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 ‘Quinn’
** 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.
“Bran?” Derelict called from the front closet while he retrieved his coat. “Would you be OK if I stopped at Vincent’s after work?”
He shrugged into the leather and blinked when he turned to find Brandon right behind him. “Honesty being the best policy all around, right?” He kissed the end of Brandon’s nose and then dipped lower for taste of those luscious lips, decorated with a bit of strawberry jam from breakfast.
“Sure, Der. You don’t have to ask,” Brandon said. Then he realized he might be asking for another reason. He expected a rush of jealousy to hit but it didn’t. Instead a vivid image of Drew spread out on the bed while Der took him from behind rose in his memory. “Say hi to Drew for me.”
Der gave him an odd look, then he chuckled. “I’ll bring you along next time. Just asking in case you weren’t feeling too good today. And wanted me home earlier. And…” He stopped and blinked on a sudden realization. “I think I’ll just feel better if you know where I am.”
Brandon kissed him again, a soft caress of lips. “Okay. I’ll see you later tonight, then.”
Whistling to himself, Der swaggered down the stairs, feeling a bit on the cock-of-the-walk side that morning. By the time he’d finished the panel van he’d been working on and it was time to knock off work, he didn’t feel nearly as confident.
As he drove to Vincent’s house, the knot in his stomach grew. What if Drew was upset? What if he…well, Drew didn’t usually burst into tears in front of people. What if Jonathan was upset…now there was an odd thought.
He found them all in the living room, comfortable and relaxed, with Drew snuggled in Vincent’s lap. “Boys, I need to talk to you. To all of you,” Der began and cleared his throat before his voice could crack. “But I’d like to talk to Drew first, please, if I could.”
It was unusual enough that Der would announce he wanted to talk about something instead of just saying it, but that he did so and then wanted to talk to Drew first, not Vincent, was so unusual Drew immediately felt a knot form in his stomach.
Drew rose slowly, almost warily. “What’s the matter Der?” he asked. Der took his hand and led him down the hall to his room, and Drew felt his anxiety grow with each step.
Once he’d closed the door, Derelict swept him up in his arms to hold him since all the color had drained from his face. “Sugar bear, it’s nothing horrible. I just…I have some news and I’m not sure how the news will be received. Not…well, it’s like this…”
He sat down on the bed with a huff, Drew in his lap. “I’ve been a free agent for a bit now and I thought I was happiest that way. Not that I’m getting engaged again or anything so scary as that. But Brandon.” He had to stop chasing his tail and get on with it. “I asked Brandon to move in with me, with the understanding that there are other people in my life and he agreed and he did and now he is, living with me, that is.”
“You…y-you…” Drew took a breath. “Der, it…it’s a little, um…” He stopped. Telling Der it was too soon or he was going too fast was more than a little hypocritical. He lifted his eyes to Der’s and he was still for a few moments. “I want you to be happy, Der,” he said, hardly more than a whisper. “But I don’t want to lose you.”
Der pulled him into a fierce embrace. “You won’t, you won’t. This is why I had such a hard time telling you. I love you, sugar bear. I don’t want to lose you, either.”
Drew wrapped his arms around Der’s neck tightly and buried his face at the side of his throat. He did want Der to be happy. He so did. Even though Der was a free spirit Drew also knew at times there was aching loneliness inside him. A loneliness Drew could only sometimes fill. Maybe Brandon could fill that lonely place better. “I love you, too.” Drew breathed. “Is Brandon… he knows, he said it’s ok, for you to still see us?”
“I’ve been very honest this time, sugar bear,” Der answered against his hair. “With him and with myself. Laid it all out on the slab. He knows, he’s good with it. We’ve agreed on rules and regs. But it’s not like it was with Tam or with Georgie where I made promises I couldn’t keep.”
Drew lifted his head and kissed Der lightly. This was supposed to be good news. And it was. How could being in love be bad news? And Drew was not losing him. He caressed his hand over Der’s cheek. He wasn’t unhappy, he just had a hard time with change. It scared him. But Der had done a good job with reassurances. Drew would still worry, but he wasn’t going to panic.
“You should tell Vince and Jonathan. They’re probably wondering what’s going on in here.”
“I know, hon. But I wanted to tell you first, like this. So you could ask anything you needed to ask.” He picked Drew up again and carried him back to the living room. Not necessary, of course, but he wanted Drew in his arms at that moment.
He repeated his news, with Drew still in his lap, and was met by a long moment’s silence.
“Oh.” Jonathan finally got out with his eyes on the carpet. His voice shook as he said, “So that means we’re finally getting rid of you, you big nuisance?”
“No, beloved, I don’t think Der’s saying goodbye.” Vincent patted his knee, not fooled one bit. “My troubadour, I don’t enjoy saying this but do you think this is a good idea?”
“You know, I feel like I’m having the same conversation over and over again.” Der rolled his eyes.
“Perhaps there’s a reason for that,” Vincent said on a little shake of his head. “You’re obviously in love. We’re happy for you. But forgive us if we worry. And if some of us are sad that things might change.”
“It’s not…” Der stopped and pieced his next words together rather than just blurting things out. “It’s not like I’m breaking up with you. Like you said, I’m not saying goodbye. It’s more a matter of asking you to add Brandon to the family.”
A quiet fell over them all. Their ordered little world was being shuffled and that caused some discomfort, in particular because Drew had already broken rules and created such grief when he’d slept with Brandon and Der. They knew Der didn’t exactly mean he was asking them to share their bed with Brandon, but in a way he was. Jonathan and Drew were quiet, waiting for Vince to speak first.
“Not all of us move at the speed of light, dearheart,” Vincent said softly. “We love you. If you reach a place where things aren’t…good any longer, we will be here still. You understand that?”
Der nodded, gray eyes fixed on Vincent.
“We will proceed slowly,” he went on. “And Brandon is certainly welcome. He is our hero, after all, despite other things that may have happened. But please don’t expect me to allow him in my bed quite yet.”
Der, for once, looked like he didn’t know what to say. Drew kissed his cheek. “I knew you liked him a lot, Der. I didn’t know you loved him so much.”
“I didn’t know either until I almost lost him,” Der said softly.
Jonathan buried his head in his hands and burst into tears.
For once, no one mistook where the outburst came from. Vincent pulled Jonathan into his arms. Jonathan knew very well about not realizing you loved someone until you almost lost them.
Der set Drew aside and settled on the sofa to stroke Jonathan’s back. “I’m sorry, pretty Jon. I didn’t mean to bring up anything that would hurt you.”
Strange how that little phrase, once meant to annoy Jonathan, had turned into an endearment. Jonathan nodded, though he still sobbed for a bit, arms wrapped tight around Vincent as if he might disappear otherwise.
“Sh, beloved, it’s all right now.” Vincent kissed the top of that dark, curly head and reached over to pat Der’s hand. “He’s certainly a better choice for you than some I won’t mention. I hope it works out better this time.”
Der thumped his fist against his chest in a Roman gladiator salute. “It shall, oh Prince of Night, or I’ll crawl back here and beg Jonathan to beat me.”
Brandon spent the day cleaning. Not that he needed to, things were already pretty clean, but he had to do something. Sitting around all day was going to make him crazy. He was not an invalid, still a little slow and sore, but he could move. He had even driven to his apartment and packed a few things. Nothing big, just some clothes and necessities.
Der’s apartment was a little smaller, but in a better location, and Brandon’s did not allow pets so it had been an easy decision. By the time Bran had gotten back he was amazed how tired he was from just doing that little bit. Laying around was not good for him. He fought against the urge to take a pain pill and a nap and instead set about slowly and methodically scrubbing the shower, tub, and sink. He finished cleaning the already clean bathroom and then decided he might as well make Der dinner.
He didn’t fool himself that he was as good a cook as Der, but he could throw something edible together. He settled on spaghetti. If Der got home really late that was a good bet to re-heat. He set the sauce to simmering and then decided he couldn’t have spaghetti without garlic bread, so he headed to the store. This turned out to be a mistake.
He realized before he even got to the grocery down the street that he was pushing it too hard. By the time he paid and walked the two blocks back to the apartment he was wondering if he was actually going to make it or not. The stairs were a daunting obstacle, but he gritted his teeth and forced himself up. His fingers shook as he unlocked the door, and he set the loaf of bread and fresh garlic down on the counter, no longer thinking about anything but lying down.
He switched off the stove and headed for the couch where he curled on his side with all three of the kitties around him.
Der made his way home before six-thirty, a nagging worry at the back of his brain. What he saw when he came into his living room didn’t relieve the worry one bit.
“Bran? Gods…are you OK?” He went to one knee to put a hand to Brandon’s forehead. “You’re so pale…and cold.”
Brandon managed a wan, sickly smile. “Hi, sweetheart,” he murmured. “Did too much today, I think. I’m alright, just tired.” Exhausted, beat down in the dirt exhausted. Why did pain take so much of one’s energy? “You’re home early.”
“I wanted to get home to you. I had this…feeling.” He shook his head as he smoothed Brandon’s hair back. Then he slid his arms underneath and lifted Brandon gingerly. “Up you come, Mr. I-Can-Do-It-All-Myself. I’m taking you to bed.”
“Mm, okay,” Brandon murmured. “I made dinner, if you’re hungry. Just needs to be warmed up.”
“That was a really sweet thought, hon. And I appreciate it. But maybe hold off on that kind of stuff another few days, don’t you think?” Der settled him on the bed and tucked him in. He lifted Tamerlane’s fluffy bulk up next. “Mr. Lane will keep you warm. I’ll be back in a little.”
Der hurried to the kitchen to make sure nothing was on the stove or in the oven burning. Not that he should have worried about that. He lived with a freaking firefighter, for gods’ sakes. The man knew to turn off the appliances. But if Brandon continued to be so listless, he wasn’t sure he should wait the night out with him before calling the doctor.
When Der returned to the bedroom Brandon was asleep. Der did not want to disturb him so he went to the living room, though he did check on Brandon every ten minutes or so. He seemed to be sleeping peacefully, his chest rising and falling with deep, even breaths.
About an hour had gone by when Der went to check on him again and Brandon was just waking up. He smiled at Der in the doorway. “My guardian angel watching over me?” He said, sitting up. He stopped suddenly, and then moved more gingerly. Oh yeah, he’d really overdone it. He could feel it all down his side. He was trying to go easy on the pain meds, but he needed some.
He looked up at Der’s worried face. “Ok, you were right. Too much too fast.”
Der eased onto the edge of the bed and took his hand. “There’s times I’d be happy to say I told you so. This is so not one of them. I’m gonna get you a little to eat. You shouldn’t take the meds on an empty stomach. Then you’re gonna see if you can’t go to sleep for the night. I’ll turn in early, too, and there’s no work for me tomorrow so I’m off until Monday.”
The pain on Brandon’s face yanked at his heart. “Easy, hon. Hang on for me a few minutes. It’ll be OK.”
He hurried to the kitchen and finished the job Brandon had started earlier, though he kept a piece of toast plain in case he couldn’t eat the garlic. Meds and all went on the bed tray and he hurried back.
Brandon let Der fuss over him, he hadn’t a choice really, and he didn’t mind. Both the food and the painkiller helped a great deal and he started to feel a little less strained. By the time Der was patting his lips with a napkin he was feeling that pleasant lassitude that came with the opiates in his system, which also had the effect of loosening his tongue.
“You are the most beautiful nurse ever, you know that?” He asked with a little grin that felt silly on his face, but he couldn’t help it. “Can I get you to dress up in a sexy little outfit? With the stockings and the little hat?” he teased.
Der put the tray down on the floor. “If it would help you get better I’d even put on the stiletto heels for you.” He leaned in to kiss Brandon softly. “Seriously, do you like drag? Or are you just feeling giddy?”
“My guilty pleasure. I don’t like over the top campy, not usually anyway, but I like a touch of androgyny,” Brandon answered, his hand caressing lightly up and down Der’s thigh.
Der laughed. “So the mascara was actually a turn-on. Good to know.” He caught Brandon’s wandering hand. “But not tonight, handsome. You need to sleep. And I do mean the Morpheus sort rather than the sleeping-with sort.”
“Are you sure? I’m feeling much better…” Brandon said, grinning.
“That would be the pain meds talking, bucko,” Der tapped the end of his nose. The smile vanished as he went on, “When I came home I was wondering if I’d have to call in reinforcements. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings but you looked really bad.”
Brandon kissed his fingertip. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m okay. Really. Just tired.” He paused. “So, how did it go, over at Vince’s?”
“All in all, really well.” Der rose to slide out of his jeans and t-shirt and into bed beside him. “Drew was a little upset until I told him I wasn’t going anywhere. Jonathan cried but only ‘cause I said something stupid. And Vincent is cautiously optimistic. He likes you, he just takes a while to really warm up to people.”
Brandon chuckled softly as he curled to Der’s side. “I’d say it’s sort of like being under the scrutiny of your family, only if they were your brothers it would just be so wrong.”
“You are one sick puppy,” Der said on a snort. “I like that in a man.”
“Mm,” was Brandon’s sleepy reply. A moment later he was asleep again, a faint trace of a smile still on his lips.
A few days later, Der was in the kitchen, happily working with dough for a pie crust, flour on his hands, his clothes and in his hair. Brandon was finishing a shower, alone, since he was much steadier and stronger than he had been earlier in the week and Der had ceased his hovering.
Brandon dried himself carefully and was pulling on a pair of track pants when the doorbell rang.
“Can you get that, hon?” Der called from the kitchen. “I’m an unholy mess right now.”
Brandon’s lips quirked. It sounded so Ward and June Cleaver-ish, Der asking him to get the door while he made pastry. He opened the door and found himself staring into the most gorgeous, dark-honey colored eyes.
“Hello.” Ethan said with a smile. If he was surprised at having the door answered by someone else, a someone else who had obviously just come from the shower, he gave no outward sign. “Is Derek home?” he asked, politely ignoring that he was being checked out.
Brandon snapped out of it. “Oh, um, yeah. Come on in. I’m Brandon, by the way.”
Ethan shifted the carry crate to his left hand and took the one that was offered to him, introducing himself. “Brandon? Would you be the same Brandon who rescues kittens and Der has been so worried about?”
Brandon smiled a slightly self-conscious grin that made Ethan instantly see what had made Der all weak in the knees when he talked about him. “I suppose that would be me.”
“Ah, then you might be interested in what I have here,” Ethan said, indicating the crate as they moved farther into the apartment.
Der came out of the kitchen drying his hands on a towel. “Ethan!”
“Hi, sweetheart.” Ethan smiled at him and caught him up in a hug as he set the carry crate down on the sofa. “Guess who I brought to see you?” He asked, as he let him go and went to open the door of the crate. A familiar gray bundle came out at Ethan’s coaxing.
Der had taken care of the kitten Brandon had rescued for a few days while the family she belonged to was getting situated and Brandon was still in the hospital. When her owner had moved in with family, Ethan had been the one who picked her up and took her back to them.
“It looks like the new apartment they’re moving into doesn’t allow pets. The little girl was really upset, but they can’t keep her. So, her mother called to see if I would take her. I thought I’d ask you first,” Ethan explained.
“Smoke! Psst, psst, come here, sweetie pie,” Der called and the gray fluff ball skittered to him, tripping over her own feet, all kitten-clumsy eagerness. She climbed his denim clad leg and mewed pitiably until he had her cuddled in his arms. “It’s so nice to see you again.”
Elektra stalked up to give kitten and Der a rather disgruntled sniff and sneeze.
“What? Don’t you want her back?” Der asked his Queen of Cats.
“Oh. She won’t smell funny for too long.”
“Elektra says she can stay.” Der looked up at Ethan. “But…does Quinn want her? I mean, I do have a tribe already and he loves kitties, too.”
Brandon came up behind Der, one hand touching him lightly while the other reached to stroke between the kitten’s ears and under her chin. “Hm, I don’t know how she managed not to get crushed,” he mused as the little ball of fur started purring.
Ethan looked from Der to Brandon and back. “Maybe Brandon would want to take her home?”
“Um, about that…” Der managed to raise his head to meet Ethan’s eyes. “See, handsome, I was going to tell you. Things have been a little hectic.” He let out a slow breath when Ethan gave him a ‘yes, and?’ look. “Brandon is home. Here. With me.”
The surprise Ethan hadn’t shown when Brandon opened the door was unmistakable on his handsome features now. “Oh…” he said, for once not knowing exactly what to say. He recovered quickly though, his eyes traveling over the wonderfully sculpted body standing next to Der. He smiled; a charming, heart-melting smile that definitely created cardiac palpations. “Oh. Well, congratulations are in order then.”
Ethan’s smile widened when Der relaxed several degrees. “Am I the last to know, or the first?”
“Neither,” Der answered. “”I already talked to Vince and the boys though.”
“Ah, good.” Ethan said. “Vincent gave the appropriate admonishments to be careful, Drew worried over you, and Jonathan shed just enough tears, I take it?”
Der blinked and then burst out laughing. “You got it.”
Ethan moved closer to them, his large comforting hand coming to rest on Brandon’s shoulder. “Let me be the first to welcome you into the circle of friends, then. And since no one else is likely to give you the warning, if you hurt our Der, I will personally kick your ass. Capiche?”
Brandon smiled, though it was slightly more nervous than it had been. “My plan is to make him so happy he doesn’t have time to wise up and dump me.”
Ethan grinned. “Good plan.”
Der put Smoke down so he could hug Ethan tight. “Thank you. For making everything so easy.” When he backed up, flour decorated the front of Ethan’s shirt. “Oops, sorry. And you didn’t answer my question. You think he’d want the baby? Where is our lovely Quinn anyway?”
“Quinn’s at work, extra hours this week. I’m picking him up,” Ethan answered.
“Der,” Brandon gently interrupted before Ethan could answer the other questions. “I know you’ve already got a bunch, but can’t we keep her?” Brandon had sat down on the couch and the her in question had already climbed into his lap and was busy making muffins on his thigh.
“The man’s gone all sentimental on me,” Der said with a tender smile. “Of course we can keep her, hon. I just wanted to be sure Quinn didn’t have his heart set on her but if he did, I guess Ethan wouldn’t be asking.”
“Well, he did risk his own neck for her, I suppose it’s only fitting he keep her,” Ethan said. He picked up the cat carrier again. “Sorry to drop a kitten and run, but I need to go get Quinn.”
Brandon and Ethan made polite goodbyes, Ethan telling him to stay where he was with his new friend, and then Der walked with him to the door.
“Why don’t you and Quinn come back for dinner?” Der offered.
“Sounds good.” Ethan said, dusting at the fingerprints still on his shirt and laughed. “Since I’m already wearing some of it.”
Der opened the door for him and Ethan leaned in to kiss him goodbye without thinking, as he usually did. He left to go get Quinn and told him they would be back in a half hour or so.
Der returned to the living room where Brandon was still holding Smoke on his lap. Brandon had seen that kiss, and it didn’t take a genius to guess they were more than a little familiar with each other. He had thought seeing his boyfriend kiss someone else like that would have make him all kinds of jealous, but he wasn’t really. A bit uncomfortable, yes…enough to avoid Der’s eyes.
“Bran?” Der tilted his head to try and catch Brandon’s gaze. No luck.
He settled on the edge of the couch. “OK, now, here’s the part where you tell me what’s going on in your head and ask any questions you need to.” When Brandon still hesitated, he said gently, “I’m not going to babble about Ethan if you don’t want to hear it. But I don’t want you stewing over things either.”
“I’m not stewing.” Brandon said, although he said it with a little smile rather than defensively. “I just…it was a little unexpected.” He finally turned on the couch so he could look at Der. “Made me think about how many other gorgeous guys are going to walk through the door and kiss you like they belong here.”
That sounded bad, and Brandon knew it. “I’m not jealous, exactly…” he added quickly. “I mean, I didn’t get that feeling like I wanted to go rip his hands off for touching you or something.” He chuckled weakly. “Maybe a little. Reflex reaction. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, love.” Der lifted a hand to stroke his cheek. “There aren’t really that many. Truly. And now you’ve met them all except two. One of them you’ll meet when Ethan comes back and the other…well, we’ll have to arrange an audience.”
Brandon turned his head slightly to kiss Der’s hand. “So, tell me about them, so next time it won’t be a surprise.”
Der let out a little chuckle, part amusement, part embarrassment that he had let Brandon be surprised like this. “When Ethan comes back, he’ll have Quinn Delgado with him, his lovely live-in. Quinn’s…he sees the world differently. To say he’s blind is a gross misnomer. He just doesn’t see with his eyes anymore. He’s definitely Ethan’s, all the way through, but he’s not some prissy little pretty boy. Call him pretty and he’ll probably slug you.”
He shifted to take Brandon in his arms. “The Prince, though, you’ll just have to meet, I think. He’s…difficult to explain and I think I’d rather let you draw your own conclusions.”
“The Prince? Why do you call him that?”
“Because, my love, he is. You’d never mistake him for anything else. The urge to fall to your knees for him isn’t unusual. Elric von Melnibone, our own local royalty, our prince in exile.” Der laughed. “But I promised to let you draw your own conclusions and here I am feeding you preconceptions anyway.”
Brandon patted his leg. “Alright, I’ll be good and won’t ask for more.” He leaned over and kissed Der, once softly on the lips, and then a deeper kiss full of hunger. “Not for information anyway.” He said on a huskier note. With a sigh he got up. “I better go get dressed if we’re having company for dinner.”
While Brandon went to do that, Der got up and went to the kitchen to finish his preparations. Almost half an hour later exactly Ethan returned with Quinn.
“Hey, sweetpea!” Der called as he came out of the kitchen.
Quinn let go of Cricket’s harness and used Der’s voice to bound to him and throw himself into his arms. “Hey, trouble, how’s it hanging?”
“With bells on,” Der said with a grin. “You hungry? I hear they’ve been working you too hard.”
“Oh, hell, no. It’s not hard. The work that is. And, yeah, for your cooking, I’m starving.” He planted a hard kiss on Der’s lips. “But I hear we’re kinda celebrating, right? So where is this dog who’s got you all wrapped around his finger?”
Brandon hadn’t said a word or moved from where he stood but Quinn turned unerringly towards him, hand extended. “Brandon, right? They had you on TV and shit.”
“Hm, I suppose they did,” Brandon said as he took Quinn’s hand. His handshake was firm, and real, not the too careful sort of thing Quinn sometimes got from people who were uncomfortable with his blindness. “Are you going to threaten to kick my ass if I hurt him too, then?”
“If you hurt our Der, I’ve got a baseball bat with your name on it,” Quinn said with a bright smile, which abruptly faded into a puzzled frown. “Too? Der, did someone threaten your fireman?”
Ethan gave a semi-embarrassed little cough. “I was joking, sweetheart,” he answered for Der.
“Uh-huh.” Quinn’s eyes narrowed. “You oughta be ashamed of yourself, McFarland. Probably gave the guy a heart attack. Built like a freaking wreaking crane and you think people are gonna take it as a joke when you say things like that?”
He turned back to Brandon and patted his shoulder before Ethan had a chance to respond. “It’s OK. He really is just a big teddy bear. Most of the time. I’ve only been there once when he went after somebody and that dude deserved it. Big time.”
They sat down to dinner not too long after, and Brandon enjoyed getting to know them both a little. They were a cute couple. Ethan was smoking hot, Quinn was beautiful, although thanks to Der he wouldn’t make the mistake of telling him so. It was more than that though, there was a connection between them that was sweet, they were both so obviously in love with one another.
Eventually the conversation got around to how they had met and then on to people they knew. Cody and Vic and what they were up to lately, in particular Cody’s latest artwork. Xavier and Dave, and how they were doing. Vince and Jonathan and Drew and what was happening in their world. As the conversation continued Brandon got an idea of how close knit a group of friends Der had, and how many (a whole lot.)
Quinn was hardly silent, he told stories and asked questions and teased Ethan when the big man got too serious, but his ears were wide open. He absorbed every nuance and inflection of Brandon’s conversation, all the things said and not said.
Wary and suspicious at the best of times, he’d been ready to weigh Der’s latest with every scale he had, ready to find fault or flaw. Hard as he tried, he couldn’t find a thing wrong with the man. A little shy, maybe, a little more modest than he was used to, but, dammit, he found himself liking Brandon.
He helped Der clear the dishes while Brandon, who was sounding a little tired, went to the living room to chat with Ethan.
“Well? Do you like keeping me in suspense, sweetpea?” Der nudged his ribs.
“What the hell are you talking about, you nutcase?” Quinn said on a snort.
“What do you think?”
Quinn poked a finger at Der’s chest. “You’ve got a lot of nerve taking in strange men we’ve never met before.”
“It’s not like he was a stray,” Der said in a small voice. “He came with papers and shots and everything.”
“He’s a nice man, Der.” Quinn gave him a little smile. “You make sure you take care of him and we’ll let you keep him.”
Der’s long arms wrapped around him for a hard hug. “Thank you.”
Brandon sat on the edge of the bed with a small amused smile as he watched Der fussing over clothes. He held items up and examined them, asking Elektra’s opinion. Brandon was already dressed, ready to go for twenty minutes, but he certainly didn’t mind watching Der wandering around naked as he tried to decide what to wear.
He had to admit, the low rise leather pants coupled with a body-hugging, sleeveless shirt in a dark rust color was worth the wait. He looked good. Mouthwatering actually. His expression said as much.
Der topped it off with a waist-length black jacket trimmed in black braid, changed out one of his plain hoops for a pendant dragon earring with ruby eyes and called it done.
“Ready?” he asked with a bright smile and tucked Brandon’s hand into the crook of his elbow when he rose. His heart banged against his ribs but he wasn’t going to let it show.
Brandon rose slowly, more out of habit now than any real stiffness or pain. Better to be careful. He was mostly healed, but the scars were still pink and tender. He smiled at Der and stopped him, kissing him softly just because he could. He didn’t really understand why Der was so nervous. He hadn’t been like this introducing him to any of his other friends, but he’d said this one was special.
Brandon wasn’t sure he liked all the mystery, but he was trying to behave and didn’t force Der to tell him more.
It was a nice day, and a nice drive. The house they pulled up in front of Brandon remembered. It was where Vincent and the boys had stayed after the fire. He didn’t have the most pleasant of memories of his only brief visit here, to tell Drew that Susan Reed had hanged herself. He tried to push those thoughts away as they walked up to the door.
The remarkably lovely, copper-haired boy who opened the door wore painted-on pvc pants, a little blue velvet collar and nothing else.
“He’s just finished up his appointments, Der,” Sasha said with a shy smile. “He said you should wait in the library and he’d be right down.”
Der paced as they waited, pretending to look over the vast array of books lining the dark oak shelves. The Prince didn’t keep them waiting long, though, and soon swept in, a vision in silver leather and silk.
“Mein Schatz, you hef kept yourself avay too much lately.” Elric held out his hands and waited for Der to come and kiss his cheek. Then his red eyes traveled up and down Brandon. “Though I certainly see the reason.”
If Brandon was at all disconcerted, either by Elric’s appearance or his frank appraisal, he gave absolutely no sign. He looked as completely at ease as he always did, his smile warm and friendly, the quiet confidence that had first attracted Der firmly in place. He extended his hand in greeting, which Elric took. “Hello, pleased to meet you,” Brandon said in his soft, polite way.
“My Prince, this is Brandon Grant, about whom I’ve spoken.” Der put a gentle hand on Brandon’s shoulder. “Bran, this is our Prince, Elric von Melnibone.”
