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Anything and Everything

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“Am I allowed to— May I— What can I—” Billy made a soft, torn noise and scuffed his sneakers against the grass. He shifted from foot to foot, practically dancing in place as his hands lifted, stilled, fluttered down again. Then up, as if he couldn’t stop himself, just to freeze all over again.

He wants to touch you, he thought with a barely concealed shiver. Then, he wants permission to touch you.

Teddy let the strap of his bag slide off his shoulder. It hit the ground with a muffled whump, just a few dirty t-shirts and balled-up jeans making the canvas keep its shape. He wet his lips and studied Billy’s face, expecting…

He had no idea, still, even after all this.

Change, he supposed. Some sign that things were different. Three weeks, six days, eight hours. There should be some measure of that time on Billy’s face, in his eyes, but everything… It was all the same, down to the bone. The frenetic energy of him, the angle of his jaw, the way he looked up through his lashes, then away, fast, as if some of Tommy’s impatience had rubbed off on him.

But his bottom lip was bitten red and there was a dark line between his brows. That was different. And the way he reached out compulsively before forcing himself to pull away again and again, as if their bodies were magnetized but he couldn’t quite let himself give over to inevitability…that was different, too. Even when they were barely more than strangers dancing cautiously around each other, Billy had never been afraid to touch.

Teddy drew in an uneven breath and shifted his stance, watching the flinching hope and fear and anxiety flickering over Billy’s face like minnows in still water. Finally, Billy rolled his shoulders and dragged his fingers through his hair with a hitching sigh. His eyes darted up, then away. “You’re gonna have to help me here, T; I’m kind of freaking out.”

“Yeah,” Teddy said. His voice was hoarse, as if he hadn’t spoken in days. (Three weeks, six days, eight hours.) “I can tell that.”

Billy drew in an annoyed breath, then let it out between his teeth, long and shaky, when Teddy’s hands dropped to his hips. He jerked his chin up, eyes flaring wide; Teddy could feel him practically trembling with the desire to pitch himself forward into his arms.

“Go ahead,” he murmured, thumbs hooking into the loops of his jeans. “I want you to.”

Billy shook his head once, sharp. “You want me to,” he echoed on a breath, stepping in—slotting against Teddy’s body like the jagged ends of something broken becoming whole again—and carefully wound his arms around his neck. He was trembling all over. “You sure?” Then, as if afraid of the answer, “Um, how was the Southwest?”

“Good.” Teddy dropped his chin, letting their foreheads lightly butt together. “Pretty warm and dusty.”

“Oh, well, yeah: desert. Um, see anything cool?” Meet anyone, he could have said. Probably was saying, if Teddy was reading through the words right.

He shrugged a shoulder, one hand untangling from Billy’s belt loops to slide to the small of his back, then up his spine. He felt out each vertebra with his fingertips, relearning the feel of Billy, the reality of him back in his space, sharing his breath. “Nah. Nothing worth staying over.”

“Oh. Cool.”

“Yeah.”

Billy shifted and shivered against him. Each of his (too-quick) breaths puffed against Teddy’s mouth, and his eyes dropped again and again, as if he was arguing with himself over what came next. Teddy soothed a big hand up and down his spine. They had a lot to talk about—a lot to put to rest for once and for all—but there was time. Later, he thought, thumb rubbing against the dip of Billy’s spine. Later is good.

For now, there was just this.

Billy, naturally, was the one who finally broke the silence. “May I,” he began, pulling away to watch Teddy’s mouth.

Yes,” Teddy said. The word was lost against Billy’s mouth, sudden and fierce against his; he made a low noise and dragged Billy close. Arms around Billy’s waist, Billy’s arms around his neck, mouths clashing for a moment before he tipped his chin and they fell into a kiss as right and familiar and good as…as any cliché of coming home.

Yes, Teddy thought, parting his lips at the first swipe of Billy’s tongue. Yes, he thought, feeling fingers tighten in his hair. Their bodies pushed together, swaying, denim rasping and tongues slicking wet and hot over and over again, and all Teddy could think was a broken mantra of want, spiraling up and out of him in grateful ululations:

Yes, yes, yes.

Chapter Text

Space was…space, so big and wide and dark that he was having a hard time really wrapping his brain around it—around the fact that he was here. He was here, standing on the moon looking down at the earth, like Neil Armstrong or Alan Shepard or Buzz Aldrin.

God, there were no words to describe it. Billy kept scrambling to find the perfect simile, the perfect imagery to contain everything he was seeing. Weirdly, his mind kept coming back to an old black velvet painting his brothers had given him one year as a joke. It had glow-in-the-dark flecks across its nubby face, not really visible until the lights were cut. But then, holy crap, the way it shone—dots of irregular white spaced across an open field of pitch.

That’s what space was like, Billy mused, like that crappy old velvet painting, but there was no way in hell he was going to compare the universe to something his kid brothers had picked up at a flea market, so he just bit the inside of his mouth and hoped he looked suitably somber and pensive.

Thinking deep thoughts, Billy hummed to himself, ignoring the inevitable tussle breaking out between America and Loki some distance back: battle to the death, take one thousand. I’m just standing here, on the moon, staring down at the Earth and thinking really deep thoughts.

“Space,” Teddy murmured, suddenly right there. Billy jumped, then lightly elbowed his boyfriend when he laughed. Big hands settled at his waist, tugging Billy back against the warm, solid stretch of his chest. “The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Young Avenger. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new multiverses, to seek out crazy totally-not-Eli’s, to boldly go where no nerd has gone before.”

“Thanks for that, Kirk; now I’ve got the theme song stuck in my head.”

Teddy made a faux-offended noise and pressed his lips to the back of Billy’s neck. “I’m not Kirk. Obviously I’m Picard.”

Billy tilted his face up. Teddy was looking out into space, toward Earth; he looked, God, so beautiful now, still, even after all this time. Billy’s toes curled in appreciation. “You’ll have to lose a lot of hair first,” he said, shifting back to stare down at their…well, his, anyway…planet. “Which one am I?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Teddy said at once. He reached around to catch Billy’s hands, trapping them against his stomach. “You’re Counselor Troi.”

“What! I!” Billy jerked against Teddy’s grip with an outraged noise, but Teddy held him tight—laughing, the jerk. Over by the flag (holy crap, the flag, the actual flag), Kate and Noh-Varr looked up in curiosity, then shrugged at each other. “You take that back.”

Teddy leaned in to whisper, “Captain, I’m picking up impotent aggression.”

“I’ll show you impotent aggression,” Billy said, and stomped (gently) on Teddy’s foot. Teddy laughed but let him go, hands dropping back to his waist and lips pressing against the arch of his neck. The warm pressure of his mouth was enough to make Billy’s toes curl again…but he fought through it. Manfully. “Ass.”

“Mmm.”

“I don’t know why I put up with you.”

Mmm.”

He settled back, still grumbling, though the corners of his mouth kept wanting to twitch into a smile. It was just impossible to even fake being angry, standing here. Standing on the moon, within the warm permanence of Teddy’s arms, looking down at the Earth as it made its slow revolutions.

A pond, he thought. Maybe it was like a pond on a clear summer’s night. But no, he may as well compare space to a mirror reflecting the sky back, if he was going to go there—he was just describing it with itself, uselessly recursive.

Space, Billy thought, snuggling deep into Teddy’s arms. Maybe space is just…space.

They stood there for what could have been ages, staring out at the endless stretches of black. Finally, quietly, Teddy broke the reverent silence. “D’you know where I never thought I’d find myself?”

“The moon?”

“The moon.”

There was a long pause. Then, “D’you know where I never thought I’d find you?”

Billy bit back a grin. “I’m going to go with the moon again.”

“I was, in fact, going to say the moon. Good on you.”

Another long pause. Then, “D’you know where I always wanted to have sex?”

That startled him into full awareness; Billy twisted around to stare at his boyfriend, brows arching sharply. The others were maybe fifteen feet away, if that. “Jesus Christ, Teddy.”

Teddy affected an aggrieved expression. “No, Billy,” he said, sliding his arms around Billy’s waist. He tugged him close, using the relaxed gravity to literally propel Billy into his arms…not that Billy was exactly resisting. “That would be rude.”

“I am going to show you rude,” Billy warned, but his words didn’t match the way he twined his arms around Teddy’s neck, the way he sank against him, face lifting for the kiss he knew (always, always) was coming. His lashes flickered as he closed his eyes and Billy hummed deep in his throat, giving in to Teddy’s incredible warmth.

Teddy’s mouth on him was a revelation. Teddy’s hands smoothing down his sides sent shivers chasing across his skin, his heart falling into an irregular rhythm as he fought to kiss back with everything he had. Buoyed up by the low gravity, gripped by big hands, Billy felt like he was flying. He was a red balloon set free against the sky; he was an entire universe of stars; he was a single light in a vast ocean; he—

He broke the kiss. “Hey,” Billy said, “like ships on an ocean!”

Teddy didn’t even ask. “Uh-huh,” he agreed, cupping Billy’s jaw and kissing between his brows. “We’re totally ships on an ocean.”

No,” he protested with a laugh. “Space. Space is like ships on an ocean. With all their lights all lit up? And…the darkness of the water? …because it’s the ocean?”

He could feel Teddy’s mouth curve into a smile. “Oh, definitely. Atlantic or Pacific?”

“What does it even matter?”

“Well, I’m just trying to get you to paint me a picture here…”

And they were tussling again, laughing as Billy teasingly grabbed for Teddy’s floppy hair, muttering, “I’ll paint you a picture all right,” as Teddy yelped and tried to grab his wrists and cried, “Captain, Captain, I’m sensing impotent aggression again! Captain!”

