It was a much smaller crowd gathered on the beach behind Ethan’s house than there had been for the Prince’s requiem, consisting only of the Fairy Princess and people Orion had given animal names, people with whom he felt comfortable – Otter and his own Eagle Prince, the Dragon with his Butterfly, Wolf with his mate, Mistress Lioness and her pride, Panther with his Minnow and his Blue Jay, and Brown Bear and Black Bear, both with their beautiful mates as well. He knew all their names now, of course, knew the Brown Bear was Ethan and the Black was Victor, but he still saw them both ways.
Coyote arrived last with a long box from his flower shop. “I hope it’s what you wanted, big guy,” he said as he handed the box to Orion. “You weren’t real specific.”
Orion opened the lid to a profusion of white lilies and oleander. “Yes. Thank you. It’s perfect.”
He put the box down to open the crate beside him and lifted out the dragon-prow longboat he had made. Larger than his first, this one was nearly five feet long, with a red and white sail and brightly painted wooden shields lining the sides. It was heavy but he shook his head at the offers of help as he carried it to the water’s edge.
Coyote helped him arrange the flowers on the ship’s deck along with a picture of Jake and a lock of his hair. Orion’s parents had managed to salvage some things from the apartment when he disappeared, things they thought he might want again someday, mementos and letters, bits and pieces of a shared life.
When he stood, it was to strip down to his boxer briefs, and then he faced the people gathered on the sand. He stood with his feet slightly apart and his arms crossed over his chest, perhaps not the most open posture but what he had to say wouldn’t be easy.
“Jacob Sterling Moyers was the love of my life,” he began, the words coming smoothly since he had recited them in his head repeatedly over the past week. “And I killed him. I knew his weaknesses and his fears and I ignored them to further my own ambitions, to feed an ever-hungry pride.
“Jake was not a particularly brave man, nor was he very strong. He needed someone to make decisions for him and he loved strong, decisive men, even though they tended to take advantage of him, to break his heart again and again. Through it all, though, he was never bitter. He loved the world and all its wonders, found humor in most things and remained always optimistic.”
He went on to describe how they had met, how Jake’s brilliant mathematical insights had furthered his research until it only made sense for them to work together, how they had begun to see each other and finally married. Through it all he looked from one face to another, as if hoping somehow by the earnestness of his gaze to convey the true sense of who this man had been so that someone besides himself would know, would remember.
The words stuck in his throat when he reached the part about working on the Cerberus Project and what had happened there, but he held up his hand to stop Keit’s progress across the sand when he tried to come to him. He could accept no comfort now or he would break down and never finish.
“In the end, Jake couldn’t face conflict, couldn’t take a stand when he knew something was wrong, and so he died because I failed to protect him when he needed me most. This compassionate, loving, brilliant man has gone on before me and I am left to remember. And since I was not there to send him on his way, I send what I have of him into the West, as my ancestors did before me, in the hope that if he lingers still, we may help speed his journey.”
With that, he lifted the now-laden boat in his arms and waded out past the breakers. He stopped and held up a hand, a pre-arranged signal, and Sasha tossed him a lighter. The deck of the boat, lined with straw, caught first, and soon the little vessel shone brightly against the gathering dusk. The scent of pitch mingled with the scent of burning flowers, an odd and not unpleasant combination. Orion took the dragon’s tail and pushed the little boat out to sea, standing in chest deep water until the flames faded to the brightness of a single candle.
“Goodbye, Jake, love,” he murmured. “I’ll miss you. Until I find you again.”
Walking backwards so he could keep the boat in sight, he returned to the beach where he collapsed to his knees with his head buried in his hands.
Keit broke away first, unable to hold back any longer from those heartbreaking sobs. He knelt next to Orion in the sand and wrapped his arms around his shoulders, giving what comfort he could.
Lilly watched with a hint of shimmer in her blue eyes. She was a little concerned with how much emphasis Orion had placed on taking the blame for Jake’s death, but she still felt this was a step in the right direction. He was no longer numb. The scar had been ripped off so the poison underneath could be let out. It left a new wound, but this one would heal cleanly, with time.
Even without the leather glove, Orion would have known the weight and shape of the hand that fell on his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around the Otter to pull him in to his chest and curled the other arm around his Prince’s waist so he could bury his face against his hard-packed stomach. Not alone, those two warm bodies said, you need never face these things alone.