“My dear, he understates,” Elric said with a twitch of a smile. “He hes not spoken about you, he hes rhapsodized. I do hope you are feeling better these days? I’m afraid your vork mishep nearly caused Derelict to hef a nervous collapse.”
Brandon’s lips twitched. Work mishap? He liked that. “Yes, I’m much better. Got a good caretaker.”
“I doubt you could find better,” Elric allowed with a little chuckle. “Come, sit. Be comfortable.”
Sasha glided in to pour tea when everyone had settled and slipped out again without a word. Formalities seen to, the Prince sat back and coaxed conversation from his guests, small, polite things at first.
Eventually Brandon asked the question he knew would come. “If you don’t think I’m rude asking, what do you do?”
Elric put his cup and saucer on the table to lean his head on his fist. He regarded Brandon steadily for a few moments, wondering how much the young man knew and how experienced he was. Ah, well, he was an adult and obviously no babe in the woods.
“I am a professional Dom, my dear,” he answered softly. “Of the bondage and discipline variety. Part counselor, part coach, part tyrant, I suppose.”
Brandon’s eyebrows rose just a fraction. He tried hard not to look at Der, but he couldn’t help a glance. He was not surprised at all to note that Der was watching him with way too much feigned casualness. He wanted to laugh at that expression but didn’t because he was afraid it might be misconstrued. He could not stop his mouth from curling into a grin though. “Der, relax. What did you think? I’d go screaming off into the night holding my wounded modesty?” He chuckled.
Der ducked his head, a scarlet flush creeping up his throat, a small pang of hurt lodged in his chest. Not that he truly thought Brandon was making fun of him–
“Perheps he hes been anxious thet you may reach your limit,” Elric said in that same cool, soft tone. “Every person hes a step they cannot go beyond.”
Brandon reached for Der’s hand and gave it a squeeze, regretting that he’d teased him. His smile softened and then took on a more serious cast, as he had the thought that maybe it wasn’t whether or not he’d accept the Prince as his friend, but whether or not he’d accept something about himself.
“Der?” He waited until Der looked at him. “Is there something you thought I wouldn’t like about Elric, or were you worried about something else?”
“I–” Der’s gaze dropped again though he turned his hand to lace his fingers with Brandon’s. “Of course I want you to like each other. And, yes, I’ve been terrified you might not like some of my friends. Or the other way around.” He took a slow breath to slow his babbling.
He leaned in to kiss Brandon’s forehead. “But I wasn’t sure, I’m still not sure, how much you can accept. That I’ve been the Prince’s pupil, and his lover from time to time, and all that entails.”
Brandon started to say the automatic response that came to his lips, that it didn’t matter what Der was into, he’d still love him. Which was very true, but what stopped him from saying so was the thought that maybe Der needed him to see that he would accept Der no matter what. More than that, he wanted to know all Der’s likes and dislikes…and he knew that he’d been holding some things back.
“Well,” Brandon began carefully. “Do you want me to know what ‘all that entails’?”
“Yes,” Der got out in a small, hushed voice.
Elric allowed a hint of a smile. “Vould you like to see my vorkspace then, my dear, since you hef been so kind as to inqvire?”
Workspace? “Um, ok,” Brandon answered.
They rose as one and Elric led the way to the dungeon.
Brandon was bemused but respectful as the Prince showed him various contraptions and implements. His mind turned things rapidly over, though. He was well acquainted with Der’s toy drawer but the restraints and blindfolds were pretty tame compared to an entire basement dedicated to BDSM. He watched for Der’s reactions almost as much as what Elric showed him, but Der was quiet and watchful himself, not giving anything away. Brandon couldn’t tell if there was one particular thing more than another that did it for Der.
At least until they reached a complex mechanism of chains and pulleys. Suspension, the Prince said and described how it worked. Der stood hipshot, seemingly relaxed, but as he gazed up his breath caught and his eyes slid shut on a little shiver.
Brandon, of course, missed nothing. “This is what you like?” he asked Der quietly, making sure his tone could not be construed as judgmental in any way.
Der nodded, bottom lip caught carefully between his sharp teeth.
“For you, or for who you’re with?” Brandon asked.
“There are–” Der heaved a long breath. “Lots of things here I like for someone else but this would be for me.”
“Oh,” Brandon said wittily.
“If you like I could show you,” Elric offered. “Both the mechanism and vhat it does to Derelict.”
“Sure,” Brandon answered. “I mean, if Der wants to.”
The corners of Elric’s eyes crinkled in amusement. “And do you vant to, herzchen?”
“Yes,” Der whispered. “Oh, please, yes.”
“So.” The Prince moved away to gather things from the wall. “If you vould undress him for me, please. There are hooks over there for his clothes.”
Brandon turned to Der slowly. He felt a little strange about this. They had talked about the whole ‘sharing’ thing, and Brandon had decided he was okay with it, but still he couldn’t help but feel a little weird undressing his Der in front of someone else. He knew he was making Der worry and gave him a little smile he hoped looked reassuring.
His hand’s moved to the small buttons of Der’s shirt and he kissed him softly as he began to undo them.
Der’s return kiss gathered heat as Brandon slipped his hands under the shirt and slid both shirt and jacket from his shoulders. He poured his love and his passion for him into that kiss, reassurance mingled with his growing arousal.
“No cuffs today, I think.” Elric’s voice drifted back to them as he laid items out on his table. “I hef concerns still over the recent injury to your lung.”
“Yessir,” Der murmured, his hands guiding Brandon’s to the button fly of his skin-tight leathers.
Brandon finished undressing Der unhurriedly. When he stood in all his naked beauty he ran a light hand down his chest, his hand coming to rest over his ribs, feeling the beat of his heart under his palm for a moment as he kissed him again. This still felt a little bit strange, but he didn’t get the stab of jealousy he feared he might as he let Der turn toward Elric. Brandon stayed where he was, knowing enough to sort of stay out of the way, for now.
Out of habit or design, though, Elric simply couldn’t help taking the opportunity to instruct. He beckoned Brandon to him as he shook out the leather harness with a jingle of rings and buckles.
“Down, herzchen,” he ordered softly and waited until Der sank to his knees. He handed half the harness to Brandon so he could help lift it over Der’s head and then showed him how and where to tighten the buckles around ribs and thighs.
“Our Derelict is that rarest of gems,” Elric said with a soft smile as he ran a fingertip over the curve of Der’s ear. “A man who is comfortable playing Alpha vhen the mood strikes him but who is equally content offering his complete surrender.”
He waved a frost-white hand to the wall where the floggers and paddles hung. “I von’t touch any of those vith him in harness, though. You may hef discovered by now, or perheps not, but he cannot abide the sight of anyvone’s pain nor does he relish it himself.”
“I’m perfectly fine with that,” Brandon murmured. He didn’t particularly like, or get, the idea of getting off on pain either, his or someone else’s. In that he and Der were a match. Actually the part about him being able to take the lead or to let himself be led, they were a match there, too. He’d never really thought about it that way.
“So. Good.” For once Elric’s soft smile held no irony at all. He had agreed to this meeting with every ounce of wary caution firmly in place but he found he liked this soft-spoken young man. In the short space of an hour he had witnessed humor and sense, tenderness and a kind heart, all things Derelict so desperately needed.
“Hends in front,” he demanded and handed Brandon a length of red nylon cord when Der had crossed his wrists. “If you vould, please. Only tight enough to restrain.” He strode around to Der’s back to fasten soft leather cuffs around his ankles.
Brandon moved to where Der had his arms outstretched, feeling slightly awkward. Yeah, they’d played the tie up game with each other before, but not with anyone else involved, and this felt different. There had always been a sense of playfulness when they got restraints out, or sometimes a feel of deeply passionate urgency. This felt very…calculated. Almost like he was tying Der up to do something sinister to him. Awkward as it was though, he wasn’t turned off by it. Especially seeing the effect this was having on Der.
He was definitely excited as he knelt there while Brandon caressed his wrists and gently wound the red cord around them. Seeing Der’s excitement created a stir in his own cock down below. He tied off the cord with a bow. Perhaps not the most professional of bondage techniques but the cord was tight enough not to leave any wiggle room without cutting off circulation and he liked the way the bow made Der look like a present.
The soft chuckle from behind Der told him the Prince agreed. “Very well done, my dear.” He took Der under the arms to support him. “Straighten your legs out in front. Good. Are you ready, herzchen?”
Der gulped a breath and nodded, not trusting his voice with speech.
“My sweet boy,” Elric purred and leaned in to give Der a soft kiss. When he straightened he was all business again as he strode over to sort through the chains hanging from the ceiling. When he had the ones he wanted, eight in all, he pulled to get some slack to hook them to Der’s harness and cuffs, one for each ankle, one for each thigh and four supporting his long torso. “Lie down, mein schatz. Brendon, vould you like to do this yourself?”
Brandon didn’t frown, but his expression was rather serious. He didn’t know if he should, but then it wasn’t really that complicated to clip the chains to the appropriate rings.
The Prince noted his hands were completely steady as he hooked Der up. Brandon might be a bit concerned, but he wasn’t nervous. Nor was he nervous or hesitant when Elric showed him how the winch for the chains worked, although there was no doubt he gave his complete attention and absorbed everything he was told.
“Perfect, just so.” Elric nodded in satisfaction as all the slack was taken up again. “Derelict knows how to relax into this. Take him up, slowly so you get a feel for it.”
Relaxed may have been an understatement. Der had gone ragdoll limp as the chains pulled his body up, a soft moan escaping as he lost contact with the floor. Every bit of tension drained from him in an instant, every part of him pliant and unresisting except the iron-hard erection lying eager and ready on his stomach.
The bemused expression had returned to Brandon’s face as he watched Der. Hanging about waist height with his head dropped back like that, he instantly saw certain possibilities. Not that he would take advantage of them right now. He left Elric’s side though, so that he could run his fingers lightly down Der’s arm, his chest, over his hip and down his flank. Just the lightest trace of his fingers over his skin.
Der’s cock jumped at the touch. “Bran…oh, gods…” he breathed out. “Your hands…love your hands…”
Brandon bemused expression slid into a grin. He loved when Der got hot. His hand glided across Der’s belly, his fingertip circling around his navel. He took a step that put him at Der’s shoulder and leaned in to place a feather light kiss on his pebbled nipple.
The chains swayed as Der squirmed a bit, his hair nearly brushing the floor as he tried to arch into the kiss. His eyes were open, glazed with desire and heated need. “Gods, how I love you.”
He felt Brandon’s lips curl into a smile as his hand finally slipped a little lower, his fingers still light as they traced over the length of his rigid cock. He let the pad of his fingertip bump slowly over the little silver balls, one at a time.
“I love you, too.” Bran murmured.
Der’s only answer was a heartfelt groan, his body on fire. The little pearl drop on the head of his cock added an exquisite, subtle bit of pleasurable torment as it slid down. He could come just like this, floating on the incredible cloud this completely helpless position wrapped around him.
Brandon’s eyes slid half closed, an answering groan of pleasure in his throat. Seeing Der so obviously turned on did things to him. He let himself forget there was anyone else in the room.
When his finger tip reached the tip of Der’s cock he made a small circle around the slit and another slippery drop oozed out. He made a ring out of his fingers and slid over the head, his other fingers closing around his shaft as he slowly stroked him.
Elric leaned against one of the bondage tables, careful not to make a sound. This was their exploration and he refused to interfere in any way this first time except to supervise the suspension. The two rock-hard bodies complemented each other so perfectly, one long and lean, the other more powerfully built.
He would have been lying if he had said he wasn’t enjoying his role as voyeur.
Der’s chest lifted and fell more rapidly as his breathing grew deeper with his excitement. The sounds of increasing pleasure filled Brandon’s head and melted his knees. He was aching behind his zipper, but they could take care of that later. Right now he wanted to focus completely on Der.
His inarticulate groans began to take on a different pitch as Brandon’s firm sure strokes picked up pace, and he said Brandon’s name quickly, almost desperately. Brandon didn’t know anything about training orgasm control, but he knew what he wanted. “Let go… come for me Der.” He whispered over Der’s heated skin.
Two soft, gasping cries leapt from Der’s chest. His stomach muscles stood out in washboard relief as he arched in his bonds. He let out a hoarse bellow, something he never did at home, as the first white jet shot from him.
Brandon felt his limbs go watery and he had to remember to breathe he was so turned on watching Der’s body in the throes of such an ecstatic release. Only after he’d coaxed every last bit of pleasure from him did he let his hands travel back up Der’s body in a slow caress. He wanted him down now, and was about to turn to go do that, but Elric must have known what he wanted because he heard the stay being released and then Der’s body was slowly lowered to the floor.
Brandon unclipped the chains from the harness and knelt so he could gather Der’s head and shoulders into his lap, caressing and murmuring soothingly to him, instinctively knowing he needed the extra care and attention right then.
A white hand appeared over his shoulder to give him a warm, damp cloth. When he’d cleaned Der up, Elric tossed the cloth in a nearby hamper and came down to one knee beside him to unbuckle the harness and cuffs.
“It may take a few minutes before he drifts beck to us,” the Prince explained softly. “Please don’t be alarmed. Ve should get him somewhere more comfortable, though.” He slid his hands under Der’s body and gave Brandon a half ironic ‘may I?’ look before he lifted Der in his arms.
“Come, my dear. In here.” He led Brandon to the cozy little room with the bed, placed Der on the mattress and covered him. “I’ll leave him to you. Please take your time. For Derelict, I might suggest you climb in vith him. I’ll be in the kitchen vhen you feel ready to come beck up.”
Brandon slid under the blanket with Der and wrapped his arms around him protectively. Not that Der needed protecting, but it made Brandon feel better.
It didn’t take long for the glazed-over look to fade from Der’s eyes. He blinked and heaved a contented sigh before he rolled to his side to wrap his long arms around Brandon. “Hi, there,” he offered with a huge, silly grin.
Brandon grinned back at him and kissed his forehead. “Well, now I know what to get you for Christmas.”
“And what would you like, little boy?” Der ran a finger down Brandon’s nose, his voice at its deepest.
Brandon caught his finger with his lips before he could pull it away and gave a playful nip. “Peace on earth, good will toward men, and you with nothing but a bow on.”
“Would you settle for me, right now, with nothing on?” Der’s smile melted to achingly tender as he leaned in to place a soft, searching kiss on Brandon’s lips.
The heat with which the kissed was returned nearly took his breath away. Brandon may have banked the fire while he was so focused on Der’s needs, but it took only a touch of lips to stir up the flames. His fingers slid into Der’s hair as he kissed him with a desperate longing.
Der tightened his grip and rolled to put Brandon on top, answering his need with searing passion. Lips and tongues caressed in a sensual duel as if they might devour each other. He snagged the back of Brandon’s t-shirt, yanked it off and let his hands stroke the hard muscles of his back before they wandered down to undo his fly.
Brandon groaned as his erection was freed “Der…” He swallowed hard. “You got me so damn hot.” He leaned back and caressed Der’s cheek with the back of his fingers. “That was so amazing. I thought I was going to bust right there with you.”
“His highness does have the best toys,” Der said softly as his fingers trailed down Brandon’s chest. “You wanna ride the bull, cowboy? I might not have a nose ring but there’s enough others to make up for it.”
Brandon leaned down to kiss his lips while he shoved his jeans off. “Hang on a sec while I get my spurs on.”
There was a bottle of some kind of slippery stuff within easy reach on the headboard and Brandon wasted no time pouring some in Der’s hand and coating Der’s rigid cock while he made sure the ride would be nice and slick. By the time he was ready for Der to enter him, Brandon was dizzy with need.
He angled Der’s cock back and they both sang out a long groan as he sank down slowly onto his turgid shaft. He put his hands on Der’s chest and rolled his hips in a slow grind. “Oh god, Der…that feels so good,” he got out on a husky breath.
Der was frankly amazed at how quickly he’d come erect again. The simple touch of Brandon’s skin, the quiet intensity of his passion did incredible things to him. He rested his hands on Brandon’s hips to hold him and encourage him while he rolled up into Brandon’s tight heat.
“You’re just about the hottest cowboy I’ve ever seen,” Der murmured with a soft smile. He slid a hand forward to wrap around Brandon’s thick cock.
Brandon gripped the headboard for leverage as their bodies moved together. His breath came in a short gasp as Der drove up into him. “And you are by far the sexiest bull I’ve ever ridden,” he said with a tender expression that quickly melted toward erotic as Der stroked him and bucked into him at the same time.
With a convincing taurean snort and toss of his head, Der planted his feet and started to buck upwards in earnest. The little crease in the center of Brandon’s forehead, the way his lips parted as he panted out his growing pleasure, the flush that rose up from his chest, all whipped up Der’s tenderness and passion for him to the point of meringue.
He felt his balls tightening, his own excitement rushing upwards. “Bran…oh, gods, you’re so wonderful…”
“Uhh, oh god…so fuckin good.” Brandon’s head dropped down, his eyes closing as he felt the pressure suddenly burst. He groaned from deep in his chest as he spurted in sticky hot stripes across Der’s belly.
The tight spasms of Brandon’s orgasm pressed against Der’s silver balls in amazing ways. His fingers closed around the thick cock he held and he arched and twitched as his second climax of the day roared over him.
His ecstatic cries were softer this time, the rush far more tender and warm. Suspension was amazing but nothing beat having Bran wrapped around him.
Brandon stayed where he was, waiting for his breath to return to normal and the rushing in his ears to stop. When he could move again he leaned down to kiss Der and then eased off him, curling to his side. It was still rather amazing, how well they fit together, on many levels. Now it was Der’s turn to hold him and nuzzle softly into his hair while Bran floated down contentedly. “I love you, Der. So much.” He had to smile at how easy it was to say now.
“I love you, too, Bran,” Der murmured. His heart threatened to burst with joy at any moment but at least he would die deliriously happy. As so often happened with him in moments of intense emotion, a song welled up. He held Brandon close and sang to him softly, “Ooo, he’s here again, the man with the child in his eyes…”
Why Kate Bush, why that particularly odd little love song, he had no idea. But it felt just right.
Brandon smiled. He didn’t find Der’s penchant for bursting into song at any given moment odd at all.
Drew waited, not wanting to get anyone upset while they had a house full of guests. As soon as everyone had gone though, he knew it was time to clear things up with Vince.
“Vince, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Of course, my love. No need to ask.”
“I…I um, wanted to tell you that…earlier Der and I, uh, got a little passionate and… well, Brandon was there.”
Vincent stilled. He had been putting glasses on a tray, helping Jonathan clean up. Now his long fingers twitched and he dropped a glass onto the tray with a clatter. His voice was soft and cool when he spoke next. “I presume that by ‘there’ you do not mean to indicate he stood and watched. Or ambled in unawares.”
Drew had been worried, but now he felt a sinking dread in the pit of his stomach. The soft tone did not fool him. Vincent was angry. “No,” Drew answered, just as softly, but for entirely different reasons. “I’m sorry, Vince. I should have talked to you first.”
“Yes, you should have.” Vincent took up the crutch he’d leaned against the table. “For so many reasons. I find it truly difficult to comprehend…after everything we’ve been through recently…” He turned and moved off, shaking his head.
After a moment, his study door closed quietly.
Jonathan had come out of the kitchen. “What did you say to him, hon?”
Drew blinked back the sting in his eyes and tried to clear the lump in his throat. His own fault. He could have shown a little restraint. He felt like a total slut now, and worse he was terrified Vince wouldn’t forgive him. He swallowed hard. “I-I walked in on Der and Brandon earlier. Der… he just looked so good, and…” He spread his hands helplessly.
“Oh, boy.” Jonathan blew out a slow breath. “Schiller needs to be horsewhipped for getting you in trouble.” He patted the air with both hands, tamping down on the tendrils of jealousy that wanted to surface. This was so very much not the time. “No, no, I know. You’re a big boy and you should have thought it through yourself. Too late now.”
Jonathan thought for a moment, running his hands through his hair. “Look, sweetie. I think the thing he’d be most pissed about is that you didn’t ask him. I don’t think I need to tell you why. But don’t let him brood in there. I know it won’t be a fun talk but you let him stew over things, he’ll just get worse and all icy and withdrawn and shit. No one knows better than me, right?”
Jonathan’s reaction was better than Drew would have dared hoped, and at the same time made him feel even worse. He did not deserve to have so understanding a boyfriend. Before he went to plead with Vince he moved into Jonathan’s arms. “I’m sorry, Jonathan…” He had to know. “Are you mad at me?”
“Oh, honey, don’t ask me that right now,” Jonathan said as he rolled his eyes. But Drew looked at him with those big, pretty eyes and he couldn’t just wave him off. “Honestly? Yes. Some. Though if it was me and I’d walked in on the big goofball with that five-alarm hot fireman, I don’t know if I’d have done much better.”
He smoothed a hand over Drew’s curls. “And I hurt Vince once that way, too. So I don’t have a lot of room to talk, do I?”
Drew put his head to Jonathan’s shoulder for a moment, glad at least that he was talking to him and hadn’t shoved him away. Yes, Jonathan had hurt Vince, but he hadn’t gone quite as far, had he?
Drew lifted his head and kissed Jonathan’s cheek, murmuring apologies again. Then he picked up his courage and walked down the hall to Vince’s office. He knocked on the door and got no answer.
He bit his bottom lip. “Vince?” he called softly.
Still no answer. He was not willing to just barge in. He put his forehead against the door. “Vince… please…?”
Nothing. He had never thought having someone ignore him could be so painful. Not that he didn’t deserve it. He turned and let his back slide down the door until he sat with his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms wrapped around. He wouldn’t go in uninvited, but he would wait right there until Vince came out or let him in.
Jonathan came down the hall to check on things and threw up his hands with an exasperated sound. “No, no, you can’t let him do this…”
He took Drew by the arm, pulled him up and opened the door with a huff. Vincent hadn’t locked it, which meant that on some level he wanted someone to come talk to him.
Vincent sat with his chair turned, back to the door. “What is it, Jonathan?”
“Oh, no, you don’t, you don’t get to use the Prince of Darkness voice on me. You’re going to talk to Drew, or at least listen to Drew, and I’m not leaving until you two work this out.”
A pale hand waved languidly from behind the chair, permission, perhaps, or an indication that he didn’t care what they did.
Drew felt about two inches tall. He wished the floor would just open up and swallow him. How could he have hurt Vince like this? If there had been a way to do so he would have horsewhipped himself.
He moved when Jonathan poked him and went around to kneel at Vincent’s side. “Vince…I know ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t good enough. I’m so stupid! I-I should have tried harder, not gotten so…carried away. I’m sorry I hurt you, more sorry than I know how to say.”
Vincent stared unmoving into some far distant landscape. When he finally spoke his voice was barely above a whisper. “What more can I possibly do? What is it that I’ve missed, somehow? That you are unable to think through your impulses? Do I ask too much? Is there something you need to tell me?”
The soft words might as well have been knives. They cut to the bone. Drew had never been more ashamed of himself. He had let people use and abuse him in the most degrading ways imaginable and he hadn’t felt as disgusted with himself as he did right then. What was wrong with him that he couldn’t follow the simplest of rules?
Vince meant the world to him, the things he did for him were beyond amazing. He treated him better than anyone else ever had, and this was how he repaid him. He thought he might die of mortification on the spot. He did not deserve Vince. Did not deserve Jonathan. Didn’t deserve this life.
Vince was waiting for him to say something and nothing would come. All that ran around in his head were ‘I’m sorry, I love you’ and neither were good enough.
“I’ve always understood that it might be difficult for you sometimes,” Vincent went on. He still hadn’t moved but something in his tone had changed, subterranean ice cracking. “I know I can’t…do the things a whole man could do. So when you have asked, I’ve always said yes. Has it become too much? Living with a scarred, mutant cripple? Do you… do you need something else?”
Clarity finally hit Drew like a bucket of ice water dumped over his head. He had never once considered Vince might feel this way. “God, I am so fucking stupid!” he said before he even realized he was speaking aloud. “Vince…” He stopped himself and shook his head. Saying that he didn’t think of Vince as ‘crippled’ and didn’t even see his scars would just sound like he was being placating when in fact it couldn’t be any more true.
“Vince, you know how someone who has anorexia looks in the mirror and see’s themselves as huge, when really they’re skin and bone? I know this is going to sound stupid and not make any sense, but I know why they do it, I do the same thing. Only, it’s when I look at anyone.
“When I look at you I don’t see with just my eyes… You are strength and beauty, and that’s all I ever see when I look at you. I don’t ever need anyone else but you and Jonathan. I love everything we do together, I have never once not been completely happy and way more than just satisfied in bed with you. I went in with Der because I love him… not because I’m not satisfied.
“Please Vince… I am…just pathetic, and I don’t deserve you, but please please don’t ever think you are any less to me.”
Vincent blinked and finally turned his head to look at Drew. Then he did something Jonathan had never seen him do while he was in Ice Prince mode. He buried his face in his hands and started to cry.
“Christ,” Jonathan muttered, shocked and heartsick. He slid onto the arm of Vince’s chair to hold him. “Babes…don’t do that…come on now. We’ve gotta try and put things back in place here. You‘re the rudder for this little boat, hon. Don‘t leave us spinning in the current.”
Vincent unbent far enough to hide his face against Jonathan’s chest. He quieted after a few hitching sobs and then began to speak again, slowly, as if unsure of himself. “Derelict is banned from our lives for the next month. No one lets him in. No one answers his calls. No one seeks him out. Jonathan, I’d like you to call him and tell him so. I don’t know if I can.”
“All right, babes, I can do that.” Jonathan said with a worried frown.
“Drew will be in chastity for two weeks, beginning tonight. At the end of two weeks, we’ll revisit and see if it’s enough. There will be no phone, no visiting, no wandering about. To school. Straight home. And Jonathan, you will refrain from tormenting him or you will join him. And I…need to sleep alone for a few nights. I need…some time.”
Drew crept forward on his hands and knees. He took Vince’s hand and pressed it to his cheek. Vince didn’t exactly snatch his hand back but he allowed the touch for only a moment before pulling away. Drew couldn’t have been more devastated if Vince had slapped him in the face. In fact that would have been better.
Drew made an anguished sound and burst into tears. He clutched at Vince’s leg. “Please don’t do this, Vince… Please! It’s not enough! Scream at me, beat me, lock me in Jonathan’s box… something….”
Vincent heaved an uneven breath. Upset, yes, angry, yes…but why was this so shattering, this bit of disobedience? He walked backwards in his mind, to other moments, talks and punishment and promises given…and that was it. No matter what he did…
“Drew, we’ve been here before,” he said, his tone puzzled and tired. “Regarding these issues of impulse control. Of thinking before doing. I have talked through it with you and punished you and even spanked you…and here we are again.”
Vincent drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair. “As a matter of fact, the only thing that truly seemed to make a lasting impression was when Jonathan was punished.” Oh, it sounded cruel and perhaps Jonathan would never forgive him for this…
“That’s it, then.” He stood even though Drew still clung to his leg. “Jonathan, you’re going in the box.”
“What?” Both Jonathan and Drew echoed the exclamation.
“If the only way to make a lesson stick for Drew is to force him to think about someone else, that’s what we must do.”
“Oh…damn…” All the color had drained from Jonathan’s face.
Drew shook. He hadn’t meant for this… His mind screamed no! no! no! but he watched silently as Jonathan went to the study closet and pulled out the little dolly with the confinement box on it.
Jonathan’s hands shook as he placed it on the floor and opened it. “Should I strip?”
“Only to where you’re comfortable, beloved.”
