Lovers with Open Minds, Friends with Benefits

Posts tagged ‘Xavier’

Chapter 299 – Selective Closets

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

His friend.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

#

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Neither man said anything to that.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“You OK?” he asked.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Brandon smiled. “No, not at all.”

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, no, but…”

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I know, Jim.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chapter 298 – New Place

Chapter 297 – Another Birthday

Chapter 292 – Switch

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 285 – Club Night (1)

They were seated at a table on one of the risers ringing the dance floor with a perfect view of the stage and all the people jumping around down there. Jonathan leaned over to say something in Vince’s ear, the music and noise too loud to be heard unless he shouted. Drew had a little smile on his face, not quite ready to wade into the crowd yet. Der and Brandon joined them with smiles and waves just as the lights pulsed, plunging the place into utter darkness for a heartbeat.

The lights came up, several bright-white spots swinging as one to the stage as ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ began to creep through the audio system. Xavier, dressed in jacket, ultra fitted black pants and top hat wandered casually out of the shadows for the set opener. He glided down the length of the T-stage and by the time the song shouted, Do You Want It, Do You Need It, Let Me Hear It, he had the crowd screaming along with the lyrics. It was a perfect opener to whip up the energy of the crowd and Xav worked the crowd beautifully. He was down to just his tight pants by the end of the song.

Drew watched Xavier dance, but his eyes kept returning to Vince. It was more fun to see his reaction. Or, non-reaction. He sat and watched with a little smile on his face, occasionally laughing at something Jonathan said in his ear, but Drew could tell he was enjoying the show.

Two guys who looked like they spent every spare moment in the gym joined Xav on the stage. The music in the background was just a repetitive beat that somehow got under the skin and made one anxious, in anticipation of what would happen next. Each of the body builders carried a pail decorated with candy. Xavier made a play of it, moving around them, and peeking into the containers as they walked down the stage, making the audience think there must be something really good in there. As they reached the end of the stage, they reached in and tossed out handfuls of suckers and packages of multi-colored condoms over the crowd.

This apparently was a well-known signal to those who had seen this routine before and was greeted with a frenzy of cheers and shouts. The last of the candy passed out, one of the guys took the last sucker and on bended knee presented it to Xav. He took it, unwrapped it and very deliberately rolled his tongue over it before sticking it in his mouth as Lil’ Wayne’s Lollipop came up on the speakers.

If the first dance got the blood pumping, this one diverted it all directly to the sexual organs. It couldn’t have been any hotter if those beefcakes had stayed and Xav licked them instead. He got down to a thong, but somehow that bulge in the side of his cheek and the sucker stick at the corner of his mouth vied for what was most enticing to look at.

Halfway through the song Xav did something unexpected. He turned and disappeared off the stage. A moment later, the lights found him and followed him across the railing between the dance floor and the first tier. He stepped off onto his friends’ table and continued the dance, undulating that graceful body in ways that looked like it used more muscles than a person had in their body.

Drew laughed and Xavier bent to run his hand over his soft bristles of hair and kiss his forehead. His body swayed with the beat as he danced. It was impossible to say if Xav timed it, but when the song said, I Get Her On Top, She Drop It Like It Hot, Xav managed to be right in front of Vince and turned, dropping down until his ass was just above his ankles (and consequently about five inches from Vince’s face.) He came back up with a shimmy and swing of his hips. He produced a sucker from who knew where and gave it to Vince with a wink.

It was right about then a few guys in tee shirts stenciled with the word ‘security’ in white came over and picked Xav up off the table. He waved at them over the guy’s shoulder as he was carried back through the crowd to the stage and lifted back up on it. He made even that look graceful and like it was all part of the show. The crowd certainly loved the little unexpected personal performance.

Vincent twirled the lollipop between his long, white fingers. His expression remained fixed but his eyes were a bit glazed. He gestured and Drew leaned in close so he could speak in his ear. “I feel quite privileged.”

Drew grinned and kissed the corner of his mouth. “Yeah, I don’t doubt he’s gonna catch hell for that little stunt.”

Brandon leaned into Der, his hand resting warmly on his thigh. “Do you think Dave would mind if…”

Der laughed. “Yes, he would.”

Brandon laughed too. “I’m surprised the place doesn’t burn down nightly.”

“And that’s why any hell Xav catches won’t be more than a couple seconds,” Jonathan said in a break in the music. “They know what he’s worth. And he knows just what he can get away with.”

Rodney followed Xavier into the dressing room. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?” he yelled at him, as Xav pulled his pants on.

“Take it easy, Rod. They’re friends.” Xavier chuckled.

“And if you fell off the damn railing and broke your pretty little neck, guess who’d get blamed?”

“Probably me.” Xav smiled.

“Well, don’t do it again. Stay on the stage and off the tables.”

Xav gave him a salute and kissed his cheek. “Yes, sir. Now get the fuck outta my way so I can go say hi.”

Rodney rolled his eyes and moved.

Xavier took a slightly less conspicuous route to the table and slid into Jonathan’s lap, putting his arm around him and grinning. “If you see Zeph coming, let me know, so I can hide under the table, okay?” He kissed his cheek. Not that he expected to get in that much trouble, but if he avoided the boss tonight, he’d probably forget about it by tomorrow.

“I’ll protect you,” Der offered gallantly, puffing up his chest.

Jonathan snorted. “Right. Zeph would snap at you and you’d curl into a whimpering ball.”

“Would not.” Der stuck his tongue out.

“Oh, now, you can’t do that unless you’re gonna use it.” Jonathan chuckled and leaned over Xavier to give Der a tender, tongue-tangling kiss. Then he returned his attention to the lovely in his lap. “And you. What am I gonna do with you? Embarrassing Vincent like that.”

“I have some ideas,” he said, grinning suggestively and making Jonathan laugh.

“Where’s Dave tonight?” Brandon asked conversationally.

“Getting his dick sucked.”

The look Brandon gave him was so adorably shocked Xavier had to laugh.

“Now that sounded a little bitter,” Jonathan commented close to Xav’s ear and low enough that only he heard, and maybe Vince.

Xavier gave him a level look. “Just being honest. Why would you think that?”

“You wouldn’t have put it that way if he was with Katya.”

“Noooo… if he was with Kat I woulda said he was on his knees getting his ass paddled.” He said. “Now, if you’re done analyzing, you wanna come dance with me?”

“I don’t analyze.” Jonathan poked him in the ribs. “I just observe.” He lifted Xavier off his lap and slid up his body as he stood. “And yes, to the dancing with you. Vince, please?”

“I would be unusually cruel to bring you here and say no,” Vincent said with a laugh. “Go. Enjoy. I have plenty of company, beloved.”

Xav pulled Jonathan along with him into the throng of people gyrating to the pulsing beat. With this many people it was hard to actually dance, it was more a press of bodies that moved together. That close it was hard not to tell Xav was happy to be wrapped around him. “Think Vince will let you come home with me tonight?” he said just below his ear.

“Oh, so that’s how it is,” Jonathan said with a wicked grin as he nuzzled at Xav’s ear. “Davey’s out tonight and you’ll be all lonely.” He ground his pelvis against Xavier. “We could ask.”

“If I was just lonely I could have picked anyone,” Xavier said, brushing his lips along the edge of Jonathan’s jaw.

“Oh.” Jonathan wasn’t sure what to say to that. His hands slid down Xav’s back to tease along the top curves of his perfect butt. There was something wrong here but Xav’s lips and body pressed to him scattered his thoughts. He put a finger under Xav’s chin and tipped his head up to seize his lips in a hungry kiss.

“Go take Drew,” Brandon told Der. “I’m happy here.” Which was very true. He wasn’t much of a dancer but wasn’t quite ready to admit that to Der yet. Drew gave him the perfect excuse since he looked just like Der about then, hardly able to sit still in his seat.

Der didn’t need much encouragement. He grabbed Drew’s hand to pull him along in the same direction Xavier and Jonathan had disappeared.

Bran smiled after them, looking relieved.

With a wave of his lollipop, Vincent had Brandon take the seat next to him so they might hear each other. He watched all the beautiful people dance, an activity which used to cause him all sorts of discomfort and jealousy. But now he watched his own boys, their grace and beauty, and he found he could simply enjoy.

“I’m not quite comfortable out on the dance floor, either,” he said to Brandon and gave his arm a reassuring pat.

Xavier shamelessly monopolized Jonathan for at least an hour before he let him go ask Vincent if he could come home with him while he went and got his stuff. When he came back out, he thanked Vince with a kiss to his temple and took Jonathan’s hand, leading him out into the parking lot. He sent Dave a text that Jonathan was going to keep him company tonight, as his ‘courtesy call’.

For a pair that hadn’t exactly started out as friends they were comfortable enough now to talk and laugh most of the way home, although Jonathan couldn’t resist a few digs about Xav’s driving, belting up and closing his eyes as he was certain they were headed for a collision at least twice. They made it to the apartment all right though, not a scratch or dent.

“Do you want anything to drink? Hungry?” Xav offered after he locked the door and kicked his shoes off.

Jonathan took his shoes off with more dignity and lined them up by the wall. “Parched. You’re not exactly easy to keep up with on the dance floor.”

He found a bottle of water shoved in his hand and he chuckled before he took a long drink. Xav knew he didn’t drink–couldn’t drink, and knew better than to tempt him. He ran the tip of his finger down the elegant curve of Xav’s neck. “Hungry, yeah. That, too.”

“Oh, good.” Xav smiled and coaxed him down the hallway. “I have just the thing for you, right in here.” Jonathan chuckled at his antics and followed him into the living room. Xav pulled him into a kiss as soon as they were past the door, his hands sliding around his hips and caressing up his back. He kissed him deep and slow, and then stepped back to pull his shirt off and shimmy out of his pants.

“You’re so damn beautiful,” Jonathan murmured on an appreciative sigh while he unbuttoned his shirt. “Should be in some exotic temple somewhere, surrounded by flowers and people on their knees…”

As if to demonstrate, he let his shirt fall to the floor and fell to his knees at Xavier’s feet. Rather than go for the bulge waiting for him in the pouch of Xav’s thong, he curled over with his hands behind his back to lick at the fine bones of Xavier’s ankle.

Xavier grinned and lifted his foot to Jonathan’s shoulder, curling his toes. “I am worshiped at the temple, the one called Switchbacks. Only instead of being on their knees they go into ecstatic dances, and instead of flowers they throw money.” Xav chuckled. “And on very rare occasion I take one of the temple goers home to worship me until morning.”

“Ah, one of the lucky few,” Jonathan murmured as he turned his head to nuzzle Xav’s foot. Men’s feet tended to freak him out but Xav’s were so perfectly cared for and manicured, he didn’t have a single squeamish thought.

He licked up the back curve of Xav’s calf and kissed behind his knee. “And how would you like to be worshipped, oh, beautiful one?”

“Oh, well… I think you’ve got a good oral start.” Xav said, sliding his fingers into Jonathan’s hair as he came up further.

“Mmm…” Jonathan’s brain slipped a gear as he nuzzled against a hard thigh and caught the scent of Xavier’s arousal, sweet and spice and oh, damn, so delicious. Hands still behind his back, he rose up on his knees to kiss the curve of Xav’s hip. Gently, carefully, he moved inward to catch the top edge of the thong in his teeth and ease the material down.

Xavier looked down at Jonathan with a heated gaze. “Mm, that’s even better. You gonna lick me like a lollipop, sweetheart?”

“Mmhmm.” Jonathan breathed along the hard cock that sprang free of its lycra prison. “My favorite.” He flicked his tongue over the tip and moaned at the taste as he licked along the flange.

Ordinarily Xav would have let him do as he pleased, for as long as he pleased, but he’d been hot all night and wasn’t in the mood for a slow tease. He moved one hand to his shaft and rubbed the head of his cock over Jonathan’s soft lips, pushing past into the moist heat of his mouth with a hiss and a low groan of pleasure.

