Lovers with Open Minds, Friends with Benefits

Posts tagged ‘Quinn’

Chapter 295 – Viking Burial

Chapter 291 – Requiems

** Author’s note: This is a longer one, dear readers, but we felt it important to keep the whole thing together. **

“Is it possible? To do vell?”

“Yes, sir, it’s not tough to do with the right equipment.” Cody tamped down on his curiosity. Elric had handed him this marvelous photo of himself as a younger man wrapped in the arms of two gorgeous people who obviously adored him. He asked for a reprint since it was torn but his tone implied he was in no mood for questions.

Cody closed the portfolio and placed it on the table. “Tomorrow afternoon. I’ll bring it by.” He dared to reach out to stroke the white hand lying on the back of the chair. “Are you OK, sir?”

“Soon, my dear,” the Prince answered softly. “Soon I think I shall be.”

Elric arrived home to the quiet of his house and the storm inside him. Something wild brewed in his heart which he didn’t understand and wasn’t entirely sure he trusted. Before he could banish the disorienting turmoil, though, Keit appeared to greet him.

He seized the boy by the upper arms and backed him up to the wall where he captured his lips in a frenzied, searing kiss.

Keit was so shocked he didn’t respond at first. He had no idea what had come over his usually steady, composed Dom. He did not waste much time wondering though, before he let himself melt into the tight hold Elric had on him, his eyes sliding closed and his lips and tongue caressing back against his heated assault. Whatever it was, Keit was putty in Elric’s hands, caught up and willing to flow with his passionate demands.

“Downstairs.” Elric broke off to growl in Keit’s ear. “Strip and present.” He eased his hold and kissed Keit’s forehead gently, the message clear: I need you.

Keit slipped from his embrace with half-closed, smoldering eyes. “Yes, sir,” he breathed out. He managed to keep to an even pace until he was out of sight, then took the stairs two at a time, pulling his clothes off as he went. By the time he stood naked and ready for Elric, he was already standing at attention in more ways than one.

A few slow breaths later, Elric followed. Girded in the armor of his icy calm again, he found the steady center necessary to proceed. To approach Keit with anything less was madness. Passion, yes, that could be shared but uncontrolled ferocity would bring disaster. The boy would push and plead and believe himself in heaven while he drove his Dom to acts of brutality.

He descended the steps and walked slowly around Keit, his fingertips trailing along his skin as he circled. “Mein herz, my beautiful boy,” he murmured. “I give you the choice, as ve used to, vhen you came for sessions.” He leaned in close to Keit’s ear. “Vertical or horizontal?”

Keit shivered as the tip of Elric’s finger traced slowly down his spine. Unfortunately his brain had a short circuit to his mouth at that moment. His breath caught in his throat as a fingertip touched the little dimple at the very top of his ass. Denial definitely was a potent aphrodisiac, he couldn’t even form coherent speech he was so keyed up. “I-I’ll stay standing, sir,” he finally got out in a hoarse whisper.

“I said nothing about stending.” Elric nipped at the top of Keit’s ear. “But vertical it shall be.”

He stripped off his shirt and hung it on one of the hooks, then strolled up and down his equipment wall with slow, deliberate steps. The ritual steadied him, pulled him into the rhythm of the session. He made his selections just as deliberately and placed them on the table while Keit fought his shivers of anticipation.

When he approached again, he held only two items, both intimately familiar. No need for commands. Keit held out his hands for him to buckle on the padded suspension cuffs and spread his feet farther to ease the fastening of the leather cock and ball harness.

Everything proceeded as it would have during one of their client sessions with a few notable exceptions. Elric did not pull on his gloves as he would have then, his bare fingers caressing and petting where he would have refrained before. His lips touched down here and there as well, teasing and leaving trails of heat and when Keit was in harness, he took him into a tender embrace.

Keit trembled with anticipation. He had held things together during Orion’s discovery of who he was and the subsequent traumas and anxieties they had all faced. Even such upsetting, potentially life altering events rarely ruffled him beyond immediate emergencies. He was steady, he was a rock, he didn’t let the stress show…until he was allowed to. The build up behind his emotional walls had been almost at critical mass, and even the simple act of preparation had him shaky with need and giddy with relief. He moaned softly as Elric brushed his lips with his own and his body swayed into his.

“Steady, herzchen,” the Prince murmured gently before he bent to slide an arm under Keit’s knees and sweep him up in his arms. With a soft smile, he repeated the words he had spoken so often, “You are safe vith me. I shall not let you fall.”

He carried Keit over to the suspension rig and held him tight with one arm while he pulled the chains into reach. When the chains had Keit’s weight, he finally let go. Most subs would have needed a warm-up, a slow build to the more serious implements. Keit needed more and his desperation signaled a need to dispense with the preliminaries. Elric reached first for the bamboo switch and laid the first stripe across Keit’s left hip.

Upstairs, Orion wandered in from his workshop. He had finished the second frame as the Prince had requested, this one more suited to something one would find in a child’s room with little horses, sheep and rabbits carved all around. The open basement door stopped him, though, and the sounds…

He thought maybe he should start dinner instead. The frame could wait. Not that he was a gifted, instinctive cook like Sasha or Keit but Sasha had said anyone with a little patience who was able to read could learn to cook. Patience, at least with everyone but himself, he had in abundance now, something he had never had in his previous life. The doctors said it was due to ‘changes in the brain’. They hesitated to say brain damage but he knew they meant it.

Elric switched to a heavy cat. The variety in the pain was almost as important to Keit as the pain itself.

Keit lost track of how many times the flogger fell across his skin. His shoulders were in agony, the skin across his back and buttocks licked in flames. He could have so easily slipped into the calming ecstatic trance that came with this level of pain. He fought it though. He wanted to stay right here, experience every swish and stroke of the cane and the whip.

For the most part he was quiet, only a soft moan occasionally parting his lips. When the flogger wrapped around his thigh from behind and the very tips of two of the braids landed neatly on his balls though he couldn’t help the quick indrawn yelp. His head lolled back and the movement sent ice and fire through his shoulders. He cried out when the flogger landed again and sent more shards though him. He was in such agony and his gently curved cock stood like a flagpole from his body.

He cried out again with the next stroke, like a dam that once broken could not be stopped.

The Prince switched again, to his whip, the final implement he would only use to top off the sensations. He let it flick and kiss across Keit’s skin, starbursts of sharp pain, but he would never truly lay into him with it.

He sensed when Keit had reached the limit of safety and sanity, even though the boy would have begged for more, and he lowered the chains until Keit’s feet touched the floor. The chains still kept him standing as he lowered them a bit more and nudged Keit’s feet more than shoulder-width apart with his boot.

Mein herz,” he whispered as he eased lubed fingers inside Keit’s back door. His harnessed cock twitched and the boy moaned “You vill beg me for release. Plead for it prettily enough and I may grant it.”

Although his feet now touched the floor Keit doubted his ability to stand if the chain had not held him up. His legs trembled and he let out a heated moan as Elric’s fingers breached him. He murmured sweet encouraging things, letting his Dom know how much he enjoyed every touch and stroke, but he did not beg. Not yet.

He waited until Elric was pressed up behind him, his fly opened, the smooth head of his cock pressing into him. He begged for more, and he got it. His lithe body was slicked in sweat, he regained the use of his legs enough to push back and roll his hips, little whimpers and cries of ecstasy wrung from his lips as he built higher and higher.

