Lovers with Open Minds, Friends with Benefits

Posts tagged ‘Cody’

Chapter 299 – Selective Closets

It really was a stupid thing to get upset over. Derelict kept telling himself so. There were things Brandon needed to be cautious about. That was that. Too bad the scene insisted on playing over and over in his head.

 

Dinner out at a nice restaurant had been Bran’s idea, a little celebration just because. Dressed and pressed, they sat at the intimate little table at the window, chatting and laughing softly, until a couple approached.

 

“Grant! Hey, what’s up?” the man called out and reached for Brandon’s hand.

 

They both rose in deference to the cute little blonde with him.

 

“Oh, hey. Der this is Mike. Same profession, different ladder company, and his wife Lisa. Guys, this is my friend, Der.”

 

His friend.

 

It had felt like Brandon had kicked him in the stomach but he kept the smile frozen in place and kept up the charm long enough for them to go away and for dinner to be over. Once home, he shed the finery and locked himself in the bathroom, unable to lie to Brandon and unable to tell him what was bothering him. It was simply too ridiculous.

 

Brandon didn’t need Der to tell him something was wrong, nor did he need to guess what was wrong. He’d known the moment Der had shut down at the restaurant, and exactly why, although he didn’t know what to do about it now.

 

He sat on the sofa with Smoke on his lap and envied the contented way he purred as if all was fine with the universe. Occasionally he glanced at the closed bathroom door and wondered if he should knock. What was he going to say to Der though? ‘I’m sorry I’m too much of a coward to tell everyone about us’? That was the truth of it really, and it didn’t matter that he had good reason to be afraid.

 

It was more than just a fear of the harassment and hazing he might have to put up with if everyone knew. Being completely out in his line of work was more than just risking his job; it was risking his life. Every firefighter depended on his fellow firefighters. Every one of them would risk his life if another was in trouble. It was almost unimaginable that a firefighter might do less if, say, he did not approve of the other guy’s ‘lifestyle.’ Almost unimaginable, but Brandon could imagine it, and it was not entirely unfounded.

 

Still, he had never felt more ashamed than he did now. To deny what Der meant to him like that… Funny how one little thing could totally fuck up your happiness. He supposed it all came down to choices. He had choices, certainly.

 

Option one was to give up Der and any thought of ever having a relationship with anyone to protect his job. That was never going to happen. He’d rather shoot himself now and get it over with.

 

Option two was to ignore what happened, give Der a bunch of hollow reassurances, live with the guilt and the knowledge that he was a total coward, and of course that little fear in the back of his head that someday someone at work would find out.

 

Option three was to quit. Find a job where it didn’t matter if the world knew he loved another man. As painful as that option was, it was the cleanest. It was also completely unfair, but that was just life.

 

Der sat on the bathroom floor in his boxers, wiping away the occasional silent tear. Any minute now, he was going to get up, go to Brandon, and tell him he was sorry for being such a drama queen. He understood. Truly, he did.

 

It had nothing to do with the fact that everyone Der knew was made to understand that Bran was the love of his life, that even the boys down at the body shop knew, that even the greengrocer down the street knew.

 

No, he couldn’t think like that. Brandon was in a dangerous profession. He’d almost lost him once. If sharing such things would put him at risk, Der didn’t want him to. He could be Brandon’s dirty little secret. He could.

 

At the moment, though, he couldn’t get up off the bathroom floor.

 

A moment later, he heard a soft knock on the door.

 

“Der? Can I come in?” Brandon asked hesitantly.

 

“Yes…no!” Der snagged the towel off the rack to dry his face. “All right.”

 

Der might as well have not bothered. Brandon opened the door slowly, took one look at him and wished more than anything that he could turn back the clock a few hours. Just this once. His gaze dropped to the floor, unable even to look at Der. He felt like the biggest jerk on the planet. “Der, I’m sorry,” he said in an anguished whisper.

 

“No, no, love!” Still on his knees, Der flung himself at Brandon to wrap his arms around his waist. “No…you…you did what you had to. I’m an idiot for getting all worked up over something…like this.”

 

“No, you’re not an idiot. You have every right to be upset. It was a shitty thing to do,” Brandon said, putting his arms gently around Der. “It’s not right, Der. I love you more than anything. I’ve never been more ashamed of anything than what I did tonight. You deserve better.”

 

Der sniffed and buried his face against Brandon’s hard stomach. “I don’t want better. I want you.” Now that hadn’t come out right at all but he was so jumbled and flustered.

 

A short bark of laughter tinged with bitterness around the edges escaped Brandon. “I didn’t mean it like that love. I meant you deserve to be treated better, by me. You’re not getting rid of me that easy.”

He sighed, and since Der didn’t seem to want to get up he lowered himself to his knees and wrapped his arms around Der. “I can’t do this, Der. I don’t ever want to do that to you again. I don’t want to hide who I am, and I certainly don’t want to hide you.” He took an unsteady breath. “I don’t care what the consequences are. I won’t ever do that again. I want everyone to know I love you.”
“You’re just determined to make me cry tonight, aren’t you?” Der got out in a choked whisper. He wrapped his long arms tight around Brandon and tried to get his stupid tears under control. “Gods. I love you so.”

 

He let Brandon soothe him, rocking and shushing him. It felt so good.

 

Finally, he could raise his head to look at Bran again. “Maybe…it’s not as scary as you think. I mean, Chris knows. And he doesn’t think any differently of you.”

 

Bran gave Der a little smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Chris is a good guy. He’s also got a brother that’s gay. He’s more open minded than some, a lot more than others. Der…” He shook his head and sighed again. “Yeah, you’re right. Maybe it won’t be so bad.” He didn’t believe that, but he wanted to. He really wanted to, for Der’s sake as much as his own. He knew some of the guys he worked with would be OK with it if they knew, and he knew which one’s were going to be trouble, maybe in a big way. But, he said it, he’d made his decision, he wasn’t going to go back on it now.

 

“Hon, it’s not like you need to stand atop the ladder truck and shout it to the world.” Der ran his claws through Brandon’s hair. It made him uneasy, that he had driven Brandon to this. “Not like you have to wear a sign or anything.”
A grin that was a little more genuine curled the corner of Brandon’s lips. “What? You mean I don’t have to plaster the back of the truck with rainbow stickers? I don’t have to get ‘Homo’ tattooed on my forehead?” He stopped because he could see his joking was not putting Der at ease.

 

Bran slid his hand to the back of Der’s neck and leaned in until their foreheads touched. “Let’s say a week or two from now we’re out someplace and we run into someone else and I introduce you as my partner. That guy goes to the bar with some buddies and says ‘Guess what? Grant’s a fag’. Those guys go to work and tell their buddies. Then for the next few months, I got to put up with the looks and the whispers and those brave enough, or worried enough, to ask if it’s true. Believe me, middle school girls got nothing on the gossip mill a fire station can generate.”

 

“I don’t want it to be like that. I’d rather just put it all out on the table and that way there’s no question.” He paused for a second and kissed Der. “You should know I don’t do things halfway, love.”

 

Der nodded, putting on a shy smile as he watched one claw trace a pattern in the bathroom rug. “So you are planning on standing atop the ladder truck and shouting?”

 

“Well, maybe something a little more subtle…that is, if…um…well, there’s this picnic coming up. Maybe that’s not a good idea though. I don’t want to put you through any crap if someone gets ugly.”

“Right. And kids. There would probably be kids. Moms get a little freaked out around me.”

 

Now Brandon was confused. He didn’t know how to do this. On the one hand, he wanted to protect Der, on the other he wanted to be sure Der knew he didn’t want to hide him. He sat back on his butt, knees bent and arms draped loosely over them. He tipped his head back until it hit the counter behind him and he sighed. “I don’t know what to do.”

 

Der’s sharp teeth flashed in a little grin. “Wanna throw a party?”

 

Bran thought about it for a moment, trying to picture what it would be like to have their friends mingling together… best not to think on that too much. He looked over at Der. “All right.”

 

“Good.” Der pulled him close again. “You invite the firehouse and I’ll invite a few of my less…extreme friends.” He kissed the side of Brandon’s throat. “And now I think you better take me to bed, hon. I’m exhausted.”

 

#

 

“And this should offend me, it seems?” Elric’s soft voice sounded amused. It was hard to tell.

 

“I just didn’t want you to hear it somewhere else, my Prince, and wonder if I no longer loved you,” Der said into the phone with a soft smile.

 

Ach, no, mein schatz. No need to frighten the nice firemen,” came the dry answer. “Truly. I do understend. This shall be difficult enough for Brandon as it is.”

 

The calls to non-invited guests had been difficult but everyone was in a cooperative mood, more or less. Syren seemed a bit hurt, though she said not, and Chrys explained in a later, whispered phone call that she had a thing for firefighters. Imagine that. And Anthony had sulked but someone had come to distract him during the call, presumably Jerrett since there had been some mention of him needing to use his mouth for other things right then.

 

The night of the party, Der braided his hair back, kept his jewelry small and understated, and dressed in a pair of black slacks and a wine red button-down shirt. Not really his style but for Brandon he was willing to make sartorial sacrifices.

 

Ethan and Quinn arrived first, and Chris and his wife Angie were next. They sat and talked and kept Brandon occupied while they waited. Cody and Victor arrived at the same time as Dave and Xavier. Brandon glanced around the room and had to wonder if this was really such a good idea. The urge to tell everyone to forget it and just go home was eating at him. Not because he was ashamed of Der or them, not because he was worried about what anyone would think, but because he was worried for them.

What if one of the guys from the station started making stupid comments? What would he do? He could not shake the feeling that he had set all his friends up for an ambush, only he wasn’t sure which side was doing the ambushing.

Then it was too late, as some of the guys from the station started arriving, some of them with their girlfriends or wives. Brandon played host, made introductions, and felt like he was a million miles away from reality. He had no idea what he was doing or saying anymore.
Jonathan arrived alone, fashionably late, with apologies. Vincent had managed to pick up some sort of food poisoning from the take-out salad Drew had brought him for lunch. Naturally, Drew felt it was entirely his fault for not protecting Vince from invisible microbes, so he had stayed home as well to play nursemaid.

 

This was perhaps a mixed blessing. After the fire at the condo, Jonathan had sent flowers to the station as a thank you, then went one better and handed out cards to each of the fire fighters so they could send a bouquet of their choice to wives or girlfriends. Most of the people Brandon had invited knew Jonathan and of course, it was no secret that he was gay. That was no problem when he was simply a victim of a nasty arson or the friendly, grateful florist.

 

That he was here though, on a personal level, created a bit of confusion. His professional charm firmly in place, Jonathan had no problem mingling, mostly with those same wives and girlfriends who had been the recipients of his floral creations, and he had them talking and laughing within moments. The atmosphere began to feel more like a party and less like a formal gathering, but a hard to define undercurrent of tension crackled in the air.

 

Brandon stood talking with Chris but he kept an eye and an ear on the rest of the room. He could almost watch it happen, as if Jonathan’s arrival made things click for the straight people. If he were a little more removed from the situation, it would have been funny. Barring Jonathan, most of the gay guys in the room could ‘pass’. Vic worked construction, Ethan was a vet, neither one of them threw off any serious gay vibes. The first thing people noticed about Quinn, other than he was remarkably handsome, was that he was blind, and then they focused on the dog. Der was big and had a lot of other distractions going on. Dave looked like the boy next door. Cody might have raised a flag or two but he was playing it very low key. Xavier was the only one who had ruffled a few feathers, but he seemed to be an equal opportunity flirter and so walked that line of ‘is-he-or-isn’t-he’?

 

Jonathan might as well have walked in and pressed a buzzer that sent the guys racing for their gear and sliding down a pole. Only this pole was more likely to be found at the club Xav worked at than the one these guys were used to. Oh god, he was going to start laughing, he couldn’t help it. Gene, the guy who had been talking to Xavier suddenly got a look on his face like someone had mooned him. Jim was looking around with his brows together like he was working on a particularly difficult puzzle. Al was slowly turning his head, scanning the room, and all he was missing was a cartoon balloon over his head saying “Leaping lizards, Batman! Everyone here is g-a-y!”

 

Brandon started to snort, and coughed to keep the hysterical giggles in check.

 

Chris elbowed him. “Keep it together, Grant.”

 

That did it, sent him right over the edge. With his hand over his mouth, he nearly ran into the kitchen busting up laughing. Just when he got the laughter back under control, Der came in and his arched brow and puzzled look sent Brandon off into another hysterical gale of giggles.

 

Der put his arms around him, grinning. “I’m that funny? I haven’t even told a joke yet.”

 

Brandon wiped his eyes, holding his sides and pressing his cheek to Der’s chest. “Sorry…sorry. It was just so damn funny, watching them figure it out.”

 

“Figure what…?” Der chuckled when he understood. “I see. So apparently, you have to have defective gay-dar to qualify as a firefighter. Interesting. Learn something new every day.”

 

Xavier was simmering slowly but so far he’d managed to be a good boy. Gene, the guy who had been talking to him, needed to shut up. He was acting like Xavier had just sprouted a second head or something.

