It was a much smaller crowd gathered on the beach behind Ethan’s house than there had been for the Prince’s requiem, consisting only of the Fairy Princess and people Orion had given animal names, people with whom he felt comfortable – Otter and his own Eagle Prince, the Dragon with his Butterfly, Wolf with his mate, Mistress Lioness and her pride, Panther with his Minnow and his Blue Jay, and Brown Bear and Black Bear, both with their beautiful mates as well. He knew all their names now, of course, knew the Brown Bear was Ethan and the Black was Victor, but he still saw them both ways.
Coyote arrived last with a long box from his flower shop. “I hope it’s what you wanted, big guy,” he said as he handed the box to Orion. “You weren’t real specific.”
Orion opened the lid to a profusion of white lilies and oleander. “Yes. Thank you. It’s perfect.”
He put the box down to open the crate beside him and lifted out the dragon-prow longboat he had made. Larger than his first, this one was nearly five feet long, with a red and white sail and brightly painted wooden shields lining the sides. It was heavy but he shook his head at the offers of help as he carried it to the water’s edge.
Coyote helped him arrange the flowers on the ship’s deck along with a picture of Jake and a lock of his hair. Orion’s parents had managed to salvage some things from the apartment when he disappeared, things they thought he might want again someday, mementos and letters, bits and pieces of a shared life.
When he stood, it was to strip down to his boxer briefs, and then he faced the people gathered on the sand. He stood with his feet slightly apart and his arms crossed over his chest, perhaps not the most open posture but what he had to say wouldn’t be easy.
“Jacob Sterling Moyers was the love of my life,” he began, the words coming smoothly since he had recited them in his head repeatedly over the past week. “And I killed him. I knew his weaknesses and his fears and I ignored them to further my own ambitions, to feed an ever-hungry pride.
“Jake was not a particularly brave man, nor was he very strong. He needed someone to make decisions for him and he loved strong, decisive men, even though they tended to take advantage of him, to break his heart again and again. Through it all, though, he was never bitter. He loved the world and all its wonders, found humor in most things and remained always optimistic.”
He went on to describe how they had met, how Jake’s brilliant mathematical insights had furthered his research until it only made sense for them to work together, how they had begun to see each other and finally married. Through it all he looked from one face to another, as if hoping somehow by the earnestness of his gaze to convey the true sense of who this man had been so that someone besides himself would know, would remember.
The words stuck in his throat when he reached the part about working on the Cerberus Project and what had happened there, but he held up his hand to stop Keit’s progress across the sand when he tried to come to him. He could accept no comfort now or he would break down and never finish.
“In the end, Jake couldn’t face conflict, couldn’t take a stand when he knew something was wrong, and so he died because I failed to protect him when he needed me most. This compassionate, loving, brilliant man has gone on before me and I am left to remember. And since I was not there to send him on his way, I send what I have of him into the West, as my ancestors did before me, in the hope that if he lingers still, we may help speed his journey.”
With that, he lifted the now-laden boat in his arms and waded out past the breakers. He stopped and held up a hand, a pre-arranged signal, and Sasha tossed him a lighter. The deck of the boat, lined with straw, caught first, and soon the little vessel shone brightly against the gathering dusk. The scent of pitch mingled with the scent of burning flowers, an odd and not unpleasant combination. Orion took the dragon’s tail and pushed the little boat out to sea, standing in chest deep water until the flames faded to the brightness of a single candle.
“Goodbye, Jake, love,” he murmured. “I’ll miss you. Until I find you again.”
Walking backwards so he could keep the boat in sight, he returned to the beach where he collapsed to his knees with his head buried in his hands.
Keit broke away first, unable to hold back any longer from those heartbreaking sobs. He knelt next to Orion in the sand and wrapped his arms around his shoulders, giving what comfort he could.
Lilly watched with a hint of shimmer in her blue eyes. She was a little concerned with how much emphasis Orion had placed on taking the blame for Jake’s death, but she still felt this was a step in the right direction. He was no longer numb. The scar had been ripped off so the poison underneath could be let out. It left a new wound, but this one would heal cleanly, with time.
Even without the leather glove, Orion would have known the weight and shape of the hand that fell on his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around the Otter to pull him in to his chest and curled the other arm around his Prince’s waist so he could bury his face against his hard-packed stomach. Not alone, those two warm bodies said, you need never face these things alone.
The gathering stood in reverential silence until the flames faded from sight along with the last edge of sun as it sank into the waves. Victor shook himself and moved to crouch in front of Orion.
“Come on up,” he said, a gentle hand on Orion‘s arm. “I’ll help you. Let’s get you inside and dried off before you catch a chill.”
Keit let go reluctantly as Orion rose, shaking from head to foot. It was only sense, though, since Victor was the only person on the beach who could really support the big man if he faltered.
The rest of the company began to move behind them, with Der sweeping Vincent up into his arms so he wouldn’t have to struggle on the sand. Anthony, still on crutches with his leg still in its brace, only got two steps before Jerrett took the crutches, handed them to Sasha and lifted Anthony to cradle him gently against his chest. More than one eyebrow rose at this display of tender concern but if Jerrett noticed, he pointedly ignored it all.
Ethan was probably the most surprised, although he said nothing. He didn’t think he would ever really ‘like’ Jerrett, but the tension between them had lessened since the day they had beat the crap out of each other.
He strode ahead and had a blanket ready by the time Victor brought Orion up on the back deck. Molly wove her way between the many unfamiliar legs, wagging her tail so hard she was in danger of falling over trying to garner attention. She came up and sniffed at Orion as Vic settled him into a chair. Apparently deciding she’d found who she was looking for, she sat and put her head in Orion’s lap with a soft chuff.
“Hello, little one,” he whispered and placed a huge hand on her head. It was soothing, scratching furry ears, and his breathing soon quieted to the occasional hitch. Heavy exhaustion wrapped around him. He knew he should get dressed but couldn’t get his body to move.
Ethan wrapped the blanket around Orion’s shoulders and went to start a fire in the outdoor fireplace on the corner of the deck. The beach house was pretty small, but with the sliding doors open, the living room and the deck held everyone. They did however have a guest room ready and the couch pulled out. Ethan had already offered to let Elric, Orion, and Keit all stay if they wanted.
“Ve may need to take you up on your offer,” Elric said, suddenly at Ethan’s elbow. He stripped off his gloves and broad-brimmed hat now that the sun had set, and nodded to Orion slumped in the patio chair. “He is…difficult to move far vhen he feels poorly.”
Ethan nodded. “I imagine so. The guest room is set for you, if you need anything else, just ask,” he said, and looking over at Orion, added softly, “Molly is good company for him, I think. She’s a therapy dog, she’ll happily sit there for hours.”
“Good, good…thenk you,” Elric patted his shoulder in a distracted way and then wandered back to Orion. He took the big man’s face between his hands and kissed his forehead. “It vas beautifully done, liebchen. I’m sure he vould hef thought so, too.”
Orion heaved a soft sigh and closed his eyes. “I’m so tired, mein herr. As if I’d swum for miles.”
“To be expected. In a vay, you hef traveled very far this evening. Rest, liebchen. You need do no more today.”
Orion nodded and pulled the blanket closer around him. One by one, the little ones – Sasha, Drew, Quinn, Jonathan, Cody, and finally Keit, all came to tell him how beautiful the ceremony had been. Though his heart ached for his love, Elric still found a moment’s spare amusement at how they all wanted to coddle and mother the giant who would have frightened them not so long ago.
In the living room, Anthony protested being fussed over as well when Jerrett put him on the couch and wrapped him in another blanket. “Really, sir, I’m fine. It was just a little chill, standing by the water, breeze coming in. I’m good, really, truly, see? Breathing fine and everything…”
“If you get sick, Sasha will want to take care of you and I will have to share him even more than I do now. So be quiet and get warm.”
Brandon watched the exchange from where he stood on the far side of the room. He didn’t say anything, but he thought Jerrett was just that sort of high-handed asshole he couldn’t tolerate for long. He hoped either he would go soon or Der would want to.
“Yessir,” Anthony said with a soft smile. He knew enough to read between the lines by now. ‘Shut up and do as I say’ from Jerrett was as close to ‘I love you and I worry about you’ as he would get in front of others. Funny how such an imperious order could give him the warm fuzzies.
Then Sasha was there, bending over him to give him a tender kiss, and the fuzzies turned to butterflies with flame-tipped wings. “You OK, hon? Should we get you home? You‘re so pale.”
Home. Of course Sasha meant Jerrett’s house, not Anthony’s empty, lonely apartment. He had to swallow a sudden lump in his throat before he could answer. “It’s not like I’m ever much darker. I’m good, sweetie, for as long as his lordship wants to stay.”
Jerrett didn’t acknowledge the comment, although privately he thought they wouldn’t stay long. Just enough for Anthony to warm up some. The evening had turned surprisingly cool and it was damp this close to the water. Leaving his boys (funny how as soon as he realized he loved Anthony he starting thinking of him as ‘his’, well, no he supposed it wasn’t that surprising really) he walked down the hall toward the bathroom only to find it occupied. The door opened though before he’d turned away and Der stepped out.
Jerrett gave him a charming smile, and glanced over his shoulder at the empty hallway. “If you step back inside quick I’m sure no one will see us,” he suggested with a grin.
Der cocked an eyebrow at him. Once he would have jumped at the chance. Now he wasn’t as sure. Jerrett confused the hell out of him. The image of him beating Anthony with vicious zeal still haunted him but now it was overlaid with acts of tender concern.
“Perhaps another time, Monsieur Hawthorn,” he said with a little bow. “Funerals aren’t the best thing for my libido, I’m afraid.”
Jerrett chuckled softly and brushed past him. “Perhaps another time,” he said before closing the door.
Shaking his head, Der returned to the living room, unaware that his forehead was still creased in confusion.
Brandon was not the jealous type. Really, he wasn’t. He wasn’t one of those guys that got all bent out of shape if someone flirted with his guy, or danced with him at the club. Hell, he’d even learned he could share his bed, for Der. But that look on Der’s face, after seeing Hawthorn walk down the hall just a few moments before… he had to restrain a wild urge to rush down there and plant his fist in that smug bastard’s face, and he probably hadn’t done anything. He controlled both the urge and his own expression with effort.
“I think–” Der stopped himself and shook his head again. “Bran, I think I need you to hold me a minute.”
Unfortunately, Der was not a mind reader, or he would have known that was just about the worst thing he could have said at that particular moment. The prickle of protectiveness Brandon had felt went instantly into super overdrive, and the likelihood of doing something decidedly violent to Jerrett Hawthorn went from a mild urge to a definite probability.
He came to Der’s side first though, and drew him into his embrace, steering him into the kitchen. He stroked a soothing hand over his back. “What happened? Did that asshole say something to you?” His voice was low, but there was a fierceness there that the easy going Brandon rarely showed.
Der cleared his throat before he could muster an answer, caught off guard by this side of his gentle Brandon. “Ah, well…it sort of sounded like a proposition for a quickie in the bathroom. But I think he was kidding. Probably. Gods…” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “It’s just so hard to tell with that man.”
Brandon again had to put forth a monumental effort not to follow his impulse to go charging off to tear Hawthorn’s head off. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He hadn’t said anything cruel to Der then, just slimy. Still, he didn’t know if he could contain himself much longer if he had to suffer the man’s presence. This was out of character for him and he knew it, but there was just something about the man he did not like at all. “Der, would you mind if we left soon?”
“Um…hmm…I hate to leave Ethan with a houseful of people,” Der began but something felt decidedly off here, the sudden crackle of potential mayhem, so he changed direction. “But I am a little tired today. Maybe a little under the weather.”
Now it was Brandon’s turn to look a little sheepish. “That’s total bullshit, but thank you, love,” he said, and kissed Der lightly, pulling him in close again.
Der wrapped his long arms tight around him and pulled in one slow breath, then another, then buried his face against Brandon’s throat so he could surround himself with his scent. He immediately felt steadier, cleaner, less jumbled. “All right, let’s get you out of here before something bad happens.”
Der and Brandon were the first to say their goodbyes, but others soon followed. Katya and her boys gave Orion their soothing words and took their leave shortly after Der, and Victor and Cody were next to follow. With the crowd thinning and Anthony no longer shivering, Jerrett took his boys home. Vincent, Jonathan, and Drew stayed a while longer and then it was time for them to go as well.
Lilly stayed until last. She settled next to Orion after the others had gone and took his large hand in her own. “You did very well today, Orion,” she said softly. The deepening indigo of night was falling around them, and the sky was clear and bright with stars. The steady sound of the waves coming in down on the beach was soothing and peaceful. “You have done all you can to send Jake on his journey, my dear. Now it’s time for you to rejoin the land of the living in truth, the shadow world is no place for you.”
“And how does one do that, princess?” he asked softly as he gazed out over the ocean. Keit had helped him dress again but he still felt cold and achingly tired. “I’ve lived in the shadows for so long. I can’t go back to what I did before. My brain can’t hold onto the same things anymore.”
Lilly smiled warmly at him. “No, you can’t go back, none of us can. But, perhaps you can find reasons now to go forward. Let Jake go on his journey, and you find yours.”
He stood, his hand still in hers and recited softly, “‘Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.’”
The wind picked up and blew against them, lifting Lilly’s long dark hair all about. She squeezed his hand and they both turned to go inside. She got Orion to the guest room and had him lay down, then kissed his temple. She whispered a few soft words into his ear and he closed his eyes. She brought the blanket up around him and turned to see Elric and Keit both in the doorway. They accompanied her back into the living room.
“What did you say to him?” Keit asked.
Lilly gave him a wink and tweaked his nose, but didn’t answer the question. “He should sleep very soundly until morning. I need to be going.”
Keit kissed the back of her hand, the gesture never felt weird to him when it was Lilly. He bid her goodnight and got out of the way so Elric could do the same.
Elric tucked her hand into the crook of his arm so he could escort her to her car. “Thenk you, Prinzessin, for all you hef done for us.” He felt an odd twinge of sorrow when he turned to face her. “Though I do hope ve hef the privilege of seeing you again.”
They had reached her car and she turned as he opened the door for her. “Oh, I think we shall.” She said. The wind was driving in harder now, blowing a chill air all around them. Still she took a moment, reached her hand up to cup the side of his face, and lifted up on tiptoe to kiss him ever so lightly. “The spirits are restless tonight. Go back inside and be with your loves. Good night, my Prince,” she said, and left him watching after her as she got in and drove away.
He stood a moment longer, staring into the dark, and then an odd feeling of dread drove him inside. Restless, yes. He forced himself not to run to the door, like a child frightened of the basement stairs, though his heart trembled until he had the door shut against the night.
“More things in heaven and earth,” he murmured.
“Sir? Are you alright?” Keit had come at the sound of the door closing, and although he could not say Elric looked any paler than he usually did, he certainly did not look entirely well.
The Prince managed a wan smile. “Yes, herzchen. Now I am.” The bad things are all outside. He snagged Keit by the waist and pulled him close, feeling better by the moment as that lovely, compact body pressed against him. “Much better. Let’s go to bed.”
Keit was taken a bit by surprise at the fierce, passionate kiss Elric gave him, but it only took a moment for him to respond, melting against his body, arm sliding around his lean waist. He supposed it was just relief and release, but it still left his head spinning and a bemused smiled on his face as Elric broke the kiss and took his hand to lead him to the bedroom.
Ethan and Quinn said goodnight on their way past. Ethan swept Quinn up in his arms just because he felt like it, felt like holding him close, and carried him to their own bedroom.
“My love,” Quinn whispered in his ear. “If I promise to be real quiet, will you hold me down and fuck me hard?”
Ethan mock stumbled and fell across the bed with Quinn. “Bring a man to his knees with words like that, sweetheart.” Ethan chuckled low in his throat as his lips closed over Quinn’s.
Barely contained hunger leaped up in Quinn and he answered Ethan’s kiss with ferocious need, his hands whipping through Ethan’s shirt buttons to get at his hard-packed chest.
Ethan’s fingers were less sure in the dark, but just as quick to pull Quinn out of his clothes. He didn’t question the sudden passion that swept through them both, although he thought it might have something to do with the way the wind howled around the eaves. They were both naked and spread across the blanket in no time. Ethan slowed then, despite Quinn’s urgency. He pressed his lean body down, holding his slim wrists in his hand as he kissed him lovingly.
“Want you…so bad,” Quinn whispered between tender kisses. “Want that big, thick pole buried inside me.” He rolled under Ethan as much as he could, loving the hard weight pressing him down. His lips caressed along the strong line of Ethan’s jaw as he spread his thighs and let Ethan settle between.
Quinn was always passionate, always fully into the moment, but tonight there was something more… His kisses and the way he stroked Ethan’s skin sent fires lighting all through him. It had never been harder for Ethan to take his time, make sure Quinn was completely ready for him before he eased his slippery member inside him. Even then, Quinn would not be denied and he thrust his hips up, forcing Ethan deeper, quicker than he would have.
Ethan would never ever be less than careful, but he sensed Quinn was more than ready, and he sank inside him all the way with a hard thrust that made Quinn gasp and brought a moan to his own lips.
“Ethan, babe…I’m burning up,” Quinn gasped out. He lifted his legs to lock them around Ethan’s waist, squirming against the firm grip pinning his arms to the mattress. “Harder… fuck me harder…fuck me like you wanna put me through the mattress…make me come like freaking bottle rockets.”
Somewhere in the back of his mind as he writhed and pleaded, he knew something was weird. He usually encouraged Ethan but he left most of the dirty talk at the door, afraid of conjuring scenes he didn’t want to remember. Tonight, though, tonight a phoenix pyre of desire roared through his whole body and he hardly knew what he said.
Caught in the whirlwind of Quinn’s heat and desire Ethan could only do as he requested. His hands slid down Quinn’s arms and behind him, locking tightly around his body and pulling him close as he buried his face at the side of his throat. He spread his knees farther apart, digging into the mattress as his powerful thighs and hips bucked into Quinn hard and fast, his breath coming quick as he felt Quinn’s fingers dig into the muscles of his back and his teeth fasten onto his shoulder. His head was spinning as he pounded his full length into Quinn’s yielding body. Beads of sweat rolled down his sides, and he was holding on by his fingernails from tipping over the edge. “Uhh, oh, baby…baby please come for me…” he groaned huskily.
Those words husked in his ear were the last tug Quinn needed. The heavy, heated pressure leaped to a point near pain and then hurled him over. “Yes! Oh, fuck, yes!” he cried out, completely forgetting his promise to keep quiet.
He bucked underneath Ethan, feeling as if he were flying into a thousand pieces with each hard, pleasure-soaked pulse.
Keeping quiet was the furthest thing from Ethan’s mind. The way Quinn tightened and squeezed around him sent a jolt of pure pleasure racing through his over heated body. He drove as deep as he could go and held there as the shudders on an intense orgasm pulsed through him, his own cries of delight muffled where he nuzzled at Quinn’s throat. When the last few spasms were spent he couldn’t even move, collapsed in a haze of warm bliss.
Quinn lay dizzy and panting, stroking Ethan’s back to encourage him to stay where he was, the warm bulk comforting atop him.
When he could breathe again, he kissed Ethan softly. “Love…would you do that for me?”
“If I died? Give me, you know, that kind of a sendoff? I don’t think I wanna be buried.”
Ethan’s breath caught. “Quinn… don’t say that. Please. I’ll do whatever you like, but don’t talk about it right now.”
Quinn frowned, though Ethan couldn’t see it in the dark. “Sorry, babe. I’m sorry.” He held him tight since he seemed to need it. “Not like I’m planning on it anytime soon. But we might, you know, be together a long time and stuff.”
Quinn kissed him over and over, trying to erase Ethan’s momentary anguish, and realized Ethan had almost said ‘forever’. The thought made him smile.
In the guest room, Elric raised his head, still panting from where he and Keit had made wild, madly passionate love on the floor. Most of his hair had come loose from its braid, trailing down to frame Keit’s lovely face.
“I hope he still sleeps,” he whispered, with a nod to the bed.
Keit tried to catch his own galloping breath. He swallowed hard and listened for a moment. Nothing but deep even breathing came from the bed above. He didn’t know how they hadn’t woken Orion, but whatever Lilly had done had really put him out. He slept as sound as a stone and peaceful as a lamb.
He smiled up at Elric, bringing his hands up to cup his handsome face tenderly. “I think he’s sleeping well,” he whispered back.
Elric eased carefully out of Keit’s body, much more slowly than he had entered him, and lifted him from the carpet. He laid him on the bed on Orion’s right side and then climbed in on his left.
Lilly had said to stay with his loves tonight and while he didn’t know why this was so important, every fiber of his being said it was. Unlike most nights, he nestled close and draped an arm over Orion’s chest before he closed his eyes to sleep.
Posts tagged ‘Keit’
** Author’s note: This is a longer one, dear readers, but we felt it important to keep the whole thing together. **
“Is it possible? To do vell?”
“Yes, sir, it’s not tough to do with the right equipment.” Cody tamped down on his curiosity. Elric had handed him this marvelous photo of himself as a younger man wrapped in the arms of two gorgeous people who obviously adored him. He asked for a reprint since it was torn but his tone implied he was in no mood for questions.
Cody closed the portfolio and placed it on the table. “Tomorrow afternoon. I’ll bring it by.” He dared to reach out to stroke the white hand lying on the back of the chair. “Are you OK, sir?”
“Soon, my dear,” the Prince answered softly. “Soon I think I shall be.”
Elric arrived home to the quiet of his house and the storm inside him. Something wild brewed in his heart which he didn’t understand and wasn’t entirely sure he trusted. Before he could banish the disorienting turmoil, though, Keit appeared to greet him.
He seized the boy by the upper arms and backed him up to the wall where he captured his lips in a frenzied, searing kiss.
Keit was so shocked he didn’t respond at first. He had no idea what had come over his usually steady, composed Dom. He did not waste much time wondering though, before he let himself melt into the tight hold Elric had on him, his eyes sliding closed and his lips and tongue caressing back against his heated assault. Whatever it was, Keit was putty in Elric’s hands, caught up and willing to flow with his passionate demands.
“Downstairs.” Elric broke off to growl in Keit’s ear. “Strip and present.” He eased his hold and kissed Keit’s forehead gently, the message clear: I need you.
Keit slipped from his embrace with half-closed, smoldering eyes. “Yes, sir,” he breathed out. He managed to keep to an even pace until he was out of sight, then took the stairs two at a time, pulling his clothes off as he went. By the time he stood naked and ready for Elric, he was already standing at attention in more ways than one.
A few slow breaths later, Elric followed. Girded in the armor of his icy calm again, he found the steady center necessary to proceed. To approach Keit with anything less was madness. Passion, yes, that could be shared but uncontrolled ferocity would bring disaster. The boy would push and plead and believe himself in heaven while he drove his Dom to acts of brutality.
He descended the steps and walked slowly around Keit, his fingertips trailing along his skin as he circled. “Mein herz, my beautiful boy,” he murmured. “I give you the choice, as ve used to, vhen you came for sessions.” He leaned in close to Keit’s ear. “Vertical or horizontal?”
Keit shivered as the tip of Elric’s finger traced slowly down his spine. Unfortunately his brain had a short circuit to his mouth at that moment. His breath caught in his throat as a fingertip touched the little dimple at the very top of his ass. Denial definitely was a potent aphrodisiac, he couldn’t even form coherent speech he was so keyed up. “I-I’ll stay standing, sir,” he finally got out in a hoarse whisper.
“I said nothing about stending.” Elric nipped at the top of Keit’s ear. “But vertical it shall be.”
He stripped off his shirt and hung it on one of the hooks, then strolled up and down his equipment wall with slow, deliberate steps. The ritual steadied him, pulled him into the rhythm of the session. He made his selections just as deliberately and placed them on the table while Keit fought his shivers of anticipation.
When he approached again, he held only two items, both intimately familiar. No need for commands. Keit held out his hands for him to buckle on the padded suspension cuffs and spread his feet farther to ease the fastening of the leather cock and ball harness.
Everything proceeded as it would have during one of their client sessions with a few notable exceptions. Elric did not pull on his gloves as he would have then, his bare fingers caressing and petting where he would have refrained before. His lips touched down here and there as well, teasing and leaving trails of heat and when Keit was in harness, he took him into a tender embrace.
Keit trembled with anticipation. He had held things together during Orion’s discovery of who he was and the subsequent traumas and anxieties they had all faced. Even such upsetting, potentially life altering events rarely ruffled him beyond immediate emergencies. He was steady, he was a rock, he didn’t let the stress show…until he was allowed to. The build up behind his emotional walls had been almost at critical mass, and even the simple act of preparation had him shaky with need and giddy with relief. He moaned softly as Elric brushed his lips with his own and his body swayed into his.
“Steady, herzchen,” the Prince murmured gently before he bent to slide an arm under Keit’s knees and sweep him up in his arms. With a soft smile, he repeated the words he had spoken so often, “You are safe vith me. I shall not let you fall.”