The American flag, stuck in moonrock, had never looked less impressed.

Chapter Text

“So, on a scale of one to ten, this would rank as…?”

“Um, I don’t know. A three?” Hulking just spread his hands at Billy’s incredulous look. “I have a really high threshold for awkward.”

The diner was buzzing around them. Nearly every booth was packed, cheap vinyl creaking as couples shifted and talked about…whatever normal not-nascent-superheroes talked about. The wait staff was beginning to look a little harried around the edges, smiles going extra tight and plastic, eyes blown wild. A line was already forming out the door.

Big Daddy’s probably wasn’t the best choice for a first date, but Billy hadn’t been in charge of picking the location. Or the time. Or the day. Or even, he mused, awkwardly fumbling with the laminated menus, the guy.

He should never have agreed to this.

“Come on,” he muttered, fighting a flush. “High threshold aside, blind dates automatically score at least a five, just based on the statistical probability that they’re going to suck. And we’ve got to get a few extra points because… Because we know each other.”

“It is a strange coincidence,” Hulkling agreed.

Billy squinted at him. “There’s strange coincidence and then there’s got set up on a blind date; oh, hey, I know that guy—he’s seen me in tights!

Hulkling laughed, tilting his head to look at him. A long sweep of blond hair fell into his eyes and he jerked his chin to flip them back, so casually gorgeous that Billy had to manfully wrestle down the urge to sink under the table and wish really hard for powers of invisibility. He was just so— He was—

Ugh. Ugh!

Unfairly attractive.

“You’ve seen me in a hell of a lot less,” Hulkling pointed out. “At least until I got the whole, uh…” He glanced around to make sure one of the crazed-looking waiters wasn’t standing right there, then leaned in. Billy found himself leaning in too, stomach twisting pleasantly, “…shifting into Mr. Big and Green under control.”

“So, you do realize reminding me of that isn’t going to make this any less awkward? I mean,” Billy continued, “usually I make a guy buy me a shake before he flashes me.”

“I’m very modern.” But Hulkling was flushing too, and laughing, and the combination was so incredibly charming that it was all Billy could do not to crawl across the table and embarrass himself for all eternity. “Anyway, this kind of thing has to have happened before.”

“Uh, name me one person this could have possibly happened to and I’ll buy you tots.”

Hulkling reached over and tugged the menu from Billy’s hands with a grin. “Nightwing. Thank you, I’ll take the jalapeño tots.”

Billy blinked rapidly. Paused. Squinted in thought. “…okay, one, that’s cheating. Two, you’re totally right. Three, most importantly…you know who Nightwing is?”

“Sure.”

He squinted. “Can you name all the Robins?”

“Dick, Jason, Tim, Stef, Damian, Carrie.”

Billy’s stomach gave a ridiculous lurch. “You count Stef?”

“Only an utter tool doesn’t count Stef.”

“Marry me.” He paused, flushing. “You know, metaphorically. Not… I mean… Ooh, awkward again.”

Hulkling laughed and gently nudged Billy’s calf with his sneakered foot under the Formica table. “Still hovering under a five on the scale; we’re good.”

Billy rubbed at the back of his neck. “You, ah. You’ve got a high threshold there.”

“Yeah, well.” He leaned in again, voice dropping into a conspiratorial whisper. “See, this guy in an iron suit showed up one day and told me I have to help save the world.”

Billy leaned in, mimicking Hulkling’s position. “Really?” he whispered back. “What a coincidence; me too.”

“Makes blind dates turning out to be someone you already know seem pretty low down there on the scale o’ weird, huh?”

“I don’t know,” Billy hedged. “It’d be a lot less weird if I knew your real name.” He’d been dying to know for, God, ages. Ever since Iron Lad had sat them down together and said with all seriousness, I need your help, as if the four of them together could actually be worth something.

Except he’d seen the way Patriot ripped through any obstacle in his path, and he’d seen the way Iron Lad’s plans worked maybe seven times out of ten, and he’d seen—he’d more than seen; he’d obsessed over—the way Hulkling went from approachable grin to Hulk Smash to laughing again, all rippling green muscle and fiercely contained power and—

Billy startled when Teddy’s fingertips brushed lightly, cautiously over his knuckles. He almost yanked his hand away, but thank God—thank God—he didn’t, because Hulkling was turning his hand over to clasp it between both of his, Hulkling was leaning forward to meet his eyes, gorgeous and earnest and enough to make Billy’s body thrum with awareness.

“Teddy,” he said. “My name’s Teddy. Hi.”

“Hi,” Billy breathed, fingers twitching between Teddy’s clasped hands. “I. I, uh.”

“Less weird now?”

No,” Billy said with a laugh. At Teddy’s cocked brow, he added, “Hi, I’m Billy. That coincidence alone knocks us up to eight.”

The grin that spread across Teddy’s face made his stomach twist with slowly unspooling awareness. He bit the inside of his mouth and prayed that it didn’t show on his face, because… Because, hey, weird coincidences or not, this was a date. An honest-to-God date. Which meant Teddy (Teddy; no longer Hulkling now, but Teddy) was at least bi, and maybe interested in weird dorky guys, and definitely into Batlore, and, and—

And Teddy’s laugh made his toes curl. “What?” Billy murmured, hand still caught between Teddy’s. People glanced over curiously, and the burst of self-consciousness and dizzy pride made him duck his head, flushing. They were practically holding hands. “What?

“Make that a nine,” Teddy said, grip on Billy slowly tightening. “My middle name is Rufus.”

Chapter Text

“Okay, so, if the equation y= 2x is graphed, which of the listed values of x would produce a point closest to the x-axis?”

“Your face.”

The mattress dipped as Teddy shifted onto one elbow. Billy could practically feel Teddy’s eyes on him; it made his toes curl. He kicked his legs in an effort to hide that (still, always) mortifying fact, hyperaware of the slow flush creeping up his neck and across his cheeks. “Yeah, Billy,” Teddy said slowly. “You’re absolutely right. My face would produce a point closest to the x-axis.”

Billy twitched a shoulder. “See? Algebra II solved. Can we stop studying and make out now?” He tipped his chin to glance at Teddy out of the corner of his eyes. They were laying side-by-side on Teddy’s bed, stomach-down, textbooks open in front of them. The window was open, letting in a blare of car horns and Mexican rap on the intermittent spring breeze. Sometimes, when they shifted, their shoulders brushed.

And…and it was just unfair to expect him to concentrate when they were laying on a bed. Three weeks and four days of dating and they were laying on a bed and sort-of touching every time they changed positions and Math? What Math? Who needed Math? He could think of a thousand and one things he’d rather be doing than studying for a Math exam, and pretty much all of them were right there, just inches away, so tempting his mouth actually watered.

“We can stop studying now,” Teddy agreed slowly. He spun his pencil between his fingers in a display of absentminded dexterity that was also just…unfairly distracting. “And then we can fail the exam—maybe all the exams; why not shoot for the stars?—and get held back or forced to do summer school. But that won’t matter, because our mothers would immediately ground us for failing so spectacularly at life and we’d be stuck in our respective bedrooms while Iron Lad and Patriot faced Kang alone and probably failed because, come on, it’s already a crapshoot as it is, and then the world would end and no one would care that we failed Algebra II because we’d all be dead.

There was a long silence.

“So,” Teddy said, “y=2x?”

Billy cleared his throat. “Woow. Tell me how you really feel, Altman.”

The other boy ducked his head with a laugh, an adorable flush creeping up his cheeks. “Sorry,” he said. “Sorry, just. I’m just really starting to understand what all of Buffy’s angst was about, you know? And she didn’t have a hot boyfriend-slash-study partner to distract her.”

It was stupid, Billy told himself, that the words hot boyfriend could flash through him like that, as sudden and unsubtle as a lightning storm. He pitched forward to rest his weight against Teddy, their shoulders pressed tight and intimate. “Uh, Angel?”

“Vampire,” Teddy said with a shrug. “I wasn’t going to compare you to him.”

“What? I could totally be Angel.”

Puppet Angel, maybe.”

Billy elbowed him. “Hey!”

Teddy laughed and slid his pencil into the ditch of his textbook, closing it with a rueful smile. He turned onto his side so he was facing Billy and Billy immediately squirmed around until they were nearly chest-to-chest, just a few scant inches of space separating their bodies.

One of Teddy’s big hands moved to cup the sharp jut of Billy’s hipbone. He shivered in immediate response. “All right, fine. So, does this mean,” Teddy murmured, brows cocking; he lean in so close Billy could taste his breath on his lips, oh God, “that you’ll go darkside if I sleep with you?”

He was getting hard. Harder. He was—Teddy was just so close, his hands on him, his lips a scant inch away. “I,” Billy began. Words were scrambling through his mind like autumn leaves on a breeze. “Uh. Sure? I don’t know, does Angel or Angelus get me to second base?”

Teddy laughed and bridged the distance between them, mouth brushing over Billy’s. It was soft, gentle, sensual rather than sexual—and even so, with just that single point of contact, every nerve in Billy’s body lit up. He gasped and surged forward, knocking into the broad wall of Teddy’s chest and—

And fuck, Teddy’s mouth was parting, his hand was tightening on Billy’s hip. Billy moaned as he wound his arms around Teddy’s neck and arched against him. Later, maybe, he’d be embarrassed by how eager he always was, how desperate—just one kiss and he felt like he was unraveling. Teddy slid his other hand between them, fingers splayed across Billy’s chest even as his tongue licked deep into Billy’s mouth. They twined together, hot and slick and, and fuck he needed to move his hips; he was going to die if he didn’t.

