Lovers with Open Minds, Friends with Benefits

Posts tagged ‘Katya’

Chapter 295 – Viking Burial

Chapter 288 – Thor (2)

They decided it would be better for Vincent to come to Katya’s rather than take Thor to see him.

“Vince, I know you’re only trying to keep me safe, but Orion’s my friend, too. I want to see him,” Drew said.

“My kestrel, I would prefer you stay here. He’s relived a trauma which destroyed him once, and he’s already lashed out at one person. We don’t know what more discovery will do, if he will slip back into being Orion, or if he will snap entirely.”

“He won’t,” Drew said obstinately. “I want to be there for him.”

Vincent sighed. “I know you do, but I do not know if that would be best for either of you. Drew, you remind him of Jake. Your presence might trigger something in him–”

“Or it might not,” Drew interrupted. He came closer, put his hands on Vince’s shoulders and squeezed gently, looking into those dark, fathomless eyes. “Vince, stop treating me like a child. I’m not made out of glass. You can’t protect me from the world. He’s my friend, and he’s hurt, and I want to be there for him.”

“You’re three weeks out of surgery, my love. If you were to hit your head…” He stopped. “Or step off a curb and get hit by a bus, be struck by lightening, attacked by a rabid raccoon…” He sighed. “Are you sure I can’t simply keep you inside forever? I’ll build you a gilded cage, design you outfits made of Kevlar?”

They both chuckled and Drew cupped his face for a soft kiss, then picked up the case off the floor that contained Vince’s laptop and they went to Katya’s.

Naturally, since Drew was going, Jonathan couldn’t be left behind. His arguments had been far more vehement and dramatic than Drew’s but in the end, he got his way as well. Vincent shook his head, wondering where his permissive mood had sprung from.

#

The shaking refused to stop. It was like walking backwards through some strange, gray swamp. The present had become as murky as the past had once been. Thor tried to remember the names of the people around him, where he had been the week or the day before, but it kept sliding sideways out of reach.

The Dragon Prince arrived with his Butterfly and his Coyote. He knew them, was glad to see them, but the familiarity had no connections at the moment. Backwards. He needed to start from the point it had all fallen apart and perhaps he could venture forwards again.

His gaze settled on the white dragon. “How much do you know about neutrinos?”

“A bit,” came the velvet-soft reply. “I’ve read as much as I could find on them.”

Thor picked up a pad of paper and pen from the coffee table and began writing in frantic spurts. “Energy…in vast quantities…just beyond reach…as if they populated a parallel universe…”

The Dragon leaned closer, then pulled himself over to sit beside him on the sofa. Poor dragon, with clipped wings, numbers seemed to help him fly. Thor understood that. He went on, even as he reached the point in the equations where there would be no real solution, only the false one they had forced on him.

“Cerberus…they called it Cerberus…”

“Who did?”

“The government people, the military people…it was their project.” He stopped writing, that terrible point of fracture reached. “An attempt to create…negative space…to harness neutrinos…for what purpose they never said.”

“Probably not to grow food for fluffy bunnies,” Coyote muttered.

Thor looked at Coyote, trying to understand what he meant. “Most likely not. Destruction not growth.”

“Right. You boys play. I’ll be in the kitchen.” Coyote wandered out shaking his head.

#

Jonathan found Katya staring at the open fridge. “Wondering how you’ll feed him, Ms. Kat?”

Her snort was amused but the set of her face, the way she held herself, spring-tight, told him she was angry and tried to hide it. He guessed at the reason. It bugged him a little, too, but having sat there and watched the disconnected way Orion…Thor was processing things, he also thought he understood the why.

“You know,” he began cautiously. “I think he’ll have a really bad moment when he realizes what he’s done. Don’t think he even knows yet he hurt the Prince. Don’t think it’s gotten onto his static-y radar yet. Like he’s trying to think his way back again to join the rest of us and hasn’t made it here.”

Katya selected an apple and turned toward him, letting the door swing closed. “Jonathan, do not try to reason me out of a bad mood.” She scolded him, but without any real heat. She set the apple on the cutting board, drew the largest knife from the block, and hacked it in two. She picked up one half and offered it to him, “Apple?”

He was smart enough not to refuse her, whether he wanted it or not. She took a bite of her own half and chewed thoughtfully. Finally she said, “I know he doesn’t realize yet. Which is why I haven’t said anything about it, and won’t.” Yet, her tone implied. She looked down at the piece of fruit, and although the ire was still there on the surface, a glimmer of something profoundly sad flickered across her face for a moment, and vanished. “How horrible to live with a fear so long, and then have it happen exactly as you’d feared it would,” she said, not adding how her own heart ached for Elric and what he must be suffering.

“Yes, ma’am,” Jonathan agreed softly, and then took a little bite of his apple. “You know I adore the Prince. I’d do anything for him. Doesn’t mean I can’t see both sides. Thing is, just because it’s happened and everybody involved is hurting, doesn’t mean it’s over. That man in your living room…”

He pointed with the apple and fought against swallowing hard at the look Katya had fixed on him. “That man isn’t quite Orion anymore. True. But that’s not Thor Heimdahl on your sofa either.”

“What do you mean?” her eyes narrowed.

“I found video of Heimdahl online. Amazing what you can find on You Tube. Anyway, it was this interview for an online science journal. That man in the video acted like he owned the world. The kind of man who’s always right and knows what he wants and everybody else better get the hell out of the way. Reminded me a little of Vic, actually. The man we have here isn’t him. Or he is, but he’s also Orion and he’s also something new, I think. He’ll have to figure out who. Doesn’t mean he’s stopped loving the Prince all of the sudden, though. Everybody’s made that assumption but it’s way too early to call.”

Katya poked him in the ribs. “And you, my sweet, have made the assumption that ‘everybody’s’ assumed. I know he might have even more regrets soon. If I didn’t think that I would have thrown him out already.”

Jonathan gave her a skeptical look that said she would have done no such thing. Katya composed her features into serious lines and refused to look at him until they both chuckled.

~*~

Drew sat on the chair beside the couch and listened to Orion and Vince discuss stuff that only vaguely made any sense. He wasn’t really listening to the words being said as much as he was observing the conversation. Orion… Thor. No, Orion. he knew him as Orion, he would think of his as Orion, even if he called him by his other name. Orion gestured animatedly and spoke in a quick concise manner even when he wasn’t entirely straight on his thoughts.

It was a little disturbing. Like a Pod Person had taken him over. The Orion he knew hardly gestured at all, when he did it was very precise movements, as if he must think before every action. For such a large man he was soft spoken, and even if he didn’t always make total sense, he was thoughtful. This Orion ran down verbal avenues like a truck out of control, slammed on the brakes and took off in another direction seemingly at random. Drew had heard him speak more in the last twenty minutes than probably the entire time he’d known him.

The changes were more than just speech and mannerisms. It was something harder to define, more a feeling for a person than an actual thing he could put his finger on. There was a lack of…of deference to him. It wasn’t that he spoke forcefully, it was obvious he knew when he was right, impatient if Vincent didn’t immediately understand what he was saying. He’d glanced at Drew once, without warmth or much recognition. His personality was totally different.

A part of him was happy for Orion. This was after all a breakthrough for him, he would have a past, however painful, and an identity that had been denied to him. Another part of him was completely dismayed. This was not Orion, not the Orion he knew, and if this person stayed he would probably never see the Orion he knew again. He was sitting right in front of him, and yet he might as well have died.

At a pause in the conversation Drew finally spoke. “Is it so important that you figure out exactly what went wrong right now?” he asked quietly. “I mean, you know something did go wrong… maybe you should try and remember what happened right after that.”

Thor shot him a look so full of anguish, Drew regretted the question. “I know what happened after that. He died because of the something that went wrong. My Jake died screaming.”

Vincent put a gentle hand on his arm. “We know. We’re so sorry. For your loss. For his terrible pain. You tried to save him, though. You went into the flames to try to bring him out. What happened then?”

“I think…” Tears crept down Thor’s face again. “No…I remember…getting as far as the hall. The rescue workers came. Too late for him. They…I still…they took him from me…”

They had to wait while he broke down completely again, sobbing uncontrollably with his head on his knees.

Drew moved over to the couch, sat on Orion’s other side, and put his arms around him. Changed or not, he was still a friend, and another human being in pain. He rubbed his back in soothing circles and kissed one broad shaking shoulder. “I’m so sorry…” He murmured.

Thor wiped his eyes on his sleeve, his chest heaving, and stared at the beautiful boy beside him. Butterfly… “Drew?” he whispered. Yes, this was Drew, his dear friend, the first face he could focus on clearly that day. He wrapped his arms around Drew’s waist and buried his face in his lap, somehow able to take the comfort in his arms he hadn’t been able to accept from anyone else.

Vincent kept his anxious thoughts to himself. Orion would have died before he could have hurt Drew. He had to trust Thor was still the same man in that respect. So far he behaved and treated Drew gently and the physical contact calmed him, his desperate anguish reverting back to quiet misery.

“What then, Thor?” Vincent asked quietly. “What happened after?”

“After…there was darkness.” Thor’s deep voice drifted up, muffled by Drew’s lap. “A white room…hospital, probably. People asked things. The meaning kept slipping away. Like trying to talk to someone from the bottom of a swamp. I…left. And went somewhere else.”

“Where did you go?”

Thor’s answer came after a heavy silence. “I’m not sure. A bus? Was there a bus? And how did I get on? A city, at some point. I don’t know where. Alleys and garbage and shivering in the cold. I think…I don’t think I had shoes. Men attacked me. The world flooded with red. Someone saw…watched me fight them off. How many, I don’t know.”

Drew continued to stroke his hands soothingly over Orion’s back. His throat felt tight and he had to swallow hard. As hard as it was for Orion to remember what had happened to Jake, he couldn’t imagine that remembering the next part of his life was going to be any easier for him. Elric only had a tiny bit of it, but it was enough to know that what had been done to him, what he’d been forced to do, was beyond inhuman.

“The rage faded. They came to me when I was exhausted. Promised safety and shelter. I went in the back of a van. A long way…it seemed a long way. When we arrived they chained me to the wall…to protect me, they said.” Thor’s voice was hardly a whisper now, hollow and bereft.

“When I did what they said, they fed me. When I refused, they came with whips and clubs. They trained me to the bell. To fight for them. I…don’t remember much from the ring. The bell. The rage. Someone dragged out after the bell rang again.”

Anyone else would have said ‘you don’t have to tell us all this’. Vincent and Drew knew better. They waited through each pause, offering physical comfort but no interruptions.

He heaved a breath. “I must have won most times. Rewards came. Blankets. A cot. Companions. They brought girls until they saw I had no interest. Then they brought a boy. Very pretty. Terrified. They told him the only reason he wasn’t beaten and thrown into the street was he was there to please me. They stood and watched while he came to me, trembling. Touched me. Took me in his mouth. They left when I came. He cried. I never molested him. Never threatened him. Shared my food with him. Soon he slept in my cot instead of on the floor. It was…better. To have someone there.

“But a night came when I was ill and they still put me in the ring. I lost. They came with whips and took the boy away. He cried then, too. I’m not sure why. But the world darkened again. I looked into the eyes of an opponent one night and saw the fear. I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. The rage still came sometimes but I no longer tried to call it up. I wanted an end.

“Then one evening, I looked out into the spectators and saw an angel had come. A shining white angel dressed in black. I knew he’d come for me. I didn’t even put my hands up when the bell rang. It was time to die, I thought.”

A wistful note crept into his voice. “And the angel had come for me. My angel. He whisked me away…”

Thor stiffened suddenly in Drew’s arms, then pulled away abruptly and surged to his feet. “My angel… ohgod…no….”

Drew stood quickly as well. “Orion… Thor, sorry. Don’t run off again, okay? We’ll take you home, if that’s what you want?”

“Home?”

“Yes…well, the home you’ve known for the last couple years anyway. We’ll take you to the Prince, your angel. If you’re ready to see him now.”

“My love,” Vincent broke in, quiet but insistent. “Stay where you are. Give him a moment.”

Horror and confusion warred on Thor’s face. He took a step towards the door, stopped, and turned back with an anguished sound. Vincent held his breath when those tormented eyes turned to him and Thor rushed at him. Violence was not what he had in mind, though.

He dropped to one knee and seized Vincent’s hand in both of his. “How much did he know? All this time? When…and how?”

Vincent considered the questions carefully. There was no good answer here, only the truth. “The Prince has wrestled with the question of your identity from the moment he found you. He only had the bits and hints you could give him, from unfocused memories and fever dreams. He knew something terrible had happened. Guessed you had been in physics. Had learned your first name might have been Thor a few weeks ago when you mentioned it. But not until two nights ago was he able to place all the pieces together and find a person with a history to fit all these things.”

Thor knelt rigid and trembling for one heart-pounding moment. Then his expression crumpled and he dashed off, not outside but down the hall to the bathroom. The door slammed and miserable retching came from behind it.

Katya and Jonathan stepped into the room and Vincent filled them in on the parts they had missed.

“And the regret comes sooner rather than later.” Katya commented with a glance in Jonathan’s direction. “Maybe that’s a good thing. Should I call Elric, do you think?”

“I’m not certain yet,” Vincent said with a little shake of his head. “I don’t think Elric will be in any condition to leave his bed and I’m unsure whether Thor will be calm enough to transport home.”

“Well, only one way to find out, right?” Jonathan went to the bathroom door and put his ear to it. “Hey, big guy, you OK?”

No answer.

“Getting a little tired of pounding on bathroom doors,” Jonathan muttered.

He tried the handle, though, and found it unlocked. Thor lay curled on the floor, head buried in his arms, back heaving with his shuddering breaths.

“Beloved…please be careful.”