Drew was rooted to the spot where he huddled on the floor. He was horrified. Vince could have done anything to him… anything, and he would have accepted it as his due, but this… he knew how much Jonathan hated the confinement, how afraid he would be. “Vince… no,” he pleaded in a soft whisper, but neither paid him any attention.
Jonathan stripped down to his briefs in wooden, stiff movements. For Drew…for Drew…he could do this… He stole a kiss from Vincent, folded himself inside, and took a deep breath as if he were submerging as Vincent closed the lid and locked it.
“If this is the only way to show you that your actions affect more than just yourself, so be it,” Vince said with finality.
Drew got it. He was in agony over it, but he got it. He curled forward and buried his face in his hands, sobbing his heart out. Where he had pleaded for a comforting touch a few moments before, now he would accept none. Not until Jonathan was let out.
Vincent knew he had to be careful. He felt as if his heart had been dropped from a great height, compressed and splintered, but he had to stay focused. The longest Jonathan had managed in the box had been an hour, early on in the relationship. It had been a harsh punishment but he had accepted a joint from someone at a party, not a small infraction. Vincent had let him out when he started screaming.
Five minutes passed, with Drew sobbing at his feet. Ten. Oh, he wanted to gather Drew up in his arms but he couldn’t, not now. Fifteen minutes and still Jonathan hung on, no sounds issuing from the box. Twenty minutes and there was a soft whimper. Twenty-five and the little sounds of distress came more frequently. At nearly thirty minutes, Jonathan let out a sobbing breath and called out, “Vince? Vincent!”
Vincent undid the latch and threw open the lid. Jonathan surged up and over the side to scuttle on hands and knees away from the box. Wild-eyed and shaking from head to toe, he wrapped his arms around his knees and rocked in a distressed, uneven rhythm.
Drew went to him and folded him in his arms, holding him tight. His own tears hadn’t stopped but he ignored them as he smoothed his hands down Jonathan’s back and kissed his temple. “I’m sorry, Jonathan, I’m so sorry,” he murmured over and over. “I’ll never ever do it again, I swear.”
“No air…there’s no air…” Jonathan looked at Drew but obviously didn’t see him. “So… dark…things…in the dark…”
“Jonathan!” Vincent said sharply.
His head snapped up.
“You’re safe, beloved. It’s done. We’re here with you.”
“Safe…” Jonathan echoed. He uncurled far enough to wrap his arms around Drew. “Please don’t make me sleep alone…please?”
Drew rocked him gently and shushed him, “You won’t sleep alone tonight, I promise,” he murmured. He looked up at Vince. “Let him sleep with you tonight, Vince, please? I’m begging you… he didn’t do anything wrong… he needs you.” Yes, he needed Vince, who would know what to do if he had a nightmare, who could calm him down when all Drew did was make things worse.
Drew pleaded with more than just his words, his eyes were haunted, and there was something else in them. Something far worse than the pain and the guilt. Vince had done an excellent job of ensuring Drew learned this lesson, almost too good of a job, he’d almost gone too far. There were hints of fear in Drew’s eyes, and the distinct possibility that if he refused this request he wouldn’t have to worry about Jonathan forgiving him, Drew might not.
“Of course Jonathan may sleep with me,” Vincent answered softly. Gods. He wasn’t cruel. Not by choice.
Drew closed his eyes and sighed gratefully. He got Jonathan up and took him to the bedroom where he got him tucked in and kissed him good night. Then he got the chastity device from the bottom drawer and put it on himself, leaving the key on the dresser. He said goodnight to Vince. No kisses, no hugs. He didn’t deserve them. He slunk off to his room.
He looked at the bed and knew he couldn’t sleep on it. This punishment, as bad as it was, was only beginning. Der would be devastated. More people hurt because Drew was a stupid, fucking idiot. He could not curl up in the pillows and blankets they made love on. He curled up on the floor instead, and even though he wanted to get up a hundred times during the night to get the Ugly Bat to cuddle with, he made himself stay where he was.
The next morning, Vincent got up first. It had been a wretched night with Jonathan shaking in his arms after every wrenching return from nightmare, at least one an hour. He stopped at Drew’s door on his way to the kitchen. He’d had time to think about everything during the long night. The infraction was terrible, in light of Suzy and baby Angela and all that went with them. And what Drew had said afterwards had hurt, that he wasn’t looking for something different. No, it had simply been action without thought.
Despite all that, Vincent felt he had been harsh and cold. This was his beloved Drew, after all. He eased the door open, his heart skipping a beat when he saw the bed empty. But there Drew lay, curled into a fetal position on the floor, refusing bed and blankets, punishing himself.
Vincent sighed. All right, Drew had begged for punishment for himself. It was perhaps the only way for him to purge the guilt at this point.
“Drew,” Vincent called, loud enough to wake him. “Get up. We need to finish this.”
Drew had had every bit as horrible a night, if not more so. He had not really slept, fading in and out. He’d heard how terrible a night Jonathan had, and he berated himself every time he was awakened, knowing it was his fault, and not daring to go and comfort his love.
In his sleep deprived and confused state what he heard Vince say was they needed to finish it, as in he’d changed his mind, he was kicking Drew out. He scrabbled up and out after Vince, flinging himself down at his feet and wrapping his arms around his waist.
“Pleasepleaseplease no, Vince, please no, I can’t live without you! Please don’t make me leave!”
Vincent startled, overbalanced and sat down hard on the floor. “What? Sweet spirits…no.” He reached out to smooth the wild curls back from Drew’s eyes. “No, love. Come out to the living room. We have unfinished business. I should have done this for you last night but I wasn’t feeling well or thinking straight.”
He struggled back up, grateful, for once, for Drew’s help. Once in the living room, he placed a cushion at one end of the new coffee table. “Strip and bend over the end, here, please. I’ll be back in a moment.”
Drew was so relieved he would have happily walked over glass or any other thing he wanted just to hear him say he still wanted him. It did not exactly register yet what was about to happen, but he didn’t care. He stripped out of the pajama bottoms he’d been wearing, knelt and bent over the end table as Vince had instructed.
When Vincent returned, he had one of Drew’s belts curled around his hand. Most of his own were too heavy and none of Jonathan’s were wide enough. He settled on the sofa where he would have a good angle and enough leverage.
“Now, my love, I don’t think we need to rehash what was done or who was hurt by your actions. I believe you have all that by now. But know that I do this because I love you. And because I want us all well and whole again.”
He ran his hand over Drew’s backside, landed the flat of his palm in a hard crack, and then switched to the belt, which landed with a harder, sharper sound.
Drew put his head down and tried to breathe evenly. After a little while, there was a rhythm to the fall of the belt across his skin, and awhile after that, the sharp bite of the belt became oddly soothing. He wanted Vince to hit him harder but he was afraid to speak, afraid to ask for anything.
The pink blush of his cheeks became red, and then the red grew to a dark maroon and Drew held back every cry that wanted out.
Vincent was out of breath and sweating before a whimper finally forced its way between Drew’s clenched teeth. The next blow brought a cry to his lips and he involuntarily brought a hand back to try to protect his abused backside.
“All right, my love.” Vincent curled his fingers around that hand. “Enough. I can’t…” He put the belt down to rub at his chest. “I can’t manage any more.” He tugged until Drew transferred his head to Vincent’s lap. “You made a mistake. You’re taking your punishment. Stop punishing yourself as well.” He stroked Drew’s hair softly and whispered, “I love you so.”
Drew hugged Vince’s waist tight, the sobs he hadn’t allowed himself finally coming. Again and again he murmured how sorry he was and how much he loved Vince and how he didn’t deserve him, but was oh so grateful to have him and he would never never never hurt him like this again.
“It’s human nature to hurt each other, love,” Vincent murmured. “Though we can do our best to avoid the things we know will hurt.”
He looked up when Jonathan came down the hall, hollow-eyed and exhausted, phone dangling from his hand.
“You called him?”
“And he agrees to all of it?”
“Oh, yeah, not a problem,” Jonathan said with an airy wave. Then he sighed. “OK, maybe a minute or two of problem. He cried like a two-year-old. And I promised to tell you he’s sorry.”
Vincent nodded, a lump in his throat. “I think, my loves, that I want to go back to bed. I don’t…feel very well.”
Sprawled on his living room floor, Derelict didn’t feel too well, either. He stared up at the ceiling, wondering if he would ever stop being a moron. He’d gotten Drew in a boatload of trouble, upset Vince, and Jonathan from the sound of things, gotten himself banned from the company of those he loved and now…now he wasn’t even allowed to call Vince and talk it through.
Maybe this was the final straw. This would be the time Vincent wouldn’t be able to forgive him.
A knock on the door pulled him from his self-recriminations. He got up to answer it and found Ethan and Quinn on his doorstep.
Ethan smiled, “Hey Der, we were in the neighborhood and dropped by to see…” He tapered off. “Sweetheart, are you okay?”
“You mean besides being a thoughtless monster? Oh, sure. Just grand.”
Ethan’s brows went up. He followed Der in when he turned away, Quinn still tucked under his arm. Der flopped down on the couch and held his head in his hands. Ethan sat across from him in the chair.
“You are hardly a thoughtless monster, Der. What happened?”
Der shook his head without lifting it. “Tell me that again after I’ve told you…” Which he did, about Brandon and Drew and how he had conveniently forgotten to ask and what had happened after.
Ethan sat with his hand resting lightly on Quinn’s thigh, listening. He sighed. “Der, this isn’t really your fault. It’s not like you held Drew down and forced him to stay. He knew he should have talked with Vincent first.”
“I know,” Der said miserably. “But Vincent trusts me with him, don’t you see? Trusts me to look out for him. And I didn’t.”
Ethan moved from his chair and went to sit next to Der, putting his arm around him and pulling him against his chest. “Der, you would never knowingly let harm come to that boy. Perhaps you got a little carried away, but if you’re guilty of anything it’s stepping on Vince’s toes. You knew Drew was safe with you, so you gave him permission to be there.”
He paused for a second, choosing his next words carefully. “Isn’t that just the sort of thing you two had trouble with when you were together? Who was going to be in charge of what? Give Vince a little time, sweetheart. He’s angry right now, but he has to know you didn’t mean any harm.”
Quinn slid up on the other side to snuggle close. “And it’s only a month, big guy. I mean, it’s not forever, right?”
“That’s just it,” Der whispered. “Maybe this time it is forever. Maybe I finally pushed Vince too far. I…was the problem when we were seeing each other. Vincent can’t play sub to anyone and me, I have problems with boundaries. Yes, he’s angry, because he invited me back into his life, let me share the joy and the love he found, and I screw it up. Especially after all they’ve been through and here he is, just wanting a bit of peace and security for a while…why don’t I think sometimes? Why am I always so smart after the fact?”
“Der, he didn’t say ‘don’t ever come back’. If he meant it to be forever, he wouldn’t have said a month, right? He might be upset with you, but he doesn’t hate you. Vincent is smart enough to know that it was Drew’s responsibility to get his permission, not yours.” Ethan stopped there, but the thought crossed his mind that if anyone should be upset at Der it was Drew. He doubted Drew would be mad, though.
“C’mon now, don’t keep beating yourself up. You know Drew wouldn’t want you to do that.”
For some reason, this made Der burst into tears. Quinn sighed and nestled closer to stroke his hair, then mouthed over his head, ‘good job’ to where he knew Ethan sat.
“Sh, sh, come on,” Quinn murmured as he nuzzled at Der’s throat. “Not like you’re all alone, big guy. Look, maybe in a couple days, Vince’ll feel better. And maybe I could talk to him for you. Not a ‘hey, Der wanted me to tell you’ kinda talk but a ‘hey, I saw him the other day and he’s really, really miserable without you’ thing.”
Ethan and Quinn stayed for quite a while longer, truth be told Ethan did not want to leave him alone. So much so that he was back the next day, and the next just to check on him. After a week, he decided it was time for him and Quinn to visit Vince. Der was a miserable wreck and he couldn’t imagine things were all that happy over at Vince’s place either. He had some reservations about butting in, but something needed to be said.
He decided this time he would let Quinn do the talking first, though
Jonathan opened the door for them, subdued and much more quiet than usual. He led them into the living room where Vincent lay on the sofa with his laptop, encased in a fleece throw from the waist down. He looked fragile, his pale skin closer to gray than white.
Quinn made his way to where he heard Vincent’s voice and sat down by his feet.
“You’re looking good, hon,” Jonathan offered, since Vincent had returned to his work after cursory greetings. “Guess working with the puppies and kitties is working out, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s great,” Quinn smiled at his former employer. “I mean, it’s not for everybody, lots of messy stuff involved, but I like it.”
Jonathan managed a little chuckle at the gentle teasing. “It’s good to see you both. But I’m getting the feeling this isn’t just a social call, right?”
“Yeah, well…” Quinn rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, then reached out to pat Vincent’s foot. “Vince?”
“Look, I know it’s none of my business or anything but are you really gonna make Der stay away for a whole month?”
“You’re correct, it is not.” Vincent’s voice drifted to him, cool, quiet water. “And it is my intention.”
“Oh.” Quinn hung his head, fidgeting with Cricket’s harness.
He heard the little sigh he was waiting for and then waited a moment more until Vincent said, “Why do you ask?”
“’Cause I think he’s falling apart,” Quinn said to his feet. “I mean, he just seems to get worse every time we see him. He’s kinda mumbling to himself now and his apartment doesn’t smell so good and he just doesn’t, you know, hold up for long if you try and talk to him. Cries at hello. Can’t put two thoughts together.”
“He brought it on himself,” Vincent said, though there seemed to be some uncertainty in his voice.
Drew, who was sitting off to one side and had been silent up until now finally spoke. “No, Vince,” he said softly. “Der didn’t really do anything wrong. I know you’re mad at him, but you shouldn’t punish him for something I did.”
Vince did not respond and Drew lapsed back into silence. They had already had this conversation. They disagreed plain and simple. Drew hadn’t been able to change Vince’s mind and begging would only make things worse.
Ethan cleared his throat, this was ridiculous. All this misery for one indiscretion. “Drew, Jonathan, would you mind going for a little walk with Quinn please?”
That request froze everyone for half a second, and then there were a few murmurs of acquiescence and they all filed out to leave Vince and Ethan alone.
Ethan sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. “I’m not going to try and convince you that you’re being too harsh, although I think you are,” Ethan said with a resigned little half smile. “And I think Quinn’s already done a pretty good job appealing to you sense of pity.” He paused, gathering his thoughts. “Der’s convinced you won’t forgive him, he’s not taking this as a ‘punishment.’ He’s acting like you’ve broken up with him, er… the three of you have. Actually he’s acting like you all died.” Ethan sighed, and waved a hand.
“What’s your intent here Vince? I have to know because every time I leave Der alone I worry about him, and he won’t come and stay with Quinn and me, although I’ve asked him to.”
“Derelict knows the terms of the arrangement. This isn’t the first time he’s disregarded them. Perhaps the last time I wasn’t harsh enough,” Vincent said a bit too softly.
Ethan propped his chin on his hand and looked at Vince speculatively. “How long have you known Der, Vince? I know I haven’t known him as long as you but even I know you’re not going to change him with this punishment. Oh, sure, you can pound this lesson home. I’m sure he’ll never get one of your boys involved with a stranger again. But eventually something will come along, some situation where he just doesn’t think through to the end of what might happen. And then what? Another banishment? How many times can you punish him for the same mistakes before he gives up and decides it‘s better for him to stay away?”
Ethan shook his head. “Please Vince, I’m not criticizing, I know I’d be furious if Der put Quinn in that situation. All I’m saying is don’t be so stubborn you do more harm than good. At least go and talk to him yourself. If you can’t work things out, then you can’t, but drawing this suffering out is just damn depressing.”
Vincent stared into some distant vision for a long moment, dark eyes chill and calm but far too still. “I do wish…” He stopped and shook his head. “Drew keeps telling me it wasn’t Derelict’s fault, that he didn‘t commit any offense. As if he were a child, not responsible for his actions. As if he and I had not discussed, in detail, what it would mean if he became part of our lives.”
He raised his head to look at Ethan, his eyes shadowed and tired. “Honestly? I haven’t decided yet if I’m able to take him back this time. I can’t talk to him until at least that much is clear. That wouldn’t be fair to him, either.”
Ethan lowered his voice, even though he knew they wouldn’t be overheard. “Forgive me, Vincent, but I think you should make up your mind a bit more quickly. You have everyone twisting on the end of a thread here. What happens a month from now if you decide Der isn’t welcome? Then you just tell him, sorry don’t come back? And in the meantime you have Drew and Jonathan both expecting Der will be welcomed back, that this is just a temporary punishment. What will you tell them? You’ve changed your mind and they’re not allowed to see him anymore?”
Ethan shook his head. “I won’t say any more about it. I didn’t come here to badger you, believe it or not. But I do hope you’ll think on it.”
“And what, pray tell, do you believe I have been thinking about?” Vincent got out in an anguished whisper. “Why I can’t sleep? Do you really, truly think I haven’t belabored all of that? Ad nauseum? Gods…” He dropped his head into his hands, perilously close to breaking down.
Ethan’s expression softened. He tended, as did most people who knew Vince he’d wager, to think of him as much older. He had a very put-together persona, he was intelligent, stable, successful and exuded calm strength that was rare in a younger man. But, he was only nineteen and shouldering some hefty burdens.
Ethan didn’t know how Vince might react to an overture of comfort, but at this point he didn’t much care. He moved over next to him and put his arm around his shoulders, drawing him in close.
“Please…don’t do that,” Vincent whispered but his body said otherwise as his hand clutched the front of Ethan’s shirt and he buried his face against that broad chest. The tears fell in near silence, though they still came, only the occasional strangled sound accompanying his hitching breaths.
For Ethan, he had no need to be strong. Ethan didn’t depend on him for anything. He couldn’t even do this with Victor, who did rely on him, but in this strong, warm embrace, he could simply be a very young man who had swallowed too much pain too early in life.
Ethan knew enough to let him go, offering nothing beyond the shelter of his arms. Eventually Vince quieted though he made no effort to move away. When he spoke again, his voice was hollow and tired but steadier.
“I don’t know what it’s like anymore. To just be myself and not have anyone need me to make decisions for them. Since I was ten…my mother died, my father dove into crippling depression. He needed me. My little sisters needed me. I’ve always tried to think things through, to be certain a thing was the best course for everyone before I’ve acted. But lately…oh, merciful spirits…lately my decisions have taken us to dark and terrible places. To a fire that nearly killed my Jonathan and left Drew shattered. To a girl’s suicide and to Drew losing his baby. To Der nearly dying on the front lawn. Ethan…I’m so tired…”
Ethan stroked a hand gently over Vincent’s shoulders. He had worried that once the tears had stopped there would be that awkward feeling when you shared too much with someone you didn’t really know, but it didn’t feel awkward at all to simply hold Vince. “Hon, there’s a difference between being responsible and obsessing over your every move as if your life were a big game of chess. Life doesn’t show you all the pieces in play and moves to make, you can’t possibly see every single outcome.
“You do the best you can, Vince. Better than a lot of people. Your boys love you for that, among other things.”
He was quiet for a moment. He’d already said he was going to let the matter of Der drop, and he didn’t want to sound like he was badgering him, especially not now, but… “Vince…” He actually gave a soft chuckle. “I know I just told you to think, but I take it back. Don’t think. Don’t go down every avenue and possibility. Just answer one question, only the one, no thinking about it allowed… Do you really never want to see Derek again?”
“Of course it’s not what I want–” Vincent began but Ethan didn’t let him finish.
“Well, then the rest of it doesn’t matter much. You can’t see the rest, you don’t know how and who will be affected by what. If it’s a mistake, it’s a mistake… you are allowed to make them occasionally.”
Vincent heaved a sigh, his head still resting on Ethan’s chest. He did recognize that he made mistakes. The problem was that his tended to be rather disastrous. But this…this was Derelict, whom he had loved from the first time he’d set eyes on him, standing naked and pretending nonchalance on an art class platform.
“Phone. Please,” he requested softly and sat up when Ethan handed it to him.
Der’s phone rang three times and then a shaky voice answered, barely recognizable. “Vince?”
Vincent hesitated and then said, “I was dreaming, it was a hundred and ninety degrees…”
Silence greeted him, then a choking sound.
“Come on, Der,” Vincent coaxed. “Don’t disappoint me.”
“We were crawling around on our knees, ‘til the sun came up at quarter to three,” Der finished the stanza in a choked whisper.
“That’s my Der. You still have it.”
“Never lost it…Vince? Are you calling to tell me goodbye?”
Vincent frowned. “Dearheart, why in the world would you think I’d do something like that over the phone?”
“’Cause you’re mad as hell and you’re not gonna take it anymore?”
“No. That is, yes, I’m angry with you but no, I didn’t call to tell you goodbye.” Vincent twisted the blanket with his free hand. “I would say I’d come over to talk to you but I’m not feeling very well. I…Der, I love you. Don’t forget that.”
The sounds from Derelict’s end of the phone could only have been him in tears.
“And Drew’s punishment is only for two weeks. So I’ve decided it’s not quite fair to punish you longer. We’re at the end of the first week already. Do you think you can hold out one more?”
“And you can call me if you need to. Not Drew yet, since it’s part of the penance and I don’t think it’s a good idea at the moment. But when it’s done, it’s done, and we’ll have you back. All right?”
“Vince…” Der couldn’t seem to catch himself. “I’m so, so damn…sorry…”
“I know, dearheart, I’ve heard. Please take a shower, take care of yourself. I’ll talk to you soon.”
They said their goodbyes and hung up. Vincent sank back against the sofa, exhausted but less empty.
Ethan smiled at him and patted his shoulder gently. “Feel better, don’t you?”
“Yes. Thank you.” Vincent gave him a wan, spare smile. “For the shoulder and the ear.”
The front door opened and Cricket poked his head in first, followed by Quinn. “Hey, is it OK for them to come back in their own house? I mean, it’s a nice day and everything but Drew’s no fun to walk with right now, he’s walking kinda…weird. And slow.”
“Yes, you guys can come back in. We’re done,” Ethan said.
“Come here, my kestrel,” Vincent requested softly when Drew made his reappearance. He waited until Drew had settled beside him, nestled in his arms. “I have some things to tell you but first you need to tell me something. Are you angry with Der at all?”
Drew blinked, “Why would I be mad at Der?”
“He tempted you when he should have been a friend and reminded you of your promises. He caused you quite a bit of grief.”
Drew’s eyes slid away from Vince to the floor. “I suppose…that’s one way to see it,” Drew said after a moment. He really did not want to have this conversation in front of Ethan and Quinn. Actually he didn’t want to have this conversation at all. He didn’t know where Vince was going with this but lately no conversation they had turned out happy. “I’m not mad at him, though.”
Vincent took him gently under the chin and waited until Drew looked at him again. “I simply wanted to be certain. If you were, we could have arranged something. However, since you aren’t, I don’t suppose you would mind too terribly when Der comes to dinner next Saturday to celebrate the end of your punishment.”
It actually took a second for it to sink in, what Vince was saying, and then Drew smiled, a rare occurrence that last week. He was so relieved he didn’t know what to do except wrap his arms around Vince and bury his face at the side of his neck.
“Oh, dear,” Vincent said. “I don’t know if that’s a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.”
Jonathan snickered, though he shot Ethan a ‘how the hell did you do that?’ look while Quinn wrapped his arms around Ethan and murmured, “You’re a good man, McFarland.”
For a few minutes, Vincent held his Drew simply because he could. The long, sleepless nights caught up to him like being hit by an armored car, though. He could barely hold his eyes open.
“You and Jonathan may begin planning dinner anytime you wish. Not that Jonathan enjoys that sort of thing,” he said on a yawn. Then he disentangled himself from Drew’s arms, pulled his legs back up onto the couch, lay down with his head in Drew’s lap, and went to sleep.
“Can you come count the drawer for me?”
She glanced over to see Brandon’s forehead creased with worry. “How much are you off?”
“I’m not sure…looks like about two fifty.” Brandon handed her the register tape and stepped aside so she could check his figures.
Gina counted the cash, efficient and no nonsense, took a quick look at the interim totals at the bottom of Brandon’s tape, and then started looking through the transactions for anything that looked off.
“It’s two forty six and some change,” she murmured. “But I don’t see anything for that amount. There’s three voids, though, with nothing to go with them…”
She looked up and caught Brandon’s horrified expression. A voided sale with no voided receipt meant someone was in the drawer for something other than a sale. “Mr. Kemp was probably just checking the totals,” she offered without much conviction.
“Where is he, anyway?”
“At class. Should be back any second. He probably knows.”
Brandon touched her arm. “Gina…that blind kid was out here all alone this morning. About when this first void comes up.” He pointed to the spot on the tape.
“Blind kid has a name, Bran,” she murmured still checking the tape. “And he doesn’t know how to open the register.”
“Yeah, well, there’s lots of things he shouldn’t be able to do but he does,” Brandon insisted. “Like he knows exactly whose lunch is whose in the fridge. Or which regular customer just walked in.”
“You saying Quinn took the money?” Gina chewed on her bottom lip.
“Not saying he did. Saying he could’ve. I mean, he is a street kid, right? Never really was sure Mr. Kemp should trust him.”
Jonathan sauntered in at that moment, his bright smile slipping when he saw the worried faces. “What’s up?”
Gina explained and Jonathan stepped behind the counter to check the totals for himself, fingers flying over the keys and the cash. When he got the same totals, Brandon voiced his other concerns.
“You must be joking. Or smoking some pretty good shit,” Jonathan said on a snort. “Quinn would never do something like that. Besides, it’s such an off amount. If someone was going to take cash, it wouldn’t have change included.”
“But it could be that we’re off on something else to make up the difference,” Brandon insisted. “I think you should talk to him, Mr. Kemp. That kid‘s always seemed kinda sneaky to–”
“Bran, shut it. Right. Now. Or I’m gonna forget you work for me,” Jonathan growled. “You don’t know a damn thing about him. Leave it.” A small sound in the back hallway alerted him to someone moving away towards the workroom. “Dammit.” He hurried after.
Quinn slumped in one of the chairs, face buried in his hands.
“I guess you heard big mouth, huh?” Jonathan asked gently. Quinn only nodded. “Hon, I know you didn’t. That’s all that matters.”
“No, it’s not,” Quinn muttered, his voice tired and hollow. “Is it two yet?”
“Close enough. Go on home, Quinn. I’ll set everything right.” Jonathan patted his shoulder, not sure if anything else would be welcome.
A couple of minutes after Quinn and Cricket had gone to the bus stop, Alex came back from a delivery. He pulled a receipt from his pocket and handed it to Jonathan. “Sorry, boss, meant to leave this in the register. Had to pay Eddie out of the till for the vases since you were with a client. Didn’t want to interrupt just to get to the petty cash box.”
“Thank you, Alex. Not a problem.” There was an edge to Jonathan’s voice and he glared at Brandon while he asked. “And how much was Eddie’s bill?”
Alex scratched his head. “You’ve got the receipt right there, Mr. Kemp…”
“Just say it, please, so everyone can hear.”
“Two hundred forty six dollars and sixty-eight cents.”
Brandon turned several interesting shades of red and looked like he wanted to melt into the floor.
Quinn sat out on the back porch at home, letting the roar of the waves surround him. Even his favorite spot and his favorite sounds didn’t ease the misery. He knew he should get up and start dinner. Do something. But a terrible inertia had settled over him and he couldn’t find the energy to move.