“Uhh…oh, please sir… please, I’m so close now…please let me come,” he finally panted out.

Elric reached around to unsnap the harness in three swift tugs. The desperate groan he received when the blood rushed back in fully sent shivers of delight through him. He drove in for a few more strokes, letting Keit’s soft pleas wash over him like a cleansing rain.

He wrapped his arms around Keit and rested his head on his shoulder, his own climax imminent. “Now, herzchen,” he whispered. “Now. Give me vhat is mine.”

Keit’s body arched and shuddered on the last word Elric spoke. Molten streaks seemed to flow in his veins he came so hard and the release was so intense black spots danced behind his eyes.

The hard clench and release of Keit’s orgasm hurled Elric over the edge as well. He fastened his teeth onto Keit’s shoulder and clung tight, his soft moans muffled by skin as he rode out the heavy pulses of ecstasy.

He waited until he could draw a full, steady breath again before he eased out, took Keit’s weight more firmly against him, and released the cuffs. Keit slumped, deadweight, and he wondered if the boy had fainted. Ah, well, not the first time.

With a tenderness most people were never allowed to see, he carried Keit to the bed in the little room off the main one and slid in beside him, curling his body around him protectively.

Keit’s breathing slowly returned to normal, yet he did not stir, blissfully content to remain in Elric’s arms. The ache of soreness was starting to set in. Not the same as the sharp bite of pain that stirred his lust, but he would savor it nonetheless for the memory it would bring of this session. He was so happy, feeling absolutely loved and protected.

Herzchen…” Elric paused and lifted his head to sniff. “Ah. Pork chops, I think. Somevone is making us dinner. Do you think you can sit at table, my love, or vould you like to take dinner in bed tonight?”

Keit smiled lazily but said, “If Orion’s gone to the trouble to make dinner for us the least I can do is sit at the table, sir.”

They relaxed a little while longer and then Keit rose to go take a quick shower and dress before heading to the kitchen to see if Orion needed any help with dinner preparations.

Orion’s answer was to take him into a gentle embrace and kiss the top of his head. “It’s almost ready, little one. Is he coming?”

Keit nodded against his chest.

“Was it wonderful?” Orion whispered.

Keit gave a weak little chuckle. “Oh yes, more than wonderful.” He sighed happily and snuggled into Orion’s arms.

Five minutes later, their Dom appeared, showered, perfectly coiffed and pressed, and completely composed, the storm quelled. He settled in one of the kitchen chairs and rested his chin in his hand, watching his boys plate dinner.

“This Saturday,” he said softly. “I need them all here.”

Keit helped Orion carry the plates over and sat gingerly. “All, sir?” he asked, guessing that Elric meant their friends and already mentally creating the guest list and preparations that needed to be completed for such a large gathering on short notice.

Ja, alle,” Elric confirmed. “I shall make the calls myself. I esk only that ve hef enough food and drink on hend. A semi-formal occasion, I think, for vhich I expect you to make yourselves presentable. I shall do the rest.” He glanced over at Orion. “It is ready for me, liebchen?”

“Yes, mein herr.” Orion pointed over to the shelf by the door. “I brought it in to show you.”

Elric rose slowly to examine the picture frame, his fingers running over the little carved animals. “It is lovely. Marvelous. You hef such talent…thenk you.”

Throughout the city and farther up the coast, schedules were shuffled and reshuffled to accommodate the Prince’s request. Some of the invitees owed him, debts that could never be repaid, but all of them felt some strong connection to him and could not resist the call out of love or curiosity.

Leather and lycra left at home, a small horde of well-dressed, beautiful people descended on the house, Vincent a vision in velvet and silk, his boys in their best suits, Katya in a lovely green dress, cut scandalously low in the back, Der in his antique dress uniform jacket and so on. Even Anthony had opted for a suit and tie, things he normally wrinkled his nose at.

They milled about, waiting and speculating, no one quite sure what the occasion meant. Der leaned against the wall outside the dining room, a hand on Brandon’s shoulder. Bran looked so delicious in his double-breasted suit. Too delicious for words. Der pulled him close for a deep, languid kiss, his cock stirring at the barely leashed heat between them, his hand stealing down to…

“There’s my sweet pea!” An all too familiar voice called out beside him. “You could have come to say hello. But I see you’re busy. I suppose this is Brandon.”

“Um… hi, Mom,” Der got out in a sheepish murmur.

Brandon smiled bemusedly at the lovely lady scolding Der. He felt a bit like scolding Der himself for not telling him that his mother might be there. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Schiller, and yes, I’m Brandon,” he introduced himself.

Elisabet shook his hand while she looked him up and down. “Very nice. Much more handsome than some of your choices and much more polite.”

Der hid his face in his hands with a groan and looked like he wanted to sink into the floor.

She stood nearly nose to nose with Brandon, taller than any other woman in the room. “And what are your intentions regarding my son, young man?”

Brandon’s lips twitched. He adored her already. “Is it too cliché to say that I intend to keep him so happy he won’t think about going to find someone else?”

“That…” She smiled at him, her gray eyes twinkling. “Is the wisest answer I have ever gotten to that question.” With a pat to Brandon’s chest, she turned back to Der. “You hang onto this one, sweet pea. Someone with sense.” Then she was off again to greet Vincent and fuss over Drew and Jonathan.

Der raised his eyes to the ceiling. “Someone shoot me now. I’m sorry, Bran. I’d no idea she’d be here, too.”

Brandon smiled, slipped his arms around his waist and tugged him closer. “It’s alright, I’ll let it slide this time…sweet pea.”

“Please don’t call me that,” Der said in a pained voice. “I really don’t want to start thinking of you as my mother.”

Brandon laughed. “No, we wouldn’t want that,” he agreed and kissed him.

Upstairs, Elric knotted his tie for the fourth time. Lillana sat in the chair by the window, patient, silent for the moment, waiting, it seemed to him.

“I don’t seem able to do this today,” he said to her reflection as he undid the knot yet again. “My hends…wie sagt mann? I am entirely thumbs.”

Lilly stood and moved to his side, moving his hands gently out of the way when he turned to her. She deftly tied a crisp Half Windsor knot and smoothed the collar of his shirt. “You tied it perfectly the first time,” she said in her softly musical voice.

He let out a slow breath. “I go to strip the veil from things long hidden. To rip down the shutters and let the light in.” He caught her hand and pressed it to his heart. “And I delay…and think of changing my mind.”

She lifted her eyes to his and held them for a moment, then leaned up on tiptoe and kissed the tip of his nose. “I know, my dear Prince. I know. You shall be ready, when you are ready.”

He chuckled softly at her indulgence and the corner of her lips lifted in a little smile. “Now… should I go announce that you’re very sorry and have changed your mind?”

His forehead wrinkled and it was her turn to chuckle softly. “No? Then, perhaps you should make an appearance?”

“So. Yes.” He settled his jacket, smoothed back an imaginary stray hair, and tucked her dainty hand into the crook of his elbow. “If you valk on my arm, beautiful fairy princess. To give me courage.”

“I would be delighted, sir,” she said, and let him lead her out and down the stairs into the hall below.

Lilly had known, by the low murmur of voices, that there must be many people gathered, but she wasn’t quite prepared for the actual number that greeted them. The Prince’s ‘small gathering’ was a rather large crowd and she was actually glad for the firm arm she held onto now.