He carried Keit over to the suspension rig and held him tight with one arm while he pulled the chains into reach. When the chains had Keit’s weight, he finally let go. Most subs would have needed a warm-up, a slow build to the more serious implements. Keit needed more and his desperation signaled a need to dispense with the preliminaries. Elric reached first for the bamboo switch and laid the first stripe across Keit’s left hip.
Upstairs, Orion wandered in from his workshop. He had finished the second frame as the Prince had requested, this one more suited to something one would find in a child’s room with little horses, sheep and rabbits carved all around. The open basement door stopped him, though, and the sounds…
He thought maybe he should start dinner instead. The frame could wait. Not that he was a gifted, instinctive cook like Sasha or Keit but Sasha had said anyone with a little patience who was able to read could learn to cook. Patience, at least with everyone but himself, he had in abundance now, something he had never had in his previous life. The doctors said it was due to ‘changes in the brain’. They hesitated to say brain damage but he knew they meant it.
Elric switched to a heavy cat. The variety in the pain was almost as important to Keit as the pain itself.
Keit lost track of how many times the flogger fell across his skin. His shoulders were in agony, the skin across his back and buttocks licked in flames. He could have so easily slipped into the calming ecstatic trance that came with this level of pain. He fought it though. He wanted to stay right here, experience every swish and stroke of the cane and the whip.
For the most part he was quiet, only a soft moan occasionally parting his lips. When the flogger wrapped around his thigh from behind and the very tips of two of the braids landed neatly on his balls though he couldn’t help the quick indrawn yelp. His head lolled back and the movement sent ice and fire through his shoulders. He cried out when the flogger landed again and sent more shards though him. He was in such agony and his gently curved cock stood like a flagpole from his body.
He cried out again with the next stroke, like a dam that once broken could not be stopped.
The Prince switched again, to his whip, the final implement he would only use to top off the sensations. He let it flick and kiss across Keit’s skin, starbursts of sharp pain, but he would never truly lay into him with it.
He sensed when Keit had reached the limit of safety and sanity, even though the boy would have begged for more, and he lowered the chains until Keit’s feet touched the floor. The chains still kept him standing as he lowered them a bit more and nudged Keit’s feet more than shoulder-width apart with his boot.
“Mein herz,” he whispered as he eased lubed fingers inside Keit’s back door. His harnessed cock twitched and the boy moaned “You vill beg me for release. Plead for it prettily enough and I may grant it.”
Although his feet now touched the floor Keit doubted his ability to stand if the chain had not held him up. His legs trembled and he let out a heated moan as Elric’s fingers breached him. He murmured sweet encouraging things, letting his Dom know how much he enjoyed every touch and stroke, but he did not beg. Not yet.
He waited until Elric was pressed up behind him, his fly opened, the smooth head of his cock pressing into him. He begged for more, and he got it. His lithe body was slicked in sweat, he regained the use of his legs enough to push back and roll his hips, little whimpers and cries of ecstasy wrung from his lips as he built higher and higher.
“Uhh…oh, please sir… please, I’m so close now…please let me come,” he finally panted out.
Elric reached around to unsnap the harness in three swift tugs. The desperate groan he received when the blood rushed back in fully sent shivers of delight through him. He drove in for a few more strokes, letting Keit’s soft pleas wash over him like a cleansing rain.
He wrapped his arms around Keit and rested his head on his shoulder, his own climax imminent. “Now, herzchen,” he whispered. “Now. Give me vhat is mine.”
Keit’s body arched and shuddered on the last word Elric spoke. Molten streaks seemed to flow in his veins he came so hard and the release was so intense black spots danced behind his eyes.
The hard clench and release of Keit’s orgasm hurled Elric over the edge as well. He fastened his teeth onto Keit’s shoulder and clung tight, his soft moans muffled by skin as he rode out the heavy pulses of ecstasy.
He waited until he could draw a full, steady breath again before he eased out, took Keit’s weight more firmly against him, and released the cuffs. Keit slumped, deadweight, and he wondered if the boy had fainted. Ah, well, not the first time.
With a tenderness most people were never allowed to see, he carried Keit to the bed in the little room off the main one and slid in beside him, curling his body around him protectively.
Keit’s breathing slowly returned to normal, yet he did not stir, blissfully content to remain in Elric’s arms. The ache of soreness was starting to set in. Not the same as the sharp bite of pain that stirred his lust, but he would savor it nonetheless for the memory it would bring of this session. He was so happy, feeling absolutely loved and protected.
“Herzchen…” Elric paused and lifted his head to sniff. “Ah. Pork chops, I think. Somevone is making us dinner. Do you think you can sit at table, my love, or vould you like to take dinner in bed tonight?”
Keit smiled lazily but said, “If Orion’s gone to the trouble to make dinner for us the least I can do is sit at the table, sir.”
They relaxed a little while longer and then Keit rose to go take a quick shower and dress before heading to the kitchen to see if Orion needed any help with dinner preparations.
Orion’s answer was to take him into a gentle embrace and kiss the top of his head. “It’s almost ready, little one. Is he coming?”
Keit nodded against his chest.
“Was it wonderful?” Orion whispered.
Keit gave a weak little chuckle. “Oh yes, more than wonderful.” He sighed happily and snuggled into Orion’s arms.
Five minutes later, their Dom appeared, showered, perfectly coiffed and pressed, and completely composed, the storm quelled. He settled in one of the kitchen chairs and rested his chin in his hand, watching his boys plate dinner.
“This Saturday,” he said softly. “I need them all here.”
Keit helped Orion carry the plates over and sat gingerly. “All, sir?” he asked, guessing that Elric meant their friends and already mentally creating the guest list and preparations that needed to be completed for such a large gathering on short notice.
“Ja, alle,” Elric confirmed. “I shall make the calls myself. I esk only that ve hef enough food and drink on hend. A semi-formal occasion, I think, for vhich I expect you to make yourselves presentable. I shall do the rest.” He glanced over at Orion. “It is ready for me, liebchen?”
“Yes, mein herr.” Orion pointed over to the shelf by the door. “I brought it in to show you.”
Elric rose slowly to examine the picture frame, his fingers running over the little carved animals. “It is lovely. Marvelous. You hef such talent…thenk you.”
Throughout the city and farther up the coast, schedules were shuffled and reshuffled to accommodate the Prince’s request. Some of the invitees owed him, debts that could never be repaid, but all of them felt some strong connection to him and could not resist the call out of love or curiosity.
Leather and lycra left at home, a small horde of well-dressed, beautiful people descended on the house, Vincent a vision in velvet and silk, his boys in their best suits, Katya in a lovely green dress, cut scandalously low in the back, Der in his antique dress uniform jacket and so on. Even Anthony had opted for a suit and tie, things he normally wrinkled his nose at.
They milled about, waiting and speculating, no one quite sure what the occasion meant. Der leaned against the wall outside the dining room, a hand on Brandon’s shoulder. Bran looked so delicious in his double-breasted suit. Too delicious for words. Der pulled him close for a deep, languid kiss, his cock stirring at the barely leashed heat between them, his hand stealing down to…
“There’s my sweet pea!” An all too familiar voice called out beside him. “You could have come to say hello. But I see you’re busy. I suppose this is Brandon.”
“Um… hi, Mom,” Der got out in a sheepish murmur.
Brandon smiled bemusedly at the lovely lady scolding Der. He felt a bit like scolding Der himself for not telling him that his mother might be there. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Schiller, and yes, I’m Brandon,” he introduced himself.
Elisabet shook his hand while she looked him up and down. “Very nice. Much more handsome than some of your choices and much more polite.”
Der hid his face in his hands with a groan and looked like he wanted to sink into the floor.
She stood nearly nose to nose with Brandon, taller than any other woman in the room. “And what are your intentions regarding my son, young man?”
Brandon’s lips twitched. He adored her already. “Is it too cliché to say that I intend to keep him so happy he won’t think about going to find someone else?”
“That…” She smiled at him, her gray eyes twinkling. “Is the wisest answer I have ever gotten to that question.” With a pat to Brandon’s chest, she turned back to Der. “You hang onto this one, sweet pea. Someone with sense.” Then she was off again to greet Vincent and fuss over Drew and Jonathan.
Der raised his eyes to the ceiling. “Someone shoot me now. I’m sorry, Bran. I’d no idea she’d be here, too.”
Brandon smiled, slipped his arms around his waist and tugged him closer. “It’s alright, I’ll let it slide this time…sweet pea.”
“Please don’t call me that,” Der said in a pained voice. “I really don’t want to start thinking of you as my mother.”
Brandon laughed. “No, we wouldn’t want that,” he agreed and kissed him.
Upstairs, Elric knotted his tie for the fourth time. Lillana sat in the chair by the window, patient, silent for the moment, waiting, it seemed to him.
“I don’t seem able to do this today,” he said to her reflection as he undid the knot yet again. “My hends…wie sagt mann? I am entirely thumbs.”
Lilly stood and moved to his side, moving his hands gently out of the way when he turned to her. She deftly tied a crisp Half Windsor knot and smoothed the collar of his shirt. “You tied it perfectly the first time,” she said in her softly musical voice.
He let out a slow breath. “I go to strip the veil from things long hidden. To rip down the shutters and let the light in.” He caught her hand and pressed it to his heart. “And I delay…and think of changing my mind.”
She lifted her eyes to his and held them for a moment, then leaned up on tiptoe and kissed the tip of his nose. “I know, my dear Prince. I know. You shall be ready, when you are ready.”
He chuckled softly at her indulgence and the corner of her lips lifted in a little smile. “Now… should I go announce that you’re very sorry and have changed your mind?”
His forehead wrinkled and it was her turn to chuckle softly. “No? Then, perhaps you should make an appearance?”
“So. Yes.” He settled his jacket, smoothed back an imaginary stray hair, and tucked her dainty hand into the crook of his elbow. “If you valk on my arm, beautiful fairy princess. To give me courage.”
“I would be delighted, sir,” she said, and let him lead her out and down the stairs into the hall below.
Lilly had known, by the low murmur of voices, that there must be many people gathered, but she wasn’t quite prepared for the actual number that greeted them. The Prince’s ‘small gathering’ was a rather large crowd and she was actually glad for the firm arm she held onto now.
They did make quite a stunning entrance, even for such a sober affair. Him with his snow white locks pulled back into a neat single plait and her raven dark tresses floating about her like an inky curtain. Her habit of keeping her eyes lowered when first entering a room made the attention of their arrival fall upon Elric, until she looked up at him as well.
“Oh, dear gods,” Der whispered as he rose from his chair. “He’s reached up and plucked a star from the heavens.”
Several of the young men had followed suit out of instinctive respect for this vision.
“My dear friends,” Elric began in a voice pitched perfectly for the gathering. “This is Lillanna Willows, our counselor and friend who has been assisting in the household’s… recovery.”
Lilly hadn’t expected him to do that either, but she supposed she should have. She only knew Keit and Orion here; it would be easier to introduce her to everyone this way. Elric would have no way of knowing she was painfully shy in crowds and even more so with public speaking. Of course, the fact that her peaches and cream skin suddenly bloomed with pink roses and a whispered “Hello” barely made it past her parted lips only made her more endearing to many in the room at that moment.
Brandon poked Der gently in the ribs. “Wipe the drool off your chin, hon,” he whispered.
In an automatic gesture, Der lifted his hand to do just that and then shot Brandon an amused look. “Sorry.”
Richard leaned close to Katya’s ear. “Where, oh where, do you suppose he found that little gem?”
Kat smiled and patted his cheek. Where, indeed? She was certain the beauty on Elric’s arm had the attention of even the most determinedly ‘male only’ worshipers in the room. She glanced over at Jonathan and hid a small smile. Yes, that expression was just a shade too deliberately cool, even with his eyes transfixed. Not that he was likely to be interested, but certainly he could appreciate the aesthetic beauty. She chuckled as Vincent reached over without looking and closed Drew’s mouth.
Elric leaned in to whisper in Lilly’s ear, “I shall make proper introductions later, vhen all eyes are not cemented to you.” In a gallant gesture, he handed her into the empty chair next to Keit before he strode to the front of the room.
Once there, he swept the cloth off the little table to reveal the picture frames Orion had made. The ornate, inlaid one held the repaired photo of Elric with his Kurt and Annalise. The photo with the children occupied the newer frame with the little animal carvings. Between them sat a bowl full of rose petals and a black pillar candle, which Elric now lit.
“Es war einmal ein mann,” he began, his voice steady and calm. “This is how all German fairytales begin. ‘There once was a man.’ But the stories from the Bleck Forest are often gruesome and the endings are not alvays heppy.”
He straightened and stood with one hand resting on the table as if he needed the contact. “In my previous life, I vas Joachim Wilhelm Sebastian Hohenzollern, the last Baron of Edelwald. The last because there are no more kings in Bavaria to name a successor and vhen I left, there vas no male relative remaining to take the title.”
He went on to describe his privileged childhood on the rambling estate, a strictly scheduled childhood filled with tutors and lessons, one which would have been unbearably lonely had it not been for Kurt. It was Kurt who comforted him when his father had been cruel and Kurt who had been there when his parents died, his lifelong friend whose love had blossomed into something more in their teenage years. He described their search for a Baroness, their first enchanted meeting with Annalise, the beautiful bride she had made, how happy the three of them had been.
He told them of his joy at the birth of his son, Johannes, and then the doubling of that joy when his daughter, Kara had been born. He had been a nervous father, afraid he would make mistakes, but his spouses were there to reassure him and calm him, both of them loving, instinctive parents.
“And then the day came vhen it all vas ripped avay,” he said softly, one finger running over the children’s picture frame. His words faltered and slipped now as he came to the day when he had lost them all, the fear, the horror, the numbing grief all crashing back in on him again. When he had finished, he leaned on the table with both hands, eyes shut tight, as if any movement might cause him to shatter.
Lilly noticed that all the people gathered held expressions of sympathy, some looking as if they wanted to go and comfort Elric, especially Keit and Orion, but none moved to do so. Perhaps they simply did not want to intrude on the careful walls he put around himself, or perhaps they were cautious since he was more than likely to lash out rather than accept any ‘coddling’. Well, emotional walls had never been a barrier to her, and she was not afraid of backlash if it helped him. She moved to his side and placed a delicate hand over his.
The curled lip, the beginnings of a snarl, came automatically, but someone began to sob softly. Elric heaved a ragged breath. He turned his hand to take Lilly’s fingers in a gentle grip as he faced his audience again.
“I hef kept them hidden all this time. Denied who they vere and all they meant to me. This vas not right.” He waved his free hand at the pictures, his voice cracking as he went on, “I give them beck. To the vorld, to the light. For all to see, for all to share in the joy there vas. For my new family, the vones who took a foreign stranger to their hearts, I share this, so you vill know. So you might help me remember.”
Keit finally broke, and moved forward. He wrapped his arms around Elric in a fierce hug that let him know he was not only moved by what he said and proud of him for it, but that he was there for him as well. A moment later Orion’s large arms enfolded them both.
It was a near thing. The Prince nearly wept in front of all those gathered. He wrapped an arm around Keit, leaned back against Orion and battled his errant emotions long enough to say, “Please, stay, everyone. Enjoy the night. Enjoy each other. I shall rejoin you soon.”
When he moved to leave the room, head held high, the three people who had dared to touch him went, too, Lilly’s hand tucked back in the crook of his arm, Keit’s hand gripped firmly in his, Orion’s on his shoulder. In the den at the back of the house, he broke and cried in their arms but no one else was there to see.
Drew sank down into Vince’s lap. He needed a bit of holding after that. He felt so bad for Elric; even if it was so long ago, the pain was obviously still raw.
For a moment, Vincent had his hands full. Drew rarely cried in public but he trembled against Vincent’s chest and Jonathan sobbed beside him. He wasn’t the only one, of course. Sasha had climbed into Jerrett’s lap, face hidden against his neck while Anthony knelt at their feet with his head on Jerrett’s thigh. Brandon did his best to comfort Der, though the tears crept down his own cheeks, and Victor rocked Cody in his arms.
“Here now, poor boy.” Elisabet moved her chair beside Jonathan to take him in her arms. Poor motherless boys. She half expected to be pushed away but Jonathan collapsed against her, heaving with wrenching sobs. “Sh, sh…such pretty eyes shouldn’t shed so many tears. Hush, dear.”
Amazingly, Jonathan quieted for her and let her dry his tears.
“Now,” she said more crisply. “Der Prinz has put this evening together for his friends to celebrate the ones he loved, not to have them flood his house and ruin his carpets. Come help me, dear. People need drinks, they need to get up, to talk to each other.”
There was perhaps no better way to pull Jonathan out of hysteria. He got up, kissed Vincent and Drew and followed Elisabet around the room playing host.
Drew pulled in a deep breath to steady himself. “I like Der’s mom,” he said softly in Vince’s ear.
Nearby, Brandon silently concurred although he hadn’t heard Drew’s whispered sentiment. He got Der to dry his eyes and he stood sniffling with Bran’s arm around him.
Katya and Richard joined Elisabet and Jonathan to help get everyone settled.
In the den things were settling as well. Lilly soothed and comforted all three of the men gathered. She stood next to where Elric sat and kissed the top of his head, smoothing her hand over the white silk of his hair. “You did very well, my Prince.”
There was no sarcasm, no irony in his voice when he answered softly, “So, ja, I am glad you approve.” He leaned his head against the back of the sofa. “I feel so…drained. But so light. As if I am not connected properly. Perheps I am coming down vith something…”
Lilly sat down next to him, a smile lighting her face. “That would be what it feels like when you are healing, sir.”
“Is it?” The corner of his mouth twitched as he took her hand. “It feels rather more like being turned inside out.” With his free hand, he reached down to where Orion knelt at his feet to stroke through his hair. “Are you all right, liebchen? Perheps I should hef prepared you better.”
“I’m all right.” The big man nuzzled Elric’s Armani-clad thigh. “I was worried for you, my Prince. It…it’s hard to see you hurt.” They sat in silence for a few moments and then Orion lifted his head to look up at Lilly. “I think I know what I need to do now, though.”
“I thought you might,” she said, leaving it up to him whether he wanted to share what he wanted to do or not.
“Mein herr, I’d like to…think things through first.” Orion came up on his knees to kiss his Dom’s cheek. “Before I say anything.”
“As you vish, my love,” Elric reassured him softly. “Vhatever you need, you shell hef.”
Orion thanked him and was pulled in for a soft, searching kiss, which might have caught fire if footsteps hadn’t sounded in the hall.
“Sir? I don’t want to intrude, I mean, I know I am, but I wanted to make sure you’re OK. Not that you need me, not with all the help you have, and it’s not–” Anthony broke off with a foolish, crooked smile when Lilly looked at him. “Um, hello…”
Elric tamped down on a chuckle. “I’m recovering, thenk you, my dear. You look so hendsome tonight. Even a tie. This is an occasion.”
Anthony ducked his head on a grin. “Jerrett likes it. I think he likes having a leash built into the outfit as much as he likes the look but, well, you know…” He trailed off again, blushing furiously.
Lilly watched the exchange quietly. Privately she was a little surprised. Had she met Anthony on his own she wouldn’t have thought he was a submissive, but then, he wasn’t ultra dominant either. Not with the way he blushed when he looked at her.
After a moment they all rose and left the den to rejoin the rest of the gathering. As they walked down the hall, Lilly braced herself. She avoided crowds usually. Not out of any kind of phobia, but because all the emotions one found in large groups played havoc with her own balance.
A steady, rhythmic thump came from ahead of them and Elric stopped as they rounded the corner to avoid running into Vincent.
“Ah, there you are,” Vincent said softly with a little shake of his head. “Sweet spirits, the things you never told me. You may as well prepare yourself. They will swarm you when you walk back in.”
“I am prepared, brüderlein, never fear.” Elric patted his shoulder and turned to Lilly. “My apologies, my dear. The young gallant to your left is Anthony Dupree, affectionately known to his friends as ‘Mad Anthony’ and this handsome vision is Vincent Lastrada, of whom you have heard me speak so often.”
Lilly inclined her head politely to Vincent in greeting. Anthony took her hand and brushed his lips across the back of her fingers in a courtly gesture.
Vincent’s expression remained unreadable as he studied her. Finally he murmured, “You are hataa’lii. A healer. Which Way do you follow?”
Unblinking blue eyes regarded him steadily, studying him just as he had studied her. A small smile touched her lips. “My training was not the most traditional, but would be considered the red path. My father was Lakota, I learned from him when I was very young.” This small bit of information she knew would actually tell Vincent a lot. The path of the red meant she was an herbalist and spiritualist. The Lakota were one of the eastern nations, so she was probably not from this area originally
Vincent’s smile transformed his face. “Welcome to California, elder sister. I haven’t spoken to one of the People, of any nation, in so long.”
“Thank you.” Lilly said graciously. She glanced at Elric and he inclined his head slightly as if to say she was free to go off if she wished. She walked beside Vincent as he returned to his comfortable high backed chair, talking amiably as they went. Vince had not missed the subtle byplay between them.
He had to wonder how it was that she reached the Prince, made him see that he needed to release this long held grief. He hesitated to ask, it seemed vaguely improper, but his curiosity was stirred and he finally did ask.
“I didn’t reach him. Orion did.” She said simply.
“Oh?” Vincent’s brow creased and then smoothed as realization hit. “Ah. I see. It’s always been one of his favorite teaching points. Never ask those who belong to you to do what you would not.”
He gazed across the room to where Sasha flung himself into Elric’s arms, more open about offering his condolences than some. “How are they doing, the three of them? That first day…oh, sweet gods…I thought my heart would break.”
“They are…healing.” She answered, her head tilted slightly in contemplation as she watched Elric, Orion, and Keit together. She turned her gaze to Vince, cerulean blue eyes seeming to peer right into him, past every shield and barrier he so carefully kept between himself and the world. “And how are you, and your loves doing? Are you better now?”
An automatic evasion was on Vincent’s lips when he stopped himself with a little sigh. “We are…healing,” he echoed softly. One hand rubbed his chest absently, recent memories constricting his lungs. “So many disasters heaped one atop the next. It feels as if we can finally catch our breath again.”
“Mmhm…” Lilly said, and averted her gaze, knowing she had disquieted him. “If you like, I have something that might help you breathe easier… literally, that is. Something that won’t make you jittery and tense and keep you up at night like the inhalers can.”
The long fingered hand stopped its restless motion and he let out a soft laugh. “That obvious, is it? Yes, gods, yes, if you have something that will ease these tight bands around my chest, I’d be eternally grateful.”
She nodded, the silk of her hair falling forward a bit. She lifted a hand to push it back.
“Do you plan on keeping the Prince’s lovely guest to yourself all evening, Vincent?” A deep rich voice with hints of amusement asked. Having been abandoned for the moment by both Anthony and Sasha, Jerrett had wandered over to meet the lovely girl that had more than half the room wondering how long a wait would be polite before making their move.
“It had occurred to me, yes, but I suppose that would be selfish,” Vincent answered softly. “Lilly, this is Jerrett Hawthorn.”
Lilly looked up, and up, at the man standing over them. He was not ‘looming’, or at least she didn’t think he was trying to, but she supposed the impression was from the way he sort of stood so straight and regal and looked down on nearly everyone. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Hawthorn,” she said softly.
“The pleasure is mine, and please call me Jerrett.” he said, smiling his most winning smile. Despite the innate arrogance, he was still breathtakingly handsome and charming when he chose to be.
“Hey, handsome, you feeling all right?” A deep voice of a different timbre issued from Vincent’s opposite side. Der crouched by the chair to take Vincent’s hand in his. “I saw you rubbing.”
“I’m quite well, dearheart,” Vincent smiled and kissed his fingers. “And this, Lilly, is the dashing Derelict Schiller.”
Der looked up to meet those incredible eyes. “Hi,” he said eloquently.
A little smile lifted her lips, “Hello.” She replied, and couldn’t help thinking that for all Jerrett Hawthorn’s carefully exuded charm, Der, as she’d already heard his friends calling him, was twice as endearing.
Drew came up behind Jonathan as he handed out a last glass of champagne he’d been circulating with. He slid his arms around him and kissed the nape of his neck, smiling as he turned around to put his own arms around him. “Are you alright?” he asked softly.
Jonathan nodded, “Much better. How ‘bout you, sweetie?”
Drew gave a little shrug, but he nodded reassuringly. “You know, I was thinking… do you remember that episode of South Park, when all the boys started acting like grunting animals beating up on each other because one of the girls in their class had sprouted boobs?” He tilted his head slightly to where Vince, Jerrett, and Der were clustered around Lilly and David and Xavier were making their way over. “I keep having flashes of that every time I glance over there.” He snickered.
Jonathan laughed, causing several people to glance over. He didn’t care. “You’re not gonna get involved in the testosterone rush to piss on her beautiful leg?”
Drew looked almost startled by the question. “Are you kidding me? No way!” He said just a little too vehemently.