Ethan’s car turned onto the gravel drive. Normally, he would have bounded out to greet him. Today, even that sound couldn’t break the motionless miasma.
Ethan went up the walk. Usually Quinn was waiting for him when he got home. Ethan swore he could hear his car coming before the dogs did. He must have been busy with something, maybe making dinner, or in the bathroom. When he went in though, there were no scents of cooking coming from the kitchen, and his only greeting came from Cricket and Molly who eagerly licked his hands and whined at him for attention.
Feeling a little trepidation now he wandered further into the house. “Quinn?” He saw him through the sliding doors and he smiled. Must be lost in thought.
Ethan opened the glass door and stepped out onto the back deck. “Hey, sweetheart. How was your day?” He walked across to join him on the step but stopped cold when he got a look at Quinn’s face. “Quinn? What’s wrong?” he asked gently, putting one hand on the small of his back and the other on his knee.
Quinn’s hands twisted between his knees. He didn’t want to talk about it but he knew Ethan wouldn’t let him get away with answering ‘nothing’. What he finally forced out between his teeth sounded childish and stupid. “Don’t wanna go back to work tomorrow.”
“Why? What’s happened?”
With patience and persistence, Ethan dragged the story out of him. At the end, Quinn put his head on his knees, rocking back and forth slowly. “Doesn’t matter what I do. I’ll always just be ‘that street kid’. They may pretend, they might be polite for a little while. But first fucking thing that goes wrong…blame the street kid.”
Ethan sighed softly and pulled Quinn into his arms. He resisted, wanted to hug the hurt to him still, but he couldn’t resist long. Then Ethan had him in his lap and his arms held him and he murmured soothing things into his hair while they listened to the waves roll in. He didn’t try to offer him anything reassuring, not yet. Besides, in a way Quinn was right. “Honey, I’m sorry they hurt you,” he said softly.
“There are always going to be suspicious people, always going to be ones that can’t see past their own prejudices. But it’s their problem, not yours. If you want to stay there you don’t have to let one stupid comment drive you out, but if it’s time to move on you can do that, too. I know you aren’t exactly happily fulfilled working there. Stay home for a while, or find something else, whatever you want to do. Okay?”
Quinn drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly before he answered. Part of him wanted to say something snide and bitter about everything being easy for someone like Ethan. He pummeled that part into shutting up before he opened his mouth.
“OK. I…I hope Jonathan’s not ticked off if I leave him. He’s been so nice and all.”
“I’m sure he’ll understand.”
“And…and I don’t know what I’m gonna do…I mean, I know you say it’s OK if I stay home but I can’t do that forever. You know, treat you like you’re some kinda sugar daddy or some shit.”
Ethan knew Quinn would feel that way, and he wouldn’t want Quinn to give up his independence, but he still couldn’t help feeling a little stung. “I know you wouldn’t, hon. If I support you, support the things you want to do, its because I love you. Not because I think I have to, to keep you.”
Quinn reached a hand up to stroke his cheek. “Didn’t mean it like that, love,” he said softly. “I’m sorry.” He kissed the base of Ethan’s jaw and felt the hard muscled body relax a little. “I guess…I dunno. I want to do something that means something. Not just to make money but something good. I mean, everybody I know makes beautiful things or does something beautiful or something important. Is that stupid? From someone who can’t even read?”
“No, it’s not stupid,” Ethan said. “Take your time, you’ll figure out what you want to do. It doesn’t have to be tomorrow.”
Quinn nodded against his shoulder. Hard to stay miserable with Ethan’s strength wrapped around him, Ethan’s confidence shoring him up. “I guess it wouldn’t be cool to just not show up at work tomorrow, though, huh?” He sighed. “Guess I’ll go in one more day.”
Ethan caught his chin and gave him a soft kiss. “If you want to.” He stood and pulled Quinn up with him. “Feel up to going out to eat? Or do you want me to make you something?”
“Out sounds good.” He managed a crooked smile and poked Ethan in the ribs. “I’m hungry and you take forever making dinner.”
Ethan took him to one of their favorite places, and he spent a lot of time talking about things going on, and plans for the weekend, and in general making sure everything felt as normal as possible. Change could be hard to deal with.
Though his appetite had all but vanished before Ethan got home, Quinn found he could eat with Ethan’s soft, soothing voice beside him. He was grateful, to have someone who understood him so well and doubly grateful when they crawled into bed that night and he understood Quinn just needed to be cuddled. He fell asleep to the steady beat of Ethan’s heart under his ear.
His resignation was easier than he imagined. Jonathan understood and offered whatever help he needed finding another job. Brandon even apologized, and Quinn managed not to snap his head off.
The next day was harder, though. He stayed home and thought about the question he had asked Xav so many months before. What was he supposed to do? With little education, no training and no talents he could use legally, he found himself at a loss.
Der’s motorcycle on the drive in the afternoon was a welcome distraction.
“Hey, pretty!” Der called as he strode up the walk. “Heard you were between things. Didn’t know if you needed some company. Or some help. Or an ear. Or a tune…”
Quinn heard him pulling in a deep breath and managed to get two fingers over his lips before he burst into song. “That’s OK, big guy,” he said on a chuckle. “We can skip the serenade, ‘K? But I could use some advice, maybe, if you can be serious a couple minutes.”
“I’ll do my best,” Der answered and kissed his fingers.
He sat Der down, got him a lemonade, and took him through his circular thought processes. “So what do I do? How do I even start looking?”
“You could start at the library, hon,” Der suggested. “They have those reader machines and computer programs that speak text. Could help you look through the Classifieds at least.”
“Yeah…but…” Quinn flopped onto the sofa. Cricket settled next to him, head on his knee and Molly lay down across his feet. “What do I look for? I mean, there’s nothing I’m, y’know, any good at–”
“That’s not true at all, you’re a natural–”
“Don’t!” Quinn snapped. “You promised, dammit! I don’t need to hear what a good fuck I am! Shit, Der…”
“Well, ah, true as that may be, it wasn’t what I was going to say,” Der said softly.
The rustle and the creak of leather signaled Der shifting and fidgeting. Just as Quinn thought he’d hurt the big guy’s feelings too much for him to go on, Der spoke again. “No, you see…I’m sitting here looking at you with one canine gazing up at you in adoration and another content to snuggle on your insteps. And I’m recalling that a certain picky feline came to you on her own without so much as an introduction. As a matter of fact, I can’t recall ever seeing you in a situation where the furred people in the room didn’t take to you instantly.”
“OK, but…” Quinn’s forehead creased. “It’s not like I can work in a vet clinic or a zoo or something. I mean, you gotta see if you’re gonna help in the OR, right?”
“True. But there are a lot of other places that desperately need someone like you.” Der’s claws clicked rhythmically on glass. “There’s a nice shelter downtown. A no-kill I take lost babies to sometimes. I could take you down and introduce you.”
Quinn turned all this over and over. The more he did, the more sense it made. Maybe… “No.”
“I mean…shit. Der, if I do this, I’ve gotta do it on my own, right? No more having people get me jobs. Do they have an ad in the paper or something? For openings and stuff?”
Der stepped over to turn on Ethan’s computer. A thirty second search revealed that, yes, the shelter in question had openings for animal techs and please apply in person. “And at this point…” The chair shifted and Quinn heard him get up. “I take my hands off and back away s-l-o-w-l-y…”
“You are so weird.” Quinn shook his head, then rushed over to where Der’s boots were still pacing backwards across the floor so he could hug him tight. “But thank you.”
Quinn kept quiet about the new possibility when Ethan came home, though he hummed with excitement. When Ethan asked, he explained he didn’t want to jinx it.
Der had helped him with the bus schedules and Quinn caught the one at ten that would take him almost to the shelter’s front door. Cricket sat beside him on the bus, tail thumping, some of his excitement catching.
No doubts about being in the right place when they walked through the door. Dogs barked from a back room, the unmistakable smells of animals in small spaces and disinfectants filled the air.
He walked forward until a voice called, ‘Can I help you?” Then he turned and Cricket signaled when they’d reached the front counter.
“Morning. I came about a job?”
Silence greeted him followed by an uncomfortable clearing of a throat. “Um…oh. Do you have any, um, experience?”
Quinn fought the rise of frustrated anger. “Not for pay, no. But I’m good with–”
A commotion behind him cut him off, a heavy tread accompanied by soft swearing and… thrashing?
“You gotta take this thing,” an aggravated male voice said on Quinn’s right. Something heavy thumped on the counter. “It bit my kid today and the other shelters won’t take it. I can’t have the thing in the house.”
Quinn tilted his head to one side and heard a familiar sound. A deep in-drawing of air followed by a quick huff out, the sound of a frightened, angry iguana. A rather large one by the sounds of the body thumping around in the box.
“Sir, if it’s not socialized and it’s dangerous, we can’t take it here, either. You need to call the zoo or–”
“Can you put the box on the floor?” Quinn asked.
“What?” The man’s voice turned to him.
“Put it on the floor. Tell me exactly where his head is and I’ll calm him down for you.”
“I don’t think–”
“Lady, if the kid thinks he can, I’m willing to try anything.”
Quinn felt the sides of the box first. Big box. Probably a fifteen year old reptile inside. He opened the lid and got another aggravated snort. “OK, tell me where.”
The man described, in fits and starts, where the iguana’s head lay and Quinn dangled the end of Cricket’s lead in front of where it should be. As he had hoped, the frightened animal lunged and so did Quinn. He grabbed the iguana behind the head, gently but firmly. It thrashed and snorted and tried to get at him but he got his other hand on its back and then, without letting go of the head, moved just his forefinger forward to stroke gently between its eyes.
“His eyes closed yet?” Quinn asked.
“No, but at least his mouth is.”
“Tell me when.”
He kept up the soft stroking until the man said, “Now. They’re closed.”
Gently, carefully, without losing his grip on the all important head, he eased his free arm underneath and lifted the iguana out to cradle the heavy body in his arms.
“Wow,” the woman murmured.
Another woman’s voice, this one older, spoke up. “Young man, I’m Heda Thorvald, the shelter’s director. Did I hear you asking about a job?”
After the iguana had been secured and Quinn had a short interview in the director’s office, he found himself hired. She said she didn’t care at this point if he was a serial killer but Ethan came up in conversation and that truly clinched the deal. Oh, yes, the staff knew Dr. McFarland. Anyone who could use him as a reference was golden where they were concerned.
After a short orientation and an introduction to the cat room where apparently they needed help most, Quinn was sent on his way with the admonition not to fail to show up in the morning.
He felt as if he could have flown home.
When Ethan got home Quinn practically jumped into his arms before he got halfway up the walk. “Well hello, sweetheart.” He smiled and kissed him. This was the first he’d seen Quinn really happy in days and he was almost as jubilant as Quinn to see it. “I take it you had a good day?”
“Oh, hell yeah!” Quinn enthused and gave Ethan a heated kiss. “I got a job at the Fifth Street Shelter and I start tomorrow…” He chattered on and on as he led Ethan inside, telling him about his adventure that day.
“And they might be calling you to check me out, right? So you better give me a good report.” He tried to say it sternly but his huge grin ruined it.
“That’s wonderful, sweetheart! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before,” Ethan said, feeling like smacking his forehead. With Quinn’s natural ability with animals it should had been a no brainer for him to be working with them. “It’s perfect for Cricket too, and I’ll see you a couple times a month.” Ethan did pro bono work at the shelter twice as month, mostly routine spay and neutering and vaccinations.
“Oh, cool!” He wrapped his arms around Ethan’s ribs and squeezed him tight. “Do I have to call you Dr. McFarland?”
Ethan laughed, and his grin turned lecherous. Quinn couldn’t see it, but he could hear it in his voice. “Only if you want me to give you an exam.” He sent a warm caressing breath over the back of Quinn’s neck.
“Oh, baby…” Quinn whispered on a delighted little shiver. Then he stepped back to take Ethan’s hand and drag him towards the kitchen. “But first you gotta eat. Hafta keep your strength up.”
He pushed Ethan into one of the kitchen chairs and brought dinner out of the oven, salmon and potatoes and snow peas. Living with Ethan, he’d learned a lot about cooking in a short time, especially how to make a joyful feast out of a few, simple things.
All through dinner he chatted away. He couldn’t seem to shut up, as if a fountain bubbled inside him. As they cleaned up, though, a different sort of excitement took hold of him, an aching longing that made it nearly impossible to wait. With the dishwasher finally started, he located Ethan by his breathing and lunged at him. He pinned him back against the counter and took his lips in a ferocious kiss.
Ethan kissed him back with equal ardor, it had been a few days and he was hungry for a lot more than the dinner they’d just ate. After a few minutes he came up for air with a soft husky chuckle. “Hey tiger, you want to go into the bedroom or you going to throw me down right here?”
For a moment, Quinn considered it but the bed won out. For him, sex in a real, comfortable, clean bed was still a treat and he was having some odd thoughts…
He pulled Ethan into the bedroom and got him undressed in record time. Then with a gentle shove, he got Ethan to sit down on the bed while he stripped more slowly, knowing heated eyes devoured his every move.
Ethan was only content to watch for a few moments. When Quinn lifted his arms to pull his shirt off he reached out and took him by the waist, pulling him in between his knees. His hands always looked big on Quinn’s slim body, like he could hurt him if he squeezed hard, but he knew that was only illusion. There was a lot of strength in that whipcord lean body. He slid his hands around to his back and dipped his head to kiss and nibble over his tautly muscled abdomen.
“Oh…love…” Quinn stopped his stripping to bury his fingers in the thick mass of Ethan’s hair. He almost abandoned his previous thoughts, surrender awfully tempting. With a little moan, he took Ethan’s head between his hands and pushed back gently, just far enough so he could slip out of his jeans.
He crawled up onto the bed, pushing Ethan slowly onto his back as he kissed along his jaw. The five o’clock scruff was even a turn on. His big, strong, man…
“Ethan,” he whispered against one broad shoulder. “Have you ever wanted…I mean, you think you might like it if we, y’know, switched?” His fingers traced along Ethan’s ribs, a firestorm staring at his core. “It’s OK if it’s no, babe. I’ll take you any way I can get you.”
“You want to tie me to the bed posts?” Ethan asked with a little chuckle and then felt dumb when a second later he got what Quinn was asking. “Oh, you mean…hmm.” He had to roll that around for a moment. It wasn’t that he was turned off by the idea, or that he was worried it would hurt or…
Quinn took a breath and opened his mouth and Ethan was sure he was about to tell him to forget he mentioned it so he put his finger to his lips before he could speak while he continued to think.
It wasn’t like he felt it was a threat to his masculinity either. He supposed he had just always felt very much like a top, and never thought about being the bottom. And then here was Quinn, his Quinn, asking so sweetly and hesitantly and Ethan had never thought… perhaps he had other desires.
Ethan moved his finger across Quinn’s lips so he could kiss him tenderly. “I’ll try anything for you, love.”
“My brave hero.” Quinn gave him a soft smile and went in for seconds, the kiss sparking and catching with brushfire speed. “I’ll be gentle.”
Ethan’s chuckle turned to a soft moan as Quinn licked a soft trail down his throat. Quinn reached over to the nightstand to pull out the oil, and then moved over to swing Ethan’s legs up onto the bed. He crawled between Ethan’s legs again to begin his progress downwards. The kisses along his collarbone were soft but by the time he got to Ethan’s chest, he nipped and licked with abandon, taking one pebbled bud between his lips in a hard suck.
Ethan slid his fingers into Quinn’s soft hair. He fought the urge to guide him downward, letting him go at his own pace.
“You’re so gorgeous,” Quinn whispered against the soft fur of Ethan’s chest. He wriggled out of his bikini briefs without leaving the warmth of that wonderful, hard body and then stretched out atop Ethan so their cocks could rub together while he attacked his lips again.
Ethan caressed down Quinn’s back. He loved Quinn’s back, the smooth lines of muscle just beneath the soft skin. Sliding his hands down Quinn’s naked back never failed to get him hot. Cupping his hands lower over smooth rounded cheeks was even better. He moaned softly against Quinn’s lips as he caressed and gently squeezed. Again he resisted his natural inclinations. He wanted to roll Quinn under him, or spread his legs over his hips, but he did neither, contenting himself with the super heated kisses and caressing Quinn’s lovely body.
A little moan rose from Quinn and he squirmed under those wonderful, powerful hands. His resolve wavered, the urge to beg Ethan to take him pounding at him. With a deep breath he started his journey down Ethan’s body again, though this time he didn’t stop until his lips met the head of his erection. He groaned and took the cap in his mouth as he spread Ethan’s thighs.
Such a hot sweet mouth. Ethan sighed and hummed with pleasure, but remained still, letting Quinn have the lead.
While he let his tongue play over the underside of Ethan’s steel-hard shaft, Quinn bent Ethan’s legs up and slid his hands between his thighs. He kept him on his back because he had more than a tiny feeling Ethan had never done this before and it would be easier for him to relax.
Careful fingers kneaded Ethan’s sac and then moved down to the smooth spot behind, pressing and circling until Quinn got the groan he wanted. He reached for the oil bottle and got his fingers nice and slippery before he spread Ethan’s hard glutes and found that tight, hot backdoor waiting for him.
Ethan drew a hard breath at the sudden pleasure that knifed through him. Quinn could feel his body tighten and hear the indrawn breath, but of course couldn’t see his expression.
“Okay, love?” he asked.
Ethan gave a breathless little chuckle. “Oh yeah, just fine sweetheart… better than fine…mm.”
Quinn teased in and out with a single digit, tapping inside at that sweet spot when he got deep enough. A deep-chested groan vibrated the bed and he added a second finger. Ethan relaxed nicely, no hint of inhibitions, no signs of pain.
After a few minutes, Quinn felt he could shift position. His legs trembled with excitement as he moved back up and angled his cock to press at Ethan’s star. When he pushed forward he gasped at the dizzying rush of pleasure from the hard grip around him.
Ethan slid his legs around behind Quinn’s thighs, pulling him in a little deeper. He moaned and caressed Quinn’s chest. “Quinn… oh, god, Quinn…” he said in a husky growl. “That feels so good…” God, did it ever. Why had he waited to do this?
“Oh, babe…you’re so damn tight,” Quinn panted. He still held himself up, arms on either side of Ethan’s chest but every muscle shook with an overload of delight. He’d done the top thing a couple of times before but it had never felt anything like this.
He sank into Ethan slowly and then let his body settle on his broad chest. It felt so wonderful, surrounded by Ethan’s arms and legs and his molten hot sleeve. “Ethan…” he moaned as his hips started to move him in and out of their own accord. “I love you so.”
Ethan dug his fingers into the back of Quinn’s hair and brought him in for a smoldering hot kiss. “I love you, too,” he murmured against his lips. His other hand slid between them. The feel of Quinn inside him had gotten him hotter then he’d thought possible. He timed his strokes with the way he slid inside, the cock bumping against his prostate amazing in ways he couldn’t describe.
Within minutes Ethan was on the edge, so ready. His head pressed back, neck arched. “Quinn… oh, my sweet Quinn…” His climax rose up and burst over him, his hot sticky ropes of come shooting between their bodies
Quinn groaned as the sticky heat hit his belly and Ethan’s body clutched hard around him. He thrust in deep and held Ethan tight, letting the sweet, heavy ache build and rise until it shot up from his balls. His moans and whimpers muffled by Ethan’s shoulder, he clung, only his hips moving in little jerks as he was washed away in the sweet flood.
Ethan held Quinn for long minutes, not in any hurry to move. He stroked Quinn‘s back gently up and down. “Don’t know why we haven’t done this before…” he wondered again, this time aloud
“’Cause you’re a control freak,” Quinn teased in a sleepy voice. He chuckled when Ethan swatted him. “I just think I didn’t…feel like it before.”
“Mm,” Ethan responded noncommittally, happy to lie there with Quinn and float.
“It’s not like I’d want to all the time or anything.” Quinn muffled a snicker against Ethan’s shoulder at the odd notion of anyone trying to play Dom to Ethan. “I mean… damn… I love the feel of you inside me. Like nothing else. But…I dunno. Something felt different tonight.”
“It’s called being proud of your accomplishments, sweetheart. I must say you chose a wonderful way to celebrate.”
Quinn nuzzled at his throat. “I’m glad you liked it, love.” So that’s what that strange feeling was, pride. Really seemed to get the testosterone flowing. Something he’d have to work on recreating from time to time.
Ethan parked the jeep and hurried out. The first fat drops of an impending storm were already spattering the windshield. He snatched the couple bags of groceries from the back and was jogging up the walkway to the house as it started coming down in earnest.
The jeep on the gravel drive had alerted Quinn and he was already at the door, holding it open. He shivered when thunder rumbled in the distance but he tried to hide it. Not that he was afraid of a stupid thunderstorm. Not exactly. But they could be so damn loud.
“Hey, love, whatcha got there?” he said in an overly cheerful voice as he took one of the bags from Ethan and put it up on the counter. Just as he lifted the first can from the bag, thunder shook the house. The can flew from his hand when he jumped and smacked his foot when it landed.
Ethan winced in sympathy, “Oh damn, are you okay, hon?” He bent to retrieve the can and look at Quinn’s foot at the same time. “That’s going to leave a nasty bruise.” He noticed then how tense Quinn was. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” he asked as he straightened back up.
“Nothing,” Quinn muttered. Another crack of thunder rattled the roof beams. “Dammit!” That one had nearly made him jump out of his skin. Ethan’s arms went around him and he was only to happy to bury his face against that broad chest. “I hate thunderstorms. I know it’s stupid and lame and shit. But I do.”
Ethan kissed his forehead tenderly. “It’s not stupid. It’s primal. Instinctual. Our ancient ancestors knew enough to seek shelter from the dangers of a storm.” He said reasonably. “It just means your senses are still sharp, that you haven’t been lulled into passivity by the modern world.”
Only Ethan could make being afraid of a thunderstorm sound somehow right and manly. “Let me finish putting things away. Would you check on Molly and Cricket? Mol gets upset by storms sometimes.”
Quinn snorted at the explanation and the attempt to redirect his fears. “Lulled into passivity. Goddamn college educated explanations of someone being a chicken shit, McFarland.” But a smile twitched at his lips, ruining his attempt at angry muttering.
He whistled for Cricket. “Where’s Mol, Crick? Go find Mol.” The jingle of Cricket’s tags led him off and he called back over his shoulder. “Holler for me if the power goes so you’re not bangin’ around in the dark.”
Ethan got the perishables put away just before the power went out and Quinn returned with the announcement that Molly was fine. They both jumped this time as a huge boom of thunder seemed like it crashed right above the house.
“Well, you called that one.” Ethan said, carefully maneuvering out of the kitchen. He found Quinn in the dark, or Quinn found him, and pulled him close. “Let’s see, what can we do until the power is back on?” he asked suggestively, bending his head to nuzzle at the side of Quinn’s throat.
“Lessee,” Quinn began slowly. His heart pounded against Ethan but he couldn‘t help teasing a little. “We could play checkers? Or maybe Parcheesi? Oh, wait, no.” He tapped Ethan’s chest with one finger. “You can’t see. We better settle for something easier.”
He’d been thinking about Ethan all day, distracted at work, hit by sudden surges of lust at odd moments. Normally he kept it under control but memories of Der tied to their bed and the heated passion the bondage had created in Ethan kept creeping back up on him. It scared him a little. No, a lot. Being tied to the bed was something that happened when someone was going to do something really bad to you, so you didn’t flail and try to swing. At least in his experience, that had been true.
But this was Ethan, who would never hurt him and he so wanted to please him. Maybe, just maybe he could put it all aside and manage this, for Ethan. He twined his arms around Ethan’s neck and turned his head to catch his lips in a soft kiss. “You wanna…um, you wanna tie me down so you know where I am in the dark?”
Ethan’s hands stilled on Quinn’s back. He lifted his head so he could look at him, what he could see of him anyway in the murky dark. Another clap of thunder rattled the windows and Ethan waited until it faded before asking, “Is that what you want, Quinn?” His lips were so close they brushed Quinn’s softly as he spoke. Although the thought of Quinn tied to their bed definitely sent fireflies of pleasure sparking around inside, he didn’t want to do it if Quinn was only trying to please him.
“I want–” Another crack sounded directly overhead, followed by a slow, growling rumble that rattled the roof. Quinn shuddered. “I’m half scared out of my mind. But I don’t know if it’s the storm or what I just asked you. I want to–to try it. ’Cause, see, I keep thinking of Der and–and it’s not like I think I have to. But it’s…what that did to you…I can’t help it and it won’t leave me alone and it’s making me crazy…”
He lifted his face to kiss along Ethan’s jaw. “I love you,” he breathed against Ethan’s skin. “I trust you. With everything. With anything. Let me try, love.”
Ethan cupped Quinn’s face and kissed him. Not a gentle sweet kiss, not a kiss that would lead up to more, this kiss was pure hunger. His fingers slid into Quinn’s thick hair and his tongue thrust into his mouth. He pressed closer, and Quinn was forced to take a step back, until his butt fetched up against the back of the couch and Ethan could press the hard line of his body against him.
Ethan’s mouth was hot and demanding, plundering the depths of Quinn’s until he paused long enough to pull Quinn’s tee shirt off over his head. His lips moved down, kissing a hot and wet line down his throat. His hand kneaded the muscles of Quinn’s back and squeezed his adorable little ass. His lips fastened at the side of Quinn’s throat and pulled the skin in a hard suck.
“Oh god, oh fuck,” Quinn gasped as his head fell back. His hands roamed over Ethan’s broad back and went as far as tugging his shirt free but he was dizzy with desire and unable to think. Ethan’s fire overwhelmed him and he moaned hard as he came erect in a soaring rush.
His fingers shook as he unbuttoned Ethan’s shirt in desperate little tugs. “Scorching…oh, love…I want you so damn bad…”
Ethan’s only answer was a small growl. He impatiently tugged Quinn’s pants open as he licked over the mark he had made on his neck. He rubbed the flat of his palm over his erection, loving both the little moan he pulled from Quinn and the way his hips arched into his touch. Pushing his underwear down he wrapped his hand around him. He loved the way Quinn fit so perfectly in his hand too, and the sexy little moans he made..
He tangled tongues with him again while he stroked him. Quinn whimpered and clung to him and Ethan flushed hot with desire. He wasn’t sure where this sudden surge of nearly uncontrolled passion had come from. He just knew he wanted Quinn and he wanted him now. His hands moved to the back of Quinn’s thighs and he lifted him, pushing him over onto the couch.
Somehow between the scorching kisses and passionate groping they managed to shed the rest of their clothes. Ethan was on top of Quinn, his knees nudging his thighs apart while he gripped Quinn’s wrists, holding them above his head. He had enough presence of mind to know he had to stop, he wasn’t going to take Quinn dry.
Very deliberately he drew his hands down Quinn’s arms and chest. He lifted one of his legs and placed it over the back of the couch, pushing the other onto the floor so he was spread wide, his arms still above his head. So damn sexy. His eyes had adjusted to what little light came in through the windows and he was painted in shades of gray. “Stay just as you are. Don’t move.” Ethan said sternly.
“Yessir,” Quinn said on a shaky breath. His stomach muscles quivered, every nerve on high alert, and he fought down a whimper when the next thunderclap came.
Ethan got up and managed not to stumble on anything. He retrieved lube and a candle from the bedroom. Quinn was still just as he had placed him when he returned. Ethan lit the candle and put it on the end table. As he did so he noticed the two leashes there and a smile curved his lips. Good leather leashes. He would never look at them the same after tonight, he had a feeling.