Jonathan took the direction eagerly and slid his lips down Xavier’s cock, almost to his base. At first he sucked gently, letting his lips feel every bit of delicately veined shaft. Then he slid his hands up to rest them at the tops of Xavier’s thighs and with a soft moan, sucked hard.

Xav let his eyes slide closed, his head tipping back. “Uhhhmm…so good.” He breathed, rolling his hips as Jonathan plunged down on him. “Ohh, yesss…”

The response was so uninhibited and sincere, Jonathan thought he might come just kneeling there still half-dressed. He loved his sweet, sexy Drew to distraction and his heart belonged to his gorgeous Vincent but there was no one in the world who put off the kind of heat Xav did.

He let his hands slide back to knead his cheeks, pressing and separating the smooth globes, letting himself fantasize about sinking in between them.

Xavier’s fingers caressed along Jonathan’s scalp, guiding him slightly as he rolled his hips and pushed deeper into his accommodating mouth. He bit his bottom lip on a soft hiss, loving every minute of his skilled attention. He felt Jonathan’s hands caressing and cupping his butt with each little flex. “You want to top this time, sweetheart?”

With a little squeeze and a lick to Xav’s tip, Jonathan pulled back with a soft smile. “Oh, hell, yes.”

He leaped to his feet and took Xavier’s hand to pull him to the sofa. With gentle prods and nudges he got Xav turned and bent over the upholstered arm, his lovely ass displayed to best advantage.

Xav turned slightly at the waist, looking over his shoulder with a seductive smile.

“Freaking sizzling,” Jonathan whispered as he undid his belt and dropped his pants. He curled in close to lick a wet line down Xav’s crease and wasted no time attacking the sweet puckered entrance offered to him.

Xavier hollowed his back, bending a little more and spreading his legs a little wider. He slid a hand down to caress over his very hard cock, wrapping his fingers around to stroke lightly. So good…his head was swimming with heat and desire.

Jonathan’s tongue plunged inside the tight ring, heat pooling in his groin at the shuddering moan he elicited. He’d wanted to go slowly, to savor and tease, but his body took over and shoved him along. His briefs joined his pants on the floor, though he did take the two seconds to pick up his clothes and drape them neatly over a chair arm. With Xav wet, ready, and panting, he couldn’t wait any longer. He angled his cock down, spread Xav’s cheeks with his fingers, and slowly pushed his head inside.

“Ooohhh…” Xavier exhaled as Jonathan pushed into him. He held still for a moment and as Jonathan sank a little deeper, he flowed with his movements. “Mmm… Jon, that feels so good.”

“You feel so good,” Jonathan got out in a strangled whisper. Xav was so tight, so hot, god, he was going to pass out. He gripped Xav’s hips and pulled him back into him, setting up a fierce, passionate rhythm that had them both panting.

Xavier pushed back against Jonathan, his body asking for more, deeper, harder… He lifted up so his back fit along Jonathan’s front and turned his head so he could catch his lips in a searing kiss.

Jonathan turned his head to whisper against his skin, “Xav…oh…christ….I’m coming…so fucking hard…”

Xav rode it with him, his hips gliding with Jonathan’s bucks, his hand working hard on his own turgid cock. Jonathan curled him forward, still moving within him. He kissed and nibbled along Xav’s shoulder, and Xav wasn’t far behind him. His chest heaved and his body went tight, a soft needy groan vibrating though him as his hips jerked suddenly and he bucked through his own quaking orgasm.

When Xav’s legs started to tremble, Jonathan kissed along his shoulder blades as he drew out slowly. He turned Xavier in his arms and scooped him up to place him on his back on the sofa before he slid in next to him. There had been a time when he gladly would have punched Xav’s lights out as soon as look at him. Things changed. Now he couldn’t help the flood of protective tenderness that came holding him close.

Xavier snuggled down into Jonathan’s arms, feeling content. However, the feeling didn’t last long with his warm naked body pressed up to him. It wasn’t too long before he was placing little kisses along his shoulder and nuzzling the base of his throat, his hand stroking lightly over his heated skin.

“You’re lucky I’ve been taking my vitamins,” Jonathan said in a mock growl. His hands were ahead of him, though, stroking along the length of Xavier’s back. He had the most wonderful skin, so soft and smooth.

He tipped Xav’s head up to capture those luscious lips for a tender, searching kiss.

Xavier responded with a surge of passion, returning the softly seeking kiss with molten fire and sliding his one hand lower to caress between Jonathan’s thighs. He slid one leg over the top of Jonathan’s and moved to straddle his hips, still kissing him like he wanted to memorize every bit of his taste. “Mmm-uh, I want you so much.” He murmured against his lips.

“I’m right here, baby,” Jonathan purred, his hands stroking Xavier’s thighs. “You take whatever you want.”

Xavier kissed his way down Jonathan’s throat and over the smooth skin of his chest, stopping to kiss, suck, and tease at his nipples. As passionate as he was, he wasn’t in a big hurry this time around. He took his time, exploring Jonathan with his mouth quite thoroughly. He licked, kissed, and nibbled over tight abs and straining cock, the soft orbs of his balls and down lower between his delectable cheeks.

His hand caressed restlessly over him as well, drawing out the pleasure until he had Jonathan tossing his head and a light sheen of perspiration covered them both. Only then did he straddle Jonathan’s hips again, lowering himself onto his renewed erection. They both groaned hard as Xav sank to Jonathan’s pelvis and ground against him, tilting, and rocking his hips.

Even though Jonathan was still technically topping, he let Xav lead. His only move was to grip Xav’s hips to balance him. Otherwise, he simply moved with him, matching his rhythm, his every downward stroke. With the edge off, it was easier to relax and savor every sensation, every lovely sigh and moan Xav made.

Xavier began to move faster, one hand stroked Jonathan’s chest and the other stroked his throbbing cock. The muscles of his thighs and ass flexed as he moved sinuously over Jonathan, his abdominals suddenly tightened and his head tipped back on his shoulders. “Uhhhh….ohgod,I’mgonnacome…” His fist moved faster until the first pearl white rope shot from him up Jonathan’s chest. “Aaahhh! Oh, yeah… mmm…”

Lip caught between his teeth, Jonathan clenched down and forced himself to wait, to watch this gorgeous sight. Xav writhed atop him, though, and he couldn’t hold out any longer. He gripped hard, his back arched up, lifting Xavier from the couch, and he cried Xavier’s name softly as he came again in firecracker pulses.

He was just reaching the point where he could see again, when a voice came from behind them.

“Xav? You still up, sweets? It’s—” Dave’s voice choked off, then continued in a whisper. “Oh, my freaking god.”

All circuits for motor and speech control were not exactly back online yet for Xavier. It took a second for him to have a thought, and that first thought was, ‘thank god he didn’t come in thirty seconds sooner’. His very next thought, which by some strange quirk of fate managed not to come out of his mouth was, ‘what are you doing here?’

“Um, hi, sweetheart…” Xav looked over his shoulder. “You didn’t get my message?” Dave seemed incapable of movement or speech himself at the moment, so Xav continued. “I thought you were staying at DJ’s. I sent you a message that Jonathan was coming home with me to keep me company.”

Dave’s head jerked down automatically to the cell phone in his hand. His thumb punched at the buttons, his mouth working without any sound. “Oh.” He said in a tiny, strangled voice. “So you did.”

He turned and stumbled to the kitchen, muttering something that might have been, “I’ll be in here if anyone needs me…”

Xavier took a breath and let it out slowly as he looked down at Jonathan. “I, uh, better…”

“Yeah…” Jonathan made a little gesture of understanding toward the kitchen.

Xav leaned down to kiss his lips tenderly before he got up, pulled on his pants, and followed Dave into the kitchen. He was pouring juice into a glass when Xavier came up behind him. “Hey… are you mad?”

Dave downed the juice, his hand shaking so much he almost spilled it. “Mad…no…” He took a long breath, then another. “Just surprised. Not good for me, yeah? Surprises. My own damn fault for not checking.”

He gripped the counter with both hands, white-knuckled as he tried to stop the sudden, nauseating adrenaline surge. “Just didn’t like the idea of you waking up alone. So Deej said, go, go home. So I did…” He closed his eyes, teeth clenched against the jackhammer shakes racing through him.

For not being mad, he was sure doing a good job of making Xav feel like an asshole. Xavier touched his arm, pulling it gently away from the counter and sliding it around him as he slid in front and put his arms around Dave. He wasn’t sure if he should apologize or if that would make it worse. He settled for just holding him, nuzzling into his shoulder.

“Sweets…I’m sorry…I’m sorry…” Dave forced out through chattering teeth. He wrapped his arms around Xav and held on hard. “Christ on freaking toast…sorry I’m such a freak…” It was Jonathan for fuck’s sake, not some stranger Xav had picked up in some alley. But somehow the sight of Jonathan wrapped around Xav…shoved up inside Xav… had freaked him out like nobody’s business.

Xavier kissed his cheek softly and ran his fingers soothingly over his hair, shushing and cooing to him until he began to shake a little less although he still held on to him tightly. “Honey, it’s not like I haven’t been with Jonathan before… if you’re not mad then what’s wrong?”

“I mean…I know you’ve been with him,” Dave began and held his breath to try to calm his voice. “But I’ve never, y’know, seen you with him. And it’s Jonathan…and it’s just kinda weird for me. Kinda like…kinda like if you found me in bed with Vincent or something.” He took another breath. “OK, maybe not that weird.”

“Hm, I don’t see what’s so weird.” Xavier said. “Now, if it had been Sebastian, that might be weird.” Dave lifted his head and looked at Xavier like his eyes might fall out of his head. Xavier managed to keep a straight face. “Or your dad, that would be really weird.” Dave’s expression looked like he’d just took a swig of sour milk and Xav had to laugh. “I’m kidding, Dave, jeez.”

He brought both hands up to cup his cheeks. “I’m sorry I freaked you out.”

Dave turned his head to kiss one palm and then the other. “S’OK, sweets. I’m the dumbass who forgot to check his phone.” He leaned forward to kiss Xav’s forehead. “I’ll sleep on the couch if you want. Kinda mean to kick Jonathan out at two freaking a.m.”

“Mm.” Xav agreed, leaning a little closer for a more lingering taste of Dave’s lips. “I’ll go ask Jon what he’d like to do.” He gave him one more tender kiss and slipped out of his arms.

In the living room, he found Jonathan sitting on the couch, although he’d prudently pulled his pants on as well. Xav dropped next to him and put his arm around him. “He’s ok, just surprised, you know. It’s ok for you to stay, if you still want to.”

Jonathan flopped back against the couch. “Well, since you drove, it’s either stay or call a cab. And cabs at two in the morning are not my favorite thing.” Not to mention the fact that Vincent would have a fit about him wandering around the city so late alone. Which was ridiculous, of course, but he couldn‘t say that to Vincent. “I can sleep here.”

Xav laced his fingers with Jonathan’s and kissed the corner of his mouth. “Okay. Just let me get some blankets and pillows for Dave.”

“Whoa! What?” Jonathan reared back in shock. “No, no, I meant I’d sleep here.” He patted the couch. “I am so not kicking Dave out of bed! Vince’ll kill me if I don’t come home in one piece in the morning.”

Xavier wiped a hand over his face. “Okay…I’m so not going to choose for you guys. Dave…” He called and waited until he came out of the kitchen. “You guys figure out which of you is sleeping on the couch, or we can all share the bed, or you two can and I’ll sleep on the fucking couch. Just someone figure it out,” he said in exasperation as he got up and headed to the hall closet for the extra pillows and blankets.