Billy pressed up, shifting restlessly. When Teddy wrapped his lips around his tongue and sucked he jolted forward hard enough to rock Teddy back against the mattress. His textbook clattered to the floor and Teddy’s elbow hit the wall and it was all he could do not to climb up to straddle Teddy’s hips.

Please, please his entire body seemed to be saying. Please.

Teddy’s grip on him tightened; God, knowing how easily Teddy could take him down shouldn’t be doing this to him, but it was. Billy whined low in the back of his throat and tried to push closer, licking heedlessly into Teddy’s mouth, thrusting his tongue in unconscious counterpoint to the unsteady lift of his hips, and—

Teddy broke the kiss with a low gasp. “Fuck, Billy,” he murmured. His voice was, God, so unfairly hot like that; growly and gravely and pitched low. “I’m really going to miss doing this when we’re grounded for failing all those exams.”

Billy paused. His hands slowly fisted in Teddy’s collar. “Oh my God,” he muttered against his boyfriend’s neck.

“I know.”

“I hate you.”

“I know.”

He smacked Teddy’s shoulder once, hard, then rolled away with a disgusted sigh. The worst part of it was, Teddy was right; they needed to study. They needed to pass. “When this is over,” he said, glowering up at the ceiling, “I am going to… I don’t even know. There is no threat big enough to hold over you, but whatever it is, I am so going to do it.”

Teddy, the jerk, simply rolled back onto his stomach and opened up his book. “I’ll adjust my level of terror accordingly,” he promised. “Now come on, y= 2x.”

Your face,” Billy snarled. Sexual frustration sucked.

“Okay, then,” Teddy said serenely. “…Angelus.”

Chapter Text

The Sorcerer Supreme did not need reading glasses.

Billy was pretty hazy on most of the job requirements (other than wear a swishy cloak and stroke facial hair thoughtfully) but he was pretty sure that had to be one of the rules. Like:

• The Sorcerer Supreme did not slip on a patch of ice just outside his nice suburban home and crack his tailbone.
• The Sorcerer Supreme did not forget he was wearing his World’s #1 Dad tie before rushing out to save the multiverse from being consumed by cosmic energy.
• The Sorcerer Supreme did not yawn at the crescendo of one of Captain Victory’s most rousing speeches.
• The Sorcerer Supreme did not need a bathroom break in the middle of rewriting all of reality. And, there, down at the bottom;
• The Sorcerer Supreme did not need reading glasses.

It was sometime approaching midnight in the early misery of summer. Teddy had left the windows open out of a stubborn refusal to turn on the air conditioning, and not even the three oscillating fans dropped the temperature more than a degree. Through the screen, he could hear the low melody of wind chimes and the whish-whish whish-whish of the sprinkler. He could even hear the sound of their boat knocking gently against the pier—nothing was wrong with his hearing. It was his vision that was troubling him.

It was those dang tiny words.

Billy squinted at the page and brought the book closer to his face. Then closer. Then closer. The words blurred and swum before him, moving in trippy lines like the beginning of an old-fashioned television flashback.

…Roger thought to himself, glaring down the ragged celloist…

Wait. What?

“You fell asleep midway through that chapter last night,” Teddy said, turning the page of his comic book. “You’ll probably have to skip back a few pages unless you’ve gotten better at remembering what you’ve read in your fugue states.” He tipped his chin toward Billy. “Or were you trying reading by osmosis again, in which case—please don’t get snot all over my book.”

Billy fought not to make a face. It was all very well for his husband to crack lame jokes about getting older. Teddy didn’t need reading glasses. Teddy didn’t get called “sir” by young men on the subway. Teddy was just as strong and vital and gorgeous and infuriatingly resilient as he’d been 30 years ago. The little bit of gray at his temples was only because Billy had made him promise, and the lines framing his eyes and mouth just made him look…rugged. Like some kind of Old Spice commercial.

Teddy licked his thumb and turned another page. “Stop squinting at me; you’ll just make your eyesight worse,” he said, though his lips were curving up at the corners. “I’ll call Dr. Hayes tomorrow to see if she can fit you in.”

“I don’t need glasses.”

“I’ll bet you tomorrow’s dishes that the optometrist disagrees.”

Billy snapped his book shut and tossed it onto the bedside table, hunching down amongst his pillows. It took all his very adult willpower not to sulk. “I can fix it on my own,” he said. “I’ll just wish for better eyesig— Hey!” He lifted a hand to stop Teddy from flicking his nose again.

Teddy’s still-mostly-blond brows were drawn into a warning scowl. “What did you promise the rest of the Avengers about using your powers?”

“I remember my promise, Captain,” Billy groused, “but…” He quickly held up his hands, palms-out, when Teddy began rolling up his comic book threateningly. “All right! All right, Jeez, you don’t have to beat me to death with Justice League.”

Teddy eyeballed him a moment before slowly unrolling his comic. “Optometrist?”

“I’ll optometrist you.”

“You know,” Teddy said with a soft laugh, “it’s such a relief that the world is sometimes quite literally in your mature, capable hands. Come’ere.” He tossed the comic aside and reached out to slide his fingers through Billy’s salt-and-pepper hair, tipping his face up for a long, slow kiss.

Billy tried to resist—he really did—but the warm familiarity of his husband’s mouth was enough to have him pressing close with a steady hum, eyes flickering shut. It was possible Teddy was even right. His powers were good for a lot of things, but maybe time didn’t have to be the enemy. Maybe he could slide into the tail end of adulthood gracefully, with a swanky beard and a really great kid and a mortgage and a husband who just got hotter every year practically out of spite and failing eyesight and the certainty of years behind the fingers cupping his skull. The mouth moving slow and familiar across his.

“Mm,” he murmured low in his throat, sinking into the kiss. 30-some years later, and his body still threw off sparks whenever they touched. He supposed he could handle getting older in the face of that.

Even if he did need glasses.

Chapter Text

“C’here,” Teddy said, catching Billy by the hips. He reeled him back against the steady warmth of his body; Billy hummed in reflexive pleasure. “You have something on your neck.”

“Yeah?” Billy said, not really caring. Teddy’s chest was warm against his back. He loved being wrapped up in him like this, so any excuse would do. “What is it?”

Teddy grinned, flashing his teeth. “Me,” he said, simply, and leaned in to press his lips there.

Chapter Text

The party was in full swing by the time Combeferre finally managed to extricate himself. He’d spent the last hour pretending to be interested in… In… Well, to be honest, he still wasn’t sure exactly what the girl had been talking about. The music blasting through the cheap speakers was deafening, and she’d been soft-spoken to begin with. Even leaning closer, shouting, “What? What, sorry, what was that?” over and over hadn’t helped. He had a vague sense it had to do with Libya and…cotton gins? No, he had to have heard that wrong.

“Excuse me,” he murmured, slipping past a frantically necking couple. The balcony was free mostly because no one but the Amis knew the trick to opening the door. Combeferre was desperately grateful of that—he needed a moment alone to catch his breath and recharge, but he couldn’t just ditch the party and go home. Not tonight. Not this party.

He jiggled the handle just the right way and used his shoulder to push the door open. It protested loudly, hinges creaking. A cool wind blew, hitting his flushed cheeks and sweeping through the crush of bodies. Combeferre spared a single glance over his shoulder, but he couldn’t spot a single one of his friends in the frantic press of bodies.

He stepped over the threshold and slipped outside, pulling the door shut behind him.

It was going on midnight, and the moon was full. Jehan had claimed it was a sign; Courfeyrac had just howled playfully at that, one arm slung around Grantaire’s shoulders, the other pinwheeling as they staggered together. The memory made his lips curve into a faint smile, and Combeferre moved to lean against the railing, arms folded over the scrolling iron; his glasses slipped down the narrow bridge of his nose when he ducked his head.

Ten minutes, he decided, and he’d go back. No one would miss him in so short a time.

Combeferre tipped his face up to watch the stars. The song (muffled but distinct) changed once, then again, then a third time as he tracked the slow movement of the stars. By the time the fifth song had come and gone, he was shivering in his light cardigan and trying to talk himself into braving the crush of bodies again. By the time the seventh song ended, he’d given up all pretense and settled into the old patio chair, listening to the muffled sounds of the party and enjoying the cool dark.

He glanced over at the sound of a shoulder hitting the door some time later; it swung open with a protesting shriek, laughter and music and light pouring out into a long rectangle before Courfeyrac stumbled back, shoving the door closed with his weight. He met Combeferre’s gaze and grinned; his eyes were bright and a ridiculous paper crown was perched on his dark curls, fallen to a jaunty angle. “And here you are. We were wondering where you’d run to ground, but I had a feeling I knew.”

“You know me well,” Combeferre agreed easily enough. He smiled, charmed, as Courfeyrac straightened and began brushing glitter from the front of his dark shirt. “Your apartment is going to be a wreck.”

“Yes, well, Marius can throw fits later—not that he will, the sucker,” Courf said with a quick, fond grin. “But you only have a birthday once a year.”

He pushed up his glasses, bemused. “And did you get what you wanted this year?”

Courfeyrac stumbled a little—just enough to betray how much he’d already had to drink—as he made his way to the second patio chair. He kicked it free from the table, shoving it close to Combeferre before falling gracefully into it. Even intoxicated, he moved with a languid grace that never failed to catch his eye. Enjolras was the most beautiful of his friends, there was no arguing that, but Courfeyrac was…
He was something special.