 

“Hey, are you a fag or what? Cause I’m not into that, so just…” He made a little gesture meant to ward Xav off.

 

Xavier rolled his eyes. As if. “Don’t worry sweetheart, big and stupid isn’t my type.”

 

The comment either went over his head or he chose to ignore it. “Yeah, well, whatever, just stay away from me.”

 

Xavier smiled, he heard Cody draw a sharp little breath and call his name in a soft warning, but he ignored it. He’d had just about all he was gonna take from this asshole. “I wouldn’t fuck you with someone else’s dick,” he said, sugary sweet.

 

Gene curled his lip in disgust. “Ugh! Shut the fuck up, you little faggot pervert!”

 

That might have been the end of it since Xav had pushed the buttons he wanted to and got a spectacular reaction out of it. Unfortunately, Dave stood within earshot. He whirled and stalked over to Gene, aggression oozing from him.

 

“What. Did. You. Call. Him?” He spat out each word as if it were poison but he wasn’t waiting for an answer. Index finger stabbing at Gene with each syllable, he stood nose to nose with the fireman. “You apologize to him or I feed you your own fucking testicles.”

 

Gene backed up a step, but only so he could get a better shot. Brandon, who was coming out of the kitchen at just that moment, caught his arm before he ever got a chance to swing.

Xav had come up behind Dave. He didn’t grab his arm, he knew better than that, but he put his hand on his back lightly. “Let it go, hon. Not worth your time,” he said softly.

 

The growl he got in response told him Dave’s hackles were up way too far for soothing words. His eyes remained locked with Gene’s. “You got a problem, man? You some kinda queer basher? Maybe get your kicks rolling people half your size?”

 

“Fuck you!” Gene spit back. “I don’t give a shit what you diseased homos do, just keep the little fucking fairy away from me! Don’t breathe in my air space unless you want a problem!”

 

If Gene had been looking for the worst possible thing to say at that moment, he managed to do a damn good job. With a fierce cry, Dave launched, swinging with little regard to who might be in the way.

 

“Dave! Oh, for fuck’s sake…” Xavier grabbed him, only because Brandon still had hold of Gene. The shove Dave gave him sent him flying backward until he came up hard against the wall. “Vic!” Xavier shouted. He was probably the only one who could stop Dave at this point.

Now Brandon had a dilemma. He’d grabbed Gene to keep him from swinging, but he wasn’t going to hold him back so Dave could beat the shit out of him, even if he did deserve it. Instead of letting go, he turned, putting himself between Dave’s charge and Gene.

 

Half the room had lunged towards the combatants while the other half scrambled away. Consequently, Victor’s interception of Dave was delayed for a crucial half-second, and Der, closer and terrified Brandon would be injured, hurled himself in harm’s way.

 

In the flurry of fists and flailing limbs, pain became inevitable. Dave got in one good shot at Gene’s jaw before other bodies got in the way. Whose fist slammed into Der’s eye was more difficult to puzzle out. Victor reached them and seized Dave in a hard bear hug from behind, trapping his arms to his body and dragging him backwards, kicking and bellowing.

 

When the proverbial smoke cleared, Victor had Dave sequestered in the bedroom, Brandon and Gene stood glaring daggers at each other, and all six and a half feet of Der lay unconscious on the floor.

 

“Get out!” Brandon snarled at Gene. “Just get the fuck out!”

“Hey, that dude got in my face first!” Gene shot back.

“Oh yeah? And why is that? Because you’re a bigoted asshole? Because Xavier was fine to talk to until you realized he was gay?”

“Bi, actually,” Xavier said with a little cough. “I like girls, too.”

Neither man said anything to that.

“Whatever, Grant. You can hang out with your little queer friends, don’t expect me to be around ’em,” Gene said as he headed toward the door.

“Hey, Gene…” Brandon called after his retreating back. “You better get used to it, cause I’m one of those ‘queers’, too.”

Gene stopped at the door and looked back at him with a glare of shock and disgust, but he said nothing and slammed out.

The room was particularly quiet. Brandon looked down at Der, wanting nothing more than to gather him up in his arms, but Ethan had him already and Brandon had a room brimming with people staring at him. He rubbed the back of his neck with an agitated hand and blew out a breath. “So, uh… that’s my little announcement of the night folks. Anyone else doesn’t like it, well, there’s the door,” he said with a tired sigh.
“Oh, my God!” Jonathan called out from across the room in his best TV drama queen voice, his hands on either side of his face. “Brandon’s gay?”

 

When all eyes turned to him, as he knew they would, he strolled to the center of the room, his most charming smile in place. “Seriously, ladies, who here’s really surprised by that? Show of hands…”

 

One older woman put up a hesitant hand and put it back down with a sheepish look.

 

“Right.” Jonathan held up a finger and prompted. “And that’s because…?”

 

“The nicest, hottest guys always are,” Angie supplied with a shaky grin.

 

“Why, thank you,” Jonathan beamed, hand fluttering over his heart. All the women in the room giggled; they couldn’t help themselves. He knew the sitcom version of gay had its uses, especially with a straight audience.

 

“So, that means Der’s, like, Brandon’s boyfriend and stuff?” One of the blonder girlfriends said with evident disappointment. “Aw, man….”

 

That got a bigger laugh and Jonathan decided the bad moment was over. “All right, let’s get cleaned up here. Everything’s all right, folks.” Go about your business, nothing to see here… He almost had a hysterical fit of giggles himself at the thought of a social traffic cop. “Ethan, maybe Der might like to rest a bit in quiet?” He turned toward the wall. “Xav, you OK?” He got a nod and continued directing as Ethan gathered Derelict‘s long frame up in his arms. “Get some ice, hon, bring it along.”

 

Xavier retrieved the ice cube tray from the freezer and a dish towel and followed Ethan into the bedroom which was where he wanted to be anyway. Brandon came too and as soon as they were through the door Xavier handed him the ice and went to go check on Dave, who seemed to have settled down, though Vic still had a hold of him.

 

“You OK?” he asked.

 

Dave gave a tight-jawed nod, eyes squeezed shut. Settled, yes, but with the fight taken from him, he still had to fight the battle inside. “I’m sorry, sweets…” he got out between clenched teeth. “I’m so sorry.”

 

“He’s just realized what he promised Katya about these sorts of occurrences,” Vic said in a dry tone.

 

“What he promised…?” Xavier’s puzzled expression suddenly cleared. “Oh…oh, that…um, that guy really had it coming though, you know? I mean, we don’t have to tell Kat, do we?” Xav asked, looking hopefully between Vic and Dave.

“Yes. You. Do,” Vic answered sternly. “For David’s peace of mind if nothing else. He could have just had words with the cretin. He didn’t have to go after him. Not as if you were in any physical danger.”

 

Except from Dave himself. Xavier crumpled a bit, but he stopped and tried to blank his expression, caught between wanting to be mad and not wanting to hurt Dave.

 

Despite being in the teeth of adrenaline shakes, Dave didn’t miss it. He pulled loose from Vic and fell to his knees at Xavier’s feet. “Love…I’m sorry…that creep…I couldn’t stand him talking to you like that. Xav…do you wanna slug me?”

 

Xavier put his arms around Dave, leaning into him and holding him. “No. Although, I reserve the right to change my mind after Kat’s done.” He sighed and kissed the top of Dave’s head. “I love you, babe. You didn’t need to go after him like that. It was just words. I’ve been called worse.”

 

“But you shouldn’t have to put up with it…” Dave sighed and nuzzled at his stomach. “I love you, too, sweets. And I’ll give you a free shot when Ms. Kat’s done.”

 

A soft moan came from the bed followed by a muttered phrase that sounded suspiciously like, “Death before dishonor but neither before breakfast.”

 

“I think he’s alright.” Ethan said dryly.

Brandon leaned down from where he sat on the edge of the bed and kissed Der lightly. “How do you feel, sweetheart?”

“Dizzy.” Der reached up to cup Brandon’s face, the eye not covered in ice full of concern. “Are you all right? Did they hurt you?”

 

Brandon smiled. “No, not at all.”

 

“There, see what I told you? This wasn’t so bad.”

 

Brandon gave a small, incredulous laugh. “Oh no, not at all. Just a heap of sneering contempt and an all-out brawl. No problem.” He looked over at Dave and Xavier. “I’m sorry to have put you guys in that situation. I knew Gene has…issues, but I really didn’t think he’d say anything nasty, not out loud, not here in front of everyone. I’m sorry.”

Xavier gave a little shrug. “It’s OK, Brandon. Don’t worry about it. If you go around apologizing for every asshole and his big mouth, you won’t be doing anything else but saying you’re sorry. It’s not your fault.”

“Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” Der raised a finger towards the ceiling. “And it was just one idiot, after all. He’s probably a closet queen anyway.”

 

Not too much longer after that they all rejoined everyone else in the living room. Brandon was somewhat surprised, pleasantly, that no one else had left, and everyone seemed to be getting along just fine. A couple of the guy’s he’d invited looked a little uncomfortable at certain points in the evening, but there were no further hostilities.

 

Edie, the Lt’s wife, a mature woman with grown children of her own, fussed over Der and made certain Dave had ice on his hand as well. “I’m just glad you finally found someone, Brandon,” she said at one point. “And someone so sweet, too. Trying to protect you like that. I was starting to worry that you’d always be alone.”

 

“Well, um, thanks…” Brandon said, blushing just a little bit. He looked over at Der and smiled. “You don’t know how glad I am I found Der.” He said in a soft voice meant for her ears alone. “He is the most incredible person I’ve ever met.”

Der sat on the sofa with his feet up on the coffee table and Electra in his lap, talking to Jim, who was on his fourth beer.

“So, um, can I ask a personal question?” Jim picked at the label on his bottle.

“No, I will not give you the name of my manicurist,” Der said with a mock-offended sniff. He relented with a grin. “Of course. Ask away.”

“Who…I mean which one of you…” Jim rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “God. Which one of you is the guy?”

Der blinked his one visible eye slowly, his expression completely serious as he answered, “We take turns. Brandon has us on a strict schedule. Whoever has on the lace panties that day is the girl.”

“No shit?” Jim breathed out, doing his best impression of a carp.

“Yes, complete bullshit. I was kidding.” Der chuckled. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist. We’re both guys. Not like we can be anything else. I think you mean who takes top.”

His face fire-engine red, Jim ducked his head and nodded.

“Do you always do the same thing in bed with your girlfriend?” Der prompted gently.

“Well, no, but…”

“So it’s not that different. It’s not as if we have to do things one way or another. You just do what strikes your fancy at the time, right? Well, so do we.”

“It’s just kinda, you know…weird. Trying to picture Brandon kissing another dude,” Jim said quietly.

 

Brandon dropped onto the couch beside Der, kissed the corner of his mouth gently, and handed him the drink he brought over for him before turning his attention to Jim. “One man’s weird is another man’s hot,” Bran said. “If you don’t like it you don’t have to picture it.”

 

“Don’t get defensive Brandon, I’m not judging,” Jim said quickly.

 

Brandon wasn’t so sure, but he relented and tried for a reassuring smile. “Nothing’s changed, Jim. I’m still the same person. I don’t ogle the guys in the shower any more than you do. I’m not going to start hitting on everyone over pizza and beer when we go out. What I do in my personal life didn’t make a difference in how I do my job, and it won’t change how I do my job now that you know.”

 

Jim’s smile was a bit rueful. “I know that, Brandon, and I’m sure the LT knows that. Not everyone is going to feel the same, though.”

 

“You think I don’t know that?” Brandon asked. “I think we had proof enough tonight that it’s not just going to go smooth as pie.”

 

Jim looked at Brandon seriously. “I wish I could tell you that Gene’s the lone asshole at the station and that’ll be the end of it, but that wouldn’t be doing you any favors.”

 

“I know, Jim.”

 

“Then why did you say anything? I mean, you kept quiet about it before now. Why couldn’t you just keep it to yourself?”

 

Brandon started to bristle but he knew Jim wasn’t trying to be an asshole, he genuinely was concerned and thought Brandon might have been better off keeping his mouth shut. Brandon could hardly blame him when he’d had to think long and hard about it himself.

 

“Don’t ask, don’t tell? That about it?” Bran asked mildly. “What if I told you the same? What if someone made a rule that said you weren’t allowed to talk about your girlfriend or even acknowledge her existence in front of other people? Would that be okay with you? Could you pretend the person you loved didn’t exist?”

 

Jim went quiet, and so did several others who had been not-so-unobtrusively listening to their conversation. In fact, pretty much everyone in the room had gone silent and was now looking at Brandon thoughtfully.

 

Until Xavier slowly started clapping his hands. “Bravo, baby! You tell them, if they don’t like it, they can fuck right off!” He laughed, and suddenly the living room burst into applause.

 

Brandon looked pink around the ears but he lifted his beer and drank to that.

His eyes huge, Der couldn’t recall how to speak. This man had been afraid to introduce him in the restaurant as his lover mere days before. The thought came to him that he had better not ever ask Bran to do any home improvements. The whole building would end up in renovations. When his Bran made up his mind, he sure as hell didn’t do things by halves.

