inside him. Something wild brewed in his heart which he didn’t understand and wasn’t entirely sure he trusted. Before he could banish the disorienting turmoil, though, Keit appeared to greet him.

He seized the boy by the upper arms and backed him up to the wall where he captured his lips in a frenzied, searing kiss.

Keit was so shocked he didn’t respond at first. He had no idea what had come over his usually steady, composed Dom. He did not waste much time wondering though, before he let himself melt into the tight hold Elric had on him, his eyes sliding closed and his lips and tongue caressing back against his heated assault. Whatever it was, Keit was putty in Elric’s hands, caught up and willing to flow with his passionate demands.

“Downstairs.” Elric broke off to growl in Keit’s ear. “Strip and present.” He eased his hold and kissed Keit’s forehead gently, the message clear: I need you.

Keit slipped from his embrace with half-closed, smoldering eyes. “Yes, sir,” he breathed out. He managed to keep to an even pace until he was out of sight, then took the stairs two at a time, pulling his clothes off as he went. By the time he stood naked and ready for Elric, he was already standing at attention in more ways than one.

A few slow breaths later, Elric followed. Girded in the armor of his icy calm again, he found the steady center necessary to proceed. To approach Keit with anything less was madness. Passion, yes, that could be shared but uncontrolled ferocity would bring disaster. The boy would push and plead and believe himself in heaven while he drove his Dom to acts of brutality.

He descended the steps and walked slowly around Keit, his fingertips trailing along his skin as he circled. “Mein herz, my beautiful boy,” he murmured. “I give you the choice, as ve used to, vhen you came for sessions.” He leaned in close to Keit’s ear. “Vertical or horizontal?”

Keit shivered as the tip of Elric’s finger traced slowly down his spine. Unfortunately his brain had a short circuit to his mouth at that moment. His breath caught in his throat as a fingertip touched the little dimple at the very top of his ass. Denial definitely was a potent aphrodisiac, he couldn’t even form coherent speech he was so keyed up. “I-I’ll stay standing, sir,” he finally got out in a hoarse whisper.

“I said nothing about stending.” Elric nipped at the top of Keit’s ear. “But vertical it shall be.”

He stripped off his shirt and hung it on one of the hooks, then strolled up and down his equipment wall with slow, deliberate steps. The ritual steadied him, pulled him into the rhythm of the session. He made his selections just as deliberately and placed them on the table while Keit fought his shivers of anticipation.

When he approached again, he held only two items, both intimately familiar. No need for commands. Keit held out his hands for him to buckle on the padded suspension cuffs and spread his feet farther to ease the fastening of the leather cock and ball harness.

Everything proceeded as it would have during one of their client sessions with a few notable exceptions. Elric did not pull on his gloves as he would have then, his bare fingers caressing and petting where he would have refrained before. His lips touched down here and there as well, teasing and leaving trails of heat and when Keit was in harness, he took him into a tender embrace.

Keit trembled with anticipation. He had held things together during Orion’s discovery of who he was and the subsequent traumas and anxieties they had all faced. Even such upsetting, potentially life altering events rarely ruffled him beyond immediate emergencies. He was steady, he was a rock, he didn’t let the stress show…until he was allowed to. The build up behind his emotional walls had been almost at critical mass, and even the simple act of preparation had him shaky with need and giddy with relief. He moaned softly as Elric brushed his lips with his own and his body swayed into his.

“Steady, herzchen,” the Prince murmured gently before he bent to slide an arm under Keit’s knees and sweep him up in his arms. With a soft smile, he repeated the words he had spoken so often, “You are safe vith me. I shall not let you fall.”

He carried Keit over to the suspension rig and held him tight with one arm while he pulled the chains into reach. When the chains had Keit’s weight, he finally let go. Most subs would have needed a warm-up, a slow build to the more serious implements. Keit needed more and his desperation signaled a need to dispense with the preliminaries. Elric reached first for the bamboo switch and laid the first stripe across Keit’s left hip.

Upstairs, Orion wandered in from his workshop. He had finished the second frame as the Prince had requested, this one more suited to something one would find in a child’s room with little horses, sheep and rabbits carved all around. The open basement door stopped him, though, and the sounds…

He thought maybe he should start dinner instead. The frame could wait. Not that he was a gifted, instinctive cook like Sasha or Keit but Sasha had said anyone with a little patience who was able to read could learn to cook. Patience, at least with everyone but himself, he had in abundance now, something he had never had in his previous life. The doctors said it was due to ‘changes in the brain’. They hesitated to say brain damage but he knew they meant it.

Elric switched to a heavy cat. The variety in the pain was almost as important to Keit as the pain itself.

Keit lost track of how many times the flogger fell across his skin. His shoulders were in agony, the skin across his back and buttocks licked in flames. He could have so easily slipped into the calming ecstatic trance that came with this level of pain. He fought it though. He wanted to stay right here, experience every swish and stroke of the cane and the whip.

For the most part he was quiet, only a soft moan occasionally parting his lips. When the flogger wrapped around his thigh from behind and the very tips of two of the braids landed neatly on his balls though he couldn’t help the quick indrawn yelp. His head lolled back and the movement sent ice and fire through his shoulders. He cried out when the flogger landed again and sent more shards though him. He was in such agony and his gently curved cock stood like a flagpole from his body.

He cried out again with the next stroke, like a dam that once broken could not be stopped.

The Prince switched again, to his whip, the final implement he would only use to top off the sensations. He let it flick and kiss across Keit’s skin, starbursts of sharp pain, but he would never truly lay into him with it.

He sensed when Keit had reached the limit of safety and sanity, even though the boy would have begged for more, and he lowered the chains until Keit’s feet touched the floor. The chains still kept him standing as he lowered them a bit more and nudged Keit’s feet more than shoulder-width apart with his boot.

Mein herz,” he whispered as he eased lubed fingers inside Keit’s back door. His harnessed cock twitched and the boy moaned “You vill beg me for release. Plead for it prettily enough and I may grant it.”

Although his feet now touched the floor Keit doubted his ability to stand if the chain had not held him up. His legs trembled and he let out a heated moan as Elric’s fingers breached him. He murmured sweet encouraging things, letting his Dom know how much he enjoyed every touch and stroke, but he did not beg. Not yet.

He waited until Elric was pressed up behind him, his fly opened, the smooth head of his cock pressing into him. He begged for more, and he got it. His lithe body was slicked in sweat, he regained the use of his legs enough to push back and roll his hips, little whimpers and cries of ecstasy wrung from his lips as he built higher and higher.

“Uhh…oh, please sir… please, I’m so close now…please let me come,” he finally panted out.

Elric reached around to unsnap the harness in three swift tugs. The desperate groan he received when the blood rushed back in fully sent shivers of delight through him. He drove in for a few more strokes, letting Keit’s soft pleas wash over him like a cleansing rain.

He wrapped his arms around Keit and rested his head on his shoulder, his own climax imminent. “Now, herzchen,” he whispered. “Now. Give me vhat is mine.”

Keit’s body arched and shuddered on the last word Elric spoke. Molten streaks seemed to flow in his veins he came so hard and the release was so intense black spots danced behind his eyes.