“I always get what I want, every year,” Courf was saying, sprawling back with a crooked grin. “It’s the happy consequence of liking everything you see. Thanks for coming to my party.”

Combeferre glanced at him, then away again, tipping his face up toward the moon. “Of course,” he said easily. “Where else would I be?”

“Where else indeed?”

He heard the shift of Courf’s body and the low whine of cheap metal, but it wasn’t until Courfeyrac’s breath hit the exposed arch of his neck—followed by the warm press of his mouth—that Combeferre realized what was happening. It was a casual sort of kiss; a teasing affection between close friends. Combeferre knew—he knew—that Courfeyrac regularly did the same to the others he loved so much, even if he himself usually managed to avoid that tactile affection. Still.

Still.

The brush of that full mouth against his skin flared through his body, setting him alight. Combeferre grabbed at the armrests with white-knuckled fists, biting hard at his mouth to stifle a gasp; the heat unspooling low in his body was unwelcome and, God, undeniable. He stared up at the wide blank face of the moon and fought to hide just how much he wanted this, wanted more.
Courfeyrac went very still, lips still pressed to Combeferre’s neck. Then slowly, oh-so slowly, he pulled back; Combeferre could feel the weight of his eyes on him. Assessing. Translating. Understanding.

“Oh,” Courfeyrac said, surprise coloring his tones. “Oh. Combeferre. You never told me.”

He closed his eyes on a shaky breath. So much for hiding. “It never seemed right,” he said.

There was a long silence, stretching slow and painful between them. Combeferre remained perfectly still, eyes closed, breath caught in his burning lungs. He waited patiently for Courfeyrac to try to gently laugh it aside (and he’d be grateful for that; he’d see that as a mercy) or simply stand and walk away to give him the space he needed to swallow this back again. When chair legs scraped against the concrete floor, he was sure Courfeyrac must be rising to go. He let out a long breath and clenched his fists tight even as he fought to keep his expression serene.

Courfeyrac knew he wanted him now, but that didn’t mean he needed to know just how much.

He startled when warm hands dropped onto his knees. Combeferre’s eyes flew open and he looked down—straight down into Courfeyrac’s open face. The crown had slipped on his wild mass of curls until it practically covered one eye. He was kneeing directly in front of Combeferre’s chair, earnest and eager and…hopeful?

No. Surely not. He was reading that wrong.

Or was he?

“Courf?” Combeferre began, very slowly.

Courfeyrac pressed his palms against Combeferre’s knees, then slid his hands up the tightening muscles of his thighs. His lips were quirking, question and answer both there for Combeferre to see. “Yeah,” Courfeyrac said, as if responding to their earlier conversation. “I’d say I got what I wanted.”

Chapter Text

The thing most people didn’t realize about Tim—the thing Kon just couldn’t get enough of—was how funny he looked when he got pissy. Not angry, of course. He had that whole Batfamily grr argh glower of doom thing down solid. Not hurt, either. Hurt was— Hurt was a whole different kind of suck; Kon hated it when Tim looked at him with that tiny flicker in his eyes, there and gone again behind a perfect stony mask.

No, Kon loved it when Tim got pissy—and the more Tim-like the sulk, the better.

“Move,” Tim said, barely giving Gar time to make like a hedgehog and roll away before he took his seat. He reached for the laptop with too much precision, each gesture sharp and clean and oh, just filled with silent temper.

Kon propped his elbow on the couch arm and rested his chin on his fist, watching. He had to hide a grin behind his hand at the scowl that kept wanting to creep across Tim’s face. It’d start at the corners of his eyes and radiate slowly out, like a thaw. By the time it reached his mouth, his eyes were narrowed and his brow furrowed and there was practically a black squiggle line forming over his head. Then he’d suddenly pause, fingers going still over the keys, and rotate his shoulders. All at once, the expression would fall from his face as if he were a dog shaking off water—except the flush of annoyance would creep up his neck and jaw and to his great big honking ears and he’d manage to refocus on work until suddenly his eyes started to go tight again and lines formed at the corners and the whole thing would start all over again.

It was great. It was even better, Kon was more than happy to admit, because he was pretty sure he was the only one who even noticed. Who even could notice.

His hair ruffled. “Whatcha doing?” Bart asked, slinging an arm over the back of the couch.

“Watching Robin have a shitfit.”

“Oh, yeah, really, lemme see.” The younger (well, sort of) boy leaned over him, squinting at Tim through his yellow lenses. Tim’s fingers flew over the keys as if he hadn’t heard them, but Kon could see the color rising up his neck and toward those ears slowly slowly slowly. “He doesn’t look all that mad to me.”

Kon grinned. “It’s subtle,” he said.

“When did you get good at subtle?”

From anyone else, it would have been a dig, but Bart’s baffled question just made him laugh and rise to his feet. “I pick my battles. Here, I’ll make it clearer for you. Yo, Timmy.” Tim pointedly ignored him, fingers flying, keys clacking. Kon took a (admittedly swaggery) few steps forward and reached out to touch the back of Tim’s chair. Tim whipped around fast to grab his wrist, but Kon was already snagging him with TTK, yanking him up and out of his chair. He grabbed for Tim’s arms, pinning them to his sides and—

And he probably hadn’t thought this through, because they still hadn’t told everyone that they were together, but hell, Tim was in a mood, and Tim was irresistible when he was in a mood, and anyway, they’d have figured it out one way or the other and—

Kon yanked him close for a cartoonishly big kiss, smacking noises and everything; he could practically feel the raincloud over Tim’s head shooting out forks of lightning as Gar gasped and Vic snorted and Bart started applauding like this was some kind of show. “I see it!” Bart said happily. “He is having a shitfit!”

He grinned against Tim’s mouth and used TTK to goose him, hoping to incite a better show of temper; Tim bit his lower lip hard, a trickle of blood smearing between them, which…which was good, was just fine, the viciousness making the slow escalation of that kiss ten times slicker and hotter and filthier than Kon had intended because God, yeah, he fucking loved it when Tim got mad; he couldn’t imagine ever getting enough.

Bodies seamed together, feeling the tension in his body, knowing when they made it back to whichever room that it was going to be hot as fuck, yeah, God, Tim pissy was the best ever.

Chapter Text

“There’s a giant snake loose.”

“Yeah.”

“There’s a giant snake. And it is loose.”

“Well…yeah.”

“There is a giant snake and it is loose somewhere in this general area.”

“Congratulations, Billy,” Kate said with a snort. “You’ve once again mastered the art of the obvious. Well done, you.”

He waved off her sarcasm. Usually he would be all over that, giving back as good as he got, but never let it be said that Billy Kaplan did not have his priorities straight. “Yes, yes, you’re very clever: now please focus. There is a giant snake.”

“There is a giant snake,” Kate agreed. She crossed her legs and propped her elbow on one skinned knee, resting her chin on her fist.

“And it is loose.”

“It is most definitely loose.”

Billy held up a finger. “Somewhere in this general area.”

“Very generally speaking, it is most definitely loose somewhere in this general area. Generally.”

He cast her an aggrieved look. “And we are not leaving this general area because…?”

Kate laughed and nudged his knee with hers before sprawling back against the cracked stone wall. The courtyard was filled with kids chatting between classes. They’d formed tiny color-coded knots of students—red-and-gold here, silver-and-green there—so naturally that Billy felt awkward and out of place just sitting here with his best friend.

Which was…it was just stupid. And wrong. For all that he loved Hogwarts, there was so much stupid and wrong about it that sometimes he wanted to scream. Good-natured House rivalries were all well and good, but something had taken a wrong turn somewhere down the line, until they’d reached a point where Slytherin and Gryffindor couldn’t even sit and enjoy the sunshine together without getting dirty looks, like they had each betrayed some sacred trust. He was talking to the enemy, whatever that was supposed to mean. Merlin, just imagine if he gave in to his wandering Id, popped off the low bench, and headed across the overgrown grass to say hi to Mr. Cute Perfect Amazing Hufflepuff Beater.

Heads would roll, and not just from the ghostly Hunt.

But hey, at least the thought of it was enough to distract him from the latest danger this place decided to throw at them. He worried at the jagged end of his thumbnail, one foot beating an anxious rhythm against the grass as Billy pretended not to watch Teddy Altman from beneath his lashes. The sun angled through the open roof to halo golden hair and a wide, gorgeous smile. He’d shucked out of his scarf and robe; his yellow-and-black tie had been loosened. When he laughed, Billy could see his Adam’s apple working and the glitter of earrings (some Muggle thing that, because they were Teddy’s, were endlessly fascinating to him) throwing back sunlight. A dimple flashed on his smooth cheek.

Bloody hell, but he was perfect.

Kate knocked their knees together again. “Someone’s forgotten all about giant snakes, I see. At least…”

“Don’t you dare,” Billy warned, straightening.

“…that kind of giant snake,” she finished cheerfully.

Billy dropped his head in his hands and groaned. “I hate you so much.”

He gave a squawk as Tommy dropped down next to him, deliberately jostling his shoulder and nearly knocking him off the low stone wall. “Why do we hate Kate?” he said, chucking his books and scrolls heedlessly onto the grass. “Oh, hey, did you guys hear about the giant snake that’s on the loose? I heard Potter can talk to it.”

Billy straightened like a shot. “What?” he demanded. “Are you serious?”

Tommy—raised Muggle despite his pureblood birth—just blinked at Billy. “What?” he echoed. “I mean, it’s weird, sure, but no weirder than a good half the shit we see.”