A little sound caught in Jonathan’s throat, then another, and he nearly choked on trying to swallow the guffaw that wanted out. He took Drew’s face between his hands and kissed him tenderly. “Christ, I love you. You’ve got to be the sweetest thing on earth.”
Drew unexpectedly felt a flush of heat at the tender kiss and Jonathan’s words. He melted inside and pressed closer, completely forgetting the roomful of people around them. Jonathan just had that effect on him. He kissed him back, just as tender and sweet, but the kiss lingered a bit longer.
A light feminine laugh drifted over to them and Drew glanced at the growing circle again. Lilly had laughed at something Xavier had said, which was not all that unusual. If the dark scowl on Jerrett’s face was any indication it was something at his expense. Drew shook his head, amused. “Do you want to take bets on which one she picks?” he whispered in Jonathan’s ear.
“We should get two choices, since it’s such a broad field,” Jonathan said with a too-serious look of concentration. “Now, if she has any taste at all, she’ll pick Vincent. But he’ll gracefully and regretfully decline, so I have to count him out of the running. Hmm…there’s beauty over there and brains and drop dead, charming dominance, grace and wit and…I bet she picks the goofball.”
Drew was just as carefully going over the selection although silently. Xavier had made her laugh, that tinkling bells sound that was so sweet he nearly heard a collective sigh from the group of admirers. And Xav looked exceedingly hot this evening… ok, stop checking him out. Was Jon right maybe? Der was just as good at coaxing a laugh, but he was more mature than Xav. She was so quiet she might appreciate that. Or was he just being biased because it was Der and Drew couldn’t see anyone resisting Der?
His eyes went to Jerrett and then back to Lilly. She had politely cut her laugh short and she was looking at him, those bright, bright blue eyes still sparkling. The dangerous, arrogant prick? “She’s gonna pick the most dominant, if any of them. I say Jerrett.” Drew said in a hushed voice to Jonathan.
“She’s a fool if she does,” Jonathan growled and then shrugged. “But there’s no accounting for taste, I guess.” They watched a moment longer, Drew’s head nestled on Jonathan’s shoulder, until Jonathan chuckled. “Oh, now, there’s a wrench in the works for you.”
In a black kilt, leggings and dress boots, Chrysalis slid through the larger bodies to claim the chair next to Lilly since all the admirers were standing. Chrys took her hand, obviously making introductions, and lifted Lilly’s fingers to kiss them.
“Shame on you both. Putting bets on a girl like that.” A voice scolded from behind Jonathan and Drew, making them jump a little, although his voice had been as low as their own. “And you’re both wrong.” Keit said, the scolding tone giving way to amusement. “Now, Drew if you would be so kind, go wrap yourself around Der and get him back to Brandon. He’s looking a little bewildered over there. And Jonathan, please go and distract Xavier before Jerrett decides he’d rather have him and we have an all out brawl. I’ll go get Jerrett.”
“Um, ok. But why?” Drew asked.
“Because, honey. She’s going to want to talk to Chrysalis and the others are just going to frustrate her.”
Jonathan’s forehead crinkled in an endearing way. “So the boys are making all that fuss over her and she’s gay? Um, or maybe not…since I still don’t know about Chrys.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Dammit, I’m confused.”
“No, as far as I can tell she prefers men, at least I’ve never seen her with a woman, but then I’ve never asked.” Keit gave a little wave of his hand. “I just think she’ll be interested in Chrys, that’s all. Now scoot.” Keit headed off to gather Jerrett up, which was a bit of a task, but as soon as he discreetly got his attention over to Sasha and Anthony, who were looking awfully cuddly together, it was easier to move him off in that direction.
Drew moved toward Der and got him talking about music, although he definitely seemed distracted during the conversation.
Another silvery sound caressed over the gathering and Drew nudged Der gently, nodding to how Lilly laughed at something Chrys whispered in her ear.
“Oh…um…” he cleared his throat and swept Lilly a courtly bow. “Such a joy meeting you, Ms. Lilly. But I do need to steal Vincent away to hash through some graphics questions.”
Vincent arched a brow. “Now?”
“Yes, now. You know how my sieve brain works. If I don’t talk to you when I’m thinking of it, I’ll forget.”
Then Vincent caught the hint as well and rose to follow Der to a quiet corner across the room while Jonathan wrapped his arms around Xavier and distracted him quite thoroughly.
Lilly noted the tactical scattering of the circle that had formed and silently thanked Keit. She smiled at Chrysalis. “Keit must think highly of you, you’re the only one he didn’t chase away.”
Chrys chuckled. “The Prince is the undisputed master of his house but Keit is what keeps the household running.”
Lilly’s eyes found Keit for a moment and then came back to Chrysalis. “He’s happier now.” Her lovely heart shaped face tilted slight, regarding Chrys intently for a moment. “You have…unusual energy.” She said softly. “You are sensitive to… things, no?”
Chrys looked at their joined hands, then back up with a little smile and a wink, whispering, “I see dead people.”
Lilly smiled softly as if something had just clicked into place. “Ah, you are a Spiritwalker.” She searched her eyes for a moment, trying to determine something else. “One foot in this world, one in another. Neither one or the other…” She blinked and took a breath, looking down as if embarrassed that she might have intruded where she was not welcome. “Do the spirits trouble you?” she asked quietly, hoping she hadn’t offended him.
A long pause followed where Chrys regarded her carefully, that brittle, fragile look Syren knew so well creeping in. The smile returned on a little sigh. “Not…usually. I know they’re there. Most of the time they go about their business and I go about mine. It’s only when there’s a terrible concentration of negative energy. Those frighten me sometimes, when there’s hate and rage and violent intentions. They tell me I’ve had…seizures…”
Across the room, Syren wrapped an arm around Keit. “You’re such a little manipulator, you know that?”
Keit gave her an apologetic look and nodded towards Lilly. “Does this bother you?”
“Watching Chrys courting? Gods, no. It’s not something I get to see often. Lilly’s the first person Chrys has approached in, oh, I can’t even tell you how long.”
Lilly’s brows pulled together in a tiny frown. “You can keep them out, if you want. Do you know how?”
“I do.” Chrys nodded. “But sometimes people come to me. They need help. I…try not to say yes anymore but they can be so desperate, so frightened. It’s hard to turn them away.”
Lilly’s small smile turned rueful. “I know just what you mean.”
Warmth lit up Chrys’ gray-green eyes. “Somehow I knew you would.”
Xavier followed Jonathan off a ways from the mingling group of people gathered. A glance told him Dave had wandered over to talk to Vic and Cody. When he looked back Jonathan was leaning close and Xavier gave him a soft smile. “You didn’t stay long enough for me to say good morning the other night.”
“You,” Jonathan tapped the end of his nose. “Sleep way too late for me. And besides, I had to go get myself in trouble at home.”
“I do not sleep too late, you just get up way too early.” Xavier said. “I’m almost afraid to ask… what did you get in trouble for?”
Jonathan tried to look serious and contrite. It almost worked. “I surprised the lord of the manor in bed with another lover. I was…caught off guard and he was very annoyed with me. So he gave me to his new lover and forgave me because I’m so beautiful.”
One arm looped lightly around Jonathan’s waist Xav gave him a knowing look. “Mm, so you pitched a hissy fit and Vince figured the best way to shut your mouth was to put a dick in it. Such a smart guy, that Vince.”
Jonathan poked him in the ribs. “So crude.” He tsked.
Xavier grinned and leaned closer to his ear. “You like it, don’t try and pretend.”
“Doesn’t mean you’re not crude. And it wasn’t in my mouth, anyway, so there.” His green eyes danced with amusement, wondering why Xav didn’t ask the obvious question about who it had been.
The answer to that of course was that Xav had already guessed who it must be. Vince wasn’t likely just to pick up a total stranger, and the only one close to them right now that wasn’t already sharing their bed was Der’s new dreamboat.
“Well, I owe you breakfast sometime anyway,” Xav said. “I didn’t want you to have to sleep on the couch.” Which was his way of also saying he was sorry things hadn’t exactly gone as planned with Dave coming home early.
“I know that, babe,” Jonathan said softly. “Don’t worry about it.” He gave Xav a little kiss before he moved off to talk to Elric.
Drew stepped out into the hall and looked down toward the end where he saw Xavier step into the bathroom. He walked down the hall and leaned up against the opposite wall, arms crossed and hands cupping his elbows while he waited for Xavier to emerge. A few moments later when the door opened and Xav looked up and smiled at him he almost lost his nerve. He took a deep breath. “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?”
Xavier took in Drew’s stance, noted the slightly nervous tone and determined expression and thought, uh-oh. His smile didn’t fade but his eyes took on a slightly more guarded cast. “Sure, sweetheart. What’s on your mind?”
Drew tilted his head, indicating they should move somewhere more private and Xavier followed him down the hall a ways further. They stepped through an open door into the now empty den.
“Please don’t tell me you’re secretly in love with me and want to run away. That might complicate things,” Xavier joked.
Drew didn’t even crack a smile, and Xavier had to wonder how bad this was going to be.
“Xav…I don’t want to stir up any shit, but can you… couldn’t you just leave Jonathan alone?” There, he said it.
Xavier blinked at him, for once no immediate response coming to mind. Then the surprise settled into confusion. “Um…ok. Drew, what’s this about?”
“Nothing. I just…just don’t want you taking him home again, ok?”
Xavier’s expression softened a bit. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, because he could tell Drew was a little upset, but he couldn’t resist teasing him a little. “Well honey, if you’re jealous I could ask Vince if you can come with us, too.”
Drew rolled his eyes. “I’m not jealous.”
Xav grinned. “Sounds like it to me.”
“I’m not.” Drew said, exasperated. “Look, just don’t, ok? Leave him alone. Don’t you have enough to choose from?”
Xavier arched a brow at him. While he was perfectly willing to grant his request if it was bothering him, now he felt like being contrary. “Drew, what’s the problem? You didn’t mind before.”
Drew stared at him for a moment, wishing now that he hadn’t gotten into this. He sighed. “He came home after being with you and was so upset he started snapping at everyone and was just an emotional mess. I don’t want him upset like that, and I don’t want you to use him like that.”
Xavier went very still, his expression frozen and for a moment they just stared at each other. Drew finally looked away, feeling uneasy. “Xav…”
“Fine.” Xavier cut him off tersely. “I’ll stay away from him. Happy?”
“Xav, I didn’t mean…”
“I said fine.” Xav snapped. “Get lost, Drew.”
Drew looked at him again, thought about saying something more and thought better of it looking at his shuttered eyes and hard expression. “Okay…thanks,” he murmured and turned quickly to leave. He hurried back down the hall.
“Yeah, sure. No fuckin problem,” Xavier muttered to the empty room. Instead of going back out to rejoin the others, he crossed the room to the window and looked out over the back garden. He crossed his arms and leaned against the window enclosure. He hadn’t used Jonathan. Not anymore than Jonathan had used him. They both wanted each other and went off to go fuck like mad and then return to their normally scheduled lives. What was the big deal?
Sitting in the corner with Der and Brandon, Vincent hadn’t missed all the comings and goings. When Drew reappeared, looking fetching in his suit but as if someone had just slipped ice down his back, Vincent waved him over.
“My kestrel.” He waited until Drew’s hand settled in his. “Someone has upset you.”
Not for the first time, not even the hundredth, Drew cursed his inability to keep whatever he was feeling off his face. No matter how hard he tried, if he was angry, or upset, or horny it was like a beacon turned on to broadcast exactly what he was feeling. He leaned close to Vince’s ear, knowing already that saying ‘nothing’ was wrong would not be accepted as an answer. “Can we talk about it later? It’s not a big deal.”
“All right, my love. As you wish.” Vincent pulled Drew into his lap and wrapped his arms around him.
Victor had already had enough of socializing. True, he was fond of almost everyone there but after Elric’s memoriam, he felt raw and emotionally drained. Not really the right state for him to be in to engage people in light conversation. He left Cody chatting with Quinn and wandered down the hall for a few minutes of quiet…
…and came upon a too familiar scene. Xav with his arms wrapped tight around himself, staring out the window.
“Xav? Sweets? What’s wrong?”
“Huh? Oh, hi Vic.” Xavier said, looking up, obviously coming back from somewhere distant. “What’s up?”
“What’s the matter?”
Xav lifted one slender shoulder in a shrug. “Nothing. Just thinking.”
“Mm, yes, I see that much.” Vic stepped over to stand beside him and share the view of the garden.
This time both shoulders went up, the shrug a little more defensive and his arms still wrapped around him tightly. “Really, Vic. It’s nothing. I don’t want to… I don’t want any kinda problems stirred up, especially not here and not today. Anything like that happens and you know everyone will think it’s all my fault, right?”
“Well, it generally is,” Vic answered deadpan. He turned to Xavier and opened his arms when his teasing fell flat. “Come here, sweets. God. Telling me what’s wrong isn’t ‘stirring up’ anything. There’s no one else here. Just you and me.”
Xav hesitated only a moment, and then leaned closer, letting Vic’s strong arms close around him. It felt so good he relaxed a little more against him, turning his face to lay his cheek against his chest and suddenly he felt his throat close up like he was about to cry or something. It was ridiculous. There was nothing to cry about.
“Drew asked me to stay away from Jonathan, that’s all.” He murmured, feeling like he was six years old tattling on the class bully, which was even more ridiculous because it was Drew, who couldn’t bully his way out of a paper bag if he had to. “He thinks I used him. Dave did, too. And since Drew said he was upset when he went home, Jonathan thinks so, too.”
“There now, that wasn’t so hard,” Vic murmured into the top of his head as he held that lean body tight. “Though I do think you’re jumping to conclusions. Evidently so did Drew. Jonathan gets upset about a lot of things. Most of them having to do with things he doesn’t want to remember. It may or may not have had anything to do with you.”
He stroked Xavier’s hair. “And this whole ‘using people’ nonsense you keep getting so hung up on…everyone uses other people. To greater or lesser degrees. I think what upsets you is that you’re not always quite sure why.”
Xavier frowned slightly but he didn’t pull away. Even if Jonathan hadn’t gotten upset because of him, and even if Drew was making assumptions, that didn’t explain why Dave had questioned his motives for bringing Jonathan home. He remembered Dave quite venomously accusing him of using that guy they’d ended up picking up on the ski trip. He’d pretty much accused him of the same thing again, albeit more gently this time.
He lifted his head and looked up at Vic. “Well then why are they all acting like I did something wrong? I didn’t do anything wrong, I followed all the rules, and I still get treated like a fuck up.”
Victor took his face between his hands, his dark eyes sad and tired. “Has Jonathan said you upset him?”
Xavier shook his head.
“And has David implied, said, or acted in any way that makes you think he is anything but concerned for you?”
“That’s just it, Vic. He’s concerned.” Xav blinked and the teardrops clinging to his lashes finally fell. He took a ragged breath. “He goes out and finds someone else and it’s a mistake, he just let his libido get in the way. I bring home someone he knows, someone he’s ok with, and it’s gotta be because there something wrong with me. Like I wanna get back at him, or I wanna drown everything out with sex.”
“Xav…” Vic pulled him close again and let him cry. The problem was that with Xavier, both of those things were probably true on some level. But that was an issue for his therapist, not for a well-meaning friend. “You might recall that he tried to kill himself over his ‘mistake’, my sweet. It’s not as if he just shrugged it off. And if he worries over your motives, it’s partly because his own can get pretty tangled.”
Drew put his head on Vince’s shoulder. He was silent for a while, watching the room. As the minutes started to slip by and Xavier didn’t reappear he thought about getting up and going to find him. He kept thinking about how he looked, eyes slightly hooded, a blank stare. He’d thought Xav had been pissed, but…maybe he’d been hurt. The more he thought about it the more he fidgeted and chewed on his bottom lip and fidgeted some more. Finally, he couldn’t stand it anymore and heaved a sigh. “I think I hurt Xavier’s feelings,” he blurted out to Vince.
“Ah.” Vincent’s hand stroked his back in soothing circles. “And why would you do such a thing, my love?”
“I-I didn’t mean to.” Drew said, his cheeks heating now with shame. “I just…I asked him to leave Jonathan alone.” He said so softly even Vince had to strain to hear.
“Drew, my darling, my own…” Vincent kissed his cheek with a little sigh. “If such a thing were necessary, who do you think would be the most appropriate person to say it?”
“I know…I know. But, I wanted him to leave him alone. Jonathan doesn’t think he did anything wrong, and you don’t think he did anything wrong, but I know something wasn’t right, I know Jonathan came home upset and he felt like Xav used him or something. I just didn’t want him to see him upset again.”
Vincent wondered if another Dom would have been angry at such a breach of authority. Probably. Most likely. He simply felt…what? A little sad, a bit tired, perhaps. He smoothed a curl out of Drew’s eyes. “I love you,” he murmured. “I love that you want to slay dragons for Jonathan. To protect him and keep his heart safe. But perhaps if Jonathan was hurt by what Xavier did, it should be Jonathan who says so.”
Drew slid his arms around Vince’s neck and buried his face at the side of his throat. “I’m sorry, Vince.”
“My love, I’m not angry with you. And you’ve done nothing to hurt me.”
Drew pulled back to look at him. “Should I go… should I say something to him?”
Vincent kissed him softly. “I suppose that depends on what you say.”
“I’m sorry? I didn’t mean it? Please don’t be a bitch and snap my head off?” Drew cleared his throat. “Well, not that last part.”
“Not a bad start.” Vincent gave him a little smile and a nudge. “Though, the last I looked, I’m not Xavier.”
“Thank god,” Drew said under his breath. “Or we’d be in big trouble.” He kissed Vince and rose, taking a deep breath as if girding himself, and headed back out and down the hall where he’d last seen Xav.
The door to the den was still open and Drew stepped in, at first only seeing Vic’s broad back and just as he thought he’d ask him if he’d seen Xav, he turned slightly and saw that he had him in his arms. He also saw that Xav had his hand up over his face and his shoulders were hunched and… oh, god, Drew felt about as low as he could get. Damn.
His face crumpled and drained of color as he moved closer. Both Vic and Xav heard him and turned at the same time. “Xav… I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
Xavier swiped an arm over his eyes and glared back at him. “I told you it was fine, Drew. Just go away.”
“No, it’s not fine. I didn’t have any right to speak for Jonathan. I’m really sorry.”
“Oh, so the first time you weren’t really sorry?” Xavier said, just to be spiteful.
Drew took it in stride, though. “I meant it both times. Please Xav, it was a stupid, shitty thing to say. I was a total jerk to even bring it up. I know you wouldn’t hurt Jonathan on purpose.”
There was a tense few moments and then Xavier sighed. “Yeah. You’re a stupid jerk. Aren’t we all.” He lifted his arm and made a beckoning gesture until Drew came over and he put his arm around his shoulders, bringing him into the circle of Vic’s arms as well.
Victor heaved a shaky sigh as he wrapped them both close. This better be the end of the drama tonight. I can’t take any more. “Stupid jerks or not, our hearts are in the right place.” He kissed the top of Xavier’s head and then Drew’s. “You’re good boys. There are reasons why people love you that have nothing to do with the physical.”
He gave them a few minutes since they both clung to him fiercely. “Now, then. I know several people who might get worried and come looking for the two of you. And here I am with you snuggled in my arms. From a territorial standpoint, how do you think that would look?”
“Dave would want to know if anything was going on, then watch, or join.” Xavier said without batting an eye.
Drew nodded. “Yep. Jonathan too.”
“Hm, four beautiful boys, all for me,” Vic said with a wistful sigh. “Nice thought, maybe another night.” He gave them each a little smack on the butt and sent them on their way.
Drew and Xavier walked back in together, but separated almost immediately. Xav, because he wanted to go see Dave, and Drew because he saw Vince and Jonathan talking and walked over to them.
Neither one asked if everything was settled since the entrance together said it all. Jonathan wrapped his arms around Drew and pulled him close, though he murmured to Vincent, “Look, Vince, my own knight in shining. Can we keep him?”
Dave turned from where he was talking with Ethan. “Hey, sweets! What’s–” He broke off and took Xavier’s face between his hands. “Love? You’ve been…” His eyes hardened as he asked, “Who made you cry?”
“Nearly everyone here’s been crying. It was a sad thing.” Xavier evaded.
Dave’s eyes told him a storm was brewing and he wasn’t buying it. Xavier sighed. “Not the time or the place, hon. And I’m alright, so please, later. OK?”
“I don’t much fucking care about time and place,” Dave growled, so low no one else could hear. “Someone’s hurt you and he’s gonna pay for it.”
“Christ, Dave,” Xav muttered under his breath. He looked around at the room full of people. “C’mon then.” He took Dave’s hand and led him out. He headed toward the conservatory where at least it would be private and quiet. They walked and he told him about what Drew had said, and that he’d already apologized.
Drew…well, that put a damper on Dave’s fire. He listened, wide-eyed, and slid swiftly from ferocity to pensiveness. He stopped at a bench and sank down, staring at his hands.
“Well, I guess I can’t really slug the little guy. I mean, not again.” He looked up at Xavier who still stood, arms wrapped around himself. “Especially since…it wasn’t just Drew who made you cry, was it?”
Xav sank down next to him and pulled his heels up onto the edge of the bench, wrapping his arms around his legs so he could rest his chin on his knees. “No. I guess not,” he finally said.
“And here I was all set to go after that Hawthorn creep. I was so sure it was him.” Dave rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “And it’s me instead.”
He let out a hollow bark of laughter that made Xav wince, surged up and started pacing, his hands scrubbing through his hair. “Fuck, fuck, fuck…dammit, Xav, even when I’m trying to do the right things, I hurt you.”
Xavier closed his eyes, suddenly very tired. “Yeah, and you’ll probably do it again. And I’ll probably do something to hurt you again. It’s just how things go.” He opened his eyes again. “It’s not your fault, Dave. Maybe Vic is right. Maybe I get so upset ‘cause you hit too close to the truth and I just don’t see it right away. Or don’t want to see it.” He stayed just as he was, arms wrapped tightly around his up drawn legs. For a moment or two he felt like he was going to cry again but he swallowed it down and blinked any tears back. He didn’t want to upset Dave anymore than he was.
“Xav…don’t…” Dave got out in a choked voice and flung himself back onto the bench to wrap Xavier in a fierce embrace. “Don’t shut down, swallow everything whole. I’m here… I’m here… I love you so. I worry…I’m sorry…I can’t help it. I’ve spent most of my life worrying. And sometimes the stuff you do is gonna mean something and sometimes… sometimes a banana is just, you know, a banana.”
Xavier put his head on Dave’s shoulder, his face pressed against the side of his throat. He made a strangled sound, half chuckle, half sob, at what Dave said. He took a shuddering breath. When he lifted his head, he brought a hand to Dave’s cheek, fingers caressing lightly. He touched his lips to Dave’s in a tender kiss, and another, softly seeking more.
A little moan, as much relief as desire, rose from Dave’s chest. He cupped the back of Xav’s head and tilted for a better angle, tongue caressing Xavier’s lips in a silent plea. Xav opened for him, their tongues caressing slowly. There was no desperation, no guilty, hurried spark of lust. Instead, the tender heat grew slowly, building on soft touches and sweet murmurs.
“I love you…” Xav murmured between breathless, heated kisses.
Dave pulled back, his eyes wandering over the beauty of Xavier’s face. “And I love you, sweets.” He combed through Xav’s hair. “But you were right about time and place. It does seem kinda…disrespectful to take you here, in his orchid garden, after his eulogy and everything. Maybe we should make it an early evening, though, yeah? And when we get home, you can do whatever you want with me.”
“Anything I want, huh?” Xav said, his voice taking on that husky edge that Dave knew so well. He kissed a soft line of kisses down his jaw until his lips touched the base of Dave’s ear. “How about if I strip you naked, tie you down to the bed…” He breathed in a soft whisper. “And then paddle you until you’re brick red with a plug deep inside you…would you like that?”
Dave’s head fell back on a dizzy moan as all the blood rushed from his head. “Christ… yes…oh, yes.”
Xav took his earlobe between his teeth and nipped him, hard. “Let’s go back then, have to be polite and stay for a while, no?”
“Yeah,” Dave managed on a gulped breath and straightened his tie. When he stood, he held out both hands for Xav with that heartbreaking little-boy smile. “Do I get to have the gag, too?”
Xavier slow smile was full of seduction and heat as he slipped his hands in Dave’s and stood, but he shook his head slowly from side to side. “Oh, no… I want to hear you scream.”
“”K.” Dave laughed. “But you’ll have to explain things to the cops when the neighbors call them.”
Xav chuckled. “Well, maybe just a little gag.”
“Oh, good,” Dave stage-whispered to the nearest orchid. “He does love me.”
Back in the massive dining room, Orion kissed his Dom’s cheek and left his side to wander across the room. Ethan stood talking to Cody, with Quinn tucked under his arm, Cricket lying at their feet. Orion crouched down to pet the pretty dog. He did love dogs, though he knew the Prince would never allow one to live with them. Too messy.