“Sweetheart,” he said in a small voice. “You can’t go around making speeches like that.”

Brandon looked at him in shock. “Why not?”

“Because it’s just about the hottest thing ever, and I don’t think you want me falling on my knees, begging and pleading, in front of company.”

Brandon leaned in and claimed Der’s lips for a longer kiss. “Who says I don’t?” he asked with a teasing smile. He stopped Der before he actually moved to do it, though. “When you’re feeling better, that is.”

 

Der grinned. “And here I thought my sweetheart was such a good boy, bashful and polite.” He rested his head on Bran’s shoulder with a gusty sigh. “What a relief. I don’t have to hide the whips and chains anymore.”

 

Ever the consummate flirt, Xavier leaned over the back of the couch to stage whisper in Der’s ear, “Shh…you’ll scare the straight people.”

 

Der clapped a hand to his cheek in mock horror. “There’s straight people here? Why didn’t somebody tell me?”

 

Jim, so uncomfortable a moment before, convulsed with laughter.

 

Brandon smiled as he looked around at his friends. Despite his uncertainty and hesitation about coming out, he was glad now that he had decided to do this. It was the sort of relief that only came after carrying a secret so long and finally unburdening yourself, the kind of happiness that came when you stopped living a lie and told your truth to the world. He felt wonderful. Whatever else might come, at that moment he didn’t care, he couldn’t be any happier with who he was and whom he loved.

Chapter 298 – New Place

Chapter 295 – Viking Burial

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.

 

 

 

Chapter 271 – Dominion (1)

The cavernous open space of the university gallery’s top floor had been divided into three rooms for Cody. The installation had been strictly under wraps, without graduate student assistance or anyone unauthorized permitted inside. Victor had helped with the heavy lifting, Derelict with some of the more hazardous items, like the ceiling work, and Nightshade with some of the more delicate things.

The official opening would be that evening but the afternoon was for a special showing, for two notoriety-shy Doms who would not appreciate the stares and inane questions of gawking gallery crawlers.

Elric tucked Katya’s hand into the crook of his elbow, an odd nervousness lodged in his stomach. “Are you ready, Prinzessin?”

Katya gave him a warm, sensual smile as she curled her fingers around his arm. “I am, my Prince.”

The plaque outside the installation read ‘Dominion of Ice and Diamonds’, a title Elric felt a bit ostentatious until he stepped through the doors. Two steps inside he stopped, struck speechless in wonder. Here were Cody’s palaces, writ large, floor to ceiling constructs of shapes fantastic enough to have made even mad King Ludwig drool. Lights shone behind the palaces, the myriad prism effects pulling the eye this way and that.

Amidst these soaring, glittering palaces were the pictures taken in Elric’s front room. A sign on the wall declared the room’s title to be ‘The Prince’s Court’ and he had to chuckle at how Cody had created just that feel, with Orion kneeling at his feet and Keit at one point on the arm of his ‘throne’ and Anthony coming to kiss his hand in greeting.

Katya had of course stopped with Elric, as bemused as he at the fairytale feel of the room. Cody created such lovely things. However, she was more drawn to the Prince’s reaction. She watched him from the corner of her eye as he looked around.

“Amazing, is it not, my dear?” he said, the slight tremor in his arm belying the cool irony of his voice. “Vhat position should they all hold, do you think?” He nodded to the photograph that showed Orion standing behind the throne, arms folded over his massive chest. “Ceptain of the guard, perheps?”

Katya chuckled softly. “Hmm, I think your lovely Keit would look adorable as the harlequin.”

He let out a short bark of laughter. “You may be right. Though I might hef picked Anthony as more the jester sort.” He cocked his head to one side. “My Keit has the physique for a harleqvin but the temperament of a chancellor. Anthony vill simply hef to be content vith a knighthood. He does look good on horsebeck.”

The plaque for the next room held the title ‘Mentor’ and the change in mood became immediately apparent as they stepped through the doorway. Huge mirrors lined all four walls, reflecting the photographs and the onlookers into infinity. Sharp stalactite shapes hung from the black ceiling, lending the room an air of danger. Here the pictures were all from the gallery, the ones with Elric and his huge, antique sword followed by the shots where he showed Victor how to wield the monstrous blade.

“He is such an impressive specimen,” Elric murmured in appreciation, able to see now what Cody had captured so perfectly.

“Yes, he is,” Katya purred, but she wasn’t looking at Victor, for a change.

One white brow arched at her tone and the direction of her gaze but Elric was too polite to inquire further. They moved on into the third room where the world of glass and light changed yet again. Here crystal streams and diamond waterfalls flowed over the floor and down the walls, an optical illusion of constant motion. Tiny pieces of polished glass adorned the ceiling, hundreds of them like stars on a cold, clear night.

Here Cody had arranged the photos in a double narrative. Along the right wall, the pictures showed Elric being undressed and getting into bed. Along the left, Katya floated down the hallway, the pictures manipulated to appear as if snow fell around her, giving her a soft, mysterious outline. On the far wall, the two came together with Katya approaching and settling on the bed.

They looked at them all but Elric stopped longer in front of the one where their lips met in a soft kiss. He fought against the feeling, once again, that the woman beside him was someone else.

They both stood for a few long quiet moments. Katya tried not to intrude into his thoughts, but it was hard not to be infected with his pensive mood. “Elric,” she finally said softly. “I am not her, I’m sorry,” she said with the infinite empathy of one who knew loss as well.

“I know, Katya. I do know.” He turned to her to say something, then shook his head and looked up at the ceiling instead, at the little stars. “Despite my taking the name of a prince out of a fantasy novel, I do live very much in the real vorld. I hef lost. So hef you.”

Katya’s gaze moved from him back to the image of them together. Cody had captured perfectly a feeling of yearning between them, and also strangely a certain innocence. The spill of Katya’s honey blonde hair as she leaned forward shone as a bright spot of gold amid all the white and silver and dark wood in the background. He had used the shot where their lips barely touched, top and bottom, a small space still between the crease of their lips, as if those lips would part in the very next moment for a more passionate endeavor.

Katya knew she must look an awful lot like the woman Elric had lost, but she couldn’t imagine she was much like her otherwise. She would probably have been soft and sweetly submissive, not weak though. Elric did not choose weak. Probably someone who was a mite better at offering comfort, too.

He lowered his head to give her that twitch of an ironic smile. “It vas long ago, my dear. More than helf your lifetime ago. I hed both a wife and a husband. Did you know thet?”

Of course she didn’t. Only Keit knew. He didn’t wait for an answer before he took a step away from her and offered his hand in a courtly bow. When that perfect, elegant little hand settled in his, he straightened and swept her up in a strange, silent waltz.

“Another time. An older vorld. My Annalise and my Kurt,” he said with a soft smile. Strange, when he had spoken to Keit about them, he had collapsed with grief. Now, with Katya, it felt…better to talk about it all, something of a relief. “He vas strong. A prectical man. Good vith his hends and much more sensible than I at thet age. But he vas sweet and gentle and needed somevone to follow, to believe in. She vas beautiful. But thousands of girls are beautiful. She had a sharp mind and a sharp tongue sometimes. Sharp enough to push an arrogant young buck off his high horse vhen he needed it. But she could not stend to see me hurt. She–”

He stopped abruptly, both speech and movement. “She vas my shield against the vorld.”

Katya lifted her fingers to his cheek and he looked at her with a small, sad smile. “They sound lovely, Elric.”

“Yes, they vere lovely.” He brushed a stray strand of gold behind her ear. “I hef kept them locked safe in my heart all this time, esking the universe vhy I, the one I felt the least deserving of us, vhy I hed survived and not them. Perheps it is not fair to their memory to keep them in a cold, sterile vault any longer.”

Elric’s fingers brushed her cheek as he moved his hand from tucking the tendril behind her ear and Katya turned her face so her lips brushed against his palm. A small spark passed between them, undeniable electricity.

He let out a soft chuckle. “Vill you rebuff me again, my dear? It is your right, of course…”

Katya’s warm fingers slid to the back of his neck as she turned her face up to his. “It was not a rebuff so much as it was… the right thing to do. For you, and for me,” Katya said, knowing he would understand precisely what she meant. He had been seeing her as someone else that day.

Her lips were so close now a breath would bring them together. “Do you see me now, Elric?”

“I do, Katya,” he whispered across her lips. “And you are glorious.” He tilted his head a fraction and closed that breath’s distance to claim her lips in a tender, searching kiss.

The sweetly questing kiss was answered with tender warmth that swiftly caught fire. Kat let him draw her closer, her other hand sliding up his chest to twine around his neck as well. Her soft curves pressed against his body as they kissed passionately amid the sparkling frost of the room.

His hand slid down, long, white fingers spread across the small of her back. The other hand slid into her hair as he deepened the kiss, tongues fencing in imitation of the swordplay in the previous room. His heart hammered against his sternum when he finally pulled back.

“I do not think Cody would appreciate our christening his exhibit. Or perheps he vould not mind but the museum might.”

Katya laughed, a sound like a hand smoothing over warm fur. “Shall we go and tell him how wonderful he is, then?” Katya suggested as they turned to exit.

In the second floor foyer, Cody waited for them, trying not to fidget.

“Sweetheart, you know it’s perfect. Stop worrying so much.” Victor grumbled from where he leaned against the wall.

“I’m happy with how it came out but it’s so important that they are.” He ran his hand back through his hair. “Baby, if they don’t like it, that’s it, I can’t open. Not with a clear conscience.”

He heaved a sigh of relief when his principles emerged from their tour all smiles. Of course, what he hadn’t expected was that they were smiling at each other and that their bodies no longer had the formal, careful space between them.

“Holy crow,” Victor whispered, echoing Cody’s sentiments.

“So? How was it?” Cody asked, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

“It is magnificent, my dear,” Elric said with an odd little smile. “Completely magnificent.”

“It is beyond beautiful, Cody. As if you would do anything less,” Katya said and leaned in to kiss his cheek. She did not, however, relinquish Elric’s arm as she did so.

“I shell return on another day to bring Orion. He so admires your vork.” Elric bussed his cheek as well. “But for now, the day is getting on and your other admirers vill soon be here.” He patted the hand so firmly latched onto his arm. “Ve should depart, Katya, don’t you think? Before the mob arrives.”

“I agree.” Katya said. She lifted up on tiptoe to kiss Vic as they passed and she did not miss his look, somewhere between bemused and concerned, but she did not acknowledge it either.

Vic’s brow furrowed as he stared after her.

“She’s a big girl, baby,” Cody offered softly. “Not like she’s your little sister or something.”

“Heaven forbid,” Vic muttered. “I’m just not sure it’s a good idea. They’re so…I don’t want to say the same. Of course they’re not. But in many ways, similar. She has some very sore spots and I have the feeling, for all his chill calm, that he does too.”

“Well, maybe it’ll be nice to have someone to talk to, then, right?” Cody came to snuggle into Victor’s huge embrace. “Not a club I’d want to belong to but maybe it’s a good thing for them.”

“Sweetheart, I hope to God you’re right.”

#

In the parking lot, Elric waved his hand on a helpless laugh. “My dear, if you vere anyvone else, I vould simply put you in the Mercedes. Obviously, thet is not appropriate here. Vould you be comfortable in my dominion or do you prefer your own?”

One corner of Katya’s mouth curled. “I’ve already left two men worried back there.” She said. “I think a visit to your home would be better.”

They took Elric’s Mercedes after all and chatted amiably on the ride of people and places they both knew. It was an easy comfortable conversation, and one that seemed naturally to lead to discussion of their subs.

“Orion hes truly blossomed since Keit came to live vith us,” he said in answer to her question. “I do still hef concerns about the day he might regain who he vas before.” He shrugged, gloved hands never leaving the steering wheel. “But I suppose vone should not vorry about the tree limbs vhich hef not fallen.”

“Very true.” Katya agreed as they pulled up into the driveway.

They were greeted at the door by the very boys they had been discussing. Obviously surprised by their guest, Keit was still flawlessly polite and deferential. He was confused, not sure if this was a social call or business as it were and held back, not sure if he should offer to bring them tea or if his presence was required at all.

“Keit, vould you bring a tray to us in the parlor, please?” Elric asked as he led Katya in that direction.

“Yes sir.” Keit felt better with some direction and set off to bring them tea and put together some tidbits to snack on.

Katya and Elric sat, again settling into comfortable conversation. It might have seemed odd they got along so well, each with a somewhat temperamental personality. The careful respect for one another could have been stiff and uncomfortable, but instead had settled into a genuine affection.

Their conversation turned to art, Cody’s in particular, the magic he made both with film and objects he shaped, and their personal feelings about the work he’d done with their images. This of course rekindled the earlier warmth that had brought them back to the Prince’s domain to begin with, and neither could resist another taste of sweet lips.

Keit entered at that moment, and was so stunned he froze at the door not knowing if he should continue or back silently out. Before he could though, Katya noticed him and broke the kiss that had begun to gain heat. She began to tell him he could come forward and stopped herself with a smile. They were being very careful of each other’s toes, and she left it to Elric to give him direction. Keit did look adorably confused at the moment.