Jonathan shot Vincent a crooked smile. “Hey, who knows better how to deal with this kind of thing than me?”

He stepped in and wrinkled his nose while he closed the lid and flushed. Poor man obviously hadn’t eaten much over the last few days. Probably wasn’t helping his short-circuiting brain.

“Hey.” He put a gentle hand on Thor’s shoulder. “Look, I know the Porcelain Goddess is good company sometimes but I gotta tell you, she sucks to sleep with.” When he didn’t get a reaction, he reached down and gently moved one of Thor’s arms from his face. Blue eyes stared out onto some distant landscape. “Great. Ms. Kat, I don’t think it’s a good idea to move him anywhere today or try to get him to make any more decisions.”

Katya nodded her head in agreement. “Richard?”

Richard came forward as Jonathan stood and moved out of the way. He knelt beside Thor, taking up where Jonathan had just been, and murmured soothingly to him. With Richard’s help, Thor got up and Richard took him upstairs to the guest room.

“I’d like to stay with him.” Drew said softly to Vince. “He shouldn’t be left alone.”

Vincent nodded. “Of course, my love. He has recognized you and I am convinced now you will be safe.”

#

With the thick, velvet drapes pulled shut, the single, dim lamp in the corner of the bedroom only emphasized the gloom. Keit didn’t dare risk any more light for fear of bringing on one of the headaches that made the Prince so ill. His poor, battered head hurt enough.

Evening drew near and soon the hated sun would set. In the meantime, Keit sat on the edge of the bed trying to coax his highness into taking some tea and crackers. The tea he sipped, the crackers he waved away before he slipped back into his brooding.

Beyond bringing ice and staying beside him, Keit had no idea what else to do for him. He had fallen into melancholy brooding of his own when Elric’s voice startled him.

“I do not know vhat possessed me thet evening,” he began softly, ice blues eyes staring into memory. “I despise blood sports. But an aquvaintance needed an escort. She said it vould be exciting. Horrifying vas closer to the truth. These fighters vere so brutal, so intent on causing as much pain as possible. Two metches and I vished to go.”

He placed the teacup down on the nightstand. “But then they led out the most magnificent creature I hed ever seen. Led, because he vas in chains vhich they unlocked vhen they put him in the ring. The announcer called him ‘Beast’ and tried to convince the crowd he vas a vicious, vild animal. Our eyes met. I saw the anguished, lost soul there. And I could not leave until I hed been able to extrect him from his jailers. It vas expensive but how does vone put a price on a man’s life?”

“Easily, my Prince.” Keit said with more cynicism than he usually showed. “People have been doing it throughout history and in all cultures. The things humans will do to one another has always… astonished me.”

One white brow crept up, Elric’s only sign of emotion. “Perheps I should hef rephrased. I meant to say thet for me no price vould hef been too dear.” He reached out to take Keit’s hand. “Herzchen…are you all right?”

Keit lifted his eyes. “I was speaking of those men, my Prince. Not you. And no, I’m not exactly alright, but I’ll be okay.” He brought Elric’s hand up to rub his cheek across the back. He blinked back the moisture in his eyes and swallowed the lump in his throat. He would not voice the question, but he couldn’t help thinking, what would happen if Orion didn’t want to come back to them?

Elric turned his hand to cup Keit’s cheek. “Oh, my heart…please don’t cry. Please.”

Keit closed his eyes and pulled in a deep breath. It wasn’t fair of him to cry now, when Elric most needed him. He could wait until later. “Yes, sir,” he said in a husky, but steady voice.

“I did not mean it as a command,” Elric whispered. “I simply feel so…useless. I see you hurt and I cannot think vhat to do. My ections hef caused his anguish and yours. Immer das selber…alvays the same. Those who come close to me come to grief.”

Keit made a sound that was half chuckle and half sob. “My Prince, everyone comes to grief. If anything, you make the grief less.” He turned and slid down next to Elric, careful not to jostle him too much as he put his arms around him. “You don’t know what to do for me, and I don’t know what to do for you… but at least we can muddle through together. Ich liebe dich.”

“So, ja, zusammen.” Elric kissed the top of his head. “I love you, too, my heart.”

#

Drew settled on the bed beside Thor and pulled the covers up around his shoulders. For a long time he simply sat with him, watching him lie there and drift. Eventually he talked to him, little things, he told him about the Japanese garden Vince had take him to, and the latest piece of music he was working on, and when he planned to go back to school. When he got tired he lay down next to him and held his hand.

Thor’s fingers closed gently over his, though otherwise he remained still. “Drew? I…I’ve hurt him. I said terrible things to him. How could I have done such a thing?”

“You were in shock…grief makes us not think right. He knows that. Ms. Katya spoke to him already. He knows you’re here and safe. He loves you, has already forgiven you, Thor.”

“I’m not so sure I can forgive myself. What if…what if I’m really a monster? Selfish. Bad-tempered. Violent. What if I hurt someone again?”

“I hurt people I loved, too. It doesn’t mean we’re bad, it just means we have to try again, try harder.”

Thor held Drew’s hand up, straightened his fingers out, and then placed their palms together. His hand dwarfed Drew’s slender fingers. “Except when I hurt someone, I might kill them by mistake.”

Drew lifted his eyes from their hands to peer into Thor’s. “All the more reason for you to try harder. Orion… Thor, you hurt him yes, don’t destroy him by turning your back on him for good because you’re afraid you might hurt him again.”

A long silence hung between them, then, “You can call me Orion if you want. I’m not…sure Thor was someone you would’ve liked.”

Over the next two days, Thor spent most of his time in bed, eyes closed. Whether he actually slept or not was debatable but he only stumbled out now and again to use the bathroom and then crawled back under the covers.

Suggestions that he go see Elric were only met with a shake of his head while a suggestion that he call him received a wordless look of anguished guilt. Apparently, Thor couldn’t muster enough forgiveness for himself to face the Prince. Eventually, though, it was gently hinted that Katya was not kindly disposed towards long-term sloth, so he rose and showered and began to putter about the house.

Like many scientists, who often had to rig equipment and invent their own mechanical solutions, Thor had a deep-rooted practical side. He tightened down a loose toilet, fixed a slow drip in the downstairs faucet, repaired the switch for the back patio light, changed the oil in all three cars, and hung a set of shelves in the garage no one had managed to get around to. He went about all his tasks in a serious, silent way, as if he engaged in some solemn ritual rather than home repair. Perhaps if Katya had needed a handyman with a broken heart, it might have been nice to keep him.

Jonathan watched him through the window a few days later while Thor trimmed the hedges. He’d come by to see how things were and wasn’t terribly encouraged. ‘So does he talk about it? About going home?”

Katya shook her head on a sip of coffee.

“That is one big mountain of guilt out there.”

“Mm,” Katya crossed to the window to stand beside him and look out. “Well, you know that old saying about how if the mountain won’t come to the man…”

“Yes, well, been working on that,” Jonathan said and took a long sip from his own coffee. Katya poked him when he didn’t elaborate right away. “Ow. Sorry. His highness hasn’t been in much better shape, is the problem. Hardly leaves his room. Won’t see clients. Of course, I understand him not wanting to see clients with a bruised face. But he’s…eaten up inside. You can tell he blames himself even though he speaks in that same calm voice he always does.”

“But I’m working on it.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek. “How do you feel about hosting a little private, intimate dinner party?”

“You know I would do anything to help right things, my dear. However, if your cajoling does not pan out soon, I will take… stronger measures myself.” Which meant her patience was just about at an end, and one or the other of these stubborn males would soon reap the result of that impatience.

Jonathan sighed. “You’ve been so tolerant, Katya. I know you have. I hope you don’t have to.” Thing was, he feared that a Katya dressing-down would drive Thor further into himself or raise Elric’s hackles to the point where he couldn’t listen to reason. “I’ll do the best I can. And you know I’m very good.”

“Yes, you are sweetheart. Like how you just tried to placate me so I wouldn’t go and bully either one of them and ruin all your finely finessed plans.”

She had to laugh softly at the way he suddenly tried to widen his eyes innocently. She patted his arm. “I would not try to bully Elric. But if your considerable charm and wit fail to produce the desired results, we shall have to examine other options. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He gave her a soft smile and leaned his head on her shoulder. Maybe it was all they had been through together, maybe it was some other strange connection but Katya was the only woman who could see straight through him. His own mother certainly never had. He loved her for it.

#

In the dark sanctuary of Elric’s bedroom, blue eyes opened to a whispered argument outside his door.

“Please, Jonathan, he’s been very clear about–”

“I know what he’s been clear on and it’s too freaking bad. His brain isn’t operating on all its cylinders.”

Keit’s desperate defense of the door having failed, the knob turned and Jonathan poked his head in. “Sir? I know you don’t feel well but could I talk to you? Please?”

The headache was better today. He truly should have been out of bed except that he had no energy, no appetite, and no interest in getting up. He hitched up against the headboard and waved Jonathan inside. “Vhat is it, junge? Hes something heppened at home?”

Jonathan winced. Not a good start when Elric called a person ‘boy’ instead of one of his pet names. “No, sir, everything’s fine at home. Except that we’re all worried about you. How are you?”

“Splendid. Never better,” came the softly ironic response.

“Sorry, sir. Stupid question.” Jonathan came to perch on the edge of the bed, his look of anxious concern not one he had to conjure up. He spoke for a while about Vincent and Drew, always coming back to the worry that nagged at them all. “Keit doesn’t look so good either, sir, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“It pleases me so thet you feel you must remind me of these things.”

Honestly, did the man have to hide behind sarcasm when he was miserable? Jonathan bit back a heated response. “Katya would like the pleasure of your company tomorrow night. For dinner. What should I tell her?”

“Tell her she should issue her own invitations instead of sending a manipulative little messenger boy.”

Jonathan hung his head, bottom lip between his teeth. The tears stinging the backs of his eyes weren’t show either. He had expected an initial refusal but not such a harsh one.

A white hand reached out to cover his. “Süsselein, I am sorry. Thet vas uncalled for. Please forgive me.”

“Yes, sir,” Jonathan whispered but a tear still fell.

“Please understand. I cannot see him this vay. So hideous.”

“Sir, you‘re exaggerating. Sorry. But your nose is back to normal and the bruises hardly make you hideous. You’re still beautiful. What’s he going to think if you don’t come? That you’re afraid of him now?”

“I do not fear any man,” Elric said in a low growl.

“Then come to dinner. Please. A chaperoned, supervised dinner–”

Elric sighed. “Tell her I vill come.”

#

“Of course he wants to see you, Orion.” Katya told him as she smoothed the collar of his shirt. “Why else would he agree to come tonight?”

He looked at his shoes, his deep voice soft with misery. “To tell me it’s done. He wouldn’t do it any other way than face to face.”

“Mm, you are correct; he would not end a relationship any other way. However, I seriously doubt that is his intention tonight.” She paused. “He wishes to talk to you, he loves you, and he’s missed you. Accept that, at least, and listen to what he has to say before you jump to any conclusions. Alright?”

He nodded, his huge barrel chest expanding in a sigh. Orion. He had insisted they call him by the name the Prince had given him and he wasn’t entirely sure why. What was he to say to this man? The man who had saved him, nurtured him, nursed him, and, yes, had loved him? What if he saw him again and felt…nothing?

“I’m scared, Ms. Kat. I’m sorry.”

Katya cupped her hand to his cheek. “It’s okay, to be scared. It’s normal. Courage comes when we face those fears anyway, no?”

“So I’ve heard.” His forehead creased. “Maybe I’ve never been brave.”

#

Keit paused on the stairs when he heard an anguished sound from his Dom’s room. He rushed to Elric’s door only to find him standing in his dressing gown, staring at his closet.

“Sir?”

“I cannot do this,” Elric said, running a hand over the side of his face. “How am I to face him vhen I cannot even think how to dress?”

“You can’t be that cruel, sir,” Keit said gently. “He is expecting you now. What will he think if you cancel?” he asked, coming forward to help him pick out clothes to wear.

“It is paralysis, not sadism,” Elric muttered. His heart gave a painful thud as his words brought to mind Orion’s last shouted epithets. “Am I cruel, herzchen? Are there times vhen you thought me so?”

Keit had never seen Elric so uncertain of himself, his confidence so shaken. It broke his heart nearly as much as it had when Orion left. “No, my Prince. You have never been cruel. Here…” Keit withdrew a dark emerald silk shirt. Not blue, which might seem cold on him, or red, which might be overwhelming right now. The green would be soothing. He took out fitted trousers in a dark charcoal as well. Very nice yet casual enough for a dinner party.

Elric let out a long breath and seemed to recover himself a little when he shooed Keit back out to let him dress. Why he had to dress in private, he couldn’t explain but it had been that way for a long time. Perhaps because he did it so deliberately, an audience would have destroyed the feeling of ritual.

He let the dressing gown fall from him and stood naked at the mirror. The bruise on his hip was the only sign his body carried from that day while his face…he sighed. Green and purple ran along the left side of his jaw while the skin around his right eye was still distinctly blue. At least I have some color in my face… He choked back a laugh, unwilling to give into nervous hysteria.

He pulled on the clothes Keit had set out for him and searched his shoe shelves for the right boots, black ankle boots with a relatively low heel, then sat down at his dressing table to brush out his hair. He tied it back, grimaced at the severe effect on his bruised face, then teased out the front just a bit and left the back alone. His hands shook as he placed the single emerald in his ear. He supposed it would do.

Appearances. Even when one was miserable and uncertain, one had to keep up appearances. He strode out and down the stairs where Keit waited with his coat in hand.

Keit handed it to him and kissed his cheek, then stood discretely to the side of the front window, watching until Elric was gone. Part of him had hoped he would be invited as well, and that part was sorely disappointed to be left behind, this meeting was so important. He reined those thoughts in, though. Orion and Elric needed their time and space to reconnect, if there was to be any hope of a future together.