Cricket thumped his tail but otherwise stayed where he was, giving Orion’s hand a little nuzzle and a lick of greeting.
“Keit told me you hand-carved the frames for the pictures of the Prince’s family, Orion. They are really beautifully done,” Ethan said with the warm appreciation of someone who understood working with their hands and the genuine craftsmanship involved.
Orion raised his head, a hint of anxiety lurking in his bright blue eyes. “Thank you, sir. Could I…speak to you a moment?”
Ethan’s smile was kindness itself. “Of course. Here, or is it private?”
“I…suppose it doesn’t make much difference.” Orion shifted to one knee, his gaze returning to Cricket as he went on, unaware how much the supplicant he looked. “Your house, sir…it has beach access, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does.”
“I’d like to….to use it as a staging point. For…” He heaved a breath. “For Jake’s farewell.”
“Sure you can, Orion. Is there anything Quinn and I can do to help?”
Orion shook his head, struggling. Just saying Jake’s name still caused him to break down. Dear God, would it always be that way? “Not until then,” he finally forced out. “I may need help…carrying something.”
“All right.” Ethan said. “You just let us know when.”
The little gathering began to break up around ten. Dave and Xavier had left first, which was a little surprising, but Der had seen the embers smoldering in Dave’s eyes and decided it wasn’t surprising after all.
Now he stood in the front hall with his mother, just the two of them, wishing her a good night.
“Do you really like him, Mutti?” he asked softly, feeling twelve years old again.
“Oh, he’ll do, I suppose,” she said with that too-serious face. When he rolled his eyes, she laughed. “Yes, yes, I like him. He’s able to laugh at himself. And he adores you. Much better than that T–”
“Don’t, Mom, please,” Der interrupted softly. “No comparisons.”
She leaned in to kiss his cheek. “I’m sorry, sweetpea. If this is more than just a fling, I’m very pleased.”
“You think Papa would have liked him?” Der couldn’t help the question.
“I think he would have preferred you pick the nice, handsome vet.” She smiled at his exasperated sound. “He would have teased you and grumbled about this and that, but, yes, I think he would have liked Brandon very much.”
Der stood at the door and waved as she drove off, a warm glow around his heart.
Lilly had perched upon a stool near Orion’s workbench as he showed her his latest project. The frame was made from teak wood with black walnut inlays, painstakingly carved with intricate knot work. It was a small piece, but probably the most difficult thing he had made yet. It was beautiful, the frame itself a work of art, and she told him as much.
It had been a month since they’d first met, and most of their time together had been spent in the garage workshop, and on a few occasions in the rose garden. They did not speak of Jake since that first day. In fact they talked of very little that could have been construed as ‘counseling’ or ‘therapy’. They talked of average, everyday things, things any pair of friends might discuss. Orion had asked her once why this was so, and she had answered that she wasn’t a doctor. She could not make him well. The only thing she could do was to be a friend, and perhaps that might help him to make himself well.
When Lilly visited she often spent time with Elric as well. They had tea together in his study, or walked in the observatory. She loved the orchids there.
The day that Orion finished the picture frame, they all had lunch together, and while Orion and Keit were cleaning up, she and Elric took a leisurely stroll along the lush stone lined paths of his indoor jungle.
“You have not seen any clients since discovering Orion’s identity,” she observed.
“I hef seen clients. A few. To counsel and discuss progress,” he answered softly.
“But not the usual number. And not in the usual setting.”
“No. I suppose not.” He stopped, hands clasped behind his back as he studied a stunning cream and burgundy bloom. A muscle twitched in his jaw and he found it hard to look at her. “It hes been…difficult to return to vork.”
“I imagine it would be, when you’ve no desire to return,” she said softly, stopping to admire a cascade of deepest purple blooms with red throats. She turned toward Elric, and for some reason the vibrant beauty of the colorful blooms suddenly looked lurid next to her flawless cream skin and rich ebony hair. “Would you show me downstairs?”
He squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed hard, first to quell the automatic protest and then to quiet the terrible unease crawling up his spine. Attempt to quiet, at any rate. No, he wanted to say, absolutely not. Such sights are not for a fairy princess.
But he knew it would be a lie, to her, to himself. He was afraid. I fear no man, he had snarled at Jonathan. But Lilly was as far from man as possible.
“As you vish,” he said softly and tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow to lead her there.
The heels of Lilly’s sandals sounded in light counterpoint to Elric’s heavier tread on the stairs as they descended. When they reached the bottom, she looked around the room. Her tiny frame dressed in an airy silk dress was as out of place amid the leather, chains, and rough hewn wood as the proverbial rose, or perhaps a lily, amid hellebore.
She walked slowly in front of the wall of well-cleaned and cared for implements, looking over the whips, floggers, and paddles as she had looked over the orchid blooms in the observatory a few moments ago. “Why have you not asked Orion to come here with you?” she asked, probably the most direct question she’d ever asked of him.
“He needs time, my dear.” Elric leaned against the rack’s frame, arms crossed over his chest.
Lilly paused before the large frame that had been built for Orion, although she couldn’t possibly have known it was his. Here, in this setting, the delicate fae like quality she exuded seemed to shimmer around her. “And how long will you make him wait?”
“I shall not force myself on him. He hes made no move, no indication of interest, neither in myself nor in the things I could give him here.”
Lilly looked up toward the ceiling where the chains for suspension were looped and ready. “So, you expect him to get over his grief and shame and come to you. I thought you were the dominant partner?”
“You presume far too much, meine dame,” Elric said in that too-soft voice his subs knew heralded his temper boiling over. “You do not understend all he hes suffered at the hends of cruel, evil men. You do not know all I hef lost…”
He caught himself on that odd slip and turned away from her with a strangled sound, hands gripping the wood.
Lilly stood at his side, not the least bit intimidated or cowed by his chill outburst. “I do not need someone to tell me when they have suffered, sir. I see it on their souls as easily as I see the expression on their faces,” she said gently. “Both of you have suffered greatly, but he is not the stronger one, not in this.”
“Orion is ready to say goodbye now, to his beloved Jake. Ready to move on. But he will not, because he has found a new use for his grief, he holds on to it to punish himself…” She laid her small, delicately boned hand feather-light on his right arm. “…for hurting you. Sometimes, to hear the words of forgiveness is not enough.”
For a single, heart-stopping moment, he glared at her, teeth bared, before his eyes closed and he had to turn away so she couldn’t witness his expression crumbling.
“My strength is a sham, a lie,” he forced out past the ball of flame blocking his throat. “I am a coward and a fraud. I ran from all I vas, from centuries-old obligations, from those I hed loved more than life. How do I justify the audacity, the ego, by vhich I tell other people how to fix their lives? How do I tell him to be brave and face vhat he hes done vhen I hef not been able to?”
“Hm, all the people that you’ve helped then must be very disappointed. The fact that their lives have been made better is completely invalid now because at a time of great despair you needed to find yourself rather than face duties that others had no right to place on you to begin with. How terrible of you,” Lilly said in her softly musical voice.
He turned his back to her, his face buried in his hands. Anyone else he would have told they didn’t understand, couldn’t understand. But Lilly did. Instinctively, he realized that.
“Please leave me in peace a moment,” he got out in a choked whisper. “I cannot hef you see me this vay.”
Lilly ignored his request and stepped around him. “I know pain, Elric. Even if I were to leave now I have seen it and felt it in you. There is no shame before me,” she said, her voice now softly soothing. “Please, sir. Let me help you.” Her hands came up to cover his ever so gently as she moved close to him.
Had she made demands, he would have been able to muster enough anger to order her out. The soft touch, the soft plea, were his undoing. He flung his arms around her and buried his face against her neck, giving in to the ragged, broken sobs.
Lilly felt the shudder run through her as his emotions poured out at last. He was so careful, always so very careful never to let anyone see the least vulnerability, never to let anyone too close. Even those two he had let near his heart once more he had kept at arms’ length when he needed them most. And he thought himself weak…
His sorrow and pain finally released were nearly overwhelming, they ran over her nerves and flayed them raw, she could not even gasp, and still she held him, soothed him, hummed comfortingly near his ear as he clutched her to him like a lifeline, and perhaps she was.
His sobs were broken by snatches of incoherent speech, mixed German and English and French, as if he could no longer separate languages. When the torrent began to recede, he felt foolish and exhausted.
“Please forgive me, feenhafte Prinzessin,” he whispered close to her ear. “I am so sorry.”
Lilly lifted her eyes, jewel bright and shimmering with emotion. Her gentle fingers caressed his cheek. “You have no need to apologize, my sweet prince. I pushed you, because no one else close to you would.”
“Such is the burden of command.” His breath still hitched, though he managed a twitch of an ironic smile for her. “No vone tells you vhen you are being stupid.”
He leaned in to kiss her forehead. “You are a rare gem, Lillanna. Of such clarity and brilliance, it is sometimes blinding.” He pulled back, produced a handkerchief and dried his face. “Did you vish to be here, to supervise, vhen I call him down?”
Lilly’s eyes widened slightly. She hadn’t expected that question, and now it was her turn to look a little discomfited. She had to drop her eyes. “I-I’m not sure if Orion would be comfortable with me here.”
“Most likely not,” he said with a twitch of a smile. “Please forgive me, my dear. I hef been told my sense of humor could cause a drought in the Amazon. In any case, I need to compose myself a bit before I undertake such things.”
Lilly wasn’t sure if she was embarrassed or relieved he had been joking.
He kissed her cheek and offered his arm again for the return trip upstairs. Tempting, to offer Lilly all sorts of things in his dungeon which might bring that lovely blush to her cheeks, but he knew he wasn’t ready for that and certainly not for the rejection he suspected he might receive.
After Lilly had driven off, Elric took Keit aside. “Mein herz, I hef something I must do this evening. I must not put it off any longer. I vill be taking Orion downstairs. Though I vould like him to hef his privacy, I vould like you to remain in…shouting distance, so to speak.”
“Of course, sir,” Keit said, a little smile gracing his lips. There was a sort of nervous excitement in his belly, both that this might be the step needed to put their household back to ‘normal’ again, and that this might mean his Prince would want to invite him downstairs again soon as well.
“My good boy.” Elric took him by the upper arms and surprised him with a fierce kiss. “Vone for courage.” Then a second. “And vone for luck.”
He strode off, leaving a bemused and aroused Keit in his wake. The workshop stood empty, so his highness went hunting and found Orion out in the garden filling the bird feeders. His fascination with birds had never diminished, a sign that it had always been so.
Elric watched from the patio until he had finished and then called out to him in a voice that left no room for doubt. The summons was not a request. Orion came to him hesitantly, an anxious light in his earnest blue eyes. “Sir?”
“You vill go down to the basement and vait for me there.”
“Have I done something wrong, sir? If it’s about–”
“Basement. Now. Move, boy.”
Orion stared at him, rebellion and distress warring in his expression. He swallowed hard and went inside without another word.
A slow count to thirty and Elric went after him. If this didn’t go as it should, if Orion became angry or refused him…he wasn’t certain yet what he would do. The thought that he had a stranger in the house still nagged at him. No, he had to proceed on the assumption that Orion was still Orion.
He stood at parade rest when Elric came down. Kneeling would have been better but it was a start and a good point to begin with. “You hef not vorn your collar since you came home,” the Prince began, his voice soft and chill. “You do not kneel vhen it is appropriate. Tell me vhy this is?”
Orion blinked at him, stunned. “Sir, I…I don’t…” He looked up at the ceiling, over at the rack, then down at the floor.
“You refuse to answer questions, you cannot even look at me vhen I esk them.” Elric stalked to the wall and snatched a crop from its hook. “Vhy is this?”
“Sir, please…” Orion whispered, eyes still on his feet. “I don’t…I don’t know.”
The crop whistled and cracked against Orion’s thigh. His head jerked up, anger in his eyes. It couldn’t have done more than startle him since he still had his jeans on but the point was made.
“Try again. Try harder. I vill not accept these ongoing evasion any longer.”
Again the crop struck, this time on the other side.
“Vhy. Don’t. You. Put. Your. Collar. On.”
Orion stared at him, mouth open, choking on his words. He shook his head, spread his hands and finally fell to his knees crying out in anguish, “I can’t put it back on! It feels wrong! I don’t deserve it!”
“Better.” Elric tapped the crop against his boot. “And you feel this vay because…”
“Sir, please. You know why. Please don’t torture me this way.”
The huge body trembled now and Elric would have given all he owned simply to take him in his arms and hold him tight. For all their sakes, he couldn’t. They had to finish this. He raised the crop and brought it down across Orion’s shoulders. “You vill pay attention and you vill answer me, my boy. Vhat makes you think this?”
“I hurt you! All right! I hurt you and I killed Jake and I’m a damned walking time bomb who isn’t fit to be around anyone!”
“Better. Strip and stand at your frame. You know how this is done.”
There was reluctance and resentment but Orion obeyed and let Elric fasten him into the four corners of the wood frame at his wrists and ankles. He released a long, shuddering sigh and at least seemed less frantic.
Elric began with the crop and then moved to a knotted flogger, mercilessly driving Orion to list his crimes, to name every guilty moment he clung to so hard. From talking Jake into leaving MIT to work for the government, to ignoring his warnings that the project was badly run, to abandoning him when he died, to screaming insults in Elric’s face, he pulled it all out, one strike at a time.
“And then, my boy, vhat is it you did then?”
“I hit you!” Orion bellowed as the metal-weighted flogger lashed across his back. “Again and again! I left you bleeding and unconscious and you could have died! And I left you there! Lying in your own blood! Oh, god…”
He wept, huge, wracking sobs that shook his frame. Elric had a bad moment, wondering if the wood would hold. It did. Orion’s back, buttocks and thighs glowed red. A few thin trails of blood even showed here and there. Normally, he would never have gone so far but his gut told him that Orion needed blood for blood, that nothing less would be enough.
“And for this you refuse to forgive yourself.” Elric walked around front, standing chest to chest with him.
“Oh, sir…how could I?” Orion wailed. “You saved my life. You took me in, took care of me and pulled me back from the dark. You gave me everything and I love you. And this is what I do to you?”
Elric reached out a gloved hand and seized Orion’s chin to keep his thrashing head still, to keep him focused. “I promised long ago never to strike you in anger. I hef not done that even today. I hef beaten you bleck and blue because I still love you. And I vant you beck. In my life, in my arms, in my bed. Te absolvo. I forgive you. And if I can do so, there is no reason you should not.”
He patted the massive chest, still heaving with sobs, and called for Keit.
Keit quietly came out of the green room where he’d been waiting unobtrusively. Listening. Whether he wanted to or not. He completely understood the necessity of what had just occurred. He knew it was not punishment, but release. He knew this might possibly be the only way Orion could heal. That hadn’t made it any easier to hear his anguish.
That he was also aroused by the intensity of the session made him uncomfortable, probably for the first time, with his desire. There would be time later to think on that though, right now he needed to be fully in the present for his Dom and Orion.
The Prince was still breathing hard and looking uncharacteristically disheveled, tendrils of damp hair stuck to his face, his braid in shambles. He would never have admitted it but his exhaustion matched Orion’s breath for heaving breath.
“Herzchen.” He gulped for air. “If you could unfetter his feet first and then let him lean towards me vhen you do the wrists. I am not certain he vill stand on his own right now.”
Keit came up on the dais, got Orion’s ankles unfastened, and helped Elric ease him down from the frame. He might not have been as tall as Elric, but his lean, compact body was every bit as strong. They both took his weight on their shoulders and got him down and into the bedroom when they laid him face down on the bed. Keit quickly went to fetch washcloths and warm towels and was back in a blink.
His hands were the only thing that gave away his nerves, trembling slightly as he carefully washed the blood from Orion’s back.
Elric slid onto the mattress to lean against the headboard and patted his thigh. Still sobbing softly, Orion hitched his way up until he could lay his head in his lap. No suggestions to hush came from Elric, he simply stroked Orion’s hair and let him go for as long as he needed.
When the sobs quieted to little hitches and sighs, he looked up at Keit. “Mein herz, there is a certain item on my dresser. I think you know the vone. Could you bring it here, please?”
Keit did as Elric asked, hurrying up the flights of stairs quickly and returning just as quickly with Orion’s collar in hand.
“Thenk you.” Elric took his hand to kiss his fingers as he took the collar. He tangled his fingers in Orion’s hair and gently tugged his head up. “Vonce you took this collar from my hends. Fully villing and vithout reservations. I am not certain you understood fully vhat you did then. So I am compelled to esk again–do you vish to belong to me? Mine to do vith as I see fit? Mine to shelter and protect? You vere an Alpha vonce, a man of commanding presence and the need to rule. Perheps this is no longer right for you?”
Orion wrapped his arms around Elric’s waist and buried his head against his stomach. “I’m not that man anymore, sir. I…can’t be. My brain doesn’t work the same way it used to. Shadows will always follow me. I’m yours, sir, blood and bone, if you’ll still have me.”
“Lift you head, liebchen,” Elric whispered, a suspicious crack in his voice. When Orion did, he fastened the leather back around his neck. Though he lay completely naked otherwise, somehow he looked clothed again. He took Orion’s face between his hands and kissed him softly. “So. It is done.”
“Thank you, mein herr.” Orion sniffed and dove back down into Elric’s lap, his shuddering breaths both relief and an overflow of emotion.
Keit bent to kiss Elric’s cheek. “Would you like me to make some tea, sir?” he asked quietly, his way of seeing if perhaps he’d like some time alone with Orion, or if he wanted him to stay.
Elric nudged Orion over so there was room at the edge of the bed. “Perheps later, herzchen.”
A little grunt came from Orion as he burrowed inwards towards Elric’s crotch, snuffling at the leather.
“Are you hungry, my love?” the Prince said with a soft smile.
“Please, mein herr, you smell so wonderful. I want to taste you…”
“So. How could I deny a man obviously on the brink of starvation?’ Elric undid the buttons of his leathers while his gaze caught Keit’s. “Süsselein, boots, if you please.”
Keit knelt beside the bed and untied the laces of Elric’s boots, pulling off one after the other along with his socks. He couldn’t resist rubbing his cheek along the inside of his foot, kissing the swell of his anklebone.
“My heart,” Elric’s voice had descended to a soft purr. “You may do as you vish. Stay on the floor. Climb on the bed betveen Orion’s thighs…”
Keit kissed Elric’s instep and let out a shaky breath. He still held the back of his ankle with one hand and with the other he reached down to rub over the outline of his cock pressing hard behind his zipper. He closed his eyes with a soft moan, planting soft kisses over the ball of Elric’s foot and the underside of his big toe. He squeezed his erection a little harder and got his pants undone.
The Prince’s brow arched up. Keit would insist on surprising him still. He shifted as Orion peeled the leather down from his hips to free his erection and leaned back against the headboard, his one foot still on the floor. While he wasn’t altogether fond of having his feet touched, this gentle, passionate adoration sent heat flooding to his groin.
Orion licked up the underside of his cock at the same moment Keit sucked his big toe into his mouth, pulling a moan from him that he normally wouldn’t have allowed.
Elric’s heated moan sent shivers down Keit’s back. He used his thumb to knead gently into the arch of his foot, the thumb of his other hand almost mirroring the action over the slick head of his cock.
Orion ground his hips against the sheets, more than willing to please himself while he serviced his gorgeous Dom. He slid his lips around the frost-pale head and slid down the shaft, savoring every inch, moaning as Elric’s fingers tangled harder in his hair.
Keit kissed and licked his way over each toe and up the top of Elric’s foot in a reverent manner. His cock was so hard he was shaking with desire. His slowly stroking hand caressed over his erection. Another soft moan escaped him and he lowered Elric’s foot to his lap, his hips arching up to rub against the underside of his foot.
“Süsselein, you vill hold out until Orion comes,” Elric purred. He curled his toes to tease at Keit’s stiff cock. “Orion, liebchen, you may use vone of your hends for yourself if you like.”
With a hard groan around Elric’s erection, Orion slid a hand underneath his body and fisted his own member, pumping in time to the movements of his mouth.
Keit watched them from the floor, the way Orion moved, the way Elric tipped his head back with a look of pure pleasure on his handsome face. Orion’s skin glistened in the soft light, the lines crisscrossing his back testimony to the work of the flogger. Oh, god… it had been so long since he’d felt that kiss on his skin. A surge of desire coursed through him, his cock throbbed with the need for release. He bit his bottom lip and held back the tide that wanted to build and crash over him.
The bed shook with Orion’s thrusts into his fist. Desperate sounds vibrated around Elric’s member and he smiled, tangling his fingers hard in Orion’s honey-gold mane. “It’s all right, liebchen. Let go.”
Orion’s answer was to plunge his mouth all the way down, sucking hard, while his body bucked and jerked through a much-needed climax. Elric’s head fell back against the wall, little gasps escaping as his balls tightened in a sudden rush and his orgasm exploded up through him.
Keit waited until they had both slumped, breathing hard, and then rose gracefully from the floor, sliding up on the bed to curl to their side. His blood was pounding and his cock ached for relief but he didn’t want to come. He wanted this to be for them, which was partly why he hadn’t joined them on the bed until now. The torment of waiting could also be quite delicious.
A little needle of guilt stabbed through the haze of Elric’s afterglow. He had neglected Keit in his depression. The boy had behaved, never once trying to injure himself, but that he denied himself indicated that he yearned to be disciplined. It would be done properly but later, when Elric had the energy again.
He covered them with a blanket and gave them each a soft kiss. “Rest, my darlings. I hef things to see to.” So many things. He needed to call Caroline and get his clients back on schedule. He needed to call Anthony and apologize for neglecting their fencing, Lilly for a sounding board, Cody for a matter of delicacy…
So very much to do.
Elric had his hand in the crook of Orion’s elbow as they came up the walk. “He hes missed you terribly. I know it may be somevhat…different. At least in the beginning. But he hes vaited so anxiously for your return.”
He opened the door and switched on the lights. It was late. Keit might have gone to bed.
Keit had changed for bed but had not been sleeping. He had been sitting in bed reading. Trying to read. Pretending to read?
When he finally gave up, he went down to the kitchen and made himself tea. He drank it, washed and dried his cup and put it away. He was coming down the hall when the front door opened and he stood in nothing but pajama bottoms and a hopeful smile when Elric and Orion came in.
“Herzchen, I hef brought somevone home. I hope you do not mind,” Elric said with a little pat to Orion’s arm.
He turned his head as a matter of habit to prompt Orion into a response but the big man spoke on his own.
“Keit? I’m…so sorry.” Orion ducked his head, swallowed hard, and raised his face again to meet Keit’s eyes. Odd. It was as if he saw double. Otter, yes, he saw that, and superimposed on the old way of seeing was a new one. Keit was breathtakingly beautiful. “I’ve hurt you…”
Keit moved closer, and for once greeted Orion first instead of his Dom, sliding his arms around that massive frame and pressing his cheek to his chest. “I’m just glad you came back,” he said softly.
A breath hitched in Orion’s chest, his arms hovering over Keit before they settled gently around him. “I’m not quite…the same, you know.”
Keit only nodded against his chest, his warmth seeping through Orion’s shirt to his aching heart. He didn’t have any illusions about the pain disappearing but at least he had a place to stand, a place he belonged. He hoped he still belonged here.
“So. It hes been a difficult few days for us all,” Elric said. “Time for bed. Orion, do you need company?”
He stroked Keit’s back absently, the skin comforting under his hand. “I…don’t sleep well these days. I’d rather not keep anyone else up.”
“Well, that make three of us, then,” Keit said, his softly cheerful voice at odds with his words. “If you change your mind, let me know.”
Orion winced at the reminder of the anxiety he had caused and made his way up to his room. His ship. The scents were right; the soft moonlight through his bay window was soothing. He still woke throughout the night but he did sleep a bit, more than he had the previous few nights.
Over the next few days, they circled around each other. Sniffing, the Prince called it, a normal male response. No one slept together, no one did much more than offer an embrace or a chaste kiss. Certainly, no one uttered the words ‘basement’ or ‘play.’ Orion was careful and respectful of Elric, but he didn’t kneel to him and made no move to put his collar back on. It seemed more a product of uncertainty rather than pride, though.
This new Orion still had some of the odd, pensive qualities of the old one. But where the old Orion could sit stone-still and watch or think, often for an hour at a time, the new one had lost the ability to sit still altogether. He had to be doing. Something. Anything. He begged the Prince for tools and commandeered half the garage as a workshop, careful always to cover the Mercedes to protect it from sawdust, and there he built. And built and built. Small things at first, simple things, that became more ornate and elaborate as he read and learned and discovered forgotten skills.
Throughout his working, cleaning, and weightlifting, though, he never smiled. The rare barking laughs that escaped sounded more like exhalations of bitter irony than mirth. Most often, he was simply quiet, serious, intense, with short bouts of severe depression where he would suddenly sink to the floor and weep.