The hard clench and release of Keit’s orgasm hurled Elric over the edge as well. He fastened his teeth onto Keit’s shoulder and clung tight, his soft moans muffled by skin as he rode out the heavy pulses of ecstasy.

He waited until he could draw a full, steady breath again before he eased out, took Keit’s weight more firmly against him, and released the cuffs. Keit slumped, deadweight, and he wondered if the boy had fainted. Ah, well, not the first time.

With a tenderness most people were never allowed to see, he carried Keit to the bed in the little room off the main one and slid in beside him, curling his body around him protectively.

Keit’s breathing slowly returned to normal, yet he did not stir, blissfully content to remain in Elric’s arms. The ache of soreness was starting to set in. Not the same as the sharp bite of pain that stirred his lust, but he would savor it nonetheless for the memory it would bring of this session. He was so happy, feeling absolutely loved and protected.

Herzchen…” Elric paused and lifted his head to sniff. “Ah. Pork chops, I think. Somevone is making us dinner. Do you think you can sit at table, my love, or vould you like to take dinner in bed tonight?”

Keit smiled lazily but said, “If Orion’s gone to the trouble to make dinner for us the least I can do is sit at the table, sir.”

They relaxed a little while longer and then Keit rose to go take a quick shower and dress before heading to the kitchen to see if Orion needed any help with dinner preparations.

Orion’s answer was to take him into a gentle embrace and kiss the top of his head. “It’s almost ready, little one. Is he coming?”

Keit nodded against his chest.

“Was it wonderful?” Orion whispered.

Keit gave a weak little chuckle. “Oh yes, more than wonderful.” He sighed happily and snuggled into Orion’s arms.

Five minutes later, their Dom appeared, showered, perfectly coiffed and pressed, and completely composed, the storm quelled. He settled in one of the kitchen chairs and rested his chin in his hand, watching his boys plate dinner.

“This Saturday,” he said softly. “I need them all here.”

Keit helped Orion carry the plates over and sat gingerly. “All, sir?” he asked, guessing that Elric meant their friends and already mentally creating the guest list and preparations that needed to be completed for such a large gathering on short notice.

Ja, alle,” Elric confirmed. “I shall make the calls myself. I esk only that ve hef enough food and drink on hend. A semi-formal occasion, I think, for vhich I expect you to make yourselves presentable. I shall do the rest.” He glanced over at Orion. “It is ready for me, liebchen?”

“Yes, mein herr.” Orion pointed over to the shelf by the door. “I brought it in to show you.”

Elric rose slowly to examine the picture frame, his fingers running over the little carved animals. “It is lovely. Marvelous. You hef such talent…thenk you.”

Throughout the city and farther up the coast, schedules were shuffled and reshuffled to accommodate the Prince’s request. Some of the invitees owed him, debts that could never be repaid, but all of them felt some strong connection to him and could not resist the call out of love or curiosity.

Leather and lycra left at home, a small horde of well-dressed, beautiful people descended on the house, Vincent a vision in velvet and silk, his boys in their best suits, Katya in a lovely green dress, cut scandalously low in the back, Der in his antique dress uniform jacket and so on. Even Anthony had opted for a suit and tie, things he normally wrinkled his nose at.

They milled about, waiting and speculating, no one quite sure what the occasion meant. Der leaned against the wall outside the dining room, a hand on Brandon’s shoulder. Bran looked so delicious in his double-breasted suit. Too delicious for words. Der pulled him close for a deep, languid kiss, his cock stirring at the barely leashed heat between them, his hand stealing down to…

“There’s my sweet pea!” An all too familiar voice called out beside him. “You could have come to say hello. But I see you’re busy. I suppose this is Brandon.”

“Um… hi, Mom,” Der got out in a sheepish murmur.

Brandon smiled bemusedly at the lovely lady scolding Der. He felt a bit like scolding Der himself for not telling him that his mother might be there. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Schiller, and yes, I’m Brandon,” he introduced himself.

Elisabet shook his hand while she looked him up and down. “Very nice. Much more handsome than some of your choices and much more polite.”

Der hid his face in his hands with a groan and looked like he wanted to sink into the floor.

She stood nearly nose to nose with Brandon, taller than any other woman in the room. “And what are your intentions regarding my son, young man?”

Brandon’s lips twitched. He adored her already. “Is it too cliché to say that I intend to keep him so happy he won’t think about going to find someone else?”

“That…” She smiled at him, her gray eyes twinkling. “Is the wisest answer I have ever gotten to that question.” With a pat to Brandon’s chest, she turned back to Der. “You hang onto this one, sweet pea. Someone with sense.” Then she was off again to greet Vincent and fuss over Drew and Jonathan.

Der raised his eyes to the ceiling. “Someone shoot me now. I’m sorry, Bran. I’d no idea she’d be here, too.”

Brandon smiled, slipped his arms around his waist and tugged him closer. “It’s alright, I’ll let it slide this time…sweet pea.”

“Please don’t call me that,” Der said in a pained voice. “I really don’t want to start thinking of you as my mother.”

Brandon laughed. “No, we wouldn’t want that,” he agreed and kissed him.

Upstairs, Elric knotted his tie for the fourth time. Lillana sat in the chair by the window, patient, silent for the moment, waiting, it seemed to him.

“I don’t seem able to do this today,” he said to her reflection as he undid the knot yet again. “My hends…wie sagt mann? I am entirely thumbs.”

Lilly stood and moved to his side, moving his hands gently out of the way when he turned to her. She deftly tied a crisp Half Windsor knot and smoothed the collar of his shirt. “You tied it perfectly the first time,” she said in her softly musical voice.

He let out a slow breath. “I go to strip the veil from things long hidden. To rip down the shutters and let the light in.” He caught her hand and pressed it to his heart. “And I delay…and think of changing my mind.”

She lifted her eyes to his and held them for a moment, then leaned up on tiptoe and kissed the tip of his nose. “I know, my dear Prince. I know. You shall be ready, when you are ready.”

He chuckled softly at her indulgence and the corner of her lips lifted in a little smile. “Now… should I go announce that you’re very sorry and have changed your mind?”

His forehead wrinkled and it was her turn to chuckle softly. “No? Then, perhaps you should make an appearance?”

“So. Yes.” He settled his jacket, smoothed back an imaginary stray hair, and tucked her dainty hand into the crook of his elbow. “If you valk on my arm, beautiful fairy princess. To give me courage.”

“I would be delighted, sir,” she said, and let him lead her out and down the stairs into the hall below.

Lilly had known, by the low murmur of voices, that there must be many people gathered, but she wasn’t quite prepared for the actual number that greeted them. The Prince’s ‘small gathering’ was a rather large crowd and she was actually glad for the firm arm she held onto now.

They did make quite a stunning entrance, even for such a sober affair. Him with his snow white locks pulled back into a neat single plait and her raven dark tresses floating about her like an inky curtain. Her habit of keeping her eyes lowered when first entering a room made the attention of their arrival fall upon Elric, until she looked up at him as well.

“Oh, dear gods,” Der whispered as he rose from his chair. “He’s reached up and plucked a star from the heavens.”

Several of the young men had followed suit out of instinctive respect for this vision.