“No, I.” He blew out a breath, cheeks puffing. Parseltongue. There was a giant snake on the loose and The Boy Who Lived spoke Parseltongue. “Right,” he said, popping to his feet. “That settles it.”

Both Tommy and Kate were looking at him now, brows arched in near-identical expressions of confusion.

“There is a giant snake on the loose,” Billy said, “and a second year is speaking Parseltongue and…” And the whispers in his common room every night were making him more and more convinced that something big was heading their way, something bad, something that had a lot to do with The Boy Who Lived…but even now there were some House loyalties he couldn’t break. “And a lot of stuff. If things are going to go crazy, I may as well throw my hat in the ring.”

He straightened and adjusted his scarf and tried to ignore their bemused expressions. “Fuck House segregation,” Billy said. I’m going in. Carpe dium.” He turned smartly on his heel and headed toward the small knot of Hufflepuffs.

“Go get yourself some hot Snake-on-Badger action!” Tommy called after him, way too loud and not at all helpful. All at once, the courtyard went silent, and Teddy…Teddy was looking right at him, incandescent smile slowly changing into a look of baffled concern.

Billy felt himself flame redder than a Gryffindor’s scarf. “Ah,” he said; his voice sounded unnaturally loud in the silence. “Um. Um. …did you know there was a giant snake on the loose?”

And on that piece of brilliance, he turned on his heel and fled.

Chapter Text

Hawke slammed him back against the wall with a low growl. It should have been infuriating; it should have been terrifying. Maybe it was both of those things, too, in small measure, but mostly—

Maker,” Anders breathed, arching helplessly against him, so hard he was nearly rutting against Hawke’s big body,

—mostly it was just electrifying.

“I told you to. Stay. Put.”

There was something about the warning note in Hawke’s voice that never failed to rearrange his insides. Anders made a low noise and lifted his hips, rocking up against the hard jut of black armor. He snarled his fingers in the grooves in the cold metal, dragging himself up even as he rested his weight back against the wall, poised elegantly between the two. If he could fuck himself against Hawke, he would.

Anders.” He caught Anders’ wrists and pinned them over his head; the rough gesture earned a helpless moan, but Anders was too far gone to be embarrassed. “You will listen to me, and you will obey. Do you understand?”

Yes.” Maker, he didn’t care what he was agreeing to; he’d agree to anything. “Just, yes, I swear, just, fuck!” The last word was startled out of him by the sudden, hard thrust of Hawk’s hips, driving him back against the wall. Heat flared through him. He could feel his cock leaving slick trails where it dragged against his smalls. “Hawke, please.”

Hawke tightened one hand around Anders’ wrists, keeping him pinned even as he fought to reach for him. The other dropped to his chin, dragging it down so Hawke could study his eyes.

Hawke’s face was harsh, and cold, and handsome in its own way. A single deep scar bisected his cheek, just missing his left eye. It ended at the curve of his jaw, near the place where his pulse beat: Anders loved to tease his tongue over the length of that scar and suck at the skin there, feeling proof of Hawke’s life against his greedy mouth.

“Hawke,” he whispered, squirming. Needing.

“Yes,” Hawke finally said, and when he pulled Anders into the kiss, it was hard and demanding enough to send his whole world spinning ass over teakettle—the rasp of stubble against his cheeks, the press of his mouth, the sharp weight of his armor. Void take him, everything, everything, worked together in one overwhelming assault.

He couldn’t imagine ever wanting different.

Chapter Text

They meet, every year, for the anniversary. There’s not an agreed time for it—Billy died outside of time, and his body was buried in literal Limbo; it makes counting the years since his passing difficult even for David—but still, it happens. Naturally, almost, if something like this can be called natural.

Teddy will be working a job in Copenhagen and get a prickle at the back of his neck. Or he’ll look up in a souk in Marrakesh and see a white-haired figure slumped against the ornate tile, arms crossed, one brow cocked. This time, he’s in Kenya: a Maasai tribe has gone missing, and the scorch marks left behind look suspiciously like Kree weaponry. Teddy’s studying the dark patterns on the wall and thinking about calling in Noh-Varr when he hears the whisper of a footfall and knows.

He doesn’t question it anymore; it’s just a regular part of his life now. One day he will look up and Tommy will be there. It’s as predictable as breathing.

“Hey,” Teddy says, straightening. He dusts off his hands and turns around, brows arching in surprise. Tommy’s wearing the old jacket—the one with the lambswool collar. Teddy hasn’t seen that one in years. “Is it time?”

Tommy just jerks his chin before heading outside; Teddy follows him into the bright African sunlight. “Do you have any teleportation disks with you?” Tommy asks, squinting up at the sky. Teddy pats his pocket in answer. He doesn’t carry them around everywhere he goes, but he finds himself slipping them into his pockets when he starts getting that itchy feeling beneath his skin, the sense that something could happen at any moment. “Good. I’ll meet you there in five.”

Dust kicks up in his wake. Teddy lifts a hand to shield his eyes, the red cloud swirling around him. The small herd of zebra grazing just beyond the village startle and scatter, calling out a warning. By the time the dust settles again, however, Teddy’s pulling out his communicator and tapping out a message for Noh-Varr. He’s a better expert for this, anyway. Then he’s shoving his communicator back into his pocket and pulling out the disk. It’s small and round and fits perfectly within the palm of his hand. Teddy looks down at it, studying the oil-slick swirl of color moving just beneath the glossy black surface.

He places his thumb to the center, then presses hard until he hears a faint crack. He closes his eyes and thinks of Billy.

The sudden change from blistering heat to freezing rain is a shock to his system. Teddy drops the used disk into his pocket and wraps his arms around his middle. A sharp wind drags through his hair, howling across the sodden knoll where Billy’s grave is waiting. Lightning cracks open the sky in a sudden blaze.

Teddy starts when Tommy appears beside him, water dripping from the ends of his hair. “Here,” Tommy says, throwing a jacket at Teddy’s head. He catches it easily, reflexes still good. “I thought you’d probably not want to freeze your ass off.”

“Thanks.” Teddy snaps open the jacket and tugs it on. It fits perfectly; he’s no longer surprised that Tommy knows something as simple as his size. A few years ago, that may not have been the case. Now, Tommy pays attention. They both do. “It’s nice,” he adds, running a hand over the sleeve. Water is beading on the face of the fabric—it’ll keep him relatively dry.

“Yeah, yeah, blah blah,” Tommy says, flapping one hand. “Are you ready to do this?”

There’s another crack of lightning. Teddy glances toward the grave, seeing it outlined by the sudden brightness. His heart is beginning to pound. “Yeah,” he says, starting to turn. “Okay, let’s go ahead and—”

Tommy reaches out fast—too fast for him to see more than a blur—and grabs the front of his shirt. “Wait,” Tommy says; there’s a queer note of panic in his voice, making it tremble. He yanks, and Teddy turns toward him, startled, briefly scared. “Tommy, what,” Teddy begins, but Tommy’s already rising up onto his toes. He drags Teddy down at the same time, mouth finding his in the dark.

It’s a desperate sort of kiss. Hard, hungry, filled with a thousand-and-one things neither of them has ever had the courage to say. Teddy makes a low noise deep in his chest and reaches up to cup the back of Tommy’s skull. He tangles his fingers in white hair, lips parting eagerly, welcoming the hungry press of Tommy’s tongue.

It’s been too long.

There used to be a time when he’d been too afraid to close his eyes when this happened, sure he’d see Billy there; it’s no longer something he worries about. His body knows the difference between the brothers he’s loved. Tommy smells different, feels different, tastes different. They look the same, sometimes, but then Tommy will scoff or lift his chin and the similarities will break up and drift away again, becoming meaningless.

This is Tommy he’s kissing, tongues roughly twining, rain running down their faces. And soon, it’ll be Billy they’ll be memorializing, the way they do every year—the way they’ll do it until one or both of them is dead, too.

They’re living their lives in these brief flashes of want and pain. Soaked bodies pressing together, hands moving restlessly in the dark, hearts pounding in concurrent rhythm, it feels like there’s nothing else; like they, too, have fallen somewhere out of time.

Like this is the last thing that matters.

They kiss like it’s the end of the world. Maybe, Teddy thinks tasting Tommy and rain, it finally is.

Chapter Text

“You don’t have to do this, y’know.”

Santo doesn’t want to say it, but he’s pretty sure that means he should. Right? Like apologizing when you know you’re in the wrong or standing up for an asshole when he’s getting bullied in turn or…or any number of things that he could file neatly under fuck that noise but doesn’t because he wants to become a better person.

A better man. A good man, even.

And a good man would offer the guy he lo- likes a whole bunch an out; it’s only right.

“I mean,” Santo adds, hands very carefully falling to Vic’s waist, “it’s not like I don’t get it. Rocks are fun for climbing or sunning on or sticking flags into, but I doubt you’ve ever taken a look at a geode and thought, I want a piece of that sweet chalcedony action.”

Vic pulls back to look at him, face screwed up. “I, gross; are you…” He pauses, hands sliding over Santo’s (big, rock) shoulders. “I can’t even tell if you’re trying to insinuate oral sex or regular sex with the geode, but either way, I don’t want to know.”

That earns an eyeroll. They’re outside, sitting under one of their favorite trees. And doesn’t that mean something, in the end, that they have a favorite anything? Together? “I’m not going to suggest you eat out a geode; you’re so gay, I’d bet that’d make your—”

Vic claps a hand over his mouth; he’s scowling, but he’s laughing too. That happens a hell of a lot when they’re together. “I can’t… No, I can totally believe you’d say that, but right now, I don’t want to believe it, so. Plausible deniability. Now.” He pauses, one green hand still over Santo’s mouth. “Now,” he says again, firmer. “About what you were saying. I know I don’t have to do this. No one is holding me down and making me do anything and that is not an invitation.