“Well, perhaps you should ask him, my Prince,” Keit suggested.
Elric sat behind his desk, scrolling through pages on his computer while Keit sat in a cozy chair reading, keeping him company. They had been discussing Orion’s progress, or lack thereof. He seemed better than he had been the first few days after the shattering news that had sent him into a blind rage and staggering out the door, but other than being more aware of his surroundings, the healing process seemed to have stuck right where it was.
Katya had sent an email suggesting it was time to seek professional help for Orion. Elric had asked Keit’s opinion.
“Perheps so,” Elric said softly. He had always been so careful to keep Orion out of the hands of doctors, except his own personal physician. The fear of the courts stepping in to take him away had been real and ever present. Now though…
Orion had talked to his parents in Minnesota, had recovered documents, and had obtained a driver’s license. The men in black from the government might still try to find him someday, to ask him questions, but he was a real, legal entity again. To keep him sequestered out of fear of discovery no longer made sense.
Elric rose and kissed Keit softly. He went out to the garage and leaned against the doorframe, waiting for a break in the noise from the circular saw. Orion’s current project lay in various pieces, difficult to tell what it would be. There was something right in the way he worked with the wood, as if his hands had been made for it, his every muscle involved in the process. Elric did begin to despair that his house would soon become a storage shed for Orion’s projects, though.
“Liebchen, could you stop a moment?” he called out when he could.
Orion looked up, startled, and lifted his safety goggles to blink at Elric. “I’m sorry, sir. Is the noise bothering you?”
“No, no. I don’t hear much of it from the house.” Elric strode in, running a hand over a finely sanded piece. Table leg? Perhaps. “No, I vished to speak to you. I know this hes all been terrible for you and I knew from the start you vould need time. But I grow… concerned for you.”
“Oh.” Orion looked down at his hands. “I’m sorry. I…I’ll try harder.”
Elric sighed. “Liebchen, I do not mean to say you are at fault or lacking in some vay. I simply vonder if maybe you need somevone to talk to. A person who is better qvalified than myself.”
“If you think I should, sir.”
A white hand slammed down on the workbench. Orion flinched.
“No. Not vhat I think. You are a man of vast intellect and experience. You do not strike me as somevone who spent his life as a dishrag. Yes. Or. No.”
Orion took the goggles off his head, turned towards the wall, turned back, spread his hands, and turned away again. His breath hitched. He buried his head in his hands. “Yes. I…I feel like things are broken inside.”
Keit cleared his throat softly to get their attention. “I’m sorry to interrupt, sir. But I thought of something after you had left. I know someone who might help. She’s not exactly a therapist in the traditional sense. She’s a healer.” He looked toward Orion. “I could call and see if she would meet with you.”
“Not vone of those pretentious, New Age…” Elric waved a hand, unable to come up with the right word for the type of person he meant.
“No, sir. Older traditions.”
Elric put a hand on Orion’s back and waited for him to turn. “Perheps it vould help?”
“Yes. Please…if you could call her for me.” Orion leaned his head against the top of Elric’s, as if he needed the support to stay upright. “I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Lillanna pulled up to the handsome Victorian and parked in the drive. Ordinarily she did not make house calls, nor did she really have room in her schedule right now to see someone else, but Keit was a friend, and he was rather special, so she had made the exception.
Keit greeted her at the door with a kiss to her cheek and led her inside. “The Prince and Orion are waiting in the sitting room. I’m so glad you could come.”
Lilly smiled fondly and followed him. “I hope I will be able to help your friend,” she said in her softly musical voice.
Keit smiled to himself at the fluttery feeling her gentle words caused in his middle. He had a very short list of women for whom he might be able to go straight. Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, and Lillanna Willows. He’d take Lilly before Angie or Sandy, too. She had the kind of beauty that transcended place and time, like a perfect porcelain doll come to life. As he opened the door to the sitting room for her the thought crossed his mind that perhaps he should have said something to Elric about what she looked like. He didn’t want him to dismiss her ability because at first glance, she seemed more ethereal than substantial, but he’d never known his Prince to judge a book by its cover before and would just have to trust he wouldn’t now.
“Sir, I’d like you to meet Lillanna Willows,” Keit said. “Lilly, this is Elric von Melnibone and this…” He gestured toward the huge man beside Elric. “Is Orion.”
Lilly came forward, her tiny frame and delicate features dwarfed by the men in the room. In reality, she was probably close to Katya in stature and size, but Katya carried such presence about her, she always seemed taller. Lilly, at first glance, seemed demurely shy, a mouse in a lion’s den who called no real attention to herself. Except perhaps for the glorious waterfall of inky dark tresses that tumbled down her back in soft waves. And then she lifted her chin and let her eyes come up to meet theirs and the illusion of ordinariness shattered.
Eyes so intensely blue they glowed from some inner light gazed at them from a lovely heart shaped face with softly sculpted feminine features so delicate she seemed almost unreal. When people said someone was ‘breathtaking’ they described this kind of beauty.
“Hello,” she said.
Orion’s throat worked and he dropped his gaze with a single whispered word, “Eventyr…”
“Guten tag, Lillanna,” Elric took her hand with a soft smile and kissed the backs of her fingers. “It vas good of you to come. Please sit and tell us how you vish to proceed.”
Lilly took the seat between Orion and Elric, seeming somehow to float there. Watching her sit, Keit thought of a feather alighting. Everything about her seemed soft and delicate. He wondered if he should warn them of the steel that lay beneath that beautiful soft surface. Later he would.
“We’ve already begun, I think,” she said. “Healing a bone or a scrape is more obvious than when things are broken on the inside.” She echoed Orion’s words eerily. She turned her attention to him. “Keit has told me you like to make things.”
His gaze still on the floor, he nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I…guess I always have. My father showed me how to make boats when I was little. Ones that could sail on the pond and floated even when it was windy.” He ducked his head further, a little color climbing his throat, “He said Vikings should know how to make boats.”
“And so they should,” she said gently. “Would you show me the things you make?”
He blinked. Why would you want me to do that? But he kept the thought locked away and nodded as he rose, a trembling in his middle he didn’t understand. “It’s all out in the garage.”
Elric watched them go and motioned for Keit to stay where he was. He recognized power when he encountered it and knew Lillanna had no need of their help. Oh, merciful heavens, she was enchanting. A sudden vision struck him of that graceful form disrobing for him, bending over one of his spanking benches, perfect globes offered to him…
He let out a little snort and shook off the thought. Incredible, that she could distract him so.
Dala horses in various sizes followed and then little bits of miniature furniture as he experimented with shapes and joining. A footstool with clawed feet sat on the bottom shelf, though it lacked a cushion for its top. A simple ladder-back chair sat next to the shelf and beside it a more elaborate one with a carved back and cabriole legs. With Lilly looking over his work, it struck him that he had never finished a single piece. Most of the construction had been completed, but all of the wood stood bare, not a single piece painted, lacquered or stained.
For some reason, with her there, a flush of shame crept up his chest. “I should at least paint the dala horses,” he murmured, staring at his shoes. “They look naked.”
“Sometimes I leave things undone, meaning to go back and finish later, and months later I’ll remember that I still haven’t gotten to it.” She laughed lightly, a laugh that brought to mind fairies dancing around bluebells. “These must have taken a lot of work.” She commented as she looked at the different woodcarvings. “What will you do with them when they are finished?”
“What do you think of her, my Prince?” Keit asked when he was sure they were out of earshot.
A hundred answers came to mind, some Elric knew would shock even Keit. He leaned back against the sofa as he gazed out the window. “She is exquvisite. And impressive.”
“That she is.” Keit agreed. “I’m sorry, I forgot the effect she has on people.”
“No apologies, mein herz,” the Prince said with a soft smile. “I vould not hef traded the moment of first seeing her for all the vorld.”
“Do?” Orion echoed, feeling incredibly stupid. Do with them. The thought had never occurred to him. He shrugged and leaned against the workbench, arms crossed over his massive chest, eyes on the floor. “What does one do with such things? They’re just a way to pass the time.”
Lilly picked up one of the dala horses, her slender fingers tracing lightly over the smoothly sanded wood. “Is that all you are doing? Passing time?” she asked. “For what are you waiting, then?”
The question rattled him. His head snapped up. He met those incredible eyes and felt as if he fell into a summer sky. What was he waiting for?
“For the pain to lessen,” he whispered. “For Jake to come back. But he’s not coming back. And the pain sits under my heart…” He clutched a fist to his chest, his face crumpling.
Lilly set the little horse down and placed a warm hand over Orion’s much larger one comfortingly. She did not say things like ‘it will be alright’ or ‘time will make the pain less’. What she did say was, “You are right, Orion. He’s not going to come back. Nor does the pain seem easier to bear.”
He looked at her, the pain shimmering in his earnest eyes. “Tears and time are nature’s healers, but sometimes they are not enough.” She said softly. “Sometimes, we don’t let them be enough. Do you want to live, Orion?”
He heaved a shuddering breath. “Sometimes…sometimes I think it would be easier to lie down and die. He was part of me. Like a limb ripped away. Easier to join him than to live without him.” He waved his free hand towards the house. “But there are those who love me. I can’t do that to them, force this anguish on them if I take the coward’s way out.”
Lilly nodded, her delicate hand steady and soothing where she touched him. “Then, we will have to find a way for you to say goodbye, and go on living.”
A tear crept down his cheek. “We promised forever. On the green of Boston Commons, we were married and vowed forever. How do you say goodbye to something like that?”
Instead of answering she asked, “If you had been the one that died, and Jake had lived, would you have wanted him to lie down and die, or be miserably unhappy and alone for the rest of his life?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Then why should you want it that way for yourself?” Her fingers tightened for a moment on his hand. “Let’s go inside now.”
He wiped the tears from his face and nodded, following as meek as a newborn lamb.
“I’d like to see what one of the dala horses looks like when you’ve finished it. Will you call me when you have?” she asked as they walked down the hall together.
They entered the sitting room, where Keit and Elric were still in conversation. Keit looked up and smiled. “That didn’t take long.”
Lilly smiled with a little nod. “I think we’ve said enough, for today,” she said simply. “I will see you soon Orion,” She looked to Keit. “Thank you for inviting me.”
“Thank you for coming,” he said.
Lillanna’s eyes lifted to Elric’s. “Good day, sir.”
The little twitch at the corner of his mouth was the only reaction. He favored her with a genteel bow, his expression calm and serene. “Good day, schöne Dame. Ve hope to see you again soon.”
They all watched her walk to her car, two pairs of eyes with a certain wistfulness and one deep in thought.
After she had driven away, Elric leaned against the doorframe, one white brow cocked up at Orion.
“Is it necessary for me to interrogate? Or vas it simply a social visit efter all?”
Orion dropped his gaze, fighting with words again. Strange how hard they came sometimes still. “She says…she suggests…that I should think of how to say goodbye to Jake.”
The Prince’s expression softened. “Vhatever you need. You vill let me know, please. Anything at all.”
“Thank you, sir.” Orion rubbed the back of his neck, stiff and tense. His whole body hurt. Actually it hurt most of the time these days, he just didn’t notice when he kept busy. “I don’t…don’t have any idea yet.” His fingers stole up to rub his temples. “God. I don’t feel well.”
Keit came forward. “Do you want to go lay down?”
Orion nodded and Keit glanced at Elric, who gave him a slight nod. He took Orion’s hand, led him out, and walked with him up the stairs to his room. It wasn’t necessary for him to go, of course, but Keit felt better if he knew Orion was tucked in.
“Do you need anything? Water? Aspirin?” Keit asked once Orion had lain down and he had covered him. Orion shook his head no. “Okay… Orion… would you like me to lay down with you? Not to do anything, just for company? If you don’t want me to, it’s OK. I just thought I’d ask…”
The automatic negative was nearly on his lips before Orion stopped himself. The physical misery fed the emotional and back around again, he was astute enough to realize that. He had heard it said often enough that physical contact, of the right sort, was as important to healing as any medicine. Maybe…
He lifted a corner of the blankets and waited for Keit to slide in with him. He’d stripped to his boxers, Keit was still in his t-shirt and sweats, but the warmth from that graceful little body soaked through the cotton to his knotted muscles like a hot water bottle. Keit slid an arm around him, fingers kneading the overstressed points in his neck as if he knew exactly where the worst places were.
A soft sobbing moan escaped Orion, the relief nearly bringing him to tears. He rolled over onto his stomach, moving slowly so he wouldn’t startle his bed partner. “Please? Would you? Just the shoulders?”
Keit moved to put his hands on those broad shoulders, but it was a little awkward to work from beside him so he slid a leg over to straddle his hips as he usually did, and began to knead his way down Orion’s broad back.
He was not an expert, but he knew how to give a damn good massage, using his thumbs on pressure points and paying attention to both the feel under his hands and the sounds Orion made to tell him which places needed the most attention, how hard, and how much, until the tension began to unknot.
He kept it just a massage, nothing more, but by its very nature it was a sensual experience. It had been so long since he’d been able to touch Orion in any but the most chaste of ways. He couldn’t help the beginnings of a hard-on that wanted to grow.
Keit’s hands moved lower along his spine and Orion didn’t protest. He hadn’t realized how bad it was until that moment. No wonder his head ached all the time. His head jerked up on a little cry as Keit’s thumb hit a particularly sore knot but those wonderful fingers soothed and coaxed until he relaxed again.
If felt so good to be touched. The weight of that lovely body on his butt began to distract him in rather pleasant ways. He’d kept them at a distance for so long. He knew he hurt them.
Without dislodging Keit, he rolled beneath him onto his back and reached up to cup his face. “Little one, would you like more?”
Keit swallowed hard, his laughing eyes serious for once. “I-I don’t want to push you, Orion. I don’t want you to do anything you’re not ready for,” he said, and then couldn’t resist turning his face into the palm of his hand. He had missed him, missed his touch, more than he thought possible before the Prince had made him his and he had moved here.
Orion made an odd sound in his chest, his thumb stroking along Keit’s cheek. “You haven’t pushed. Not at all. Neither one of you. You’ve been perfect gentlemen and maybe shouldn’t have been so polite.”
He held out his arms and whispered, “Come here, little otter.”
Keit slid into Orion’s welcome embrace with a profound sense of relief and gratitude. His arms wrapped around Orion’s neck and he kissed him with a lightly seeking brush of lips.
A breath caught in Orion’s chest, emotion and desire rushing through him in concurrent waves. He slid his hand to the back of Keit’s head to hold him still and rose up to meet those lips in a tender assault, his tongue pleading for entry. The thinking part of his brain shut down, the remainder not much more than a bundle of overstressed nerves and raging hormones.
Keit moaned softly as his lips parted and he kissed Orion with a sudden passion that was like releasing a floodgate. His hips ground slowly against Orion’s, rubbing his stiff cock against Orion’s hard bulge. “Oh, I want you… want you so much,” he murmured between heated kisses.
In answer, Orion snagged the bottom hem of Keit’s t-shirt and tugged it off over his head. His hands stroked over that perfect, compact torso, the feel of bare skin under his fingers sending electric currents up his arms. “Tell me what you want.” His heated whisper caressed Keit’s ear. “Anything you please.”
“Let me taste you.” Keit said as he kissed the side of his throat and slowly kissed and nibbled his way down his chest, stopping to lip and suck the hard nub of his nipple.
Keit slid down between Orion’s thighs. When he got to the waistband of his boxers, he slowly pulled them down, nuzzling into the crinkly patch of dark blond hair around his impressive member and inhaling his musky scent. His mouth watered and he could hardly wait as he licked a warm wet line up the underside of his shaft. His lips and tongue caressed lovingly over every inch of him.
“So sweet,” Orion whispered, his hands stroking over Keit’s head and shoulders, encouraging him.
In the hallway, Elric paused, his foot poised over the first step up to Orion’s room. A deep-chested moan rolled down to him, sending a spear of want through his core. His chest constricted, desire and lonely need rising up.
No. He would let them have their time. The reconnection was important and he wouldn’t interrupt with his selfish wants. He turned and made his way silently back downstairs.
Keit let his jaw relax and took Orion deeper, inching his lips down his turgid pole and gliding back up. His hand wrapped around his base and stroked the flesh that he couldn’t fit inside, his other hand cupping and fondling the heavy sac below. He hummed with pleasure around the thickness stretching his mouth wide, and wriggled his own hard length against the mattress.
Even from behind his haze of pleasure, Orion caught the movement and it had him wanting more. “Turn for me, little one,” he gasped out as Keit tongued his slit. “Let me taste you, too.”
Keit managed the maneuver without lifting his head from Orion’s cock. With his knees straddling Orion’s head, the spice of his arousal seemed everywhere. Orion pulled sweats and briefs down far enough to free his erection. His huge hands cupped Keit’s firm cheeks while he licked at the pearl drops on his tip.
Keit’s thighs quivered, straining to keep his hips from driving forward. The little flicks of Orion’s tongue and brush of his lips over his sensitive head were making him crazy, drove him to take Orion deeper in his mouth, sucking harder and bobbing his head up and down faster as his desire grew.
“Mmm…” Orion hummed his pleasure and lifted his head to take Keit’s lovely erection in his mouth. His hips rolled, caught in the otter’s rhythm. His body tightened, though with a growing, desperate need rather than stress. He took all of Keit’s length, sucking greedily to pull the sweet moans from him that vibrated so deliciously against his aching cock.
Keit’s hips bucked eagerly, his own moans growing more heated and desperate with each stroke of Orion’s mouth on him. It had been a long time, too long, and it wasn’t going to take much to set him off. Having the hard length of Orion’s cock butting up against the ring of his throat while being so skillfully sucked was doing a marvelous job of racing him up to the edge and over. His lithe little body suddenly tightened and stilled a second before the dam burst. His hips jerked and the hard cock in his mouth muffled his delighted cries of release and pleasure.
Salt and bittersweet, Keit’s essence hit Orion’s tongue and sent a hard jolt through him. He fought to keep himself still since Keit had him as far as he could take him already. Bucking up into that wonderful mouth might hurt him. He pulled out an inch to give Keit room to swallow and let go, his orgasm washing over him in pounding waves.
They both lay panting a moment, Keit’s body draped over his. Then Orion lifted and turned him to take him in his arms. He buried his head against Keit’s chest and wept softly, release rather than despair. Keit seemed to understand since he didn’t ask what was wrong.
He wrapped Keit close in his arms and whispered when he could speak again, “I still love you, you do know that?”
Keit blinked back the tears stinging his own eyes. “I wasn’t sure, I didn’t know if you remembered,” he murmured, kissing his cheeks and clinging to him. “I love you, too.”
“That’s just the problem, little one,” Orion answered with one of those odd chuffs that weren’t quite laughs. “I remember everything.” He kissed Keit’s eyelids and wiped away the single tear that escaped. “It was hard that first day, when everything crashed back in on me. Hard to tell when from when and who intended what. But I have it all now. I remember everything.”
Keit snuggled closer, hard to say who held who now. The release and reconnection was good for them both, though, and they relaxed, both soon fading into sleep.
A while later Keit woke. Orion was still asleep. Probably the first really good, deep sleep he’d had in weeks. Very carefully he slid to the edge of the bed, and ever so slowly got up. He breathed a sigh that he hadn’t woken him only when he managed to slip out and close the door. He took the steps quickly, dashing for the bathroom at the end of the hall. He wouldn’t have risked waking Orion at all if he hadn’t had to pee so bad.
When that was taken care of he decided it was probably better not to go back and risk waking him again, so he went to find the Prince to tell him what had happened.
He didn’t have to go far. Elric’s bedroom door stood half-open. The light was on. He sat on his bed, still dressed, staring at something on the bedspread in front of him. Elric looked up with a little smile and no one but Keit would have been able to see the pain lurking in his eyes.
“Did things go vell, herzchen? You do look better.”
Keit came into the room and knelt before him. Ordinarily he wouldn’t have touched without permission or invitation first, but his emotions were still roiling and he needed the contact. He leaned forward, put his head on Elric’s lap and his arms around his waist. “He needed me, my Prince.” Which he already knew Elric knew, but felt he must say anyway
Elric stroked his hair. “I think you needed him as vell, my dear. And I am pleased he acknowledged his need finally. It is a good step.”
He was silent a moment, then swept a hand towards the box on the bed, the box that now contained the photographs from the broken music box. “I shall feel like a hypocrite telling him he must say goodbye. Vhen I hef been unable to all these years.”
Keit lifted his head to look up at him, his face in profile, expression very much turned inward. He rose slowly, sliding to sit next to him on the bed and hugged him from behind, offering his quiet comfort and support.
“Perheps…” Elric’s forefinger traced the edge of the box, frost against ebony. “Perheps if I made some effort, some step of my own, it vould come easier for him.”
Keit ran his fingers lightly down the back of his arm and placed a soft kiss behind his ear. “Perhaps, mein herr. Perhaps.”
With a tender kiss, Elric sent Keit to bed. He knew he had wanted to stay and the Prince felt a bit guilty, but he needed to think.
The next morning, Orion looked healthier at least. He ate breakfast with something close to his old appetite and afterwards announced he was going to the hardware store. When he returned, he went right to the garage and stayed there the remainder of the day.
“You think he’s all right out there, sir?” Sasha asked after the last appointment left after two. “It’s been awful quiet. No saws, no hammers…”
Elric patted his shoulder. “I shall go check. So you vill not expire from concern.”
Orion had drawn up a stool to his workbench and sat hunched over something. Boots announcing his presence on the cement floor, Elric walked around to where he could see. All the dala horses stood in a neat row on the workbench, each having received at least a first coat of paint, some in the traditional orange-red, some dark blue and some yellow. Orion’s forehead creased in concentration as he painted the colorful geometric designs for the saddle and bridal on one of the smaller orange ones, the tiny brush lilliputian in his huge fingers.
“Is it all right that I am here?” Elric asked softly.
“Of course, sir. It’s your house,” Orion murmured without looking up from his work.
“I meant rather if you mind that I see the vork before it is finished.”
“Oh.” Orion put the little horse down. “I don’t mind.”
“If I esked you to make something for me, vould you?”
“What sort of something, sir?”
Elric’s hands described a rectangle in the air. “Picture frames. Eight by ten or so, ja? Two of them,”
“I haven’t…” Orion looked down and then up into those ice blue eyes. “I can try, sir.”
“Good. Thenk you.” He came to kiss Orion’s forehead before he left him, wishing he could ask for more.
Orion watched that handsome, graceful body glide across the floor. Perfect. Flawless. A lump rose in his throat. He nearly called him back, but the specter of that perfect form sprawled face-down on the floor, bleeding, rose up again and his voice caught in his throat.
How could he ever touch him again, except in the most discreet, careful ways, after doing something like that? The Prince said he forgave him, said he understood, but it wasn’t so simple. He longed for the easy companionship they had before and found it impossible to reach for. He longed for those beautiful, white hands on his body…
He closed his eyes on a long sigh when the Prince shut the door behind him.
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…”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.
“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.
“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.”
A week later Anthony stood in Vincent’s living room, suffering through inspection.
“Christ, your nails are a mess,” Jonathan grumbled. “Don’t you ever even look at your hands?”
“What?” Anthony looked out of reflex. “They’re clean.”
Jonathan rolled his eyes while Vince and Drew tried not to snicker.
“He looks fine, beloved, very handsome,” Vincent offered. “You’re sure someone shouldn’t drive you, MA? You’re feeling up to this?”
“I’m good, I’m good, promise. Really. And if Jerrett gets too scary, I can just faint, right? I mean, he wouldn‘t beat up someone who‘s passed out. Would he?”
“I wouldn’t take that bet,” Jonathan muttered.
“Jonathan, that’s enough,” Vincent said softly. “He may look like Damien, he may even have some of the same mannerisms, but he is most certainly not the same man.”
Anthony tugged on the cuffs of his button-down shirt, self-conscious of the scars on his wrists. He had spent his convalescence with Vincent and his boys since the Prince insisted he needed looking after. The call from Jerrett had come the day before. The ‘I hear you’re doing better and we need to have that talk now’ call. So that morning he had showered and shaved and dressed carefully in slacks and a good shirt for his appointment with Mr. Hawthorn.
He arrived at the house two minutes before eleven and then fretted that he was early. At exactly eleven o’clock, he rang the bell, trying to calm his hammering heart. He didn’t really expect Jerrett to hurt him and if he did, well, he deserved it. His anxiety came from the things that might be said and what rules Jerrett had in mind. Not knowing was really bad for his nerves.
Sasha answered the door and let him in with a peck on his cheek. The man in question stood in the front room, dark, handsome and arrogant as always.
“Good morning, sir,” Anthony began and fought not to twist his hands together. “Did you want me on my knees again?”
“Why, Anthony? Do you like me, or are you just that eager to be on your knees?” Jerrett teased.
“Simply a gesture of respect, m’lord.” Anthony ducked his head on a little smile, relieved that the session hadn’t started right off with cold sarcasm. “Remember what I do for a living. Down on one knee lots of times any given faire day.”