Picking one up he took Quinn’s wrists in his hand. “Do you know how much I love you? I would never let any harm come to you…” He murmured the words huskily by Quinn’s ear, and then wrapped the leather around his wrists, tying it off tightly.
Quinn’s breaths came much too fast. He struggled to slow them, to quiet his pounding heart. So exposed, so vulnerable, fear still lurked in the back of his stubborn brain but the excitement of Ethan’s desire had him shivering with anticipation.
“I trust you, love,” he said softly. “Just…talk to me, please. So I don’t lose track.”
“I’ll try and remember.” Ethan murmured. He wasn’t exactly the best with pillow talk, he knew. He got so wrapped up in what he was doing and feeling it was hard to remember words.
Ethan kissed a line down Quinn’s arm as he moved back around him. “You said you liked how hot it got me when we had Der tied up… was it just that, or did you like having him tied up too?”
With that wonderful, deep voice keeping him anchored, Quinn held the memories at bay the bad ones that kept trying to sneak in. “I liked it…oh…” His breath caught as Ethan’s hand caressed over his nipple.
He gulped a few breaths before he could speak again. “I liked it…’cause he liked it. ‘Cause it made him all sorts of turned on. He was so hot, all squirmy and whimpering, like he was pulling against the ties the whole time and just getting more turned on ‘cause he couldn’t get loose. Oh…yeah…that was hot as hell.”
“Mmm…” Ethan hummed as he pulled Quinn’s nipple into his mouth. He sucked hard and let his teeth and tongue worry at him.
Quinn’s back arched on a soft cry of pleasure, though he was careful not to move his limbs. “Ethan…oh…I love your mouth…”
Ethan moved from his nipple and nosed into his armpit. “You smell so good, Quinn.”
“Please…babe…” Quinn’s head thumped against the sofa a few times. Some people’s pits were ticklish but for Quinn the touch was charged with erotic voltage.
Ethan’s hands gripped Quinn’s hips, slipping under him to knead the nicely rounded globs of his ass. “Mmm… the things I want to do to you…” He bent his head to nuzzle his nose against his balls, licking lightly just behind them. “But we have to get you ready first…” He reached over and grabbed the lubricant, squeezed a good dollop on to his fingers, and pressed the pad of his first finger to his anus. He smiled as Quinn moaned and shivered. He circled his tight little ring and played and teased, letting just the very tip of his finger penetrate and immediately circle around him again, never any more than that.
Something about having to hold his position through all this set up little bonfires in Quinn’s core. He could have moved any time he wanted but Ethan had said stay and some part of him…damn. Some weird, horny part of him wanted Ethan to tell him what to do.
“Oh, love…I want you so…damn….bad…” he gasped out, feeling a little lost and out of his element. “Do I need to ask for it?”
“Ask for what…this?” Ethan asked, answer his own teasing question by sliding his finger inside him up to the third knuckle. Quinn’s moan doused Ethan in liquid fire. “Move for me honey, leave your legs and arms as they are, just your body.”
Quinn lifted his ass to meet the invading digit, his hips rolling, silently begging for more. “Oh, please, love…oh, that’s so good…I want you inside me…I want your cock inside me…you hard body on mine…”
Liquid fire? More like molten lava. God, his boy was so damn hot. With an effort of will Ethan ignored his plea for the moment. He added a second finger, and then a third. Moving with Quinn now he stroked in and out, all the while murmuring little words of encouragement and telling him just how hot he was getting.
When Quinn was thoroughly lubed and stretched and begging, Ethan withdrew his fingers, slicked his rock hard cock with more lube and positioned himself at his opening. He was not as slow and gentle as he usually was entering him, but he’d spent enough time in preparation that Quinn took him easily.
“Fuck that feels so good, sweetheart…” He growled into the side of Quinn’s throat. “Wrap your legs around me now.”
Without hesitation, Quinn did, hugging Ethan tight with his thighs around his waist, hooking his foot around his ankle to keep it in place. “Take me, baby, please,” he whispered against Ethan’s hair. “I love you so…I wanna feel you pounding into me…”
That was it. Ethan was done in by those breathlessly uttered words. His arms slid around the back of Quinn’s legs, pushing them up until he was nearly bent double. Slow and sensual was put aside as Ethan’s powerful thighs and buttocks did exactly as Quinn requested, pounding his hard cock into him in rhythmic frenzy.
Quinn’s cries of delight mingled with the storm. He heaved and writhed under the passionate assault, unable to do much more in his helpless position, Ethan’s weight pinning him. His arms stayed put as if Ethan had truly tied him down and the pull of the leather against his wrists held a heated, decadent sort of delight.
Sharp notes of pain danced along the rising crest of pleasure. Ethan was so damn big, impossible not to have a little bit of pain when he went all out. But it felt so good, the stretch, the relentless thumping against his balls and the gland deep inside, the hard rub of Ethan’s six pack against his cock.
“Babe…oh…I’m coming…ohgod…is it all right?”
“Oh yes, yes, baby… come for me…” Which was all he could manage to get out before he shuddered and thrust deep and hard, spilling his own hot come into Quinn.
Quinn arched and cried out as his insides echoed the weather, heavy clouds to rumbling to cyclone. The wind howled at the windows, Quinn howled in ecstasy. Every hard pulse made him writhe and moan, his orgasm more prolonged and forceful than any he’d ever experienced.
Finally his heaving slowed, little sighing moans escaping with each aftershock as Ethan still moved gently inside him.
Ethan slowly came to a stop. Very gently he lowered Quinn’s legs but didn’t pull out yet. He kissed Quinn tenderly while he tugged the knot on the leather free and released Quinn’s arms. “That was… intense, sweetheart.” He murmured. “You okay?”
Wonder and amusement warring on his face, Quinn smiled for him. “That was so hot, I forgot to be scared.”
Ethan chuckled softly. “Mm… good.” After a moment or two more he heaved himself up, knowing he was probably getting heavy. The storm was starting to blow itself out now. He kissed the tip of Quinn’s nose. “Quinn, can I take you shopping tomorrow, for some things?” Some proper leather cuffs, maybe, and some other stimulating items, Ethan was thinking.
“Things, huh?” Quinn sat up on a little laugh. “OK, it’s a date. But just so you know, I’m drawing the line at anything with lace. And I’m not dressing up like a French maid for you, McFarland.”
Ethan shifted around and pulled Quinn into his lap. “Aw… what about a school girl? Little plaid skirt and knee high stockings?” Quinn punched him in the shoulder and Ethan laughed. “Ok, ok… no knee highs.” He chuckled. “I was thinking more along the lines of leather anyway.” He said in a low voice, caressing his hands along Quinn’s frame.
A little shiver raced up Quinn’s spine. “Oh, well, that I think I can do.” He took Ethan’s face between his hands and kissed him tenderly. “All the leather you want, love.”
Quinn waited for Cricket to jump out of the truck and come around to him. They’d gone to Cody’s show early, at his insistence. Ethan thought it a little odd that he wanted to ‘see’ an exhibit he couldn’t see at all but he’d enjoyed it. All the comments and reactions around him and Ethan’s own descriptions, some of them sounding like he was trying not to drool, had shown him the artwork in a way sighted people could never experience.
The house stood quiet and he knew they were the first to arrive. Fine with him, Vic might need some help.
“Quinn!” Victor boomed as he opened the door and dragged him into a crushing embrace.
He chuckled. “Hey, dad, how’s it going?”
“Couldn’t be better. Let me look at you.” Vic’s hands settled on his shoulders. “Well, someone’s taking good care of you. You’re practically glowing.”
“It’s the sea air,” Ethan commented with his own glowing smile.
“By God, it must be.” The little quaver in Vic’s voice probably wasn’t noticeable to anyone but Quinn. “Send a waif out into the world and he comes back a young man. Come in, come in. I’m just setting things out. Quinn, you know where everything is. Get yourselves something to drink.”
The rest of those friends who had been invited to the after party started to arrive in drips and drabbles. Dave and Xavier first, then Elric, Orion and Keit. Vince and Jonathan arrived with Cody. Katya, Liam and Richard were next.
Drew had gone with Der so he didn’t have to ride alone and they rode in comfortable quiet. Drew needed time to absorb and decompress and Der let him. When they pulled up in front of the house, Drew turned on the seat toward Der, a small bemused smile on his lips. “Did you like it?”
“Well…” Der cocked his head to one side. “It was a little strange, seeing myself over and over again like that since I’m such a shy, retiring person.” He grinned at Drew’s snort. “Fine, not so much. But it was still odd, with all those people staring. Once I got through that, though, oh, yes. It was amazing.”
He still smiled, though regret tinged his eyes. “I bow to a talent far greater than mine. And realize once again why I paint cars.”
Drew reached up and cupped Der’s face in both hands. “Just because your canvas is different doesn’t mean what you create is any less beautiful! That one with the demons on it? That was amazingly detailed. The phantom ice one? That was so real it looked like you’d get frostbite if you touched it. And the dragon? That was better than any cover art I’ve ever seen. I can’t even make stick figures look good, Der. There are thousands and thousands of people that don’t have even a tiny iota of your talent.”
Der sat there stunned. Drew had never really said anything about his work. He’d looked through Der’s portfolio and photo album and made little oo’s and ah’s, but he’d never seemed interested, Der had chalked it up to him thinking cars were ‘boring’. That Drew had not only paid attention, but recalled in detail what he liked was a bit of a surprise to say the least.
“Well, um…” Der gulped a breath and cleared his throat. Then his grin returned. “Thank you, sugar bear. Now, you know stroking a man’s ego is almost as effective as stroking his privates.”
He slid an arm around Drew’s back and pulled him close to claim the lips he’d been thinking about all evening in a tender, heated kiss.
Drew responded by sliding his arms around Der’s neck and kissing him back like he was the very air he needed to live. Walking through Cody’s exhibit had definitely done things to him, kept him thinking about that morning they’d spent in Cody’s sunroom and how hot and intense they had been, how he had begged Der for more… He groaned as Der’s hands moved over his ribs, his thumbs lightly brushing over his nipples and playing with the piercing there. Drew’s fingers slid down Der’s chest as his tongue danced along his. He cupped the growing bulge at the front of Der’s pants and stroked him even more than he’d done his ego.
The tip of Der’s tongue teased over Drew’s stud and he moaned into his mouth, his hips moving with the hand teasing him. “My sweet, sweet love,” he murmured. “Gods…I want you all over me…”
He pulled back to gaze down at Drew, his eyes dancing. “Are we going to be very naughty boys and do it out here in the car?” He jerked his head towards the velvet covered back benches. “Plenty of room.”
Drew slipped over the top of the seat and into the back without hesitating and Der followed him with a chuckle. Hands fumbled with zippers and tugged off shirts in hurried excitement while they kissed and stroked each other breathless. Drew’s jeans were pushed down to his knees and he turned to grip the back of the seat, presenting an enticingly sweet ass.
“Sugar bear,” Der whispered, his hand caressing the lovely globes. “Would you get me wet for you? I haven’t had the chance…not since you got your tongue pierced. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about your tongue since then…”
Drew gave a husky chuckle and turned again, pushing Der back gently until he sat on his haunches. He kissed his way down his chest and over the tautness of his belly as he tugged his pants open and down a little more.
He licked his lips and teased the little ball of his tongue ring around Der’s silky smooth head. He opened his mouth and took him inside, sliding the ball in all the right stimulating places down his shaft. Drew had been waiting for this too, and his little mewls of delight only added to the pleasure.
“Oh…mmm,” Der hummed in delight, fingers tangled in Drew’s hair. He cried out softly and his hips jerked when Drew’s tongue stud clicked over the silver balls of his ladder. He shivered, his hips pressing forward. “Hell’s gates…oh, do that again…oh, please…”
Drew complied eagerly, moving his mouth up and down on Der’s shaft in a hot wet glide. One of his hands moved down to fondle Der’s balls and press two fingers into the tender stretch behind them in little pulses. His other hand slid around his own steel hard cock, jerking in rhythm with his mouth on Der’s pole.
With a hard groan, Der tightened his fingers in Drew’s hair. “Sugar bear…much as I want to beg for more…I won’t last this way.” He pulled Drew up with gentle tugs and held him close when he got a whimper. “Sh, sh…you’re so lovely…so scarlet hot…”
He lifted Drew’s face to kiss him hard, moaning at the taste of himself mingled with Drew. He turned him to his previous position, his lovely backside presented invitingly, and Der curled forward to lick at the valley between his pert cheeks.
Drew’s back arched, he groaned as Der’s tongue circled his rim and teased inside until he was squirming and pushing back to get him deeper. “Uuuh! Der, please…mm-uh, please…want you so bad.” He shivered as Der came up, tongue teasing into the little dimple at the base of his spine. That was definitely a hot spot and Der knew it.
“Such a little wanton,” Der purred as he grasped Drew’s hips and repositioned him. “My little wonton. All soft and smooth on the outside…such a tightly wrapped, tasty little package on the inside…”
He kept Drew steady with one hand and took his cock in the other to angle himself at that sweet little entrance so enticingly offered to him. A slow push breached the tight barrier and he stopped with a long moan as his head popped through.
Drew’s moan matched Der’s, his head tipping back and his butt lifting a little more. He rocked his hips a fraction so his body gripped and moved over the head of Der’s cock. The memory of having his arms tied behind his back, his pants hobbling him around his knees as Der sank slowly into him on the floor of Cody’s sunroom fueled his desire even more.
Der wrapped an arm around his waist and moved him again so he knelt sideways on the wide bench seat. He pressed on Drew’s back until his head rested on the velvet, ass up in the air. Gently, not certain if he would balk, Der took his hands and pulled them behind his back, taking both slender wrists in one hand.
With Drew helpless and held fast with tender care, Der stroked in another inch and then back out in slow, teasing thrusts.
“Ohhhh…” Drew pushed back as Der gave him more. “Feels so good, Der.” He let out another low sweet groan as Der pushed further inside and stroked in and out in slow tender strokes. He panted with spiraling pleasure as he finally felt Der’s balls brushing him and a rhythm began to build. Long minutes on both tender sweet and super hot had Drew writhing in Der’s grasp and begging for more, harder, faster which Der oh-so-considerately obliged him with.
His body singing along at full throttle Drew felt the tightening drawing up inside and was somewhat surprised and amazed. He almost never came without his cock being stroked. He was so turned on though, so hot, and Der was so perfectly hitting all the right buttons and… “Ohmygod! Oh god…oh god…mmmmuh, oh oh yeah…ohhh, fuck me Der…” His body tightened down and spasmed as he shot sticky sweet ropes of white all across the red velvet
Inside the house, Jonathan stood looking out the front window. He’d gone to the window to see if Drew had arrived yet but when he saw the hearse with its fogged up windows, he stayed to watch.
“Beloved?” Vincent appeared on his right. “Hasn’t Drew come yet?”
Jonathan chuckled as the hearse started to rock. “Oh, I’d say he’s coming right about now.”
Vincent looked out the window over his shoulder. “Such a wicked thing, my coyote.” He leaned in for a soft, heated kiss.
“Mmmhmm,” Jonathan hummed. “Not that you seem to mind.”
Der drove in hard and held himself still to feel Drew’s body clutching around him and heaving beneath him. His body arched in a C, his breaths coming in short, hard gasps, and he went over with a soft cry, the force of his orgasm stealing the rest of his breath.
Drew closed his eyes, his sides still heaving, Der still hot inside him. He released his wrists and Drew’s arms slid bonelessly to either side. Der’s hands caressed him gently and after a while he slowly disengaged his softening member.
Drew pushed himself up and turned, slid his arms around Der and buried his face into the crook of Der’s neck. “I love you so much.”
Der heaved a suspiciously shaky breath. “Sugar bear,” he whispered against Drew’s hair. “I love you, too.”
They were the absolute last to arrive. Drew’s arm laced casually around Der’s waist, Der’s draped over Drew’s shoulders, they walked in much the same as they had the day of Cody’s photography session. Except this time there was less an air of anticipation about them as there was an air sexual satisfaction. Der’s buttons on his shirt were done up wrong, Drew was all untucked and mussed, and both wore that post orgasmic dreamy sated look
“Ooo, there’s my stars!” Cody rushed to hug them both.
Jonathan called from the corner, “Encore! Encore!” With a few piercing whistles for good measure.
“Oh…” Der flung an arm over his eyes. “I’m so…exhausted…I couldn’t possibly…”
“Not even for baked goods?” Quinn called from his spot in Ethan’s lap.
Der tapped a finger on his jaw, pretending to think hard. “What kind?”
“Lessee…I smell brownies and chocolate chip and–”
“Such an evil little tempter. Yes, for chocolate, I’d do nearly anyone…er, thing.”
Drew kissed Der’s cheek and wandered off toward Vince and Jonathan.
Xavier leaned over from his perch on the arm of Dave’s chair to whisper in his ear, “See, I told you we could have taken a little side trip before we got here.”
Dave reached a hand up to stroke the back of Xav’s neck. “We still can, y’know. It’s a big house.”
Jonathan pulled Drew into his arms for a soft kiss. “Hmm…” he murmured thoughtfully. “I taste Drew…and a little Der…and…” He went back in for seconds as if to be sure. “And…yes, yes, definite hints of red velvet upholstery.”
Vincent and Drew both swatted him at the same time.
Across the room, Derelict watched the little bit of teasing and decided they didn’t need him horning in. Besides, he’d monopolized Drew rather selfishly for a good part of the evening. He stopped for a quick word with Ethan and Quinn, paid his respects to Victor and the Prince, and suddenly found himself next to the gorgeous Ms. Katya.
“How lovely to see you again, ma’am,” he said with a grin and a little bow of his head.
“Thank you, Derelict, and it has been a pleasure to see so much of you today.” She smiled at him, sultry hints in her eyes and the curl of her lips.
“Ah, well, I live to please.” His smile felt frozen. If she kept looking at him like that his brain was going to melt.
“Do you know, dear, that buttons done up hastily in a dark car have a way of coming out all askew?” Her beautiful pouty lips twitched with humor.
“And I thought I was starting a new fashion trend…”
“Here, let me help you with those.” Katya reached up, slid well manicured fingertips down either side of the row of buttons and slowly pulled the first free, and the next, and the next, until she reached the edge of his pants. She tilted her head, looking into his eyes with definite mischief. Delicate fingers slid under the waistband of his trousers and slowly and teasingly pulled his shirt free. She ran a single fingertip down the open V of his shirt and flicked the last misaligned button free.
“Oh, dear gods…” he breathed and then managed in a husky murmur. “I mean, thank you, that’s so much better. Mother always said I’d never learn to dress myself.” Any other woman he would have been testing the waters, flirting shamelessly. But Katya? His synapses all misfired at once and he couldn’t function. Was she just teasing? Did she want something from him? And was he supposed to guess?
“Were you wondering if the photos were air-brushed?” he heard himself blurt out and wanted to sink into the floor.
Katya’s husky purring chuckle floated out with genuine amusement, though whether at his comment or at the way he suddenly looked so surprised that it had come out of his mouth wasn’t certain. “Cody would never tamper with such natural beauty,” she replied. She tilted her head again, as if appraising him. “Though you have done a lovely job decorating, haven’t you? Of course, Cody’s photos didn’t show the whole package all put together…maybe we should check and see if the photos actually do you justice.”
Her grin now was a tad wolfish. She paused to give him an out. He could laugh it off, or make some other excuse and she would let him be, or he could go with it and put himself in her hands, so to speak.
Der swallowed hard. He hadn’t felt this awkward with anyone for years. Women often flocked to him but they tended to fawn and fuss over him, not make him feel like…prey? No, not precisely that. Maybe more like a prize bit of stock.
He spread his arms and managed a hint of a smile. “Feel free, ma’am. The whole package stands before you un-dissected.”
Katya held up an elegant finger. “But not undressed and properly displayed.” She winked.
Moving behind him, Katya trailed her hand along his flat belly and around his hip. Once behind him she reached up and slowly peeled his shirt down, gliding her hands over shoulders and colorful arms. She brought the thin shirt off his wrists and Richard was beside her at arm’s length to take it before she fully extended her arm out to him. She draped the shirt over Richard’s arm without looking, as if they’d rehearsed.
Katya moved back around to his front, trailing her fingers along his back and around his other hip so she stopped in just the place she had started. “Very nice,” she purred.
“Liam.” She said his name quietly but he instantly appeared at her side, and just a little behind. She pointed at the floor and he dropped to all fours, sideways in front of Der. She sat down on her improvised ottoman and crossed one slender shapely leg over the other. Her pencil skirt was just short enough that it pulled up so the lacy top of her thigh high black stocking peeked out at the edge and hinted at the garters beneath.
“Hands behind your back.” The tone of voice was soft, a velvet caress rather than a whip crack, but still a command.
Derelict shivered in anticipation and did as he was told. Happy to do so now that it was obvious where things stood. One of those rare, adaptable people, he was just as pleased to take a subservient position as a commanding one, as comfortable with girls as boys. And oh, did Ms. Kat have some lovely boys.
Vincent had taken the large armchair beside Ethan, his own boys perched on either arm. He leaned over to nudge Ethan and nodded towards the little presentation Ms Kat prepared. “Our Derelict’s been quite popular this evening, hasn’t he?”
“Undoubtedly,” Ethan answered with a little smile, not really taking his eyes off the little display going on.
“Do you need a hand with that Ms. Kat?” Xavier called with a snicker. “Zipper’s not stuck, is it?”
Katya leaned back on one arm, braced enticingly on Liam butt, and looked back over her shoulder at him. “So impatient. Perhaps David needs to help you remember how to wait…and wait…and wait.”
“No, no…that’s okay.” Xavier quickly backtracked. He drew two fingers across his lips like he was zipping them up, but ruined the contrite look with a lecherous wiggle of his eyebrows.
Katya shook her head at him but she was smiling. “David, I need to borrow him for just a moment. I’ve got my coat rack and my chair.” She patted Liam’s butt. “I need a foot stool.”
“Of course, Mistress,” Dave chuckled. He lifted Xavier to his feet and gave his backside a little swat.
“Come here pup, down in front.”
Xavier slid between Katya and Der on all fours, just as Liam was. With a gesture she had Der lift his leg and place one booted foot in the center of Xavier back. He obviously wasn’t putting much weight on him, but Xavier went “Oof!” anyway, which got him a swat on the ass from Kat. He wiggled his butt, “Ooo.”
“Shameless brat,” Katya said indulgently. She lifted Der’s trouser leg and unlaced his boot, pulled it off, tucked his sock inside, then repeated with the other. Richard took both from her, pinching the tops between his fingers
When Der stood barefoot Katya dismissed Xav, who slunk away without hiding his disappointment, though that quickly evaporated once he was back at Dave’s side.
Katya slowly unbuckled Der’s belt, then she grasped the end and yanked it free with a triumphant flourish that got a few chuckles around the room. Her fingers worked the button and zipper of his pants and tugged them down in a slow glide, like unwrapping a present. She handed both belt and pants to Richard who diligently folded them over his arm.
That left Der standing in nothing but a tiny pair of bikini briefs. Blue with little black skulls on them. Katya grinned at them as she stood and dismissed Liam. They were a little stressed holding all of him in.
She curled one index finger into the waistband, and curled the other in the air before him so he would bend toward her. Her lips brushed his ear. “Would you like to keep these…for now?”
He gave her a sharp-toothed grin. “Really no need, ma’am. Nothing under there everyone hasn’t already seen tonight.”
“What’s happening?” Quinn hissed in Ethan’s ear. He turned adorably red as Ethan explained, though he sat with his head cocked to one side as he did when listening hard, apparently not wanting to miss a thing.
“Such a naughty thing.” Kat tsked with a gleam in her eye. She moved around to his backside again, keeping her finger in the waistband of his undies. “As bad an exhibitionist as Xavier.” She tugged the thin material down his thighs. “Thankfully.” She chuckled.
Those perfectly manicured nails traced oh-so-lightly down his sides and over the curve of his ass. She placed a very soft, plush kiss on one of his shoulder blades and then gave a little nip as she patted his cheek.
Drew sat next to Vince silently watching the show. At first he’d thought it was kind of funny. As things progressed though he had the oddest swirl of feelings colliding in his middle. He kind of wanted to tell Katya to leave him alone, but Der obviously didn’t mind her attention. He also was all kinds of turned on, hard as a rock watching her take charge of Der and strip him. The confusing thing was he felt a pretty strong attraction to Katya just then, and he found himself watching the way she moved, the soft curves of her body, the way her delicate hands trailed over Der’s skin.
“Damn if the big doofus isn’t smoking hot sometimes,” Jonathan murmured, betraying once again that no matter how sultry, sexy-irresistible the woman, he simply wouldn’t see her.
Der struggled to stand still, it simply wasn’t natural for him to do so. He wanted to let his head drop back, his hips rock forward, wanted to fall to his knees. He managed, though, only the heavy rise and fall of his chest betraying how excited was. Well, that and the cock standing ramrod straight out from his body.
“Verrry nice. As beautiful whole as you are by the piece,” Katya remarked as she came around him. “Are you as yummy as you look, I wonder?” She caught his chin on the edge of her finger and drew him closer. Her ultra soft lips moved over his in a light caress, and then deepened into something more heated, although she kept the line of her body from touching his.
Der managed to keep his moan to a soft hum. Oh, her lips were so full, so velvet soft. He had to curl forward and down to reach, her diminutive size surprising even though he’d been standing right next to her. Behind his back, his fingers twitched, aching to touch.
“Everything as advertised,” the Prince said from the sofa he had commandeered, Keit at his side, Orion at his feet. “Such perfect, flawless beauty.” His eyes traveled between the two, though–impossible to tell whether he meant Katya or Derelict or both.
A shiver ran down Der’s back at the cool caress of his voice. Elric would most likely always affect him that way. Dom of Doms…though it was amazing, the variety of dominant personalities in the same room with no territorial snarling. Victor, heroic in stature and temperament, an old world alpha wrapped in modern civilization. Ethan, the still, deep pool of sense, compassion and hidden fire. Elric, the ultimate in control, cool calculation in his every move. Vincent, the genius, the puppet master, able to nudge events down the paths he wished. Even David, though he took up less psychic space and was a more warm, playful alpha, he still had his top dog moments. And Katya, to whom even the Prince deferred in the chivalric sense, who commanded any room simply by entering it. Good gods, she made his head spin.
The really amazing thing was that the Doms here who knew each other truly liked each other, a rare thing in his experience.
Katya’s fingernail traced over his jaw to toy with the row of silver jewelry along his left ear. His knees were going to give way any second.
Her fingertip trailed ever so lightly down the center of Der’s chest in a slow teasing line. Her lips breathed across his in feather light kisses. The tip of her nail reached just above his belly button when his shaky knees let loose and he hit the floor in front of her. She smiled in satisfaction and leaned her hip against his shoulder. “And that, gentlemen, is how you bring them to their knees.”
Applause broke out amid the laughter and Der chuckled right along with them. With the chatter and buzz drowning out softer conversation, he turned his face up with a soft smile. “And now that you‘ve toyed with me, m’lady, do you leave me here, forlorn and abandoned?”
Katya shook her head and chuckled, “You would not remain forlorn or abandoned for very long, but how cruel would that be, to let you pine away after me?” She winked and bent to kiss the tip of his nose. “I don’t often invite someone to come home with me, but tonight I would make an exception, for you, if you would like?” she added on a warmer, more serious note.