Santo settles back down with a who, me? expression.

“God, you’re such a—” He drops his hand, letting it trail across Santo’s chest. Santo watches it, watches clever green fingers splay wide across rock right over where his heart would be…if he still had a heart. If he still had anything at all to offer the guy he lo- liked a whole bunch, damnit.

“Vic,” he tries, wanting to be serious, but Vic cuts him off.

“No; shut up. Shut up and kiss me.”

And…and he’s still human, so he does. Carefully. So very, very carefully, aware of any pressure, aware of any sharp bits that could bruise or cut soft skin. Vic’s a tough little bastard (more Godzilla than anole, Santo likes to crack sometimes) but he’s flesh and bone and soft and warm and the best thing Santo has felt in, God, years. Years. It’s all a pleasant blur. A breath against his mouth. Vic’s hands sliding over his body. The weight of him perched on his thighs and the way he presses in like he’s not at all afraid of Santo hurting him, like he wants it.

It’s the best acting Santo could have asked for; it makes his (nonexistent) heart shatter, and he reaches up to cup the spiny skull in one giant hand, wishing with everything he was that he could manage to be enough to keep Vic wanting him forever.

And then, just as he’s beginning to pull away and let Vic loose (because Vic’s being a good sport, but kissing rock is still kissing rock), Vic makes a sound deep in his throat and parts his lips and licks deep into Santo’s mouth.

Slick.

And wet.

And hot. Hot enough that even he can feel it. Hot enough that he thinks, for a dazzling second, that he’s going to explode. And God, maybe Vic is playing it up because he wants to make Santo feel real again, but if it means this—tongue rasping against his, twining deep and surprising and good—then Santo’ll play along. He’ll play along however long Vic lets him, and when it’s done and Vic’s found someone with a bit more flesh and blood and body, Santo’ll make some kind of crack and let him go and not let the guy he lov—likes be any the wiser.

Because that, he knows for certain, is what a good man does when he cares this deep.

But for now, he wraps his arms around Vic’s waist and holds on tight as they kiss under their tree and a perfect summer’s night.

Chapter Text

“Back. Off.” Tim’s gone very still, eyes slitted and locked on Kon’s face. It’s the kind of look he gives a supervillain right before he goes serious crazypants Batfolk on their ass. Anyone sane would go scuttling back out of harm’s way.

Kon’s not crazy, but he’s also not completely sane when it comes to Tim; he’s willing to accept that. “Make me. Timmy.” His name is a sneer. It’s a gauntlet thrown down between them. Tim’s been pulling all kinds of shit lately, but this last time he’s gone too far.

If possible, Tim’s eyes narrow further. He’s practically bristling with fury, mask discarded on the floor where Kon has thrown it (after ripping it off his face, glued edges or not; he fucking deserves the sting) cape hanging halfway down his shoulders. There are rips along the folds of fabric and another going from hip to sternum. Blood seeps out through the torn fabric, but it’s not much more than a trickle. If Kon had been any slower, then… Then God knows what he would have found. His best friend shredded to pieces and being picked from some B-movie creature’s teeth, probably.

But that’s not what he has now. Now he’s got Robin—Tim—glaring at him like he wants to eat his face off and an unconscious tentacle monster thing at his feet and blood smeared on his hands and face and if Tim wants a fight, he’s ready to give it to him.

But Tim…Tim’s not like anyone else Kon knows. Tim’s crazy-brilliant mind works in ways he’s come to understand, at times, a little, but which still throws him for a loop six times out of seven. And somehow, somehow, Tim suddenly puts the breaks on threatening glares pushes them full throttle into—

Kon almost stumbles back, shocked by the sudden weight of Tim driving against his body. For a split second, he thinks Tim’s attacking him, but then he feels teeth against his lower lip and a tongue licking deep into his mouth and holy fuck Tim’s legs have gone around his waist. It all happens so fast he’s not sure what to do about it, hands frozen like a zombie in front of him, eyes huge, tongue…

Tongue in Tim’s mouth now. Tongue twining with his. Tongue being sucked like Tim’s trying to yank an orgasm out of him through his mouth, and Jesus fuck, he’s kissing Robin and, and, wow, okay, wow that’s enough to make him really painfully hard really ridiculously fast.

Kon makes a low, whining noise in the back of his throat and pushes forward, driving Tim back against the wall. They moan, hips shifting to slot together like they were meant to be that way, tongues stroking hot and fast and impossibly deep.

Holy cow, Kon thinks, fingers digging hard into Tim’s hair, yanking his head back so he can bite and kiss down his jaw, his throat, I’m going to fuck him through this wall; I’m going to, this, God, this is going to be great.

Chapter Text

“Stop it, you’re being creepy.”

Billy just hums in the back of his throat, watching him. Teddy can tell Billy’s watching, even though its dark and his eyes are closed and they should be asleep.

“Watching someone sleep is weird,” he tries again. He shifts toward Billy because, well, it’s Billy, but he keeps his eyes shut. It’s the principle of the thing.

“Yeah,” Billy says, reaching up to brush back Teddy’s hair. He kisses the bridge of his nose, lingering. “But I’m pretty weird.”

And…Teddy can’t argue with that. He can’t argue with the soft kisses brushed across his cheeks, either, or Billy’s fingertips sliding up into his hair, or his thin body slotting against Teddy’s own. He can argue with Billy’s mouth moving the wrong way across his eyebrows, however, before sliding down to his eyelids, tongue teasing across the fan of his lashes.

“Argh, augh, what, no. No,” Teddy laughingly protests, twisting away. He makes like a turtle and tries to duck under the covers, but Billy’s grabbing for him and making teasing smacking noises and laughing like a, well, a crazy person who watches his boyfriend sleep and licks his eyelids. “Gross; you are gross. You are so gross.”

“I love you, let me suck on your eyyyyes,” Billy croons, fwomping half on top of him. “Let me bite your nostrils and pepper you with affection!”

Teddy yanks the covers up and muffles his laughter against one fist, the other rubbing at his eyeball because, yeah, that was weird and his skin is going to be crawling for a long while. “Hate you.”

“Loooove.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, hold up.”

Teddy went very still at the feel of Billy’s hand on his arm. They hadn’t touched— Well, they hadn’t touched since the roof, since Billy had told him to back off for good. Even in training, they managed to keep their distance, Billy pairing with Nate and Teddy with Eli whenever they broke into teams.

It was working for them, after a fashion. At least, catastrophically awkward had dropped to a low simmer and they could mostly bear to share the same space nine times out of ten.

But now…now Billy’s hand was on his arm, and Teddy could no more pull away that he could make the Earth spin backwards. He drew in an unsteady breath and turned to look at Billy, fighting to keep his face a polite mask. There was a blush that kept wanting to creep up his skin, but he shifted to hide it. There was nothing he could do about his pounding heart, though. Come on, Teddy told himself. Stop this. You can’t keep freaking out every time he comes close to you.

Billy tilted his head, watching him; he still hadn’t said anything and he still hadn’t moved his hand. It stayed there, grip surprisingly tight as if he thought Teddy was going to make a run for it.

“Um. Hey,” Teddy said, finally breaking the increasingly awkward silence. “What’s up?”

“I’ve been watching you.”

And that was…all Billy said, like that was some sort of explanation. He finally did let go, but he didn’t step away; they were standing just a pace apart, nearer than they had for, God, months. Teddy’s stomach was twisting so hard he thought he might be sick. “…he said, not at all creepily,” Teddy finally offered, brows arching.

Billy huffed a laugh. “Oh. Well, yeah, that too.”

Which still wasn’t clearing anything up. Teddy dragged his fingers through his hair, trying to hide the way they were trembling. Being this close to Billy made him— Well, it didn’t make him remember, because he wasn’t likely to ever forget, but it made him wish with everything he had, and that hurt, and he’d sworn to himself that he was done hurting himself on other people.

“Okay,” Teddy said, beginning to slowly pull away, “well, I hope that’s going well for you.”

Billy caught his wrist before he could get very far, reeling him back in. He shifted his grip, fingers pressed to Teddy’s racing pulse, thumb brushing along the crook of his palm, and the caress nearly brought Teddy to his knees. “No,” Billy said, “I mean—yes it is, actually, because, I mean. I’m paying attention and I get it now.”

He tried to tug free; Billy held him tight. “What?” Teddy demanded, blush pushing its way past his slipping control. “I don’t—What do you mean? What do you get?”

“You,” Billy said simply. “I finally get you.”

Then he rocked up onto the balls of his feet and pressed a firm kiss to Teddy’s gaping mouth…and the whole world slotted back into place again, like magic, puzzle pieces fitting together as if they had never been ripped apart.

Chapter Text

They very nearly didn’t make it out in time.

It was dangerous to move Aidan. At least, that’s what Mother kept murmuring even as Carver tried to urge them along. Father was stumbling, weak, barely able to keep his feet, and Bethany looked like a wraith. There were silvery teartracks down her pale cheeks and shadows forming like bruises beneath her eyes. She barely looked at him.

None of them were looking at him. None of them had looked at him from the moment he stumbled back into the small shared bedroom, smelling of the stables and sore from hitching the rough-hewn wagon all by himself. Their eyes were fixed on Aidan, unconscious and so still he could have been dead.