Elric allowed his confusion to continue a moment longer since the expression was so fetching. “Come, herzchen. Three,” he finally said and waited for Keit to place the tray down and kneel at his feet. He combed a finger back through Keit’s hair. “Take Orion down to the red room, mein herz. You may hef full use of the room, its contents and each other. You hef my permission.”

“Yes sir, thank you,” Keit said, his expression still slightly bemused. He rose gracefully and turned his head toward Katya, eyes still lowered. “Have a lovely evening, ma’am,” he said and then disappeared quickly.

He closed the door quietly behind him. In a way he wished he had been invited to stay. Not that he was really all that attracted to women, but that woman… well, Katya was something else. And with the Prince…mmm. He’d left Orion in the kitchen and hurried to him now. He slid into his arms and kissed him warmly. “Would you like to go downstairs with me, Orion? The Prince has given his permission.”

Orion held him close, though his expression was puzzled. “Downstairs? Only… you and I?”

“The Prince has a guest. Ms Katya,” Keit said, by way of explanation.

“Yes. I saw her.” Orion blinked at him in confusion. Then a chuckle rumbled in his chest. “Ah. I had thought they would want to play together. But they only want to play with each other. She burns so bright.”

He swept the otter up and carried him downstairs. Not that he needed to but the little one felt so good in his arms.

Keit wrapped his arms around Orion’s neck with a happy grin. He kept thinking about the image of the Prince and Ms. Katya on the settee, the way she touched his face, his hand resting lightly on her thigh, their lips together. He couldn’t help wondering what they were doing at that moment, surprised to find how excited it made him. As soon as they crossed into the red room Keit arched his neck to catch Orion’s lips in a searing kiss.

“Mmm,” Orion purred into the kiss while he devoured Keit’s mouth. Oh, how he loved the spark and crackle of the otter’s passion, like flames dancing on pinewood. He set Keit down with a smile. “What would you like to play?”

Up in the parlor, Elric pulled back from a fiery kiss of his own. “Perheps ve might adjourn upstairs? The rugs are nice but I vould prefer a bit more comfort myself.”

Katya’s warm purr of a laugh thrummed just below his ear as she agreed and rose with him to move upstairs. He led her not to Keit’s room this time, but to his own. A single glance around the chamber and Katya knew this room suited him perfectly. The heavy dark wood and rich colors were very masculine. In contrast she looked ultra feminine as she perched on the edge of the solid bed.

Chapter 266 – Ice

Chapter 243 – His Idiot

Dave had turned down the answering machine’s volume. There was only one voice he wanted to hear and no calls had come in from Vic’s house or from Xav’s cell. He’d called the cell five, no, six times already but Xav must have turned off his phone. The messages he left were disjointed and jumbled, he knew that but couldn’t help it. The anguish left no room for coherent thought.

He was a coward and a moron and a jackass besides. If only he’d just come out and told Xav, no matter what. If only he’d never done it. If only he’d stayed at the fucking morgue where everything was safe and quiet. Then his Xav would be here beside him instead of gone forever.

He tried the cell one more time. “Please…Xav…” he choked out after the message beep sounded and hung up as he burst into tears again. One more time…no, no Xav didn’t need him blubbering into his phone. He’d hurt him enough and he’d been real clear on where Dave stood with him now. Nowhere. He deserved it and he would stop tormenting Xav with his whining.

The fact that he was really gone, that was the part he just couldn’t face. He sat on the couch and turned the TV on, blindly letting the images wash over him. Time passed in a meaningless, empty way, one hour much the same as the next.

The phone had been ringing off and on. When he got up, stiff muscles protesting after hours of inactivity, he checked the numbers, bereft of hope. Vincent’s, his father’s house, Vincent again…no Xavier.

He scrubbed his hands over his face, went to the kitchen, closed the door and sat down with the pad of paper he kept by the fridge. When he finished writing, he folded the note in thirds, put Xav’s name on the outside, and then got up to go to the stove.

The gas stove.

With these older models, one could turn on the gas just enough so it hissed out into the air but no spark lit the burners. He turned them on, one by one, opened the oven and turned that on, too. He sat back down, put his head on the table and went to sleep, fully expecting never to wake up again.

“Dammit,” Sebastian muttered as he put the phone down again. He’d talked to Cody and knew Dave was probably not in a good way. Usually, though, no matter how depressed, Dave still answered the phone. He hadn’t last night and he wasn’t this morning.

“Dad?” he called down the hall. “I’m going over Dave’s…”

He got some angry, muttered response but nothing that sounded like a no, so he hurried out of the house and drove to Dave’s apartment. He told himself Dave probably just wasn’t home. He’d found someplace to go to ground, have a drinking binge and sleep it off. But he wasn’t with Ms Kat. He wasn’t with Vince. And he sure as hell wasn’t with Vic and Cody.

He pounded on the door. “Dave? C’mon, man, answer the door!” Nothing but silence greeted him. Dread lodged in his stomach; he used his key. The smell that hit him when he opened the door sent panic zipping through him. Gas…dammit, dammit, Dave….

He took a deep breath and barreled into the kitchen, turned off the burners and the oven, took Dave under the arms and dragged him out to the living room. He flung open all the windows, turned on the overhead fan and the air conditioning, anything to get the air circulating and the poison out. With a few heaves, he tugged Dave onto the window seat and stuck his head out into the clean air. He still breathed, his heart still beat.

“Christ…you shithead,” Sebastian muttered through his tears. He thought about calling 911. No, they’d lock Dave up in some psych ward like they’d done with Xav. Shuttle him off to some VA institution for broken-down, addict soldiers. God.

“Dave…c’mon dude, wake up.” He patted Dave’s face and got a moan. Good. All right. At least he wasn’t comatose. Dammit he couldn’t do this alone. He put in a call to Vincent.

Vincent hung up the phone, gray and shaking. “My loves,” he told Drew and Jonathan. “We need to go to David’s. He’s tried to kill himself.”

“Dave?” Drew said in disbelief. “What happened? I mean, what… what’d he do?” Drew was having a hard time believing Dave would try and kill himself. Even hurting like he was, Dave seemed like such a survivor.

Vince told them what Sebastian had said while they got into the van.

“Maybe it was an accident,” Drew couldn’t help saying, though he knew better.

Jonathan snorted. “One burner left on is an accident. Four? And the oven? Don’t think so, sweetie.”

They helped Sebastian get Dave comfortably settled in bed and then stayed to help as he woke and was ill and groggy. Though mostly unresponsive, he did call out for Xavier from time to time.

“Christ,” Jonathan muttered as he tried to soothe him. “Enough to break a granite heart.”

They stayed that night so Sebastian wouldn’t be alone and then into the next day when Dave developed a spiking fever and a hoarse cough. Three days and nights they took it in shifts, sitting with Dave, trying to ease the physical suffering.

Finally on the fourth morning, he was well enough for Jonathan to coax him into the shower and then out to the sofa.

“You hungry, handsome? I’ll make you whatever you want,” Jonathan said cheerfully as he tucked a blanket around Dave’s lap. He anticipated a request of toast, perhaps.

Dave stared up at him with weary, red-rimmed eyes and said in a hoarse murmur, “Orange juice.”

“Oh.” Jonathan scratched his head. “You don’t have any of that right now, hon. Can I get you something else?”

Dave curled into a ball and shook his head before he started coughing.

Jonathan patted the air with both hands in a placating gesture. “OK, OK, I’ll get you the damn juice. I’m not supposed to leave you alone but I’ll just be a couple, all right? Can I get your promise you’ll be a good boy and sit right there?”

“Promise,” Dave whispered and Jonathan hurried out to the grocery down the street.

~*~

DJ was worried. Beyond worried actually. He’d gotten used to seeing Dave at least a couple times a week, and he talked to him almost every day. But he hadn’t heard anything from him in four days now, his calls went unanswered, and his cell went right to voice mail.

He’d been to Dave’s apartment once, when Xavier was gone, working on the video. Funny, Dave talked about Xavier enough he felt like he almost knew him. Which put even more guilt on him. He didn’t know Xavier, but he hadn’t wanted to hurt him, and he certainly didn’t want to hurt Dave.

Dave kept saying he was going to tell Xavier, come clean about everything. DJ wanted him to, and was afraid at the same time. He didn’t think Xav was going to take it as well as Dave thought he would. He knew their relationship was sort of open, but he couldn’t imagine anyone just shrugging off hearing their boyfriend had another lover.

Maybe Dave had finally told him. It was the only explanation he could think of for Dave dropping off the face of the earth like this. He wasn’t sure what he might do if he was wrong, and Dave had just decided to ignore him, or if Xavier was home, or if he knew and confronted DJ… so many ‘what ifs’, but one thing was sure, he had to at least find out if Dave was all right.

He parked the car and walked up to the apartment. He knocked and got no answer. Knocked again and waited. He thought about trying the door handle, was actually staring at it in indecision when it turned and the door opened. He looked up. “Dave, I’m sorry to just drop in, but… Oh, damn,” he said softly. “You look like hell.” He looked over Dave’s shoulder, trying to see if there was anyone else in the apartment. “Can I come in…or, you want me to go?” He wanted to ask what happened but he thought he knew, and he wanted to take Dave in his arms and hold him tight. He didn’t know if that would make it worse, but it was killing him to stand there and see Dave in such obvious pain.

Dave wandered back to his nest on the couch, letting DJ decide whether to follow or not. Why couldn’t they all just leave him alone? He wasn’t worth anyone’s time and effort and if they went away he could get on with the business of dying instead of lingering like this.

“He left me,” Dave managed in a hoarse whisper when DJ sat next to him. Poor Deej looked so worried, like such a nervous wreck, he had to explain a little. “He saw your text on my cell. Put it together himself. Told me what a shit I am, true enough, and left me.” He shrugged. “Had every right to.”

“Babe, I’m so sorry,” DJ said softly. He still didn’t know if he should touch him, but he couldn’t stand it any longer. He took Dave’s hand and when he didn’t shrug him off or push him away he put an arm around him. “God, I’m sorry.” The guilt was crushing. He’d made Dave go through the exact same pain he had. He should have left him alone, should have backed off… should’ve, could’ve, would’ve and it all was useless now. He stroked his back and eventually Dave bent enough to put his head on his shoulder and DJ wrapped his arms around him.

He knew exactly the place Dave was at, where he didn’t want to be comforted and yet needed it so desperately. He said none of the stupid drivel people normally said at such times. No one wanted to hear how it was not the end and things would look better soon when their heart was broken. He swallowed hard around the knot in his throat. “I know it will never be enough to say I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I am. I’m here for you…”

“Not your fault. Don’t even try it. Told you from go it was my problem.” Dave’s tone remained flat and even. Nothing really mattered anyway. Not anymore. Nothing for DJ to be sorry about.

DJ picked his head up when he heard the door close, and a second later a very hot guy with the prettiest green eyes he’d ever seen walked into the living room.

“OK, so this isn‘t awkward or anything. I go out to get you groceries and you invite boys over.” Jonathan looked from Dave to the gorgeous hunk wrapped around him. “So, lemme guess. This must be whatshisname…DJ?”

DJ had the grace to look slightly embarrassed, but he did manage a smile. “Yes, I’m whatshisname DJ. And you’re not blond, or trying to kill me, so you’re not Xavier…”

Jonathan had wanted to dislike DJ, intensely. He knew Dave felt otherwise but it sounded to him like the other man had walked in with open eyes and had willfully pursued when he could’ve bowed out. Problem was, the soft-spoken, somewhat wounded reality was much different than the hussy he’d built in his imagination.

“Right on all three counts. Such a smart man,” he said and put a palm to his chest. “Jonathan. Friend of the family. ‘Scuse me a moment.” He disappeared into the kitchen to put things away, then returned with half a glass of juice. “Here you are, hon, as ordered and don’t you think for a minute I’m not gonna stand here and watch you drink it all.”

~*~

“Xavier, get up!”

Cody was badgering him again. Xavier pulled the blanket tighter around his head.

“I mean it, get your butt out of that bed. You haven’t left this room in four days.”

Xav didn’t answer, didn’t even open his eyes.

“Cripes, Xav! Vic says I’m not allowed to bring you any more food. You have to come down to eat.” Not that Xav had eaten much anyway. “And you smell like crud. Have pity on us and take a freaking shower.”

Still no response. Cody grabbed the blanket and yanked at it. He pulled it off but Xavier curled into a ball. Cody sat down on the edge of the bed and rubbed his back.

“C’mon, Xav. If you don’t get up Vic said he’ll come up and throw your little butt in the shower himself.”

Xavier rolled over and put his head in Cody’s lap. “I can’t, Cody.”

Cody relented and gathered Xavier up. “Oh, sweetie…I hate to see you like this.” He rocked Xav in his arms since the tears had started again. “I’ll help you if you want. Wash your hair. Scrub your back. Maybe a bath instead? That might be nice…”

Xavier sobbed harder and Cody fought not to roll his eyes. Everything, but everything reminded him of Dave and the most innocent reference could cause these crying jags.

He pulled Xav up to take his head in his hands. “Don’t you think it might be worth it to just try and talk to him? At least get some of this out of your system?”