When Elric arrived, Richard answered the door, much to his relief. He greeted everyone as he came in and spotted Thor…Orion…Gott im Himmel, what was he supposed to call the man? He hovered in the doorway to the dining room. Their eyes met briefly and Orion’s slid away to a spot on the floor.

Elric very nearly turned and walked out. Only Katya’s glare held him in place.

As if she wasn’t sure if even that would hold him long, Katya came forward and took his arm, leading him inside while Richard took his coat. “I’m so glad you came, Elric,” she murmured softly. “I’m sure there are things that you and Orion would like to discuss.” She took Orion’s arm as well as she glided past. Dwarfed between the two of them, she nonetheless was definitely the one in control of the situation here, in her domain.

In the dining room, a carafe of coffee waited, along with two place settings on the table, one at the head, and one on the immediate right. “I thought it might be better for you to speak privately. Dinner isn’t quite ready yet.” With that said, she kissed Elric’s cheek, and Orion bent when she turned to him so she could place one on his cheek as well, and then she left them.

Elric took the chair at the head of the table, straight and outwardly cool. He poured for them both, as he had always done, and when the big man still stood staring at the floor, he said softly, “If you do not vish to be here, no vone vill force you to stay.”

With a creak, the other chair accepted his weight, eyes still unable to lift from his lap.

“Thor.” Elric pronounced it as it should have been, ‘Tor’. “Do I call you this now?”

The big hands spread and then clasped together tightly. “I don’t know. If you want.”

Elric leaned an elbow on the table and put his chin in his hand. He supposed he hadn’t expected the boy to rush into his arms but this chilly reception threatened to snap his heart in two. “Am I so horrid, then? So revolting you cannot look at me?”

Thor shook his head. “No…it’s not…I mean, I can’t…” With a soft cry, he buried his face in his hands. “I can’t do this! God, I can’t! Please…it’s too much!”

“I vill go,” Elric said softly. “I hef upset you, Thor. It is obvious you no longer feel the same. I shall not torment you vith my presence.” He started to rise. A huge hand shot out and clamped onto his wrist, preventing further movement.

“No…you don’t understand,” the deep voice trembled with the earthquakes rolling through his chest. “Please don’t call me that. I can’t…it’s not…” He reached out his free hand to trace a finger along Elric’s jaw. “I…hurt you. I could’ve killed you.”

“But you did not.” Elric swallowed hard despite himself. “You could hef. But even in your darkest moment, in your rage and grief, you pulled the blows. The physical hurts vill mend.”

“But not the emotional? I said terrible things to you.”

“Orion,” Elric whispered. “Do you still love me?”

Orion withdrew his hands, chest heaving. He lifted his head and finally looked, truly looked, at the man next to him, his Eagle Prince, his angel… “Yes. God help you, yes.”

Elric turned in his chair and opened his arms. “Come here.”

With a strangled sound, Orion flung himself to his knees and buried his head against Elric’s chest, sobbing as if his heart had been torn from him.

Katya walked into the kitchen and a little smile curled her lips. Richard gave her a questioning look and she bestowed upon him one of her full dazzling smiles that made his knees weak. “I’d say things will work out just fine.”

“I hef missed you so,” Elric whispered into the mane of honey-blond hair.

“You don’t even know who I am anymore,” Orion hiccoughed. “I don’t know who I am…”

“You are the same man. There is simply…more of you now.” Elric stroked a hand over his broad back. “Although there vas certainly an awful lot of you to begin vith.”

Orion managed a strained laugh. The sound seemed to surprise him into a larger one. It felt as if an iron cage around Elric’s heart shattered and it beat freely again.

Chapter 287 – Thor (1)

“There, do you see?” Elric pointed a shaking finger at his computer screen.

Keit leaned in closer. The article had some incomprehensible title about aggregate anomalies of something or other. The picture, however, drew his gaze and could not have been clearer. A large man, obviously the scientist presenting the article, stood behind a lectern. The hair was shorter, the eyes focused and sharp, but Orion’s face and frame were unmistakable.

“I must tell him,” Elric said in an anguished whisper. “It is wrong, morally, ethically, to keep this from him.”

Keit slipped his arms around him, offering his solid comfort. “My Prince…” He shook his head and bit his bottom lip, then let out a soft breath. “Not right this minute you don’t. It will make no difference if it is today, tomorrow, or in a week. Give yourself at least a day to think before you tell him.”

So cool and distant with everyone else, Elric wrapped his arms around Keit and held him close, trembling. “I am about to lose him, mein herz. And I cannot bear it.” He clung for a moment before he went on more reasonably. “Not right this moment, no. He sleeps and I vould not rip him from his peace. Come. Ve shall both go up to him and hold him.”

He tugged Keit with him, the afterimage of Thor Heimdahl still on the computer screen as they left.

Keit let himself be led, but before they went in he stopped Elric and slid his arms around him once more. He was upset, both for Elric and for himself…but he was also a reasonable and practical man, and if he could offer his Prince any comfort, he needed to. Cupping his hand to the side or Elric’s face, he kissed him lightly. “Sir, you know it may make no difference to him. It doesn’t mean you…we, have to lose him.”

“It is true,” Elric whispered, his fingers combing through Keit’s hair. “The demage may be too great for him to recall this other life.” He drew in a deep breath and pulled Keit close. “I hef a terrible feeling, though, and I hope it is only my own fears.”

He took Keit by the hand again and led him to the canopied bed where Orion’s giant frame lay curled. They each took a side and Orion rolled onto his back to wrap them in his arms and settle them against his chest, though he never woke.

The next morning over breakfast, Elric decided he could not wait. The guilt caused by silence, however brief, would eat his heart from the inside. “Liebchen,” he began softly. “I know now vhat your name vas. Before. I know, in part, who you vere.”

Orion looked up from his eggs, head cocked to one side. “Who was I, mein herr?”

“You vere a scientist.” Elric took his large hand in both of his. “A physicist of some reputation, come to this country as child from Scandinavia. You…vorked for the government, it seems. Perhaps. Thor Heimdahl’s career becomes cloudy after he…you left MIT.”

Orion finished his orange juice, brows furrowed. “Thor. Yes. The shadows whispered that name to me. But what it means…” He shook his head. “I do not know this man.”

He stared at the table for a few minutes as if the wood might hold answers. Finally he heaved a huge sigh and rose. “Mein herr, I am tired today. Could I go back to bed?”

“Of course, liebchen.” Elric kissed his cheek and watched him wander out, an anxious cloud over his heart.

Keit pushed his fork around aimlessly on his plate watching Orion go. He no longer felt hungry. Last night he’d been sort of optimistic. After all, just because Orion knew who he was didn’t mean he remembered it, or that it would automatically change him… But now, now he was worried.

It was a rather long day. The Prince cancelled his appointments and stayed in his study. Orion did not reemerge from his room. Keit told Sasha and Caroline to go home. After fretting about in the kitchen, debating if he should make lunch or not, he finally decided to go upstairs and check on Orion.

He slept, a deep, unnatural sleep from which even Keit’s gentle touch did not wake him. His brow furrowed and he mumbled, “Let me sleep, sweetness,” but his eyes remained closed and who he thought he spoke to was unclear.

At dinnertime he came back downstairs, walking as if he trod on glass. He smiled and kissed them both but his eyes were shadowed and the little he ate was probably more to please his companions than out of hunger.

Liebchen, you do not feel vell?” Elric asked softly.

“There is an ache, mein herr. Behind my eyes. It claws at me and will not let go.”

Elric put him back to bed with aspirin and a backrub, hoping to ease whatever gnawed at him. Orion went back to sleep and still slept when it was time for Keit to go to work the next morning.

“Go, herzchen,” the Prince told him with a gentle hug. “I vill call the doctor if he is not better by noon.”

Reluctant and worried sick, Keit did as he was told, a terrible feeling of abandoning them when they needed him nagging him all the way to work.

Elric sat on the top step staring out into space. It had been years since he felt so lost, so helpless, and he hated the feeling. Perhaps he should show Orion the articles he had found, tell him more, try to fill in the gaps with him.

The first scream yanked him to his feet. The second had him barreling down the hall and through Orion’s door.

“Oh, God! Jake! Nononono!” Orion knelt on the floor, head clutched in his hands as he rocked, keening.

Elric knelt with him and touched his shoulder softly. “I am here, liebchen. Tell me vhat you see.”

“I told him not to! But they made him start without me!” He let out a bellow of rage and anguish. “How could they be so stupid? I warned them and warned them it would go wrong. God, oh, god! Half his body was black with char…half his face had melted…oh, fuck…oh, my poor Jake…”

“You are certain, in the smoke and the dark, that it vas him?” Elric asked in a spare whisper.

“My goddamned ring was still on his finger!” Orion/Thor roared. “Of course I’m sure!” He surged up and stalked out.

Elric swallowed hard and followed though he had no idea if Orion still knew him. The big man stood in the front hallway, chest heaving, tears streaming down his face.

Liebchen, I’m so sorry,” he began. “I know vhat it is to lose–”

“No! No you don’t!” Orion whirled and seized him by the shirtfront. “Your spouses died whole and quickly! Mine died in agony, a twisted, malformed parody of himself!” He hauled Elric up, his feet dangling six inches off the floor. “You have no idea!”

“No, I suppose no one could.” Elric knew he should be terrified but he couldn’t muster any fear. His heart was breaking for this man, both men, the one he loved and the one he had been.

Orion’s eyes narrowed. “And you. How long have you known? How long have you kept this all from me?”

“I only discovered who you vere the night before I told you,” Elric answered calmly.

“Liar!” Orion bellowed and backhanded him hard across the face. “You sick, twisted little sadist!” He tore the leather collar from around his throat and flung it to the floor. “You just wanted to keep me captive here for as long as you could! Your private sex toy!”

“I hef tried to do only vhat vas best for you, liebchen,” Elric whispered, dizzy and nauseous from the blow.

Orion hit him again, the fist connecting with his jaw like a wrecking ball. “How long have you known?”

He struck again and again. By the fourth blow Elric hung like a broken doll from his grip. With an anguished cry, Orion dropped him and stalked out of the house in nothing but a pair of jeans. The scene he left behind had a surreal quality, Elric sprawled face first on the white tiles, his alabaster hair pooled around him, covering his face and offering a strange counterpoint to the thin rivulets of carnelian creeping across the floor.

Keit pulled up in the driveway and cut the engine. He hadn’t been able to concentrate at work, and his anxiety was only growing worse the longer he stayed. So he called it a day at lunch time and went home early to see if Orion was feeling any better.

As he stepped out of his car the front door flew open and Orion strode out. The tense, aggressive set of his body, the determined, anguished look on his handsome face, and the lack of collar told him more than any words that something was gravely wrong here.

Keit slammed the car door and rushed over to him. “Orion? Are you alright?” As he drew closer he notice one other thing that set his racing heart into full blown panic. There was blood on his hands. “What happened?”

Orion paused and looked at him in a puzzled way as if trying to recall his face. “I don’t blame you,” he muttered, half to himself. “You came after.”

He shoved past Keit and strode on, down the drive and onto the street, heedless of gravel underfoot and Keit’s frantic calls after him.

 

Keit ran after Orion a few paces, calling after him.

 

“Fuck fuck fuck!” He turned around and ran back toward the house. Much as he was worried that he needed to follow the big guy, he couldn’t keep chasing him not knowing what was inside the house, and why Elric wasn’t out there already.

 

Taking the steps two at a time he dashed inside and stopped cold for a heartbeat when he saw Elric lying unmoving and the blood on the floor. “Oh god…oh shit!”

 

Oddly enough, as he knelt beside Elric to examine him gently, the thought of calling Jerrett popped into his head. He was the last person on Earth he should have been thinking of for help, almost anyone else would have been a better first choice, but that was who came to mind. “Oh, my Prince… oh, shit…” he murmured frantically as he lifted his hair and checked for damage, afraid to move him.

 

Elric stirred with a soft moan. He pulled his hands in and pushed up far enough to drag himself three feet towards the door. “My love…” he whispered before he collapsed again.

 

Orion wandered from one neighborhood to the next, one street much the same as the last. Orion…what a strange name to give someone. A giant hunter. Maybe not so strange. To be named after the god of thunder was little better.

 

God…Jake… The memories were too sharp, too horrible, too overwhelming. He clutched his head and cried out in his agony. A woman across the street picked up her child and ran away. “Jake…my beautiful Jake…”

 

His feet took him onward when he no longer saw the world around him. A blanket of gray horror wrapped around him and he could no longer recall if he had begun walking with a destination. At one point, he looked up and his brow furrowed at the house in front of him. He knew this house. He had been here. Maybe the people were friends.

 

Exhausted, aching, chest burning with too many tears, he made his way to the door and rang the bell.

 

“Please.” He spread his hands and tried to get his shaking voice under control. “Please… do you know me? I…I’m so lost…”

 

Richard opened the door and his usual calm composure was hard pressed to remain in place. “Orion?” He stepped out and put a comforting hand on the man’s shoulder. “How did you get here?” he asked, looking around and not seeing Elric or Keit or any type of car in the driveway. “Did you walk all the way here?”

 

“Walked…I guess I did.” Orion looked into the man’s face and knew he could trust him. “I know you, I think. I don’t know what to do…”

 

“Come in, come in and sit down.” Richard guided him gently inside. “Are you alright? What happened? Where is Elric?”

 

Elric…the name skittered across his thoughts and slid away, his mind too full of past horrors to contain the present. He shook his head, unsure which question he answered, and sank onto the offered sofa. One of his feet bled. He must have stepped on something. Strange bloody footprints trailed in his wake, blood following him since that day…

 

“How long has it been?” Orion asked softly as he stared at the floor. “Since the accident?”