The gathering stood in reverential silence until the flames faded from sight along with the last edge of sun as it sank into the waves. Victor shook himself and moved to crouch in front of Orion.
“Come on up,” he said, a gentle hand on Orion‘s arm. “I’ll help you. Let’s get you inside and dried off before you catch a chill.”
Keit let go reluctantly as Orion rose, shaking from head to foot. It was only sense, though, since Victor was the only person on the beach who could really support the big man if he faltered.
The rest of the company began to move behind them, with Der sweeping Vincent up into his arms so he wouldn’t have to struggle on the sand. Anthony, still on crutches with his leg still in its brace, only got two steps before Jerrett took the crutches, handed them to Sasha and lifted Anthony to cradle him gently against his chest. More than one eyebrow rose at this display of tender concern but if Jerrett noticed, he pointedly ignored it all.
Ethan was probably the most surprised, although he said nothing. He didn’t think he would ever really ‘like’ Jerrett, but the tension between them had lessened since the day they had beat the crap out of each other.
He strode ahead and had a blanket ready by the time Victor brought Orion up on the back deck. Molly wove her way between the many unfamiliar legs, wagging her tail so hard she was in danger of falling over trying to garner attention. She came up and sniffed at Orion as Vic settled him into a chair. Apparently deciding she’d found who she was looking for, she sat and put her head in Orion’s lap with a soft chuff.
“Hello, little one,” he whispered and placed a huge hand on her head. It was soothing, scratching furry ears, and his breathing soon quieted to the occasional hitch. Heavy exhaustion wrapped around him. He knew he should get dressed but couldn’t get his body to move.
Ethan wrapped the blanket around Orion’s shoulders and went to start a fire in the outdoor fireplace on the corner of the deck. The beach house was pretty small, but with the sliding doors open, the living room and the deck held everyone. They did however have a guest room ready and the couch pulled out. Ethan had already offered to let Elric, Orion, and Keit all stay if they wanted.
“Ve may need to take you up on your offer,” Elric said, suddenly at Ethan’s elbow. He stripped off his gloves and broad-brimmed hat now that the sun had set, and nodded to Orion slumped in the patio chair. “He is…difficult to move far vhen he feels poorly.”
Ethan nodded. “I imagine so. The guest room is set for you, if you need anything else, just ask,” he said, and looking over at Orion, added softly, “Molly is good company for him, I think. She’s a therapy dog, she’ll happily sit there for hours.”
“Good, good…thenk you,” Elric patted his shoulder in a distracted way and then wandered back to Orion. He took the big man’s face between his hands and kissed his forehead. “It vas beautifully done, liebchen. I’m sure he vould hef thought so, too.”
Orion heaved a soft sigh and closed his eyes. “I’m so tired, mein herr. As if I’d swum for miles.”
“To be expected. In a vay, you hef traveled very far this evening. Rest, liebchen. You need do no more today.”
Orion nodded and pulled the blanket closer around him. One by one, the little ones – Sasha, Drew, Quinn, Jonathan, Cody, and finally Keit, all came to tell him how beautiful the ceremony had been. Though his heart ached for his love, Elric still found a moment’s spare amusement at how they all wanted to coddle and mother the giant who would have frightened them not so long ago.
In the living room, Anthony protested being fussed over as well when Jerrett put him on the couch and wrapped him in another blanket. “Really, sir, I’m fine. It was just a little chill, standing by the water, breeze coming in. I’m good, really, truly, see? Breathing fine and everything…”
“If you get sick, Sasha will want to take care of you and I will have to share him even more than I do now. So be quiet and get warm.”
Brandon watched the exchange from where he stood on the far side of the room. He didn’t say anything, but he thought Jerrett was just that sort of high-handed asshole he couldn’t tolerate for long. He hoped either he would go soon or Der would want to.
“Yessir,” Anthony said with a soft smile. He knew enough to read between the lines by now. ‘Shut up and do as I say’ from Jerrett was as close to ‘I love you and I worry about you’ as he would get in front of others. Funny how such an imperious order could give him the warm fuzzies.
Then Sasha was there, bending over him to give him a tender kiss, and the fuzzies turned to butterflies with flame-tipped wings. “You OK, hon? Should we get you home? You‘re so pale.”