“He’s probably already making plans with DJ,” Xavier said miserably.

“Xav, you’re putting stuff in your way for no good reason. Why? You don’t hate him, I know you don’t. Do you really never want to see him again?”

“No.”

“Do you want him to just get over you and move on?”

“If that’s what he wants.”

“I didn’t ask what he wants, I asked what you want. You either figure out how to forgive him or get over him. Which do you want?”

“I can forgive him, Cody, I already have. I just don’t know if I can trust him again. I never thought he’d lie to me, not like this.”

Cody didn’t have anything to say to that. He knew trust didn’t come easy for Xav, and this breach would take more than an apology and promises to fix. “Do you want to talk to him, or not?”

Xavier lowered his head to Cody’s shoulder again and wrapped his arms around him. “Yeah. I do.”

Xavier got up and took a shower and shaved. He put on the scent Dave liked best (next to just plain skin), and blow-dried his hair. He went through his clothes and put on a thin skintight t-shirt and jeans low enough they clung to his hipbones within an inch of their life.

His eyes were still hollow and red-rimmed, but otherwise he looked pretty damn good. Cody agreed and kissed his cheek before he left.

On the ride over he chewed his thumbnail and fidgeted. A tight knot formed in his stomach. He didn’t know what he would do if Dave wasn’t glad to see him. If he told him to leave. If he didn’t want him anymore.

Dave lied to him, had been lying to him, and broke his heart, but even broken he still loved him with everything he had. If he wanted a relationship with this DJ guy it was going to be a bitter pill to swallow… but, he supposed he could accept it, if that’s what Dave needed.

He parked and noticed Jonathan’s car. Ah well, it was good someone was looking after him. Xav went up the stairs and unlocked the door.

Jonathan head snapped around when he heard the key turn. Sebastian wasn’t due back until after dinner and the only other person with a key was…

“Oh. Holy. Shit.” The urge to retreat to the kitchen and hide under the table was nearly overwhelming. But he stood his ground, unwilling to desert Dave.

DJ would have hidden under the table with him, but only to spare Dave having to explain. It was already too late though; the few seconds warning was all they got. Xavier came around the corner of the living room and under any other circumstance DJ would’ve melted into the carpet. Fuckin’ gorgeous. What a beautiful little angel. An angel who took one look at him and looked like he’d been kicked in the stomach. Fuck.

Xav had thought he’d been prepared. Thought he’d geared himself up enough to be able to handle it if DJ was there. But he’d clung to the hope he wouldn’t be there. To know Dave had replaced him so quickly… he felt it like physical blow. The pain and humiliation was enough to scorch him where he stood and he wanted to turn right back around and walk out… but… he couldn’t live without Dave. Didn’t want to live without him.

He took a deep breath and lifted his head again to look at DJ. “Get out.”

Dave had no thought for anyone else in the room. It didn’t even register what Xavier said. He only heard that beloved voice he thought he’d never hear again. He’d twisted around on the couch, one hand reaching out hesitantly. “Xav?”

DJ picked himself up. As much as he wanted neither of them to be hurt, as much as he wanted them to work things out because it was so obvious how much they loved each other, it still cut him to know Dave probably wasn’t aware he was still in the room. With as much dignity as he could he headed toward the door and stopped himself from even saying good-bye.

Xavier ignored him and moved to Dave. He slid down into his lap, wrapped his arms around him, and put his head on his shoulder. It was just about the most wonderful feeling he could think of when Dave’s arms wrapped around him tight. “You stupid fucking jerk,” Xavier said on the heels of a strangled sob.

Hard not to have some of the darkness lift when he held his angel in his arms. Dave nodded against his hair, unable to refute it. He was a stupid fucking jerk.

“Are you–” He turned his head for a short fit of wracking coughs. “Visiting or staying?”

“Do you want me to stay?” Xav asked.

“Oh, hell, yes.”

“Then, I’m staying.” He stroked a gentle hand over Dave’s hair, trying to get a hold of his hitching breath as a little worried frown formed on his face. “You sick babe? You sound awful…”

Jonathan chewed on the side of his thumbnail. Now would probably be the time to retreat to the kitchen. Certain things nagged at him, though, things he knew Dave wouldn’t bother to mention in his current state.

“Xav, hon?” he interrupted softly when both sobs and coughs quieted. “Could I see you for just a sec?” He nodded towards the kitchen. “There’s some stuff…well, just come on. I won’t take long.”

Xavier sighed and reluctantly stood. He didn’t want to get up, but he followed Jonathan into the kitchen. “I’m sorry about your dinner, Jon, don’t yell at me, ok? I haven’t had the best week.”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that.” Jonathan waved one hand over the other in negation. “Real quick, two things. No three. First, I’m so fucking glad you’re here. You just don’t know. Second, just want you to know, that other guy? The one that just left? He wasn’t here but a few minutes before you came. It’s not like he’s been hanging out here and I’d know because I have.”

He ran his hands back through his curls in a fretful gesture. “The third thing’s kinda harder. Dave…was in a bad place after Saturday. He tried to snuff himself. Closed that door, turned on the gas and sat down to wait. Sebastian found him before it got to the point of no return. He’s been sick ever since.”

Xavier stared at him hard for a minute. “He did what?” He didn’t really need it repeated but he was having a hard time processing this. He turned around and walked back out into the living room. “God, Brooks, you really are an idiot sometimes,” he grumbled. Dave had lain down on the couch so Xav sat on the floor in front of him and took his hand, kissed the palm. “What if Sebastian hadn’t come over? Then where would I be? What would I do without you? Don’t you ever do anything like that again.”

“Xav…I’m…” Dave’s throat closed over and he squeezed his eyes shut against the sting of tears. It took three deep breaths before he could go on. “I can’t ever tell you how sorry I am. I’m supposed to be the one to protect you, to be your shelter. And instead I can’t tell you something’s going on, never mind the excuses and the reasons. I didn’t. And I hurt you. And you’ll never trust me again.”

He was too exhausted to sob but the tears leaked out anyway. “I thought I’d lost you. For good. And dammit if I don’t deserve to…”

Xavier sighed and shifted around so his back leaned against the couch. He pulled his knees up and rested his chin on them. “Yeah, you hurt me. Hurt me bad…I can’t just stop loving you though, Dave.” He turned his head to look back at him. “I’m sorry I’m not…everything you need. Why didn’t you just tell me?”

A strangled sound escaped Dave’s chest, half sob, half hysterical laugh. “What do you think I’ve been asking myself all this time? Why, why, why didn’t I just tell you?” His fist beat against the sofa frame with every word until Xav took his hand again to stop him.

“I…didn’t go out looking,” he began again on a long, uneven breath. “He was hurting and he ended up sobbing in my arms one day and things…got away from me. I tried to call you, right then and there, but you were at rehearsal. I guess you can check your phone logs if you need to.” He stopped to cough for a while and Xav’s hand ended up stroking his chest to soothe him. It felt like bands of bright sunlight stroked up and down his sternum.

“I came home and that was the night you told me about the video. And I was so excited for you…I didn’t want to ruin your moment. And then it was this or that and it just got harder and harder. I wanted to tell you, love. And you are everything I could ever want. Or need.” His fingers closed around Xav’s, though he stared at the ceiling. “I’m just an idiot.”

“Yeah, you’re an idiot…but you’re my idiot.” That got the little smile from Dave he was hoping for. He wished he could leave it at that, but he didn’t want any shit between them that would come up later, better to get it all out now. “So… the first time was just… one of those things. But, it wasn’t just once… you went back to him, so, he must’ve done something for you.” He was trying hard not to sound angry and bitter, it came through a little anyway and he took a deep breath and blew it out before he went on. “What now? You gonna keep seeing him?”

“What? No…Christ…” The shocked denial started him coughing again and Xav had to sit him up so he could catch his breath. Dave wheezed out, “After what seeing him did to you? How could I do that?” Now he buried his head in his hands and started to sob on the realization that Xavier was back beside him but might never believe in him again.

Xavier moved up onto the couch and took Dave in his arms. He held him and looked helplessly over his heaving shoulders at Jonathan, who was trying to stay as unobtrusive and silent as possible. He had the feeling Jonathan didn’t leave only because he was afraid they would screw this up again if he did.

When Dave quieted, Xavier took his face in his hands and made him look at him. “You know, I’m not going to push you toward someone else, sweetheart… but I wasn’t pissed because I was jealous. Well, that wasn’t the main thing anyway. I was pissed because you hid it from me. Just don’t do that again, and the rest we can work out, ok?”

“’K,” Dave managed on a shaky breath and a sniff. He looked into those summer sky eyes, shadowed, yes, but the love in them pierced his heart. He curled up with his head in Xavier’s lap. “I’ve missed you, sweets…” Another thought hit him as he snuggled closer. “There’s, um, a whole bunch of messages from me on your cell. You might wanna delete those. And there’s a letter in the kitchen. Might wanna put that in the disposal.”

Xavier stroked his fingers over Dave’s face tenderly. He looked up at Jonathan, who went into the kitchen without being asked. A second later the disposal ran, and then he came back. Dave had fallen asleep.

“Well, maybe I should–” Jonathan said.

Xavier interrupted him. “Do you have to go? Or can you stay for a while?”

“I can stay, hon,” Jonathan answered softly. “You want me to make you breakfast? You’re looking a little waif-y.”

“Waif-y?” Xavier said with an arched brow. “Is that even a word?” He smiled. “How about steak and eggs?” As soon as he said it he was hungry, he hadn’t been eating much, hadn’t felt like it. “And I should call Cody…” Before he got a chance to though, Jonathan had wandered off to the kitchen and Xavier slid down on the couch beside Dave. He only meant to lie down for a second, but he hadn’t been sleeping either and he was out almost as soon as he closed his eyes.

“Did you–?” Jonathan stuck his head back out of the kitchen and stopped at the sight on the sofa. “Poor babes,” he murmured and decided to wait on cooking. Let them nap first, they sure as hell needed it.

He’d wanted like hell to be angry with them both. They’d upset Vincent so badly. Though Dave would never believe it, he was sort of a hero to Vince…maybe that wasn’t the right way to put it but Vince looked up to him. Time enough to put all that right later. Dammit but they looked so freaking adorable curled up together. How could he be mad?

He went back into the kitchen to make some soft phone calls, Cody, Sebastian and then home, just to let everyone know things would be all right now.

Chapter 242 – Busted

Xavier unlocked the door to the apartment and hurried inside and to the living room. Dave was just getting up from the couch and Xav practically tackled him, knocked him back on his butt and kissed him soundly.

“Guess what?” he asked, grinning from ear to ear. He didn’t wait for Dave to ask. “This guy was in the club today, sitting at the bar while we were rehearsing. I just figured he was a vendor or something, but when we were getting ready to call it quits he came over and started talking to me. Turns out he’s in the area looking for talent. He offered me a spot in a video. A Chris freakin Brown video!”

For a moment, Dave could only stare, all thoughts of what he’d wanted to tell Xav flown from his head. “A…what?” he choked out, wide-eyed. “You’re kidding, right?”

Xav shook his head, grinning from ear to ear. Dave let out a wild whoop and surged up from the couch with Xav caught in a bear hug, whirling him round and round. “Fucking too right! Oh, sweetheart, that’s amazing! Congrats…holy shit!”

Xavier couldn’t seem to stop grinning. It was literally the break of a life time. Well, sort of. It didn’t mean he’d be offered any other spots, but it was a start. Most people that wanted to get into videos went to audition after audition and never got anywhere, especially if they didn’t have any connections. To be randomly scouted was like winning the lottery.

“Shooting starts in about a month, but I’ll be starting rehearsals next week. It’s not a ton of money, but pretty good, and it could lead to more.”

“Damn, sweets, who cares about the money!” Dave kissed him hard. “You’re an artist, love, and somebody was smart enough to see it!” He’d caught Xav’s excitement and decided against telling him about his day. It could wait. Nothing was going to spoil Xav’s moment.

Over the next couple of months, there never seemed to be a right moment. Xav was wound too tight, he was anxious as rehearsals neared and needed extra comforting. He started rehearsals and was bouncing off the walls. He didn’t need the extra distraction.

Meanwhile Dave saw DJ in class and once a week or so outside of class. He felt guilty as all hell but he couldn’t stop thinking about that strong, lean body holding him down, that long-fingered hand connecting hard with his ass. Dark fire, such deep, intense passion, he couldn’t imagine why that idiot Jamie hadn’t been satisfied.

Every time he told himself he would tell Xav, he’d explain everything, on his knees if he had to, and every time Xav would come home and have something to tell him or was too distracted or needed him desperately, and he couldn’t. It wasn’t that he was hiding the whole thing, he just hadn’t gotten around to telling him.

Finally the video wrapped and exams were done. Both were a resounding success. Dave got near perfect scores on all his tests, Xav was happy to be back to a more relaxed schedule.

It was a Saturday, and they had nothing planned when Vince invited them over for an afternoon of hanging out and dinner. They both thought it was a good idea. Xav loved going over Vince’s. Dave was an awesome cook, but Jonathan always went out of his way to make Xav’s favorites.