“My dear friends,” Elric began in a voice pitched perfectly for the gathering. “This is Lillanna Willows, our counselor and friend who has been assisting in the household’s… recovery.”

Lilly hadn’t expected him to do that either, but she supposed she should have. She only knew Keit and Orion here; it would be easier to introduce her to everyone this way. Elric would have no way of knowing she was painfully shy in crowds and even more so with public speaking. Of course, the fact that her peaches and cream skin suddenly bloomed with pink roses and a whispered “Hello” barely made it past her parted lips only made her more endearing to many in the room at that moment.

Brandon poked Der gently in the ribs. “Wipe the drool off your chin, hon,” he whispered.

In an automatic gesture, Der lifted his hand to do just that and then shot Brandon an amused look. “Sorry.”

Richard leaned close to Katya’s ear. “Where, oh where, do you suppose he found that little gem?”

Kat smiled and patted his cheek. Where, indeed? She was certain the beauty on Elric’s arm had the attention of even the most determinedly ‘male only’ worshipers in the room. She glanced over at Jonathan and hid a small smile. Yes, that expression was just a shade too deliberately cool, even with his eyes transfixed. Not that he was likely to be interested, but certainly he could appreciate the aesthetic beauty. She chuckled as Vincent reached over without looking and closed Drew’s mouth.

Elric leaned in to whisper in Lilly’s ear, “I shall make proper introductions later, vhen all eyes are not cemented to you.” In a gallant gesture, he handed her into the empty chair next to Keit before he strode to the front of the room.

Once there, he swept the cloth off the little table to reveal the picture frames Orion had made. The ornate, inlaid one held the repaired photo of Elric with his Kurt and Annalise. The photo with the children occupied the newer frame with the little animal carvings. Between them sat a bowl full of rose petals and a black pillar candle, which Elric now lit.

Es war einmal ein mann,” he began, his voice steady and calm. “This is how all German fairytales begin. ‘There once was a man.’ But the stories from the Bleck Forest are often gruesome and the endings are not alvays heppy.”

He straightened and stood with one hand resting on the table as if he needed the contact. “In my previous life, I vas Joachim Wilhelm Sebastian Hohenzollern, the last Baron of Edelwald. The last because there are no more kings in Bavaria to name a successor and vhen I left, there vas no male relative remaining to take the title.”

He went on to describe his privileged childhood on the rambling estate, a strictly scheduled childhood filled with tutors and lessons, one which would have been unbearably lonely had it not been for Kurt. It was Kurt who comforted him when his father had been cruel and Kurt who had been there when his parents died, his lifelong friend whose love had blossomed into something more in their teenage years. He described their search for a Baroness, their first enchanted meeting with Annalise, the beautiful bride she had made, how happy the three of them had been.

He told them of his joy at the birth of his son, Johannes, and then the doubling of that joy when his daughter, Kara had been born. He had been a nervous father, afraid he would make mistakes, but his spouses were there to reassure him and calm him, both of them loving, instinctive parents.

“And then the day came vhen it all vas ripped avay,” he said softly, one finger running over the children’s picture frame. His words faltered and slipped now as he came to the day when he had lost them all, the fear, the horror, the numbing grief all crashing back in on him again. When he had finished, he leaned on the table with both hands, eyes shut tight, as if any movement might cause him to shatter.

Lilly noticed that all the people gathered held expressions of sympathy, some looking as if they wanted to go and comfort Elric, especially Keit and Orion, but none moved to do so. Perhaps they simply did not want to intrude on the careful walls he put around himself, or perhaps they were cautious since he was more than likely to lash out rather than accept any ‘coddling’. Well, emotional walls had never been a barrier to her, and she was not afraid of backlash if it helped him. She moved to his side and placed a delicate hand over his.

The curled lip, the beginnings of a snarl, came automatically, but someone began to sob softly. Elric heaved a ragged breath. He turned his hand to take Lilly’s fingers in a gentle grip as he faced his audience again.

“I hef kept them hidden all this time. Denied who they vere and all they meant to me. This vas not right.” He waved his free hand at the pictures, his voice cracking as he went on, “I give them beck. To the vorld, to the light. For all to see, for all to share in the joy there vas. For my new family, the vones who took a foreign stranger to their hearts, I share this, so you vill know. So you might help me remember.”

Keit finally broke, and moved forward. He wrapped his arms around Elric in a fierce hug that let him know he was not only moved by what he said and proud of him for it, but that he was there for him as well. A moment later Orion’s large arms enfolded them both.

It was a near thing. The Prince nearly wept in front of all those gathered. He wrapped an arm around Keit, leaned back against Orion and battled his errant emotions long enough to say, “Please, stay, everyone. Enjoy the night. Enjoy each other. I shall rejoin you soon.”

When he moved to leave the room, head held high, the three people who had dared to touch him went, too, Lilly’s hand tucked back in the crook of his arm, Keit’s hand gripped firmly in his, Orion’s on his shoulder. In the den at the back of the house, he broke and cried in their arms but no one else was there to see.

Drew sank down into Vince’s lap. He needed a bit of holding after that. He felt so bad for Elric; even if it was so long ago, the pain was obviously still raw.

For a moment, Vincent had his hands full. Drew rarely cried in public but he trembled against Vincent’s chest and Jonathan sobbed beside him. He wasn’t the only one, of course. Sasha had climbed into Jerrett’s lap, face hidden against his neck while Anthony knelt at their feet with his head on Jerrett’s thigh. Brandon did his best to comfort Der, though the tears crept down his own cheeks, and Victor rocked Cody in his arms.

“Here now, poor boy.” Elisabet moved her chair beside Jonathan to take him in her arms. Poor motherless boys. She half expected to be pushed away but Jonathan collapsed against her, heaving with wrenching sobs. “Sh, sh…such pretty eyes shouldn’t shed so many tears. Hush, dear.”

Amazingly, Jonathan quieted for her and let her dry his tears.

“Now,” she said more crisply. “Der Prinz has put this evening together for his friends to celebrate the ones he loved, not to have them flood his house and ruin his carpets. Come help me, dear. People need drinks, they need to get up, to talk to each other.”

There was perhaps no better way to pull Jonathan out of hysteria. He got up, kissed Vincent and Drew and followed Elisabet around the room playing host.

Drew pulled in a deep breath to steady himself. “I like Der’s mom,” he said softly in Vince’s ear.

Nearby, Brandon silently concurred although he hadn’t heard Drew’s whispered sentiment. He got Der to dry his eyes and he stood sniffling with Bran’s arm around him.

Katya and Richard joined Elisabet and Jonathan to help get everyone settled.

In the den things were settling as well. Lilly soothed and comforted all three of the men gathered. She stood next to where Elric sat and kissed the top of his head, smoothing her hand over the white silk of his hair. “You did very well, my Prince.”

There was no sarcasm, no irony in his voice when he answered softly, “So, ja, I am glad you approve.” He leaned his head against the back of the sofa. “I feel so…drained. But so light. As if I am not connected properly. Perheps I am coming down vith something…”

Lilly sat down next to him, a smile lighting her face. “That would be what it feels like when you are healing, sir.”