Home. Of course Sasha meant Jerrett’s house, not Anthony’s empty, lonely apartment. He had to swallow a sudden lump in his throat before he could answer. “It’s not like I’m ever much darker. I’m good, sweetie, for as long as his lordship wants to stay.”
Jerrett didn’t acknowledge the comment, although privately he thought they wouldn’t stay long. Just enough for Anthony to warm up some. The evening had turned surprisingly cool and it was damp this close to the water. Leaving his boys (funny how as soon as he realized he loved Anthony he starting thinking of him as ‘his’, well, no he supposed it wasn’t that surprising really) he walked down the hall toward the bathroom only to find it occupied. The door opened though before he’d turned away and Der stepped out.
Jerrett gave him a charming smile, and glanced over his shoulder at the empty hallway. “If you step back inside quick I’m sure no one will see us,” he suggested with a grin.
Der cocked an eyebrow at him. Once he would have jumped at the chance. Now he wasn’t as sure. Jerrett confused the hell out of him. The image of him beating Anthony with vicious zeal still haunted him but now it was overlaid with acts of tender concern.
“Perhaps another time, Monsieur Hawthorn,” he said with a little bow. “Funerals aren’t the best thing for my libido, I’m afraid.”
Jerrett chuckled softly and brushed past him. “Perhaps another time,” he said before closing the door.
Shaking his head, Der returned to the living room, unaware that his forehead was still creased in confusion.
Brandon was not the jealous type. Really, he wasn’t. He wasn’t one of those guys that got all bent out of shape if someone flirted with his guy, or danced with him at the club. Hell, he’d even learned he could share his bed, for Der. But that look on Der’s face, after seeing Hawthorn walk down the hall just a few moments before… he had to restrain a wild urge to rush down there and plant his fist in that smug bastard’s face, and he probably hadn’t done anything. He controlled both the urge and his own expression with effort.
“I think–” Der stopped himself and shook his head again. “Bran, I think I need you to hold me a minute.”
Unfortunately, Der was not a mind reader, or he would have known that was just about the worst thing he could have said at that particular moment. The prickle of protectiveness Brandon had felt went instantly into super overdrive, and the likelihood of doing something decidedly violent to Jerrett Hawthorn went from a mild urge to a definite probability.
He came to Der’s side first though, and drew him into his embrace, steering him into the kitchen. He stroked a soothing hand over his back. “What happened? Did that asshole say something to you?” His voice was low, but there was a fierceness there that the easy going Brandon rarely showed.
Der cleared his throat before he could muster an answer, caught off guard by this side of his gentle Brandon. “Ah, well…it sort of sounded like a proposition for a quickie in the bathroom. But I think he was kidding. Probably. Gods…” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “It’s just so hard to tell with that man.”
Brandon again had to put forth a monumental effort not to follow his impulse to go charging off to tear Hawthorn’s head off. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He hadn’t said anything cruel to Der then, just slimy. Still, he didn’t know if he could contain himself much longer if he had to suffer the man’s presence. This was out of character for him and he knew it, but there was just something about the man he did not like at all. “Der, would you mind if we left soon?”
“Um…hmm…I hate to leave Ethan with a houseful of people,” Der began but something felt decidedly off here, the sudden crackle of potential mayhem, so he changed direction. “But I am a little tired today. Maybe a little under the weather.”
Now it was Brandon’s turn to look a little sheepish. “That’s total bullshit, but thank you, love,” he said, and kissed Der lightly, pulling him in close again.
Der wrapped his long arms tight around him and pulled in one slow breath, then another, then buried his face against Brandon’s throat so he could surround himself with his scent. He immediately felt steadier, cleaner, less jumbled. “All right, let’s get you out of here before something bad happens.”
Der and Brandon were the first to say their goodbyes, but others soon followed. Katya and her boys gave Orion their soothing words and took their leave shortly after Der, and Victor and Cody were next to follow. With the crowd thinning and Anthony no longer shivering, Jerrett took his boys home. Vincent, Jonathan, and Drew stayed a while longer and then it was time for them to go as well.