As usual, Jonathan had pulled out all the stops. He was working on some incredible cheese and gnocchi thing when they arrived, though he assured Xavier there would be filet mignon and all sorts of other dishes. He shooed everyone out of the kitchen and even Vincent retreated to the patio with them to stay out of his way.

“He’s such a help when I cook,” Vincent explained with a little smile as he settled on the chaise in the shade. “So biddable and sweet. But the spirits help me if I interfere with his imperial majesty when he cooks.”

Dave chuckled and flung himself into one of the chairs in the sun, then grimaced as his cell poked at him uncomfortably. He fished the thing out of his pocket and set it on the table at his right hand. “Little guy would’ve been a good chef, bud. Why didn’t he ever go into that?”

Vincent lifted his legs up onto the chaise one at a time. “He enjoys it here at home but he’s said he wouldn’t be able to sustain it day after day. A chef’s hours are terrible, keep in mind, and one’s home life often suffers.”

A crash came from the kitchen. Everyone looked at each other and Dave finally got up with a grin. “I’ll go. He doesn’t usually snarl at me much.”

Xav watched Dave walk back in because he never got tired of the view. He noticed Vince watching him watching Dave and grinned. “Can’t help it. That is one sweet ass.”

Vince just smiled and asked about the video shoot and when it was coming out. Dave’s phone made it’s little alert sound that he got a text. Xavier ignored it, figuring it was probably Kat and Dave would be back in a sec, but a couple minute later he hadn’t come back yet and the chirp was getting annoying while they were trying to talk.

Without much thought Xav flipped the phone open, was about to close it again and stopped. Not from Kat. It was DJ. He knew that was a friend of Dave’s he’d met at school, he’d mentioned him in passing. A text wasn’t all that unusual but the picture attached caught his eye. The guy was cute, gorgeous really. The pic showed him resting an elbow on his desk and smiling a lazy smile. The message said ‘just thinking of u. Miss u.’

That was a pretty intimate message from a buddy. Xavier felt a hot flush hit him. He was so surprised it actually took a couple seconds for it to sink in. When he closed the phone Vince was looking at him strangely. Xavier looked inside and saw Dave and Jonathan just coming out of the kitchen. Drew and Der were sitting on the couch together in there.

Everyone was smiling and talking.

Xavier felt a sort of cool calm wash over him.

“Xavier? Are you all right?” Vince asked.

“Sure Vince, just a second.” Xavier murmured and stood up. He walked through the sliding doors. Dave’s back was to him.

“Hey Dave,” he called, very casual. “You fucking your buddy DJ?”

Dave’s head swiveled around so fast it must have hurt, but Xav had his answer. If he’d looked confused or angry Xavier would have thought he’d made a mistake. He didn’t look confused or angry. He looked shocked, and guilty.

Xavier tapped the phone against the palm of his hand, that soft sound suddenly loud in the utter silence that had dropped over the room.

“I don’t remember getting a phone call… I could have forgotten I suppose, but you know I think I’d remember you telling me you wanted to bang some guy I’ve never even met…”

“Xav…” Dave voice was soft and pleading.

“Wait, let me guess. You were going to tell me.” Xavier’s voice had been calm, but now heat started to creep in. “Exactly when were you gonna tell me? No, wait, here’s a better question. Did you at least use a rubber?”

Dave looked a little sick. “No, he didn’t.”

That actually made Xavier stop and stare at him, he had expected a yes on that one at least. “Jesus fuckin Christ Dave! You let some guy fuck you bareback?” Now he was pissed. “How long ago was this?”

The look on Dave’s face was pure misery and Xavier was again stunned to silence as he realized this wasn’t a one time fling. The anger in Xavier’s face twisted into raw pain. “You motherfucker!” He threw the phone at him because it was the only thing handy.

Dave caught it one-handed, reflex reaction. He should have let it smack him in the head. Christ, he deserved it. “Xav, he’s clean. I know it doesn’t help. Everything’s been so…I just couldn’t find a good…” His chest constricted, his jaw clenched. “You’re not gonna let me explain, are you?”

“What’s to explain? I think I can figure it out pretty well on my own. I mean, when is a really good time to tell your boyfriend you’ve been fucking someone else behind his back? Not like I demanded monogamy babe, but at least a little fuckin honesty.” Xavier couldn’t stand it any longer. He had to get some space because right now all he wanted to do was jump on Dave and beat the crap outta him for hurting him like this. He moved to the door. “If you wanted someone else all you had to do was fuckin say so.”

Guilt and sorrow bubbled in a confused mess in Dave’s brain, his confusion and pain so acute he couldn’t handle it. He was about to lose the love of his life. Rage boiled up to smother everything. “I didn’t want someone else! Fuck! It wasn’t like that! Not that it fucking matters! I fuck up and suddenly I’m not worth a hearing? That’s how much I mean to you? And you trust me so fucking much you have to go into my goddamned phone?”

“It’s pretty goddamn obvious you did want someone else Dave, you didn’t just trip and fall on his dick! Don’t try and turn this around on me! I trusted you more than anyone in my whole life. Go ask your other boyfriend to trust you!” He slammed the door behind him.

Dave took a step forward and bellowed in helpless fury. He whipped the phone towards the door where it smashed against the wall and shattered into dozens of pieces.

“David,” Vince’s soft voice came from the patio doors.

“Don’t!” Dave snarled. “Don’t even start! Don’t tell me it’ll be all right! Don’t give me any of your goddamned oh-so-wise advice! It’s never gonna be all right, Lastrada! I’ve fucked up so bad this time nothing, no matter how smart you think it is, is gonna change that!”

He slammed out the door after Xavier, wanting to catch up to him but by this time he was nowhere in sight. He knew the apartment would be empty when he got there, which was just as he deserved.

“Vince, babes, he didn’t mean that,” Jonathan said softly in the wake of their departure.

“I know,” Vince murmured, his breath coming too short. “I know.”

#

Xavier didn’t think he’d ever been more pissed. How many times did he need to get kicked in the teeth before he learned? Was there absolutely no one in this world he could trust completely? The seething anger carried him through while he walked downtown and caught a cab.

Maybe he couldn’t trust anybody, but at least he’d go somewhere this time. Not Katya’s. He didn’t want to take that refuge away from Dave. Just because he hated him right now didn’t mean he didn’t love him. The numbness of the shock and anger was wearing off by the time he told the cabby Vic and Cody’s address. He curled into a ball on the back seat until they got there. It felt like he was walking through syrup as he trudged up the walkway to the door. Like he wasn’t really there, and this couldn’t really be happening.

Could it? Did Dave really cheat on him? Did he really just walk out on him?

Oh god, please, he just wanted to be numb. This hurt so fucking bad. Cody opened the door and Xavier fell into his arms with a sob.

“Xav?” Cody murmured against his hair. “Oh, sweetheart, what in the world’s happened?”

Victor appeared at the end of the hallway. “Xavier? Who’s hurt you? I’ll gladly kill the bastard.”

Xavier could hardly talk his throat was so tight and choked with sobs. “He cheated on me.” He spit out. “No, not just cheated. He’s seeing someone else.”

“Oh.” Vic’s anger abruptly cooled in confusion. “We are talking about David, aren’t we?”

“Of course we are, you lunkhead.” Cody rolled his eyes. “Come inside, hon. Tell us what happened. It is kinda hard to imagine Dave doing that.”

Xavier let himself be steered to the couch. “We were over Vince’s and Dave’s cell went off. It kept alerting so I went to shut it off and saw the text he got from his friend.. It wasn’t like a text you’d send to a buddy, so I asked Dave if he was fucking him. He admitted it, and that he’d let him do him bareback.

“I got so pissed that he didn’t bother to talk to me about it before he jumped into bed with the guy, or tell me after. Then I asked him when it happened and he just hung his head, then he got pissed at me and tried to turn it around, like I didn’t trust him.” Xavier snorted. “I trusted him so damn much he kept his other boyfriend secret for I don’t even know how many months.”

Cody sighed and snuggled up close to him. “Well…damn.”

“I doubt it was his intention to ‘turn things around’.” Victor rubbed at the back of his neck and sat down in the chair next to him. “We all know he gets defensive and angry when he’s in a corner. Regardless–” He held up his hands to hold off any protest. “If you want a place to stay, sweetness, you know you have one here. For as long as you like.”

Xavier, slumped in one corner of the couch, just nodded.

Vic patted his knee. “I’m not going to stick my nose in and I’m not going to take sides but I just want to remind you of one thing: there’s two halves to every story. You’ve had assumptions made about you. Just keep it in mind.”

“Vic, I was drugged and set up. There was a lot to assume. Dave didn’t have to jump into bed with this guy. Even if he did, if it was one time, I could have understood. People fuck up. This wasn’t just a mistake. He had something going on with this guy and he hid it from me. If you found out tomorrow that Cody’s been screwing some stranger for the last few months and he admitted it to you, I doubt you’d be worried about assumptions.” There was no caustic heat to the words like one might expect from Xavier, they were said softly and with an achingly deep sorrow. He couldn’t even begin to explain how badly his heart was broken right now.

“OK, so we need to get some of your things over here.” Cody reached over the arm of the couch and grabbed the phone. “And I think a neutral party would be best right now.” The phone rang a long time at Vince’s before someone picked up. “J? Hi, yeah…mmhm, he’s here with us. Look, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind going over to the apartment? Pack up–”

Cody broke off with a wince and held the phone away from his ear. Jonathan was shrieking into it. He let the burst of fury wind down before he put the phone back and tried again. “OK, OK, cripes, J, don’t take my head off. I didn’t do it. Is Der still there? Can I talk to him?” The same request was repeated to Derelict with better results.

He hung up the phone and cleared his throat. “J’s having a hissy fit since it sounds like Dave and Vince had words before Dave left or something. But Der’s going over.”

“Thanks, Cody.” Xavier murmured. He couldn’t care less about any of his stuff. He just wanted to curl into a ball and die. He didn’t think he’d ever hurt so badly.

Victor picked him up as if he were no more than a ball of fluff and settled him on his lap to hold him tight. “Poor sweets. Whatever the reasons, whatever the circumstances, he’s hurt you. Even a big lunkhead like me can see that. You hold on tight. I know I’m a poor substitute but at least you’re not alone.”

Der came an hour later with three bags. “The suitcase is clothes. This one.” He heaved the duffle off his shoulder as if it weighed three tons. “Is various hair and skin items. And this one.” He held out the brown paper bag for Cody to take. “Is the last of the lasagna from the freezer, apparently. He insisted.”

While Vic was helping Xavier take his things up, Der pulled Cody aside towards the door. “You owe me big time, beautiful. I think my heart’s about broken.”

“Der…I’m sorry.” Cody hugged him tight. “What happened?”

“Dave refused to let me pack Xav’s stuff. He did it himself. Cried over every sock, every bottle of mascara and conditioner, every bit and scrap he packed oh-so-carefully. I’ve never seen a man so shattered. Don’t you ever ask me to do anything like that ever again.”

“I’ll try not to, big guy.” Cody stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “Thanks, though.”

Xavier walked into the guest room with a feeling of déjà vu. It was different though. When Kat had thrown him out he had deserved it. He had messed up and understood the exile. This… this was a whole different kind of devastation.

Xav sat on the bed and looked bleakly at the stuff Vic set down. He could have just thrown some things in a bag for overnight. Was he that eager to get rid of him? The thought ripped at him with razor claws and venom tipped fangs. Did Dave want to get him out? Had he just been waiting? Was he going to go over DJ’s place now to tell him what happened? Was he going to run right into the arms of his other lover for comfort?

He felt sick, like someone had punched him in the gut. Fresh sobs choked him with this new wave of agony. He drew his knees up to his chest and hugged them tight. “Vic… why? I love him so much. Why wasn’t I good enough?”

Victor’s brows drew together in a dark frown. God. He loved them both but he could have gladly throttled David for causing this misery. He sat down and pulled Xavier back into his arms to let him sob against his chest. “It’s not usually that simple, sweets. I can’t tell you why he did what he did. Only one person can do that. But I know he loves you still.”

He waved a hand at the open bags. “Just look at this. How neat and careful he was. Even put the open bottles in little ziplocks, just in case. You can almost hear him, the way he worries at things. But what if Xav needs this? Or wants that? Or this? Just in case.” He reached down and ran a hand over a t-shirt with a definite damp spot on the front. “I don’t think this is how someone acts who doesn’t think you’re good enough.”

Xavier didn’t say anything to that. He knew Dave loved him, but for whatever reason he hadn’t been everything he needed, and that played right into every ingrained insecurity he had.

Chapter 241 – Dave Goes to School

Dave sat on the couch, arms crossed over his chest, staring at the coffee table. Or through the table, Xav thought. He’d been that way for half an hour straight.

“Babe?” he finally said when he couldn’t stand the silence anymore. “You, ah, trying out for one of those living mannequins or something?”

“Hm?” Dave looked up and blinked. “Oh, sorry. Just thinking.”

“Well, duh. What about?”

Dave chewed on his bottom lip a moment before he leaned forward with his hands clasped between his knees. “Sweets…I’m not sure how to bring this up without it coming out wrong.”