“Um…hm,” Dave got out at his most eloquent. “I, ah, told Xav I’d sleep on the couch, Jon. It’s not real comfy and shit. And it’s not like you didn’t have…that is…already…”

“Well, yeah…but it’s your bed,” Jonathan countered, shifting his feet under the coffee table. “And your…” He ran a hand back through his hair, then looked up at Dave with a sudden thought. “You and Xav take the bed, hon. I’m fine out here. Really.”

Dave opened his mouth to protest again like a good host and caught something in Jonathan’s look. Oh, right. He probably should. “All right, sweets. You and me in the bed. Jon says he’s good out here. Happy?”

“Fan-fuckin-tabulous.” Xavier said, putting an armful of bedding on the couch next to Jonathan. He touched him briefly and kissed his temple. “Good night.” He looked at Dave. “I’m gonna take a quick shower.”

He headed down the hall and into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He turned on the shower and adjusted the temp, stripped out of his pants and got in. Needles of hot water blasted his neck and back while he stood there. For no reason at all he suddenly felt like crying. What the hell was wrong with him? He picked up the shampoo and quickly worked a lather into his hair, rinsed and then just stood there for a while.

He shook his head. Fuck. He was fucked up. He turned off the water, got out, and wrapped a towel around him. He wiped a hand over the steamed mirror and gave a startled gasp that if it hadn’t caught in his throat would have emerged a scream. The face looking back at him had a black eye and bloody lip, his chest mottled with bruises. He looked down quick, holding out his hands and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Looking back in the mirror, he saw his reflection just as it should be. He let out his breath, feeling dizzy. Jesus, what the fuck…?

Taking another deep breath he quickly toweled off and headed to the bedroom.

Dave sat on the bed in his boxer briefs. He’d already cleaned up at DJ’s, not wanting to come home reeking of sweat and sex. When he reappeared, Xav’s face was too blank, and the little bit of worry nagging at the base of Dave’s spine blossomed to crawl up his back. Something was profoundly wrong here.

“Come here, sweets,” he said gently and held out his arms for Xavier to crawl into his lap. He thought he’d start with the most obvious and see where it got him. “Were you mad at me, love? For leaving you all alone tonight?”

Xavier snorted. “No, I’m not mad at you and no I didn’t fuck Jonathan because I was lonely. I am capable of being alone for a night. Geez.” He rolled his eyes. “Jonathan was just… he looked good tonight, and it’s been awhile since we got together. Can’t anything ever just be uncomplicated?”

Dave’s hand rested in the center of Xav’s back. He peered at him for a moment or two. “I guess so. Mind telling me why you’re snapping my head off and being so defensive, then?”

“I’m not…snapping.” Xavier tapered off a bit more quietly. He sighed. “I’m sorry, I think I’m just tired.”

“If that’s all it is, good, wonderful.” Dave wrapped his arms around Xavier and pulled him close. “But if you’re hiding stuff from me…not so good. I know I’m not good at…reading between the lines. But something didn’t feel right when I walked in and something doesn’t feel right now.”

“Let’s just go to bed, alright?” Xavier said, sliding off Dave’s lap.

Dave reached for him, sensing he was still avoiding something. Xavier jerked back, bringing his hand up defensively. Both of them could tell it was a reflex reaction, and Xavier was immediately contrite, coming into the circle of Dave’s arms and holding onto him tightly. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I did that.”

“Xav…did you think I was going to hit you?” Dave asked, more than a little unsettled.

“No!” Xavier said quickly. “No…no, I know you wouldn’t.”

“Xavier, tell me what’s going on! You’re really starting to freak me out.”

“I don’t know! I’m sorry! I’m tired. I didn’t expect you to come home. Maybe you just freaked me out a little bit.” He gulped a breath and let it out shakily. “When I got out of the shower and looked in the mirror… I don’t know. I thought I saw me from sometime else. For a second.”

Dave set him back by the shoulders and stroked the still damp hair from his eyes. Flashbacks, yeah, he knew all about those, knew they could be more real than reality sometimes. “What’d you see, sweets?” he asked gently.

Xavier scrubbed his hands over his face, his shoulders slumping. “It looked like someone beat the shit outta me. It was only for a second.”

“Yeah, it’s like that a lot. Just for a second or two.” Dave nodded, fingers still stroking through Xavier’s hair. “Any idea when it was? When you looked like that before? Those bruises, that look on your face?”

Xavier snorted. “I’m supposed to pick just one? Hell, I don’t know Dave. There were a lot of times.” He said, sinking back down on the bed. He really was tired. So tired. He lay down, his eyes half closed as he thought about what dark part of the past was oozing up to interfere with his life this time.

Why hadn’t he had all these issues when he lived with Kat? Well, he’d had some issues, but not so bad. Had he really buried so much? He thought he was happy when he was with her, he’d gotten free of Josh finally and gotten cleaned up. Moving in with her had seemed like he could just forget life before she existed. Maybe that was the problem. He had consciously and determinedly forgotten anything that was painful.

So why was it different now? With Dave? Maybe because with Dave, he was his one. As soon as he thought it, a shard of memory jarred him.

“Relax Xavier. It’s no big deal. You know you’re the one I love,” Josh cajoled, stroking his fingers over Xavier’s cheek.

Xavier looked away, the pit of his stomach an icy knot. He still wasn’t used to Josh saying he loved him. In fact he’d just started to actually believe it, had even said it back to him once. And then he came home early and found Josh fucking some guy on the couch. He immediately turned and walked out. Josh had run after him, tried to get him to come back in, and Xavier had stubbornly refused.

He had been really young, and really stupid, totally in love and totally heartbroken. He told Josh to fuck off and angrily stomped off.

He wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings, or maybe he was just so pissed he didn’t care. He didn’t notice the guys following him until it was too late. They jumped him in an alley he was cutting through. He didn’t remember a whole lot of the beating. He remembered he had been crying and they called him a fag. He remembered saying that fucking guys made him a fag, not crying. He remembered not caring that they were going to beat him harder because of his mouth. They had got his arms pinned and beat the shit out of him, then dropped him on the concrete and left him bleeding.

He remembered crawling home to Josh when he could move again. “I think I remember when that was.” Xavier said, and told Dave what had happened.

“Fuckers,” Dave said softly. Yeah, it was years ago and nothing he could do about it, but it still made him mad as hell. He willed himself to stay calm for Xav and pulled him close again, keeping his hands gentle and soothing. “And then what? What’d Josh say?”

Xavier gave a little shrug. “He said he was sorry it happened. He took care of me. It sort of put the whole thing with me walking in on him fucking someone else out of the picture. I needed him. I could hardly get out of bed for a few days, and didn’t have anywhere to go even if I could have. Now I think he was probably glad I got jumped, so I had to go back.”

“I was really young, and I thought it was supposed to just be me and him.” He shook his head at himself.

Dave mulled that over. Slowly but surely a thought crept in on soft, invasive feet. He put a gentle hand on Xav’s stomach, trying to soothe the trembling there. “Sweets…does it… do you ever…I mean…just you and me? Is that what you’re thinking sometimes?”

Xavier gave him a slow, lopsided smile. “No, Dave. I’m not that kid anymore. If we try and go down the road to monogamy one or the other of us is bound to fuck up and cause a whole shitload of unnecessary heartache.”

“OK.” Dave’s brows still knit together, his hand still describing slow, soothing circles over Xavier’s middle. “But every once in awhile, I’m still gonna ask. Just to make sure, yeah?”

“I’m not going to change my mind.” Xavier said. “Besides, that would affect more than just you and me. There are a few people that would be unhappy with that decision, including you.”

It was Dave’s turn to smile. “I know you feel like that now, love. And you’re right. But maybe someday, you know, if you can still stand to be with me and we’re older…maybe someday we’ll feel different. Dunno if I could still get on my knees for Kat when I’m sixty, right?”

“Ok, we’ll talk about it when you’re sixty,” Xav said with a little grin.

Dave chuckled, happy to see the clouded, guarded expression clear from Xavier’s face again, and pulled him over for a soft kiss. “Damn, I love you so.”

“I love you, too,” Xavier murmured, kissing his lips softly.

Dave’s little boy smile nearly melted Xavier’s heart into a puddle. “So you wanna snuggle and sleep or you wanna mess around first?”

Xavier lips moved across his in soft nudges and kisses. “What, didn’t Deej take care of you right?” he teased lightly, his fingers slowly caressing down the center of Dave’s chest. He’d been very well taken care of himself tonight, twice, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t go again.

“Yeah, but I’m greedy as hell,” Dave murmured as he rolled on top of Xavier .

“Ah, one of the things I love about you.” Xavier snickered as he wrapped his legs around Dave’s waist and pulled him down for a heated kiss.

An hour ago, Dave would have sworn up and down he was done for the night. But with Xav wrapped around him, his body said otherwise in a dizzy rush of blood to his groin. He moaned into their kiss, pressing close to rub their growing erections together. His fingers dove into the soft mass of blond hair as he kissed Xav harder, a sudden, fierce need sweeping through him.

Xavier’s hands slid down Dave’s back, kneading gently at the taut muscles, he squeezed when he reached the curve of his cheeks. “uhh…I want you inside me…” he got out in a breathless murmur between kisses.

“Anything…to oblige…” Dave growled against Xavier’s skin as he planted heated kisses along his jaw. He snagged the tube from the nightstand drawer without lifting his head or leaving the warm envelopment of Xav’s limbs.

It might not have been the first time that night but he still wanted to be careful. Gently, lubed fingers probed between Xav’s cheeks and teased at his opening before easing inside. Oh, yeah, the boy was ready, and opened for him easily.

Dave smiled against Xav’s throat, angled his cock down, and rolled his hips to slide the head inside that deliciously tight ring.

Xavier pressed his head back into the pillows with a groan of pleasure. His stomach muscles bunched and rippled as he pushed up against him, the gentle squeeze of his fingers digging in a bit harder as Dave sunk lower into him. “Ohhh…yes, baby.”

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Dave knew a territorial reclaiming when he saw it. But he wasn’t concerned about it and the primal part of his brain growled, damn straight it is, buddy.

He slid his arms under Xav to hold him tight, lips and teeth devouring the skin of his neck and shoulder. His hips rolled gently as Xav took his whole length and then shifted to long, slow thrusts in and out that had his head spinning.

Xavier lifted his knees higher, sliding his calves in a caress up Dave’s sides until he was nearly bent double. His heels rested on Dave’s shoulder blades and his toes flexed and curled at each slow, deep thrust. Dave sucked at the base of his throat as he pushed into him hard and a hot burst of pleasure and desire shivered all through Xav. “Oh, god… so fuckin’ good…” he murmured huskily against Dave’s hair.

They had both slaked their lust quite thoroughly earlier, but that didn’t dampen the urgency or the passion of their lovemaking, it only prolonged it. Soft moans and whispered words of desire were murmured as their bodies melded together.

Long slow strokes and deep kisses played out as their skin grew damp with their exertions.

The climb took a long time, but was so worth the effort. Every touch and stroke and kiss becoming a layer bringing them closer and closer. Xavier clung to Dave with one hand and stroked along his aching hard prick with the other as Dave’s thrusts picked up speed, his hot breath warming his ear and sending shivers down his back. “Ohhh, oh, yeah…mmm”

Dave felt the sudden shift in him, the tension climbing swiftly now, and drove into him harder, each hard thrust hitting up against his prostate and sending starbursts through his middle. “Uhhhh….oh, Dave…I’m coming.” Xav bit his lips, a deep groan rising in his throat as the pulse of his orgasm rocketed through him in a blinding wave.

Dave cried out when Xavier’s body clutched hard around him. God, it felt like he was trying to squeeze the stuffing out of him sometimes. He buried himself deep, teetering on the edge and let Xavier’s bucking, pulsing orgasm hurl him over.