They did make quite a stunning entrance, even for such a sober affair. Him with his snow white locks pulled back into a neat single plait and her raven dark tresses floating about her like an inky curtain. Her habit of keeping her eyes lowered when first entering a room made the attention of their arrival fall upon Elric, until she looked up at him as well.

“Oh, dear gods,” Der whispered as he rose from his chair. “He’s reached up and plucked a star from the heavens.”

Several of the young men had followed suit out of instinctive respect for this vision.

“My dear friends,” Elric began in a voice pitched perfectly for the gathering. “This is Lillanna Willows, our counselor and friend who has been assisting in the household’s… recovery.”

Lilly hadn’t expected him to do that either, but she supposed she should have. She only knew Keit and Orion here; it would be easier to introduce her to everyone this way. Elric would have no way of knowing she was painfully shy in crowds and even more so with public speaking. Of course, the fact that her peaches and cream skin suddenly bloomed with pink roses and a whispered “Hello” barely made it past her parted lips only made her more endearing to many in the room at that moment.

Brandon poked Der gently in the ribs. “Wipe the drool off your chin, hon,” he whispered.

In an automatic gesture, Der lifted his hand to do just that and then shot Brandon an amused look. “Sorry.”

Richard leaned close to Katya’s ear. “Where, oh where, do you suppose he found that little gem?”

Kat smiled and patted his cheek. Where, indeed? She was certain the beauty on Elric’s arm had the attention of even the most determinedly ‘male only’ worshipers in the room. She glanced over at Jonathan and hid a small smile. Yes, that expression was just a shade too deliberately cool, even with his eyes transfixed. Not that he was likely to be interested, but certainly he could appreciate the aesthetic beauty. She chuckled as Vincent reached over without looking and closed Drew’s mouth.

Elric leaned in to whisper in Lilly’s ear, “I shall make proper introductions later, vhen all eyes are not cemented to you.” In a gallant gesture, he handed her into the empty chair next to Keit before he strode to the front of the room.

Once there, he swept the cloth off the little table to reveal the picture frames Orion had made. The ornate, inlaid one held the repaired photo of Elric with his Kurt and Annalise. The photo with the children occupied the newer frame with the little animal carvings. Between them sat a bowl full of rose petals and a black pillar candle, which Elric now lit.

Es war einmal ein mann,” he began, his voice steady and calm. “This is how all German fairytales begin. ‘There once was a man.’ But the stories from the Bleck Forest are often gruesome and the endings are not alvays heppy.”

He straightened and stood with one hand resting on the table as if he needed the contact. “In my previous life, I vas Joachim Wilhelm Sebastian Hohenzollern, the last Baron of Edelwald. The last because there are no more kings in Bavaria to name a successor and vhen I left, there vas no male relative remaining to take the title.”

He went on to describe his privileged childhood on the rambling estate, a strictly scheduled childhood filled with tutors and lessons, one which would have been unbearably lonely had it not been for Kurt. It was Kurt who comforted him when his father had been cruel and Kurt who had been there when his parents died, his lifelong friend whose love had blossomed into something more in their teenage years. He described their search for a Baroness, their first enchanted meeting with Annalise, the beautiful bride she had made, how happy the three of them had been.

He told them of his joy at the birth of his son, Johannes, and then the doubling of that joy when his daughter, Kara had been born. He had been a nervous father, afraid he would make mistakes, but his spouses were there to reassure him and calm him, both of them loving, instinctive parents.

“And then the day came vhen it all vas ripped avay,” he said softly, one finger running over the children’s picture frame. His words faltered and slipped now as he came to the day when he had lost them all, the fear, the horror, the numbing grief all crashing back in on him again. When he had finished, he leaned on the table with both hands, eyes shut tight, as if any movement might cause him to shatter.

Lilly noticed that all the people gathered held expressions of sympathy, some looking as if they wanted to go and comfort Elric, especially Keit and Orion, but none moved to do so. Perhaps they simply did not want to intrude on the careful walls he put around himself, or perhaps they were cautious since he was more than likely to lash out rather than accept any ‘coddling’. Well, emotional walls had never been a barrier to her, and she was not afraid of backlash if it helped him. She moved to his side and placed a delicate hand over his.

The curled lip, the beginnings of a snarl, came automatically, but someone began to sob softly. Elric heaved a ragged breath. He turned his hand to take Lilly’s fingers in a gentle grip as he faced his audience again.

“I hef kept them hidden all this time. Denied who they vere and all they meant to me. This vas not right.” He waved his free hand at the pictures, his voice cracking as he went on, “I give them beck. To the vorld, to the light. For all to see, for all to share in the joy there vas. For my new family, the vones who took a foreign stranger to their hearts, I share this, so you vill know. So you might help me remember.”

Keit finally broke, and moved forward. He wrapped his arms around Elric in a fierce hug that let him know he was not only moved by what he said and proud of him for it, but that he was there for him as well. A moment later Orion’s large arms enfolded them both.

It was a near thing. The Prince nearly wept in front of all those gathered. He wrapped an arm around Keit, leaned back against Orion and battled his errant emotions long enough to say, “Please, stay, everyone. Enjoy the night. Enjoy each other. I shall rejoin you soon.”

When he moved to leave the room, head held high, the three people who had dared to touch him went, too, Lilly’s hand tucked back in the crook of his arm, Keit’s hand gripped firmly in his, Orion’s on his shoulder. In the den at the back of the house, he broke and cried in their arms but no one else was there to see.

Drew sank down into Vince’s lap. He needed a bit of holding after that. He felt so bad for Elric; even if it was so long ago, the pain was obviously still raw.

For a moment, Vincent had his hands full. Drew rarely cried in public but he trembled against Vincent’s chest and Jonathan sobbed beside him. He wasn’t the only one, of course. Sasha had climbed into Jerrett’s lap, face hidden against his neck while Anthony knelt at their feet with his head on Jerrett’s thigh. Brandon did his best to comfort Der, though the tears crept down his own cheeks, and Victor rocked Cody in his arms.

“Here now, poor boy.” Elisabet moved her chair beside Jonathan to take him in her arms. Poor motherless boys. She half expected to be pushed away but Jonathan collapsed against her, heaving with wrenching sobs. “Sh, sh…such pretty eyes shouldn’t shed so many tears. Hush, dear.”

Amazingly, Jonathan quieted for her and let her dry his tears.

“Now,” she said more crisply. “Der Prinz has put this evening together for his friends to celebrate the ones he loved, not to have them flood his house and ruin his carpets. Come help me, dear. People need drinks, they need to get up, to talk to each other.”

There was perhaps no better way to pull Jonathan out of hysteria. He got up, kissed Vincent and Drew and followed Elisabet around the room playing host.

Drew pulled in a deep breath to steady himself. “I like Der’s mom,” he said softly in Vince’s ear.

Nearby, Brandon silently concurred although he hadn’t heard Drew’s whispered sentiment. He got Der to dry his eyes and he stood sniffling with Bran’s arm around him.

Katya and Richard joined Elisabet and Jonathan to help get everyone settled.

In the den things were settling as well. Lilly soothed and comforted all three of the men gathered. She stood next to where Elric sat and kissed the top of his head, smoothing her hand over the white silk of his hair. “You did very well, my Prince.”