“Is it?” The corner of his mouth twitched as he took her hand. “It feels rather more like being turned inside out.” With his free hand, he reached down to where Orion knelt at his feet to stroke through his hair. “Are you all right, liebchen? Perheps I should hef prepared you better.”

“I’m all right.” The big man nuzzled Elric’s Armani-clad thigh. “I was worried for you, my Prince. It…it’s hard to see you hurt.” They sat in silence for a few moments and then Orion lifted his head to look up at Lilly. “I think I know what I need to do now, though.”

“I thought you might,” she said, leaving it up to him whether he wanted to share what he wanted to do or not.

Mein herr, I’d like to…think things through first.” Orion came up on his knees to kiss his Dom’s cheek. “Before I say anything.”

“As you vish, my love,” Elric reassured him softly. “Vhatever you need, you shell hef.”

Orion thanked him and was pulled in for a soft, searching kiss, which might have caught fire if footsteps hadn’t sounded in the hall.

“Sir? I don’t want to intrude, I mean, I know I am, but I wanted to make sure you’re OK. Not that you need me, not with all the help you have, and it’s not–” Anthony broke off with a foolish, crooked smile when Lilly looked at him. “Um, hello…”

Elric tamped down on a chuckle. “I’m recovering, thenk you, my dear. You look so hendsome tonight. Even a tie. This is an occasion.”

Anthony ducked his head on a grin. “Jerrett likes it. I think he likes having a leash built into the outfit as much as he likes the look but, well, you know…” He trailed off again, blushing furiously.

Lilly watched the exchange quietly. Privately she was a little surprised. Had she met Anthony on his own she wouldn’t have thought he was a submissive, but then, he wasn’t ultra dominant either. Not with the way he blushed when he looked at her.

After a moment they all rose and left the den to rejoin the rest of the gathering. As they walked down the hall, Lilly braced herself. She avoided crowds usually. Not out of any kind of phobia, but because all the emotions one found in large groups played havoc with her own balance.

A steady, rhythmic thump came from ahead of them and Elric stopped as they rounded the corner to avoid running into Vincent.

“Ah, there you are,” Vincent said softly with a little shake of his head. “Sweet spirits, the things you never told me. You may as well prepare yourself. They will swarm you when you walk back in.”

“I am prepared, brüderlein, never fear.” Elric patted his shoulder and turned to Lilly. “My apologies, my dear. The young gallant to your left is Anthony Dupree, affectionately known to his friends as ‘Mad Anthony’ and this handsome vision is Vincent Lastrada, of whom you have heard me speak so often.”

Lilly inclined her head politely to Vincent in greeting. Anthony took her hand and brushed his lips across the back of her fingers in a courtly gesture.

Vincent’s expression remained unreadable as he studied her. Finally he murmured, “You are hataa’lii. A healer. Which Way do you follow?”

Unblinking blue eyes regarded him steadily, studying him just as he had studied her. A small smile touched her lips. “My training was not the most traditional, but would be considered the red path. My father was Lakota, I learned from him when I was very young.” This small bit of information she knew would actually tell Vincent a lot. The path of the red meant she was an herbalist and spiritualist. The Lakota were one of the eastern nations, so she was probably not from this area originally

Vincent’s smile transformed his face. “Welcome to California, elder sister. I haven’t spoken to one of the People, of any nation, in so long.”

“Thank you.” Lilly said graciously. She glanced at Elric and he inclined his head slightly as if to say she was free to go off if she wished. She walked beside Vincent as he returned to his comfortable high backed chair, talking amiably as they went. Vince had not missed the subtle byplay between them.

He had to wonder how it was that she reached the Prince, made him see that he needed to release this long held grief. He hesitated to ask, it seemed vaguely improper, but his curiosity was stirred and he finally did ask.

“I didn’t reach him. Orion did.” She said simply.

“Oh?” Vincent’s brow creased and then smoothed as realization hit. “Ah. I see. It’s always been one of his favorite teaching points. Never ask those who belong to you to do what you would not.”

He gazed across the room to where Sasha flung himself into Elric’s arms, more open about offering his condolences than some. “How are they doing, the three of them? That first day…oh, sweet gods…I thought my heart would break.”

“They are…healing.” She answered, her head tilted slightly in contemplation as she watched Elric, Orion, and Keit together. She turned her gaze to Vince, cerulean blue eyes seeming to peer right into him, past every shield and barrier he so carefully kept between himself and the world. “And how are you, and your loves doing? Are you better now?”

An automatic evasion was on Vincent’s lips when he stopped himself with a little sigh. “We are…healing,” he echoed softly. One hand rubbed his chest absently, recent memories constricting his lungs. “So many disasters heaped one atop the next. It feels as if we can finally catch our breath again.”

“Mmhm…” Lilly said, and averted her gaze, knowing she had disquieted him. “If you like, I have something that might help you breathe easier… literally, that is. Something that won’t make you jittery and tense and keep you up at night like the inhalers can.”

The long fingered hand stopped its restless motion and he let out a soft laugh. “That obvious, is it? Yes, gods, yes, if you have something that will ease these tight bands around my chest, I’d be eternally grateful.”

She nodded, the silk of her hair falling forward a bit. She lifted a hand to push it back.

“Do you plan on keeping the Prince’s lovely guest to yourself all evening, Vincent?” A deep rich voice with hints of amusement asked. Having been abandoned for the moment by both Anthony and Sasha, Jerrett had wandered over to meet the lovely girl that had more than half the room wondering how long a wait would be polite before making their move.

“It had occurred to me, yes, but I suppose that would be selfish,” Vincent answered softly. “Lilly, this is Jerrett Hawthorn.”

Lilly looked up, and up, at the man standing over them. He was not ‘looming’, or at least she didn’t think he was trying to, but she supposed the impression was from the way he sort of stood so straight and regal and looked down on nearly everyone. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Hawthorn,” she said softly.

“The pleasure is mine, and please call me Jerrett.” he said, smiling his most winning smile. Despite the innate arrogance, he was still breathtakingly handsome and charming when he chose to be.

“Hey, handsome, you feeling all right?” A deep voice of a different timbre issued from Vincent’s opposite side. Der crouched by the chair to take Vincent’s hand in his. “I saw you rubbing.”

“I’m quite well, dearheart,” Vincent smiled and kissed his fingers. “And this, Lilly, is the dashing Derelict Schiller.”

Der looked up to meet those incredible eyes. “Hi,” he said eloquently.

A little smile lifted her lips, “Hello.” She replied, and couldn’t help thinking that for all Jerrett Hawthorn’s carefully exuded charm, Der, as she’d already heard his friends calling him, was twice as endearing.

Drew came up behind Jonathan as he handed out a last glass of champagne he’d been circulating with. He slid his arms around him and kissed the nape of his neck, smiling as he turned around to put his own arms around him. “Are you alright?” he asked softly.

Jonathan nodded, “Much better. How ‘bout you, sweetie?”

Drew gave a little shrug, but he nodded reassuringly. “You know, I was thinking… do you remember that episode of South Park, when all the boys started acting like grunting animals beating up on each other because one of the girls in their class had sprouted boobs?” He tilted his head slightly to where Vince, Jerrett, and Der were clustered around Lilly and David and Xavier were making their way over. “I keep having flashes of that every time I glance over there.” He snickered.