Sea gray eyes gazed up at her in frank and earnest admiration. “I would like that very much. Thank you.” He glanced down at himself, hands still behind his back, briefs at mid-thigh. “Am I to stay here until then, ma’am, or could I get dressed for a while?”
Katya laughed and gave him permission to dress, which he did as far as getting back into his clothes, though he left the shirt unbuttoned. Ah, such a wonderful gathering, where he could feel so comfortable. A stray thought hit him, though. He frowned and went to kneel by Vincent’s chair.
“Sugar bear.” He put a hand on Drew’s knee. “You’re all right with all this, aren’t you? Please say no if you’re not…”
Drew had a very odd expression on his face when he looked at him. “Der, it’s not up to me … I’m not… I mean, I know you like girls too and she’s, um, s-she’s really really, uh…” Drew cut himself off and had to take a breath, he could feel the heat in his cheeks.
Vince put a hand on Drew’s thigh. “Derelict did not ask for your permission, my kestrel, he asked if you would be upset.”
“I…no, I don’t think so.” That didn’t sound very confident, even to his own ears. He didn’t want to be unfair, and it would be totally unfair to tell Der who he could and couldn’t sleep with. But they had just been together and now he wanted someone else and maybe his pride was stung a little. If Der was contemplating round two with Jonathan or Vince though, Drew didn’t think he’d feel the same way, which made everything even more confusing.
Der had his bottom lip between his teeth. His hand dropped from Drew’s knee and his gaze to the floor. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I shouldn’t always be…” He waved his claws in a helpless gesture. “I didn’t…I don’t always have to…”
Drew caught Der’s chin and lifted his face so he could kiss him softly. “It’s alright Der. She is freakin’ hot. I don’t blame you.” He kissed him again, lingering a little longer. “I won’t be upset.” This time he said it more firmly. He wasn’t sure what changed, maybe he had needed a second to roll the idea around. Or maybe he just loved Der enough to want to erase the uncertainty he saw in his eyes.
“You sure?” Der whispered. When Drew nodded, he threw his arms around that slender waist to hug him tight.
“Well, thank God for that,” Jonathan grumbled. “Thought you were gonna make the big goofball cry for a minute there.”
Der looked over Drew’s shoulder at Jonathan with huge, soulful puppy eyes. “You’d dry the tears, pretty Jon, wouldn’t you?”
He got a large cushion thrown at his head.
Once the decision was made to move in together, the next step was to find a new place. Contrary to what Quinn thought, Ethan’s landlady would have been all right with him and Cricket moving in, but the place was small and not the ideal place for Quinn, being pretty out of the way. Quinn’s apartment was small, too, but that wasn’t the problem. Cricket was allowed because he was a guide dog. Molly had no such qualifications..
The next couple weeks were spent looking for the ideal place. Not too far from Ethan’s work or their friends, close enough to stores and downtown for Quinn to get around, and they had to allow pets. It didn’t seem like too long of a wish list, but after two weeks of searching it proved more difficult than either of them had thought.
Then on a Friday evening Ethan called Quinn just after he got off work and told him to be ready to go out, he had somewhere he wanted to take him. The hints of excitement in his voice were hard to ignore.
Ethan picked Quinn and Cricket up and as they drove Ethan told him that Dr. Brown had told him about a place for rent near where she lived.. It was a little farther away than they had been looking, but not so far out of the way their friends wouldn’t come see them. It was a house rather than an apartment, and they allowed pets. While it would be a farther walk if Quinn needed anything while he was at work, stores were still within reasonable distance, and the trade off might be worth it, Ethan added mysteriously.
They pulled up and as soon as they got out, Quinn knew they were near the ocean. Near enough to hear the waves and smell the salt in the air.
“It’s one of those little vacation bungalows they built in the sixties. It’s small, not really any bigger than the apartments, but there’s a trail that leads down to the beach.”
Quinn turned into the breeze, towards the rumble of the waves. “I haven’t heard the ocean since–” He broke off and swallowed hard. The beach had been his mother’s favorite place. Two hesitant steps brought him closer, the crunch of sand under his feet even on the drive. He wiped the back of his hand over his eyes. “I don’t need a tour of the house. It’s perfect.”
Settling in had been easy. The little house was cozy but had more than room enough for their combined possessions. They only sold Quinn’s bed. He liked Ethan’s better.
The bus stop lay about four blocks away with a sidewalk that continued all the way to the last turn onto their little lane where the road became gravel and sand. With a convenience store and a little sandwich stand along the way, Quinn believed he could manage.
On Tuesday of the first week after moving, Quinn had just reached the crunch of gravel on his walk home when he heard the roar of a motorcycle approaching. He moved to the side just in case, though he fully expected the bike to barrel past behind him on the pavement. His heart thudded when it slowed and made the turn onto the lane. Why didn’t he take the damn cell with him like Ethan nagged him to?
The tires rolled to a stop beside him and he turned. Better to face whatever it was.
“Hey, hon!” A cheerful voice called above the purr of the motor. “Is it OK to drop in for a couple?”
“Der?” Quinn hesitated but Cricket’s tail wagged madly so he knew he wasn’t wrong.
“Yep. Just lil’ ole me. Which house is yours?”
Quinn led him home and gave him the grand tour before asking the question. “So, what’re you doing here? I mean…shit…that didn’t sound right, sorry.”
“S’OK.” Der laughed. “I get that a lot. Haven’t seen the new place, wanted to bring you something, and was kinda hoping I could coax the two of you out for dinner. Didn’t feel like eating alone again.”
“Oh. Well, I’m game. Ethan won’t be home for about an hour, though. And then sometimes he drags home dog tired — sorry, Crick, no offense.”
Cricket gave a little whuff, apparently unconcerned.
“So what’d you bring?”
Derelict handed him a box. “Cookies. I figure the big guy probably doesn’t have enough sweets in the house.”
The heavenly scent of warm chocolate chips rose from the box. “Mmm…where’d you get ‘em?”
A half-shy chuckle reached him. “I made them.”
After an obligatory testing of cookies, they took the dogs and went out the back door down to the beach. The gulls cried overhead, moving into shore as evening drew closer. Derelict rustled with something and Quinn smelled bread.
“You always carry bread in your pockets?”
“Sometimes. When I have coat pockets. All right, fine. Most of the time. I like to feed the birds.”
Wings flapped around them and Quinn smiled. He loved sea birds, the world’s merchant marines. From time to time other people strolled by, bits of conversation drifting to him. After one little group of words he frowned.
“Der? Are you kinda…scary looking?”
“Who? Me? No, I’m a regular Greek god. Blond, blue-eyed, wear a lot of pastels.”
“And you’re so full of shit.”
“Oh, yes. Very much so. Why do you ask?”
“Those stupid girls who went by whispering. They thought we couldn‘t hear.”
“Well, I couldn’t. Anyway, yes, by some standards, I am. Kinda scary. Claws and pointy teeth and chains and leather. You know, the whole schtick. Some people get the heebie-jeebies.”
“But you’re such a sweetie.”
Der snorted on a laugh. “Thank you. I think.”
The breeze tugged at hair and clothes. Quinn let Cricket off his lead to go play in the waves. “Der…can you answer a question without bullshitting?”
“I can try.”
“What do I look like?”
A long silence followed the question and Quinn felt himself turning red.
Finally Der cleared his throat. “Haven’t you ever seen yourself, hon?”
“Well…yeah…but not since I was twelve, y’know?”
“Ah. Well, you’re not a big bruiser, you probably know that. More whipcord lean. Nicely packed, though. Really great butt.”
Quinn shifted uncomfortably.
“Sorry, but it’s true. You said no bullshit. You’ve got a clean-lined face, nice cheekbones, thick black hair that sort of waves and curls here and there. And this one snow white curl.” A claw lifted the lock gently from Quinn‘s forehead. “Right here. Does that satisfy?”
“Yeah. Thanks. Ethan…” Quinn cocked his head to listen. “Ethan’s car’s coming.”
“Derek! What are you doing here?” Ethan asked with happy surprise. He hadn’t quite made it into the house when Der and Quinn walked up the path. “Hi, sweetheart.” He tucked Quinn under his arm and kissed him hello.
Der swept Ethan a little bow. “I thought I owed the new lord of the manor a courtesy call. And hoped I could entice you out to dinner. Wherever you deem fit.”
“That sounds good to me. Quinn, you feel like going out?”
“I’m up for it. ‘Specially since I didn’t get a chance to start dinner for you.”
“Okay, let me get a shower and change first. It’s been a long day.”
Der flopped into a chair to wait and chat with Quinn, who wondered why he wasn’t uncomfortable and squirmy. This was another of Ethan’s lovers and while he didn’t think they’d slept together since that first night Ethan had stayed with him, it should have been weird. But Der seemed perfectly happy with the way things had turned out and the veiled sniping and circling that should have occurred simply didn’t with him. Quinn tried to find some ounce of jealousy himself. Ethan’s hands on Der’s body, his lips caressing his skin…
The thought made other things arise instead of jealousy.
Ethan came out to join them in fairly short order. Smelling fresh and clean, his hair still damp and clinging, he wore chinos and a cotton shirt he hadn’t buttoned yet. He looked like he should be in an ad selling wet dreams. Especially when he smiled. “Ready? There’s this place down the street I’ve been thinking about trying.”
“Maybe if you consider getting dressed all the way,” Der suggested and had to clear his throat twice.
Quinn slid his arms around Ethan. He grinned when he met bare skin and realized what had gotten to Der. “Oh, I dunno. It’s the beach. I don’t think anybody minds if Ethan goes half-naked.”
“I’m a little more than half dressed,” Ethan teased, but he buttoned the shirt.
They decided to walk, since it wasn’t far and it was a beautiful evening. The restaurant was nothing fancy, a little mom and pop operation, with an emphasis on fresh seafood. These places were always a gamble, the quality could range from inedible to fantastic. As it turned out, it was the latter. Everything was freshly made in house, the bread, the soup, even the salads tasted fresh chopped from the kitchen rather than out of a bag. They all agreed this place was going to become a favorite.
They sat on the lanai out back with a view of the waves, at first simply devouring, the conversation only picking up with the edge taken off young male appetites.
“So by this time, Chrys is nearly in tears,” Der said, in the midst of a story. “Very private, our Chrys. Doesn’t talk about these things and doesn’t do well with conflict. But Patrice doesn’t give up. She keeps pushing, even though everybody‘s giving her looks that could leave a body in a hand basket. ‘What’s the big deal, anyway? You’re either a boy or a girl. Why can’t you just say it? Or are you some kind of freaky hermaphrodite thing?’ she says.”
“So what happened?” Quinn asked around a bite of talapia.
“It’s really hard to tell when the Prince gets angry. Most of the time. And he still sat there all calm and frosty. But the coffee spoon he was holding was bent in half. In half, mind you. He turns to Patrice and smiles. Oh, good gods, a smile that would freeze your blood. And he says–” Der took on Elric’s accent and soft inflection. “‘Patrizia, no one here hes ever inqvired into your private life. How many men you hef taken to bed. Vhether you ectually take pleasure from them or simply in tormenting them. Vhat sort of prophylactics you use, if at all’ He stands up, this crushed spoon still in his fist, and of course Orion stands with him. You should have seen the poor girl’s face. Grey as swamp mud. ‘So do not, especially in my hearing, do not browbeat others concerning theirs.’”
Der paused for a moment, painting lines on his plate with his sauce. Then he grinned. “We didn’t see her for a good three weeks. And she’s never asked since.”
Sitting and talking with Der reminded Ethan of all the things he liked about the man. He also felt like he’d been rather neglectful. Between Quinn, work, and searching for a place and then moving he hadn’t seen much of him. Out of nowhere a memory crept in of Der in leather cuffs, blindfolded, the feel of his naked body under his. He shifted on the chair and banished the memory quickly.
The walk home after dinner was slower than the walk to the restaurant. It was darker, and cooler, but still nice. Ethan had his arm draped loosely around Quinn’s shoulders, the way they often walked together, but he kept having to suppress the urge to take Der’s hand as well.
“Oh, you two are so lucky,” Der breathed as they stood at the back of the house enjoying the evening. “Not that I’m a big beach fan. Sunburn city. But it’s so private, almost secluded. Like your own little world.”
“It’s a nice kind of quiet,” Quinn agreed as he opened the door. “And the dogs love it. You wanna come in for a little, Der?” He wasn’t sure why Ethan hadn’t said it, the man had gone all silent, so he felt he had to.
They went in and Molly nearly knocked Der over with her wiggling and trying to get slobbery licks in. Quinn excused himself to go to the bathroom and Ethan took the opportunity to mention something that had been on his mind.
“You know, I never did say thank you properly for putting my head on straight that day Quinn told me everything he’d been up to.” He caught Der’s chin for a second so he wouldn’t laugh it off. “Thank you Der, you’re a good friend to have.”
“You’re very welcome,” Der said with a soft smile. He wanted to duck his head so he wasn’t looking into those intense amber eyes but he couldn’t bring himself to wrench away from Ethan’s touch. He swallowed hard. “I’m so happy for you, handsome. I hope you know that.”
Ethan was happy, too. So then why did Der saying it, with that look on his face, tug at his heartstrings? His fingers lingered on Der’s cheek a moment longer. The urge to kiss the hint of sadness from Der’s lips was strong, and Ethan let his hand drop. He backed away, a little confused, a little guilty.
Now Der dropped his gaze. “Maybe I should go, Ethan. I’m…I’m sorry–”
“For what?” Quinn’s voice came from the doorway. “Shit. I leave you two alone for thirty seconds. Why‘re you leaving alla sudden?”
“I don’t…” Der backed a step, uncharacteristically awkward. “I think I’m just confusing Ethan by being here, to be honest. Maybe I shouldn’t…” He shook his head, unable to go on, looking helplessly from one to the other.
So. The moment alone had set off some spark. Quinn chewed on his lower lip. He’d never discussed other people with Ethan; the subject had never come up. But he didn’t want to make Ethan feel he had to give up someone he cared about. Der was really special to him, didn’t take a genius to see it. He had to be honest with himself, he liked Der, too. Lots. More and more every time he was around.
With the embarrassment level in the room reaching painful, Quinn decided he needed to take matters into his own hands. He crossed the room to where he knew Der stood from his uneven, too swift breathing. He took a leather-clad arm, gently at first to be sure he wasn’t spooking him, then in a firm grip.
“Don’t go, Der,” Quinn said softly. He stepped closer and wrapped his arms around lean ribs. “I don’t want you to.”
Ethan felt a stab of jealousy so swift and pure his hand moved a fraction before he checked it. He wanted to grab Quinn and tear him away…but, it was Derek, and Ethan wasn’t going to act like a jealous asshole with Derek. Besides, Ethan knew how Quinn felt, he wanted to wrap Der in his arms and ask him to stay, too. Frowning, more confused than he was a second ago, Ethan ran a hand through his hair. “Quinn…“ Ethan’s voice was as soft as the hand he laid on his shoulder.
Quinn turned and flung himself against Ethan’s chest. “Tell him to stay, Ethan. Please? He can’t go like this. It’s just wrong. I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t want to hurt you. It’s not like you don’t want him anymore, McFarland, you can’t lie to me. I…I don’t mind. Not when it’s Der.”
Ethan slipped his arms around Quinn to quiet him. “Quinn…” He was at a loss what to say. Not that everything he’d said wasn’t true. He looked up at Der and the look on his face nearly melted his heart. “Come here, Der,” he said and lifted one arm to pull him into the circle of the embrace as well.
With a soft sigh, Derelict wrapped his long arms around them both. “Thank you,” he whispered. “Oh, I’ve missed you…”
Quinn stood still, enjoying the feeling of being surrounded by strength. But Ethan hadn’t relaxed yet and Der’s breaths were starting to hitch. Damn. He lifted his face and gave Ethan a tender, searching kiss. “So, what’s it like kissing someone with sharp pointy teeth?”
Ethan nearly choked on a surprised chuckle and had to clear his throat. “It’s, ah, well you have to be a little careful.”
“So show me,” Quinn whispered with a wicked grin. He ran gentle fingers over Ethan’s face. “Kiss him and lemme watch.”
Ethan hesitated, he still wasn’t at all sure about this. He loved Quinn, he didn’t want him to ever think he wasn’t enough for him. Yet here he was almost pushing Ethan at Der… did he really mean it, or was he doing what he thought would make Ethan happy? “Quinn, are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” His voice was soft, but firm, and Ethan thought he heard the trace of desire as well.
He turned towards Der and caught his chin again, tilted his head slightly so he could press his lips to his. Soft, warm, gentle, with more than a few hints of heat, he moved his lips against Der’s. He kissed him until he nudged his lips open for him and slipped his tongue into his mouth to tease and taste him.
Still held between them, Quinn lifted both hands. His fingers traced butterfly soft over both faces, touching cheeks and lips, taking in the tenderness and desire. Der shifted his head a fraction to lick Quinn’s forefinger, a sharp canine just grazing his skin. He gasped and moaned.
That little moan sent a warm rush of heat up Ethan’s back. God, he loved the little sounds he made. He bent his head to nibble along Quinn’s throat. One hand on the center of each of their backs, he caressed both while he treated Quinn to just as thorough as kiss as he’d given Der.
Not one to be left out, Der curled down to nibble on Quinn’s ear and the base of his jaw. The boy had a sweet, clean scent that pulled a soft moan from him and he wanted more but didn’t want to push in case Ethan suddenly found he couldn’t share.
He disentangled his arms to let his ankle length coat slide from his shoulders. It fell to the floor with a clank. “Sorry,” he muttered against Quinn’s throat. “Lots of stuff in the pockets.”
Quinn broke off the kiss and snickered. He wrapped his arms around Ethan’s neck and leaned in to him. “You mind if I go get changed, big guy?”
“If you want,” Ethan got out in a husky murmur. He didn’t want to let go of Quinn but wanted him to be comfortable.
“Be just a sec.” Quinn ducked out from the tangled embrace and jogged down the hall to the bedroom, fingers trailing along the wall to guide him.
“He doesn’t–” Der blinked after him in amazement. “Ah, do drag or anything, does he?”
Ethan chuckled. “No, nothing like that.”
During his years without possessions, Quinn had been without underwear most of the time. Such a little thing but now that he could buy it again, he found the simple act of wearing underwear could be an incredible turn on. The sensual slide of silk, the close embrace of lycra, he loved it all. For this evening, though, he wanted something more. He fished through his drawer, craving the fuck-me-now feeling of a nice, tight thong.
With nothing on but the thong, which he was pretty sure was black, and an unbuttoned shirt, he called, “’K, all set!”
Ethan slid an arm around Der again and walked toward the bedroom. There were still some uneasy feelings roaming around inside, but they were damped down by arousal and Quinn’s willingness. Heat filled his eyes as his gaze settled on Quinn.
“Oh…my,” Der leaned into Ethan as if he might faint. “Ethan, how do you survive with such heart-stopping beauty in the house?”
Sudden images filled his head of being trussed and helpless and having these two gorgeous men all over him. He dropped to his knees at Ethan’s feet. “Whatever you want tonight, handsome, I’m yours. Use me.”
Ethan reached down to stroke a hand into Der’s hair while he thought. All sorts of different scenarios flicked through his head. That slightly uneasy feeling was still in the pit of his stomach, the one that warned he might not like seeing someone else touch his Quinn. “Help me with these clothes, would you Der? We’re both overdressed.”
Derelict rose up on his knees to tug the shirttails from Ethan’s chinos. His arms were long enough that he could unbutton the shirt from where he knelt as he placed soft kisses along Ethan’s ribs and his six pack. He stopped to yank his own t-shirt off over his head.
The soft rustling sounds of undressing were clear enough to Quinn. He slid up on the bed, lounging on his side to wait, trying to look relaxed. God, he hoped he wasn’t pushing Ethan too hard.
Der placed his hands flat on Ethan’s stomach and slid them down to the button of his pants. He tugged it open, then leaned forward and took the zipper pull between his teeth, tugging down with exaggerated care.
Ethan grinned at Der’s expression as his pants opened. “Quinn likes them,” he said, referring to the silk briefs that hugged his hips and seemed to be having a hard time containing him at the moment. Der slid his chinos down and nuzzled along his silk covered shaft. Ethan gave a soft sigh of pleasure, his hands going to the sides of Der’s face, fingers sliding into his hair, he held him there for a moment, the heat of his lips radiating through the thin fabric.
“Now, see,” Quinn roll to his stomach on the bed, feet swinging in the air. “If you’re putting on a show, it’s really not fair. Since I can’t see a goddamn thing.”
With a mischievous little grin, Der closed his lips over the silk-clad head, just to get a moan from Ethan.
The moan he got was like a warm purr with a soft oh at the end. Ethan enjoyed it for a moment more and then pulled back, urging Der up. He unbuttoned and unzipped Der’s jeans without his finesse but got them off efficiently, and quickly. He stole another moment for a kiss and a soft caress along the length of Der’s stiffening cock before he patted his butt and sent him toward the bed. “Go keep Quinn company for a minute.”
Der flopped down on his back next to Quinn, more than happy to oblige. “Hi.”
“Finally. Sheesh. How long does it take to get your clothes off?” Quinn reached out a hand to stroke up Der’s arm. “You’re inked, aren’t you?”
“The arms are. Someone told you, right?”
“No, it’s just that skin feels…different with tattoos.” He let his hand wander in farther and discovered the metal ring at Der’s nipple. “Ooo…nice…”
Ethan joined them on the bed, having returned from the closet with the belts of both of their robes. He caught Quinn’s hand where he was tracing his fingers along Der’s torso. He thought Der held his breath and he almost chuckled. Stopping Quinn was not his intent. He slowly moved Quinn’s hand down until his fingertips bumped along the ladder rungs piercing Der’s shaft.
“Oh…oh, wow,” Quinn breathed, letting his fingers take in the extent of the jewelry. “Do they…I mean, does it…” He tapped at one of the little balls and felt the shaft twitch under his hand.
Der’s hips rolled on a soft moan. “Do they hurt me? No,” he panted. “Does it do incredible things to me when you touch them? Yes.”
Ethan had been worried that seeing Quinn touch Der would do things to him, not good things, but the feeling he expected didn’t come. What came instead was heat like a slow burn in his middle. He was all kinds of turned on watching them together. “Hands up Der,” he said in that low simmering timbre. “Grab some headboard.”
He waited until Der did as told, then used one of the ties to secure his wrists. With the other, he tied one end around Der’s knee, drew the length through the tie at his wrists, and then secured the other end around his other knee. The effect hiked Der’s legs up nearly to his chest and spread them wide. With that accomplished he pulled Quinn close, running his hands up and down his lithe body while he kissed him deeply and thoroughly.
Quinn wrapped his arms around Ethan’s neck and melted against him, answering the kiss with wild abandon. He was so eager, so aroused, if Ethan kissed him long enough, he was sure he would come without any other stimulation.
He broke off the kiss with a gasp, fingers wandering through Ethan’s hair. “So watcha got in mind?”
Ethan kissed Quinn’s neck. “First, we need to get you out of these,” he said as he kissed his way downward and slid his thumbs into the waistband of Quinn’s undies. He slid them off, then lost track for a moment while he caressed between Quinn’s thighs, rolling his balls gently in his palm and stroking the rock hard shaft jutting from him. He pushed the shirt from Quinn’s shoulders and tossed that aside too, the whole time his lips barely left his body except to tenderly kiss another place.
Once he had Quinn nude he turned him and maneuvered him over Der in a sixty-nine. He let them find their own way while he retrieved a bottle of oil from the drawer in the nightstand.
“Mmm, you smell nice,” Quinn purred as he licked over Der’s sac.
“So do you…gods…” Derelict whimpered as one of his balls was sucked on hard. He lifted his head to nibble at Quinn’s lovely, straight shaft. Certainly not the largest one he’d ever seen but it was picture beautiful, an artist’s model of a phallus. He took the mushroom cap in his mouth and let his tongue caress the soft skin while Quinn let out a heated, musical groan.
Ethan watched, again struck by the fact that he wasn’t feeling anything but heated arousal. He found the bottle he was looking for and rejoined the pair on the bed. He leaned close to Quinn’s ear so his husky whisper tickled along the contours. “You are so hot, my sweetheart, you’re gonna make Der go up in flames.” He poured some of the oil into his hand while he spoke, and now his fingers caressed between Der’s very exposed cheeks, a fingertip circling and teasing around the puckered rim.
“Mm, flames,” Quinn murmured. His hips rolled into Der’s attentions, the incredible feel of his lips and tongue with the occasional careful touch of sharp teeth made him all sorts of hot. Ethan’s proximity, his scent, his warmth, only made his head spin more.
He bent his head down to suckle on one of Ethan’s fingers, then kissed the inside of his wrist tenderly and returned his attention to Der. With the air of someone trying a new candy, he licked over one of the little metal balls decorating Der’s cock. Then another and another until he latched his lips tight to suck on all three on that side at once.
Ethan ceased his teasing and slid a thick finger inside. He took his time, rubbing over the smooth spot inside that made Der squirm and moan while he stroked a slippery oil coated hand over his own shaft.
By now Der’s moans were muffled, his mouth full of Quinn. He soared on excesses of pleasure with every sexual hotspot stroked and caressed and his body trussed and helpless under the tender assault.
He wanted to beg Ethan to take him but Quinn’s hips pushed in farther, his hard cock acting as a gag. Der wrapped his lips around tighter and let out a little whimper, unable to even lift his hips in invitation as Ethan’s head pressed against his back door.
Ethan eased his hips forward, slowly pushing in and stretching Der. He gave him time to adjust and then pushed little more, a soft groan on his lips as his head moved fractionally in and out of his ring. He leaned in, resting his hands on the back of Der’s thighs behind his knees. The movement lifted Der a little more, and angled Ethan perfectly. He pushed further into his depths; his grip tightened as the incredible pleasure of slipping inside him hit him hard. He gritted his teeth to keep from plunging forward.
A hard moan vibrated around Quinn’s shaft and he dropped his head against Der’s hip, panting. “Ethan, are you…?” he asked in a husky murmur, then stretched forward to lick at Ethan’s member down from his base to where it met Der’s backside. “Mmm…you are.”
He shifted his weight onto one arm so he could wrap his left hand around Der’s pierced cock while he curled forward to lick and nibble at Ethan.
Held, pinned and entered at both ends, Der could only squirm and plead with little moans. His felt like molten silver flowed through his veins, hot and bright, the rush of it making him desperate. Oh, well, if he came early, no one could blame him.
Ethan found his stride, moving within Der in a way that edged both of them up quickly. He was so hot and tight and it felt so damn good. Quinn’s little teasing nibbles and the sight of him stroking Der’s shaft nearly melted his brain.
He lifted one hand to stroke his fingers into Quinn’s hair, combing it to the side and turning his head slightly. It put his face in line with the head of Der’s cock. A streak of liquid heat went down Ethan’s spine. When Der went he was going to come all over Quinn’s pretty face and lips and Ethan hadn’t realized before what a turn on that was for him.
Quinn let his tongue dart out to tease at Der’s slit. “Come on, tall, dark and lovely. Give it to me,” he whispered.
He closed his eyes at the hard moan around him, his own climax just seconds away. He shoved his cock harder in and out of Der’s mouth and Der began to make the best, sexy sounds as his body tightened into one big knot and the first heated jet of cream hit Quinn’s lips.
Ethan quivered from head to toe. A heated moan that trailed off into a needy whimper filled his throat as he watched Quinn lick his sweet lips and felt the tight clench around his thrusting cock. Another spurt of creamy white fell across Quinn’s cheek as his hand pumped up and down and Ethan was done in. He came with a volcanic eruption, spilling into Der’s spasming body with a series of husky groans and hard thrusts thar shook the bed.