 

Richard pieced some things together quickly and wondered who was with him. “No one really knows. At least two years.”

 

Years?” Orion cried out in anguish. “Two years…god…I couldn’t even bury him. I don’t know if there was a funeral. I don’t even know where he is…damn…oh, damn…Jake…” The weight of despair crushed him. He buried his head in his hands and began to sob again.

 

Katya stepped into the room at the same time Richard put his arm around Orion’s broad shoulders. He looked over at her with a deeply concerned expression. “He’s remembering,” he explained simply.

 

The questioning look softened and then became troubled. Oh, dear. “Liam, go and get some bandages, please,” she murmured to the man who had come up behind her. She came closer and took a seat opposite Richard and Orion, uncertain if he would accept comfort right now, although he seemed to accept Richard’s steadying presence.

 

“My dear, we will help in whatever way we can,” she offered gently, not at all certain how that would be yet. She needed to call Elric as soon as she could, but she wanted to make sure he was stable before she left to do so.

 

Liam returned quickly with the first aid kit, clean cloths, and water. He knelt beside Orion and hesitated briefly, but Orion was cooperative and let him have his foot to look at. The gash fortunately wasn’t too long or too deep and Liam had it cleaned and bandaged in short order.

 

“Would you like to lie down and rest?” Katya asked.

 

“I’m…not sure I can.” But he let Richard and Liam help him lie down and cover him anyway. Shivers hit him hard and another blanket settled on him. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to steady himself. Nothing felt better but at least he felt less afraid now, less alone. “Thank you.”

 

Katya touched Richard’s arm and kissed his cheek. “I’ll be back,” she said softly, not having to tell him what she was going to do or to stay with him.

 

She went into her office and closed the door before calling Elric to tell him where Orion was.

 

Elric heard the phone through a haze of pain. He wanted to get up to answer it but couldn’t puzzle out which direction up might be.

 

He heard Keit answer and his end of the conversation as he walked into the bedroom with the phone still clutched in his hand.

 

Keit had been out to look around the neighborhood twice after he’d gotten Elric into bed, and he was more than relieved to hear Katya’s voice telling him Orion was at her place now. “He’s at Katya’s house, Sir,” he informed Elric, in case he hadn’t gotten that from his end.

 

Elric tried to hold out his hand for the phone. His arm fell over the side of the bed. Keit obligingly placed the phone in his hand, closed his fingers over it, and lifted the arm back up to his ear.

 

“Katya?” His voice came out a hoarse whisper. The bed would insist on pitching at a hard gallop. “He knows who he is. His name is Thor. Thor Heimdahl. Take care, please. It is as if the loss of his beloved has only just occurred and he is…in agony.”

 

“And so are you, my dear,” she said softly, knowing how much this must be tearing him apart. “I will take care of him, never fear. Until he decides what he would like to do. And I will keep you apprised.” She paused. “Elric, let Keit take care of you. I’ll call the moment anything changes.”

 

“He blames me…” His voice slurred a bit before he could catch himself. “He believes I hef lied to him.”

 

Katya bit her bottom lip lightly and shook her head. “It’s the grief that makes him think such things, Elric. Give him some time,” she said gently.

 

A sigh hitched in his chest. No one else would have been privy to such weakness, but this was Katya. “All that he needs…anything. Please let me know.”

 

She promised and Keit took the phone from his uncooperative fingers. “Süsselein…” Elric’s breath caught again, his lack of control perhaps due to the disorienting pain in his head. “The room spins. I cannot think. I hef ected foolishly…”

 

Keit sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed his hand over Elric’s hair. “No, my Prince. How could you have done anything differently? You did exactly what you had to do, for him, despite what it would mean for you.”

 

“I should hef stayed vith him. Guided him through this. Showed him the articles. Explained all thet ve knew. Instead I throw the information in his face and vait to see vhat he might do vith it. If he hates me now, I cannot blame him.”

 

“Sir… you don’t know if easing him into it would have resulted in anything different. He doesn’t hate you. How can he? He’s confused and angry and grief ridden… he doesn’t understand anything yet. I think Ms. Katya’s right, you need to give him some time.” He slid down from the bed to kneel beside it so he could look into Elric’s eyes and hold his hand. He kissed the backs of his fingers. “I’m so sorry…” He laid his cheek on the back of his hand. “So sorry. I wish there was something I could do.”

 

“Come hold me,” Elric whispered. “I need you.”

 

Keit gladly complied, sliding next to him and gently folding his arms around him. Elric pulled him closer, and Keit kissed the top of his head. His heart ached not only for Elric, but for Orion as well. Somewhere along the line, he’d fallen in love with the big man as well, and he felt just as abandoned. He kissed him again, stroking a soothing hand over his hair.

 

Elric steadied in those beloved arms. His heart felt no less battered but it was possible to think again. “If ve hef lost him ve shall mourn but he must be allowed to find his own vay again now.” He sighed and stroked Keit’s back. “I think I need some ice.”

 

“At least he’s in safe hands for now, sir.” Keit tried to reassure him before slipping back out from his arms to go and fetch some ice.

 

~*~

 

Katya returned to the living room where Orion still lay on the couch and Richard sat with him, a comforting hand stroking his back. As large as he was he looked like a child lying there with the blanket tucked up around his shoulders. He lay there, but his eyes were open and he shuddered as he stared off into the past.

 

Kat sighed inwardly. Why oh why did it have to be her door he came to? Not that she wasn’t glad he was safe with her, or minded having him, but she was probably the worst person to help him with his grief. She cared, she was sympathetic, but she was better with the realms of logic and reason than comfort and nurture.

 

“Orion…” She called softly, since he was awake. “Or, would you rather I call you Thor now?”

 

“I’m…not certain what my name should be.” He scrubbed at his face with both hands. “Thor, I think.”

 

“All right.” She paused. “I imagine you must have a lot of questions…I want you to know that you can ask them, or just talk to me, if you need to. If you’d rather have time to think first, that’s alright, too. Whenever you are ready, my dear.”

 

“Thank you.” He whispered. Older memories crept in on soft feet. He had never been able to sit still, always the one who had to make things happen. His first time asking Jake out had been more a demand than a question. Jake had laughed and then said, all right, since he didn’t have a choice. Decisive…demanding…maybe a little arrogant, he had been these things.

 

He sat up and looked at her, this beautiful woman who always seemed much larger than her physical frame. “I need to know what happened to Jake. Please. Jacob Moyers.”

 

“Okay.” She said gently, and leaned over to put a kind hand over his. “We will find out, together. I know… I know you must feel awfully alone right now, but you do have friends…people who care about you. We will help you find your way.” She patted his hand. “Let’s start looking.”

 

The search took no more than twenty minutes. Most newspapers kept obituaries online, many archived for a number of years. Finding Jacob Sterling Moyers, dead at age twenty-four, proved heartbreakingly easy. The face looking back at Katya was model perfect but so honest and cheerful one couldn’t help be drawn to it. Jake’s picture had a little smile, as if he held some secret he would be pleased to share if asked nicely.

 

Jake’s remains had been taken back home to his family in Portland where the funeral had been held, four years before, not two. The obit made no mention of Thor.

 

He sat next to Katya, hands clasped tight between his knees to curtail their trembling. It did no good. His whole body shook. “Jake…” he whispered and reached a hand towards the screen. “God…”

 

Tears blurred his vision again. “How do I go on without you now?” he asked softly. “Why didn’t I die with you that day?”

 

Katya laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. “As painful as it is, you will find a way to go on. Four years ago, apparently, your way of dealing with that pain was to forget everything. What had happened, who he was… who you were.” She paused. “I don’t think you want to forget him this time, do you?”

 

“No…no…” Thor shook his head, trying to keep the sobs in check. “Never again…I need… I need to remember. All I can…”

 

He had to give in to the pain for a few moments again, unable to speak. The horror of that day, of finding Jake’s mangled, burned body in the lab, would be with him the rest of his days, shake him from sleep years later, but the mind cannot look at horror unceasingly.

 

“I need to make sense of it,” he finally whispered. “To understand what happened. Or at least how.” He took a deep shuddering breath. “The Dragon Prince…he could help…”

 

Katya thought he meant Elric for a moment, and then remembered Orion had referred to Vincent as a ‘dragon’. “I’m sure Vincent will be happy to help you in any way he can.” She said, and then added, “Elric as well, would give you anything you need.” She said it evenly, trying to keep any hint of rebuke from her tone. Now was not the time to chastise him for attacking and abandoning the man who had taken him in and loved him dearly, although it took a heaping helping of her willpower not to do so. The thought of him hitting Elric and leaving him on the floor bleeding made her furious, but for now, she kept that fury in check, for everyone’s sake. “I’ll call Vincent.”

Chapter 283 – Welcome Home

“You sure you’re up to this, babes?” Jonathan stopped his whirlwind progress through the condo to crouch by Vincent. “You still look kinda…”

Vincent arched a brow at him. “Kind of what? Dreadful? Like death riding in from a late night carnival?”

“Um, no. I was thinking more along the lines of ‘tired’.”

“Ah.” Vincent lay back against the sofa cushions. “Well, since I have you as my personal event manager, I have no need to even get off the sofa, do I?”

“Ducking the question, oh Prince of Dragons,” Jonathan said in a dry tone.

“I’m fine, beloved. Yes, I’m still tired but the need for ceremony outweighs such things. And we’ve only invited family.”

Jonathan chuckled and returned to his preparations for Drew‘s homecoming. ‘Family’ ended up at about twenty-five people but he knew what Vincent meant. Everyone coming was someone they felt close to, all comfortable, old friends along with Drew’s actual kin since his mother would be coming, too. Der actually got the honor of bringing Drew home from the hospital. Jonathan was a little irritated about that but it couldn’t be helped. Too much to do.

#

Drew finished tying the bandana in place at the back of his head. Looking in the mirror he didn’t think anyone was going to mistake it for a simple fashion accessory. He’d dropped a few pounds and his normally pale complexion looked almost translucent. With his hair gone he looked like a cancer patient. He actually felt better, but he still looked sick. He was going to have a hard time convincing Jonathan not to mother him. He stepped out of the bathroom, switched off the light and found he had company.

“Hey tiger, I hear the warden granted you a pardon,” Phil said.

“Yeah. Going home today,” Drew confirmed. “What are you doing down here? Don’t you have some nut cases to take care of?”

“Like I said, I heard you were getting a pass, so I came to say goodbye. The inmates can hold their own for a few minutes,” Phil said. “Vincent coming to get you?”

“No, Der is. I’ll see Vince and Jonathan when I get home.”

“You take care of yourself now. Don’t go doing too much right away.”

Drew rolled his eyes. “As if Jonathan would let me.”

Phil chuckled. “Right, right. Not much chance there.”

Drew smoothed the blanket on the bed and sat on the edge. It felt a little strange to be dressed in regular clothes again. “Phil…I, um… I just wanted to say, I’m sorry. You know, for trying to…” He made a little gesture toward the bathroom, remembering how he’d stepped out of the shower and got down on his knees in front of Phil because Josh had told him to.

“Now don’t go doing that. We both know you couldn’t help yourself. I’m just that damn sexy, you couldn’t resist,” Phil said, puffing up his broad chest and doing a little strut.

Drew laughed. “OK. Well, thanks for understanding.”

The sound of chain-festooned jackboots rang in the hall, no mistaking to whom they could belong. Der’s sharp-toothed grin was so bright it got there before the rest of him. “Hey, sugar bear! Ready to blow this pop stand? Hey, Phil! Are you our official escort or do we have to wait for someone else?”

“I’m here unofficially,” Phil said.

“I already signed the release papers.” Drew bounced up to kiss Der’s cheek. “Did you bring the bike?”

“’Fraid not, sugar bear. I like my head attached to my shoulders, and I’m pretty sure Jon would take it right off if I drove you up from the hospital on my chopper.”

Drew sighed dramatically but he was smiling. He gave Phil a hug, which the big man accepted a bit awkwardly at first and then settled on a warmly paternal hug in return. They said their goodbyes and Drew and Der were on their way.

As they got close to the condo, Drew suddenly asked Der if they could stop at the park.

“I promised I’d bring you right home. People coming over and all that.”

“I know… just, can we stop for a few minutes? Please?”

Der took the next corner and eased the hearse over to the curb next to the park. “All right. Couple minutes.” He got out and jogged around to the passenger side to hand Drew out. Yes, yes, the boy said he was fine but he looked like a soft breeze would blow him away.

Drew walked slowly next to Der across the grass and to the little trail that ran around the duck pond. It was late afternoon, almost evening. The shadows were long under the trees and the temperature was cooling. They walked past the bench they had once shared when Drew had spotted Der feeding the waddlers and feeling melancholy. A little further on, they passed the place where Jonathan had found him after he’d had a bad day and almost slipped back into an old life.

He didn’t know what he was doing here, why he wasn’t rushing home to see Vince and Jonathan. He should have been overjoyed, but he felt a little anxious. He knew he was making Der a little worried, too.

He supposed he just wanted to stretch his legs a little, breathe in fresh air not tainted with hospital smells. He had joked about being an ‘inmate’, but he really had felt like that at some points. Trapped. Caged.

Der was getting antsy, Drew could tell. They’d walked quite a way already and still had to turn around and go back. Drew stopped at the other end of the pond. Hands in his pockets he stood looking down into the water. The sweater he was wearing was enough to keep off the chill, but the wind went right though it and he shivered. He saw Der about to say something and Drew beat him to it.

“What do you think happens when we die, Der?”