Jonathan laughed, causing several people to glance over. He didn’t care. “You’re not gonna get involved in the testosterone rush to piss on her beautiful leg?”

Drew looked almost startled by the question. “Are you kidding me? No way!” He said just a little too vehemently.

A little sound caught in Jonathan’s throat, then another, and he nearly choked on trying to swallow the guffaw that wanted out. He took Drew’s face between his hands and kissed him tenderly. “Christ, I love you. You’ve got to be the sweetest thing on earth.”

Drew unexpectedly felt a flush of heat at the tender kiss and Jonathan’s words. He melted inside and pressed closer, completely forgetting the roomful of people around them. Jonathan just had that effect on him. He kissed him back, just as tender and sweet, but the kiss lingered a bit longer.

A light feminine laugh drifted over to them and Drew glanced at the growing circle again. Lilly had laughed at something Xavier had said, which was not all that unusual. If the dark scowl on Jerrett’s face was any indication it was something at his expense. Drew shook his head, amused. “Do you want to take bets on which one she picks?” he whispered in Jonathan’s ear.

“We should get two choices, since it’s such a broad field,” Jonathan said with a too-serious look of concentration. “Now, if she has any taste at all, she’ll pick Vincent. But he’ll gracefully and regretfully decline, so I have to count him out of the running. Hmm…there’s beauty over there and brains and drop dead, charming dominance, grace and wit and…I bet she picks the goofball.”

Drew was just as carefully going over the selection although silently. Xavier had made her laugh, that tinkling bells sound that was so sweet he nearly heard a collective sigh from the group of admirers. And Xav looked exceedingly hot this evening… ok, stop checking him out. Was Jon right maybe? Der was just as good at coaxing a laugh, but he was more mature than Xav. She was so quiet she might appreciate that. Or was he just being biased because it was Der and Drew couldn’t see anyone resisting Der?

His eyes went to Jerrett and then back to Lilly. She had politely cut her laugh short and she was looking at him, those bright, bright blue eyes still sparkling. The dangerous, arrogant prick? “She’s gonna pick the most dominant, if any of them. I say Jerrett.” Drew said in a hushed voice to Jonathan.

“She’s a fool if she does,” Jonathan growled and then shrugged. “But there’s no accounting for taste, I guess.” They watched a moment longer, Drew’s head nestled on Jonathan’s shoulder, until Jonathan chuckled. “Oh, now, there’s a wrench in the works for you.”

In a black kilt, leggings and dress boots, Chrysalis slid through the larger bodies to claim the chair next to Lilly since all the admirers were standing. Chrys took her hand, obviously making introductions, and lifted Lilly’s fingers to kiss them.

“Shame on you both. Putting bets on a girl like that.” A voice scolded from behind Jonathan and Drew, making them jump a little, although his voice had been as low as their own. “And you’re both wrong.” Keit said, the scolding tone giving way to amusement. “Now, Drew if you would be so kind, go wrap yourself around Der and get him back to Brandon. He’s looking a little bewildered over there. And Jonathan, please go and distract Xavier before Jerrett decides he’d rather have him and we have an all out brawl. I’ll go get Jerrett.”

“Um, ok. But why?” Drew asked.

“Because, honey. She’s going to want to talk to Chrysalis and the others are just going to frustrate her.”

Jonathan’s forehead crinkled in an endearing way. “So the boys are making all that fuss over her and she’s gay? Um, or maybe not…since I still don’t know about Chrys.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Dammit, I’m confused.”

“No, as far as I can tell she prefers men, at least I’ve never seen her with a woman, but then I’ve never asked.” Keit gave a little wave of his hand. “I just think she’ll be interested in Chrys, that’s all. Now scoot.” Keit headed off to gather Jerrett up, which was a bit of a task, but as soon as he discreetly got his attention over to Sasha and Anthony, who were looking awfully cuddly together, it was easier to move him off in that direction.

Drew moved toward Der and got him talking about music, although he definitely seemed distracted during the conversation.

Another silvery sound caressed over the gathering and Drew nudged Der gently, nodding to how Lilly laughed at something Chrys whispered in her ear.

“Oh…um…” he cleared his throat and swept Lilly a courtly bow. “Such a joy meeting you, Ms. Lilly. But I do need to steal Vincent away to hash through some graphics questions.”

Vincent arched a brow. “Now?”

“Yes, now. You know how my sieve brain works. If I don’t talk to you when I’m thinking of it, I’ll forget.”

Then Vincent caught the hint as well and rose to follow Der to a quiet corner across the room while Jonathan wrapped his arms around Xavier and distracted him quite thoroughly.

Lilly noted the tactical scattering of the circle that had formed and silently thanked Keit. She smiled at Chrysalis. “Keit must think highly of you, you’re the only one he didn’t chase away.”

Chrys chuckled. “The Prince is the undisputed master of his house but Keit is what keeps the household running.”

Lilly’s eyes found Keit for a moment and then came back to Chrysalis. “He’s happier now.” Her lovely heart shaped face tilted slight, regarding Chrys intently for a moment. “You have…unusual energy.” She said softly. “You are sensitive to… things, no?”

Chrys looked at their joined hands, then back up with a little smile and a wink, whispering, “I see dead people.”

Lilly smiled softly as if something had just clicked into place. “Ah, you are a Spiritwalker.” She searched her eyes for a moment, trying to determine something else. “One foot in this world, one in another. Neither one or the other…” She blinked and took a breath, looking down as if embarrassed that she might have intruded where she was not welcome. “Do the spirits trouble you?” she asked quietly, hoping she hadn’t offended him.

A long pause followed where Chrys regarded her carefully, that brittle, fragile look Syren knew so well creeping in. The smile returned on a little sigh. “Not…usually. I know they’re there. Most of the time they go about their business and I go about mine. It’s only when there’s a terrible concentration of negative energy. Those frighten me sometimes, when there’s hate and rage and violent intentions. They tell me I’ve had…seizures…”

Across the room, Syren wrapped an arm around Keit. “You’re such a little manipulator, you know that?”

Keit gave her an apologetic look and nodded towards Lilly. “Does this bother you?”

“Watching Chrys courting? Gods, no. It’s not something I get to see often. Lilly’s the first person Chrys has approached in, oh, I can’t even tell you how long.”

Lilly’s brows pulled together in a tiny frown. “You can keep them out, if you want. Do you know how?”

“I do.” Chrys nodded. “But sometimes people come to me. They need help. I…try not to say yes anymore but they can be so desperate, so frightened. It’s hard to turn them away.”

Lilly’s small smile turned rueful. “I know just what you mean.”

Warmth lit up Chrys’ gray-green eyes. “Somehow I knew you would.”

~*~

Xavier followed Jonathan off a ways from the mingling group of people gathered. A glance told him Dave had wandered over to talk to Vic and Cody. When he looked back Jonathan was leaning close and Xavier gave him a soft smile. “You didn’t stay long enough for me to say good morning the other night.”