There was no sarcasm, no irony in his voice when he answered softly, “So, ja, I am glad you approve.” He leaned his head against the back of the sofa. “I feel so…drained. But so light. As if I am not connected properly. Perheps I am coming down vith something…”

Lilly sat down next to him, a smile lighting her face. “That would be what it feels like when you are healing, sir.”

“Is it?” The corner of his mouth twitched as he took her hand. “It feels rather more like being turned inside out.” With his free hand, he reached down to where Orion knelt at his feet to stroke through his hair. “Are you all right, liebchen? Perheps I should hef prepared you better.”

“I’m all right.” The big man nuzzled Elric’s Armani-clad thigh. “I was worried for you, my Prince. It…it’s hard to see you hurt.” They sat in silence for a few moments and then Orion lifted his head to look up at Lilly. “I think I know what I need to do now, though.”

“I thought you might,” she said, leaving it up to him whether he wanted to share what he wanted to do or not.

Mein herr, I’d like to…think things through first.” Orion came up on his knees to kiss his Dom’s cheek. “Before I say anything.”

“As you vish, my love,” Elric reassured him softly. “Vhatever you need, you shell hef.”

Orion thanked him and was pulled in for a soft, searching kiss, which might have caught fire if footsteps hadn’t sounded in the hall.

“Sir? I don’t want to intrude, I mean, I know I am, but I wanted to make sure you’re OK. Not that you need me, not with all the help you have, and it’s not–” Anthony broke off with a foolish, crooked smile when Lilly looked at him. “Um, hello…”

Elric tamped down on a chuckle. “I’m recovering, thenk you, my dear. You look so hendsome tonight. Even a tie. This is an occasion.”

Anthony ducked his head on a grin. “Jerrett likes it. I think he likes having a leash built into the outfit as much as he likes the look but, well, you know…” He trailed off again, blushing furiously.

Lilly watched the exchange quietly. Privately she was a little surprised. Had she met Anthony on his own she wouldn’t have thought he was a submissive, but then, he wasn’t ultra dominant either. Not with the way he blushed when he looked at her.

After a moment they all rose and left the den to rejoin the rest of the gathering. As they walked down the hall, Lilly braced herself. She avoided crowds usually. Not out of any kind of phobia, but because all the emotions one found in large groups played havoc with her own balance.

A steady, rhythmic thump came from ahead of them and Elric stopped as they rounded the corner to avoid running into Vincent.

“Ah, there you are,” Vincent said softly with a little shake of his head. “Sweet spirits, the things you never told me. You may as well prepare yourself. They will swarm you when you walk back in.”

“I am prepared, brüderlein, never fear.” Elric patted his shoulder and turned to Lilly. “My apologies, my dear. The young gallant to your left is Anthony Dupree, affectionately known to his friends as ‘Mad Anthony’ and this handsome vision is Vincent Lastrada, of whom you have heard me speak so often.”

Lilly inclined her head politely to Vincent in greeting. Anthony took her hand and brushed his lips across the back of her fingers in a courtly gesture.

Vincent’s expression remained unreadable as he studied her. Finally he murmured, “You are hataa’lii. A healer. Which Way do you follow?”

Unblinking blue eyes regarded him steadily, studying him just as he had studied her. A small smile touched her lips. “My training was not the most traditional, but would be considered the red path. My father was Lakota, I learned from him when I was very young.” This small bit of information she knew would actually tell Vincent a lot. The path of the red meant she was an herbalist and spiritualist. The Lakota were one of the eastern nations, so she was probably not from this area originally

Vincent’s smile transformed his face. “Welcome to California, elder sister. I haven’t spoken to one of the People, of any nation, in so long.”

“Thank you.” Lilly said graciously. She glanced at Elric and he inclined his head slightly as if to say she was free to go off if she wished. She walked beside Vincent as he returned to his comfortable high backed chair, talking amiably as they went. Vince had not missed the subtle byplay between them.

He had to wonder how it was that she reached the Prince, made him see that he needed to release this long held grief. He hesitated to ask, it seemed vaguely improper, but his curiosity was stirred and he finally did ask.

“I didn’t reach him. Orion did.” She said simply.

“Oh?” Vincent’s brow creased and then smoothed as realization hit. “Ah. I see. It’s always been one of his favorite teaching points. Never ask those who belong to you to do what you would not.”

He gazed across the room to where Sasha flung himself into Elric’s arms, more open about offering his condolences than some. “How are they doing, the three of them? That first day…oh, sweet gods…I thought my heart would break.”

“They are…healing.” She answered, her head tilted slightly in contemplation as she watched Elric, Orion, and Keit together. She turned her gaze to Vince, cerulean blue eyes seeming to peer right into him, past every shield and barrier he so carefully kept between himself and the world. “And how are you, and your loves doing? Are you better now?”

An automatic evasion was on Vincent’s lips when he stopped himself with a little sigh. “We are…healing,” he echoed softly. One hand rubbed his chest absently, recent memories constricting his lungs. “So many disasters heaped one atop the next. It feels as if we can finally catch our breath again.”

“Mmhm…” Lilly said, and averted her gaze, knowing she had disquieted him. “If you like, I have something that might help you breathe easier… literally, that is. Something that won’t make you jittery and tense and keep you up at night like the inhalers can.”

The long fingered hand stopped its restless motion and he let out a soft laugh. “That obvious, is it? Yes, gods, yes, if you have something that will ease these tight bands around my chest, I’d be eternally grateful.”

She nodded, the silk of her hair falling forward a bit. She lifted a hand to push it back.

“Do you plan on keeping the Prince’s lovely guest to yourself all evening, Vincent?” A deep rich voice with hints of amusement asked. Having been abandoned for the moment by both Anthony and Sasha, Jerrett had wandered over to meet the lovely girl that had more than half the room wondering how long a wait would be polite before making their move.

“It had occurred to me, yes, but I suppose that would be selfish,” Vincent answered softly. “Lilly, this is Jerrett Hawthorn.”

Lilly looked up, and up, at the man standing over them. He was not ‘looming’, or at least she didn’t think he was trying to, but she supposed the impression was from the way he sort of stood so straight and regal and looked down on nearly everyone. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Hawthorn,” she said softly.

“The pleasure is mine, and please call me Jerrett.” he said, smiling his most winning smile. Despite the innate arrogance, he was still breathtakingly handsome and charming when he chose to be.

“Hey, handsome, you feeling all right?” A deep voice of a different timbre issued from Vincent’s opposite side. Der crouched by the chair to take Vincent’s hand in his. “I saw you rubbing.”

“I’m quite well, dearheart,” Vincent smiled and kissed his fingers. “And this, Lilly, is the dashing Derelict Schiller.”

Der looked up to meet those incredible eyes. “Hi,” he said eloquently.

A little smile lifted her lips, “Hello.” She replied, and couldn’t help thinking that for all Jerrett Hawthorn’s carefully exuded charm, Der, as she’d already heard his friends calling him, was twice as endearing.

Drew came up behind Jonathan as he handed out a last glass of champagne he’d been circulating with. He slid his arms around him and kissed the nape of his neck, smiling as he turned around to put his own arms around him. “Are you alright?” he asked softly.

Jonathan nodded, “Much better. How ‘bout you, sweetie?”