Der blinked and had to regroup before he could answer. Ah. So it was that kind of mood. He put a gentle arm around Drew’s shoulders to offer his solid warmth. “Well, if we’re talking about me, I’m going straight to the devil since I’ve been such a bad, bad boy.”

No little laugh came from Drew, not even a smile. Not the time for bad jokes, obviously, you idiot. Der cleared his throat and began in a pensive tone. “I’ve never died, love, so I don’t know for sure. I used to believe in heaven and hell, when I was little. But those things didn’t make sense to me as I got older.”

He curled down to kiss the top of Drew’s head. “Vincent’s theory is that spiritual matter is like physical matter. It can neither be created nor destroyed. So there is no end. Only another beginning when you die. A new start. I suppose that’s closer to what I think happens. Not like I’m one of those people who claim to remember past lives. But I think we probably had them.”

Drew gave a single small nod, but didn’t look up. “What if there’s nothing? What if this is all we get? We know we’re here, and then we’re dead, and that’s it. Nothing. We’re just…” Drew shrugged. “Worm food.”

“Drew…” Der said softly.

Drew looked up at him. “I’m sorry, Der, I’m not trying to, you know, bum you out. Really.” He took a deep breath and put his arm around Der’s waist. He started slowly walking again, back the way they’d come. “Sometimes I think people just tell themselves there’s something after this, so they don’t get depressed or scared. I want to believe there’s something. I want to think that Angela and Vince’s mom…that they got another chance…even Josh…”

Drew took another breath. Maybe he shouldn’t have walked so far after all, he was tired.

“Nobody can say for sure, you know,” Der said softly. “And anyone who says they can is either deluded or selling snake oil. But if this really is it, a one shot deal, all the more reason to make the most of it, isn’t it?”

Der swept him up in his arms when he felt Drew’s steps falter. “There’s no reason we should be here at all. It’s magic, life, that it happens in the first place. And while we’re here, there’s beauty and there’s love and sometimes people even find a little happiness.” He gave Drew a soft kiss when they reached the hearse again. “I’d say that makes it worth the price of admission.”

Drew didn’t say anything more, but he returned Der’s soft kiss before they got in and finished the ride home.

#

“What the hell is taking Schiller so long?” Jonathan asked with a scowl.

“Patience, my coyote,” Vincent said and patted his arm. “You know how hospitals can be. Discharge is not always a swift and efficient procedure. They’ll be here soon.” His voice was calm but he understood Jonathan’s mood. Everyone else had arrived except the guest of honor and there had been no call to say they would be delayed.

“I’ll just go see if I can spot them, shall I?” Anthony offered on a bright smile and dashed out the front door. Various odd thumps and thuds followed and then booted footsteps overhead.

“Vince, that lunatic’s gone up–”

“Yes, beloved, I know.” Vincent pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. “Just let him go.”

The hearse slid up to the curb a mere five minutes later and once again Der came around to help Drew out. Not that he truly needed it but it made Der feel better.

From up above somewhere, a voice belted out, “Oh, Valencia! With you blood still warm on the ground…”

Der’s gaze traveled up and spotted Mad Anthony, balanced on the roof beam. He flung one arm up and answered, “Valencia, I swear by the stars, we’ll burn this whole city down… What are you doing up there, you muttonhead?”

“Looking for you, of course. Mr. Kemp’s having kittens.”

Der sighed. “Oh, fabulous. Come down from there and guard my back.”

“For you, big guy, anything,” Anthony said with a bright grin. He half-ran, half-slid down the roof, stopped himself just short of the edge, leaped off and caught himself one handed on the eaves before he landed as gracefully as any cat.

It was probably a testament to the strangeness of his life, but Drew wasn’t at all fazed to come home to people jumping off his roof. “Hi, Anthony,” he said as they walked up to the door.

“Hey, cutie! How’re you feeling? You need anything? Nice bandana. I like the blue. Good with your eyes. Jonathan’s got lots of food. You’re probably hungry. Hospital food sucks big time–”

“Dear gods, what’s Jon been feeding you?” Der muttered. “Bowls of sugar?” He peered more closely at Anthony who grinned and ducked his head. “No, wait. I haven’t seen you this perky in weeks. You’ve been getting some…”

Any further interrogation had to wait, though, as Jonathan flung open the door. “Drew! Are you all right?”

Guilt assailed Drew for the extra half hour he’d taken before getting home, but he smiled for Jonathan and slid his arms around him. “I’m fine, sorry we took so long.”

Jonathan hugged him close and kissed his cheek, but Drew noticed he was looking at him now in almost the exact same way Der had just scrutinized Anthony. Drew grinned. “No, we didn’t make a pit stop for a quickie.” He chuckled and nuzzled under Jonathan’s chin.

“Hmph. I would hope not. Just out of surgery and all.” Jonathan turned with an arm around Drew and led him inside, pointedly leaving Der on the doorstep.

Their progress was soon blocked by people wanting to see Drew, to hug him, to tell him welcome home, Jonathan put two fingers in his mouth and whistled sharply. “Hold on, ladies and gentlemen, and make a path, please. There’s someone Drew needs to get to first.”

The little crowd parted to form a friend-lined path, opening to reveal Vincent waiting on the sofa. He held his arms out and whispered, “Drew.”

As much as Drew would have liked to fling himself into Vince’s arms, he knew it was probably not a wise idea, and Jonathan would probably faint. He settled for a modest rush and wrapped his arms tightly around his neck as he dropped into Vince’s lap.

There was a soft ‘aww’ that lasted all of two seconds before Xavier rolled his eyes and commented, “Jeez, it’s like watching puppies snuggle or something.” Which got a few chuckles and giggles and diverted enough attention that Vince and Drew could have a semi private moment or two.

“Hello, my love,” Vincent whispered, their foreheads pressed together. “It’s so good to have you home.”

In the kitchen, Der had gone to help Jonathan carry things out and found himself backed into a corner.

“You said you’d bring him right home!” Jonathan stabbed a finger at his chest. “You promised! What the hell is wrong with you? Where the hell have you been?”

A hundred smart ass things occurred to Der but something about this little assault felt off. Jonathan had been treating him like…well, like he used to, when they’d first met, ever since Drew went to the hospital.

“He wanted to stop at the park,” Der answered softly. “He was having one of those ‘what’s the meaning of life’ moments. It wasn’t more than a few minutes. Jon? What have I done to make you hate me again?”

“Don’t be stupid. I don’t hate you.”

“I take you in ‘cause you’re too scared to go home, make sure you and Vince are looked after, and you haven’t done anything but snap and snarl at me since.”

Jonathan turned his back, hands flat on the counter. “I…I didn’t…”

“Yes. Yes, you did.” Der reached out a hand and pulled it back again since he wasn’t sure how even a gentle touch would be received. “Jonathan?”

“You…he…when Vince was so sick,” Jonathan began in a low voice. “I…I slept on the floor next to him. I wanted to be near if he needed me. But I wanted…I wanted to go to you, too. And I couldn’t. Because…because…”

“Because Brandon was in the bed with me?” Now Der put a hand on his shoulder and turned him.

Jonathan nodded, bottom lip caught between his teeth. “I miss you sometimes, you dork.”

“Jon…sweetheart…I’m sorry.” He folded Jonathan into his embrace and held him tight, though he had no idea how to make it better.

Brandon paused in the hall just outside the kitchen. He’d been about to see if they needed any more help. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop…but in a way he was glad he’d overheard before they knew he was there. Now would probably not be the best time to pop his head in. Feeling a little strange he quietly went back the way he’d come with Jon and Der none the wiser.

Shouldn’t he be upset that his boyfriend was trying to comfort his lover for not paying enough attention to him? Instead of being angry though, he felt bad for keeping Jonathan away. God, sometimes this was just so fucking confusing.

Jonathan heaved a breath and pushed back gently. “Christ, I’m sorry. You finally have someone who makes you happy and Drew’s home and everyone should be happy and I act like a bitch.” He waved a hand fretfully. “Don’t pay any attention to me. Too much stress.”

Though Der didn’t think it would help to just let things go at that, Jonathan was right about one thing. This was Drew’s day. He picked up a tray in either hand and let Jonathan put on his charming host face and pretend nothing had happened.

Out in the living room, Vincent trailed gentle fingers over Drew’s cheek. “Are there headaches, my kestrel? Are you feeling relatively well?”

“The headaches aren’t bad,” Drew said. “Dr. Lassiter says they’re normal. My head is sore though, like I clunked it on something and got the biggest goose egg in the world.”

“I suppose it’s a small price to pay for being able to see the world as it is again,” Vincent said softly. “I like being me in your eyes again and not someone else.”

Der put the trays down and was about to go over to Anthony to find out who he’d been seeing. Cold waves of panic washed over him when he saw Anthony lean down to whisper in Sasha’s ear and kiss his cheek. Jerrett was standing right there, for gods’ sakes. Anthony was trying to get his handsome nose bashed in.

With every intent of preventing a tragedy, Der started across the room, and then stopped in confusion. Jerrett had seen the interaction, leaned over to put an arm around Anthony’s shoulders with a sensual smile, and pulled MA in for a searing kiss.

“The things people don’t tell me,” Der grumbled to himself and went to find Brandon instead.

He found Bran off to the side a bit with Xavier in a seemingly intimate conversation.

They had their heads together a little too close to be engaged in just friendly chatting, which was almost more alarming than seeing Anthony with Sasha a moment ago. A quick scan of the room placed Dave preoccupied talking with Jonathan. Worse, when Der walked up they both clammed up for a second, and then got nearly identical expressions of nervous innocence.

“Hey big guy, watcha up to?” Xav asked with a smile.

“About two meters or so on a good day,” Der answered, his forehead creasing. “You know, I’m beginning to feel like the man who fell to Earth today. I don’t seem to quite be making the right communication connections anymore. You think maybe something might be broken? Signals not getting through?”

“It happens sometimes.” Xav said. “I’m sure it’ll work itself out. I’ll see you guys later.”

Brandon watched him go. He knew Der was waiting for him to say something, but he really didn’t want to get into it. Xav and him had been talking about some of the difficulties of making open relationships work. It wasn’t that he didn’t want Der to know what they’d been talking about, he’d just wanted another person’s perspective.

Brandon slipped his hand in Der’s and kissed his cheek. “You okay?”

“No, by all the gods, no I’m not,” Der growled, though his fingers tightened around Brandon’s. “Drew wants me to tell him where we go when we die and then Anthony looks like he’s swallowed a whole flock of canaries and doesn’t tell me anything and then Jonathan tells me he doesn’t hate me after all, he misses me and why isn’t anyone talking to me in sensible sentences anymore?”

Brandon sighed, but it was directed at himself. “I’m sorry Der, I wasn’t trying to keep anything from you, sweetheart. I just needed a few minutes to think. I overheard you and Jonathan in the kitchen…” He paused. “I didn’t want to make anything worse, by walking in.” He paused again. “Maybe…maybe you should stay here tonight?”

Der flung up his hands in a gesture of helpless frustration and in an uncharacteristic moment of pique, stalked out to the patio to be alone. No one, but no one, not even his sensible, solid Brandon was making any damn sense. He flung himself into a chair, pulled a beer out of the cooler, flicked the top off with a claw and sulked.

Brandon sighed again, but didn’t go after him. He was still sensible enough to know when a man needed some space.

“What did you do?”

Xavier looked at Jonathan with wide eyes and put an offended hand to his chest. “Me? What makes you think I did something?”

“You were talking to Brandon, now Der’s out on the patio pouting.”

“Jonathan, I swear, I didn’t start anything. I didn’t even give Brandon any advice. Didn’t have time to. If Der’s upset it’s not anything I did.”

“Right. Such an innocent. Even if you didn’t do it yourself, your fingers are so in it,” Jonathan said with a little snort. For a moment Jonathan debated going out after Der himself. Something about that didn’t seem like a good idea, though.

He glanced over at the sofa. Drew and Vincent were still wrapped in each others’ arms, sharing a moment of soft laughter. Oh, that did his heart good to see the two of them smiling. They needed their peace for a moment more, too.

Instead, he sauntered over to Brandon. “Hey.” He nodded towards the lanky figure sprawled in the patio chair. “Big guy all right?”

Brandon opened his mouth, seemed to switch whatever he’d been about to say, and said, “I don’t know.” He sagged a bit with worry. “He’s mad because nobody’s making sense to him today.”

“Oh. Crap.” Jonathan took a long drink of water. “Here I am trying to blame Xav and I’m probably the one who upset him, huh?”

Brandon cleared his throat. “Well, it’s probably not just one thing. I think he’s had a tough day.” He glanced out and watched Der studiously not looking inside. “I suggested he stay here tonight and he acted like I suggested he move out or something. I didn’t mean it as a bad thing.”

Jonathan gave him an odd, sideways look. So that was it. “OK, let’s see if I got what happened here. You have Der all to yourself for, what? Two nights? And then you hear me whining to him in the kitchen, right? So you get all confused and think you’re doing a good thing and he feels like you’re shoving him away when he needs you to unconfuse him. Sound about right?”

“No.” Brandon said, although it was obvious Jonathan hit it on the head. “Shouldn’t you go apologize to Xavier?” he suggested.

“Oh, hell, no. I’m sure he did something he needs to be blamed for today.” But Jonathan took the hint and moved off in that direction anyway.

Brandon stepped out onto the patio, snagged a bottle of beer from the cooler and sat down next to Der. “Hey there,” he said hesitantly. “I, uh, didn’t mean to chase you off, hon.”

Der waved a clawed hand in his general direction, his moment of anger quickly sinking into melancholy. “S’alright, hon. I know…what you were trying to do. I think. And I should be really happy today, shouldn’t I? It just feels like I’ve made a mess of everything right now. I can’t seem to piece things together. Maybe I’m just tired.”