“Ah, so it’s merely a professional interest then,” Jerrett continued with the slightly teasing tone. That he was in such a good mood today was largely due to Sasha’s efforts the night before. Still, there were certain things that needed to be addressed.
“Seems public humiliation and chastisement were not as good a deterrent as I thought,” Jerrett said softly. He watched the tiny curl on Anthony’s lips vanish. “I clearly remember saying that you could still see Sasha, as long as you realized he was mine. Selfish bastard, remember? So, where does that leave us now?”
Ordinarily that might have been a rhetorical question, but at the moment Jerrett really didn’t know the answer.
Anthony heaved a little sigh and ran a hand back through his hair. “Yes, sir. And I’m sorry about all that. And I think saying I’m sorry and I won’t do it again won’t work, since neither you or me would believe it.”
He looked directly at Jerrett, hands spread wide. “I’m kinda lost here, sir. I mean, do I ask for visitation rights or something?”
Jerrett turned his back on him and walked over to the couch where he flopped down. He drummed his fingers slowly on the arm, but he was watching Sasha, not Anthony. He looked curious, but calm. Jerrett might have found it amusing to know Sasha was calm because he was drumming his fingers, which meant he was thinking. If he’d done it only once, it meant he was angry.
His restless fingers stopped and he looked at Anthony. “Take your clothes off.”
The white-blond brows crept up Anthony’s forehead. He opened his mouth and snapped it shut again. Then he pulled the tails of his shirt from his trousers and set about unbuttoning. He neither rushed not hesitated, his puzzled gaze remaining on Jerrett, looking for some hint.
He dropped his shirt over the arm of the nearest chair, picked up one foot at a time to slip off his shoes and socks, and then undid his belt. Still not a twitch, no clue as to what was required, so he went on. Trousers joined shirt, neatly folded on the chair arm. Now he stood in nothing but a pair of black bikini briefs and still Jerrett watched silently.
Anthony blew out a slow breath, hooked his thumbs in the waistband and pulled the briefs off as well.
“Sasha…” Jerrett’s said his name like he caressed him with velvet. “Kiss him.”
“Yessir.” Sasha said as he slid off his perch on the arm of the couch. He knew he didn’t have to answer and he knew Jerrett well enough to recognize his sometimes odd sense of play but he wanted it clear where the direction had come from.
He glided across the floor to Anthony, who showed his own understanding by putting his hands behind his back, while Sasha circled him slowly. Such a beautiful sight, MA’s long, lean body. By no means as powerful as Jerrett, still he was all hard-packed muscle with those incredible, sculpted fencer’s legs and that perfect-sized tool kit with the shaft that curved to the left. Sasha stopped behind him for a quick perusal of his rounded, muscular butt. That brought him in line with the precision scars on his wrists, though, still an angry red. He managed to tamp down on the sorrow that welled up and turned again to face him.
Anthony had torn his eyes away from Jerrett, helpless to do anything but follow Sasha’s graceful, sensual movements. He shivered and closed his eyes as Sasha’s hand slid up his chest to the side of his face. He tried to think about cold, practical things, unsure how Jerrett would take his getting all hot and hard at that moment. Too late. The blood left his head in a dizzy rush as Sasha’s mouth brushed his and he couldn’t stop the soft moan that escaped when his lips pressed in for a tender, searching kiss.
Jerrett, for all he was a big man, could move as silently as any cat. When he spoke in Anthony’s ear, neither one of them had heard him rise from the couch. “I do understand how irresistible he is…” Jerrett said as his fingertips trailed lightly down Anthony’s arms. “You don’t get to borrow him, not ever, but you may join us, if you wish.”
A hard shiver raced down Anthony’s spine. His brain threatened to short-circuit in shock and confusion so he gripped his hands together tighter and concentrated on standing still. A stubborn, lunatic corner of his brain still screamed no! mine! He needed to shut that rebellious piece up before he spoke. His next words would be crucial.
“I…I…it’s…” he stammered out while Sasha kissed along his jaw. Good. Brilliant start. Really top-notch. “You’re absolutely smoking hot, sir,” he tried again. “But are you sure you can stand having me so…close? I didn’t think you liked me much. Probably not even as much as raisin toast, which a lot of people don’t like, and sure as heck not close enough to–”
“Sh, hush,” Sasha murmured as he caught Anthony’s mouth in a searing kiss to shut him up.
Jerrett’s warm chuckle tickled along the back of Anthony’s neck. “If I didn’t like you at all, I wouldn’t have invited you to get naked in my living room.” His lips touched lightly at the nape of his neck, his breath stirring the fine hairs there. “Nor would I have let Sasha kiss you like that,” he breathed. His fingers moved to trace lightly down his sides and over his hips while his lips brushed his neck to his shoulder, teeth ever so lightly scraping along his skin on occasion.
“Oh,” Anthony breathed out as his head tipped back onto Jerrett’s shoulder. “Oh…god… If I faint, it’s just cause I’m still a little shaky, all right?”
“Ah, well if you’re feeling faint perhaps we should go lie down,” Jerrett said.
He stepped back, and only then did Anthony realize how much heat the man threw off as the cooler air of the room swirled around his backside.
Jerrett turned toward the hall that led toward the bedroom, pulling his shirt off as he went.
Anthony pulled in one slow breath as he turned. “Sash?” he asked softly. “Am I in over my head here?”
Sasha wrapped an arm around his waist and coaxed him along after Jerrett’s broad, bare back. “No, hon. I’m here. Don’t worry.”
“I’m not really worried. Just, you know, overwhelmed. A little. A lot. He’s pretty damn overwhelming sometimes. Don’t tell me he isn’t.”
Sasha laughed, a happy, carefree sound. “Sometimes. But it’s wonderful if you just let him sort of wash over you.”
“Right. Preparing to be swamped. Boarded. Capsized.”
In the bedroom, Jerrett had already sprawled on the bed propped up against the headboard, still half dressed. Anthony crawled up from the foot of the bed to him, erection bobbing at the tops of his thighs, while Sasha stayed near the doorway and began a slow, sensual strip.
Anthony tried for a little nuzzle at the base of Jerrett’s jaw and when that didn’t receive any criticism, began to kiss down his throat. “Did you want me to keep my hands to myself, sir?”
“If I wanted you to keep your hands to yourself, you wouldn’t be here,” Jerrett answered in his direct way, but his eyes when he looked at Anthony were not hard or cold. On the contrary, there was a low banked fire in their dark depths. One hand languidly caressed up Anthony’s back. “I suppose I should ask… is there anything that’s going to freak you out?”
The laugh that leaped from Anthony was only part nerves. Jerrett’s strong hand on his back felt damn good. He let his long fingers roam across the perfect, ripped abs in front of him and trail along the black jewel line. “I’ve been described as a freak, sir. Many times. But it’s real, real hard to freak me out. Unless you’re into animals or something else unhealthy, no, not much is gonna faze me.”
“Good.” Jerrett answered simply. The hand that had been slowly making its way up stopped at the back of his neck, and Jerrett did a slow roll of his body, pinning Anthony under him as he claimed his mouth in a fierce kiss.
When he finally let him come up for air Anthony was breathless and Jerrett’s lips curled with a hint of smugness. He moved off Anthony, though. “Sasha…come here.” He crooked his finger at his waiting lover and smiled as he slithered across the sheets to him. He had planned on telling him to keep Anthony warmed up, but he couldn’t help snagging a kiss of his own first.
He slid his fingers along Sasha’s jaw and curled them around the back of his neck, thumb caressing his cheek as he kissed him long and slow. He let his lips go with reluctance, but smiled at him, that smile usually no one else got to see, the one that showed how totally in love he was with him. It took away all the arrogance of his usual expression. He kissed him once more, soft and tender. “Go ahead and show off, love,” he said with a wink. “I know you’ve been just waiting to make him crazy.”
Sasha’s smile could have lit up the depths of the ocean. He wrapped his arms around Jerrett’s neck for a hug, rubbing his cheek cat-wise against his newly shaved jaw. His heart sang with joy and a thousand thank-you’s wouldn’t have been enough. Jerrett had bent far enough to allow this wonderful day and he knew it was for him. Someone wanting to make him happy was miracle enough in the first place. Having both the men he loved in one place, being able to touch them both, hold them, kiss them, how could life possibly get any better?
Anthony watched him with a little bemused smile as Sasha took his ankles and spread them apart. He crawled in slow, sinuous movements up between Anthony’s thighs and stopped to breathe over the delicious hard-on lying on his stomach.
He didn’t touch, not yet, and continued up Anthony’s long body, holding himself up on his arms. He leaned in for a soft kiss while he gazed into those big, gray eyes. Soft kisses peppered Anthony’s face as Sasha memorized the lines and planes all over again, the long, blond lashes, the strong jaw, the handsome, straight nose.
When some of the nerves had drained from Anthony’s expression he started on his way back down, kissing softly along throat and collarbone. When he got to MA’s chest, he flicked his tongue over a pebbled nipple, took it into his mouth and sucked hard. Anthony arched off the bed with a soft cry, hands gripping Sasha’s shoulders.
“How long’s it been, hon?” Sasha murmured in concern.
“Oh…um, not so long,” Anthony panted and then hissed when Sasha turned to the other nipple. “OK, OK, longer than I want to say. A Sonoran desert of a dry spell. Oh, damn…. sweet thistle pie, that feels so good.”
Sasha chuckled as he continued down his sternum and on to the flat muscles of his stomach. He stopped to breathe in the unique scent of Anthony’s arousal, lighter than Jerrett’s heady spice, with a hint of something reminiscent of cocoa.
He lowered his body so his chest rested against Anthony’s balls. With a little smile, he licked up the gently curved shaft, center, left and right, just to watch Anthony gasp and fight not to squirm. The low, desperate moan he received when his lips closed over Anthony’s head told him just how very long it had been.
Jerrett had shed the rest of his clothing while Sasha was tormenting Anthony with soft kisses and licks, but he had missed nothing. Not one swipe of tongue, not one gasp, not one moan.
He slid next to them now, his large hand stroking up the back of Sasha’s thigh and coming to rest on the pert globe of his cheek. He kneaded and caressed lightly along the crease between, waiting until he took Anthony into his mouth before he probed a little deeper, the pad of his fingertip massaging over the tight ring of muscle between his cheeks.
The chain reaction was immediate and quite pleasant for him to watch. Sasha lifted his cute little butt higher on a soft groan, pressing back against Jerrett’s finger. The groan vibrated over the head of Anthony’s cock and made his head thump down on the pillows with a soft cry of delight.
Anthony’s hands stroked over Sasha’s hair, careful not to grab hold, guiding his movements in only minor ways. Usually with Sasha, he would have been more aggressive. He’d never manhandled him or hurt him but Sasha was always happier if he took top without asking. With Jerrett in the room, though, there could be no question who was top dog and he was more than content to take a passive role.
Jerrett kissed the corner of Sasha’s jaw and sunk his finger inside him. With as much of a workout as he’d had the previous night he wasn’t too worried, and he was right, Sasha opened for him easily. Heat unfurled in Jerrett’s belly, the combination of his ready body and watching him slide his lips down Anthony’s cock. He purred against Sasha’s throat, a soft rumble of pleasure as he wriggled his finger deeper and pressed against his prostrate.
With his mouth wonderfully full and his back door mercilessly teased, Sasha couldn’t help a few needy whimpers and a full out wriggle to slide his aching erection over the satin sheets. If Jerrett had said go, he probably could have come without much trouble.
He lifted his mouth from Anthony to whisper, “Love…mmm, want you so bad…”
The temptation to give him exactly what he wanted was nearly impossible to resist, but Jerrett managed. He rotated his finger slowly over the smooth gland inside, making Sasha moan and his hips buck. Jerrett chuckled softly and withdrew, swatting his cheeks playfully.
“Greedy,” he whispered over Sasha’s ear. His hand trailed up Sasha’s back and into his hair, pushing his head back down on Anthony’s throbbing cock. He controlled his movements for a little while, enjoying the way Anthony squirmed and panted as he tried to hold himself back.
His fingers slid out of Sasha’s hair and he left him to his own devices for a moment, returning from a rummage in the drawer for lube and condoms, which he handed to Sasha.
He lay back against the pillows and caught Anthony’s lips in a teasing kiss while Sasha backed off his cock before he popped. “I want to watch my sweet little Sasha fuck you silly. Any objections?” Jerrett asked
“I’d have to be really crazy to say there were,” Anthony said with a little chuckle. “None at all, sir. Any conditions on that?”
“I already gave him the condition,” Jerrett said, referring to the condom. He kissed him again and let his hand caressed down his chest, fingers lightly stroking over the curve of his cock.
A soft hum vibrated in Anthony’s chest. His head spun from an overload of sensation as Sasha bent his knees up, caressing the insides of his thighs. Hands and lips seemed everywhere. There were too many incredible things to look at. He tried to concentrate on one thing at a time, his lips answering Jerrett’s with more heat, his hand stealing up to stroke through his thick, black hair, but his thoughts scattered again as Sasha’s tongue touched his balls at the same time Jerrett’s fingers closed around his shaft.
He closed his eyes, wishing for a blindfold, or some sort of restraint to help him focus better. He reached above his head and curled his fingers around the spindles of the headboard. There, all right, that helped. Some.
Sasha ducked his head on a grin. Watching Anthony struggle for control was just too adorable. He lubed his fingers and teased at the puckered entrance offered to him. The panted groan he got when he sank one finger in brought a hard rush of heat to his groin.
Jerrett lifted his head from kissing Anthony, relaxing back against the pillows. His fingers still traced lightly over the hard shaft of his cock, but apparently he was serious when he said he wanted to watch. At least for the moment.
“You’re being so good,” Sasha murmured into the skin of Anthony’s raised thigh. “And you smell so good.” He leaned forward to nuzzle at his cock again while he rolled the condom on. Pitcher wasn’t his usual position and he’d never taken top with Anthony before but he certainly knew how.
One hand stroking the inside of MA’s hard thigh, the other positioning his head at Anthony’s back door, he sank inside in one, slow, smooth thrust. “Ohgod…and you feel so good. So hot. So tight.”
Jerrett watched Sasha’s face with intense eyes. His plan had been to let Sasha take the edge off Anthony first, but he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to wait that long. He was so beautiful, so hot… Jerrett shifted his position, coming up on his knees so he could kiss Sasha and caress along his torso and back while he picked up a smooth rhythm.
A soft hiss came from Anthony, filled so suddenly, assaulted on all sides with erotic sensations. He gripped the headboard tighter, his eyes glued to Jerrett’s hands gliding over Sasha’s smooth, pale skin. Jealous? Maybe. Somewhere in the darkest caverns of his brain. Too damn hot for any green-eyed thoughts to take hold. They just slid away on a torrent of desire.
He moved with Sasha, matching his rhythm, soft cries forced from him every time Sasha hit that sweet spot. “Sir? Ohgod…oh holy freaking…sir? I’m gonna…I hope it’s OK…I can’t…”
Jerrett said nothing, but he ran his finger up the underside of Anthony’s cock, stroking the sweet spot with a single fingertip and grinned as he came in a gusher. With his other hand he angled his own hard cock down, rubbing the silken head across Anthony’s lips.
The soft cries of pleasure were suddenly muffled when Anthony opened his lips to devour as much of Jerrett as he was allowed. The man’s equipment matched him, a thick, beautifully veined shaft that looked like it could be used as a portico column. He moaned around the cock filling his mouth, his body bucking and spasming around the lovely cock filling his back door.
Jerrett sunk his fingers into Anthony’s hair and hissed a small breath through his teeth as wet heat enveloped him. “Ohhh, that feels so good,” he purred, rolling his hips and sliding in and out of his mouth.
“Mmm…so gorgeous,” Sasha moaned, mouth watering at the sight. He slowed his rhythm but didn’t stop, delighting in torturing himself. “So good…oh…sir…want to come so bad…” That Jerrett would probably say no only added to the delicious torment.
“No, pet. Our guest needs one more before you get to come.” Jerrett said. He glanced at Sasha with a little grin playing on his lips. “Of course, you can trade positions with him if you think it’ll help you hold off.”
Sasha’s head fell back on a heated moan. The things Jerrett did to him. “Yes, please,” he whispered, though his hips still moved in long, slow thrusts.
Jerrett withdrew from Anthony’s mouth and lay back on the pillows once more, watching with hooded smoky eyes as his boy moved between the other man’s thighs. So beautiful to watch, but he wouldn’t wait long for those silky lips to wrap around his cock.
The command was crystal clear without another word spoken. Sasha eased out of Anthony’s body, tearing a hard groan from them both, and slid up the bed to put his head in Jerrett’s lap. He nuzzled at the black forest around Jerrett’s equipment and licked over one ball at a time. Jerrett would put him where he wanted him, he had no doubts there, so he simply enjoyed himself in the meantime.
The mingled taste of Anthony and Jerrett when he licked over his engorged head made him moan again and wriggle against the sheets.
Jerrett caressed Sasha’s face and slid his fingers back into his thick hair allowing a pleased rumble in his chest as Sasha licked and kissed him most delightfully. He looked over at Anthony with a slightly raised brow, as if to ask how long he was going to lie there and waste the banquet laid out before him.
Anthony’s large eyes grew even wider in surprise. He had thought for sure…but Jerrett seemed to like to keep people off balance. No problem playing along, none at all. Oh, merciful heavens, no. He wasn’t quite ready again but the little man was stirring and getting his morning coffee, it wouldn’t be long.
He rolled to his side to press against Jerrett’s leg, kissing his hard thigh and caressing Sasha’s back. His lips met Sasha’s over the big, beautiful cock he was so intent on and they teased each other, tongues and lips pressing and stroking while they licked and suckled on Jerrett.
Oh, now that didn’t take long… Anthony moaned at the heady rush of blood to his groin. He rolled to his hands and knees and smoothed both hands down Sasha’s skin, his eyes closing on a shiver of pleasure. That smooth skin, that lovely body, that wonderful, tender-hearted boy he thought he’d lost forever–he had to swallow hard and wait for the sting behind his eyes to go away.
Jerrett brought him out of his thoughts by nudging one of the condoms he dropped on the bed earlier at him.
Anthony shot him a grin. “Didn’t forget, sir, never fear.”
He peppered kisses over Sasha’s back and butt while he first rolled the condom on and then slid a well-lubed finger inside. Sasha’s graceful body undulated, his hips lifting into the touch, silently begging. Anthony had never let him rush things, though, and wasn’t going to start now. A second finger followed the first when Sasha relaxed. Only when the third was accepted easily did Anthony withdraw them and eased the head of his cock inside.
Jerrett caressed the side of Sasha’s face, enjoying his attentions. “Lift up Sasha, don’t want you to get yourself over-stimulated.” He knew Sasha loved teasing himself by wiggling against the sheets, but he didn’t think he was going to hold out that way.
With a sexy little moan, Sasha lifted his butt into the air, grinding back against Anthony at the same time. The sight was hot enough to melt granite as he spread his knees wider, his hips higher than his shoulders as he went to work on Jerrett’s cock in earnest, opening his throat to swallow nearly the whole length.
Anthony thanked Jerrett silently for making him come the first time. He wouldn’t have lasted three seconds otherwise. He took Sasha by the hips and pulled out and in in a long, hard thrust. Sasha gave a little cry of delight and wriggled back against him, so he did it again.
Jerrett’s fingers tightened in Sasha’s hair and he rolled his hips, sinking his cock even further into that delicious mouth. His head tipped back with a soft groan. He did such a good job of taking him all. He couldn’t resist bucking up into him while his hands held the sides of his face. Sasha’s throat accepted him readily enough and it wasn’t too long before he was feeling the urge to come. He drew it out as long as he could while Sasha moaned and eagerly serviced his two partners.
Jerrett pulled back until Sasha’s lips were wrapped around just the head of his cock. He let loose a low growl of satisfaction as the first jet of white cream spilled into Sasha’s mouth.
“Oh, sweet mother of us all,” Anthony said in a breathless rush as Sasha bucked under him, greedily swallowing every drop Jerrett offered. They were beautiful together, he had to admit, Sasha’s pale, slender beauty and Jerrett’s powerful physique. Perfect…oh, so perfect…
“Sir…” he got out through gritted teeth. “Did you want to say go this time?”
Jerrett took his sweet time, or so it seemed, disengaging from Sasha’s incredible mouth. He shifted on the bed and came up beside Anthony, running his hand down his back and over the curve of his ass while the other slid under Sasha to stroke and tease him. The tip of Jerrett’s tongue, hot and wet, traced up the outer curve of Anthony’s ear, warm breath caressing over the shell. Anthony made a sound like a strangled whimper and Jerrett whispered “Go.”
“Oh, thank you, sir, thank you, thank you,” Anthony breathed out, his hips speeding, pumping hard into Sasha’s tight sheath. Sasha’s soft cries grew closer together and more desperate as he shoved back into Anthony’s every thrust.
Anthony heard Sasha whisper his name, heard him call out to Jerrett, pleading, begging for release, but it was all far distant, drowned by the rush of blood in his ears as the pressure in his balls hit critical. “Ohgodohgodohgodohfuck…” he cried out as a wreaking ball hard orgasm rammed up through him.
Jerrett heard Sasha’s plea’s well enough, but he didn’t acknowledge them, nor did he slow his pumping hand as Anthony spilled himself into Sasha. He often denied Sasha, making him hold out and wait, bringing him to the brink over and over. Not this time. He knew Sasha wouldn’t be able to hold back if he kept going, and he’d no intention of stopping. There was something profoundly relieving to be given permission before release, but there was something very exciting about being pushed over the edge without that permission as well.
“Jerrett…Anthony…oh…ohgod…” Sasha gasped out. “I can’t…” A sharp cry swallowed any more words as Anthony thudded against that sweet spot deep inside just as Jerrett’s fist thumped down against his balls.
Unable to do otherwise, he let himself go, his body undulating in incredibly sensual ways while a bone-rattling climax took him. Oh, he loved this, having two lovers at once, two men to please who loved him so much. Heaven. Absolutely.
He floated content as he came back down, riding the aftershocks while Jerrett still stroked along his shaft. At some point he realized Anthony’s weight lay heavy on his back. “Sir,” he said softly. “I think he’s out.”
The thought occurred to him that Jerrett’s hands were gentle for his sake when he lifted Anthony off and put him on his back. He wasn’t too far gone. Already he moaned softly and his eyes fluttered open. Just a bit of leftover fatigue from blood loss, probably.
Sasha knelt on the bed, back straight, head down. He knew Jerrett had pushed him on purpose, which meant he wasn’t finished playing. “I’m very sorry, sir, that I came without permission,” Sasha offered with proper contrition, though his voice was steady and calm.
“So naughty,” Jerrett admonished, although he couldn’t keep the little smirk from his face. He reached over and pulled Sasha into his lap, placing warm teasing kisses on his lips and down the side of his throat. He turned him over then, laying him down across his lap and caressing the globes of his up turned cheeks. “What shall I do with you, hm?” he asked, as he brought his hand down with a firm crack.
Sasha’s head jerked up on a little yelp, not that it had been entirely unexpected. The momentary sting settled into his skin as a spreading warmth and he couldn’t help a little squirm against Jerrett’s lap.
Anthony had curled over on his side, eyes a bit glassy. Sasha mouthed to him, ‘are you OK?’ and got a quick high sign. Aloud he answered his Dom in a throaty husk, “I’m very bad, sir. I should be punished.”
“No, my love, you are very good, but yes you should be punished for your lack of restraint.” Jerrett somehow managed to sound sincere when he knew damn well there was no way on earth Sasha could have been expected to hold back. He smacked his cute little ass again, because he liked the way Sasha squirmed in his lap.
“Yes, sir, oh, yes,” Sasha said in an eager rush. He had no idea what Jerrett had in mind but being turned over Jerrett’s lap pushed all sorts of buttons. He was already getting hard again.
A bit woozy, Anthony snagged a pillow for his head and decided against sitting up. The dizzy spells weren’t as bad or as frequent as they had been a few days before but then he hadn’t been terribly active either. The sight of Jerrett smacking Sasha should have made him angry. He tried to convince himself it should. Didn’t work. Problem was, he couldn’t muster any righteous rage with Sasha clearly enjoying it all so much.
“I think you’re enjoying this too much.” Jerrett said, as if he’d plucked the idea from Anthony’s thoughts. His hand caressed over Sasha’s adorable cheeks, kneading the pink globes gently, and then he couldn’t resist sliding his fingers into the crease. He was still slippery and Jerrett had no trouble sliding two long fingers deep inside.
“Oh…yes sir…I’m so sorry,” Sasha moaned and pushed back, lifting his butt in the air. “I’ll try not to. But it’s…hard…”
“Yes, I can feel that it is.” Jerrett chuckled. He stroked his fingers in and out of Sasha a little faster, making him moan and squirm. Finally he withdrew his fingers and landed another swat to his butt, but this one was a little more playful than firm. “I think you will have to work hard before I let you come again, my sweet.”