Drew gave a little shrug, but he nodded reassuringly. “You know, I was thinking… do you remember that episode of South Park, when all the boys started acting like grunting animals beating up on each other because one of the girls in their class had sprouted boobs?” He tilted his head slightly to where Vince, Jerrett, and Der were clustered around Lilly and David and Xavier were making their way over. “I keep having flashes of that every time I glance over there.” He snickered.

Jonathan laughed, causing several people to glance over. He didn’t care. “You’re not gonna get involved in the testosterone rush to piss on her beautiful leg?”

Drew looked almost startled by the question. “Are you kidding me? No way!” He said just a little too vehemently.

A little sound caught in Jonathan’s throat, then another, and he nearly choked on trying to swallow the guffaw that wanted out. He took Drew’s face between his hands and kissed him tenderly. “Christ, I love you. You’ve got to be the sweetest thing on earth.”

Drew unexpectedly felt a flush of heat at the tender kiss and Jonathan’s words. He melted inside and pressed closer, completely forgetting the roomful of people around them. Jonathan just had that effect on him. He kissed him back, just as tender and sweet, but the kiss lingered a bit longer.

A light feminine laugh drifted over to them and Drew glanced at the growing circle again. Lilly had laughed at something Xavier had said, which was not all that unusual. If the dark scowl on Jerrett’s face was any indication it was something at his expense. Drew shook his head, amused. “Do you want to take bets on which one she picks?” he whispered in Jonathan’s ear.

“We should get two choices, since it’s such a broad field,” Jonathan said with a too-serious look of concentration. “Now, if she has any taste at all, she’ll pick Vincent. But he’ll gracefully and regretfully decline, so I have to count him out of the running. Hmm…there’s beauty over there and brains and drop dead, charming dominance, grace and wit and…I bet she picks the goofball.”

Drew was just as carefully going over the selection although silently. Xavier had made her laugh, that tinkling bells sound that was so sweet he nearly heard a collective sigh from the group of admirers. And Xav looked exceedingly hot this evening… ok, stop checking him out. Was Jon right maybe? Der was just as good at coaxing a laugh, but he was more mature than Xav. She was so quiet she might appreciate that. Or was he just being biased because it was Der and Drew couldn’t see anyone resisting Der?

His eyes went to Jerrett and then back to Lilly. She had politely cut her laugh short and she was looking at him, those bright, bright blue eyes still sparkling. The dangerous, arrogant prick? “She’s gonna pick the most dominant, if any of them. I say Jerrett.” Drew said in a hushed voice to Jonathan.

“She’s a fool if she does,” Jonathan growled and then shrugged. “But there’s no accounting for taste, I guess.” They watched a moment longer, Drew’s head nestled on Jonathan’s shoulder, until Jonathan chuckled. “Oh, now, there’s a wrench in the works for you.”

In a black kilt, leggings and dress boots, Chrysalis slid through the larger bodies to claim the chair next to Lilly since all the admirers were standing. Chrys took her hand, obviously making introductions, and lifted Lilly’s fingers to kiss them.

“Shame on you both. Putting bets on a girl like that.” A voice scolded from behind Jonathan and Drew, making them jump a little, although his voice had been as low as their own. “And you’re both wrong.” Keit said, the scolding tone giving way to amusement. “Now, Drew if you would be so kind, go wrap yourself around Der and get him back to Brandon. He’s looking a little bewildered over there. And Jonathan, please go and distract Xavier before Jerrett decides he’d rather have him and we have an all out brawl. I’ll go get Jerrett.”

“Um, ok. But why?” Drew asked.

“Because, honey. She’s going to want to talk to Chrysalis and the others are just going to frustrate her.”

Jonathan’s forehead crinkled in an endearing way. “So the boys are making all that fuss over her and she’s gay? Um, or maybe not…since I still don’t know about Chrys.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Dammit, I’m confused.”

“No, as far as I can tell she prefers men, at least I’ve never seen her with a woman, but then I’ve never asked.” Keit gave a little wave of his hand. “I just think she’ll be interested in Chrys, that’s all. Now scoot.” Keit headed off to gather Jerrett up, which was a bit of a task, but as soon as he discreetly got his attention over to Sasha and Anthony, who were looking awfully cuddly together, it was easier to move him off in that direction.

Drew moved toward Der and got him talking about music, although he definitely seemed distracted during the conversation.

Another silvery sound caressed over the gathering and Drew nudged Der gently, nodding to how Lilly laughed at something Chrys whispered in her ear.

“Oh…um…” he cleared his throat and swept Lilly a courtly bow. “Such a joy meeting you, Ms. Lilly. But I do need to steal Vincent away to hash through some graphics questions.”

Vincent arched a brow. “Now?”

“Yes, now. You know how my sieve brain works. If I don’t talk to you when I’m thinking of it, I’ll forget.”

Then Vincent caught the hint as well and rose to follow Der to a quiet corner across the room while Jonathan wrapped his arms around Xavier and distracted him quite thoroughly.

Lilly noted the tactical scattering of the circle that had formed and silently thanked Keit. She smiled at Chrysalis. “Keit must think highly of you, you’re the only one he didn’t chase away.”

Chrys chuckled. “The Prince is the undisputed master of his house but Keit is what keeps the household running.”

Lilly’s eyes found Keit for a moment and then came back to Chrysalis. “He’s happier now.” Her lovely heart shaped face tilted slight, regarding Chrys intently for a moment. “You have…unusual energy.” She said softly. “You are sensitive to… things, no?”

Chrys looked at their joined hands, then back up with a little smile and a wink, whispering, “I see dead people.”

Lilly smiled softly as if something had just clicked into place. “Ah, you are a Spiritwalker.” She searched her eyes for a moment, trying to determine something else. “One foot in this world, one in another. Neither one or the other…” She blinked and took a breath, looking down as if embarrassed that she might have intruded where she was not welcome. “Do the spirits trouble you?” she asked quietly, hoping she hadn’t offended him.

A long pause followed where Chrys regarded her carefully, that brittle, fragile look Syren knew so well creeping in. The smile returned on a little sigh. “Not…usually. I know they’re there. Most of the time they go about their business and I go about mine. It’s only when there’s a terrible concentration of negative energy. Those frighten me sometimes, when there’s hate and rage and violent intentions. They tell me I’ve had…seizures…”

Across the room, Syren wrapped an arm around Keit. “You’re such a little manipulator, you know that?”

Keit gave her an apologetic look and nodded towards Lilly. “Does this bother you?”

“Watching Chrys courting? Gods, no. It’s not something I get to see often. Lilly’s the first person Chrys has approached in, oh, I can’t even tell you how long.”

Lilly’s brows pulled together in a tiny frown. “You can keep them out, if you want. Do you know how?”

“I do.” Chrys nodded. “But sometimes people come to me. They need help. I…try not to say yes anymore but they can be so desperate, so frightened. It’s hard to turn them away.”

Lilly’s small smile turned rueful. “I know just what you mean.”

Warmth lit up Chrys’ gray-green eyes. “Somehow I knew you would.”

~*~

Xavier followed Jonathan off a ways from the mingling group of people gathered. A glance told him Dave had wandered over to talk to Vic and Cody. When he looked back Jonathan was leaning close and Xavier gave him a soft smile. “You didn’t stay long enough for me to say good morning the other night.”

“You,” Jonathan tapped the end of his nose. “Sleep way too late for me. And besides, I had to go get myself in trouble at home.”