Lilly stayed until last. She settled next to Orion after the others had gone and took his large hand in her own. “You did very well today, Orion,” she said softly. The deepening indigo of night was falling around them, and the sky was clear and bright with stars. The steady sound of the waves coming in down on the beach was soothing and peaceful. “You have done all you can to send Jake on his journey, my dear. Now it’s time for you to rejoin the land of the living in truth, the shadow world is no place for you.”
“And how does one do that, princess?” he asked softly as he gazed out over the ocean. Keit had helped him dress again but he still felt cold and achingly tired. “I’ve lived in the shadows for so long. I can’t go back to what I did before. My brain can’t hold onto the same things anymore.”
Lilly smiled warmly at him. “No, you can’t go back, none of us can. But, perhaps you can find reasons now to go forward. Let Jake go on his journey, and you find yours.”
He stood, his hand still in hers and recited softly, “‘Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.’”
The wind picked up and blew against them, lifting Lilly’s long dark hair all about. She squeezed his hand and they both turned to go inside. She got Orion to the guest room and had him lay down, then kissed his temple. She whispered a few soft words into his ear and he closed his eyes. She brought the blanket up around him and turned to see Elric and Keit both in the doorway. They accompanied her back into the living room.
“What did you say to him?” Keit asked.
Lilly gave him a wink and tweaked his nose, but didn’t answer the question. “He should sleep very soundly until morning. I need to be going.”
Keit kissed the back of her hand, the gesture never felt weird to him when it was Lilly. He bid her goodnight and got out of the way so Elric could do the same.
Elric tucked her hand into the crook of his arm so he could escort her to her car. “Thenk you, Prinzessin, for all you hef done for us.” He felt an odd twinge of sorrow when he turned to face her. “Though I do hope ve hef the privilege of seeing you again.”
They had reached her car and she turned as he opened the door for her. “Oh, I think we shall.” She said. The wind was driving in harder now, blowing a chill air all around them. Still she took a moment, reached her hand up to cup the side of his face, and lifted up on tiptoe to kiss him ever so lightly. “The spirits are restless tonight. Go back inside and be with your loves. Good night, my Prince,” she said, and left him watching after her as she got in and drove away.
He stood a moment longer, staring into the dark, and then an odd feeling of dread drove him inside. Restless, yes. He forced himself not to run to the door, like a child frightened of the basement stairs, though his heart trembled until he had the door shut against the night.
“More things in heaven and earth,” he murmured.
“Sir? Are you alright?” Keit had come at the sound of the door closing, and although he could not say Elric looked any paler than he usually did, he certainly did not look entirely well.
The Prince managed a wan smile. “Yes, herzchen. Now I am.” The bad things are all outside. He snagged Keit by the waist and pulled him close, feeling better by the moment as that lovely, compact body pressed against him. “Much better. Let’s go to bed.”
Keit was taken a bit by surprise at the fierce, passionate kiss Elric gave him, but it only took a moment for him to respond, melting against his body, arm sliding around his lean waist. He supposed it was just relief and release, but it still left his head spinning and a bemused smiled on his face as Elric broke the kiss and took his hand to lead him to the bedroom.
Ethan and Quinn said goodnight on their way past. Ethan swept Quinn up in his arms just because he felt like it, felt like holding him close, and carried him to their own bedroom.
“My love,” Quinn whispered in his ear. “If I promise to be real quiet, will you hold me down and fuck me hard?”
Ethan mock stumbled and fell across the bed with Quinn. “Bring a man to his knees with words like that, sweetheart.” Ethan chuckled low in his throat as his lips closed over Quinn’s.
Barely contained hunger leaped up in Quinn and he answered Ethan’s kiss with ferocious need, his hands whipping through Ethan’s shirt buttons to get at his hard-packed chest.
Ethan’s fingers were less sure in the dark, but just as quick to pull Quinn out of his clothes. He didn’t question the sudden passion that swept through them both, although he thought it might have something to do with the way the wind howled around the eaves. They were both naked and spread across the blanket in no time. Ethan slowed then, despite Quinn’s urgency. He pressed his lean body down, holding his slim wrists in his hand as he kissed him lovingly.
“Want you…so bad,” Quinn whispered between tender kisses. “Want that big, thick pole buried inside me.” He rolled under Ethan as much as he could, loving the hard weight pressing him down. His lips caressed along the strong line of Ethan’s jaw as he spread his thighs and let Ethan settle between.