“What sort of work, sir?” Anthony blurted out before he could stop his traitor mouth from shooting off. Oh, damn. Jerrett was going to throw him out on his ass yet.
Jerrett gave him a glance, but didn’t seem as perturbed as Anthony had feared. He let Sasha up and sat him on the end of the bed. “What do you think a suitable punishment would be, Anthony?”
Anthony sat up against the headboard, the pillow clutched to his chest, gray eyes huge with anxiety. “I–I don’t–that is, maybe…” He swallowed hard and squeaked out. “It’s–it’s not my place to say, sir.”
Jerrett scooted up on the bed and leaned back against the pillows, fingers folded over his middle. “Show me what you are planning on wearing to work tomorrow, Sasha.”
Sasha scrambled off the bed to his bureau. Actually going to work, he wore normal street clothes. Once there, he changed into whatever enticing little outfit he’d picked that day, sometimes with more cloth involved than others. For the next day, he’d already decided on a little pair of blue micro shorts which he pulled out of the drawer and held up for inspection.
Jerrett watched him and nodded approvingly, although he could have taken out almost anything and it wouldn’t have mattered too much. He stood and opened up a chest near the dresser. “I have a few…accessories for you to wear as well.” He said. He pulled out a good sized anal plug, one that had a small loop at the end, and a leather cock harness. A chain the thickness of a heavy necklace was attached to the part of the harness that went around the balls, and was obviously meant to run back between his legs and attach to the loop on the end of the plug.
The set up would be unbearably stimulating, and the tiny micro shorts Sasha had pulled out were going to do nothing to hide any hint of arousal.
“Oh, sir,” Sasha whispered and swallowed hard. This would be challenging but he needed a challenge sometimes. “Thank you.” He lifted his eyes from the toys to meet Jerrett’s gaze. “When did you want me to start, sir?”
“Tomorrow.” Jerrett said with a soft gleam in his eye. He didn’t want Sasha to get used to the feeling before then. “For now… you will forgo clothes while you’re at home, except for your collar of course. And tonight you can make sure Anthony is well tended to.”
Which meant that Anthony was staying the night. Sasha put the shorts back in the drawer and bounded back to Jerrett to fling his arms around his neck. He got a pleased rumble and a little caress when he kissed Jerrett’s jaw. “Shall I start dinner, sir? Are you hungry?” He chuckled at the look Jerrett gave him. “For food?”
The rest of the evening was spent in mostly domestic bliss. Sasha was delighted both that Jerrett let Anthony stay, and that he could spend his time pampering them both.
In the morning Jerrett ‘assisted’ Sasha getting dressed, making sure the plug was placed just so, and the leather harness securely fastened around his cock and balls before he ran the chain back between his legs and attached it to the end of the plug.
Jerrett kissed him tenderly. “Have a good day, sweetheart.”
Sasha had to cling to Jerrett for a moment, his eyes gone wide. The plug wasn’t the biggest he’d ever had inserted but it was perfectly shaped to stay in place and just the right size to stimulate if he even thought about moving. His cock had decided immediately upon its insertion that it wanted to come fully erect. It expanded to the limits of the harness where it strained against the leather until the discomfort made it subside again.
The whole process left him feeling dizzy. And he was going to make it through the work day like this? He caught himself and managed a little smile for Jerrett. Yes. Yes, he was. “Thank you, sir. You, too.”
Jerrett kissed him and let him walk away, before calling him back, just to watch. “Please tell the Prince to call me if he needs to, love. We can’t have you ‘too’ distracted.”
When Sasha arrived at work, he delivered the message and then had to explain the whole thing, his face burning with embarrassment.
“So. Could you kneel still, süsselein?” Elric asked, completely unfazed.
The Prince had him turn and turn again. “Good. It does make a nice…peckage in the front. You vill let me know if it causes you undue discomfort or if you are unable to concentrate.”
For the first couple of clients, Sasha’s face remained beet red. It seemed to him that everyone could see, not only the bulge in front but the plug in back as well, which, of course, they couldn’t. But every step reminded him it was there, every movement rubbed the chain between his legs and oh, god, he couldn’t stop thinking about Jerrett taking him hard.
By lunchtime, he was in something of a daze and retreated to the downstairs bathroom to get some cold water on his face. Every time he thought he had it under control, he would need to move in some new way, kneel, reach up to a top cabinet, go down the stairs, and the whole stimulation-erection-discomfort-deflation cycle would start all over again. It didn’t quite approach pain…all right, yes it did, and in a way, it was all deliciously decadent. He enjoyed it in a perverse sort of way but his concentration was shot.
“Caroline…” He poked his head around the door to where she had her desk. “How many more today?”
“Just three more, hon. Are you all right?” Caroline asked, her pretty forehead creased in concern.
“Oh, sure, fine. I just put the coffeepot in the freezer.”
She laughed and then clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry.”
Near the end of the day, when Elric was expecting his final client, the Prince retired to his study upstairs to make a phone call. “Good afternoon, Herr Jerrett. Yes, thank you and you? Good…good… I vould like to make a suggestion, if you don’t mind. I think Sasha may need to be driven home today. He is no longer…focused enough to drive safely. I could hef somevone bring him to you if it vould be more convenient.”
Jerrett thought about that for a second. “Alright.” He said, and then had the audacity to ask, “Would you mind if I borrow Keit for the evening?”
Elric’s white brows arched up, though his voice remained as calm and chill as ever. “That vould depend largely upon vhat purpose this ‘borrowing’ vould serve.”
Elric could hear the grin in Jerrett’s voice. “If I can charm him into my bed, would you allow it?”
Gott in Himmel, why does the man have to push so? “No, Herr Jerrett, I vould not. Though I hef my doubts thet you could still do so in any case.”
Jerrett chuckled, a low warm purr of sound. “Easy, Elric…can you truly blame me for trying? Keit can drive Sasha home, and leave untouched then, I promise. Or you can send Orion with him if you don’t trust me.” Jerrett said with another small chuckle, inordinately pleased with himself that he’d managed to push Elric’s button’s.
Elric let out a little snort, both amused and annoyed at himself. “Keit may go vithout escort. To hef a small misunderstanding vith me is vone thing. Vith Orion? It holds the potential for tragedy of epic proportions.” His voice softened a hair. “And, no, I do not blame you. Not a bit.”
With the day’s appointments finished and Sasha changed out of his shorts, Keit went out to the car with him. Poor Sasha eased into the seat and tucked his feet up to sit sideways, unable to take the constant stimulation of sitting on the plug.
Jerrett met them at the door. As soon as Sasha stepped inside he said, “Clothes off.” Then he looked at Keit, who had walked Sasha up to the door. “Would you like to stay for dinner?”
Keit glanced from Jerrett to Sasha and back, a slightly amused expression on his face. “Do you want me to stay because you want my company, or because you want an audience while you torment Sasha?”
Jerrett grinned. “Both.”
Keit laughed and looked at Sasha, though he knew it wasn’t fair to him to ask, he had to anyway. “Will it bother you, Sasha?”
Sasha ducked his head on a shy smile while he wriggled out of his pants. “No. Not really. I mean…it’s you.” He leaned a hand on the wall and closed his eyes while his persistent cock tried the confines of its harness once again. He drew a few careful breaths. “Besides, I’ve had a roast in the crock pot all day. Shame if we don’t have someone to share it with.”
Jerrett lifted Sasha’s shirt off and gave him a sensual, if brief kiss. “Make sure you call the Prince and let him know you’re staying for dinner.” Jerrett said.
Keit rolled his eyes as he followed them farther inside. He didn’t need to be reminded, and he had already been reaching for his cell phone.
Sasha stopped by him to whisper in his ear with a little wink. “He’s just trying to be responsible.”
There was something liberating rather than embarrassing to be without clothes. In the right company, at least, people Sasha trusted. Not that he was entirely naked with his lovely…accessories. He hurried to the kitchen to get the rest of dinner started. Carrots and parsnips went under the broiler, potatoes went into the pot with the roast. As long as he didn’t move too fast or bend over or have to crouch, he felt completely unhindered.
Jerrett sat with Keit in the living room, casually slouched back on the couch. “I asked Elric if I could borrow you this evening.”
Keit lifted a brow. “I hope you weren’t too disappointed.”
Jerrett’s grin was wolfish. “How do you know he didn’t agree?”
Keit returned his gaze, completely unruffled. “Because he didn’t.”
Jerrett chuckled. “He also said he doubted my ability to charm you into my bed anyhow.”
Keit laughed. “Please don’t take that as a challenge, Jerrett. If it will assuage your ego you can tell yourself it’s just because I’m so besotted with Elric that you can’t turn my head.”
Jerrett did not stir, in fact he became very still, but his eyes seemed to bore into Keit with dark fire. “Are you sure?” he asked in a low softly caressing voice.
At one time, Keit would have melted into a puddle on the floor at that look and spent the night doing any number of decadent perversions with Jerrett. In truth, the way he looked at him and spoke to him still had an effect, making his heartbeat throb hard once and desire tighten his loins. He smiled back at Jerrett, his lips curling seductively and his eyes returning an echo of warmth. “Very sure,” he said flatly.
Jerrett’s laugh was genuine and exuberant. “Alright, just checking.”
The atmosphere changed, becoming more relaxed and less sexually charged as Jerrett conceded. It lasted only until Sasha returned from the kitchen and Jerrett watched him walking toward them. So beautiful, his Sasha. And so damn sexy. He beckoned Sasha to him, and removed the harness and unclipped the chain, but left the plug in place. He indicated he should kneel and caressed his perfect bottom while he did so.
Sasha’s stomach trembled with excitement and despite his best efforts, all the blood rushed to his groin when Jerrett removed the harness. He drew in a quick breath through his nose and closed his eyes, a wave of dizzy delight sweeping through him. He had to put his head on Jerrett’s knee to keep from toppling over.
Keit watched all this with amusement tinged with arousal. Sasha was gorgeous after all, and watching him fight against the stimulation he was receiving was hot.
“Mmm, thank you, sir,” Sasha got out in a breathy purr. “Dinner should be ready in about fifteen minutes.” Which was partly information and partly to let Jerrett know how long he could tease before Sasha would have to return to the kitchen.
Jerrett’s only acknowledgement was to stroke his fingers through Sasha’s hair while he made small talk with Keit.
While it might have seemed as if he was being largely ignored, Sasha knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that a heated storm brewed inside Jerrett. From his vantage point with his head in Jerrett’s lap, he could see the bulge in his jeans and catch hints of his growing arousal.
In the course of conversation Keit made a comment about the stone Sasha wore on his collar. “It’s a perfect choice,” he went on. “Beautiful.”
Jerrett smiled, pleased. “It had to be, if it was going to compete with Sasha.”
A little flush rose up Sasha’s throat though he smiled and nuzzled at Jerrett’s thigh. He had always known he was pretty but until Jerrett, he had considered it only in a slightly slutty, perfect-for-a-toy sort of way. With Jerrett’s dark gaze devouring him, he did feel beautiful, as if his heart made his body glow from within.
“Anthony was over yesterday,” Keit said.
Jerrett was not fooled in the least by the innocent sounding comment. “And you want to pry?”
Keit made a small face at him. “Nooo.” There was a long pause then Keit cleared his throat. “So, have you…settled things, then?”
Jerrett laughed. “Not that it’s any of your business, but, yes. Anthony is allowed to see Sasha, and, yes, I’m fucking him, too,” he said, just to watch Keit try and keep his expression neutral. He did a damn good job of it, too.
A subtle movement of Sasha’s hips distracted him enough so he managed to stifle a laugh. God, he hoped Jerrett didn’t make him do this for another day before he had some relief. His brain was turning into jello. And his cock was going to look like a permanent exclamation point.
“He looked a lot better this morning,” Sasha offered softly. “More like himself. Good thing he’s between Faire seasons right now, though. Don’t think he should be putting on the full plate and fighting on horseback yet.”
Jerrett had also said Anthony could come over on Wednesdays, if he’d behaved himself and not pissed Jerrett off during the week. Anthony had gotten on his knees and thanked Jerrett rather sweetly for his kindness, a thank-you that made Jerrett’s eyes cross before he was finished.
It wasn’t long before they were sitting down at the table to eat dinner. Or rather, Jerrett and Keit sat down. Sasha was having some difficulty finding a way to sit. Jerrett finally reached over and made him sit squarely in the chair. The look on Sasha’s face was a curious mix of desperate arousal, embarrassment and anxiety. The slightest movement made the plug move within him. Jerrett might as well have bent him over the table and had him right there.
“Jerrett, there is no way he can eat like that,” Keit scolded.
Jerrett tore a piece of bread off and chewed it thoughtfully as he watched Sasha with half lidded eyes. “I think you’re right. Sasha, you can go to bed and wait for me…or if you prefer you can entertain us.”
A little ashamed of his lack of control, Sasha ducked his head. He didn’t really want to leave, he wanted to be with Jerrett, and he was hungry, dammit.
He rose from his chair and let his fingers trail across Jerrett’s broad shoulders. “What sort of entertainment would you like, sir?”
Jerrett pulled him down into his lap, turning him so he sat between his knees facing the table. He breathed along the back of his neck and his hand caressed lightly over the top of his thighs and up his torso. “I wanna watch my beautiful one get off.” His words tickled along his skin.
“Jerrett,” Keit said, slightly exasperated. “Sasha… you don’t have to do this,” Keit said gently. Keit wouldn’t mind if he did, not at all, but he didn’t want Sasha to be made uncomfortable.
“I know,” Sasha said with a soft smile. He let his fingers trail up the underside of his own erection. “I don’t have to.” He leaned his head back against Jerrett’s shoulder, his eyes sliding half-closed. “I can always say no.”
Keit put one elbow on the table and rested his chin on his palm. Absently he skewered a root vegetable and popped into his mouth while he watched the sensual play unfolding at the end of the table.
Sasha leaned back against Jerrett, the feel of that hard chest against him adding an extra layer to his excitement. He trailed his fingertips over the tip to spread the little pearl drop already waiting there over the head. Jerrett’s thumb brushed over his nipple and he moaned, his hips rolling to tap the plug against his gland.
With a soft intake of breath, he wrapped his hand around his achingly hard cock and began to stroke.
Keit shifted on his seat, unobtrusively adjusting himself. Sasha was truly a beautiful sight. He remembered to chew, even though he no longer tasted the food in his mouth and he much rather would have had something else entirely in his mouth. The urge to get up and slide over there, to let his lips and tongue caress over those lovely orbs jostling gently between Sasha’s legs was almost overwhelming. He could see himself doing it in his head and he had to remind himself firmly that Sasha was off limits. He had to look down at his plate for a second and reorganize his thoughts.
He could enjoy watching, but he couldn’t and wouldn’t join in. He just hoped when he got home the Prince was in a generous mood. If not it was going to be a long night, he thought ruefully.
Jerrett all but forgot about dinner and Keit. His attention was more than just a little consumed by Sasha writhing in his lap. He kept his touches light though, a stroke of his thumb over a nipple, a hand caressing up his arm, the brush of lips across the back of his neck.
It had already been a long day for Sasha. Spending the day half-hard and increasingly desperate did wonders for the libido. His back arched on a long groan and he tightened his grip on his shaft, increasing the speed of his fist. His balls had already drawn up tight. Oh, sweet mother…
“Jerrett,” his voice caressed over the name. “Jerrett…oh, sir, this won’t take long…”
“Are you very sorry that you didn’t control yourself with Anthony?” Jerrett murmured, his lips pressed to the soft skin behind Sasha’s ear.
“Very sorry, sir.” Sasha got out breathlessly.
“And you will endeavor to try harder next time?” Jerrett asked, in the same softly teasing tone.
“Oh…yes…mmm, yes, sir.”
Jerrett chuckled, blowing a warm breath over Sasha’s ear and nipping the edge. “Then you may let go, my sweetheart. Come for me,” he whispered huskily.
“Thank you, sir, thank you, thank you,” Sasha answered in a breathless rush.
His eyes flew wide and his hips lifted as if the force of his passion might cause his body to leap into the air. Soft, short cries came while he climbed to a dizzying height, the pressure approaching a red zone near pain. His whole body arched and a louder cry escaped as he tipped over into rapture, the hard pulses shooting white jets into the air.
Yeah. No way was mere food going to satisfy after watching that, Keit thought. From the look on Jerrett’s face he was thinking the same, and was probably about two seconds from cutting dinner short.
Jerrett’s dark eyes locked on Keit’s lighter amber ones while he held Sasha’s boneless panting form.
“I’ll let myself out.” Keit offered softly.
Jerrett nodded once and lifted Sasha in his arms, heading for the bedroom. He heard Keit’s airy chuckle follow him and cared not in the least.
“Can be reheated.” Jerrett finished as he laid Sasha down on the bed and practically dove on him. Sasha made a strangled sound somewhere between pain and pleasure and Jerrett remembered the plug. Well, at least he wouldn’t have to spend much time getting him ready. He turned Sasha over and gently pulled it free, hungry eyes watching the way his body flexed and opened as he did. “uhh, god I want you,” he murmured as he shed his jeans.
Sasha moaned and lifted his butt in invitation. “Want you, too,” he whispered. “Thought about you all day, sir. God it was hard…all day…visions of you taking me, ramming into me…”
Jerrett was preparing to fulfill his wish even as he spoke it, a dollop of lube smoothed over his very hard cock and he was sliding into Sasha’s tight sheath with a hard thrust. “Oohhh… fuck, you feel so good…” Jerrett straddled Sasha’s beautiful little ass and thrust into him again and again. That little performance in the kitchen coupled with thinking about how Sasha was handling his accessories all day had him near mindless with desire.
He grasped Sasha’s outstretched hands, twining his fingers with Sasha’s as he bucked ruthlessly into him. Lips and teeth moved restlessly over Sasha’s neck and shoulders, little kisses and nips mixing with murmured words of love and encouragement. It did not take too long before Jerrett hit his peak as well, spilling into Sasha’s clenching body with wordless cries of pleasure until he collapsed over him, his heavy body pressing him down into the mattress.
It only took a couple of wriggles more before Sasha came a second time as well, his body clutching hard at Jerrett, forcing a few more tortured groans from him. He smiled as he lay safe and secure beneath Jerrett’s weight.
When Jerrett’s breathing had calmed to a more normal rhythm, Sasha pulled one hand close and kissed his fingers. “You’re so wonderful.”
Elric looked up from his book when Keit came into the den. He had his glasses on that evening since his contacts had become an irritation, half spectacles he only used for reading. Orion sprawled beside him on the huge, leather sofa, his head in Elric’s lap.
“Something of a brief dinner, mein herz?” Elric said in a dry tone. “Vas Sasha’s cooking not to your liking?”
Keit nearly choked as he stifled a chuckle. “Sasha’s cooking was fine, sir. Delightful…it was only that Sasha had a long hard day and…” He had to pause and clear his throat to stop the metaphor thought train. “Um, Jerrett was being impatient,” he finished.
“Ah.” Elric put book and glasses on the side table and looked up at Keit with speculation in his ice blue eyes. “So. Are you hungry?”
Keit grinned, because that was the equivalent of a joke from Elric, and they both knew it. He didn’t laugh though, it was a little too close to the truth for laughter. Instead he sank to his knees before Elric and put his head on his knee, close enough to smile at Orion. “Very hungry, sir.”
Elric fisted his hand in Keit’s hair and pulled his head up. “So am I,” he said in a fierce whisper and leaned in to seize Keit’s lips in a ferocious kiss.
Keit responded with a flare of heat and passion. Ordinarily he would have kept his hands behind his back until invited to use them, but his head was swimming and he felt nearly drunk with the spike of arousal that shot through him. He lifted his arms to slid around Elric’s shoulders and his hands caress gently along the back of his neck while he kissed him deeply.
A soft purring hum rose from Elric’s chest. He would have to remember to thank Jerrett later for all this…stimulation. “Upstairs, both of you. Get each other undressed.”
Keit and Orion both got to their feet and headed for the stairs, Orion a bit steadier then Keit for sure.
Once in the bedroom they helped each other undress quickly, removing clothes between heated kisses and caresses.
Elric arrived silently for once, his boots exchanged for slippers hours some time before. He leaned against the doorway a moment watching Orion’s large hand slide down Keit’s back to caress his beautiful bottom.
“Liebchen, vould you like an otter sandvich this evening?” he asked.
Concern wrinkled Orion’s forehead and he pulled Keit into a protective embrace. “Mein herr?”
“Ach, not in a literal sense. Mein Gott.” Elric scrubbed a hand over the side of his face. “I only meant in that ve should share him, hef him betveen us.”
“Oh.” Orion loosened his grip. “Yes, mein herr. I would like that.”
Still shaking his head, Elric went to the closet. “Up on the bed, herzchen. On all fours.”
Keit slipped from Orion’s arms with a last little kiss and went to the bed. It was funny, when Orion was tied to it the bed looked normal size. When Keit knelt in the center and leaned forward on his hands the bed looked much larger.
The Prince returned from his rummaging with a rather complicated device of metal and leather. Unfolded, it resolved into an I-bar with straps at all four corners and a vertical swivel arm at either end festooned with more leather straps.
“Good. Knees a bit more…so, thank you.” Elric slid the whole thing under Keit and buckled his wrists and knees into the corner straps. He gave Keit’s perfect bottom a sharp slap and then slid up onto the bed to finish preparations.
“Chin up, mein schatz,” he ordered softly. The front swivel arm came up and the leather strap fastened around Keit’s throat before Elric tightened the nut to keep it and Keit’s head firmly in place. Then he slid onto his back between Keit’s legs and positioned the second metal arm under Keit’s genitals. The smaller straps went around cock and balls, just as an added incentive not to move too far.
Keit had been in a state of semi arousal since he’d taken Sasha home, now his cock pointed rigidly up from his groin and he was so hot he could hardly stay still despite the incentives to do so. He tested the give by shifting ever so slightly and found that even that little bit tugged on his package and sent shivers up his back. A little movement caused slight discomfort. Any more than that was going to get very uncomfortable indeed.
“I need you to be quite still,” Elric whispered in his ear. “If you damage yourself, I shall find it a difficult infrection to forgive.” He stroked a finger up the underside of Keit’s erection and the message was quite clear. Mine. Don’t forget it.
Orion had watched this little display, practically drooling. A little rumble came from his chest, his eyes slid half shut, his huge cock standing straight out from his body.
“Come, liebchen,” Elric ordered in a soft purr. “On your knees in front. You may offer yourself to our beautiful otter but you must help him keep his head still.”
The bed creaked under Orion’s weight as he hurried to comply, eager and more than willing. He rubbed the smooth skin of his head against Keit’s lips and took a firm grip on his hair.
Keit let his tongue come out to lick over the slit and swirl around the silky smooth head wetting it and his lips. Taking Orion was always a stretch, no matter from which end, Keit was reminded as he opened his jaws wide to accommodate him. He moaned softly, both from the taste and feel of him and the way his fingers tugged through his hair.
Elric watched his beautiful boys as he undressed. He let his head fall back on a sharp stab of desire, his unbound hair brushing softly down his back. In no hurry, he stopped at his dresser for a jar of Vaseline before he joined them on the bed.
He smiled to see how gentle Orion tried to be and yet Keit wouldn’t have been able to move his head in that grip if he tried. Elric dipped his forefinger into the jar, teased for only a moment at Keit’s puckered entrance, and plunged inside.
Keit squeezed his eyes shut and huffed a breath through his nose. His whole body quivered with electric desire. The force of the thrust rocked him forward. Not a lot, but enough to tug at his trapped balls and nearly make his eyes water. His toes curled and he moaned with heady pleasure around Orion’s thick cock.
“Mmm, my good boy,” Elric murmured and waited until Keit had adjusted to his precipitous invasion. He curled forward to rest his cheek on Keit’s back, suddenly wanting as much skin contact as possible. His hips rolled, teasing, tapping deep inside, while one hand stole down to stroke feather-light over Keit’s erection.
Keit’s needy whimper hummed in his chest. The urge to roll his hips and push back was driving him crazy. The pain this would cause was more encouragement than deterrent, but Elric’s displeasure kept him from testing the limits of the restraint. He shifted his focus to making sure Orion was lavished with all the sensual delights his mouth had to offer, and the slight movements he was allowed he made the most of for Elric’s benefit. Concentrating on his lover’s pleasure eased the burden of seeking his own.
A deep rumble of pleasure rolled from Orion. He wrapped his free hand around the base of his shaft, stroking where Keit couldn’t reach. The tight heat around him was heavenly, the sight of his eagle prince taking his pleasure almost too beautiful to bear. He wished he could be two people, to touch them both, hold them close at the same time. The otter sucked harder on him and his thoughts scattered like dry grain.
Elric’s fingers stroked over the leather trapping Keit and the gold cock ring behind that. He had no illusions about where the ferocity of his need had sprung from. Jerrett had yanked, he had responded in true territorial fashion, and now he reclaimed what was his in the most primal way imaginable. He pulled his hips back and thrust into Keit more forcefully.