“I do not sleep too late, you just get up way too early.” Xavier said. “I’m almost afraid to ask… what did you get in trouble for?”

Jonathan tried to look serious and contrite. It almost worked. “I surprised the lord of the manor in bed with another lover. I was…caught off guard and he was very annoyed with me. So he gave me to his new lover and forgave me because I’m so beautiful.”

One arm looped lightly around Jonathan’s waist Xav gave him a knowing look. “Mm, so you pitched a hissy fit and Vince figured the best way to shut your mouth was to put a dick in it. Such a smart guy, that Vince.”

Jonathan poked him in the ribs. “So crude.” He tsked.

Xavier grinned and leaned closer to his ear. “You like it, don’t try and pretend.”

“Doesn’t mean you’re not crude. And it wasn’t in my mouth, anyway, so there.” His green eyes danced with amusement, wondering why Xav didn’t ask the obvious question about who it had been.

The answer to that of course was that Xav had already guessed who it must be. Vince wasn’t likely just to pick up a total stranger, and the only one close to them right now that wasn’t already sharing their bed was Der’s new dreamboat.

“Well, I owe you breakfast sometime anyway,” Xav said. “I didn’t want you to have to sleep on the couch.” Which was his way of also saying he was sorry things hadn’t exactly gone as planned with Dave coming home early.

“I know that, babe,” Jonathan said softly. “Don’t worry about it.” He gave Xav a little kiss before he moved off to talk to Elric.

 

Drew stepped out into the hall and looked down toward the end where he saw Xavier step into the bathroom. He walked down the hall and leaned up against the opposite wall, arms crossed and hands cupping his elbows while he waited for Xavier to emerge. A few moments later when the door opened and Xav looked up and smiled at him he almost lost his nerve. He took a deep breath. “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?”

Xavier took in Drew’s stance, noted the slightly nervous tone and determined expression and thought, uh-oh. His smile didn’t fade but his eyes took on a slightly more guarded cast. “Sure, sweetheart. What’s on your mind?”

Drew tilted his head, indicating they should move somewhere more private and Xavier followed him down the hall a ways further. They stepped through an open door into the now empty den.

“Please don’t tell me you’re secretly in love with me and want to run away. That might complicate things,” Xavier joked.

Drew didn’t even crack a smile, and Xavier had to wonder how bad this was going to be.

“Xav…I don’t want to stir up any shit, but can you… couldn’t you just leave Jonathan alone?” There, he said it.

Xavier blinked at him, for once no immediate response coming to mind. Then the surprise settled into confusion. “Um…ok. Drew, what’s this about?”

“Nothing. I just…just don’t want you taking him home again, ok?”

Xavier’s expression softened a bit. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, because he could tell Drew was a little upset, but he couldn’t resist teasing him a little. “Well honey, if you’re jealous I could ask Vince if you can come with us, too.”

Drew rolled his eyes. “I’m not jealous.”

Xav grinned. “Sounds like it to me.”

“I’m not.” Drew said, exasperated. “Look, just don’t, ok? Leave him alone. Don’t you have enough to choose from?”

Xavier arched a brow at him. While he was perfectly willing to grant his request if it was bothering him, now he felt like being contrary. “Drew, what’s the problem? You didn’t mind before.”

Drew stared at him for a moment, wishing now that he hadn’t gotten into this. He sighed. “He came home after being with you and was so upset he started snapping at everyone and was just an emotional mess. I don’t want him upset like that, and I don’t want you to use him like that.”

Xavier went very still, his expression frozen and for a moment they just stared at each other. Drew finally looked away, feeling uneasy. “Xav…”

“Fine.” Xavier cut him off tersely. “I’ll stay away from him. Happy?”

“Xav, I didn’t mean…”

“I said fine.” Xav snapped. “Get lost, Drew.”

Drew looked at him again, thought about saying something more and thought better of it looking at his shuttered eyes and hard expression. “Okay…thanks,” he murmured and turned quickly to leave. He hurried back down the hall.

“Yeah, sure. No fuckin problem,” Xavier muttered to the empty room. Instead of going back out to rejoin the others, he crossed the room to the window and looked out over the back garden. He crossed his arms and leaned against the window enclosure. He hadn’t used Jonathan. Not anymore than Jonathan had used him. They both wanted each other and went off to go fuck like mad and then return to their normally scheduled lives. What was the big deal?

Sitting in the corner with Der and Brandon, Vincent hadn’t missed all the comings and goings. When Drew reappeared, looking fetching in his suit but as if someone had just slipped ice down his back, Vincent waved him over.

“My kestrel.” He waited until Drew’s hand settled in his. “Someone has upset you.”

Not for the first time, not even the hundredth, Drew cursed his inability to keep whatever he was feeling off his face. No matter how hard he tried, if he was angry, or upset, or horny it was like a beacon turned on to broadcast exactly what he was feeling. He leaned close to Vince’s ear, knowing already that saying ‘nothing’ was wrong would not be accepted as an answer. “Can we talk about it later? It’s not a big deal.”

“All right, my love. As you wish.” Vincent pulled Drew into his lap and wrapped his arms around him.

Victor had already had enough of socializing. True, he was fond of almost everyone there but after Elric’s memoriam, he felt raw and emotionally drained. Not really the right state for him to be in to engage people in light conversation. He left Cody chatting with Quinn and wandered down the hall for a few minutes of quiet…

…and came upon a too familiar scene. Xav with his arms wrapped tight around himself, staring out the window.

“Xav? Sweets? What’s wrong?”

“Huh? Oh, hi Vic.” Xavier said, looking up, obviously coming back from somewhere distant. “What’s up?”

“What’s the matter?”

Xav lifted one slender shoulder in a shrug. “Nothing. Just thinking.”

 

“Mm, yes, I see that much.” Vic stepped over to stand beside him and share the view of the garden.

 

This time both shoulders went up, the shrug a little more defensive and his arms still wrapped around him tightly. “Really, Vic. It’s nothing. I don’t want to… I don’t want any kinda problems stirred up, especially not here and not today. Anything like that happens and you know everyone will think it’s all my fault, right?”

 

“Well, it generally is,” Vic answered deadpan. He turned to Xavier and opened his arms when his teasing fell flat. “Come here, sweets. God. Telling me what’s wrong isn’t ‘stirring up’ anything. There’s no one else here. Just you and me.”

 

Xav hesitated only a moment, and then leaned closer, letting Vic’s strong arms close around him. It felt so good he relaxed a little more against him, turning his face to lay his cheek against his chest and suddenly he felt his throat close up like he was about to cry or something. It was ridiculous. There was nothing to cry about.

 

“Drew asked me to stay away from Jonathan, that’s all.” He murmured, feeling like he was six years old tattling on the class bully, which was even more ridiculous because it was Drew, who couldn’t bully his way out of a paper bag if he had to. “He thinks I used him. Dave did, too. And since Drew said he was upset when he went home, Jonathan thinks so, too.”

 

“There now, that wasn’t so hard,” Vic murmured into the top of his head as he held that lean body tight. “Though I do think you’re jumping to conclusions. Evidently so did Drew. Jonathan gets upset about a lot of things. Most of them having to do with things he doesn’t want to remember. It may or may not have had anything to do with you.”