Quinn was always passionate, always fully into the moment, but tonight there was something more… His kisses and the way he stroked Ethan’s skin sent fires lighting all through him. It had never been harder for Ethan to take his time, make sure Quinn was completely ready for him before he eased his slippery member inside him. Even then, Quinn would not be denied and he thrust his hips up, forcing Ethan deeper, quicker than he would have.
Ethan would never ever be less than careful, but he sensed Quinn was more than ready, and he sank inside him all the way with a hard thrust that made Quinn gasp and brought a moan to his own lips.
“Ethan, babe…I’m burning up,” Quinn gasped out. He lifted his legs to lock them around Ethan’s waist, squirming against the firm grip pinning his arms to the mattress. “Harder… fuck me harder…fuck me like you wanna put me through the mattress…make me come like freaking bottle rockets.”
Somewhere in the back of his mind as he writhed and pleaded, he knew something was weird. He usually encouraged Ethan but he left most of the dirty talk at the door, afraid of conjuring scenes he didn’t want to remember. Tonight, though, tonight a phoenix pyre of desire roared through his whole body and he hardly knew what he said.
Caught in the whirlwind of Quinn’s heat and desire Ethan could only do as he requested. His hands slid down Quinn’s arms and behind him, locking tightly around his body and pulling him close as he buried his face at the side of his throat. He spread his knees farther apart, digging into the mattress as his powerful thighs and hips bucked into Quinn hard and fast, his breath coming quick as he felt Quinn’s fingers dig into the muscles of his back and his teeth fasten onto his shoulder. His head was spinning as he pounded his full length into Quinn’s yielding body. Beads of sweat rolled down his sides, and he was holding on by his fingernails from tipping over the edge. “Uhh, oh, baby…baby please come for me…” he groaned huskily.
Those words husked in his ear were the last tug Quinn needed. The heavy, heated pressure leaped to a point near pain and then hurled him over. “Yes! Oh, fuck, yes!” he cried out, completely forgetting his promise to keep quiet.
He bucked underneath Ethan, feeling as if he were flying into a thousand pieces with each hard, pleasure-soaked pulse.
Keeping quiet was the furthest thing from Ethan’s mind. The way Quinn tightened and squeezed around him sent a jolt of pure pleasure racing through his over heated body. He drove as deep as he could go and held there as the shudders on an intense orgasm pulsed through him, his own cries of delight muffled where he nuzzled at Quinn’s throat. When the last few spasms were spent he couldn’t even move, collapsed in a haze of warm bliss.
Quinn lay dizzy and panting, stroking Ethan’s back to encourage him to stay where he was, the warm bulk comforting atop him.
When he could breathe again, he kissed Ethan softly. “Love…would you do that for me?”
“If I died? Give me, you know, that kind of a sendoff? I don’t think I wanna be buried.”
Ethan’s breath caught. “Quinn… don’t say that. Please. I’ll do whatever you like, but don’t talk about it right now.”
Quinn frowned, though Ethan couldn’t see it in the dark. “Sorry, babe. I’m sorry.” He held him tight since he seemed to need it. “Not like I’m planning on it anytime soon. But we might, you know, be together a long time and stuff.”
Quinn kissed him over and over, trying to erase Ethan’s momentary anguish, and realized Ethan had almost said ‘forever’. The thought made him smile.
In the guest room, Elric raised his head, still panting from where he and Keit had made wild, madly passionate love on the floor. Most of his hair had come loose from its braid, trailing down to frame Keit’s lovely face.
“I hope he still sleeps,” he whispered, with a nod to the bed.
Keit tried to catch his own galloping breath. He swallowed hard and listened for a moment. Nothing but deep even breathing came from the bed above. He didn’t know how they hadn’t woken Orion, but whatever Lilly had done had really put him out. He slept as sound as a stone and peaceful as a lamb.
He smiled up at Elric, bringing his hands up to cup his handsome face tenderly. “I think he’s sleeping well,” he whispered back.
Elric eased carefully out of Keit’s body, much more slowly than he had entered him, and lifted him from the carpet. He laid him on the bed on Orion’s right side and then climbed in on his left.
Lilly had said to stay with his loves tonight and while he didn’t know why this was so important, every fiber of his being said it was. Unlike most nights, he nestled close and draped an arm over Orion’s chest before he closed his eyes to sleep.
January 28, 2015