“Luckily I know the perfect remedy for too much tension,” Brandon said with a far too serious expression, which he then ruined with a lecherous grin.

Der managed half a smile though he didn’t exactly rise to the bait. “You are, without a doubt, the best remedy for relieving all sorts of things. Stress. Tension. Headaches. Bouts of depression. But it doesn’t help me solve what I’m wrestling with right now.”

He took a pull from his beer, then stared down into it. “Bran? How do you feel about Jonathan?”

Brandon’s eyes lifted, sort of a casual glance around to make sure they weren’t being overheard. “He, um, reminds me of one of my ex’s,” he answered, perhaps a bit too honestly. “It’s the fussiness.” He cleared his throat. “I like Jonathan, though.” He paused. “It made me feel bad for him, that he misses you.”

A little chuckle rumbled in Der’s chest. “The fussiness…yes, well. It’s partly a front, when he doesn’t want to deal with something and it’s partly a way of keeping his world in order. It’s no secret; Jonathan was an addict before he met Vincent. Rushing down a long, dark hallway to horror and oblivion. Keeping things in order helps him…keep on track, if you like.”

He reached over for Brandon’s hand. “I don’t want him to miss me. And I don’t want you to feel bad. And I don’t want you to miss me. What I want…” What did he want? His problem had always been that he wanted everything. Which flavor? Yes. Red or blue? Both. “I’d like you to be comfortable with each other. Enough that one doesn’t feel like they have to leave the room for the other.”

Brandon blinked. “You think I’m… I’m not uncomfortable around him. Do I seem that way?” he asked, genuinely surprised. “Or, do you mean he’s not comfortable with me? That, I can see. I don’t know how to fix that, Der. I thought when they were staying with us that…that he’d get used to me, but it didn’t seem to happen.”

Actually Brandon got the impression that Jonathan had to suppress a flinch every time he talked to him. He had no idea why. He didn’t consider himself all that intimidating, and he’d gone out of his way to try and be casual and friendly with Jonathan.

“Ah. Now, as to that.” Der heaved a slow breath. “That has more to do with history than it does with you, love. You’re tall, dark and handsome, and, no, I’m not kissing up. You are. Broad-shouldered. Strong. Unfortunately, Jonathan suffered long-term abuse and finally a kidnapping and near deadly beating at the hands of someone who shares many of your physical features. Now, never mind that you don’t share any other damned thing with this bastard, Pretty Jon can’t help the twitch. It’s almost hardwired.”

Der’s fingers drummed restlessly on his bottle. “He doesn’t react that way around Vic. But he’s known Victor for years and through a lot of shit. I think it’s a matter of…familiarity. Of having other associations. And he really has always kept a polite distance with you. Maybe the three of us should have dinner later in the week. And we’ll see if we can’t make things better.”

“Sure, Der. Although, I don’t think there’s going to be a sudden change of heart on his part, you know? If you’re right, I think it might just take time. I meant what I said, though. If you want to stay, spend some time with them… I do understand.”

Of course, by ‘dinner’ Der was hoping there might be more than just going out to eat but he kept that to himself for the moment. “Not tonight, love.” He lifted Brandon’s hand to kiss his fingers. “They need their time tonight. Drew needs his rest and his Dom and his Jonathan and they don’t need any interference, even from me.”

Brandon saw the logic of that, and he couldn’t say he was unhappy about it at all.

“Hey, sweetie.” Jonathan slid onto the sofa on Drew’s other side and wrapped his arms around him gently. “What can I get for you?”

Drew leaned back into him and closed his eyes, resting his head on Jonathan’s shoulder. “I got everything I need.” Which was a corny as hell thing to say, but Drew didn’t care. It was true.

Jonathan drew in an uneven breath. It felt so damn good to hold the boy again. “You say the sweetest damn things,” he murmured and kissed the top of Drew’s ear. “But you have to be starving. You need to eat some real food.”

“Don’t move, J, you stay right where you are.” Cody appeared before them with a huge plate of carefully selected items, little sandwiches, cucumber and carrot slices, and the bacon wrapped scallops Drew liked. He set the plate on the coffee table in front of them. “Drew looks so comfy, so sit still for once in your life and enjoy the moment.”

“Thanks, Codes,” Jonathan said with a soft smile. Family, yes, it was nice to have family around at a time like this.

Drew ate, but more because it made Jonathan happy than because he had any real appetite. Although, it was certainly worlds better than hospital food. Filling his belly had an unwanted side effect. He was yawning by the time he finished. They had a house full of people who had come to see him, to wish him well, and he could hardly keep his eyes open.

Victor and Elric had their heads together across the room. Katya soon joined them in low, earnest conversation. Victor snagged Ethan as he wandered by, Elric beckoned Jerrett over and Der was flagged down as he came back inside. It all looked rather official and ominous, this heads-of-household conference.

Finally, Elric broke from the group and approached the sofa. He placed a hand over his heart and offered Vincent a little bow of courtesy. “Brüderlein, ve are honored thet you chose us to be here vith you on this joyful day. But ve are in agreement and vill not be persuaded othervise.” He waved towards the group of Doms, who formed a steadfast and unanimous wall. “Ve hef decided not to overstay our velcome so thet you may hef the rest of your evening in peace and privacy.”

“Oh, sir, you don’t have to,” Jonathan protested. “I mean, I could put Drew to bed and–”

“I don’t believe I invited debate,” Elric said with a chill smile. He looked over at the group. “Did I?”

They all shook their heads as one, far too stern and serious, the lot of them.

Vincent chuckled. “Very well then, we surrender to such a well-coordinated conspiracy. And we’ll have a proper party at some later date when everyone feels better rested.” He gathered his crutches and rose to make the rounds, to thank everyone for coming.

Drew was uncomfortably embarrassed that he’d lasted only an hour before looking like he might keel over, but way down he was relieved that this little gathering was being cut short. He was more exhausted than he’d thought he would be.

Everyone came to wish Drew well before they left with lots of hugs and kisses, even a quick peck from Jerrett, which raised a few eyebrows. Der and Brandon waited until last and Der came down on one knee by the sofa to gather Drew close.

“You’re home, safe and sound, sugar bear,” he said softly. “You feel a little better now?”

Drew had his arms wrapped around Der, his face nuzzled up to the crook of his neck. He breathed in his scent, warm skin and the leather smell of his jacket. “Yeah, I feel better.”

“Good.” Der pulled back to give him a soft kiss. “Me, too. You sleep tight, sugar bear. I’ll call you tomorrow.” He turned to kiss Vincent goodnight as well and then rose, swept Jonathan up in his arms and planted a ravenous kiss on his lips. “You hold onto that, pretty Jon. We’ll talk later.”

He put a stunned Jonathan down, took Brandon’s hand and left.

“Dammit, why does he have to be so weird sometimes?” Jonathan grumbled.

“Maybe he misses you.” Drew said, completely unaware of the irony of this statement. He yawned again. “I think I’m gonna go lay down.” He said, because it was really way to early to say he was ‘going to bed’. He kissed Jonathan and Vince and got up, heading for the bedroom.

“Would you mind terribly if I did as well, beloved?” Vincent asked as he watched Drew walk away.

“Go on, babes, you’re barely keeping your feet,” Jonathan said softly. “I’ll just put the food away and finish cleaning up in the morning.”

“Don’t be long.” A hint of a smile tugged at Vincent’s mouth and he followed Drew down the hall.

They hadn’t discussed it, but Drew instinctively headed for the master bedroom rather than his own. Vincent followed slowly, one crutch at a time, too tired to swing himself along as he normally would. “You don’t mind, my kestrel, if I lie down with you?”

Drew smiled as he pulled his clothes off and threw them in the hamper. “I was hoping you would, but it’s so early I didn’t want to ask.” He pulled back the covers and slid between the sheets.

“I’m afraid I’ve been spending almost as much time in bed as you have lately,” Vincent said as he eased down onto the mattress with a sigh. “Though it’s much better to have company.”

He toed off his slippers, glad he hadn’t bothered with socks, pulled his shirt off over his head without undoing the buttons and hoisted himself up on the bed to shimmy out of his jeans. He left the boxer briefs on, a wave of heated impatience taking hold of him. He simply had to have his skin against Drew’s without another moment’s delay.

Drew was only too happy to snuggle close. He was so tired of sleeping alone in an uncomfortable hospital bed. He tried to think of the last time he’d slept with Vince and couldn’t remember, he’d been so…weird before he’d finally freaked out and went into the hospital. The thought suddenly hit him that it had been quite a while since he’d had any sort of intimate contact.

He breathed Vince in, holding him close as his hand drifted over his skin. He had been so tired, he was still tired, but his body was responding to Vince’s warmth and closeness anyway.

Vincent’s throat tightened. He had been so afraid he would never have this again. The times when Drew’s eyes had radiated such unreasoning rage or looked at him with dread and panic had nearly made his heart shatter. He buried his face against Drew’s shoulder, his hand stealing up the back of his neck to stroke his scalp where just the slightest hint of fuzz had begun to grow.

He lifted his head, trying to control the hitch in his breath, and pressed his lips to Drew’s in a tender, searching kiss.

Drew returned the kiss with tender warmth, his lips moved softly over Vince’s, his graceful fingers stroking lightly along Vince’s chest. He thought he knew why Vince’s breath was catching in his throat, and he did not need to ask what was wrong. Instead he concentrated on making sure Vince knew he was here with him wholly and reconnecting with him after they’d been through so much. “I love you,” he whispered between slow kisses.

“Drew…my Drew…” Vincent murmured against his skin as he moved his kisses down his jaw. “I love you so.”

He turned to press them closer, chest to chest, thigh to thigh. His hands wandered down the contours of Drew’s back to cup his lovely butt, pulling him in tighter so their shafts rubbed together. The heat was only beginning to rise, a comfortable warmth, but Vincent knew it wouldn’t take long.

“Hey,” Jonathan’s voice came from the doorway. “Oh, so not fair starting without me.”

“We were just keeping the bed warm.” Drew said, placating. “Come join us,” he suggested, sliding his hand down Vince’s body to stroke the stiffening member rising under his touch.

The way Vincent moaned in response almost made Jonathan faint as the blood all did a sprint from his head. His hands shook as he tore off his clothes, which he draped over the chair but didn’t bother to fold for once. His stomach trembled with need and desire too long denied as he slipped in under the sheets behind Drew.

“So hot,” he whispered against Drew’s shoulders as he licked and kissed. Straight from the hospital, Drew didn’t quite smell like Drew yet but he didn’t care. He rubbed against Drew’s ass, Vincent’s hand finding his cock in the bargain. “Oh…god…missed you so much…”

Drew groaned and pressed back into Jonathan. “I missed you, too,” he whispered heatedly. The slow and tender warmth he and Vince had been building suddenly seemed as if they’d just been waiting for the third in their triad to set the spark to such carefully laid and ready tinder. Drew bent his head to lick and suck at Vince’s nipple, his fingers curling around his erection and stroking more firmly.

Vincent’s hips rocked in time with the strokes. “Drew…oh…” he gasped out.

“Tsk.” Jonathan reached over and stilled Drew’s fingers. “Getting Vince all out of breath. You know he hasn’t been well.”

He rolled Drew onto his back and pulled him down until his head was almost level with Vincent’s crotch.

“Beloved, what are you thinking of?” Vincent asked with a chuckle.

Jonathan leaned over Drew to give him a scorching kiss. “I want to please you both at once. I’ll do all the work. You two can lie back and relax. Please?”

“All right, since you’ve asked so politely,” Vincent said as he rolled to his back.

“Oh, good.” Jonathan began by running his hands over both bodies laid out before him, kissing and licking here and there. He spread Drew’s thighs and dove between to lick at his balls while he reached in the nightstand drawer for the lube.

Drew shivered under Jonathan’s caresses and spread his legs farther in invitation. “God, I want you…” Drew said in a needy murmur. His hand moved to his own cock for a few sensual strokes, both because it felt good, and because he knew Jonathan liked the view.

“Mmm,” Jonathan purred, his eyes, full of heat and tender mischief, traveling up to meet Drew’s. He licked along Drew’s fingers while his own lube coated finger teased at Drew’s back door.

Vincent shoved pillows behind his head, content to watch, knowing he wouldn’t be forgotten.

Drew hissed a little breath and a heated moan escaped him as Jonathan slid his fingers into his tight passage. Oh yes, it had been awhile. Jonathan’s two fingers were squeezed tightly and Drew thought he was going to melt with the pleasure of it. His head turned and he nuzzled at Vince’s hip, despite Jonathan wanting him to just lie back and relax. He was so stimulated he had to do something.

Though he wanted desperately to rush forward, Jonathan took his time. Drew was so tight and tense with need, it took a little coaxing before he relaxed properly and opened enough to take another finger. He reached up and stroked his forefinger up and down Vincent’s shaft in the meantime, just to keep him warmed up.

When he felt Drew was ready, he exchanged fingers for the head of his aching erection. “Christ, sweetheart…so tight…” he panted out as Drew’s puckered entrance practically pulled him in. He had to stay still and concentrate on breathing for a moment so he wouldn’t go over too soon.

Drew bent his knees up farther with a needy little whimper and Jonathan sank farther in. Now he was in position where he could complete the circuit. With his cock buried deep inside Drew’s tight heat, he leaned over and swallowed Vincent’s waiting erection down to the root.

“Jonathan…oh, so good…” Drew murmured as he kissed and licked the side of his throat. His fingers found Jonathan’s nipples to pinch and tease while he eased in and out of him. He nipped his skin and sucked the spot into his hot mouth.