The sounds of Ethan’s climax jolted across Quinn’s nerves and he came hard, trembling as Der sucked on him greedily. “Ohgod…oh…fuck…” he whispered as his hips bucked and heaved. He moaned as another little jet from Der hit his open lips and he licked over the head to make Der twitch and groan.
Ethan bent his head as Quinn rose up and caught his lips in a passionate kiss. The taste of Der on Quinn’s mouth fueled the little aftershocks coursing through him making shivers run down his spine.
With Quinn’s beautiful cock softening, it slipped from Der’s mouth. He wanted to say something tender and clever. All that came out was, “Ooohhh….”
Ethan eased out of Der slowly as Quinn slid off of him. He untied his knees and then his wrists, and stretched out lazily next to him with a contented smile.
Quinn felt his way around the larger bodies and nestled up against Ethan’s back. He stroked a broad shoulder with one finger while he nuzzled Ethan’s hair. An odd thought struck him. While he often praised Ethan and told him how wonderful he was, he realized he had never, not once, given any term of endearment to him. Not exactly the honey-lamb, sweetie pie type, of course, but he thought he should try one or two out.
“I love you so,” he whispered. “My hero, my love, my own.”
Ethan turned slightly so he could catch Quinn’s lips in a kiss. He felt the warmth of his words and it tugged at his heartstrings. “I love you, too.” A turn of his head and he nuzzled Der. “Love you, too.” It was only after the words were out of his mouth that he wondered if he should have said them in front of Quinn. And then he realized he’d never told Der he loved him.
“Ethan…” Der whispered, stroking his face. “I’ve loved you since the first time you walked out my door.” He buried his face against Ethan’s shoulder. “Thank you. For taking the time to see past what you first saw.”
“Geez…all this sweet mush. I’m gonna have to brush my teeth again now,” Quinn grumbled. He leaned over Ethan to kiss Der softly. “Far’s I’m concerned, you’re welcome here anytime, Der. Don’t you stay away so long again. Ethan tried so hard not to admit it but he missed you.”
“So, herzchen, this room I reserve for out of town guests,” Elric opened another of the doors on the second floor. “And, of course, you know vhich rooms are my study and my bedroom. And this–” He flung open the double doors to a room which appeared mostly empty except for the mirrors along the walls and the mat running the length of the floor. “Is the gallery.”
Keit would have asked what it was for but the rack of fencing implements made it rather obvious.
“Any other room on this floor, you may hef. Vith your own furnishings if you like or those already in place, simply let me know.”
Even with that many rooms already in use there were still several to choose from. Keit picked the one at the end of the hall across from Elric’s bedroom. He saw no reason to redecorate. He would keep his apartment until the lease was up and then decide what he wanted to keep and what to get rid of.
The heavy wood furniture fit the room and fit him. He was already imagining how the four poster could be used. There was a desk under the window that he could use for his laptop and a huge old fashioned wardrobe in one corner provided a roomy substitute for a closet.
The heavy dark wood was kept from being oppressive by the warm sand color painted on the walls and crisp white accents in pillows and gauzy curtains. Probably the most airy room in the house, it suited Keit.
“Has Orion said anything to you, Sir? He seemed alright when I asked him but…”
Elric regarded him steadily for a moment, sharp eyes boring through him before he answered. “He hes inquired vhether you vould be frightened sleeping in a new place and offered to lend you his little radio.” A little smile tugged at his lips. “I gave it to him vhen he could not sleep. It soothed him.”
That went a long way to answering Keit’s anxious thoughts. Orion was concerned for him rather than jealous or nervous about him moving in.
Over the next few days, Keit learned the rhythms of the household. Caroline came every morning, except Tuesdays and Sundays, at nine-thirty on the dot. She spent an hour with the Prince in the sitting room going over correspondence, new client requests and the day’s schedule. Any first time clients were then pre-screened by her in the morning hours and if they passed muster, would have their initial consultation with the Prince in the library over tea.
Keit recalled his own first meeting, the careful questions, the genteel pulling and tugging out of information until he had nearly been in tears. Elric dug the truth out of his clients and discovered why they truly came and what they truly needed before any attempt was made at a session.
After lunch Sasha would come to work the door for the actual appointments and the Prince was usually busy for the rest of the afternoon. At five o’clock he would trudge back up the stairs, tired but satisfied, send his last clients home, bid Caroline goodnight, and go soak in the tub before dinner.
On Monday and Friday evenings, Mad Anthony came to fence with the Prince, his frenetic energy a perfect complement to Elric’s smooth, controlled grace. Sasha was permitted to stay and watch if he remained quiet and out of the way. There was no doubt regarding the desperate crush he had on Anthony.
Tuesday evenings were spent with the household alone, dedicated to the needs and desires of those directly under the Prince‘s care, which now included Keit. Wednesdays and Thursdays friends would often stop by. Fridays and Saturdays were often spent out. Sundays were for the Prince, as his whims dictated.
Keit fell into the routine fairly easily. Most of his day was spent at work. He got home about the time Elric was done with his last client. While Elric unwound from the day Keit spent time with Orion. He made a concerted effort to get to know him better and let Orion get to know him as well, the latter of which was much easier than the former.
It was still a bit hard to draw Orion into conversation and sometimes he drifted off into his own thoughts, but he began to look at Keit more, or rather, see him. Keit enjoyed spending time with him. For all that he didn’t talk much, and when he did speak it was often cryptic, Keit thought there was a lot more intelligence in his head than most would give him credit for.
He hadn’t been able to develop the easy rapport or fascination he seemed to have with Drew, and he might not ever, but at least Keit was comfortable with Orion and Orion was friendly enough toward Keit.
The three of them ate dinner together every evening. Although there was no doubt of the bond and love between Elric and Orion, Keit brought two elements in short supply to the equation: warmth and humor.
Things were going well. He was settling in. He seemed to come into the household with hardly a hitch and he was as happy as he’d ever been. He had yet to share Elric’s bed, but he was patient and he was sure the time would come when the Prince would want him.
Wednesday evening, the Prince stood hipshot in the kitchen doorway, sorting through the day’s mail. He appeared completely absorbed so both Keit and Orion startled a bit when he spoke.
“Keit, you may invite ten people to your collaring on Saturday. Any vith whom you might feel comfortable.” Elric glanced up, the barest hint of heat in his eyes. “Keep in mind you vill be entirely unclothed.”
The guest list consisted mostly of mutual friends. Vincent and his boys were invited, Derelict, Ethan and Quinn, and Keit’s friend Jerrett. He hesitated to invite Jerrett. He could be abrasively arrogant at times and had a way of raising tensions around him while remaining completely untouched by it himself.
They had been friends first and that had turned into a brief tumultuous affair a few years earlier which ended badly. After a little time had passed they were able to return to being friends. All of that should have been enough to make him hesitate extending an invite, but really there was only one reason. Jerrett and Ethan were like mixing oil and water.
Ethan blamed Jerrett when he and Keit broke up. They had come close to a fistfight when Ethan helped Keit move out. Ethan’s cool confidence and unassuming manner brought out the worst in Jerrett, and Jerrett’s arrogance and casual, cutting remarks grated on Ethan’s nerves.
They were his closest friends, and even though a lot of people thought Jerrett was just an asshole Keit knew there was more to him than the surface. He also knew if he didn’t invite him, Jerrett would be hurt. He’d never show it, but Keit would know. He finally decided to go ahead and extracted a promise that Jerrett would leave Ethan alone. He also warned Ethan that he would be there so there would be no surprises.
Naturally the Prince would have his invited guests as well but he kept the list to a bare minimum. While he would have been pleased to show his new acquisition off to the world, making an arena show out of something so intimate would have been inappropriate.
The high-ceilinged dining room was cleared of furniture to create a formal space for the ceremony. Food would be in abundance but scattered throughout the house. At half past six, Elric retired to his room to dress. Tonight, it would be tonight, Keit’s full claiming in every sense of the word. A shiver of anticipation ran up his spine and he smiled at his unexpected excitement.
New leathers had come in from Italy for the occasion. The midnight-blue suede trousers hugged him like skin. A black, mandarin collared shirt went on next and then the floor length leather coat, half a shade lighter than the trousers. He had swept his hair back rather than tease it up, the frost-white, single braid reaching halfway down his back.
Gloves? No, too much. A few rings on his fingers and the huge pendant ruby for his ear and he was satisfied.
Derelict would play host tonight until everyone arrived. When it was time, he would make his entrance and then Keit. He had toyed with the idea of having Orion carry Keit in but in the end he found the idea of him walking in past all the guests much more appealing. Let them see his natural grace and beauty.
The guests had arrived and after a bit of mingling and meandering they gathered in the dining room to wait.
This was the first real chance Ethan had to see Der since his party, since he’d started seeing Quinn… he wanted to get a chance to talk to him privately, but it didn’t look like that would be possible, at least not for a while. He also wondered if things would be awkward, and how Quinn might react. These worries faded though as everyone gathered in one place and he was forced to share the same room with Jerrett.
Ethan deliberately chose to stand a little apart from the rest and well away from the doors in the room. He would be perfectly happy to ignore Jerrett for Keit’s sake.
Apparently Jerrett had other plans. He smiled when he spotted Ethan and walked over to him. “Hey, boy scout, long time no see.”
Ethan crushed the automatic response of ‘not long enough’. “Jerrett.”
The smile, which as far as Ethan was concerned was as phony as a three dollar bill, turned into a grin. “Where’s your manners?”
Ethan gritted his teeth. It was taking just about everything he had not to hold Quinn possessively to his side. Quinn probably wouldn’t have complained, but that didn’t make it right. “Jerrett, this is Quinn. Quinn, Jerrett,” he grudgingly made the introduction.
“Hey,” Quinn responded automatically, reaching a hand out if the guy wanted to shake. What he really wanted to do was ask Ethan what was bugging him. He’d gone all stiff and edgy.
Jerrett shook Quinn’s hand, holding it a bit longer than necessary, and did not bother to hide how he looked him up and down. “Well, well,” Jerrett purred. “You certainly are a good reason to come out of the closet.”
Ethan bristled inside but managed to keep it under control. He had no idea why he let this one man get under his skin so much, but he always did. Like poison oak. “Yes, he is. Now if you’ll excuse us.” He put his arm around Quinn and led him away and didn’t care even a little how possessive it looked. He ignored the barely audible, low chuckle behind them.
“Ethan, what the hell?” Quinn whispered but wrapped his arm around Ethan’s waist and leaned in to him. Little warm fuzzies swarmed around his heart to be held like that in front of all sorts of people.
Familiar voices surrounded him, very few he didn’t recognize, either as people he knew or voices he’d heard at Derelict’s party. It felt a little strange to know people, to say hello and exchange small talk in a comfortable way, like a real person, he thought with a little grin. Speaking of Derelict…
“Ooo, aren’t you two just yummy.” Derelict was suddenly beside them with enthusiastic hugs and kisses. “Better be careful our Prince doesn’t throw you out for showing him up.”
Quinn laughed, though he noticed Ethan still seemed uncomfortable. He bit back all the questions he wanted to blurt out, especially since the commotion by the doorway told him the Prince himself had arrived.
Elric moved through the small crowd, kissing cheeks where appropriate, speaking softly in greeting to those he knew and introductions to those he didn’t. He stopped in front of Ethan and offered his hand. “Herr McFarland. Thenk you for coming. I know it means a great deal to Keit.”
Ethan took his offered hand in his. His handshake reflected Ethan perfectly, warm, solid, firm and somehow sensual all in a simple touch. “Keit is a good friend, it’s good to see him happy…and safe.” Ethan added that last with a trace of relief, and he knew Elric would know what he meant. Elric would not go too far with Keit, and more importantly he would not let anyone have Keit that would hurt him.
“It pleases me to hef your approval,” Elric answered with a little nod. There was a hint of irony in his voice but no more. “And this must be Qvinn. My dear, you are a vision.” He had Quinn’s hand in both of his, his lips twitching into a little smile.
Quinn swallowed hard and struggled for what to say to that. “Um…thank you.”
When the Prince had moved away again, Quinn let out the breath he forgot to exhale. “Like having a heated glacier pass by you…does that sound crazy?”
Ethan smiled and pulled him close again, “No, not really.”
In a room full of handsome men Jerrett was not the tallest, or the biggest, or even the prettiest, and yet he still managed to be utterly striking. He was fairly tall, an inch or so over six foot, with broad shoulders that narrowed in a perfect V at his waist. He didn’t have Ethan’s brawn but every muscle was honed beautifully, as if he were cut from marble. The ultra tight shirt and leather pants proved that perfectly well. His hair was as black as Vince or Der’s but cut short, businesslike, which suited his angular features. His skin was sun kissed bronze and his eyes deep brown that could look hard and black in the right light, or mood.
He met Elric with a smile though, this one much more genuine than the one he’d bestowed on Ethan. He shook hands with him when he came near. “Jerrett Hawthorn, pleased to meet you.”
“Ah, Jerrett.” Elric clasped his hand tightly. “It is good to finally meet you, too. He speaks of you often. I hef been curious.” He left it at that, without explanations about what had been said or how much.
Now Elric strode to the center of the room and called, “Anthony!”
A long, lean young man with spiky, platinum blond hair and gray eyes so large he looked permanently startled, turned and dashed across the room to him, flung himself down ten feet away and slid the rest of the way to Elric on his knees. “My Prince?”
Elric put a finger under his chin to lift his face and give him a soft kiss. “You may tell Keit it is time to come down.”
It couldn’t have been much more than sixty seconds later that Anthony was back, and held the door open for Keit.
He was not excessively modest, but it was a little disconcerting to walk naked into a room full of clothed people. Drew would have been crimson but if Keit blushed it was too faint to tell. He didn’t have anything to blush about though. Like Jerrett, he might not have been the tallest, brawniest, or prettiest in the room, but he was definitely nice to look at.
He had a lean, well proportioned body, nicely chiseled, and lovely, honey-colored skin. His spiky dark brown hair was tipped with blond and gave him a carefree look matched by the warmth in his eyes and the slightly mischievous smile that so often curled his lips.
The front was so lovely to look at it was a bit of a slap to the system when he turned to kneel in front of Elric, his backside presented to the room. A few white scars trailed down the otherwise smooth and golden back, obviously the work of a bullwhip that had bit deep.
Keit was completely unaware and unconcerned about any bit of shock this might have caused the more tender hearted. At the moment there was only one other person in the room, and he was standing in front of him.
Elric’s smile for him edged towards warmth. He reached down to brush his fingers over Keit’s hair before he returned his gaze to his guests.
“My friends,” he began, his soft voice carrying easily to the corners of the room. “Most of you know I do not regard collaring as a lighthearted thing, a matter of whim and caprice.”
There was some good-natured chuckling at that. The subs Elric placed with other doms often waited for months before he would approve a match.
“And yet in the past two years my heart hes been moved to offer one collar.” He waved an ivory hand towards Orion, standing behind his right shoulder. “And now a second. It fills me vith joy and wonder thet so bright and gregarious a young man vould accept.”
A little gesture from the hand still raised and Orion gave him the velvet box he had guarded so zealously all evening.
“So before all those gathered to bear vitness, I ask: Keit Kitrell, do you do this villingly and by your own volition, vithout coercion or fear?”
Keit’s heart beat like a wild, captured thing in his chest but his voice came out smooth and steady and unmistakably eager, “Yes, my Prince, most willingly.”
Elric opened the box and removed the collar, a toffee-toned one of soft calfskin, studded with golden eyelets and a single gold ring in front. He handed the empty box back to Orion and took the collar in both hands.
“Vith this symbol, you submit to me. Your body, your heart, your vill all become mine. Mine to correct, mine to guide, mine to command.” He reached down to buckle the collar around Keit’s throat and the stern chill of his voice edged towards something softer. “Mine to protect and provide for. Mine to comfort and to shelter.”
He smiled and slid a finger under Keit’s chin to lift his face. “You may speak, herzchen. Vhatever is in your heart.”
Keit had thought of a lot of things to say at this moment, and now that it was here every one of them promptly fled his head. The slight pressure of Elric’s fingertip under his chin drew him up to his feet. “Thank you, my Prince.” Words were simply inadequate. His face turned into the cup of Elric’s palm and his lips pressed warmly to the pulse point of his wrist.
With a hint of a grin, Elric tugged him close and folded him in his arms. For a moment the room maintained a respectful silence but the high-spirited ones among them couldn’t maintain it. Mad Anthony let out a wild whoop, joined half a breath later by Derelict, while Jonathan put two fingers in his mouth for an ear-splitting whistle.
The guests erupted into joyful noise.
The ceremony part of things over, Keit was allowed to go and pull on some pants. While he was busy with that, the guests got the chance to mingle.
Ethan was torn. He wanted to get Der alone for a moment, but was unwilling to leave Quinn. Firstly he didn’t want Quinn to feel abandoned, and secondly he didn’t want to leave Quinn alone in the same room with Jerrett. He knew he was being unreasonable. Jerrett wasn’t a monster, he wasn’t dangerous, but reason had nothing to do with it.
Jonathan wandered off to talk to Der but Drew stayed glued to Vincent’s side. He had said hello to Orion earlier but hadn’t done his usual visiting with him. Of course, Orion really hadn’t been able to visit anyway. But now there was nothing keeping Orion and Drew saw him heading their way.
“Butterfly, you look well this evening,” Orion told him with a smile.
Drew looked up, returning the smile, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Thank you, Orion. How are you?”
“Happy. My Prince is happy, the little one is happy. It is good. Does the butterfly want something to eat?”
“No, no thanks. Not right now.” Drew said gently. He still smiled but his eyes held worlds of regret. He’d resolved earlier that he would stay by Vincent’s side tonight no matter what. Barring that he’d stick with Der or Jonathan, but he wouldn’t go sit and talk with Orion like he usually did, and certainly wouldn’t go off anywhere alone with him. Jonathan’s awful week long punishment stayed firmly in his mind and he would do nothing to risk that again.
Orion reached a hand towards him, then stopped and let it fall. He gazed at Drew a moment before he spoke again. “Migratory butterflies. There are many of those. Thousands of miles some of them. Others it only appears so far.”
He turned away and wandered off, the elation drained from him.
The smile faded from Drew’s face as soon as Orion’s back was turned. He felt shitty. Why did he have to hurt one lover to keep the other happy? And why did it have to hurt so much? He loved Jonathan with all his heart. He didn’t love Orion. He liked him a whole lot, but he didn’t love him. This shouldn’t hurt so bad.
He glanced at Vince and he looked like he was about to say something but Jonathan came walking back just then, threw an arm around Drew and kissed his cheek. Drew slid his arm around Jonathan’s waist and put his head on his shoulder.
Keit returned and he went to Elric but he shooed him off to go talk to friends while he was busy talking to Orion.
Keit saw Der by himself and struck up a conversation and Jerrett joined them after a few moments.
“Is it too late to ask you to come back to me?” Jerrett asked in a plaintive murmur.
“Yes.” Keit answered simply.
Jerrett chuckled. “Cruel, very cruel.”
“No, just honest.”
Jerrett tipped his head a bit at this. It was all just teasing anyway. Even if there weren’t other people in their lives they both knew they were bad for each other. Jerrett changed the subject. “I see the Boy Scout got himself a little cutie. You would think some regular action would have improved his disposition.”
Keit rolled his eyes. “Leave Ethan alone. You promised.”
Jerrett put his hand to his chest in a mock wounded gesture. “I have been perfectly polite.”
“Ooh, history,” Der said. In peg-legged jeans and a black t-shirt decorated with silver spider web, he felt he‘d done his part to blend into the background for the evening. He flicked clawed fingers in a little shooing gesture. “You want me to make myself scarce or did you want to introduce me?”
He made no secret of checking out Keit’s handsome friend. The boy did know the most incredibly gorgeous men but he wouldn’t be hurt if they needed to talk.
In the corner of the room, Elric pulled Orion’s head down to kiss his cheek. “You hef done nothing, liebchen. Please don’t be upset. If Drew needs a bit of space, you must give him thet, ja? If he vishes to share the reason, good. If not, you must be a good friend and accept it.”
“Yes, mein herr,” Orion murmured, though he didn’t appear to feel any better.
Elric put a hand on his chest. “Go eat something. Tell me if it reaches a dark point.”
Orion nodded. “It’s only gray now. I can still see.”
“Good, good. There are those mushrooms you like so much. Vith the crebs.” Elric sighed as Orion wandered off. The urge to talk to Drew was enormous but he didn’t think that would be fair, to demand the boy spend time with Orion.
Jonathan nuzzled Drew’s ear. “Sweet cheeks, whatsamatter? And I’ll smack you if you tell me ‘nothing’.”
“Noth…” Drew fumbled out and then clamped his mouth shut. Damn it. He wanted to tell Jonathan he didn’t want to talk about it, but he didn’t think that would get him anywhere either. He sighed. “I just…feel bad. For Orion. I think I hurt his feelings,” he mumbled half under his breath.
Keit introduced Jerrett and Derelict with a knowing grin, but then it occurred to him that encouraging these two might not be the greatest idea. Yeah, Ethan was with Quinn now, but Keit knew he still had a tender spot for Der. It wasn’t that he’d try and be possessive with Der, that wasn’t it at all. He was sure Ethan wouldn’t have anything to say about who Der slept with, except if that person was Jerrett.
Jonathan hugged Drew closer. “Ah, got it.” He’d watched the little interaction with Orion so he’d already guessed. “Look, sweetie, I know I was a jackass when you slept with the big guy. And…and I know it was hard for you. What happened after. But just ‘cause I get twitchy and stupid sometimes, you shouldn’t think you can’t have friends.”
He tilted Drew’s face up for a tender kiss. “Yeah, Orion makes me nervous but it’s not his fault. Just ‘cause you said you weren’t gonna screw him anymore doesn’t mean you have to turn your back on him, hon.”
Drew lifted his eyes to Jonathan’s and something flickered in the pretty hazel depths but it was hard to say what it was. “Alright.” He said softly. “I’m going to go talk to him.” He kissed Jonathan’s cheek lightly and headed over to Orion.
“My coyote,” Vincent turned from his conversation with Caroline, having missed not a single thing. “You do realize you must not waver this time. One hint of dissatisfaction, one shadow of unhappiness over Drew and you will create serious issues.”
“Yessir,” Jonathan answered softly, his eyes following Drew. “I know. I said go and I’m not going back on it.”
Drew joined Orion where he was sitting. He sat next to him and looked at the plate he had with hardly anything touched on it. “Those strawberries look perfect Orion, bet they are sweet as can be.”
For a moment it seemed as if Orion hadn’t heard him. Then his chest rose and fell on a deep, shaky breath. “Have I hurt you, butterfly? I’ve…done that. Hurt people without knowing.”
Drew felt as if tight bands constricted his chest for a moment. It was hard to breathe. “No, Orion. You didn’t hurt me. And I’m sorry I hurt you. It was a stupid thing to do. I just… well, it doesn’t really matter. I really am sorry, Orion.”
Orion put the plate on the table next to him. He raised his eyes to meet Drew’s in one of his rare, crystal moments of clarity. “You should never be sorry. Not for anything. You are too rare, too fine.” He held out his arms, arms that so often had felt the ache of emptiness.
Drew slid over into Orion’s lap, put his arms around his neck and let him close those massive arms around him. For a moment he simply let Orion hold him, felt his warm breath on his neck where Orion had bent his head near him.
“Thank you,” Orion murmured. “There’s more light now.”
Drew gently disentangled himself but stayed seated on one thickly muscled thigh. He reached over and plucked a strawberry from the plate and held it to Orion’s lips. “You should eat. Big body like yours needs the fuel.”
Orion took the fruit between his teeth gently, mindful of Drew’s fingers. “My Prince despairs that I will begin eating the furniture some day.”
Derelict’s fingers drummed on his glass in soft syncopations. “So, shall we get the preliminaries over with?” he asked with a bright grin. “What do you do, what’s your favorite movie and what’d be on your car stereo if you turned it on right now?”
Jerrett gave Derelict an appraising look, dark eyes moving over him with no attempt to conceal his interest. “Will what type of movies or music I like determine how quickly I can get you into bed?”
Keit rolled his eyes. “See you guys later.” He wandered off in Ethan’s direction.
“Why, yes, yes it would,” Der said on a laugh. “Or, more accurately, it could completely scuttle your chances.”
One corner of Jerrett’s mouth curled into a grin. “I don’t have a favorite movie, but I usually like suspense, or horror. Right now I believe there is a Breaking Benjamin CD in my car stereo. I don’t work, though I do have a law degree.”
Der lifted his head in a mock sniff. “A bit pedestrian but better than if you’d said you had Billy Ray Cyrus in there. Or something even worse like Christina Aguilera. Though not working sort of makes up for it — bit of a gadabout, are you? One of the last true dilettantes?”
Jerrett turned his head slightly. “Do you always talk so much when you’re nervous?”
“Me? Nervous?” Der waved his claws in a dismissive gesture. “I was born nervous. And I always talk too much. People are forever finding inventive ways to get me to shut up.”
Jerrett snorted. “Well, at least I don’t have the monopoly on blatantly obvious invitations.” The little half grin on his lips could only be described as ‘cocky’ as he slid his arm around Derelict’s waist and steered him toward one of the tables of food. “Let’s try food first, if you think you can contain yourself that long? If you’re good I’ll let you have dessert later.” Only the slightly teasing note in his tone kept his words from total arrogance.
Keit watched Ethan watching Jerrett and Der, his arm curled protectively around Quinn’s waist, and he wondered if they would actually get though the evening without a fist fight.
“Ethan, did you plan on keeping Quinn cloistered away from everyone all night?” Keit asked, amusement in his eyes. His friend just couldn’t keep the scowl from his handsome face. “Come on Quinn, let’s get something to eat and leave Ethan to glare in peace.” He didn’t give either of them the chance to protest, instead taking Quinn’s hand, putting it on his arm, and leading him away.
There. Ethan could either stand there glowering by himself, or go get it out of his system now.
“What’s wrong with Ethan?” Quinn whispered when he was sure they were out of earshot. “He’s been all stiff and shit since we got here.”
At the table, Der plucked a strawberry from the nearest plate. “Mmm, love these.” His eyes locked on Jerrett’s, he sank his sharp teeth into the firm, red flesh and bit down, letting his lips caress over the surface in an obviously sensual way.
Keit began putting items on a plate, only glancing over his shoulder once to see if Ethan was moving toward Jerrett and Der. He wasn’t. Yet.
Keit didn’t think Quinn was after the obvious answer, that Ethan didn’t like Jerrett. The why of that was a little more difficult. “When Jerrett and I broke up it was kinda messy. Ethan blames Jerrett, for everything.” Keit said just as quietly as Quinn had asked. “It wasn’t all his fault. I know that now, and I forgave him for… things that happened. Ethan just can’t.”
Keit’s eyes flicked over toward Ethan again, and saw he was moving toward Jerrett now.
“Hey, Derek, can I talk to you for a minute?” Ethan asked, giving Jerrett a pointed look.
“If you’re going to warn him off, don’t bother. He’s already madly in lust.” Jerrett said dryly.
Ethan gave Jerrett a look that should have shredded him where he stood. Jerrett just grinned back at him and Ethan wanted to punch him in his smug face. “Actually it has nothing to do with you, believe it or not. Not everything is about you.”