Unable to beg for more, unable to even plead with his body, Keit took what was given and delighted in it.
Murmured words of encouragement in three languages spilled from Elric as he thrust deep and hard. There were times for discipline and times for wild abandon. At the moment, the wilds tugged at every fiber of his being.
Orion reached down to stroke his hair and something in that simple touch sent flames licking along his nerves. “You may come, my darlings, vhen you are ready,” he forced out through heated gasps.
A moan of grateful pleasure rose from Keit, all he was capable of at the moment. Elric’s plunging rhythm and the way his fist closed over the head of his cock now made his insides melt. A sharp tug on his balls as he moved just a little more in the confines of the restraint sent sparks racing through him. His breath huffed through his nose in increasing pants as he got closer and closer. The urge to buck wildly and his inability to do so crashed together and made him shudder under his partners as he came in hot jets over Elric’s stroking fingers.
Orion shivered, his hips jerking as Keit’s moans pulled him into the deeps. He forced himself to keep his eyes open since the sight before him was transcendent. The Prince gripped Keit’s hips, head flung back, back arched to show every chiseled line of chest and abdomen. The force of his thrusts vibrated through the bed and a spare, hissing cry rose from him as he climaxed, his soft white hair a waterfall of frost behind him. It was perhaps the most beautiful thing he had ever witnessed.
Keit held Orion within his mouth as he was suddenly flooded both front and back. Orion filled his mouth so completely he could not swallow fast enough and some spilled from the corner. He was so far lost in the zone he hardly noticed.
After the last earthquakes settled, Orion disengaged gently. He smiled to see his Prince collapsed, panting, over Keit’s back. Strong, white arms wrapped around the otter, holding him up at the same time.
“Mein herr, could I…help?” he asked softly.
Elric gulped a breath. “You may release him, liebchen. Begin vith the throat strap.”
Keit was grateful for that, his neck was starting to ache from being held in position so long. He let his head drop between his shoulders while Orion worked on unfastening the buckles around his wrists. When he was free of restraints he lifted up on his knees to give Orion a soft kiss and then turned, dropping down to nuzzle at Elric’s hip where he’d sprawled out on the bed. “Thank you, sir.”
“Bitte, bitte, herzchen,” Elric murmured as he stroked Keit’s hair. “I am glad you enjoyed it.”
Orion leaned over to kiss his lips and rumbled, “Danke schön, mein herr.”
A pleased purr came from Elric before he said, “You should teach our Keit some German. I vould like to hear it from him as vell.”
“Ich kann Deutsch sprechen, mein herr. Ich wusste nicht, dass Sie mich dass wünschten,” Keit said fluidly.
Elric came up on one elbow to regard Keit with a pained expression. “So. All this time. And you hef not uttered a single vord vhile I struggle vith your god-forsaken language? It is, wie sagt mann verwirren? Baffling.”
Keit cringed, realizing too late that he should have spoken up long before now. “I’m sorry, sir,” he offered meekly. “I-I just thought…when I was learning other languages I wasn’t allowed to speak any others. I got in the habit of not reverting to English just because it was easier for me. I didn’t think…I am so very sorry, mein herr.”
Elric snorted. “I hef been in this country far too long to still be learning the language. And vhile I confess to hef learned English a bit late in life, long after learning French and Czech and Russian and Italian and Japanese, I vould hope I manage fairly vell.” He rolled down on his back, a wistful tone creeping into his voice. “I simply like to hear German sometimes.”
Flustered and upset now, because he’d ruined what had been a wonderfully mellow mood, Keit curled on the mattress at Elric’s hip, but did not touch him. He hadn’t meant to imply Elric was still learning either. He’d just meant that he was used to sticking to one language, unless directed to do otherwise. However, every time he opened his mouth he seemed to stick his foot in it so he kept silent now. Why, why hadn’t he thought to speak up before now? How stupid could he be?
Orion gathered Keit into his lap, not certain why the little one suddenly looked so miserable. One was corrected, one learned. His highness wasn’t angry…
“Mein herr?” A sudden stray thought wandered through. “Do you speak Norwegian as well?”
“No, liebchen. Not more than a few vords here and there.” Elric turned on his side to look at him. “Is there some reason?”
Orion’s forehead creased. “I‘m…not certain, mein herr.”
Keit rested his head against Orion’s broad chest but his eyes caught Elric’s for a moment, sharing a fleeting look as they both turned over the significance, if any, of Orion’s question.
“You may sleep vith our otter tonight,” Elric said as he kissed them both and rose to pull on a robe. “I vill be up for some time still. Go to bed.” He wandered out, murmuring to himself about things lost and found.
Keit let his breath out slowly after Elric left the room. He still felt unsettled, which was an unusual state for him. He usually took everything in stride, but he had a feeling he’d done more than just annoy his Dom, he’d hurt him by the simple omission. For the first time in a long while he felt tears close to the surface. “Come on Orion,” he coaxed in a softly husky voice. “Do you want to sleep in my room, or yours?”
“The ship, little one,” Orion rumbled with a little smile. He kissed Keit’s eyelids, wishing he could take the pain away and led him by the hand up to his tower room.
They snuggled in and talked softly for a while until Orion fell asleep. He was wonderful to lie with, so warm and comforting, but Keit lay staring out the window, unable to drift off.
Well after two in the morning, he wandered out into the hallway. Elric’s bedroom door was still open and the room empty. A hint of light shone further down the hall, though, licking out from under the study door. With a soft knock, Keit pushed it open and found the Prince at his computer, still as stone.
“Sir? Is everything…all right?”
Elric’s fingers twitched, a muscle jumped in his jaw, and for an uncomfortable moment Keit wondered if he was too hurt to speak to him. Finally his right hand clenched and he whispered, “I know now. I know who he is.”
The message from Jerrett was quite clear. Anthony put the phone down on his dresser and crawled back into bed. He was to leave Sasha alone until further notice.
Jerrett had been all business, no nastiness, no sarcasm. But he had said something both cutting and vital. Anthony was upsetting Sasha. Confusing him. It had to stop.
“Right. You’re right, Mr. Hawthorn,” Anthony said to the ceiling. “I’m so sorry, Sash. Gods be damned fool, that’s what I am. Damned, blind, moronic fool.”
It had to stop. Yes, yes it did.
Two days later, Sasha kissed Jerrett goodbye while he still read his morning papers and headed off to work. The Prince’s house looked the same from the outside, all in order, perfectly normal. Inside, things weren’t right at all.
Keit and Caroline sat on the sofa in the front room. Orion knelt at Keit’s feet with his head in his lap, obviously upset.
“What is it?” Sasha asked in a hushed whisper. “What’s happened?”
“We’re not sure yet,” Caroline said gently. “His highness was called to the police station this morning. He didn’t say why. He just said to cancel his morning appointments and he’d be back soon.”
Sasha sank down in a chair to wait with them, a hard knot in this stomach. What could it be? What if the Prince was in trouble? What could they do?
The mantel clock ticked loudly, a cold sentinel metronome in the terrible anticipatory silence.
Finally, two hours later, the Mercedes purred into the drive. The Prince eased out as if his bones hurt and made his slow way to the house. Alarmed, everyone leaped up to meet him at the door, shocked at the gray pallor of his face.
Keit took his hat and coat, Orion took his arm to support him. No one could recall ever seeing him so shaken.
“Sir? Are you all right?” Sasha whispered.
“I am…vell enough,” Elric said softly. “Let us sit, my dears. I hef grim news.”
When they had all settled again, Elric pulled an envelope from his jacket. “Early this morning, Anthony’s landlady knocked on his door. He hed not paid his rent this veek. She let herself in vhen he did not answer. She found him, dressed in his best suit, lying on the kitchen floor. He hed cut open the veins in his wrists.”
Sasha let out an anguished cry and Caroline groped for his hand.
“He is…alive, my dears,” the Prince went on. “In hospital but they think they vere in time. They hope he vill recover.” Keit moved over to lay his head on Elric’s shoulder and the Prince accepted the gesture with a soft sigh. “He left a letter, addressed to me, vhich is vhy the police called me. There are instructions for the distribution of his belongings…”
He hesitated, opened the letter, and looked over at Sasha, “And a passage concerning you, süsselein. Do you vish to know?”
“Yessir,” Sasha choked out.
“‘Please tell my beloved Sasha,” the Prince read. “That he is free now. That he need never hef a moment’s confusion again. I release him from all guilt and obligation. I do this to allow him to hef the life he so deserves, vith somevone who loves him and who can give him all he needs. I shall no longer stand in his vay.’”
Sasha burst into tears. Oh, dear god, how could Anthony have done such a thing? How could he have reached such a terrible chasm of despair? Someone who was more full of life and energy than anyone else he knew? “God, no…oh, Ant…”
Several sets of arms were around him before he stopped sobbing and then he asked the Prince to please excuse him for the day. He had to go see Anthony. There simply was no choice.
Towards evening he returned home, sick at heart and exhausted. He’d lost track of the time, keeping watch at Anthony’s bedside. The doctors assured him Anthony’s heart was strong and he was receiving the best care, but he had yet to wake.
He stopped short with a jolt when he saw Jerrett waiting for him in the front room.
“And where have you been, little one?”
Sasha fought to speak against the desert in his throat. “I went…I went…to see Anthony.”
“Really.” Jerrett placid tone said well enough he was seething, but before he got out a more scathing comment he noticed Sasha was so pale he looked like he might pass out and the redness around his eyes told him he’d already been crying his eyes out. “Why?”
“Because…because…he’s in the hospital. He tried to…to kill himself.”
Jerrett sighed and held his arms out. “Come here, sweetheart.” He waited until Sasha flew into his arms and then held him close, drawing him up and carrying him to the couch. He sat and held him, rocking him until the shuddering and sobs stopped. Yes, he was angry, and, yes, he was going to put a stop to this, but not tonight. Tonight he would simply be there for his lover.
Jerrett was good to Sasha, he held him and gave him every bit of support he needed. He made sure he was comforted and secure. The next morning he sat with Sasha at the breakfast table and cleared his throat. “Sasha, I know you care about Anthony. I understand why you went to see him. What I don’t understand is why you didn’t call me,” he said softly.
Sasha stared at his plate. “I…don’t know. I was so worried. He was so pale and lifeless. So unnatural for him to be so…so still. I couldn’t…couldn’t think about anything except that he’d done it because…because of me.”
Jerrett drummed his fingers on the table, once. “Yes, he did it for you. So you would get the message loud and clear. If he died, you’d live with the guilt for the rest of your life. If he lived, you would come running right to him.” He watched Sasha wince at the harsh words but the time to handle him like spun sugar was over. “Sasha, you didn’t call me because you knew I wouldn’t want you to go. This cry for attention is–” He stopped and took a breath. “I’m not heartless, but I’m not buying into this game. You choose who you want to be with.”
For a moment, Sasha fixated on the wrong part of his speech. Anthony had wanted to die; his letter had been so well-ordered and thorough, covering everything from what should happen to his swords to where his savings were to send to his mother. Not to make anyone feel guilty, either, but to make everyone else’s lives easier, at least as he saw it. Sasha knew all about suicide attempts for attention. He’d seen it often enough. This wasn’t one of those.
Suddenly the important part of what Jerrett had said sank in. “Choose?”
“Yes. Him or me, Sasha. What’s it going to be?”
A wave of ice washed down from Sasha’s scalp to his toes. Choose. Between them. Never see Anthony again or lose Jerrett forever. His sight wavered, he gripped the edge of the table as if he might pitch into some invisible abyss otherwise.
Then he caught himself and rose slowly, went upstairs, found his suitcase and packed a few necessities. When he came back down, he stood in front of Jerrett with the suitcase beside him, his voice so soft Jerrett had to lean forward to hear, a voice which sounded a thousand miles distant in his own ears.
“I can’t make decisions,” he began, his heart full of anguish and worry. “At least I’m not good at them. And they don’t come easy. I need some…space. To think. I can’t think like this. I’ll be at my place. Until I figure this out. I’m sorry, love. I’ve screwed everything up. And I don’t know what to tell you right now.”
He reached up and unfastened his collar to place it on the table. “A sub doesn’t make decisions. He has someone to do it for him. If you want me to do this myself, I have to be just me for a while.”
Jerrett nodded, he didn’t trust himself to speak. He watched Sasha turn and leave. The hurt was surprisingly sharp. Break-ups were something he usually took in stride. Even when Keit left him it had hurt, but not like this. He hadn’t cried since he was a six-year-old, and he wasn’t going to now, but he almost wished he could.
He didn’t pick up the collar, he left it on the table where Sasha had put it. It was eight o’clock in the morning and he wanted a drink. Well, Sasha was gone, there was no one he needed to stay sober for. Today he’d crawl into a bottle of cognac and tomorrow he’d move on.
Sasha, on the other hand, had no qualms about tears and no illusions about moving on. He sat in the cheerful front room of his apartment and cried until he made himself sick. The thoughts kept running in circles, he couldn’t get any closer to any sort of answer. He loved Jerrett with every fiber of his being but he wasn’t sure he could do what Jerrett needed him to do. He loved Anthony with the slow and tender fire only friendship and shared heartache could build and couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing him again.
He crawled under his sofa and ignored the phone the several times it rang.
The day after they heard about Anthony, Sasha didn’t show up for work. Keit called and got no answer at Jerrett’s or at Sasha’s. By evening, he really started to worry. A call to the hospital revealed Anthony was stable, no changes in his condition, and he hadn’t had any visitors all day.
Keit found Elric in the library. He knelt beside him and waited until he acknowledged him to speak. “Sir, I’m worried about Sasha. He hasn’t been to the hospital, and there isn’t any answer at Jerrett’s or his apartment. Would it be alright if I went to check on him?”
“Please do, herzchen,” the Prince leaned down to give him a soft kiss. “Things are not right. Not at all. His apartment key is on the rack in the kitchen. Just in case.”
Keit went to Jerrett’s first. After ten minutes pounding on the door, Jerrett finally answered. Keit didn’t think he’d ever seen Jerrett quite this drunk. He swore softly under his breath.
“Keit?” Jerrett took a second to focus on his face and reached out to stop him from weaving back and forth. “Did you come back to me, sweetie?”
Keit rolled his eyes and half walked, half stumbled with Jerrett back inside. “Jerrett, where’s Sasha?”
Jerrett flopped back onto the couch. “Gone.”
“Gone?” Keit repeated inanely. “Gone where?”
“I dunno. To figure out what he wants.” He waved a dismissive hand.
Keit tried not to grit his teeth. “What happened?”
“I told you, he left.” Jerrett had the remarkable ability to sound almost completely sober even when he was blind drunk. “I told him not to see his ex anymore, and he needed time to pick who he wants.” Jerrett snorted. “Can you believe that shit? Like I should sit an’ wait for him while he makes up his mind?”
Keit found this rather fitting karmic retribution for all the hearts this man had broken, but he didn’t say so. “Alright. Did he say where he was going?”
“Apartment.” Jerrett muttered, his eyes closed.
He started snoring softly and Keit threw up his hands in frustration. He headed to Sasha’s apartment. He knocked, and got no answer, so he used the key. “Sasha? Sasha, are you here?”
A soft, desperate whimper came from somewhere in the front room. It took Keit a few minutes to realize it came from under the couch.
“Sasha…?” Keit knelt down to look underneath. “Sasha, what…? Oh, honey, have you been under there all day? Can you come out?”
A shaking hand made its way out and Keit took that as an invitation. He grabbed hold and pulled gently until the rest of Sasha followed. Not a Sasha he would have recognized on the street, this one looked like a Dickensian waif, hair a rat’s nest, face and hands smudged with an unholy combination of tears and dust, eyes wide and staring.
He crawled to Keit, breathing ragged and tortured, as if he had been fighting hyperventilation for hours, and lay down with his head in Keit’s lap.
Keit was having a bit of trouble not hyperventilating himself. He petted Sasha with trembling hands. He reached for the phone in his pocket. He wanted to call Jerrett and bitch him out, but Jerrett probably wouldn’t answer and besides, he needed someone who could help. He called Elric.
“Sir,” he said when Elric answered. He had to clear his throat because it barely came out as a whisper. “Sir, Sasha’s not doing so good. I-I need your help, I think.”
“Calm, herzchen,” the Prince soothed. “Find something to cover him. Hold him tight. I von’t be long.”
True to his word, Elric arrived within fifteen minutes, Orion in tow. He found his boys on the floor, Sasha burrowed under an afghan and wrapped in Keit’s arms.
“So. Good. Vell done, mein herz.” He stopped to stroke Keit’s hair before he lifted the blanket to peer at Sasha. “Arme kind…poor boy. The anxiety takes hold almost like a seizure sometimes, all of his muscles tensed and spasming. Ve need only help him relex again.”
He took Sasha in his arms and began issuing soft orders. “Orion, put the box down and start the bath. Hot, though not scalding. Keit, süsse, start some tea. Orion hes chamomile in his box.”
Keit ended up stripping and getting in the tub with Sasha so he had someone to hold him and make sure he didn’t slip under. The heat of the water did seem to help unclench his tight muscles, as did Keit’s soothing hands.
When they got out Orion took over, wrapping Sasha in a big towel and helping him to dry off while Keit got himself dry.
While Orion carried Sasha to bed, Keit fetched tea and aspirin and reached the bedroom in time to see Elric wrapping a soft blanket tight around Sasha’s lower three-quarters, like swaddling, except with a full grown young man and the end result left his arms and head free. The Prince sat beside him on the bed, helped him drink and waited, for what, the other two had no idea.
“Sir?” Sasha finally whispered. “How long have you been here?”
Elric smiled. “Guten Abend, süsselein. It is good to hef you beck.” He smoothed a stray lock of hair from Sasha’s eyes. “Now, perheps you vill tell me vhat upset you so.”
Sasha sketched it out for him in short, halting sentences and ended with, “I’m supposed to choose. He said I had to choose. One or the other. How in the world can I do something like that?”
Keit fumed, silently because he didn’t want to upset Sasha again. Goddamn it! Why did Jerrett have to be such a jerk? “Sir…” he called softly to Elric. “I’ll be in the other room, if you need me.” He needed to remove himself before he said something he shouldn’t.
“Mein herr…” Orion rumbled and received a nod to go after Keit.
“Sasha, liebling,” Elric said softly. “This is not something I can do for you. Or answer for you. It is a hard thing he hes demanded of you. Perheps not a fair thing. But such demands might alvays be part of who he is, this man you chose freely to give yourself to.”
“Yessir. I…I know.” Sasha stared into his tea.
“You are a grown man, Sasha. Sometimes vone must choose. Betveen this and thet. Betveen love and duty. Home or a brighter future.” He gave Sasha a quirk of a smile. “Red vine or vhite.”
“It’s just so hard, sir. If I choose him, what happens to Anthony? If I choose Anthony, I’ll…” Sasha dropped his head into his hands.
“Perheps you should only concentrate on vhat you need most, my dear. You alvays vorry so about those around you. Neither choice vill be entirely heppy for you, I know. But if you must make a choice, think vhich leaves you more bereft in the long run.”
Sasha nodded, miserable still but calmer.
Keit paced in the living room. Not that there was a lot of room to pace, especially with Orion standing in the center of the room watching him, his head slowly pivoting back and forth.
“Little otter, you are distressed?”
Keit gave a curt nod.
“Is it because the minnow is upset?”
“It’s because Jerrett made him upset,” Keit answered. “He’s so damn selfish. Anthony is Sasha’s friend. He’s being a total jerk to make him choose between the two of them!”
“Did the panther not already choose for him?” Orion asked.
Keit stopped his pacing and looked at Orion. “Well, sort of. He told Sasha he didn’t want him to see Anthony anymore.”
Orion nodded. “And the minnow does not accept his decision.”
Keit waved an irritated hand. “That’s not the point. Jerrett doesn’t have to forbid him to see Anthony.”
“But he has,” Orion said placidly.
Keit drew in a deep breath and let it out. “He’s just jealous, Orion. Anthony isn’t going to hurt Sasha.”
“No. Maybe it is the panther who is hurt.”
Keit stared at him. He didn’t know what to say to that.
Sasha had appeared in the doorway, pale and hollow-eyed. “The big guy’s right. I’ve hurt Jerrett. I didn’t want to or mean to but I made it clear my heart was divided. I can’t do that to him anymore. I won’t just abandon Anthony, not while he’s in the hospital, but we’ll have to make things clear.”
“It sounds as if you hef made your choice, my dear,” the Prince offered softly.
“I have. I have to get dressed.”
“Um…” Keit looked at Sasha uncertainly. “Maybe…maybe you should wait til tomorrow, Sash.” When he saw that wasn’t going to be enough of an explanation, he continued with a sigh. “He was really, really drunk when I left him.”
Jerrett at that moment was wishing he were dead. He’d woken up still drunk and it was one of those rare occasions where the alcohol he’d consumed decided to rebel on him. He lay shivering and moaning on the cold tile bathroom floor.
God he missed Sasha. Had it only been one day? Not even a full twenty-four hours. Pathetic. What was worse, he was getting all maudlin. Maybe he should just call the boy, ask him to come back. Fuck it, he didn’t care if he wanted to see his damn ex. He just wanted Sasha back.
Where was the damn phone? He tried to get up and his stomach lurched to the right. He heaved into the toilet again. Fuck.
He managed to wash his face at the sink. Weaving his way out of the bathroom he clipped the door jam and went sprawling. God dammit. Where was that fuckin phone? The room wouldn’t stop spinning long enough for him to get up, so he crawled through the bedroom.
“Oh,” Sasha’s new-found confidence deflated a bit. Oh, sweet mother…he’d hurt Jerrett badly enough that he’d gotten completely trashed in the middle of the day.
“And you may vish to be better rested, too,” the Prince added. “You are exhausted, my dear, and, if you vill pardon me, you hef looked better.”
The phone rang and Keit had to suppress the urge to pounce on it. He knew, just knew it was Jerrett. Even though Sasha seemed to have made up his mind, Keit still wanted to tell Jerrett what an asshole he was being.
Even if he had jumped for the phone, it was a pretty sure bet Sasha would have beat him to it. He fumbled it off the hook and stammered Jerrett’s name.
“Sasha, come home.” Jerrett sounded hoarse and tired. “Just come home. I don’t care if you want to see that lunatic. I just want you.”
Oh, my poor Jerrett… “I’m coming, love. I was just on my way,” Sasha said softly. He glanced around at the expectant faces as he hung up. He explained even as he rushed to get some clothes on. “He’s asking me to come home. He says he doesn’t care anymore. About MA.”
Dressed and ready in thirty seconds flat, Sasha turned at the door. “Thank you all for coming. Thank you for everything.” Then he was gone.
Keit shook his head. Some things didn’t change. Jerrett snapped his fingers and the pretty boys came running.
At the house, Sasha careened to a stop in the drive and dashed inside. Something in Jerrett’s voice had yanked at his heart and he felt nearly frantic by the time he arrived. “Jerrett?” he called softly as he rushed from room to room turning on the lights.
He found him in the bedroom, sprawled on the floor, the phone still in his hand as if he couldn’t bear to let that connection go.
“My poor love,” Sasha murmured and knelt beside him to stroke his hair. Unshaven and un-showered, Jerrett looked rough and smelled worse but he couldn’t possibly have cared less. “Jerrett? Can you hear me? We need to try to get you to bed.”
“Baby?” Jerrett smiled a sleepy, drunken smile up at him. “You came back.” Instead of giving in to Sasha’s urging, he pulled him down, wrapped his arms around him from behind and held onto him while he buried his nose at the nape of his neck. “Mmm…” he purred contentedly.
A happy little laugh bubbled up in Sasha’s chest before he could help it. That deep purr vibrating against him again simply felt too damn good. He turned in Jerrett’s arms so he could hold him and stroke a hand along his stubble-bristled face.
“Yes, I came back. I’m sorry I hurt you, love. I’m back.” He wanted to say so much more but he had the feeling anything important would be wasted at the moment with a good chance Jerrett wouldn’t remember in the morning. “Let me help you to bed. We can snuggle there. And it’ll be better when you wake up tomorrow not feeling so good.”
Jerrett somehow made it into bed, though he didn’t really remember the journey.
In the Prince’s kitchen, Elric leaned against the counter while Orion and Keit put away the little box of supplies they had brought to Sasha’s. They both turned to him when he let out a little bark of laughter.
“The turnings of the human mind never cease to amaze me, herzchen,” he began with a little shake of his head. “Here ve hef two personalities, opposite in every vay, driven apart by a knot of jealousy and hurt vhich they might only undo avay from each other. And vhat heppens? These two so very different people come to the same conclusion, almost in the same moment: I no longer care vhat or who else is in our lives, I cennot live vithout you.”
“Mm, I just hope Jerrett remembers that when he’s sober,” Keit said.
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.
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.