 

He stroked Xavier’s hair. “And this whole ‘using people’ nonsense you keep getting so hung up on…everyone uses other people. To greater or lesser degrees. I think what upsets you is that you’re not always quite sure why.”

 

Xavier frowned slightly but he didn’t pull away. Even if Jonathan hadn’t gotten upset because of him, and even if Drew was making assumptions, that didn’t explain why Dave had questioned his motives for bringing Jonathan home. He remembered Dave quite venomously accusing him of using that guy they’d ended up picking up on the ski trip. He’d pretty much accused him of the same thing again, albeit more gently this time.

 

He lifted his head and looked up at Vic. “Well then why are they all acting like I did something wrong? I didn’t do anything wrong, I followed all the rules, and I still get treated like a fuck up.”

 

Victor took his face between his hands, his dark eyes sad and tired. “Has Jonathan said you upset him?”

 

Xavier shook his head.

 

“And has David implied, said, or acted in any way that makes you think he is anything but concerned for you?”

 

“That’s just it, Vic. He’s concerned.” Xav blinked and the teardrops clinging to his lashes finally fell. He took a ragged breath. “He goes out and finds someone else and it’s a mistake, he just let his libido get in the way. I bring home someone he knows, someone he’s ok with, and it’s gotta be because there something wrong with me. Like I wanna get back at him, or I wanna drown everything out with sex.”

 

“Xav…” Vic pulled him close again and let him cry. The problem was that with Xavier, both of those things were probably true on some level. But that was an issue for his therapist, not for a well-meaning friend. “You might recall that he tried to kill himself over his ‘mistake’, my sweet. It’s not as if he just shrugged it off. And if he worries over your motives, it’s partly because his own can get pretty tangled.”

 

~*~

 

Drew put his head on Vince’s shoulder. He was silent for a while, watching the room. As the minutes started to slip by and Xavier didn’t reappear he thought about getting up and going to find him. He kept thinking about how he looked, eyes slightly hooded, a blank stare. He’d thought Xav had been pissed, but…maybe he’d been hurt. The more he thought about it the more he fidgeted and chewed on his bottom lip and fidgeted some more. Finally, he couldn’t stand it anymore and heaved a sigh. “I think I hurt Xavier’s feelings,” he blurted out to Vince.

 

“Ah.” Vincent’s hand stroked his back in soothing circles. “And why would you do such a thing, my love?”

 

“I-I didn’t mean to.” Drew said, his cheeks heating now with shame. “I just…I asked him to leave Jonathan alone.” He said so softly even Vince had to strain to hear.

 

“Drew, my darling, my own…” Vincent kissed his cheek with a little sigh. “If such a thing were necessary, who do you think would be the most appropriate person to say it?”

 

“I know…I know. But, I wanted him to leave him alone. Jonathan doesn’t think he did anything wrong, and you don’t think he did anything wrong, but I know something wasn’t right, I know Jonathan came home upset and he felt like Xav used him or something. I just didn’t want him to see him upset again.”

 

Vincent wondered if another Dom would have been angry at such a breach of authority. Probably. Most likely. He simply felt…what? A little sad, a bit tired, perhaps. He smoothed a curl out of Drew’s eyes. “I love you,” he murmured. “I love that you want to slay dragons for Jonathan. To protect him and keep his heart safe. But perhaps if Jonathan was hurt by what Xavier did, it should be Jonathan who says so.”

 

Drew slid his arms around Vince’s neck and buried his face at the side of his throat. “I’m sorry, Vince.”

 

“My love, I’m not angry with you. And you’ve done nothing to hurt me.”

 

Drew pulled back to look at him. “Should I go… should I say something to him?”

 

Vincent kissed him softly. “I suppose that depends on what you say.”

 

“I’m sorry? I didn’t mean it? Please don’t be a bitch and snap my head off?” Drew cleared his throat. “Well, not that last part.”

 

“Not a bad start.” Vincent gave him a little smile and a nudge. “Though, the last I looked, I’m not Xavier.”

 

“Thank god,” Drew said under his breath. “Or we’d be in big trouble.” He kissed Vince and rose, taking a deep breath as if girding himself, and headed back out and down the hall where he’d last seen Xav.

 

The door to the den was still open and Drew stepped in, at first only seeing Vic’s broad back and just as he thought he’d ask him if he’d seen Xav, he turned slightly and saw that he had him in his arms. He also saw that Xav had his hand up over his face and his shoulders were hunched and… oh, god, Drew felt about as low as he could get. Damn.

 

His face crumpled and drained of color as he moved closer. Both Vic and Xav heard him and turned at the same time. “Xav… I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

 

Xavier swiped an arm over his eyes and glared back at him. “I told you it was fine, Drew. Just go away.”

 

“No, it’s not fine. I didn’t have any right to speak for Jonathan. I’m really sorry.”

 

“Oh, so the first time you weren’t really sorry?” Xavier said, just to be spiteful.

 

Drew took it in stride, though. “I meant it both times. Please Xav, it was a stupid, shitty thing to say. I was a total jerk to even bring it up. I know you wouldn’t hurt Jonathan on purpose.”

 

There was a tense few moments and then Xavier sighed. “Yeah. You’re a stupid jerk. Aren’t we all.” He lifted his arm and made a beckoning gesture until Drew came over and he put his arm around his shoulders, bringing him into the circle of Vic’s arms as well.

 

Victor heaved a shaky sigh as he wrapped them both close. This better be the end of the drama tonight. I can’t take any more. “Stupid jerks or not, our hearts are in the right place.” He kissed the top of Xavier’s head and then Drew’s. “You’re good boys. There are reasons why people love you that have nothing to do with the physical.”

 

He gave them a few minutes since they both clung to him fiercely. “Now, then. I know several people who might get worried and come looking for the two of you. And here I am with you snuggled in my arms. From a territorial standpoint, how do you think that would look?”

 

“Dave would want to know if anything was going on, then watch, or join.” Xavier said without batting an eye.

 

Drew nodded. “Yep. Jonathan too.”

 

“Hm, four beautiful boys, all for me,” Vic said with a wistful sigh. “Nice thought, maybe another night.” He gave them each a little smack on the butt and sent them on their way.

 

Drew and Xavier walked back in together, but separated almost immediately. Xav, because he wanted to go see Dave, and Drew because he saw Vince and Jonathan talking and walked over to them.

 

Neither one asked if everything was settled since the entrance together said it all. Jonathan wrapped his arms around Drew and pulled him close, though he murmured to Vincent, “Look, Vince, my own knight in shining. Can we keep him?”

 

Dave turned from where he was talking with Ethan. “Hey, sweets! What’s–” He broke off and took Xavier’s face between his hands. “Love? You’ve been…” His eyes hardened as he asked, “Who made you cry?”

 

“Nearly everyone here’s been crying. It was a sad thing.” Xavier evaded.

 

Dave’s eyes told him a storm was brewing and he wasn’t buying it. Xavier sighed. “Not the time or the place, hon. And I’m alright, so please, later. OK?”

 

“I don’t much fucking care about time and place,” Dave growled, so low no one else could hear. “Someone’s hurt you and he’s gonna pay for it.”

 

“Christ, Dave,” Xav muttered under his breath. He looked around at the room full of people. “C’mon then.” He took Dave’s hand and led him out. He headed toward the conservatory where at least it would be private and quiet. They walked and he told him about what Drew had said, and that he’d already apologized.