“You,” Jonathan tapped the end of his nose. “Sleep way too late for me. And besides, I had to go get myself in trouble at home.”

“I do not sleep too late, you just get up way too early.” Xavier said. “I’m almost afraid to ask… what did you get in trouble for?”

Jonathan tried to look serious and contrite. It almost worked. “I surprised the lord of the manor in bed with another lover. I was…caught off guard and he was very annoyed with me. So he gave me to his new lover and forgave me because I’m so beautiful.”

One arm looped lightly around Jonathan’s waist Xav gave him a knowing look. “Mm, so you pitched a hissy fit and Vince figured the best way to shut your mouth was to put a dick in it. Such a smart guy, that Vince.”

Jonathan poked him in the ribs. “So crude.” He tsked.

Xavier grinned and leaned closer to his ear. “You like it, don’t try and pretend.”

“Doesn’t mean you’re not crude. And it wasn’t in my mouth, anyway, so there.” His green eyes danced with amusement, wondering why Xav didn’t ask the obvious question about who it had been.

The answer to that of course was that Xav had already guessed who it must be. Vince wasn’t likely just to pick up a total stranger, and the only one close to them right now that wasn’t already sharing their bed was Der’s new dreamboat.

“Well, I owe you breakfast sometime anyway,” Xav said. “I didn’t want you to have to sleep on the couch.” Which was his way of also saying he was sorry things hadn’t exactly gone as planned with Dave coming home early.

“I know that, babe,” Jonathan said softly. “Don’t worry about it.” He gave Xav a little kiss before he moved off to talk to Elric.

 

Drew stepped out into the hall and looked down toward the end where he saw Xavier step into the bathroom. He walked down the hall and leaned up against the opposite wall, arms crossed and hands cupping his elbows while he waited for Xavier to emerge. A few moments later when the door opened and Xav looked up and smiled at him he almost lost his nerve. He took a deep breath. “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?”

Xavier took in Drew’s stance, noted the slightly nervous tone and determined expression and thought, uh-oh. His smile didn’t fade but his eyes took on a slightly more guarded cast. “Sure, sweetheart. What’s on your mind?”

Drew tilted his head, indicating they should move somewhere more private and Xavier followed him down the hall a ways further. They stepped through an open door into the now empty den.

“Please don’t tell me you’re secretly in love with me and want to run away. That might complicate things,” Xavier joked.

Drew didn’t even crack a smile, and Xavier had to wonder how bad this was going to be.

“Xav…I don’t want to stir up any shit, but can you… couldn’t you just leave Jonathan alone?” There, he said it.

Xavier blinked at him, for once no immediate response coming to mind. Then the surprise settled into confusion. “Um…ok. Drew, what’s this about?”

“Nothing. I just…just don’t want you taking him home again, ok?”

Xavier’s expression softened a bit. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, because he could tell Drew was a little upset, but he couldn’t resist teasing him a little. “Well honey, if you’re jealous I could ask Vince if you can come with us, too.”

Drew rolled his eyes. “I’m not jealous.”

Xav grinned. “Sounds like it to me.”

“I’m not.” Drew said, exasperated. “Look, just don’t, ok? Leave him alone. Don’t you have enough to choose from?”

Xavier arched a brow at him. While he was perfectly willing to grant his request if it was bothering him, now he felt like being contrary. “Drew, what’s the problem? You didn’t mind before.”

Drew stared at him for a moment, wishing now that he hadn’t gotten into this. He sighed. “He came home after being with you and was so upset he started snapping at everyone and was just an emotional mess. I don’t want him upset like that, and I don’t want you to use him like that.”

Xavier went very still, his expression frozen and for a moment they just stared at each other. Drew finally looked away, feeling uneasy. “Xav…”

“Fine.” Xavier cut him off tersely. “I’ll stay away from him. Happy?”

“Xav, I didn’t mean…”

“I said fine.” Xav snapped. “Get lost, Drew.”

Drew looked at him again, thought about saying something more and thought better of it looking at his shuttered eyes and hard expression. “Okay…thanks,” he murmured and turned quickly to leave. He hurried back down the hall.

“Yeah, sure. No fuckin problem,” Xavier muttered to the empty room. Instead of going back out to rejoin the others, he crossed the room to the window and looked out over the back garden. He crossed his arms and leaned against the window enclosure. He hadn’t used Jonathan. Not anymore than Jonathan had used him. They both wanted each other and went off to go fuck like mad and then return to their normally scheduled lives. What was the big deal?

Sitting in the corner with Der and Brandon, Vincent hadn’t missed all the comings and goings. When Drew reappeared, looking fetching in his suit but as if someone had just slipped ice down his back, Vincent waved him over.

“My kestrel.” He waited until Drew’s hand settled in his. “Someone has upset you.”

Not for the first time, not even the hundredth, Drew cursed his inability to keep whatever he was feeling off his face. No matter how hard he tried, if he was angry, or upset, or horny it was like a beacon turned on to broadcast exactly what he was feeling. He leaned close to Vince’s ear, knowing already that saying ‘nothing’ was wrong would not be accepted as an answer. “Can we talk about it later? It’s not a big deal.”

“All right, my love. As you wish.” Vincent pulled Drew into his lap and wrapped his arms around him.

Victor had already had enough of socializing. True, he was fond of almost everyone there but after Elric’s memoriam, he felt raw and emotionally drained. Not really the right state for him to be in to engage people in light conversation. He left Cody chatting with Quinn and wandered down the hall for a few minutes of quiet…

…and came upon a too familiar scene. Xav with his arms wrapped tight around himself, staring out the window.

“Xav? Sweets? What’s wrong?”

“Huh? Oh, hi Vic.” Xavier said, looking up, obviously coming back from somewhere distant. “What’s up?”

“What’s the matter?”

Xav lifted one slender shoulder in a shrug. “Nothing. Just thinking.”

 

“Mm, yes, I see that much.” Vic stepped over to stand beside him and share the view of the garden.

 

This time both shoulders went up, the shrug a little more defensive and his arms still wrapped around him tightly. “Really, Vic. It’s nothing. I don’t want to… I don’t want any kinda problems stirred up, especially not here and not today. Anything like that happens and you know everyone will think it’s all my fault, right?”

 

“Well, it generally is,” Vic answered deadpan. He turned to Xavier and opened his arms when his teasing fell flat. “Come here, sweets. God. Telling me what’s wrong isn’t ‘stirring up’ anything. There’s no one else here. Just you and me.”

 

Xav hesitated only a moment, and then leaned closer, letting Vic’s strong arms close around him. It felt so good he relaxed a little more against him, turning his face to lay his cheek against his chest and suddenly he felt his throat close up like he was about to cry or something. It was ridiculous. There was nothing to cry about.

 

“Drew asked me to stay away from Jonathan, that’s all.” He murmured, feeling like he was six years old tattling on the class bully, which was even more ridiculous because it was Drew, who couldn’t bully his way out of a paper bag if he had to. “He thinks I used him. Dave did, too. And since Drew said he was upset when he went home, Jonathan thinks so, too.”