“Then say it wrong.”

“When you’ve said we don’t need the money, that we could live off your salary, do you really meant that? I mean, if I wasn’t working for a bit…” Dave trailed off. He didn’t want Xavier to think less of him, to resent him if he wasn’t working for a while.

“Um, yeah. I meant it. I’m done with school, I make more than enough to take care of this place… did something happen at work?”

Dave ran his hands over his face. “No, no, it’s not that. I mean, what could happen at work? It’s a freaking morgue.” He reached over to take Xavier’s hand. “It didn’t matter before, though, that I’d settled for such a, um, dead end job. Now it does. I want you to be proud of me.” He took a deep breath and hurried on. “I’m thinking about going back to school. Get my LPN. It wouldn’t take long. I could test out of most of the classes, though I’d have to do the practical rotations.”

He pressed Xav’s fingers to his cheek. “I’d be home nights. Get a good job after I take the boards, at a clinic or a doc’s office or something. Would…would you like that?”

 

Xavier took his hand back, but gently, although he didn’t exactly look happy. Not upset either, just… thoughtful. “Dave, if that’s what you want to do, that’s great, but don’t do this for me. If you’re happy where you are, stay there. If something else will make you happy, go for it. I’ll back you either way. What you do for a living makes no difference to me how I feel about you.”

Dave flopped back against the sofa to stare at the ceiling. “Sweets, I haven’t been happy at a job…well, ever. The one I have now was the first one that would take me when I came home all wall-eyed and crazy. And it was quiet and nobody talked to me so it worked.” He swallowed hard. “I think I just want to work with living people, yeah? Maybe help a kid who’s still breathing instead of just holding babies who’re already dead.”

Xavier suppressed a shudder. He pulled Dave into his arms and kissed his forehead.. “Okay, just one thing. Don’t think about it and think about it, just do it. Turn your notice in Monday, and don’t worry about it.”

“Yessir,” Dave said with a crooked smile. He stroked a finger along Xav’s cheek. “You know your butt looks amazing in those jeans?”

“My butt looks amazing in anything.” Xavier grinned.

“True, but you know where it looks most amazing?” Dave’s voice had dropped to a husky murmur. “Staring up at me naked with my hands on either side.”

Xavier smiled. “Talk like that will get you everywhere.” He caught Dave’s lips in a kiss that swiftly turned white hot. Within minutes clothes were shed and tossed aside, the small spark fanned into a blaze of need.

Dave got the view he wanted with Xavier bent naked over the arm of the sofa and though the session wasn’t a long one, the sex was uninhibited and heated. “God, I love you,” he murmured into Xav’s hair when he held him afterwards. Xav could say what he wanted, but it was hard to be proud of a morgue tech and he really did want Xav to be proud of him.

True to his word, he turned his resignation in Monday morning and spent all of his free time in phone calls to the nursing school in town and the Veteran’s Affairs office. He might as well get something out of the damn GI bill.

Xavier was glad Dave was doing something, and that he seemed happy about it. There was one thing that nagged him, though he tried not to let it. Dave kept say things like he wanted Xav to be proud of him, that he didn’t want to be stuck in job going nowhere… and he said it often enough Xav was beginning to wonder if he was trying to give him a hint.

If Dave didn’t think Xavier could be proud of him for working in a morgue, how could Dave be proud of Xav being a stripper? Yeah, Switchbacks was more than just a strip club. The cabaret was done artfully and drew more than the sleaze balls who wanted to see some naked flesh to jack off to under the table, but anyway you sliced it he was still taking his clothes off for a living.

He thought about bringing it up with Dave, but didn’t for two reasons. One, he didn’t want to turn this into something about him. Two, Dave was happy. He didn’t want to do anything to change that. But it bugged him. So, he did the next best thing.

“What do you think, Cody?”

“About the pants? Or about Dave?” Cody asked, watching Xavier as he checked out the fit of the excruciatingly tight shiny black PVC pants in the dressing room mirror.

“About Dave.” Xavier said, turning his head to grin over his shoulder at Cody. “I already know you like the pants.”

“They’re nice, hon, but I’d think about a different color for you,” Cody said with his head tipped to one side. “Dave, though…sweetie, he’d be proud of his gorgeous, wonderful Xav if you were a street sweeper. I don’t think that’s the issue. I think he’s a very proud man, he can’t help it, and he wants to feel like a man, you know? Cripes, I think if I told Vic he could stop working, we’d be completely comfortable on my money, which is true, he’d die of shame.”

He ran a finger over Xav’s shiny-clad hip. “Our boys are just old-fashioned. They don’t want to feel like kept men, they want to feel like they’re doing something important.”

Xavier put his hands on his hips and looked at Cody in the reflection of the mirror. “I don’t know Cody, if it matters so much to him that he has a ‘decent’ job… I think it would matter to him what I do, too. And if it doesn’t, I’m not sure that isn’t worse.” He sighed and peeled out of the PVC.

“Mmm…I think you’re looking at it the wrong way, hon,” Cody said, his forehead creased with concern. “I think he’s been kinda, what’s that damn word…emasculated, yeah, that’s it, that you make more than him. That you’ve said, more than once, mind you, that you don’t need his money.”

Xavier snorted. “That’s just stupid. What difference does it make who makes more money. That’s not what makes you a man.” Which, considering he was standing there mostly naked holding a pair of PVC pants in one hand and a thong in the other, was kind of funny.

“A lot of things people feel are stupid. Doesn’t make them feel them less.” Cody sighed. “And I don’t think he’s trying to compete with you, salary-wise. Anyway, how he feels is how he feels and when you love somebody, you kinda have to accept those things. Stop fussing and tell him you’re proud of him. I mean, think about it, hon. He’s never really had anybody to cheer for him.”

“I have told him I’m proud of him, Cody. I’ve told him it doesn’t matter to me what he does for a living, I’d still be proud to be his. I don’t think if I told him a hundred times it would make any difference. Maybe once he starts classes he’ll feel better,” Xavier said as he finished sliding back into his jeans. “Let’s go eat. I’m starving.”

“When are you not starving?” Cody rolled his eyes. He declined to tell Xav it did no good to say it didn’t matter what Dave did. It obviously did matter to Dave and he wanted someone to tell him he was doing a good thing. Not someone. Xavier. “C’mon hot stuff. There’s this new Lebanese place I’ve been dying to try.”

Two weeks later Dave started classes, Disease Management and Nutrition during the day, a four hour hands-on at the VA on Tuesdays and Thursdays and only one evening class, Pharmacy, on Wednesdays. Funny, he’d always hated schoolwork but now he found the classes interesting and he actually enjoyed doing his readings.

Xavier did everything he could to help. He made sure Dave had quiet time to study and picked up some of the more mundane chores like grocery shopping so Dave didn’t have to worry about it. He left Dave the job of cooking, though.

About three weeks later, Xavier was getting ready to leave for work; Dave was sitting on the couch. With a smile Xav straddled his lap and then wrapped his legs around him. He slid his fingers into Dave’s hair and kissed him hot enough to melt the furniture. When he had Dave’s hair completely messed up and he was moaning into his mouth Xav let him come up for air. “I’m glad you went back to school. You know how proud I am of you, right?”

Dave smiled up at him, the heartbreakingly sweet, guileless smile which transformed his face when he was truly happy. “I sure do now, sweetheart.” His hands stroked Xav’s back as he whispered, “Thank you.”

#

DJ looked around the class. For a change he was not the only male student, there was one other guy. Despite an increase of men in the field, nursing was still a predominantly female industry. So, he’d gotten used to being the odd guy out so to speak in his classes. Being the only guy in a class full of women might sound great to some people he knew, but it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. For one thing, he was gay, so that sort of put a nix on the whole harem/orgy fantasy some other guys might have had.

Speaking of which… His only male counterpart in the room was smokin’ hot. He was probably about six foot, nice build, thick dark hair… DJ shifted in his seat as he thought about how soft his hair looked. Usually dark hair didn’t look soft, but this guy had hair that begged to have his fingers sink into it. He got a look at his face before he found a seat, no disappointment there either. Strong jaw, even features, really nice gray eyes. Damn. Lust at first sight.

He looked down at his book before he got caught looking. It was going to be damn hard to concentrate when all he could think about was getting that guy’s number.

Dave grinned when he saw the guy sit down. He wouldn’t be stuck in the henhouse after all. The dude looked a little shy but that’d never stopped him. He moved his books over to the desk beside him, sat down and stuck out his hand. “Hey, bro, Dave Brooks. Nice to see I’m not alone.”

DJ shook the offered hand. “DJ Connor. Nice to meet you.” He smiled his best smile, he’d been told often enough he had a really great melt-your-knees smile. He got a friendly one in return, but no vibe one way or another.

They were getting looks from the girls around them and Dave fought down a laugh. Like high school all over again. Most of these girls probably were just out of high school. DJ, though, was about his own age. Could have been a model with that long, lean body and those perfect white teeth, those big dark eyes and thick waves of chestnut hair. Not that he was flirting-looking but it was hard not to notice.

“So, what brings you in here?” Dave indicated the room full of young women. “EMT looking to get off the night shift? Accountant who wants a less soulless career?”

DJ chuckled. “How’d you guess? The first, I’m not a soulless account.” Actually, he didn’t mind the nightshift so much. It was the daily trauma of the job he needed to get away from. He’d seen way too much in the last three years. Humanity’s capacity to do violence to one another was something most people thought about when they watched the news or had something bad happen to them or a family member or neighbor. Outside of that they could escape from it, they didn’t have it put in front of them on daily basis, up close and personal.

He had seen six people shot dead and four victims of domestic altercations that hadn’t survived in the last four months. Those were just the DOA’s. Yeah, he was a little burnt out.

“What about you? Is taking care of people your true calling, or are you here for the co-eds?”

“‘Co-eds’?” Dave almost choked on a snicker. “Christ, does anyone still say that? Anyway, no, the girls are safe with me. I was a medic with the Marines. Probably should’ve done this a long time ago but I was kinda…decompressing for a bit there first.”

DJ wasn’t sure which part of that was the most interesting. He settled on ‘the girls are safe with me’. Did that mean he already had a girlfriend? Or that he wasn’t interested in the girls? Before he got a chance to ask, the class got underway and they had to stop talking for a while and pay attention.

He paid as much attention as he could while agonizing over whether he should ask Dave Brooks if he wanted to go get a cup of coffee after class, or go out for a beer later. He ended up not asking. He didn’t want to come on too strong right away and scare him off. He waited three more weeks, chatting Dave up before each class. The more he learned, the more he liked, and he was hoping he could get to know him a lot better by the time he worked up the courage to ask.

They were gathering their books to leave. “Hey, Dave, you want to go get something to eat, or go get a drink later?”

Dave looked at his watch, a reflex since he knew what time it was. “I’d go for the first one, bro. I’ve got a few hours before I need to get home and get dinner started.”

“Great, let’s go.” DJ smiled.

They went to a little sandwich and sub shop not too far from campus. A quick bite turned into two hours. It just seemed like they clicked. They had things in common, both having a medical background and previous occupations involving high stress situations. They both had little brothers and asshole fathers, and had grown up in the area.

By the time they parted ways DJ was more than just interested, he had a full blown crush on Dave. The only problem was, he still didn’t know his orientation or if he was attached. For some reason they hadn’t gotten around to discussing it. No, that wasn’t true. DJ had avoided asking because he wanted to hold onto the hopeful feeling for a bit longer and was too afraid to ask.

The mid-term announcement came at the end of the next class and Dave’s stomach rolled over in a queasy lurch. Tests…he’d forgotten how much he hated tests. Not that he’d been shirking his studies but the simple word ‘test’ gave him the shudders.

“You OK, Dave?” DJ asked as they got up to leave.

“Oh…yeah.” Dave shook his head on a grin. “Just examaphobic.”

To his relief, DJ offered to help him study. That way, he said, if he felt like everything was hammered into his brain he’d be less anxious. Such a good guy.

As he so often did with other men, Dave missed all the signals and went to DJ’s apartment the next morning in blissful ignorance.

DJ’s intentions really were to study. Oh, sure, he had ulterior motives, but if Dave wasn’t interested he could handle that. After being crushingly disappointed he could handle it. Dave was more than just some hot guy he wanted, he really was a good person, someone DJ would be happy to keep as a friend even if he turned him down.

Three hours after Dave arrived they were still hitting the books hard. DJ stood and stretched, his back and neck popping. He’d been drilling Dave on the material and he’d yet to stump him. “C’mon Dave, you know this front and back. Take a break.” He put his hands on Dave’s shoulders and dug his thumbs into knotted muscles.

The groan he got sent a lightning bolt of desire through him. God, what he wouldn’t give to have him groan like that for other reasons.

“Mmm, that feels good,” Dave murmured as his eyes slid shut.

Well, that was encouraging, DJ thought with a little grin. He kneaded Dave’s shoulders and when he just couldn’t resist any longer he bent and placed a soft kiss at the base of Dave’s jaw.