But he isn’t, Carver reminded himself fiercely, balling his hands into anxious, angry fists. He isn’t, he isn’t, he isn’t.

“We have to go,” he tried again, catching at Mother’s sleeve. It was sodden with blood; she was flecked with it in garish paint-spatters, red smears staining her cheeks and graying hair. “Mother, they’re going to bring the Templars.”

She just shrugged him off, fingers stroking through Aidan’s tangled curls. She didn’t seem to hear him. “Bloody— Father,” Carver said, turning, but Father was slumped against the straw mattress, breath a papery rasp. Carver had to swallow back his own tears at the sound. He wasn’t a baby—he was ten years old, and he was going to be a great knight someday—but something about the wrecked stoop of his father’s shoulders was enough to make his insides quake.

Father was supposed to be strong. Seeing him brought so low was like a weight in his belly. It was enough to make him falter, hesitating between his parents and dying (not dying) brother in a sudden paralysis. Was he doing the right thing? Was he doing what Father would have wanted?

He thought so. He hoped.

He didn’t see any other way. He’d heard the whispers of their neighbors: they were going to fetch the Templars, and if Carver wanted to keep his family from being ripped apart, he had to get them far, far away before they made it to Denerim and back. That didn’t give them much time.

“I. Bethany.” She didn’t look up. Her huge, dark eyes were fixed on Aidan’s face and her lips were moving, words too soft for him to hear. Carver wanted to reach out and squeeze her hand, but there wasn’t time to be kind, or sad, or scared. Why was he the only one who understood that? “Bethany,” he snapped, grabbing her by the arm and yanking her to her feet. She flinched against him and tried to twist away, but Carver held on tight. “I need your help.”

She didn’t answer, so he tightened his grip and shook her, hard enough to make her head loll, black waves snarling loose about her face. She looked like one of the rag dolls Mother used to make her; the hollow guilt on her pale face was enough to make his own insides ache, but Carver set his teeth against it and grabbed his twin’s wrists. “Bethany. Bethany. I’ll hit you if I have to—don’t think I won’t. And you won’t even be able to cry to Mother about it because you bloody well are asking for it and, and…”

The empty threats trailed off as she lifted her eyes to his. Carver sucked in a breath, immediately gentling his grip. He pulled her in all at once, one arm wrapping tight around her shoulders, the other digging into her hair. When he pressed is face against the crown of her head, there were hot tears on his lashes. He could feel her own tears dampening the front of his sleeping shift.

“Bethy,” Carver murmured, using Aidan’s nickname. The low noise caught in the back of her throat made his heart twist. “It’s. It’s going to be okay. You’ll see.”

“It was me.” He could barely make out her words, they were so small—lost against rough-woven cloth and the bulk of his chest. “It was me and Anders, we did it, we, Carver he’s, and I…”

He squeezed his eyes shut helplessly. This wasn’t the sort of thing he was good at. “Don’t be stupid,” Carver said, patting his sister’s hair gently. “Or at least wait until later to be stupid. Okay?”

She didn’t answer, didn’t make a sound, so he pulled back to get a good look at her face. Carver searched it earnestly, trying to read and understand the hollow guilt tangled up with the anguish in her eyes. How could she think she and her stupid Voice had anything to do with this? It didn’t make sense. “Just. Hold it together for the next hour, until we’re safely on the road. Then you can throw as much hysterics as you want.”

Bethany pulled back, wiping at her face. She didn’t even hit him, which was how Carver knew it was bad. Worse than bad. “What do you need?” she murmured.

He swallowed. Right, focus. Maker how he wished there was something he could hit. “The main room’s mostly packed, but I’m going to need help dragging a mattress into the back of the wagon, for Aidan and Father. Don’t start again!” he added when her face began to crumble. “The road, remember? You can cry on the road. There isn’t time now.”

“Are the Templars really coming?” she murmured, scrubbing at her face. Even though they were twins and a mere hour apart, she suddenly looked so young—just as his parents looked frighteningly old for the very first time.

“Yeah,” Carver said, awkwardly stepping back. He couldn’t bring himself to look toward the little tableau ringed around Aidan’s bed. “We don’t have a lot of time.”

Bethany swallowed and nodded. “Okay,” she said. The dark swell of emotion was still there, but at least she was focused, alert, eyes on his face. Her hands formed loose fists at her sides. “We’ll start with Mother and Father’s bed.”

They worked quickly, efficiently, stripping the mattress and dragging it through the main room to the waiting wagon. Bags of herbs and food and father’s supplies were stacked by the spokes, waiting to be loaded. Carver barely spared them a glance as he climbed up into the flat bed and yanked the mattress over the lip, pulling it to rest snug against the base of the high bench. Aidan would be out of the wind, at least. That had to be something.

“Catch,” Bethany said, tossing up one of the bags.

“We’d better hurry.” He didn’t glance down the dark path that twisted toward the road to Denerim. It was all he could do not to peer at the nearby farmsteads, where a single ill-fated witness could ruin everything. The Hawke family had escaped many times in the dead of night; he could do this.

They packed the stored foods and herbs and hastily gathered clothing. They tucked Father’s staff along the far edge and covered it with a hastily folded blanket. Within fifteen minutes, they had everything ready and waiting for their midnight flight.

Everything but their little broken family, that was.

“Stay here,” Carver murmured, jumping down from the wagon. Bethany watched him over the edge with solemn eyes, her face a death’s mask. “Give a call if you spot anyone and I’ll—”

What?

What would he do?

“Just. Stay here.” Carver hurried into the cottage, leaving the door swinging wide behind him. He glanced around the main room one last time before pushing past the curtain and into the bedroom. Father was still mostly collapsed against the soggy mattress, eyes closed, lips parted on a frighteningly uneven breath. Mother was crying silently as she petted Aidan’s face and hair.

Carver paused, breath held, waiting until he saw the slow rise of his brother’s chest. Then he cleared his throat. “Mother,” he said.

Chapter Text

“Fuck, fuck! There—Maker, Varric, right there.

“…Hawke cried out, head tipping back to reveal the long line of her throat, inarguably perfect breasts bouncing with each thrust.”

She made a noise that was more annoyance than pleasure, reaching up to dig her fingers in the loose strands his hair. Varric grinned at the flash of warning in her eyes, but he was dwarf enough to hide his amusement in a lavish line of kisses pressing down the (perfect) tits in question. They swayed with each steady rock of his hips, coral-colored nipples tight against the flat of his tongue. He made a pleased sound and swirled the very tip along one of those tempting peaks, catching it between his teeth and delicately—so, so very delicately—raking the sensitized skin.

That was enough to have her mewling, hips hitching up, and oh Maker, he loved to make her writhe.

“She was ravenous,” he murmured, breath coming in hot bursts against flushed skin. Hawke shuddered, muscles tightening—ridiculously long human legs hitching higher about his chest as she tried to yank his face to her other breast with a guttural growl—and oh, oh yes, that was good. That was very, very good. “Begging for it as sweet as any Chantry miss might, her thighs spread wide and slick, her body splayed before him like a particularly toothsome banquet, her—”

Hawke tightened her grip on Varric’s hair and yanked again. “You know I hate it when you narrate,” she muttered…but she was still moving against him in a sinuous wave, hips rolling with increasingly frantic ruts against his. The thrust of his hard cock deep inside her was its own sort of narration—each sound slick. Wet. Hot. The rough slap of skin on skin had a rhythm that was better than any verse he could have dreamed up, sinking low low low in his belly, tight as a swinging fist. Fuck. The way she made him feel couldn’t be real. “You— Oh Maker, Varric— You always get the details all wrong.”

He turned his face, leaving a biting kiss against the inside of her wrist, loving the way she keened. They hadn’t been doing this for long (he’d been so stupid, so blind; there were so many years wasted and left to rot in the ruins of the city that once was their home), but he knew her body better than anything. He’d made a study of Hawke. He’d made her his life’s work.

She was his everything now.

“Poetic license,” he murmured, kissing away the indentations of teeth. He dropped a palm flat against the table and braced himself, using upper body strength honed through years of following crazy around Thedas to lever himself up…Hawke still clinging like a barnacle to his front.

A particularly sex-crazed barnacle, with deliciously soft breasts and hips made wider by the years and yes, yes, fine, the tortured metaphor was getting out of hand, but Maker the way she cried out when he hauled her up against him. As if, even now, she couldn’t believe his strength. As if it was nearly enough to make her come, cunt tightening around his cock, flush sweeping up her cheeks.

Varric…”

“Her voice was breathy, trembling with longing; each labored breath was a testament to the dwarf’s unrivaled skill. Oh, your fingers; they can unlock any chest, no matter how stubborn, she gasped, knees bracing against his hairy thighs as he—” Varric’s monologue was cut short, drawing off into a muffled rasp when she once again yanked his face against her (heaving) bosom.

Hawke smirked. He may not have been able to see anything but the delicious mountain of human breast, but he had a six sense about these things. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Hawke said, faux-innocent act ruined by a tremor; she was so slick she was dripping, making it easy as anything to glide deep, deeper, deeper inside him with subtle little rocks of his hips. “I-it looks like your mouth is full. What a shame. Um. Void. Now, about those clever fingers.”

She laughed and swayed as Varric rose up onto his knees—but the laughter trailed off into a sharp gasp when he tightened his grip around her waist and drove up into her body in a brutally hard slam. Shit, the clench of her cunt, the slick grind of flesh, the sudden rush of power he felt as he hoisted her closer and slammed into her again, again, using only his own strength to fuck her… There was nothing like it. He dropped his other hand between them, calloused fingertips playing across her clit, and her cry was surely enough to bring half the Inquisition down on their heads, but he didn’t care—he didn’t care. He was alive and Hawke was alive and against all the odds, they were alive together, and somewhere along the line, the Maker had seen fit to spit out a Herald and give Varric this. He wasn’t going to scoff in the face of an obvious miracle.