Vincent’s fingers sank into Jonathan’s curls, urging his head up and down. Jonathan’s cheeks hollowed as he increased the suction and Vincent didn’t care how long he held out. It simply felt too damn good. He guided Jonathan’s still-lubed fingers down between his own cheeks and cried out when he was breached, molten pleasure surging through him.

“Beloved…faster…harder…gods, you’re so wonderful,” Vincent got out on heavy gasps.

Naturally Jonathan obliged, keeping the same rhythm for both of them, hips, mouth, fingers, all dancing to the same heavy, thumping beat.

Drew eagerly stroked his achingly hard cock as Jonathan bucked hard between his thighs. The muscles of his abdomen tightened down as the pressure built. He panted, hips rocking in time with Jonathan until he couldn’t take any more. “Ohhh…I’m gonna come!” He got out in a desperate rush. “Gonna…uhhhh Jonathan…yesss…” His tight little hole clamped and spasmed around Jonathan, and he moaned with pleasure.

Jonathan groaned hard around Vincent and drove his fingers in a little harder. Vincent cried out and gripped his head so tight, he couldn’t move. The little, gasping cries came closer and closer together and Jonathan had his second reward when Vincent came hard, hot seed spilling across his tongue.

The taste, the sounds, the hard squeeze of Drew’s orgasm clamping around him and the hard hold Vincent had on him flung him up and over, a tsunami-crash of a climax roaring through him. His hips bucked and jerked through the first spasms and then he lay still, moaning around Vincent’s cock while he rode the last spasms deep inside Drew.

Drew lay unmoving as Jonathan’s weight settled on him. For a moment he wasn’t sure if he was going to stay conscious. There was a fine tremor in his muscles that was partly from the pleasure of release and partly sheer exhaustion. He couldn’t have moved if his life depended on it. He felt Jonathan’s soft lips press to his. He couldn’t open his eyes, but he did respond, his lips caressing back and tasting Vince’s flavor on Jonathan’s mouth.

The tremors telegraphed to Jonathan and he eased back carefully. “Poor sweetheart,” he murmured and settled at Drew’s side so they could hold him between them. He snagged the blankets from the foot of the bed and covered them all for good measure, afraid Drew would get chilled.

Vincent snuggled close and settled Drew’s head on his shoulder, a weight he had missed more than he could have imagined.

Drew fell asleep almost immediately, feeling safe and secure for the first time in weeks.

“Welcome home, my love,” Vincent whispered and kissed the top of his shaved head. “Welcome home.”

Chapter 272 – Dominion (2)

Keit retrieved a pair of leather cuffs and buckled them in place on his wrists. Usually when they had the Prince’s permission to be together without him there were limits to their play. The thought of Orion’s large hands caressing him while he was restrained had him so excited he felt his cock kick against his zipper.

When they were together with the Prince they both deferred to him, of course. When they were alone they came together as equals, or Keit would subtly take the lead. He was wondering if tonight Orion might enjoy having a little more control.

Orion stared at the cuffs with a little frown. “I can’t…hurt you, little one.”

“I know,” Keit reassured him softly, letting him work through things.

Finally he came back from whatever thoughts he wandered in, one hand coming up to cup Keit’s chin, a hand large enough to crush his skull but always so tender and gentle with him. He kissed Keit’s forehead, pulled the shirt off over his head and went to the chest where the cuffs had been. “Clothes,” he said simply without turning from his perusal of the chest’s contents.

#

Elric slipped out of his shoes and placed them neatly parallel, toes to the wall. For the gallery, he had put on his outside face, hair pulled back, black Armani trousers and a good silk dress shirt. Not that he minded ‘normal’ clothes now and then but it was a relief to shed them.

He came to Katya and went down to one knee to take up a dainty foot and undo the strap on her high-heeled shoe. His hands moved with great delicacy to slide the shoe off without snagging her stockings, then he bent his head to kiss the fine bones of her ankle. Such beautiful ankles, so slender, so perfect.

Kat’s eyes moved over his lean whipcord frame as he moved toward her. He was quite beautiful, although she would have said he was handsome aloud. When he knelt and took her ankle with a warm, gentle hand she was a little surprised, more so when he bent his head to kiss her there. His manner was not submissive, and yet the gentle gesture could have been seen as such.

So far the sparks between them had been cautious, and she had wondered if they might finally clash when this moment arrived. Neither was unwise enough to push their dominance on the other, but there was that unspoken tension between them, a careful wondering if either would bend to the other.

Elric continued on to the other shoe and ankle. Born of old nobility, in a tradition where station was never questioned, he had never made the male Dom’s mistake of confusing boorish behavior with dominance.

With the hazard of spike-heels removed, he rose and sat back against the headboard, making no attempt to hide the hard erection pressed against his black boxer briefs. With a twitch of a smile, he opened his arms to invite the lioness in his bed to come to him.

Katya smiled at him, but she stood instead of sliding up further on the bed. Watching him watching her, she slowly unbuttoned her blouse and let it slide from her arms. Then she unhooked and unzipped the sleek pencil skirt and let that slide off as well. The bra she wore was an emerald green satin trimmed in black lace that matched the tiny black lace panties with a green satin ribbon threaded at the top. Her thigh high, sheer, black silk stockings were also trimmed with a thin green satin ribbon at the top, tied into tiny bows in the front.

She left the lingerie in place as she knelt on the bed and crawled sinuously across to Elric. The smile on her face held a wealth of heat and promise.

His eyes had devoured her every movement, raptor sharp in their undivided attention. Now the slightest hint of guarded anxiety lurked there, the anticipation of the electric shock to his nerves of her first touch on bare skin. “Slowly, my dear,” he whispered. “If you please.”

Katya’s gaze as it traveled up his body was definitely hungry, but she tried to keep from seeming too predatory. And, she did go slowly. Her head lowered to place a soft kiss just above the top of his foot, the side of his calf, his knee, the top of his thigh, hip, bottom of his ribcage, sternum… a slow trail of soft kisses as she moved up into his arms and their lips met again in a gently seeking kiss.

By the time his arms closed about her, the little shocks and twitches of nerves had calmed and he was able to concentrate on her again. He traced a finger over the lacy strap of her bra and let her settle between his legs. The silk of her stockings against his thighs made his breath hitch but the twitch turned into a purr of pleasure.

“You hef the most exquisite taste in clothes,” he murmured against her jaw.

“Mmm…I’ve always thought what’s underneath is as important as what’s on the surface,” she answered against his skin.

“True. Though males are so visual. Ve like nice wrappings.” He smiled when he received a little laugh which vibrated against his chest. With a practiced flick he undid the hooks at the back of her bra and slid the straps down her shoulders.

#

Downstairs Orion had found what he was looking for and pulled two long lengths of silk from the chest. Keit had taken his meaning and shed his clothes quickly. When Orion returned to him it was to first take his naked body in his arms for a hungry kiss.

“I hope you like this game,” he said softly and turned Keit to bend him forward over a red leather ottoman. With gentle pressure, he urged Keit’s hands behind his back and clipped the cuffs together by their D-rings. Then he spread Keit’s legs and began to wind a length of silk around each ankle before he passed the cords under the ottoman and over Keit in a cat’s cradle designed to keep his legs spread wide and to fasten him down tight.

Keit moved, testing the give of his bonds. There was not much room to move at all and he squirmed with arousal. “Oh yes… I like this game very much, Orion,” he said in a softly breathy voice.

“Good.” Orion curled forward to lick at the shell of his ear while his large hands traveled over his shoulders and arms.

He stood and moved to where Keit could see him to strip out of his jeans to reveal a mocha-colored thong which struggled to contain his enormous equipment. When he knelt beside Keit again, he brought the carved wooden box they both knew contained a sinfully large collection of oils. The soft scent of almonds and honey drifted up when he uncapped his choice and drizzled a generous line over Keit’s beautifully exposed cheeks.

Keit tried not to squirm but he couldn’t help it. It felt deliciously good to be so tightly restrained. He didn’t know many others who would trust Orion, alone, in this manner, but Keit knew his large friend would never hurt him.

Huge hands cupped his cheeks and kneaded his backside, working in the first offering of oil, teasing him and soothing him all at once. A second drizzle of oil followed, this one down the crease, and Keit felt something smooth and cool press against his back door.

The set of plugs in graduated sizes lay under the oils if one lifted the drawer out. Orion started with the middle-sized one, easing the bulb in gently, hoping to work Keit up to his girth.

#

Katya eased back so he could release her ample cleavage. She watched his expression turn to something almost reverent as his fingers caressed ever so softly over the curved slope of her breasts all the way down over her ribs, following the dip of her slender waist.

In a smooth movement he lifted and turned, rolling her smaller frame under his in the first show he’d made of something other than carefully controlled restraint. Katya didn’t mind a bit, slipping her arms around his neck and opening to his seeking kiss.

He edged a knee between her thighs and she let him settle between, their hips moving in an instinctive, gentle rhythm. With a soft moan, he dipped his head to kiss a heated trail down her throat and then on to the firm globes so enticingly offered. His lips closed around one peaked nipple, his tongue flicking over the tip.

Katya’s fingers combed into the softness of his hair as her back arched. Her soft full lips parted on a sigh of approval as a tingle of desire flowed through her. She let him take the lead, for now, enjoying his explorations and the slow build of passion being fanned in them both.

With a soft growl he slid lower, the scent of her arousal as he kissed down her flat stomach made his head spin. He slid his thumbs under the top lace of her panties, his eyes lifting to hers with a quirked brow, just in case she would refuse. She did not so he slid the satin and lace confection down her thighs and off over her stocking clad feet.

Katya slid her calf along his ribs when he moved back. She bent her knee and let her silk clad toes glide down his hip and the back of his thigh. Her eyes held a wealth of heat and desire as she gazed at him. When he caressed up her thigh to the top of her stocking he hesitated just slightly again. “You can leave those on, if you like,” she murmured.

“I do like them,” he purred. “Very much.” He covered her hand with his and slid her fingers down to the waistband of his boxer briefs, silent permission and plea all at once while he leaned in to place a line of fiery kisses along her throat.

#

Keit moaned softly and writhed in his bonds. Orion stretched him slowly and carefully. Almost too slowly. He rocked as much as he could to try and encourage him along but the big man would not be rushed. When he reached the point of feeling unbearably teased he begged, “More, Orion… please…more…” Orion finally pushed the plug past its widest part and Keit moaned sweetly. “Yesss….mmmm”

Orion curled forward to kiss the top curve of Keit’s backside. Such a lovely curve. Such wonderful sounds the little one made, ones that ran fir-needle prickles over his scalp and down his spine in shiver cascades. He eased the plug in and out a little longer, deliberating.

His original thought had been to increase the size gradually, from one plug size to the next until the largest one which came close to approximating the circumference of his member. But the otter’s impatience, his increasing desperation made him act instead of over-think. With a slow pull, he removed the plug with one hand while he oiled his shaft with the other, a slow hiss escaping as his own strokes along his length sent sparks through him.

“Stay still, little one, stay still,” he murmured gently and placed the head of his cock against Keit’s little doorway.

Keit groaned and did his best to comply and stay still as Orion rubbed and pressed the thick head of his cock over him. The muscles in his thighs and stomach quivered with anticipation.

Slowly, with his thumbs spreading Keit’s cheeks wide, Orion eased forward, pushing through the resistance until his head popped through the breathtakingly tight ring of muscle. Panting, eyes shut tight, he held there a moment to let Keit adjust and to seize tighter hold of his control.

Keit yelped and then groaned in ecstasy. He didn’t think, he just pushed his hips back as much as the bonds would allow, wanting more and wanting it now.

“Sh, sh, otter,” Orion murmured as he stroked the golden back before him. When Keit kept squirming, he took firm hold of his hips and held him still. “We must not plunge. I will hurt you. I know you wish it but I will not.”

Keit whimpered, trying to behave. He had no choice but to let Orion go at his own pace, he wouldn’t let him do otherwise.

By small degrees, Orion rocked in and out, small fractions that allowed his well-oiled shaft to slide deeper. He trembled with the effort not to thrust but, oh, it was heavenly torture with Keit wrapped so tight around him.

#

Katya’s delicate fingers slid further inside until the elastic caught on her wrists and she pulled his shorts down with a caress. The member that sprang free she could not help but pay attention to, bringing one hand back up to lightly caress along the underside.

He closed his eyes and hitched a sharp breath through his nose. His body stilled as lightning jolts shot through him at her touch. For the moment, he waited for her, to see how she would like to proceed, though his member told him precisely how it would like to proceed in no uncertain terms.

Katya’s hands slid back up over his chest and to his shoulders, her fingers kneading in tiny circles there as she guided him back down so he lay nestled between her legs. She returned to a slow sensual kiss, her fingers still gently gliding over his skin. He was being cautious, she knew and she hoped she could ease some of that tension. He’d let only a tiny degree of his control go, and perhaps that was all he would allow, but part of her wanted to coax more from him. There were deep wells of passion within this man, just as there were within herself, she could sense them.

His hips rolled in slow circles until the head of his cock rested in the wet heat of her entrance. His kiss caught fire, lips and tongue devouring her luscious mouth as he sank in one steady thrust into her. The velvet walls gripped him tight and he felt as if sparks leaped from his fingertips while his hands traveled her body.

Katya’s back arched, a throaty moan parting her lush lips. Her fingers tightened on the muscles of his back and then released, sliding down his smooth skin and gripping him lower. Her hips rolled to meet him, a low purr of pleasure humming though her body.

He didn’t rush, though he seemed likely to devour her in every sense. His thrusts were calculated to hit every hot spot, slow and sensual at first, alternating between shallow and deep. A younger man might have lost his head and hammered away, seeking his own pleasure, but for Elric, his pleasure was largely in the reactions of his lovers. He sipped at them, sampled them, drank every drop he could.