“Ohchrist…love…ohdamn…” he whispered against Xav’s hair before the first spasm hit him hard and he bellowed out his release.

In the front room, Jonathan smiled and snuggled farther into his blankets. Good. They’d worked it all out then. Whatever it had been.

Chapter 283 – Welcome Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m here unofficially,” Phil said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Drew…” Der said softly.

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

“Vince, that lunatic’s gone up–”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t be stupid. I don’t hate you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 281 – Never Alone (2)

By the time they reached the hospital Drew was once again relatively clear headed, though there was nothing he could do as he was still strapped down when they wheeled him into the ER. He wheezed and rattled now with every breath. A vessel had burst somewhere and was filling one of his lungs with blood. They were going to have to take him into surgery.

“I’ll be with you the whole time,” Suzy said brightly from the end of the gurney. “Even in your dreams.”

Drew screamed and thrashed so violently they needed to sedate him to get the IV in. When they came in with needle and syringe he flipped out even more. Vincent arrived in the ER waiting room to the sound of Drew screaming at the top of his lungs down the hall. It did not last long though, as two nurses pinned him down and he was shot up with a healthy dose of thorazine. That took the wind out of his sails quickly. He was then prepped and taken into emergency surgery to find and stop the bleeding before he bled out or drowned in his own blood.

Hours later he was in recovery, the surgeon told Vince they had found the burst blood vessel and repaired it, though this did not explain his psychotic episode or the seizures. When he was fully awake he would be transferred to the psych ward and evaluated by a psychiatrist.

“He has been experiencing sensory disturbances,” Vincent told the doctor softly. “Not only visual but tactile and olfactory. I would assume a neurologist would be called in as well.”

“Yes. An MRI has been ordered and the neurologist will see him,” the doctor told him, not without considerable sympathy. “It’s a matter of finding the correct diagnosis now. We can’t yet rule out schizophrenia, or some other disorder. The tox screen will also show any drug or environmental substances that might have caused this.”

Vincent nodded and leaned back in the waiting room chair. Counterproductive to point out that Drew was clean, they would run the tests despite any protests, and perhaps there was something, a cleaning product or other household chemical, to which Drew had some bizarre and severe allergy.

If only tests didn’t always take so long. Tech hadn’t yet caught up to science fiction in that regard, a handheld scanner or beam of light which would render an instant diagnosis. Vincent pulled his coat closer around himself, shivering. Why did hospitals always have to be so damn cold?

#

“Der? Please wake up.” Jonathan’s voice had deteriorated from mild sarcasm to desperate pleading. There were freaking ghosts in the house, for Christ’s sake, he didn’t care what Chrys said, and Der decided to take a nap. Drew wasn’t crazy. He wasn’t. It was ghosts.

He gathered Der in his arms and put his back to the wall. At least the big dork was warm and solid. But he couldn’t just sit here. There was so much that needed to be done. Lots of things. Yes. He needed to–

He shrieked at the noise from Der’s pocket. Notes. From…oh, cell phone. The jeans were a snug fit, it was a struggle, but he dragged the cell out and stared at the number. Der’s number. “Schiller’s phone,” he answered in as quiet a voice as he could muster.

“Who’s this?” the pleasant voice on the other end asked.

“Brandon? It’s Jonathan. He’s here…he’s just…there’s blood everywhere and you know how he is about blood and, OK, wasn’t quite a header into the carpet and Drew’s gone in the ambulance and Vince went after him and left me here…” Jonathan’s voice rose to a shriek. “And there’s ghosts, Bran, and I can’t do this!”

“Whoa, whoa…slow down.” Brandon said, trying for calm but there was a slight edge to his voice anyway. “Is Der hurt?” He had to ask, Jonathan said something about blood everywhere and he wasn’t very coherent.

“No, it’s Drew’s blood and…”

“…and he passed out.” Brandon finished for him. “I’m on my way over Jon, just hang in there. Tell me what happened, slowly. From the beginning.” He really didn’t need the information, but he wanted to keep Jonathan on the phone and talking because he sounded so close to breaking down.

He managed to keep him on the phone and get a more coherent and detailed explanation while he drove, like a mad man, through the city streets. He could have used the bubble, but if the chief found out he’d have his ass, possibly even his job, so he behaved and just broke a half dozen traffic laws. He made it in record time and hung up only as he was coming in the door.

“God…” Brandon breathed as he walked in the door. It looked like a small animal or three had been slaughtered in there. “Ok…” He took a deep breath. “Stay there for a minute.” He said to Jonathan and went into the kitchen where he got a dish towel wet and came back out. He did his best to get Der cleaned up while he patted his cheeks and shook him. Eventually Der started mumbling and his eyes fluttered open.

“Hey sweetness.” Brandon smiled at him softly. “Don’t get up, OK? Just lay there for a few minutes.” Bran looked around the room and blew out a breath. “Alright, I’d take you to the hospital myself, but I don’t want to leave Der here, and I’m not gonna put him in the truck yet.”

“Jesus, what the hell happened?” Xavier was suddenly standing in the open doorway as if summoned, although he looked about as shocked as could be. He’d dropped in to see if Jonathan wanted to go shopping because Cody had a cold and was in bed.

“There’s ghosts,” Jonathan whispered as he pulled his knees up under his chin. “There’s ghosts and they put Drew in the hospital.”

Xavier arched a brow. “There’s no such thing as ghosts, Kemp. What the hell happened?” He asked again as he came farther into the room.

Brandon opened his mouth to answer but Jonathan shot to his feet and pointed stiff armed at Xavier. “There is a ghost! Drew is not fucking crazy! You take that back!”

“Well I don’t know about Drew but you sure are nutty…”

Xavier cut off as Jonathan lunged at him, but Xav caught his arms before he actually swung. “Hey! Easy… I didn’t meant it, ok?” he said in a much softer tone. “What’s going on here, huh?” he asked, again, this time with some of the shock worn off the concern in his voice came through.

“Drew had a seizure, he was coughing up blood. He’s been seeing visions… they took him to the hospital,” Brandon answered quickly.

“Oh, man…” Xavier breathed, and since he was still holding Jonathan so he couldn’t punch him, he relaxed his hold and brought him close instead. “Oh, hey, I’m sorry, Jon…”

Jonathan clung to him for a few moments, little whimpers caught in his throat. Then he disentangled himself and meandered down the hall to the bathroom, muttering, “Place is a mess. Everything’s a freaking mess. Somebody’s gotta take care of it…”

All three trailed him and found him on his knees with the wastebasket beside him, trying to stuff pieces of broken glass and wood into the little wicker container.

Der put a hand on his shoulder, his voice wavering as he said, “Pretty Jon, Vince is at the hospital all alone. We should go to him.”

“Fucking ghosts,” Jonathan muttered as if he hadn’t heard. “No respect for a nice, clean house. You’d think they’d want a clean house to haunt. Can’t leave things like this. Blood‘s never gonna come out. Never does. Always blood. Always…everywhere…”

“Gods.” Der wiped a hand over his face. “He can’t go like this. Poor Vince has enough to deal with. And we can’t leave him here. He’s scared out of his wily little mind. Xav, you wanna play Jonathan-sitter? Maybe get him out of here to your place. He’d probably do better away from all this for now.”

“Sure,” Xavier answered quietly. “C’mon Jonathan, let me take you back to my place for a bit. I’ll call Dave and ask him to come clean up here, okay? He can get the stains out no problem.” Xav took Jonathan’s hand and pulled him up, still finding it hard to believe that Drew, quiet shy Drew, caused all this mess. “Leave that stuff, you’re going to cut yourself.” He got Jonathan to leave off picking up debris and led him out of the bathroom.

With his hand between Jonathan’s shoulders he steered him down the hall toward the front door. He looked back over his shoulder. “You guys going to the hospital?” He asked, and Der nodded. “Ok, call me later and let me know what’s what.” With that, he got Jonathan out and into the car.

“I have to take care of it,” Jonathan still murmured. “Who’ll take care of things?”

Xav just patted his knee and pulled out. At the apartment, he couldn’t get Jonathan to sit still. He wandered in aimless circles, picking up random things to wipe them off. Xavier felt a little guilty about it but he finally set him to cleaning the bathroom which Jonathan accomplished with grim zeal. Every inch gleamed when he was through, even the molding behind the door and the spot behind the toilet had been scrubbed.

After that he washed up, wandered back out to the sofa, curled into an incredibly tight ball and went to sleep.

#

Vincent sat hunched over his crutches, determined to control the shivering if it killed him. He lifted his head when an official medical sort walked towards him.

“He’s awake? Could I see him?”

“Yes, you can see him. We’ll be transferring him soon, and then visiting will be up to the doctors, but you can see him now.”

Vince made his slow way up and the nurse added, “He’s restrained, don’t be alarmed, it’s for his own safety, but don’t take them off.”

He nodded and made his way to the room number he was given.

Drew was still groggy from the anesthesia, asleep when Vince went into the room. Black Velcro restraints circled his wrists on either side. He must have heard him though because he lifted his head, blinking sleepily with those huge hazel eyes. “Vince?”

The lump in Vincent’s throat threatened to choke him. He pulled a chair over to the bed with his right crutch and eased down so he could kiss Drew’s forehead. “I’m here, my kestrel. Right here. How do you feel?”

“Tired.” Drew answered slowly. “I heard the nurse say they fixed the blood vessel, but they’re not letting me go home.” He seemed lucid. He reached for Vince, or tried to, and sighed. “Can you undo these? I want to hug you.”

Vincent stroked his hair, a spear of pain driven through his heart. “You are ill, my love. They have a number of tests to run still. And they’ve asked me not to unfasten you.” He fought the hitch in his voice and another bout of shivers. “Please forgive me, love. I’d like nothing better than to hold you.”

Drew turned his head to nuzzle into Vince’s palm, kissing him there as the only comfort he could offer. “Vince, you don’t look so good. Are you okay?”

“I’m perhaps a bit…tired, love,” Vincent managed in a voice strained to breaking. “Sleep has been a little scarce this week, hasn’t it?” The chill was simply the sub-arctic hospital temperature, nothing more. He put his head on Drew’s shoulder. “I hate the waiting,” he said softly. “I suppose everyone does.”

Drew once again tried to raise his hand and remembered he couldn’t. Tears suddenly stung his eyes. He couldn’t even hold Vince. His throat hurt and he swallowed hard. “She’s not a ghost, is she, Vince?” He said in a hoarse whisper. “I’m going crazy or something.” His breath hitched and a twin trail of hot tears spilled over his cheeks.

“Don’t cry, my love, please don’t cry,” Vincent said in soft desperation. He took Drew’s face between his hands and kissed him softly, thumbs brushing away the tears as they fell. “She is not a ghost. She haunts you only in the sense that she haunts your subconscious. But–” He turned Drew’s head to face him when he whimpered. “But that does not mean you are insane.”

He brushed the hair from Drew’s eyes. “The more I see and hear, the more I am convinced this is a medical issue as the Prince suggested. They will be taking you to psychiatric for evaluation. Please don’t be afraid. Be a good boy, do as they ask, and answer all of the questions truthfully. The neurologist on staff, Dr. Lassiter, will be coming to see you as well. She’s very kind. I’ve spoken to her and told her all I could. There will be tests and radiology procedures. I may not be allowed to be with you but know that I’m thinking only of you.”

Drew swallowed, trying to get the huge lump in his throat to lessen. He nodded to make Vince feel better, but all he wanted was to be held, to go home with him. He didn’t want to be left here alone.

When they came to wheel Drew away, it took all of Vincent’s willpower not to fling himself across the bed and beg them not to take him. After a last kiss for Drew, he watched in stoic silence, unwilling to let strangers see the hole torn in his heart.

Back out in the waiting room, he slumped into the nearest chair, completely unaware of his surroundings until a long shadow fell over him.