 

Drew…well, that put a damper on Dave’s fire. He listened, wide-eyed, and slid swiftly from ferocity to pensiveness. He stopped at a bench and sank down, staring at his hands.

 

“Well, I guess I can’t really slug the little guy. I mean, not again.” He looked up at Xavier who still stood, arms wrapped around himself. “Especially since…it wasn’t just Drew who made you cry, was it?”

 

Xav sank down next to him and pulled his heels up onto the edge of the bench, wrapping his arms around his legs so he could rest his chin on his knees. “No. I guess not,” he finally said.

 

“And here I was all set to go after that Hawthorn creep. I was so sure it was him.” Dave rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “And it’s me instead.”

 

He let out a hollow bark of laughter that made Xav wince, surged up and started pacing, his hands scrubbing through his hair. “Fuck, fuck, fuck…dammit, Xav, even when I’m trying to do the right things, I hurt you.”

 

Xavier closed his eyes, suddenly very tired. “Yeah, and you’ll probably do it again. And I’ll probably do something to hurt you again. It’s just how things go.” He opened his eyes again. “It’s not your fault, Dave. Maybe Vic is right. Maybe I get so upset ‘cause you hit too close to the truth and I just don’t see it right away. Or don’t want to see it.” He stayed just as he was, arms wrapped tightly around his up drawn legs. For a moment or two he felt like he was going to cry again but he swallowed it down and blinked any tears back. He didn’t want to upset Dave anymore than he was.

 

“Xav…don’t…” Dave got out in a choked voice and flung himself back onto the bench to wrap Xavier in a fierce embrace. “Don’t shut down, swallow everything whole. I’m here… I’m here… I love you so. I worry…I’m sorry…I can’t help it. I’ve spent most of my life worrying. And sometimes the stuff you do is gonna mean something and sometimes… sometimes a banana is just, you know, a banana.”

 

Xavier put his head on Dave’s shoulder, his face pressed against the side of his throat. He made a strangled sound, half chuckle, half sob, at what Dave said. He took a shuddering breath. When he lifted his head, he brought a hand to Dave’s cheek, fingers caressing lightly. He touched his lips to Dave’s in a tender kiss, and another, softly seeking more.

 

A little moan, as much relief as desire, rose from Dave’s chest. He cupped the back of Xav’s head and tilted for a better angle, tongue caressing Xavier’s lips in a silent plea. Xav opened for him, their tongues caressing slowly. There was no desperation, no guilty, hurried spark of lust. Instead, the tender heat grew slowly, building on soft touches and sweet murmurs.

 

“I love you…” Xav murmured between breathless, heated kisses.

 

Dave pulled back, his eyes wandering over the beauty of Xavier’s face. “And I love you, sweets.” He combed through Xav’s hair. “But you were right about time and place. It does seem kinda…disrespectful to take you here, in his orchid garden, after his eulogy and everything. Maybe we should make it an early evening, though, yeah? And when we get home, you can do whatever you want with me.”

 

“Anything I want, huh?” Xav said, his voice taking on that husky edge that Dave knew so well. He kissed a soft line of kisses down his jaw until his lips touched the base of Dave’s ear. “How about if I strip you naked, tie you down to the bed…” He breathed in a soft whisper. “And then paddle you until you’re brick red with a plug deep inside you…would you like that?”

 

Dave’s head fell back on a dizzy moan as all the blood rushed from his head. “Christ… yes…oh, yes.”

 

Xav took his earlobe between his teeth and nipped him, hard. “Let’s go back then, have to be polite and stay for a while, no?”

 

“Yeah,” Dave managed on a gulped breath and straightened his tie. When he stood, he held out both hands for Xav with that heartbreaking little-boy smile. “Do I get to have the gag, too?”

 

Xavier slow smile was full of seduction and heat as he slipped his hands in Dave’s and stood, but he shook his head slowly from side to side. “Oh, no… I want to hear you scream.”

 

“”K.” Dave laughed. “But you’ll have to explain things to the cops when the neighbors call them.”

 

Xav chuckled. “Well, maybe just a little gag.”

 

“Oh, good,” Dave stage-whispered to the nearest orchid. “He does love me.”

 

Back in the massive dining room, Orion kissed his Dom’s cheek and left his side to wander across the room. Ethan stood talking to Cody, with Quinn tucked under his arm, Cricket lying at their feet. Orion crouched down to pet the pretty dog. He did love dogs, though he knew the Prince would never allow one to live with them. Too messy.

 

Cricket thumped his tail but otherwise stayed where he was, giving Orion’s hand a little nuzzle and a lick of greeting.

 

“Keit told me you hand-carved the frames for the pictures of the Prince’s family, Orion. They are really beautifully done,” Ethan said with the warm appreciation of someone who understood working with their hands and the genuine craftsmanship involved.

 

Orion raised his head, a hint of anxiety lurking in his bright blue eyes. “Thank you, sir. Could I…speak to you a moment?”

 

Ethan’s smile was kindness itself. “Of course. Here, or is it private?”

 

“I…suppose it doesn’t make much difference.” Orion shifted to one knee, his gaze returning to Cricket as he went on, unaware how much the supplicant he looked. “Your house, sir…it has beach access, doesn’t it?”

 

“Yes, it does.”

 

“I’d like to….to use it as a staging point. For…” He heaved a breath. “For Jake’s farewell.”

 

“Sure you can, Orion. Is there anything Quinn and I can do to help?”

 

Orion shook his head, struggling. Just saying Jake’s name still caused him to break down. Dear God, would it always be that way? “Not until then,” he finally forced out. “I may need help…carrying something.”

 

“All right.” Ethan said. “You just let us know when.”

 

The little gathering began to break up around ten. Dave and Xavier had left first, which was a little surprising, but Der had seen the embers smoldering in Dave’s eyes and decided it wasn’t surprising after all.

 

Now he stood in the front hall with his mother, just the two of them, wishing her a good night.

 

“Do you really like him, Mutti?” he asked softly, feeling twelve years old again.

 

“Oh, he’ll do, I suppose,” she said with that too-serious face. When he rolled his eyes, she laughed. “Yes, yes, I like him. He’s able to laugh at himself. And he adores you. Much better than that T–”

 

“Don’t, Mom, please,” Der interrupted softly. “No comparisons.”

 

She leaned in to kiss his cheek. “I’m sorry, sweetpea. If this is more than just a fling, I’m very pleased.”

 

“You think Papa would have liked him?” Der couldn’t help the question.

 

“I think he would have preferred you pick the nice, handsome vet.” She smiled at his exasperated sound. “He would have teased you and grumbled about this and that, but, yes, I think he would have liked Brandon very much.”

 

Der stood at the door and waved as she drove off, a warm glow around his heart.

 

 

 

Chapter 273 – Breaking the News

“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.

“Meeew-rah.”

“Oh. She won’t smell funny for too long.”

“Mrah.”

“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.

Chapter 262 – Back Home (2)

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?”

Jonathan nodded.

“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?”

“Hmm?”

“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?”

“All…all right…yes.”

“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.

 

Chapter 249 – Change in Positions

Chapter 240 – Thunderstorm

Chapter 234 – Lovely, Dark and Deep (2)

Chapter 230 – The House by the Sea

Chapter 222 – Prince’s Domain (1)

“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.

Chapter 220 – A Voice in the Dark (3)