“Um, Deej?” Dave’s face flushed hot. “Maybe I should’ve told you I have a boyfriend…”

DJ tried hard not to sigh, but the disappointment still showed. Damn. “You have a boyfriend? Like a relationship, or your just seeing someone?”

“Not like a relationship. A relationship. He lives with me and everything.”

“Oh.” DJ let his hands fall away reluctantly. “I’m sorry Dave, I hope this doesn’t change things too much.” Depressed now, and sure that this would indeed change things DJ went and flopped down on the couch, pretty sure Dave would hurriedly collect his stuff and leave.

He was surprised how much it hurt. It wasn’t like he was a kid with his first crush, he had hoped for something more but… ah well, he supposed he was just lonely. He hadn’t seen anyone since Jamie, hadn’t had any desire to either, until Dave.

Dave scrubbed his hands over his face. Christ, he was a first-class idiot sometimes and now he’d hurt DJ which had been the last thing he’d wanted. He liked the guy, dammit.

He settled in the chair next to the sofa and put a hand on DJ’s arm. “I’m sorry, man. I’m one of those guys you have to club over the head instead of send signals to. Being dense is one of the things I do best.”

So much pain lurked in those dark eyes, it sliced through Dave’s heart. “Have I done a really stupid thing, Deej? Leading you on and shit when I didn’t realize it?”

“Oh yeah. Flirted like a shameless hussy you did.” He winked and dialed up a smile, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Naw, man. Not your fault,” he said softly. “I was the one being stupid.”

“Stupid ‘cause you wanted some company?”

“Listen, I don’t want you to think I just invited you over here to hit on you. It’s not like that. I mean, it’s sort of like that, but that wasn’t the only reason. I like you. As a friend. Shit, this is sounding lamer and lamer.” He gave a mirthless chuckle.

“No, bro, it doesn’t.” Dave gripped his arm tighter. “Everybody gets lonely.”

“I haven’t dated anyone in a long time.” Actually it hadn’t seemed like a long time until now. Now it felt like it had been ages since he’d had someone touch him, someone to hold.

Dave wanted so bad to erase the anguish in those eyes. “What happened, Deej?”

“Oh, it’s the same old story, you know. Boy meets boy, falls in love, gets his heart ripped out and handed to him.” He gave another dry chuckle. Why on earth was he talking about this? He had to look away; he couldn’t look Dave in the eye and talk about Jamie. It was over and done with. History. But damn that boy had hurt him like he’d never been hurt. “He was fucking at least four of my so-called friends. Always the last to know, right?” Why the hell was he telling Dave any of this?

“Not exactly open and honest about it, I take it.” Dave sighed. “Guess it ended pretty bad, huh?”

DJ snorted. “Yeah. You could say that. After everything, he dumped me.” He could feel his throat tightening and cleared it quickly. This was ridiculous. He was not going to sit here and bawl about Jamie in front of Dave like an idiot.

Dave moved next to him and put an arm around his shoulders. DJ wished he hadn’t. He knew Dave was just trying to comfort him, but it was more like he loosened his control. He felt the hot scald of tears in his eyes and couldn’t stop them. Wonderful. He was going to cry like a baby about another guy in the arms of the one he wanted and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Dave’s arms felt so good around him. The way he pulled him closer and made little soothing sounds just about melted his heart. He hadn’t let himself cry since the night Jamie left him. He’d just sucked it up and got on with life because there was nothing else he could do. It was easier to go through the motions switched off.

Now here was Dave, who he couldn’t have, and he had definitely flipped his switch back to on, in more ways than one. Even crying his eyes out he couldn’t help notice he had good shoulders, his scent at the crook of his neck was clean and warm, the hands that stroked his back and his arm were both strong and soothing. God, it was completely insane but he thought he was in love with Dave.

Not good. This was so not good. DJ picked his head up and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He was trying to get his hitching breath under control. “I’m sorry…” He looked at Dave, the compassion and concern he saw in his face twisted his insides. Cupping Dave’s face in his hands he groaned softly and kissed him. “So sorry, Dave…please.” He kissed him again and felt a dizzy rush. “Please Dave, I need you…” God, oh god, why was he doing this? It was so unfair.

The ‘please’ went right to Dave’s core, the desperate longing in that one word. “Sh, Deej, it’s all right.” He leaned back and pulled DJ onto his chest while he fumbled in his pocket for his phone. “Gimme a sec, bro, attaboy, it’s OK.” He stroked DJ’s back trying to calm him while he waited for Xav to answer. Oh, right. Rehearsal. He always switched his phone off during rehearsals or Zeph got pissed.

So he’d deal with telling Xav later. Right now he had to deal with the friend sobbing in his arms. He took DJ under the chin and kissed him again, sweet and tender. “It’s OK,” he whispered against soft lips while he let his hands wander to the small of DJ’s back in slow circles.

DJ knew this wasn’t right, knew he had no right to even ask… and yet when Dave kissed him he couldn’t make himself pull back. His will just wasn’t that strong. One arm slid around Dave’s waist and the other went around his shoulders, his hand coming up so he could slide his fingers along the back of his head and tangle in his hair. Soft tender kisses gave way to heat and fire. He poured weeks of pent up longing into his kiss.

He told himself he should take it easy, slow down. Instead he ground his hips into Dave and his fingers tightened hard in his hair, pulling back. His lips slashed across his, hard and fierce. He came up minutes later, looking down at Dave with hungry eyes. He reached back and yanked his tee shirt off.

Dave lay back, panting, his gaze devouring the lean-muscled torso DJ revealed so suddenly. Part of him still said, we should stop, Christ, we really should, but the unexpected ferocity made his nerves sing, the strength of that hard grip on his hair. He wondered if it was all just desperation or if DJ had certain needs.

He ran a hand down DJ’s chest, then back up to cup his jaw. “Deej,” he murmured, even while doubts nagged at him. “I like things spiked with pain. Don’t be afraid. Don’t hold back.”

DJ felt his few remaining functioning brain cells melt with fission heat. Dave couldn’t possibly have said anything that would make him hotter. DJ wasn’t exactly into the whole whips and chains thing, but he liked it a little rough. Without a word he grabbed the edge of Dave’s tee shirt and pulled it off him. He bent his head to Dave’s chest, pulling a nipple into his mouth in a hard suck while he made quick work of the button and zipper of his jeans. His fingers curled over the top and yanked them down as his teeth nipped at the tender bud.

With a soft moan he looked down at the beautiful shaft he’d just revealed and brushed his fingers down his length and back up, then down again to cup his balls. “God, you are so damn sexy…” he murmured as he nibbled his way down his nicely defined torso. “I wanna taste you so bad.” His hand wrapped around the base of Dave’s cock as his mouth closed over the head

“Ohgod,” Dave moaned as his hips lifted in little rolls. The passion rolling off DJ in heavy waves had short circuited his brain and his sense. The heated lips caressing him felt so damn good sliding down his cock.

He tangled his fingers in DJ’s hair and shoved inside his mouth, his body collapsing into nothing but a bundle of over-stimulated nerve endings.

DJ took in his scent and his taste, sliding his mouth up and down as he stroked him firmly. For some reason people tended to think of giving head as a bottom position, but along with the sexual rush DJ always felt a rush of power, too. Knowing he could make his partner writhe and moan in ecstasy from the caress of his mouth was as much a part of the pleasure as the feel and taste of them. He held and kneaded Dave’s heavy balls, pressing two fingers into the taut stretch of skin between them and his anus.

Dave’s reactions were incredible, the way he moved, the sounds he made, his fingers gripping his hair got him so hot he felt like he might come in his jeans from just giving him a blow job. He wanted more than that though. With some reluctance he came up off of Dave. Kissing his way back up Dave’s chest, he reached down to open his pants and free his own rock hard erection.

They pressed together as DJ caught Dave’s lips in another searing kiss, hard chests, hard cocks, and heated skin grinding together. When DJ just couldn’t wait any longer he broke off the kiss and urged Dave to turn over with his hands. “Turn around,” he said in a husky murmur.

Without hesitation, Dave flipped over before a belated thought hit him. “Deej, you got protection?”

DJ kissed and nipped along Dave’s shoulders, hands caressing his body as he pressed up against the most perfect ass he’d seen in forever. He swallowed hard before he could speak. “I don’t have any condoms, but I know I’m clean. I haven’t been with anyone in six months and I’ve been tested twice for everything since the last person I slept with. If its no… its no, I’ll understand.” And probably die of frustration. Please, please don’t say no…

“’K. I trust you,” Dave whispered and lifted his butt in invitation.

Relief washed over DJ and a renewed sense of urgency. He wet two fingers in his mouth and slid them inside Dave, working him open quickly while he rubbed some more spit lube over his aching cock. He probably should have taken a little more time with prep but he could hardly think of anything else but getting inside Dave’s tight warm body. He nudged his cock head between his cheeks, gave one tentative push and sank inside in a hard thrust. Gripping Dave’s hips he stopped completely, holding in place, knowing he’d definitely given him a spike of pain

Dave lay panting, both hands gripped in the sofa cushions. He’d managed not to cry out but the pain sent a lightning jolt through his body, his erection expanding with it. Still he waited, not stupid enough to want damage done, until his body relaxed. When the sharpness receded, he pushed back against DJ’s hard intrusion.

“That’s it,” he whispered, arching his back and lifting his ass. “Give it to me, babe.”

DJ slid his hands slowly up Dave’s ribs, caressing him up to his shoulders where he gripped him. He nudged his knees between Dave’s, spreading him wider. He rocked his hips with Dave’s gentle rhythm for a few long minutes, enjoying the slow sensuality as much as his tight grip on his cock. “God, you feel fucking fantastic…” His pace picked up and he pulled back on his shoulders as he drove into him harder and faster. When he let go of his shoulders it was to bring his hand back to Dave’s hips and land a few hard swats on the beautiful mounds of his cheeks.

Bending to curl over him and wrap his arms around Dave’s chest he kept up the driving rhythm, his teeth grazing his skin in sharp nips as his hot breath huffed out. “Oh yeah, baby, that is so damn good… gonna fuck you so hard, sweetheart…” He murmured as he pinched and teased Dave’s nipples.

“Christ…yes…” Dave moaned and whimpered in pleasure when DJ’s teeth closed on his skin. The tendrils of pain intertwined with the pleasure in such breathtaking ways. The crack of DJ’s hand on his backside had made his head spin.

“Harder…oh, Deej….please…harder…”

DJ was more than happy to oblige, giving him exactly how hard and how fast he needed… they both needed. Panting and riding the edge after an exhilarating climb he sank his fingers into Dave’s hair and pulled him up sharply until he was up on his knees. One hand fisted in his hair, the other snaked around his hip to stroke his cock in long firm strokes while he hammered into him from behind. His teeth fastened onto the muscle running from neck to shoulder and he groaned low in his throat as he looked down at his hand around Dave’s hard cock. He wanted to watch when he came.

Like being mounted by a lion, held fast between the fist in his hair and the teeth gripping his shoulder, the feast of sensations rocketed Dave towards the summit. He didn’t need to move much, DJ did everything for him, and his moans slid into soft cries of delight.

“Ohgodohgod…I’m gonna come…” he gasped and bucked back hard against DJ. The fist around him and the cock inside him thumped down together and he bellowed as the pressure built to agonizing and burst, his seed shooting from him in near painful bursts.

“Ohhh…you are one fuckin hot boy…” DJ growled into the side of his throat as he stroked every last bit from him. He slid his hand up Dave’s belly, his own orgasm slamming into him as he buried himself deep. The sweet hot rush roared over him with Dave’s bellows and DJ joined him in a few throaty ecstatic cries.

As the pulses began to fade he rolled Dave back down prone and lay across him regaining his breath. “Oh… my god, that was so damn hot…” he murmured. “Thank you,” He kissed the corner of Dave’s mouth. “Thank you, you wonderful sexy thing.” He smiled and kissed him again.

Dave stroked his arm and let out a soft chuckle. “You’re welcome. No problem at all.” Then he rolled so he could wrap his arms around DJ, fingers combing through his hair. “Good to see you smile. You’ve got such a killer smile.”

“Mm.” DJ smiled at him sleepily. “My study methods are sure to get you a perfect score on that test, Mr. Brooks.” He chuckled.

“Might’ve done better in high school if I’d had this kind of tutor,” Dave said with a straight face. He grinned when DJ gave his a playful swat on the hip. He stroked the side of DJ’s face. “I’ve gotta get home, handsome.”

DJ’s smile faded a little, or rather got a little more serious. “Dave, I’m so sorry if I’ve… made a problem for you.”

“Those would be my problems, yeah? Don’t you worry about all that.” He gave DJ a last, tender kiss. “Not gonna say anything lame like I’ll call you. I’ll see you in class.” With that he gathered his things and went home, rehearsing the explanation. Xav would understand, a friend in such terrible pain, what was he supposed to have done?

He stopped worrying at it while he cooked dinner. A little homemade barbecue sauce, some nice thick pork chops, snow peas and red baby potatoes, all things Xav loved. Not a lot of food Xav didn’t love. He’d started to enjoy cooking again when he stopped working. It was fun again and he had the most appreciative audience one could want.

Chapter 234 – Lovely, Dark and Deep (2)