“Hey, handsome.” The deep voice came from far above. “You don’t look quite your dapper, cool self.”

Vincent gazed up and up until he found Der’s gray eyes. “What took you so blasted long?”

“Oh, you know, issues of state, various diplomatic crises. How goes the war, General?”

Vincent told them everything he knew while Der settled on one side and Brandon on the other. Towards the end, his teeth started to chatter and Der frowned in concern.

He put a hand to Vincent’s forehead and hissed. “Hon, you’re burning up.”

“Odd. I don’t feel warm at all,” Vincent murmured.

“You need to go home,” Der began and then remembered no one would be home to take care of him. “Strike that, back up a step. Bran, what’s the verdict? Our place? And we’ll get Jonathan later? I mean, you did make me buy that new sofa bed…”

“Of course,” Brandon said.

~*~

Drew lay on the flat table. They had taken the restraints off finally, but he didn’t have any doubt if he twitched wrong they would put them right back on. The radiologist made him take out his tongue ring and the ring in his nipple and put them in a little tray so they could put him in the MRI machine. She asked him if he was at all claustrophobic.

“I don’t think so.” Drew said.

“You don’t think so? Well, I suppose we’ll take that as a no. Usually if you are, you know. Now, you need to stay perfectly still the whole time, alright?”

“Okay.”

She pushed some buttons and the table slid inside the tunnel, head first, up to his shoulders. Drew stayed perfectly still. The machine turned on and Drew thought about Vince, and Jonathan, and Der, and how worried they all must be. He thought about school, and the latest composition he was working on. He fought the urge to itch his nose. After what seemed like forever they finally turned the machine off and the table moved again, pulling him back out.

Drew sat up. The radiologist came back around the wall smiling. “All done,” she said, and then her head split open, spilling maggots and black ooze onto the floor.

Drew screamed and jumped off the table.

“Easy! Easy…what’s wrong?” the thing that had been the radiologist asked him.

Drew knocked the IV stand over as he backed away as far and as fast as he could. She was between him and the door and she was coming toward him. “Don’t touch me! Stay away!” he screamed at her as she came closer, dropping putrid bits of flesh as she did. “No! Stay away!”

“Honey, calm down, it’s okay…” Her voice still sounded perfect coming from the ruined decay of her face.

“Oh, please, please don’t touch me.” Drew had backed into the farthest corner he could get, dragging the IV with him. More people were coming now. Drew curled into a ball, whimpering. They were all dead. Horrible, decayed corpses. He squeezed his eyes shut. They grabbed him and there was nothing he could do. He screamed and struggled and he felt the stab of a needle in his arm. He struggled still, but became weaker, and weaker until he couldn’t fight anymore and the dead people picked him up and put him back on the gurney.

#

“Is there someone here for Andrew Brennan?”

The question brought Der’s head up with a jerk. He blinked, searching for the source, stiff and disoriented. Damned stupid, dozing off in uncomfortable waiting room chairs. There, the tiny woman in the white lab coat. He raised his hand and stood to greet her.

“Well, hello,” she smiled as she shook Der’s hand, apparently not at all phased by sharp teeth and claws. “I‘m Dr. Lassiter, Drew‘s neurologist. You’re not the young man I spoke to before.”

“No, sorry, Vincent was feeling poorly. We sent him home.” And you’re not what I pictured in a neurologist. The iron gray pixie cut, the hand knit sweater vest under the lab coat, with four-color pockets no less, the warm, sunny smile, she looked more like someone’s retired librarian grandma. “Derek Schiller. Friend of Drew’s.”

“No family in the area?”

“None that could be here. You’d have to consider Vincent his family.”

“Boyfriend? Long term?”

“Live-in, yes. Power of attorney and all that.” He took a deep breath and cocked his head to look at her. “Doc, why the third degree? You folks don’t usually want family unless you need to say something no one wants to hear.”

“Mr. Schiller, let’s sit down,” she waved to the empty waiting area. When he settled, no longer towering above her, she began. “Drew’s case is…puzzling, to say the least. From everything Vincent told me, I was certain something would show. But his preliminary MRI’s came out negative and all the blood work shows normal, no foreign substances, no elevated lead levels, nothing.”

“Oh.” Der stared down at his hands, not trusting himself to say more.

“Do you know if he’s ever had any sort of episodes before? Talked about not being connected to his hands or anything like that?”

“You’re saying he might be psychotic,” Der grated out. “He’s not. He’s one of the sanest people I’ve ever met.” He raised his head to look at her, his voice wavering. “He lived through hell, Doc, and came out in one piece. He has a little issue with impulse control but what person his age doesn’t?”

“I’m not saying anything yet, Mr. Schiller.” She reached over and patted his hand. “I’m just trying to gather as much information as possible. Drew’s had another episode, perhaps the worst yet. He’s been sedated and taken to psych or I’d let you see him. I’m not giving up, though, count on that.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s late. Go home. People are probably worried about you.”

Der nodded and did just that after he extracted a promise that she would call with any updates, no matter what time.

Four days later they were no closer to a diagnosis. Drew was put through a battery of tests and was scheduled for more yet. He had fully lucid moments, and episodes of stark terror with increasing frequency, duration, and intensity. The psychiatrist prescribed a handful of drugs, despite Drew’s reluctance to take anything. He was watched carefully to make sure he did swallow the pills. They made him dopey and confused, but did not stop the hallucinations or delusions. That was interesting to the psychiatrist, the fact that Drew came in and out not only of the hallucinations but also the delusion, the belief that the hallucinations were real.

When he was lucid Drew was able to discuss the hallucinations objectively and even tell the doctor he knew he was seeing things that were not real, but while they were happening he couldn’t make that connection and believed everything he saw. This was unusual, the doctor said. In the handful of psychiatric conditions he was trying to narrow down, in nearly all the delusion persisted beyond the actual psychotic break. This led him to believe that whatever affected Drew was not purely in the psyche and he concurred with Drew’s neurologist that more extensive testing needed to be done.

He did not, however, rule out schizophrenia and kept Drew on the drugs. At least they let him out of the restrains unless he became violent. With the cocktail of psychotropics flowing in him, at least his ability to get completely out of control was lessened.

He was allowed visitors, two at a time, and only during certain times of the day. He watched the clock a lot, waiting for Vince or Jonathan.

“Hey there, sunshine! You want to hop in the shower before your friends get here?”

That was Phil, who could probably win a look alike contest with Denzel Washington. Although he had a darker complexion, he could have been his brother. Drew tried thinking of him as a prison guard, but the bitterness wouldn’t stick. Phil was too damn cheerful. Despite Drew’s innate distrust, his anger at being kept in the hospital, and his fear of not knowing what was wrong with him, when he tried to hang all that on Phil he shook it off like water. He was probably the kindest, most patient person Drew had ever met.

He got to see Phil once a day. Drew was not allowed to take a shower without ‘help’. Basically someone had to watch to make sure he didn’t freak out, fall, and brain himself. He was surprised they let him piss and take a crap on his own.

“I guess so,” Drew said. He got up like a creaky old man. It was weird how just lying around in bed all the time made him feel like that. Or maybe it was the drugs.

Shouts came from the hall, one of the other ‘inmates’ riding the crazy train.

“Hang on tiger, I’ll be back for you. I gotta go help out.” Phil disappeared out the door.

Drew sighed, but he sat patiently on the edge of bed, swinging his legs. His fingers moved restlessly on the mattress, tapping out melodies he wanted to hear and maybe write down.

“Hey, Sugar, what’s shakin?”

Drew looked up fast, his breath catching in his throat even as the sickly sweet smell of flowers and dead meat hit him in the face. Josh sat on the chair next to his bed. Drew felt all the air in his lungs turn to lead.

“What? Aren’t you happy to see me?” Josh rose slowly and moved toward him.

Drew made a small frightened sound but he was paralyzed, watching the cobra coming to get the mouse. Josh’s hand touched his cheek and Drew started to tremble. “Josh…”

“Shh…its alright, Sugar. I’m gonna get you outta here.” His cold lips touched Drew’s forehead. “You just close your eyes and open your mouth, okay? Get this guy off quick and I’ll take you home.”

Drew squeezed his eyes shut. “N-no… Josh, please…”

“Now don’t start being a dick. You fuck this guy and we can go home, that’s not too much to ask, is it? After all I do for you?”

Drew sat, shaking so hard he had to grit his teeth. He shook his head no, but he knew he’d do what Josh wanted. He always did what Josh wanted. He had to.

The door to the hall opened again and Phil came in, cheerful as could be. If he noticed Drew’s distress he ignored it, and just went on in his competent way. Drew got up and followed him into the bathroom. Josh watched him go, smiling at him.

Drew stripped and got into the shower while Phil did his thing of watching without really looking. For a big man in a small space he somehow managed to make it seem like he wasn’t really there, just part of the background.

Drew finished and got out, turned the water off and wrapped a towel around him. He knelt on the bathmat in front of Phil and reached for him.

Phil caught his wrists before he could touch him. “Hey… now…um.”

Drew looked up at him with empty eyes. “It’s alright. Josh said to take care of you.”

“I don’t know who Josh is, but you don’t have to do anything of the sort, now c’mon and get up, honey.”

Drew’s expression changed to pleading. “No… please, just let me… Josh will be so mad…”

“Jeez, listen Drew, get up now. I got a wife and three kids at home and even if I did swing that way I wouldn’t take advantage of you.”

Drew tried again to get to his pants. “Please… you don’t understand what he’ll do if you don’t let me…”

“OK, OK,” Phil said, still keeping Drew from groping him. “Listen, I’ll tell Josh we did, and everything will be alright. Okay?”

“I am hoping,” a soft voice that held all the chill of deep space drifted into the bathroom. “That there is a reasonable and credible explanation for this.”

Exhausted and shaky from his bout of flu, Vincent still managed to exude an odd sort of otherworldly menace. He had come alone, despite various protests because he couldn’t risk Jonathan’s stability any further. And now…to find this…

Phil looked at Vince, not in the least intimidated by the tone. “Apparently someone named Josh told him to…ah…” It was hard to tell with his dark skin, but he could and did blush. “…proposition me.”

Drew looked over his shoulder at Vince and a smile came to his face. He seemed to forget about Phil and that he was kneeling nearly naked in front of him. He got up and went to wrap his arms around his lover. “Vince! You came!” He buried his face at the side of his throat. “I missed you so much.”

The towel had slipped to the floor and Vincent found himself with a naked body pressed against him. “My love…” He decided not to mention the towel, leaned his left crutch against the chair and wrapped his arm around Drew. “I’ve missed you, too.”

Without a word, Phil brought a clean pair of hospital scrubs, the long-term patients often preferred them to drafty gowns, and got Drew into the pants without making him let go of Vincent.

“I’m so sorry, Phil,” Vincent said over Drew’s shoulder. “I’m afraid I’m still not feeling quite myself.”

“No problem,” Phil said, smiling.

Drew let Vince go so he could move back and they sat on the bed together. Phil left them alone and Drew wrapped arms and legs around Vince, holding him tight. “When can I go home? No one will give me a straight answer.”

“When they discover what’s wrong, my kestrel,” Vincent said gently. “While you’re here, you have medical assistance at your beck and call, at any time of day. If I took you home and you had another serious seizure…”

He trailed off to hug Drew close. “Be patient, my love. Once they have found the cause, I’m certain we’ll have you home quickly.”

“But… I hate it here.” Drew tried to stop the words before they were out, he tried to at least temper them so he didn’t sound so whiny, but he couldn’t help it. He was miserable, lonely and afraid, and he just wanted to go home. “And I haven’t had another seizure…” he tried to reason, but he already knew it was best for him to stay. He couldn’t ask Vince and Jonathan to put up with him freaking out at any given moment. “Can you at least talk to them about taking me off the drugs? I mean, I’ll take the anti-seizure one but the rest of them… they make me feel like shit. I can’t think.”