Katya’s fingers slid into his hair and caressed over his skin as she kissed him passionately. Ever a creature of sensual pleasures she appreciated both his passion and his skill as a lover and let herself be immersed in each sensation.

They had both been so careful of each other, neither wanting to press the other for dominance, but as it turned out they needn’t have worried. This coupling wasn’t about who could top who, but simply about enjoying and giving to one another. Perhaps a little surprising that they could each give up just enough control to allow a sensual experience to bloom rather than a power struggle.

They shifted on the bed together, rolling so Katya was astride and Elric’s lean body stretched out beneath her. Her long, honey-colored hair tumbled around them as she leaned in to kiss him again. Their rhythm stayed a sensual pulse between them, bodies rising and falling in harmonious counterpoint. Katya leaned back once more, and Elric’s hands caressed over the flair of her hips and followed the smooth curves of her waist and up to the fullness of her breasts.

Her eyes closed and her head tipped back as her pace quickened, a softly feminine moan parting her lips as she crested the wave of pleasure rolling under her and spreading though her body in tightening spasms.

“Katya,” he got out in a tight whisper, his eyes devouring the erotic wonder of her climax. His fingers gripped her hips even as her velvet walls gripped him tight. His hips pressed up in quick, deep thrusts as she pulled him with her over the edge.

A soft cry escaped him, more than he often allowed, lost in her beauty and her passion.

Katya fell forward, her hands going to either side of Elric’s head and her hair making a golden curtain all around them. Her soft lips hovered above his for a moment, and then kissed him tenderly. She smiled at him softly as their lips parted again.

A little chuckle escaped when Elric returned her smile. “I hef the distinct feeling I hef been made a conquest of.”

Kat touched the tip of her nose to his playfully. “Perhaps a little.” Her voice was still low and throaty. “But you know you are much more than a notch in the bedpost, my dear.”

“So careful vith my fragile male ego.” He smoothed a stray wisp of hair from her forehead. “I vould not mind so terribly much. Being a notch in a goddess’ bedpost.”

Katya chuckled and kissed him lightly once more before she slowly moved off of him, sending little tremors and a tiny groan through them both. She lay beside him for a time, both content not to fill their satisfied silence with idle chatter. She let her hand rest on his chest and he let his fingers idly trace over her soft skin.

#

Keit’s body relaxed under Orion, having no choice but to let him go at his own pace. He shivered when that huge member was buried more then halfway, and Orion felt it safe enough to let go of his hips and slide his hands up his back to this shoulders. Keit moaned, still relaxed and letting himself sink deeper into the sensation even as Orion sank deeper within him.

With the easing of resistance and the little one so pliant, Orion felt it safe to begin long, slow thrusts. A deep moan rumbled in his chest, it felt so wonderful. His hands caressed golden skin, his body felt surrounded by golden light.

Keit’s body moved with Orion, his hard cock stimulated with each thrust where it was trapped underneath him. “Ohhh…so good…” he whispered, his body humming with pleasure.

The little whisper set brushfires along Orion’s skin. He gripped Keit’s hips again, this time for leverage, and increased the force of his thrusts to a steady, prostate thumping beat. “Oh, little one…if only the winds could carry us…”

Despite the lubrication and Orion’s careful preparation taking Orion’s very large cock was always a bit of a stretch for him. A deliciously warm stretch, at the limits of what his little orifice could take. Orion’s thickness breeching him caused discomfort no matter how careful they were, not enough to create any real or lasting damage, but enough to color Keit’s vision in shades of dark red and make him nearly incoherent with pleasure.

The ropes biting into his skin as he tugged at his bonds added another dash of spice. Keit’s excitement grew as Orion relaxed some of the tight rein he’d kept on himself while making sure he wasn’t going to hurt him. Another partner might have found it too much, both his size and the forcefulness of his hard thrusts. Keit nearly drowned in ecstasy.

His fevered moans and murmured words of pleasure expressed his desire as much as his taut clenching body as Orion covered him and put good use to his strength and stamina. Later he would pay for their long exertions, he probably wouldn’t walk right for a week, but the incredible pleasure was well worth it.

He felt Orion’s breathing change, the heat from his body rolled off in waves. Keit knew he was close, the powerful thrusts becoming just a little harder and faster and made his eyes nearly roll up in his head as Orion let him have the last couple inches of his full length. Two short cries of ecstatic pleasure welled up past Keit’s lips and his whole body spasmed with the sudden burst of his orgasm.

The sudden tightening gave Orion a moment’s warning but the sudden, rhythmic vise-grip and release around his the length of his cock sent him hurtling headfirst into a hard wall. He gripped the ottoman tight so his huge hands wouldn’t bruise his smaller lover. A long groan rolled from his chest as he held himself at the deepest point, letting Keit’s climax take him over, the pulses thudding up from his sac to release his seed deep inside that heated sanctuary.

He tried his best not to collapse on top of Keit but the room danced around him and the Earth lost all mass and gravity at once.

The weight settling on him sent aftershocks of pleasure racing though Keit as his cock was ground into the leather beneath him. His chest rose and fell in hard pants for a moment but as breathing began to slow the heavy body pressing him down made it difficult to draw air. This added its own layer of deliciousness as Keit’s head began to spin.

“Collisions,” Orion murmured as he recalled in which direction the floor could be found. He eased up with a grunt and slowly withdrew his softening member, drawing another long, breathy moan from Keit.

He sat down on the floor with a puzzled frown. The intensity of the orgasm, the position and feel of the moment had jarred something far below the surface. “I had another name once,” he whispered to the floor.

Keit stopped breathing, his breath caught in his throat. Now was so not a good time for Orion to have an epiphany. What if he thought he was somewhere else in the past again and ran off? At the same time he didn’t want to do or say anything that might ruin Orion’s chances of regaining his memory. What if he remembered who he was? If he had a family somewhere worried about him?

He was caught between two fears, but after a few moments more of Orion simply sitting there staring at the floor he figured if he was going to go running off thinking there was a fire, he probably would have done so by now. He took a tiny breath. “Do you remember? What your other name was?”

Orion ran a hand back through his thick mane of honey-blond hair. “He calls to me. In the yellow room. With the blue glass shadows. His voice…soft as snowfall. ‘Thor,’ he says. ‘Thor, what’s wrong?’”

His hands trembled as he rubbed them over his knees in agitation until the shakes spread to the rest of his huge frame. “Whispers. The shadows whisper to me. But I have no faces for them. Who is this other? Why can’t I see him?”

Thor? Was that a real name, or just a nickname or something? Keit had to admit it did sort of suit him, though at the moment the memory he was trying to surface seemed to be disturbing him a great deal. Keit started to worry again that he might slip away and run off. “Orion…” he called gently, regretful that even though the memory was upsetting him, Keit might ruin his chance of ever retrieving it. “Untie me, please.”

Orion lifted his head to blink at him. His lashes were wet, his gaze troubled and distant. Finally he heaved a ragged breath and leaned forward to tug free the two knots which pinned Keit to the ottoman. His hands still shook as he unclipped the cuffs and pulled the web of cords free before he sat back with his head in his hands.

“Little otter,” he whispered. “I can’t…reach it. I try and it slides into the dark. Why won’t they leave me alone?”

Keit slid, a bit stiffly, from the ottoman and into Orion’s lap since he couldn’t very well gather him up and hold him in his own lap to offer comfort. He wrapped his arms around Orion’s neck and let him hold him instead, smoothing his hands over Orion’s hair and murmuring soothingly. “I don’t know, hon, I don’t know. Maybe it would hurt too much to see.”

Orion sniffed, his breathing uneven, but he didn’t dissolve into tears as Keit feared. “You are sunlight on dark water, little one,” he whispered. “I did not wish to frighten you.”

“I know you don’t, Orion, I know,” he said, a little relief creeping into his voice. “It’s ok, I’m not afraid, only worried about you. I love you.” His arms tightened around him.

“You do?” Orion set him back a bit, searching his face for something, the puzzlement returned. “The otter loves me…how odd, the way things bend.”

He stroked a hand through Keit’s hair and found words he had lost for so long. “I love you, too.”

Keit leaned in to kiss his lips tenderly. “Are you feeling better now? Do you want to go upstairs?”

“Yes,” Orion said on a slow nod but then his eyes traveled around the room. “But we must put our toys away. Or the room might be always closed to us.”

Keit chuckled, some of the merriment returning to his eyes. He stood, and knew he was right about walking funny for a week. They cleaned up the room and headed upstairs hand in hand.

#

When Katya’s eyes began to grow heavy, she sighed. “I must go home. Richard and Liam will start to worry.”

“Ah. Of course. Vould you like me to drive you to your car or hef vone of the boys come pick you up?”

Katya smiled lazily. “I’ll see if Victor is ready to leave yet. He was giving you a pretty good stare down as we were leaving. I’m sure he’d like to know we haven’t killed each other.”

“I suppose he vill not sleep tonight othervise. Though I do vonder who he vas more concerned over.” His voice held such a serious note she had to raise her head to look at him and see the little twitch of his lips. He waved a hand towards the master bath. “The en suite is yours, Prinzessin, if you vish to freshen up.”

As it turned out, Victor was just getting ready to leave the museum when Katya called and he was happy to go and pick her up.

Cody, of course, would stay until close but the crowds had proved too much for Victor, especially when some of the museum-goers started to put the photographs together with the real article.

Thunderclouds still furrowed his brow when Keit opened the door.

Keit seemed completely un-phased by his apparent ill temper and showed him graciously inside. They didn’t quite make it to the sitting room before Katya and Elric appeared, the former looking fresh as morning dew despite her hair being more tussled than it had been earlier, and the latter looking sharp if well satisfied.

Katya’s smile was genuinely warm as she came forward to kiss his cheek. “Thank you for coming to get me, Victor. Are you keeping the scowl for my benefit or has something happened?”

“What?” Victor looked sharply from her to Elric and back but they both looked pleased as cream-fed cats. He took a deep breath and tried to smooth his expression. “Sorry, no. That is, yes, things happened. I should have left with you.”

He ran a hand back through his thick, black hair. “I think if I had to hear one more little twit squeal ‘oh, you’re in the pictures, aren’t you?’ my head would have exploded.”

Katya’s lips curled in a completely unsympathetic grin. “Oh, my poor darling.” He glowered at her and she laughed one of her rare completely spontaneous and uninhibited laughs, the sound warm and husky and meltingly sweet around the edges. “I’m sorry, Victor. I shouldn’t tease you. I know you don’t like the attention. At least this time your admirers weren’t fawning over you while you were still mostly nude.”

Victor grumbled something under his breath but her laugh had made his foul mood evaporate.

“A glorious evening as I recall,” Elric offered from where he leaned against the banister. “Both for the glorious sights and the valuable lesson in, ah, personal space.”

“Always glad to provide a public service,” Vic said at his driest.

“Well, let’s go where you needn’t worry about prying eyes or rabid fans.” Katya winked. She turned back toward Elric and placed a soft kiss at the corner of his mouth. “Good night, my Prince.”

Gute nacht, Prinzessin. Träum süss,” Elric answered with a hint of wistfulness.

Katya took Vic’s arm as he led her out and to the car. A small smile played about her lips as he opened and closed the door for her, got in himself and started the car, then pulled out and down the street all without a word. She wondered how long it would take him to find the right words to ask her what he wanted to know, or if he would finally just blurt it out.

“Katya–” he got out at a stop light, both hands gripped tight on the wheel. “Did you…never mind, I won‘t ask that. That is…do you think that was truly a good idea?”

Katya bit back her automatic reply. Had it been nearly anyone else that had asked she would have told them to mind their own business. Victor, she knew, was only concerned for her. She thought about it for a moment, then cleared her throat. “There was more of a power struggle between you and I, Victor,” she admitted. “I think…I think it will be alright. He’s a good man.”

Vic’s fingers drummed once on the steering wheel. “I didn’t doubt he was a good man.”

She turned her head to look at him. Her expression was puzzled for a moment, and then cleared as she realized what he was truly worried about. “I don’t think he was using me as a substitute,” she said softly, to show she wasn’t dismissing his concern.

He pulled in a slow breath as at least some of his suspicions were confirmed. There had been a loss then, and under all that beautiful, Teutonic frost lay a world of hurt. Maybe Cody was right and it had been good for each of them to find someone who understood. But what if Elric wanted more someday?

“Just be careful of each other, all right? I know you both have enough prickly spots to make a cactus jealous.” He allowed himself a little smile at her snort and went on in a softer tone as he drove on. “So what’s he like? When he’s not being so blasted careful of every breath.”

Katya chuckled, “Are you asking me to kiss and tell?”

“I’m just curious,” he grumbled.

“Mm-hm.” She grinned. “He is very considerate…very passionate.” She smiled.

“Ah,” Vic managed on a hard swallow, the tips of his ears tinged red.

Her smile grew. “Victor Szoldos — you have a crush on him.”

“Nonsense,” he growled, his ears turning redder. “I…admire him.”

“I’ll bet I know what you admire.” She made a lecherous leer that was a fairly good imitation of Xavier and made him laugh. She leaned over to kiss his cheek, chuckling. “I love you, Vic.”

“Not sure what I did to deserve that but I’ll take it,” he said with a soft smile. “I love you, too.”

“You’re a good friend Victor,” she said by way of explanation. “And I just wanted to steal another kiss.”

“Ah. I see.” He looked altogether too serious as he went on, “I suppose we can allow unscheduled kisses once in a while. But, please…” He cleared his throat and caught her hand when her finger trailed up his thigh. “Don’t distract the driver.”

Katya’s warm chuckle was a purr over his ear, but she did relent.

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 265 – Brokering Peace

Chapter 236 – Lovely, Dark and Deep (4)

Chapter 235 – Lovely, Dark and Deep (3)