Der hastily downed the rest of the strawberry and wiped his claws off on the nearest napkin. He could almost smell the ozone in the air, waiting for the lightning to crack across the room between them. Oh, not good. Not good at all.
Since Jerrett wasn’t making any move away, Der tucked his hand into the crook of Ethan’s elbow and pulled him towards the other side of the room. “Of course you can talk to me, handsome. Anytime. You know that.” He flicked a last glance at Jerrett, hoping he had the sense to stay where he was. “What’s up?”
Drew laughed and that happy sound seemed to float about and soothe some ragged nerves.
Now that Ethan finally got Der alone a minute he wasn’t sure what he wanted to say. “I guess I just wanted to apologize for not seeing much of you lately. You know, Quinn… and, um the hospital and everything…”
“Hey…hey, now,” Der took Ethan by the shoulders, his smile far more tender than the one he’d given Jerrett. “It’s all right. You know I’m crazy about you. And I always will be. You’ve been really good for me. But I never said I needed to be your one and only and you’ve always known I’m not a one person kind of guy.”
His hands slid up to cup Ethan’s face. “But sometimes I’ve felt like you might need someone more just for you. So I’m not mad. And if this is something more…permanent, that’s wonderful. I can see he’s nuts about you.” He leaned in to kiss Ethan’s forehead. “But I’m here, handsome, whenever you need me. All right?”
Ethan smiled back at Der, and it held a hint of softness to it that had everything to do with Quinn. “Yeah, I know, and thank you.” He gave Der an affectionate hug.
He turned around to find Quinn with his eyes, and the warmth and easiness that had settled over him evaporated like water in a sizzling fry pan. Jerrett was standing with Keit and Quinn, leaning just a little too close to talk to Quinn, smiling at him just a little too predatorily. A flash of red hot anger shot through Ethan, totally disproportionate and completely out of character. He was going to kill him, slowly and painfully if possible, but he’d settle for pummeling him until he stopped breathing.
“Ethan.” Derelict put a hand on Ethan’s chest, trying to keep his voice soft and steady. “Whoa, there. He’s not doing anything. And it’s not like Quinn’s gonna throw you over for him. I mean, you can practically see the kid’s neck hair standing on end. Not his type, obviously.”
He spun Ethan around to look at him again, alarmed by the bunch and flex of powerful muscles under his hands. “Hey! What’s the damage, anyway, hon? You’d think the guy killed your puppies.” He looked from Jerrett to Ethan and back again. Handsome, yes, but stuck on himself like super glue. “He didn’t, did he?”
“He let Keit get hurt! He was supposed to watch him and he left him!” Ethan growled. “Too fucking important to go fuck some other guy.”
“Um, Ethan –” Der kept his hands firmly on Ethan’s shoulders to keep him from turning around. “It’s none of my business, of course, but you’re so worked up you’re not making sense. Why would Keit need someone to, ah, watch him?”
Ethan drew in a deep breath and tried to get some control back. He’d said he wasn’t going to talk about Jerrett, and he’d meant it, but he was just so pissed. “Keit won’t say no, he won’t say stop, safe words are useless. They went to a party and Jerrett left him alone. He likes to play the Dom, but he’s got no sense of responsibility. He left Keit with idiots, turned off his cell phone, and they brutalized him because he never said to stop, he begged for more. I’m the one he called and I’m the one that went and got him and took him to the hospital.” He’d wanted to kill Jerrett for that stupid mistake, but Keit wouldn’t let him.
“All right…got it…” Der’s long fingers kneaded Ethan’s shoulders. “Gods.” He had been thinking about sleeping with that. One of these days his craving for the next pretty face was going to get him in deep trouble.
He combed through Ethan’s hair, the touch steadying him. “OK. So, he’s an irresponsible shithead who doesn’t give a rat’s tailbone for anyone but himself. But despite all that Keit wanted him here tonight. And what happened back then is already done. That’s not a good reason to disrupt the Prince’s peace. He’d have you tossed out and then Keit would be terribly upset.” He gave Ethan a little shake. “Please don’t spoil this evening for him.”
Ethan let his breath out slowly, some of the tension coming down with it. Derek was right. He wouldn’t spoil things for Keit. Not when he was so happy. “All right. But I need to go get Quinn. Now.” Ethan turned out of Der’s grasp. He didn’t pull or jerk away, he simply moved, an effortless bid for freedom. A few quick strides and he was at Quinn’s side.
“Ethan?” Quinn heard his footsteps long before he got there, one hand reaching out for him. He adored Keit, thought the world of him, but his choice in friends? This Jerrett guy gave him the creeps. Smarmy, walking ego oozed from him.
He refrained from rushing into Ethan’s arms, no need to embarrass himself quite that much, but his whole body yearned towards the big man as he approached, partly from skittishness and partly because of anxiety over why Ethan would need to pull Derelict aside to ‘talk’.
Jerrett watched the interaction and the only reason he didn’t say something was because Keit was standing there. Der had not come over with Ethan and a glance around showed that he had gone over to talk to another group of friends. Jerrett knew exactly what Ethan had done. “Well Boy Scout, seems you just can’t resist talking about me, despite your protests to the contrary. Should I be flattered?” His voice was calm, slightly mocking, as if he were highly amused, but those dark eyes burned with anger.
Instead of waiting for an answer Jerrett turned and wrapped an arm around Keit to draw him away. “It’s time for me to go, sweetheart. I’m happy for you. I think Ethan and I have behaved long enough.”
Keit murmured his understanding. He agreed.
He was used to the animosity between Ethan and Jerrett, so he wasn’t all that surprised or disappointed. He supposed a couple hours with them in the same room, with no punches thrown, was the best he could expect. He said good-bye in the hall and Jerrett said he would show himself out.
A metallic clang sounded. “Dammit.”
“You OK, Vic?”
“Barked my shin on something. It’s hellishly dark back here.”
“You can take my arm, you know. I’ll get you out where you can see again.”
Victor had parked the Vulcan between warehouses, in the darkest alley he could find. Once he’d switched off the headlights, though, he’d realized just how dark. “Smart-ass pup.” He took Quinn’s arm regardless and let him lead, realizing the sense of it since to Quinn the lack of exterior lighting made no difference at all.
Once out on the street again, Vic let go and handed Quinn his bat. Vincent hadn’t been joking and had gotten Quinn the heaviest one the sporting goods store had in stock. One of his stipulations had been that Quinn would not go out defenseless.
“Better to give him a weapon he’s comfortable with,” Vincent had explained when Victor protested.
Now Quinn stood still, head tilted to one side, listening. It wasn’t so much certain sounds he listened for but the quality of sound, the way the few truck and boat noises in the area bounced around objects or were muffled by them.
He walked a few yards down the street, stopped, and walked back the other way again before he thought he had it. Then he broke into a jog, suddenly confident of his direction, forcing Victor to scramble to catch up. The scents of the warehouse district began to tug at him and a few blocks later the one he searched for hit him like a blow to the gut. He stopped short, nauseous and panting. Rust and oil mixed with something rotten, sharp and sickening.
“Quinn?” Vic murmured beside his shoulder.
“We’re just about there,” he whispered back. “Keep your eyes peeled for something that looks like a boarded up house.”
“Three stories, no useable door facing the street?”
“Yeah.” Quinn voice trembled.
“I see it. Someone just went around to the side door and was let in. It’s about half a block down.” Vic gripped his shoulder. “Stay here. Please. No closer.”
“No. I mean it. Do not add another distraction for me.”
“Vic? After you beat up the bad guys, don’t forget the kids.”
“Not on your life,” Vic growled behind his faceplate. “He has the keys?”
“Always. Nobody has ‘em but Ryan.”
Quinn gripped the bat so hard it hurt as Vic’s heavy tread moved away from him. A few moments later wood splintered. Probably Vic kicking in the door. Shouts drifted to him and the sound of running feet. Not towards him, away–the junkies downstairs getting the hell out of the way.
He couldn’t help it, he kept edging closer to catch every sound. Then he didn’t hear any more. Heart thudding against his sore ribs, he ran towards the building, it‘s exact location more clear with every step. Yes, he knew the bricks under his fingers, knew the boarded-up front door. Thuds and grunts issued from behind the plywood, large bodies in conflict.
How many were there? Dammit, what if Vic needed help? He was big and bad but Ryan’s boys were, too, and they weren’t the half-scared street punks Attila so often confronted. These were professionals.
“Fuck…oh, fuck…” Quinn shifted from foot to foot as the noises grew in volume and in frequency, bone rattling bellows and crashes. How was anyone still alive in there?
He broke and ran for the side door he knew would be open. Hell if he could stand there and listen to Vic get his head bashed in. Somehow he’d figure out which body stomping around in there was Vic’s and he’d wail on everything else that got near him.
A roar on his right. Vic’s. Yes, perfect. He took the bat in both hands and swung left at the body he heard moving there. The wood connected with a sickening thud.
“Quinn! Get the hell out, dammit!”
In answer, Quinn grinned and swung at his target again, which hadn’t moved far, out of shock or pain. The crack this time told him he’d hit bone. The impact jarred his arms but he kept grinning as a strange, calm elation swept over him. “Shut up and fight, Attila,” he muttered and swung again.
Words gave way to more primal sounds again, grunts and howls and the thuds of hard objects hitting flesh, the hiss and chatter from Vic’s comm system in his helmet serving as a beacon to separate him from the tangle of bodies. The lights must have been turned off or the bulb smashed since Quinn’s opponents blundered about, absurdly easy to find, their attempts to evade him clumsy and ineffective.
Quinn stumbled over a body. One thug was down. Maybe more from the relative quiet in the room. He took a step back to listen, panting hard. A sharp point of fire suddenly hit his throat.
“There’s my sweet Quinn,” Ryan purred in his ear as he pressed the knife closer. “You came back. All on your own. You stand still now, you sweet little piece, or I’ll paint the walls with your blood.”
Robbed of breath, Quinn went still, all his resolve and courage evaporating.
“You. Not another step,” Ryan snarled. “Down. On your knees. Hands on your head, mother fucker. Think you own this town, don‘t you? Not this part, freak. This‘s mine.”
“Let him go,” Vic’s voice came from an angle it shouldn’t have unless he was kneeling on the floor. “You can do what you want with me. Let the boy go.”
Ryan’s laugh leapt across Quinn’s ear, hard and ugly. “Oh, I will. After I’ve butchered you like the pig you are and fucked Quinny over something fierce. Then I’ll let him go. Back to his room like a good boy. Where I’ll keep him chained this time so he doesn’t try to run.”
The knife point ran up and down Quinn’s throat. “’Course I’m not sure why he ran. He likes taking it up the ass, don’t you, Quinny? Likes it good and hard. Likes it when they hurt him. Begs for more. Don’t you, sweet thing?”
The whimper escaped before he could stifle it. Ryan laughed again, the laugh that haunted Quinn’s nightmares. God, ohgod, Vic, don’t do anything stupid. He couldn’t think with Ryan’s breath on him, those awful hands gripping him. Any second, he was going to pass out, his heart slammed so hard…
His hand twitched, fingers closing hard around wood. He still held the bat.
He let out a soft moan as if he were fainting and went limp. A big risk, since Ryan could simply let the knife sink into his carotid, but the sudden change in weight caused even the most evil man to react instinctively. The knifepoint left Quinn’s throat as his grip shifted.
Quinn stomped down hard on his instep. With a hard twist, he yanked himself halfway free, not enough room to swing the bat but enough to bring it up with a solid crack against Ryan’s head. Both the knife and the hand gripping him fell away. Quinn spun with the bat in both hands and connected with a satisfying crunch. He swung again and again and again. Someone was laughing, an eerie, hollow sound.
“Quinn! Stop! Dammit, stop! Ease down!” Vic bellowed in his ear. Huge hands gripped his wrists, forced him to stop swinging but he still tried. He found himself immobilized in a hard embrace.
“You’re going to kill him,” Vic murmured when he finally stilled.
“Good! He needs to die! Lemme finish it!” Quinn shrieked, the horrible laughter still bubbling from him.
“No, my dear. No, sh…sh…” Vic wrenched the bat from his fingers and tossed it away. “No. I won’t let him make you a murderer. He’s done enough harm to you.” He kissed the top of Quinn’s head. “And if you kill him, you spare him the agony of life in prison. Or haven’t you heard how they treat pedophiles in jail?”
Quinn’s laugh shifted to mere hysteria and then he buried his head against Vic’s chest, breathing hard. “All right…OK. We do this right. Keys…”
Vic bent down without letting go of Quinn and straightened again with a jangling sound. “Here. Go open the doors. I’ll keep an eye on our boys here and have Vincent call this in. You understand I can’t stay once the police are on the way.”
“I know…but someone needs to stay. The kids’ll be scared.”
Vic took him by the shoulders. “That would be you.”
A strange feeling of dislocation settled over Quinn as he climbed the stairs. Behind him, he heard Vic put in the call to send the cops and request ambulances. For a split second anger surged through him that anyone would call an ambulance for the piece of filth lying downstairs but Vic went on, “Some of these kids are going to be in a bad way. We’ve no way of knowing how many…”
He started on the top floor, fumbled with the keys, and remembered to turn on the light switch as he entered the room.
“You’re kinda younger than most of them,” a small male voice said from the corner.
“Not a customer,” Quinn answered. “Attila’s here. He’s taken Ryan and his boys down. Can you walk?”
“Yeah.” The voice held a world of suspicion.
“Look,” Quinn crouched down. “I used to live here. I got away. But I came back. I needed to come back. To make sure it stopped. To get everybody out of here.”
“But how do you know what happened downstairs? You can’t see a fucking thing, can you?”
Quinn smiled. “There’s some things you don’t need to see to know. C’mon. Come help me with the rest of the doors. And you can tell me if anyone looks like they can’t make it down on their own. What’s your name?”
“Theo,” came the half-shy response.
Theo stuck close at first, as if afraid something might jump out at him but after a few more rooms, a few more explanations, he gleefully took half the keys from Quinn and started opening doors himself. The older kids took charge of the younger ones, the stronger ones carried the ones who were too weak or too badly injured to walk.
When they reached the second floor and Quinn opened the first door, another voice from his nightmares spoke.
“It’s you…” The girl’s voice trembled, full of wonder. “Oh…it’s you…”
Quinn staggered back a step as a slender body careened into him to hug him tight.
“You came…you came to save me…again…” she sobbed.
“Holy shit,” Quinn murmured, tears stinging the backs of his eyes. The girl from Josh’s box, this was where she’d ended up. “Are you OK? Fuck…I‘m such a moron. Of course you’re not OK.”
She put her head on his shoulder and gulped a few breaths. “I’m…not so bad, I guess.” She’d caught sight of the gathering in the hall. “Better than some of them. What’s happened? To, you know, him?”
Quinn explained and the girl stepped away from him to speak to the ones in the hall. “Here, give me that little guy, you can barely stand up. Let’s get downstairs. Let Quinn take care of stuff up here.”
With some help getting things organized, the rest of the operation proceeded smoothly. Vic piled the trussed thugs in Ryan’s office, left the man himself where he lay on the floor, lectured the kids on how important it was for them to talk to the police and to go to the hospital, and then said his goodbyes before the sirens got too close.
Hannah, the girl from Josh’s box, helped with explanations once the police arrived since Quinn was gasping by this time, his ribs lancing pain through him with every breath. An army of paramedics swarmed the place and wheeled the captive children away one by one.
Quinn declined to go to the hospital and instead went to the station to give the officers his statement. He didn’t have to see their faces to feel the horror growing as he told his story. The only things he left out were the identities of those involved with Attila. He had, after all, never seen any of them to describe them.
While he waited for one of the detectives to talk to him, he asked for a phone. One more thing he had to do that night, maybe harder than everything else. Fifteen minutes before the end of Ethan’s shift, he called him at work.
“Ethan? Listen, I don’t want you to freak out and stuff. But I’m kinda hoping you’ll give me a ride home? I’m at the police station–”
Not freak out he says, Ethan thought, rolling his eyes. “Do I need to bring bail?” he asked, voice somewhere between worried and amused.
“No, no, nothing like that. I just had to give a statement,“ Quinn answered.
“Okay. I’ll be right there.” He paused. “Quinn, are you going to tell me what’s going on with you now?”
Quinn took a deep breath. So Ethan had known all along something was up; he’d just been too nice to call him on it. He wanted to spill everything right then, in one hurried rush, get it over with. Not in front of the cops, though, and not over the phone. This conversation had to be face to face.
“They…they’ve got the fuckers in custody.” He kept his voice carefully steady. “The ones who hurt Cricket. I’ll tell you everything I can, Ethan, I swear. But can we wait till we get home?”
“Of course, sweetheart. I’m on my way.” Ethan hung up and went to go get him.
Back at the apartment, Quinn sat on one end of the couch, hands gripped between his knees, carefully not touching Ethan. He had to get through this.
“I’ve…I’ve been kinda sneaking around behind your back. But I think you knew that,” he started, his voice tight and low. “And I’ll get to all that. But I’ve gotta go backwards first. You’ve always said the past didn’t matter. I know what you meant, that it didn’t matter to you what I’ve done before, and it’s real nice and all, but thing is, it does matter. The past. It’s part of you, y’know? You can’t ignore it and pretend it’s not there.”
He ran his hands back through his hair and winced when he hit a new lump. “I need to tell you everything, Ethan. ‘Cause you deserve to know. ‘Cause I want you to know.”
From his childhood to the day Xavier had found him alone and in near hysterics at Josh’s apartment, Quinn spilled everything. The years of street living, the years of forced prostitution, he spared absolutely nothing. Ethan sat quietly throughout and Quinn wished desperately he could see his face. Then he came to the attack and what Ryan had said and what he had done afterwards.
“I can’t tell you who Attila is,” he concluded, his voice hollow and drained. “That’s their business and not mine to tell. But I had to do it. I couldn’t let him…” He dropped his head in his hands, the final confession spilling out. “He hurt you. That was the thing that did it. He hurt Cricket and he hurt you. I couldn’t let that go. ‘Cause I love you, McFarland.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Maybe you don’t wanna hear it, but I love you.”
Ethan sat in silence. He knew he tormented Quinn by not saying anything but he struggled with several things and had to take a moment to gather his thoughts.
“Quinn.” His voice was soft, but intense. “I’ve been waiting to hear you say that for what seems like forever and now you give me the words I wanted to hear on the heels of…why didn’t you tell me? You put yourself in terrible danger, hid things from me… and then say you love me. You make me want to throttle you. I love you so much, don’t you trust me?” He knew that it all came out a mixed up jumble, but his head was spinning with so much emotion he just let whatever came to his lips spill out now.
A rush of heat flooded Quinn’s face, shame and anguish making him want to burst into tears. “Fuck…Ethan…I trust you more than anyone I’ve ever known. I…but you’re so good and so…normal…I couldn’t get you mixed up in all that shit. I didn’t want to…I didn’t want it to touch you.”
He shook hard enough now to rattle his bones. “And you would’ve tried to stop me. Not that that’s an excuse, but you would’ve. And then I would’ve had to lie to you outright…and…I’m so sorry. Shit, I’m so sorry.”
The desire to grab Quinn and hold him and comfort him warred with the anger his words created. Ethan wiped a frustrated hand over his face. “You’re right Quinn, it is no excuse. You think I won’t like something so you hide it from me? If I don’t want you to do something you’ll just lie about it? I don’t hide important parts of my life from you, and I’d never lie to you, Quinn, goddamn it.”
He abruptly stood up, “I need to think about things. I’m going for a walk.”
Quinn wanted desperately to fling himself to his knees, to wrap himself around Ethan’s ankles and sob and plead with him not to go. But it would all be a play for Ethan’s soft spot and he wasn’t going to play him. Not now. Not ever.
“’K,” he murmured, his head still in his hands. “I’ll…” I’ll be waiting for you, he wanted to say but he stopped himself. “I understand.”
Ethan closed the door without slamming it. He really didn’t have a temper. Not a quick one anyway. But he did get angry, it took a lot, but once he was pissed it took a lot to calm down, too. He couldn’t talk to Quinn right now. If he was honest he was hurt beyond belief that Quinn had kept this from him, put himself in danger, and not told him.
He put his head down and walked. A little over an hour later he realized his feet had taken him to Derek’s apartment.
Billy Bragg drifted softly from under the door, Sexuality – strong and warm and wild and free, Sexuality – your laws do not apply to me, but Der didn’t have the music up loud and answered Ethan’s soft knock.
Tamerlane’s black, furry bulk lay comfortably nestled in his arms when he appeared. “Hey, handsome! What a nice surprise. Me and the babies were just doing some dancing. They like Billy.”
His smile quickly faded, though, and he shifted Tamerlane to his left arm so he could take Ethan’s hand and pull him inside. “You look like someone pulled the carpet out from under you. On the stairs. Ten flights up.”
Ethan wasn’t sure talking to Der was right. Not only was he usually such a private person, but talking about one lover to another…well, it just didn’t seem wise. Der was also a friend, though, and Ethan needed someone right now. He opened his mouth and everything spilled out. How he’d known Quinn was hiding something, but didn’t want to stomp all over his space. How worried he’d been since he’d gotten hurt. Everything Quinn had finally told him and what had happened, all the way up until he’d left and found himself here.
“I can’t believe he’d go off like that and not tell me! He could have gotten hurt, or killed, and how would I know? How could he just do that?”
Derelict didn’t answer the question immediately. He pulled Ethan down on the couch so he could stretch out and hold him.
While one claw traced an aimless pattern on Ethan’s shoulder, he began, “OK, that’s an awful lot all at once. Let me see if I have it straight.”
He kept his voice light and his hands soothing, knowing his words might hurt. “So here we have this kid who by all rights should have curled up and died years ago. Loss of family, loss of sight, years of degradation, humiliation, brutal abuse, loneliness and neglect. And since he didn’t die, at least his heart should be so hollowed-out and bitter that he doesn’t have room for anything but suspicion and self-preservation.”
“But somehow.” He kissed the top of Ethan’s head. “Miracle of miracles, he has preserved enough humanity to still feel compassion and responsibility. So much so that he puts himself at risk to save others and tries to protect his lover — that’s you, handsome — in the bargain. And when this lovely, wounded angel finally gathers the courage to lay all the horror of his life at said lover’s feet and finally discovers the trust to tell him he loves him, is he praised for his courage and resourcefulness, for his heroic acts? Is his lover touched and pleased that he is the one the boy finally opens up to?”
He felt Ethan stir uncomfortably and held up a hand to forestall protests. “No. He tells him he’s a bad person and stomps out.”
“I did not tell him he was a bad person,” Ethan protested. He paused half a second. “Der, I have to go. Oh my god, I have to go.” He got up, gave Der a quick kiss on the cheek, and ran for the door. He stopped to turn back for a second. “Thank you, Derek. You’re not going to be upset if I–”
Der made a shooing gesture and Ethan was out the door and halfway down the stairs in a panic.
Der called from the top after him, “Take a cab, Ethan. Faster than running.”
Ethan lifted a hand to show he’d heard but didn’t stop. He did do some running once he got on the street, but only until he spotted a taxi. He nearly jumped in front of it, yanked open the door and slammed it as he jumped in. He pulled out his wallet as he gave the address. “I’ll give you a fifty on top of your fare if you get me there in ten minutes.”
The driver didn’t even question; he sped off into traffic, a symphony of horns in their wake. He didn’t make it in ten, more like fifteen, but Ethan gave him the money anyway and took the stairs three at a time to get to the apartment.
“Quinn!” he bellowed as soon he yanked the door open. He didn’t see him. Panic gripped him harder than it ever had. Oh, God. What if he’d left? What if he’d run away? “Quinn, where are–?” They nearly collided in the hall.
Ethan grabbed Quinn’s arms, though whether to steady him, or just make sure he wasn’t getting away he wasn’t sure. “Quinn, oh god, I’m so sorry.. I can’t believe what an idiot I am.” He pulled him close, so tight he squeezed him. “I’m so, so sorry. I love you more than anything.” That last came out thick and hoarse as his throat closed.
“Ethan…” Quinn gasped. “Ribs…” His knees gave way when Ethan eased his hold but he didn’t fall. Ethan wouldn’t let him fall. His fingers tangled in the front of Ethan’s shirt and he buried his face against that wonderful chest, bulwark against the rest of the world. It hurt like hell but he let everything go, sobbing hard.
“I‘m sorry, Ethan…I‘m sorry…” he finally gasped out. “I didn’t mean to hurt you…”
Ethan scooped him up and carried him back into the bedroom. He sat down with Quinn in his lap and held him, stroked his hair and back, crooned soothingly and kissed him on the top of his head and his temple. The knot in his throat had gotten so hard and painful he couldn’t swallow. A hot tear or two squeezed out of the corners of his eyes and he caught a ragged breath. He didn’t break down, but it was a near thing.
“Quinn, my Quinn, don’t say you’re sorry anymore, alright? I know you were only trying to protect me. I’m sorry I couldn’t see that at first. My own stupid pride. You scared me more than anything, I think. Please babe, don’t cry. God, I am so sorry I walked out on you when you needed me. So selfish. Never, never again, my love. I promise you.” He held him and rocked him while he murmured to him and peppered him with little kisses.
Quinn wrapped his arms around Ethan’s neck and gradually forced his breathing back under control. He clung there, aching from old hurts and new, dizzy from the wonder of it all. This incredible, confident, gorgeous man said he loved him so, called him his Quinn. He’d never had so many little endearments given to him in such a short speech, almost as if Ethan tried to make up for lost time.
“It’s all right,” he managed with only a little hitch. He lifted his face to kiss Ethan’s cheek. “It’s all right. I’m just glad you came back.” His fingers stroked gently over the planes of Ethan’s face, memorizing them all over again. “Ethan? I…need to tell you one more thing. ‘Cause I promised I would.”
“It feels real now.”
Ethan bent his head to Quinn’s neck and wrapped him tightly in his arms again. He breathed a sigh that was both relief and gratitude. After a moment he dropped back on the bed and chuckled softly up at the ceiling.
Quinn leaned over him. “What?”
“I just realized I kind of liked being the fairy tale.” Ethan said. “I’m glad it feels real to you now, but maybe I can still play prince charming for you on occasion.” He lifted his head to kiss the tip of Quinn nose.
Quinn slid a hand behind his head to hold him there, his lips finding Ethan’s for a tender kiss. “Now, see, you’ve got an old hound dog instead of a white charger. And you use scalpels and stuff instead of a sword. But you’re still my hero.” He nuzzled against Ethan’s throat. “You’ll always be my prince charming.”
Ethan caressed Quinn’s back. “Well, you’re not exactly a princess, a little too tough for that, but there’s no one else I’d rather have beside me.” He paused, and then decided to go on. Something he’d been wanting to ask for a little while now anyway. “Quinn, will you move in with me? Or, I could move here if you want. Or we could get some place together, some place with more room for Cricket and Molly? I don’t want to be without you anymore. I know it’s a big step, it’s OK if you want your space still, I’ll understand.”
“You mean, like…permanent?” Quinn had stilled but his whole body vibrated. “Like you’d come home to me every night and…and stay?”
For a moment, he couldn’t answer, overwhelmed by things he could barely name. Being on his own had been nice, with his own place and his own schedule, but, hell, he’d been on his own almost half his life. “I’d like that,” he said with a shy half-smile. “I…I don’t think your landlady would be real cool with me moving in, but anywhere else, I don’t care.”
Ethan kissed him, slow and sweet and then rolled him under him, the kiss swiftly gaining heat.