“I will suggest it, love, but I can’t guarantee anything,” Vince answered as he stroked his hair. Helplessness warred with an unreasonable anger, not at Drew but at this thing which held him in its grip, at the doctors who could not find the cause and at himself for not being able to make Drew feel any better.

Drew heaved a sigh and fought back tears of frustration. It occurred to him then, for the first time… what it there wasn’t a solution? What if he was like this permanently? The thought was so startling…so sobering, he pulled away. Fear gripped him suddenly. He couldn’t ask Vince and Jonathan to live with him like this… “Vince, what if…w-what if…” He looked up and Josh sat where Vince had been. Drew scrabbled backwards on the bed, pulling his knees up to his chest defensively.

“Drew?”

He heard his name as an echo, Vince’s voice overlaid with Josh’s. Icy panic roared through him. What if Josh was possessing Vince? Oh god…no, no, no… this couldn’t be happening. He needed Vince, needed to be able to trust him. He whimpered in fear and confusion. If he couldn’t trust Vince, he couldn’t trust anyone. “NO!” Drew covered his ears, and shook his head, eyes closed tight. It felt like the last light in the whole world had just died. A trickle of dark red slid from Drew nose.

Vincent heaved himself from the bed, scrabbling to get his crutches under his weight. “Phil? Phil! I need help in here!”

Running footsteps sounded in the hall and Phil careened around the corner.

“He doesn’t recognize me, he’s going out again!” Vincent gestured desperately toward the bed, barely keeping his balance.

Phil hit the alarm by the bed and half the staff came at a run. Drew was bundled onto a gurney, half conscious though still struggling. Dr. Lassiter arrived while they were strapping him down.

She took a quick look in his eyes and checked his pulse. “Call over to radiology. I want the hi-res MRI cleared now. I don’t care what else they have scheduled. We’re getting to the bottom of this.” She turned to Vincent. “Courage, my dear.”

Drew thrashed in the restraints, screaming and pleading alternately. Josh was holding him down while Suzie prepared the syringe. They grinned maniacally at him. “This is going to feel soooo good, sugar.” Josh whispered to him. “Just a little something to take the edge off, then our big, black friend here is going to fuck you so hard you’ll feel it next week.”

“No! No! Josh, please no…!”

Suzy giggled as she came at him with the needle. “Night-y night Drew, as soon as you go out we’ll have you aaaalll to ourselves, no one to get in our way.”

“NOOOoooo!” Drew howled and threw every last bit of his strength against the bonds holding him. Vince’s pale worried face swam in front of his eyes, just out of reach. “Vince! Please… don’t let them! Pleasepleaseplease…I’ll be good…don’t… don’t!”

The needle sank into him and Drew screamed again. “They’re going to get me! They’re in my head!” His body bowed as far as the restraints would allow. “They’re in here! They’re…Vince… please…” He suddenly went slack as the sedative began to work. “They’re… in… here…” He slurred the last, his voice becoming quiet and trailing off. “In here…with me.” His eyes slid closed.

Dr. Lassiter patted Vince’s arm sympathetically. “He doesn’t know what he’s saying, dear. Try not to take it to heart,” she said gently as they wheeled Drew out of the room.

Vincent couldn’t move, couldn’t think. Drew’s last anguished words had transformed flesh and bone to heavy crystal. A hard breath and he would break.

“Vincent? Vince, c’mon, hon, we better get you sitting down.” Phil was at his shoulder, had an arm around him and guided him out of the ward to the waiting room.

He reassured Phil in a soft voice that he was fine, stared at the floor and then pulled out his cell. “Spirits help me,” he whispered. “I need to be made of stone.”

When Der’s voice came on the line, he began tell him, quietly and swiftly, what had happened. “Don’t react. Don’t cry. Don’t come down here. Stay with Jonathan.” Vincent squeezed his eyes shut. “Keep him calm. He’ll know something’s not right when I don’t come home. I’ll call you when I know more.”

Chapter 278 – The Game

Chapter 261 – Back Home (1)

Brandon pulled up in front of the condo wondering if he should really be there. A small get together was what Vincent had said, now that they had the condo repaired and they’d moved back home. He’d asked Brandon to come, and said he was grateful for the help and consideration he’d shown. Stuff like that usually made Brandon uncomfortable. He got a lot of that kind of gratitude in his job, and it always made him feel a little weird.

He would not ordinarily have gone, but this time he made an exception. He liked them, he felt so bad about what had happened to them. That was true, and he kept it firmly in mind, and tried to ignore the other part that said he was here because he wanted to see Drew again. Hoped to see him happy, for once. He sighed and headed up the walk.

Der had been looking out the window with Jonathan. “Hmm, he is gorgeous. In a baseball and apple pie kinda way. You want me to find out which way his pendulum swings? I could ask him…”

Jonathan swatted him. “Shut up. I just said he was cute, not that I wanted to jump his bones. Christ, Schiller.” He hustled off to the kitchen to see to incredibly necessary things.

“So much fun to embarrass,” Der murmured, watching Jonathan’s adorable little butt as he hurried away. He turned when the doorbell rang and greeted the fireman with a huge smile. “Well, hello, there. I remember you. You kept me from bleeding to death on the front lawn.”

Brandon smiled and took Der’s offered hand. “All in a day’s work.”

Der let him in and Brandon looked around. A small get-together, he supposed some people would consider it small. They must have a lot of friends, predominantly male, he noted.

Drew came up to them, smiling at Der. Was that the first time he’d seen him smile? Maybe for just a second when he’d come to tell them about Susan. Damn. The boy was friggin beautiful. He didn’t even catch what he said to Der, some bit of chatter and then he kissed his cheek and wandered off again.

Brandon tried not to be obvious about checking him out and he thought he did a pretty good job.

“Professional interest? Making sure everything’s still in the right places?” Der asked in a soft, teasing voice. He hadn’t missed a damn thing. He gave a little dismissive wave of his claws when Brandon’s ears turned pink and he looked about to protest. “Wsht, don’t fret. Half the people in this room will have whiplash from our Drew walking by before the night’s done. Common ailment, never fear.”

“I, uh, damn.” Brandon fumbled and cleared his throat. “Vince is a lucky guy.” Which was about the same as saying, ‘you caught me looking, but I wouldn’t make a move that way’.

Der’s smile turned a little sad. “Oh, what a lucky man…yes, he’s had a lot of both kinds of luck in the last couple years. Sort of hoping the bad luck part has run its course now.”

Brandon gave a little nod of agreement and they both glanced over to where Vince sat within a knot of friends. Jonathan came out of the kitchen and bent to give Vince a kiss and then flitter off again.

“How do they…um, I mean, I thought Drew and Vince… but then there’s Jonathan, and you know, the thing with Susan. Trying to figure out who’s with who has gotten confusing.”

Der chuckled and took a sip from his wineglass. “I’ll get you a program. Or maybe it’s a menu. One from column A, one from column B, two appetizers per customer, plate sharing is encouraged.”

He laughed at the look Brandon gave him and patted his shoulder. “I’m sorry. It’s really not that complicated. Vincent and Jonathan lived together first, they took Drew in and both fell head over heels. And I get to share the bed sometimes. With whoever wants me.”

“Susan, though,” his voice dropped half an octave as the smile slid from his face. “She was just someone Drew met at school. Who happened to become obsessed with him. And manipulated her way into his life and then even, once, into his bed.”

He turned away, a tremor in this voice. “I’m sorry…that’s all a little hard to think about still.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up something painful,” Brandon apologized softly. But that did explain several questions he’d had on his mind.

Brandon looked at Der with real concern, and he wanted to say something more, but they were interrupted. Yet another gorgeous boy, this one with sandy blond hair and pretty baby blues, came up and slid an arm around Der.

“Hey big guy, how’s the pussies?” Xavier asked with a gamin grin. He’d gotten rather fond of Der’s babies while he’d been looking after them.

Der managed a valiant recovery and smiled down at Xav. “Hey, beautiful.” He leaned in for a quick peck on the cheek. “They say thank you and they miss your visits.”

“Make sure you stroke Elektra’s belly for me when you get home, she loved that,” Xavier said and then flashed a smile at Brandon. “So who’s your friend?”

Der rolled his eyes. “Someone kitty-sits for a couple weeks and suddenly he’s an expert.” His arm still around Xavier, he extended a hand towards Brandon. “This is the gallant Brandon Grant, the firefighter who prevented several potential extra disasters during and directly after the fire. Brandon, this is our lovely resident troublemaker, Xavier Gavrilov.”

Xavier shook his hand and stayed a while longer to flirt with the firefighter, then he spotted Dave and excused himself.

“I think every hot boy in the city has found their way to this room,” Brandon murmured to Der with a chuckle.

Der took another long pull from his glass. Well, there certainly wasn’t any more question about what made the man’s head turn. He kept his tone light, his eyes perusing the room as he said, “You’re not so shabby yourself, you know.”

Brandon shook his head and gave a little self self-effacing laugh. “Maybe, but in a different way.” He gave Der an appreciative smile and wink, because Der was definitely hot in a different way, too. “And ‘not too shabby’ can’t really stand up to smokin’ hot, right?”

“Your pardon.” Der put a hand over his heart and offered Brandon a little bow. “I have a bad habit of understatement for the sake of irony. You are, without a doubt, take-me-in-the-back-room-wouldn’t-kick-you-out-of-bed-for-eating-cookies-and-cracker-jack hot.” He gave Brandon a warm smile. “The pretty boys are all lovely. But a little strength — it’s a wonderful thing sometimes, too.”

Brandon finally realized Der was flirting, in a subtle way. He’d missed it, he was so used to the big come on. So… what did he think of Der? He was attracted to him, he certainly wouldn’t mind getting to know him better. “Well, that’s good to know,” he said with a smile. “Shall we play twenty questions, then?”

“Oh, goody,” Der said with a little grin, claws drumming on his glass.

This was getting more and more interesting all the time. He‘d teased Jonathan about the baseball and apple pie thing but there was something about Brandon that hinted at more than just the usual jock, not the least of which was he didn‘t run screaming when an oversized goth with fangs talked to him. Interested? Oh, hell, yes. The physique was hot and the eyes were intriguing and heartbreakingly beautiful.

“I do love games. You start.”

“What do you do for a living?” Brandon asked.

“I am an artiste,” Der intoned dramatically, then grinned. “I paint cars. Detailing, special custom work, that sort of thing. ‘K, my turn. I already know what you do.” He thought a moment, not wanting to start with anything too personal. “Where’d you grow up?”

“I’m from all over, really. My dad was in the military. We moved around a lot.” He answered. “What about you? Are you from here?”

“I came down here to go to school but I’m from up the coast. Closer to Berkeley. My Mom still lives up that way, though she’s been down here the past few weeks to, ah, supervise my recovery.” Der let out an embarrassed chuckle. “Her one and only. I’m afraid no matter how big I am, she’ll never think of me as grown.”

All right, on to the more personal, his curiosity was killing him. “So, are you out? Or only in certain circles?”

“What do you mean? You think I’m gay?” Brandon gave a look of shocked surprise and put his fingers to his chest. “Why would you think that?” Then he cracked up and ruined it. “Sorry, sorry.” He cleared his throat, grinning. “I don’t know how to answer that really. I don’t hide it, but don’t go out of my way to tell people. The job makes it… hard. There’s a couple guys at the station that know, my chief, the LT.” He shrugged. “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or anything, just don’t go out of my way to put it in people’s faces or make myself a target, you know?”

“Alright, so, I don’t think you’ve got any issues being just who you are.” He chuckled. “I don’t want you to take this wrong, but you don’t really match your look. I can tell. Is the body art just for aesthetics, or are you trying to distract people from your soft side?”