 

“There now, that wasn’t so hard,” Vic murmured into the top of his head as he held that lean body tight. “Though I do think you’re jumping to conclusions. Evidently so did Drew. Jonathan gets upset about a lot of things. Most of them having to do with things he doesn’t want to remember. It may or may not have had anything to do with you.”

 

He stroked Xavier’s hair. “And this whole ‘using people’ nonsense you keep getting so hung up on…everyone uses other people. To greater or lesser degrees. I think what upsets you is that you’re not always quite sure why.”

 

Xavier frowned slightly but he didn’t pull away. Even if Jonathan hadn’t gotten upset because of him, and even if Drew was making assumptions, that didn’t explain why Dave had questioned his motives for bringing Jonathan home. He remembered Dave quite venomously accusing him of using that guy they’d ended up picking up on the ski trip. He’d pretty much accused him of the same thing again, albeit more gently this time.

 

He lifted his head and looked up at Vic. “Well then why are they all acting like I did something wrong? I didn’t do anything wrong, I followed all the rules, and I still get treated like a fuck up.”

 

Victor took his face between his hands, his dark eyes sad and tired. “Has Jonathan said you upset him?”

 

Xavier shook his head.

 

“And has David implied, said, or acted in any way that makes you think he is anything but concerned for you?”

 

“That’s just it, Vic. He’s concerned.” Xav blinked and the teardrops clinging to his lashes finally fell. He took a ragged breath. “He goes out and finds someone else and it’s a mistake, he just let his libido get in the way. I bring home someone he knows, someone he’s ok with, and it’s gotta be because there something wrong with me. Like I wanna get back at him, or I wanna drown everything out with sex.”

 

“Xav…” Vic pulled him close again and let him cry. The problem was that with Xavier, both of those things were probably true on some level. But that was an issue for his therapist, not for a well-meaning friend. “You might recall that he tried to kill himself over his ‘mistake’, my sweet. It’s not as if he just shrugged it off. And if he worries over your motives, it’s partly because his own can get pretty tangled.”

 

~*~

 

Drew put his head on Vince’s shoulder. He was silent for a while, watching the room. As the minutes started to slip by and Xavier didn’t reappear he thought about getting up and going to find him. He kept thinking about how he looked, eyes slightly hooded, a blank stare. He’d thought Xav had been pissed, but…maybe he’d been hurt. The more he thought about it the more he fidgeted and chewed on his bottom lip and fidgeted some more. Finally, he couldn’t stand it anymore and heaved a sigh. “I think I hurt Xavier’s feelings,” he blurted out to Vince.

 

“Ah.” Vincent’s hand stroked his back in soothing circles. “And why would you do such a thing, my love?”

 

“I-I didn’t mean to.” Drew said, his cheeks heating now with shame. “I just…I asked him to leave Jonathan alone.” He said so softly even Vince had to strain to hear.

 

“Drew, my darling, my own…” Vincent kissed his cheek with a little sigh. “If such a thing were necessary, who do you think would be the most appropriate person to say it?”

 

“I know…I know. But, I wanted him to leave him alone. Jonathan doesn’t think he did anything wrong, and you don’t think he did anything wrong, but I know something wasn’t right, I know Jonathan came home upset and he felt like Xav used him or something. I just didn’t want him to see him upset again.”

 

Vincent wondered if another Dom would have been angry at such a breach of authority. Probably. Most likely. He simply felt…what? A little sad, a bit tired, perhaps. He smoothed a curl out of Drew’s eyes. “I love you,” he murmured. “I love that you want to slay dragons for Jonathan. To protect him and keep his heart safe. But perhaps if Jonathan was hurt by what Xavier did, it should be Jonathan who says so.”

 

Drew slid his arms around Vince’s neck and buried his face at the side of his throat. “I’m sorry, Vince.”

 

“My love, I’m not angry with you. And you’ve done nothing to hurt me.”

 

Drew pulled back to look at him. “Should I go… should I say something to him?”

 

Vincent kissed him softly. “I suppose that depends on what you say.”

 

“I’m sorry? I didn’t mean it? Please don’t be a bitch and snap my head off?” Drew cleared his throat. “Well, not that last part.”

 

“Not a bad start.” Vincent gave him a little smile and a nudge. “Though, the last I looked, I’m not Xavier.”

 

“Thank god,” Drew said under his breath. “Or we’d be in big trouble.” He kissed Vince and rose, taking a deep breath as if girding himself, and headed back out and down the hall where he’d last seen Xav.

 

The door to the den was still open and Drew stepped in, at first only seeing Vic’s broad back and just as he thought he’d ask him if he’d seen Xav, he turned slightly and saw that he had him in his arms. He also saw that Xav had his hand up over his face and his shoulders were hunched and… oh, god, Drew felt about as low as he could get. Damn.

 

His face crumpled and drained of color as he moved closer. Both Vic and Xav heard him and turned at the same time. “Xav… I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

 

Xavier swiped an arm over his eyes and glared back at him. “I told you it was fine, Drew. Just go away.”

 

“No, it’s not fine. I didn’t have any right to speak for Jonathan. I’m really sorry.”

 

“Oh, so the first time you weren’t really sorry?” Xavier said, just to be spiteful.

 

Drew took it in stride, though. “I meant it both times. Please Xav, it was a stupid, shitty thing to say. I was a total jerk to even bring it up. I know you wouldn’t hurt Jonathan on purpose.”

 

There was a tense few moments and then Xavier sighed. “Yeah. You’re a stupid jerk. Aren’t we all.” He lifted his arm and made a beckoning gesture until Drew came over and he put his arm around his shoulders, bringing him into the circle of Vic’s arms as well.

 

Victor heaved a shaky sigh as he wrapped them both close. This better be the end of the drama tonight. I can’t take any more. “Stupid jerks or not, our hearts are in the right place.” He kissed the top of Xavier’s head and then Drew’s. “You’re good boys. There are reasons why people love you that have nothing to do with the physical.”

 

He gave them a few minutes since they both clung to him fiercely. “Now, then. I know several people who might get worried and come looking for the two of you. And here I am with you snuggled in my arms. From a territorial standpoint, how do you think that would look?”

 

“Dave would want to know if anything was going on, then watch, or join.” Xavier said without batting an eye.

 

Drew nodded. “Yep. Jonathan too.”

 

“Hm, four beautiful boys, all for me,” Vic said with a wistful sigh. “Nice thought, maybe another night.” He gave them each a little smack on the butt and sent them on their way.

 

Drew and Xavier walked back in together, but separated almost immediately. Xav, because he wanted to go see Dave, and Drew because he saw Vince and Jonathan talking and walked over to them.

 

Neither one asked if everything was settled since the entrance together said it all. Jonathan wrapped his arms around Drew and pulled him close, though he murmured to Vincent, “Look, Vince, my own knight in shining. Can we keep him?”

 

Dave turned from where he was talking with Ethan. “Hey, sweets! What’s–” He broke off and took Xavier’s face between his hands. “Love? You’ve been…” His eyes hardened as he asked, “Who made you cry?”

 

“Nearly everyone here’s been crying. It was a sad thing.” Xavier evaded.

 

Dave’s eyes told him a storm was brewing and he wasn’t buying it. Xavier sighed. “Not the time or the place, hon. And I’m alright, so please, later. OK?”