Der raised a brow at the question, then took a moment to look around the room and sip at his wine before he answered. “Are you one of those people who think goths are all suicide-obsessed drug-addicted nihilists?” he asked softly.

“Give me a minute to go look up nihilist and I’ll let you know,” Brandon said, and then chuckled at the look Der gave him. “No, I don’t. Appearances seldom tell you much about a person. I only asked because I was curious if there was meaning behind the modifications, or if it was just you liked the look. The ink work is very nice, by the way.”

“Thank you. Yes, for the aesthetics, in part. But what you see–” He spread his arms. “Is what I am. Wolves have a soft side, too, you know. I make no attempt to hide it.”

Der’s smile returned. “And speaking of ink, would you have any?”

“Yeah, I got a few.” Brandon answered. Part of one was visible at the bottom edge of the sleeve on his t-shirt. He pulled it up to show the tattoo of the department shield with two crossed axes behind it. One of the axes had a fire hat hanging on the end.

“Those your numbers on the hat?” Der asked.

“Nope, those are my dad’s numbers,” Brandon said. “I have her, too.” Brandon turned and pulled his shirt off. Down the center of his back was an angel, her wings spreading over his shoulder blades. It was beautifully done in black and shades of gray. A ribbon coiling around the angel’s feet read Sharon, Jacqueline, and Melissa.

“Oh, she’s beautiful,” Der murmured. Not the least bit shy, this one, oh, no, stripping in a room full of strangers. He fought back the chuckle as Brandon caused a bit of whiplash himself for half the room’s occupants.

He traced a claw over the top edge of the ribbon, wanting very much to touch that chiseled, powerful back. “The names? Sisters?”

“Good guess.” Brandon said. “My mom and two sisters.”

“Not bad Schiller,” Xavier commented, grinning. “Ten minutes and you got him taking his clothes off.”

“It’s a rare gift,” Der said with a little bow in that direction. He was more serious when he turned back to Brandon. “Truly lovely. And I hope I’m not bringing up things I shouldn’t but are they all still with you?”

Brandon gave him a funny little look and slid back into his shirt. “They’re still alive, yes. The other one’s the memorial.” He touched the shield on his bicep. “The angel I got to watch my back.” There was also a sunburst tattoo around his navel that Der could see most of, but the rest disappeared under his jeans.

“Ah. I misunderstood the symbolism. A fireman should have an angel looking over his shoulder, no doubt about that.” Der turned his right arm over and pointed a claw to the pair of big cats lounging on his forearm, a Siberian tiger and a snow leopard. “I do carry a memorial for my father as well.”

“That’s some nice work.” Brandon said. “I’ve shown you mine, now you show me yours?” he asked with a grin and wink.

“Oh, now, if you want to see all of it, we might need somewhere without such a large audience,” Der said a little too seriously. Then he reached up and pulled his shirt off as well so Brandon could see the extent of the tattoos and the piercings on his torso. “But I can give you a preview.”

While Brandon admired the jewelry, especially the bar with the suspended dragon pendant which hung from Der’s right nipple, a moving truck pulled up outside. Across the room, Vincent rose with a smile. “Ah, that would be my delivery.”

He swung himself over to open the door and then made his way down the walk to speak to the men from the truck. After a short conversation, he headed back in and the men began to pull cloth wrapped bundles from the back.

“A little late,” Vincent said as he stopped next to Der to watch the proceedings. “I would have preferred this not to be quite so public. But there it is.”

“What is it?” Der whispered as he pulled his t-shirt back on.

Vincent’s little smile was maddening as he said, “Oh, you’ll see soon enough, my troubadour.”

During the rebuild of the condo, Vince had taken the opportunity to make some changes, one of which was the door wall that led out onto the patio. The glass slider had been enlarged to a double hung glass that slid back from both sides. Not only did it provide a greater amount of natural light, and when open make it seem like the patio was part of the living room, but it provided one more essential requirement: a large enough opening through which the movers had no trouble fitting a baby grand.

Drew came out of the kitchen to find everyone preoccupied with something. As he moved to Vince’s side to see what had everyone’s attention he saw the moving van outside and knew right away what it was, even before the cloth-wrapped shape was lowered ponderously with pulleys from the back.

He looked at Vince and didn’t know what to say. “Vince…” He settled for wrapping his arms around him and burying his face into his shoulder.

Vincent leaned against him so he could hold Drew close with one arm. “I hope it’s all right, my love,” he murmured into Drew’s hair. “I didn’t simply want to replace the Vose with another. It was such a beautiful instrument and it felt…disloyal somehow. So I asked the nice folks at the piano dealer to look out for something special, a chamber instrument rather than something suited for the concert hall. If you don’t like it, we’ll send it back.”

Vincent could have ordered him a plastic piano in primary colors from Toys-R-Us and Drew wouldn’t have sent it back, but what he had gotten him was a far cry from that. The movers brought in and set up the piano. What was revealed as the protective cloths were taken away was a truly beautiful work of art with rich dark wood and classically carved legs.

Of course, the beauty of an instrument was not nearly as important as its sound and Drew could hardly stand still waiting until everything was accomplished with the move. By the time he sat at the bench he was itching to hear what the Mason & Hamlin Symetrigrand sounded like. So much so, he forgot everyone else, at least for a few moments.

He played a few notes and then launched into the last thing he’d been working on, one of his own complex compositions. He listened critically to the tone and resonance and slowly began to smile. By the time he’d finished he was in love. Vince had known exactly what he liked, the richness and warmth of the tone perfectly matched the richness and warmth of the piano’s look.

Brandon had watched as Drew sat down at the piano, not knowing what to expect. He didn’t exactly listen to piano music. This though, was sheer beauty, no denying it. “Wow,” was all he managed to say to Der.

“Mmm, yep, I’d say that just about covers it.“ Der answered, a little tremor in his voice. He turned and kissed the top of Vincent’s head. “It’s so gods-be-damned perfect, handsome. Sometimes I think you work magic and you just don’t want to admit it.”

Vincent chuckled softly and swung himself over to sit next to Drew on the bench and encourage him to play something else.

“Oh, that’s so much better,” Der said as soft strains of Chopin wafted across the room. “You just don’t know how empty this room looked without the piano.”

They drifted farther into the room, towards the food, chatted softly and listened to the impromptu concert. The more Der talked to Brandon, the more he liked him and oh, yes, lusted after him.

At one point, Brandon reached for a piece of bruschetta and Der’s eyes followed hungrily as he bit off a piece. A little tomato sauce clung to the edge of Brandon’s luscious mouth and Der knew he wouldn’t be able to resist. He put a finger under Brandon’s chin and tilted his head up.

“You’ve left a little bit here,” he murmured before he leaned in to kiss the sauce off.

Brandon was so surprised he stood there looking stupid for a moment. “That was…unexpected. I mean, nice! Unexpectedly nice. Wait… that’s not what I meant.” He took a breath. “Can I start over?” He laughed.

Der had his hands clasped behind his back, rocking on his heels. “Oh, I think we’ll allow it this once. One more try.”

“Okay. Was that a kiss or were you just hungry?” he teased, and then laughed. “And if it was a kiss, do you want to go somewhere more private and try again?”

“I am hungry but there’s no ‘just’ about it,” Der said, the soft husky tone leaving no doubt as to what sort of hunger. He took Brandon’s hand and walked backwards as he pulled him down the hall to Drew’s room. “Drew won’t mind. He’s busy.”

The bedroom still smelled of paint, new carpet and detergent. Even the little Ugly Doll bat had been washed to banish the last hints of smoke. Der closed the door, put a hand on the small of Brandon’s back and gave him a soft smile. “Now, where was I? Oh, yes…”

He brought his free hand up to cup the side of Brandon’s face and leaned in to brush his lips softly over the ones waiting for him. A few teasing caresses later, he closed in for a tender, searching kiss.

Brandon was struck by two things nearly simultaneously. The first was that Der was a very good kisser. The second was that it was probably the first time he’d ever kissed anyone taller than he was and it was different. The relationships he’d been in, the guys he’d dated, were all more like Drew, or Xavier, or Jonathan. Slender build, average height, cute. Yeah, he definitely had a ‘type’ he usually went for, and Der was not it. And yet, he was still very attracted. His arms slid around Der as he pulled him closer and kissed him harder.

Claws combing gently through Brandon’s hair, Der pressed against the hard body offered to him. He slipped his other hand under the hem of Brandon’s shirt to trace along his ribs. Good gods…hard muscle even there. So damn hot.

He moved his lips to kiss up Brandon’s jaw to his ear where he whispered, “I’m betting you’re happier being the hose than the fireplug.”

Brandon chuckled softly. “I think I’m being stereotyped,” he teased. “Big guy, likes pretty boys, of course he’s a Top, right?” His hands came up so he could push his fingers into Der’s long hair. He smiled and winked at him. “My profile reads versatile bottom.”

“Oh, my, what a coincidence,” Der said with a look of almost-believable shock. “So does mine. Whatever shall we do?”

He lifted Brandon’s t-shirt and pulled it off over his head. “I suppose I’ll just have to be… flexible.” He yanked his own t-shirt off as well so they could stand chest to chest, hands roaming over bare skin and oh, damn, didn’t that feel just too sweet.

The make-out session got more serious and they moved to the bed. Hands and lips and tongue and lots of petting. Before more clothes came off though Brandon had to ask, “Um…are you sure its okay to, ah… here?”

“So long as we don’t leave a mess,” Der said with a grin. “Don’t worry, hon, it’s fine.”

“Okay.” Brandon wasn’t going to argue. He was not at all interested in stopping and picking things up later. Right now sounded great to him. So did getting the rest of their clothes out of the way. He reached for the buttons of Der’s fly and got them undone, eagerly peeling him out of his jeans.

His lips brushed over the scar on Der’s chest while his hands were busy and he quirked an eyebrow to inquire.

“And that’s fine, too,” Der said softly. “A little tender still, so I’d appreciate it if you don’t haul off and punch me there, but it’s fine.” He stopped short of saying ‘thanks to you’ since Brandon seemed to take the ‘just-doing-my-job-sir’ shtick to heart.

He lifted his hips to let Brandon slide his black jeans off and then as Brandon hooked his fingers into the waistband of his boxer briefs, he waited with that little mix of anxiety and anticipation fluttering in his stomach that always came with a lover’s first sight of his decorated cock.

Brandon slid them down to Der’s thighs and then paused. “Well… I don’t think I’ve ever been surprised by what I found in a man’s pants before,” he said, obviously quite intrigued. He couldn’t seem to help himself as he drew a fingertip slowly up the underside of Der’s shaft over each silver ball.

“I’m honored to be the first,” Der said on a chuckle that melted into a soft moan. He rolled down supported on his elbows. “You have the most wonderful hands.”

“I bet you say that to all the boys.” Brandon snickered as he shed the rest of his own clothes.

Lying naked next to each other, they each had to do their own explorations. Careful touches, caresses and kisses. Brandon liked the jewelry, spending time kissing, licking and sucking Der’s nipples before he moved down to his navel and then lower

Happy to roll onto his back, Der’s hips lifted into Brandon’s attentions, little moans and quivers escaping when his tongue turned out to be as wonderful as his hands. When Der reached over the side of the bed for his jeans, Brandon tried to lift his head. Der pressed it back.

“No, no, you keep right on with what you’re doing,” Der said with a soft smile. “Just getting out some necessary things.” He pulled on his claw sheaths one by one, then set the condom next to them on the bed. “For your safety and mine.”

Brandon smiled and then couldn’t help laughing. “Sorry, sorry… I just pictured you in one of those orange hall monitor safety belt things. I have odd attacks of humor at inappropriate moments.”

“With me,” Der put a hand to his heart. “Humor is never inappropriate. Well, almost never.”