 

“I don’t much fucking care about time and place,” Dave growled, so low no one else could hear. “Someone’s hurt you and he’s gonna pay for it.”

 

“Christ, Dave,” Xav muttered under his breath. He looked around at the room full of people. “C’mon then.” He took Dave’s hand and led him out. He headed toward the conservatory where at least it would be private and quiet. They walked and he told him about what Drew had said, and that he’d already apologized.

 

Drew…well, that put a damper on Dave’s fire. He listened, wide-eyed, and slid swiftly from ferocity to pensiveness. He stopped at a bench and sank down, staring at his hands.

 

“Well, I guess I can’t really slug the little guy. I mean, not again.” He looked up at Xavier who still stood, arms wrapped around himself. “Especially since…it wasn’t just Drew who made you cry, was it?”

 

Xav sank down next to him and pulled his heels up onto the edge of the bench, wrapping his arms around his legs so he could rest his chin on his knees. “No. I guess not,” he finally said.

 

“And here I was all set to go after that Hawthorn creep. I was so sure it was him.” Dave rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “And it’s me instead.”

 

He let out a hollow bark of laughter that made Xav wince, surged up and started pacing, his hands scrubbing through his hair. “Fuck, fuck, fuck…dammit, Xav, even when I’m trying to do the right things, I hurt you.”

 

Xavier closed his eyes, suddenly very tired. “Yeah, and you’ll probably do it again. And I’ll probably do something to hurt you again. It’s just how things go.” He opened his eyes again. “It’s not your fault, Dave. Maybe Vic is right. Maybe I get so upset ‘cause you hit too close to the truth and I just don’t see it right away. Or don’t want to see it.” He stayed just as he was, arms wrapped tightly around his up drawn legs. For a moment or two he felt like he was going to cry again but he swallowed it down and blinked any tears back. He didn’t want to upset Dave anymore than he was.

 

“Xav…don’t…” Dave got out in a choked voice and flung himself back onto the bench to wrap Xavier in a fierce embrace. “Don’t shut down, swallow everything whole. I’m here… I’m here… I love you so. I worry…I’m sorry…I can’t help it. I’ve spent most of my life worrying. And sometimes the stuff you do is gonna mean something and sometimes… sometimes a banana is just, you know, a banana.”

 

Xavier put his head on Dave’s shoulder, his face pressed against the side of his throat. He made a strangled sound, half chuckle, half sob, at what Dave said. He took a shuddering breath. When he lifted his head, he brought a hand to Dave’s cheek, fingers caressing lightly. He touched his lips to Dave’s in a tender kiss, and another, softly seeking more.

 

A little moan, as much relief as desire, rose from Dave’s chest. He cupped the back of Xav’s head and tilted for a better angle, tongue caressing Xavier’s lips in a silent plea. Xav opened for him, their tongues caressing slowly. There was no desperation, no guilty, hurried spark of lust. Instead, the tender heat grew slowly, building on soft touches and sweet murmurs.

 

“I love you…” Xav murmured between breathless, heated kisses.

 

Dave pulled back, his eyes wandering over the beauty of Xavier’s face. “And I love you, sweets.” He combed through Xav’s hair. “But you were right about time and place. It does seem kinda…disrespectful to take you here, in his orchid garden, after his eulogy and everything. Maybe we should make it an early evening, though, yeah? And when we get home, you can do whatever you want with me.”

 

“Anything I want, huh?” Xav said, his voice taking on that husky edge that Dave knew so well. He kissed a soft line of kisses down his jaw until his lips touched the base of Dave’s ear. “How about if I strip you naked, tie you down to the bed…” He breathed in a soft whisper. “And then paddle you until you’re brick red with a plug deep inside you…would you like that?”

 

Dave’s head fell back on a dizzy moan as all the blood rushed from his head. “Christ… yes…oh, yes.”

 

Xav took his earlobe between his teeth and nipped him, hard. “Let’s go back then, have to be polite and stay for a while, no?”

 

“Yeah,” Dave managed on a gulped breath and straightened his tie. When he stood, he held out both hands for Xav with that heartbreaking little-boy smile. “Do I get to have the gag, too?”

 

Xavier slow smile was full of seduction and heat as he slipped his hands in Dave’s and stood, but he shook his head slowly from side to side. “Oh, no… I want to hear you scream.”

 

“”K.” Dave laughed. “But you’ll have to explain things to the cops when the neighbors call them.”

 

Xav chuckled. “Well, maybe just a little gag.”

 

“Oh, good,” Dave stage-whispered to the nearest orchid. “He does love me.”

 

Back in the massive dining room, Orion kissed his Dom’s cheek and left his side to wander across the room. Ethan stood talking to Cody, with Quinn tucked under his arm, Cricket lying at their feet. Orion crouched down to pet the pretty dog. He did love dogs, though he knew the Prince would never allow one to live with them. Too messy.

 

Cricket thumped his tail but otherwise stayed where he was, giving Orion’s hand a little nuzzle and a lick of greeting.

 

“Keit told me you hand-carved the frames for the pictures of the Prince’s family, Orion. They are really beautifully done,” Ethan said with the warm appreciation of someone who understood working with their hands and the genuine craftsmanship involved.

 

Orion raised his head, a hint of anxiety lurking in his bright blue eyes. “Thank you, sir. Could I…speak to you a moment?”

 

Ethan’s smile was kindness itself. “Of course. Here, or is it private?”

 

“I…suppose it doesn’t make much difference.” Orion shifted to one knee, his gaze returning to Cricket as he went on, unaware how much the supplicant he looked. “Your house, sir…it has beach access, doesn’t it?”

 

“Yes, it does.”

 

“I’d like to….to use it as a staging point. For…” He heaved a breath. “For Jake’s farewell.”

 

“Sure you can, Orion. Is there anything Quinn and I can do to help?”

 

Orion shook his head, struggling. Just saying Jake’s name still caused him to break down. Dear God, would it always be that way? “Not until then,” he finally forced out. “I may need help…carrying something.”

 

“All right.” Ethan said. “You just let us know when.”

 

The little gathering began to break up around ten. Dave and Xavier had left first, which was a little surprising, but Der had seen the embers smoldering in Dave’s eyes and decided it wasn’t surprising after all.

 

Now he stood in the front hall with his mother, just the two of them, wishing her a good night.

 

“Do you really like him, Mutti?” he asked softly, feeling twelve years old again.

 

“Oh, he’ll do, I suppose,” she said with that too-serious face. When he rolled his eyes, she laughed. “Yes, yes, I like him. He’s able to laugh at himself. And he adores you. Much better than that T–”

 

“Don’t, Mom, please,” Der interrupted softly. “No comparisons.”

 

She leaned in to kiss his cheek. “I’m sorry, sweetpea. If this is more than just a fling, I’m very pleased.”

 

“You think Papa would have liked him?” Der couldn’t help the question.

 

“I think he would have preferred you pick the nice, handsome vet.” She smiled at his exasperated sound. “He would have teased you and grumbled about this and that, but, yes, I think he would have liked Brandon very much.”

 

Der stood at the door and waved as she drove off, a warm glow around his heart.

 

 

 

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