Fortunately it was only a temporary mood shift and after a return to making out things returned to steamy. Brandon got his taste of Der, in long strokes of his tongue up his decorated shaft. The beads made giving him head interesting, so did the soft moans and little rises of his hips.

He had his lips sealed around the head of Der’s cock and was gently kneading his balls when the door opened.

Drew froze a step inside the door. “Oops…uh, sorry,” he said quickly. “Sorry, Der.” He backed out and closed the door again.

“Drew!” Der rolled off the bed and stuck his head out the door without bothering to put a stitch on. “Sugar bear…it’s your room. Did you need something?”

“I-I…um…” Drew could feel the heat in his face and couldn’t help it; he knew he must be beet red. He shouldn’t be embarrassed, but it had just caught him completely off guard to find Der naked, on his bed… with the very hot firefighter. “I w-was j-just…I, um…” Jesus Christ, he couldn’t stop stammering. What the hell had he needed? He couldn’t even remember. God, Der looked yummy standing in the outline of the door… His mouth watered and he was suddenly hot with more than just embarrassment.

“CD!” he suddenly said, and swallowed with a dry click. “A CD, for Xav. I can get it later.”

Der almost choked on the chuckle that wanted out. The boy was so damned adorable when he was embarrassed. So cute, the way his face lit up like a bonfire, so beautiful…

A memory smacked into him of waking up in his sick room from a disorienting nightmare, Drew’s soft voice above him, Drew’s gentle hands untangling sweat-soaked sheets and soothing him, Drew snuggling in with him when he couldn’t settle, going down on him when he still couldn’t sleep.

“You sure could,” Der said with a soft, inviting smile. “Doesn’t mean you can’t come in now.”

“I didn’t mean to… you know, barge in on you.” Drew said softly, but he moved toward Der almost unconsciously. Moth to the flame, magnetic attraction, Drew couldn’t resist coming into Der’s arms.

Der moved back a little, letting Drew come into the room and closing the door again. Drew’s hands came up to his chest and slid around his neck and Der bent to kiss him, those inviting lips and the sultry look he gave him just too much to resist.

Brandon watched them kiss and the way Der’s hands caressed down Drew’s back to cup his cute little butt and he thought they just might start another fire here. Holy crap but they were hot, and so were the possibilities…maybe.

Der let the kiss heat to molten before he broke it off gently. With Drew still held in the circle of his arms, he turned a bit to indicate Brandon. “I do believe you two know each other?”

Drew just nodded.

Brandon grinned and said, “We’ve met.”

“Well, good. The preliminaries are taken care of then.” Der moved Drew in front of him, back pressed to his front and let his hands slide down Drew’s torso in a slow caress. At his waist, he tugged Drew’s jersey from his jeans and slid the material back up the way he’d come.

Drew tilted his head back on Der’s shoulder, a contented hum coming from him as Der’s hands caressed up his chest and paused to play with his nipples. He tugged the ring gently and Drew bit his bottom lip.

Brandon watched the little display with eager eyes. Drew lifted his arms at Der’s urging and Der pulled his shirt off.

Drew reached back to slide his hands into Der’s hair and Der slid his hands back down his torso, this time moving lower to caress over his narrow hips and work his button and zipper free. Drew was relaxed against him, no, more than relaxed. His butt pressed enticingly back into Der’s crotch and his fingers kneaded the back of his neck and skull encouragingly. He didn’t seem too concerned that Brandon was there and so Der continued to undress him. Sliding his jeans and boxers down he brushed his fingers over Drew’s erection and elicited a soft little moan and a writhe from his hips.

“God…” Brandon breathed. “So frickin hot…”

“And the fireman should know,” Der murmured with a little grin as he curled forward to plant a soft, sucking kiss at the side of Drew’s throat. “Sugar bear, do you want the incredibly hot firefighter to fan the flames?”

Drew paused for just a second and then nodded his head.

Brandon rose from the bed where he’d made sure to stay until he received such an invite. For a fairly large man Brandon moved with a sinewy strength. He came to stand in front of Drew, keeping just a few inches between them. He lifted one hand to gently cup the side of Drew’s face and bent his head to kiss him with tender heat.

If it had been the two of them alone Drew probably would not have kissed him, definitely would not have been standing there mostly naked, but Der was here with him and that made things feel more right. That, and it was a very nice kiss. After a moment of two Drew opened to him and let him explore a bit further.

Brandon’s hands slipped over Drew’s hips and continued on to caress Der behind him, never letting his lips leave Drew’s. This was like having a fantasy suddenly come to life. He finally lifted his mouth from Drew only to transfer his kiss to Der.

Der moaned into the kiss, hands traveling over both lovely bodies, his cock nestled hard and aching in the cleft of Drew’s cheeks. Slowly, still kissing Brandon, he moved to the side and finally broke the kiss to sink to his knees. He nuzzled at Drew’s slender thigh and then Brandon’s thicker one. The scent here was amazing, the musky spice from two aroused males.

“Oh, yummy,” he murmured as his licked up Drew’s shaft. “A second buffet.” His tongue slid over Brandon’s smooth head and then he alternated, kissing and licking from one to the other.

Drew combed the fingers of one hand into Der’s hair. He looked so sexy down there and he loved the feel of his lips and tongue and… for some reason Jonathan popped into his head. Jonathan wouldn’t mind him sneaking off with Der, but he might not like Brandon being with them. “Der… I think I should…oh…” Der slid his lips over the head of his cock and Drew temporarily lost the ability to think or speak.

Brandon’s lips closed over his again. He could feel Der’s hand caressing his back and Brandon’s joined his, moving in slow circles and then down over the curve of his butt. Things seemed to be moving fast even though Der was taking his time. They were moving to the bed, Der guiding him there still on his knees.

Drew sat and Der moved up to join them. Der kissed him and Drew melted against him, he was so keyed up, so turned on… but… “Der… maybe… I should…” Der sucked the skin at the base of his throat into his mouth and Drew moaned, his thoughts scattering.

“Hmm?” Der hummed against Drew’s skin but he wasn’t really asking seriously and soon forgot that Drew seemed to have a question as he pressed that sexy little body back onto the mattress.

He didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission for his liaisons so his brain conveniently stuffed away the knowledge that Drew did. He reached for Brandon instead to take a nipple in his mouth in a hard suck while his sheathed claws gently kneaded Drew’s balls.

Brandon began to kiss his way down Drew’s body, the desire to have a taste of him nearly overwhelming. When he reached Drew’s rigid staff he paused for a moment to kiss the pulse point in Der’s wrist, still caressing between Drew’s legs. Brandon thought Drew had a lovely cock, not huge but certainly enough to satisfy. His mouth closed over the end and he stroked him with one hand while he stroked the other over Der’s backside.

Drew made these incredibly sexy little sounds. Oh, but this boy could easily wrap him around his little finger if he’d wanted to.

Der moved around so Brandon could have unobstructed access. Brandon’s ass was amazing, high, rounded, firm globes. “Mmm…climbing ladders does wicked good things to glutes…” he murmured as he kissed the top curve of each mound.

He pulled the oil from Drew’s nightstand and poured a bit out in his palm as he kneaded Brandon’s cheeks. Watching Drew squirm and moan had him so overheated, he thought he might not last long enough to get where he wanted.

Brandon lifted his mouth from Drew for a moment to turn his head and look at Der. He shifted, lifting his ass a little higher for him.

“You do know how to make a man’s head spin,” Der said with a husky little chuckle. He teased the oil down the cleft of that beautifully offered backside, his pulse pounding in his erection. With Brandon still watching him, he circled the rim and eased one slippery, silicon-clad finger inside.

“Mmm, I may have been told a time or two,” Brandon said with a little wriggle of his hips and then gave a husky moan as Der’s finger slid inside him. He watched Der for a moment more and then returned his attentions to Drew, sliding him back in his mouth hungrily.

Der teased and readied him for a few minutes but maybe not as long as he normally would have. He felt dizzy and intoxicated and hadn’t had more than a half glass of wine. With practiced ease, he rolled the condom on one-handed, angled himself at the entrance and groped for one of Drew’s hands as he eased past the heavenly tight ring.

Brandon groaned and Drew shivered with the sensation of his lips vibrating around his cock. Der and Drew both eased into him at the same time and Brandon’s knees nearly melted with the pleasure racing through him. He took Drew in further, moving up and down on him in quicker strokes.

Drew swallowed hard, his hips rolling with Brandon’s rhythm and his breath coming fast. He kept that pace up and it was going to be over in no time. One hand tangled in Der’s, he moved the other into Brandon’s soft dark hair and gently guided him to slow down a little.

“Easy, easy,” Der murmured, his free hand gripping Brandon’s hip to slow his gyrations as well. Then since he couldn‘t resist a bad pun when it was so freely offered, added, “Where’s the fire?”

Brandon gave a little purring ‘mmm’ around Drew that was half chuckle but it had very nice results. Drew moaned and thrust a little harder, his fingers tightening in his hair. Such a beautiful sexy boy, he wanted to make him come so bad, but he did slow down a little, drawing out the sensual play as he moved between their bodies.

Over Brandon’s shoulder, Der caught Drew’s gaze, sultry and infused with pleasure. He mouthed, ‘I love you’ as he pulled halfway out of Brandon and thrust back in. He continued this way, slowly out, harder return thrusts, as he watched Drew’s beautiful face and stroked Brandon’s gorgeous body.

Brandon lost himself in the roll of hips and caress of hot hands and the taste of Drew in his mouth and the mounting pleasure building in his body. He wanted this to go on and on and at the same time he edged closer and closer to his climax.

Der stroked in and out his body, the little metal balls along the edge of cock stimulating in ways he hadn’t even thought about. All too soon he was there, ready, and a few quick hard strokes of his cock had him shooting like a fountain.

“Oh…good gods…” Der breathed as Brandon’s sleeve clutched him hard. His head tipped back, eyelids fluttering shut as he took two hard quick thrusts and let the pressure explode up from his balls.

Drew whimpered, panting hard as he watched the two gorgeous men thrust and flex and moan. Brandon’s warm mouth sucked at him, the tight ring of his lips pulling him off. The muscles of his abdomen bunched and he was about to come when the little thread of panic gripped him. His fingers buried in Brandon’s hair he tugged him back with a soft cry that could have been pleasure or fear.

He was so close that Brandon’s lips barely left him as the jet of pearly cream pulsed from the head of his cock and spattered Brandon’s lips. He opened his mouth and caught the next few bursts on his tongue.

Despite the myriad distractions, Der hadn’t missed the little bit of twitchiness. He eased out of Brandon sooner than he normally would have and slid down on the bed to curl around Drew. “It’s all right, sugar bear. Hold onto me. It’s all right.”

Drew turned to press his cheek against Der’s chest and snuggled close, but he didn’t cling as tightly as he would have liked to. He didn’t want to make Brandon feel like he’d done something wrong.

Brandon licked the sweet taste of Drew from his lips and slid next to him on his other side. His expression was a mix of sated happiness and confused concern. Despite Drew’s precautions he knew something was amiss.

Drew took a deep breath, filling himself with Der’s warm comforting scent. When he was steady again he turned his head to give Brandon a reassuring smile. “That was very nice.” He said softly.

“Definitely,” he said with a tender look for them both.

“Oh, good. So glad we could measure up to your exacting standards,” Der teased. He leaned over to give a soft kiss to Drew and then one to Brandon. “Shall we rejoin the party, gentlemen? I’m hungry.”

They got cleaned up, dressed and went back out. As Drew sat with Der and Brandon talking he started to realize he might have made a mistake. It had been Der he was responding to, and Vince and Jonathan would have no problem with Drew disappearing with Der for a little romp in the sheets. But, it hadn’t only been Der. He should have asked first, and he was starting to feel guilty.