He also wasn’t going to be silenced so easily.

Hawke was close, close enough that he could feel her tightening around him. Gooseflesh broke out across her skin and her eyes were locked on his as she moved hard and fast within the circle of his arm—stomach brushing against the rasp of his chest hair, eyes nothing but black, lips parted, wild. So beautiful it hurt to see.

“Varric,” she breathed. Then, louder, “Varric, Varric, I’m— Oh. Oh. Yes, I’m…” Her eyes squeezed tight.

“Lost in her Deep Roads, the dwarf kept mining,” Varric said, twisting his fingers in a particularly tricky way, grinning at her shout of mingled pleasure-and-outrage. “The shafts were old and a little creaky, but hey, he figured, miracles had happened before…”

She came with an undignified yowl, glaring at him even as she shuddered apart in his arms—glorious and wild and somehow, finally, impossibly, his.

Deep Roads and all.

Chapter Text

“This is without a doubt the stupidest plan you’ve ever had.” Hawke leaned in, eyes shining. Slowly, she began to grin. “Of course I’m in.”

Varric looked up from the papers spread across his desk in a messy snowfall, echoing grin twisting his own mouth wide. “Oh, I had no doubt.”

She pretended to take offense. “Not even a single doubt?”

“Nope.”

“Not even a moment where you thought, ‘Now, that Marian Hawke is a sensible type; she’s unlikely to be fooled by my mad dwarven shenanigans.’”

Varric’s brows arched, and he tapped his chin, pretending to think. Then he spread his hands wide. “Nope.”

She sighed and collapsed back in the chair, hands laced over her stomach. When she stretched out her stupidly long legs, one kicked the edge of his chair, sending it scooting back an inch. Her crooked smile wasn’t near enough to convince him it hadn’t been on purpose. “I’m hurt, Varric. Really. Your faith in me ishurtful.”

“Now Hawke,” Varric teased, leaning forward onto his elbows. He could feel the quick, quixotic energy crackling between them, bright and lively; Maker, he loved the times when they were alone and could be like this. Just…tease, and relax, and not worry what the whole wide world might think. “You know I always have faith in you to make the absolute worst call.”

She pretended to consider, head tilted, jagged black hair falling across her eyes. Then she wrinkled her nose and kicked at his chair again; he had to grab the edge of the table to keep from being pushed back.

“Aw,” Hawke said, fluttering her lashes over lyrium-bright eyes. “But you do say the prettiest things.”

 

Chapter Text

Courfeyrac looked up, eyes huge. “What did you say to me?” He had to have misheard. He was running on little more than desperate hope and Enjolras’s revolutionary fire. He was exhausted and heartsick and scared, and now clearly he had begun to hallucinate.

He should hie himself to Joly to be examined. He should find a corner near sloppily, desperately drunk Grantaire and sleep. He should…

Combeferre took a step closer, feeble candlelight catching his glasses and reflecting back. His familiar, kind face was set in a hard line; his lips were pressed thin. He seemed, almost, angry, and just as desperately scared as Courfeyrac felt. “I said,” he repeated, voice quavering—and that, that was enough to have Courfeyrac moving toward him, reaching out impulsively to catch his arms and pull him close, comforting, being comforted,cleaving all at once because there was nothing else to do in the face of that impossible tremor. “I said… If you die, I am going to kill you. Courfeyrac.”

Courfeyrac made a torn noise, ripped out of him when Combeferre lifted his (shaking) hands to cup his face. They’d never been so close; each breath was a shared revelation, hot against his parted lips. “Henri,” he whispered.

“If you die,” Combeferre said again, clutching at him, fingers in his hair; lips suddenly against his own, and their first kiss was nothing like he’d ever experienced before. It was a wild thing, desperate, years of longing and fear and despair and hope twining together in the clash of tongues, the biting rake of teeth, the breathless want set to consume him whole.

Outside this little room, Enjolras was still walking the barricade. Friends were waiting to die. The world was holding its breath.

And Comberre was gripping him tight—as if that could somehow keep them both safe—and murmuring between each bruising kiss, “Please, do not, do not die, I cannot bear it, Etienne, do not,” while Courfeyrac could only lie with all his heart:

“I won’t, I won’t, I won’t.”

 

Chapter Text

“Teach me how to play?”

Billy can’t tell if he’s joking. He can’t tell if any of them are joking or not…though he’s starting to think Eli, at least, never jokes.

“Um,” he says, looking up from his bookbag. The hot one (Teddy, his mind helpfully supplies, but he’s always just the hot one when he lets himself daydream about this new and crazy thing they’ve got going) is standing over him. “What?”

He tilts his head. The long sweep of his bangs fall into his face, and he is way too cute to be nice. The other shoe has to be dropping at any moment now. “That thing you’ve been playing between practice rounds. Will you teach me how to play?”

“It’s—” How does he describe this without sounding as twitchy as it feels? “It’s not a game you’ll like.” Translation: it’s a game for people like me, not people like you. Not obviously cool and hot and with-it guys who probably have tons of friends and girlfriends, like, falling over themselves to be near them.

The hot one…Teddy…crouches in front of him. He’s smiling, and his eyes are kind. Surprisingly, almost shockingly kind, for how incredible he looks. In Billy’s experience, the one seriously never, ever goes with the other. “Try me?” he says, and a dimple flashes.

A. Fucking. Dimple.

Do not form a hopeless crush on the hot one, Billy warns himself, even as he swallows and, tentatively, smiles back. Do not do not do not. “Uh, okay,” he says, hoping his cheeks aren’t as red as they feel. “Sure. I can do that.”

 

Chapter Text

“Wanna dance?”

“No,” Kate said without even looking up. She was slumped back in the dark booth, focused intently on her phone. The way it made her face glow bright even in the flashing strobes and staggered darkness of the (totally lame, but, whatever) NYC hipster chic club was…

Well, it was something. Something bright and familiar and beautiful. And he didn’t notice at all, of course. Of course.

“Jerk,” Tommy said with a laugh, leaning against the edge of the booth. His leather jacket creaked with the motion, but he was already regretting it. It was hot, but it was also hot, and he could already feel sweet wending its way down his spine. “That’s a fine way to great an old friend.”

Kate looked up, startled, clearly only then recognizing his voice. Then her eyes narrowed. “Tommy,” she began.

He cut her off before she could finish, snagging her phone and quickly firing off a text (u r a losr go away) and shoving it into his back pocket. He grabbed her hand when she flailed at him, tugging her up and into his arms. She went willingly, though she protested the whole way—which was how he knew she really did want to dance with him. If she didn’t, he’d have a size 8 purple stiletto shoved up his ass. “Tommy, it’s been so long,” he teased in a high falsetto, dragging her against him. His hips pressed forward and she slid into the pressure, moving into the beat as easily as breathing. God, it was so fucking good with her. “Tommy, it’s so great you’re here. Tommy, I’ve been just gagging to see you again.”

“I’m gagging all right,” Kate muttered—but she slid her fingers into his hair, raking her nails hard along his scalp, and the smile she shot him was pure sex.

Tommy opened his mouth.

Kate narrowed her eyes. “If you make a dick joke, I will bite it off.”

Tommy closed his mouth.

They moved across the floor, no light between them, nothing but sweaty limbs and the promise of more. Kate laughed. “Smart.”

“Sometimes,” Tommy agreed, hands sliding down the curve of her hips, relearning the shape of her, the way she moved like nothing else in his life—toward him, always, even when it looked like she was dodging away. Fuck. He’d missed her so much. “Maybe.”

“Maybe,” Kate agreed, lips quirking fondly, and in the flashing lights of the douchey Manhattan club, it almost looked like a promise.

Chapter Text

“Wanna bet?”

Varric immediately straightened. “Excuse me, Inquisitor,” he said—remarkably smoothly, all things considered. He knew that voice. “I’m going to need to handle this.”

“Oh?” she said, surprised. She tipped forward, leaning against her forearms to watch as Varric scooted back his stool and hurried away just as fast as he could go without actually running. He made it a personal point of pride to never run anywhere unless darkspawn were literally chewing on his ass, and even then, he liked to consider it more of a strategic retreat.

But then he heard Hawke again, booming loud through the entire hall (because Maker bless her crazy ass, she’d never learned the distinction between inside and outside voices; or, hell, even Marian we are not all deaf voices):

“Because five gold says I make it through two full rotations before landing on my feet, and I don’t break anything.”

“Aw, sugartits,” Sera laughed, and, oh yes, Varric officially began to run. “You’re goin’ to break more’n your pretty head and swishy arse. Sure’ll be nice seeing you swan down. Ha! Hawke down! Being a bird n’all!”

Varric crested the steps and slammed through the door just in time to see Hawke climbing shakily up onto the railing that ringed Vivienne’s balcony, one arm thrown out for balance, the other flung up as she drained the last of her tankard. She’d stripped down to her tunic and leggings at some point, and her hair was wild and loose about her.

She was grinning. Sera was grinning.

Well, shit.

“Aw, honeycunt,” Hawke crooned back, and Sera fluttered her lashes approvingly, “you’re going to be eating those words when I land at the bottom and—Varric!”

He caught her about the middle just in time, swinging her about—all flailing long human legs and gorgeously curvy arse and yes, fine, sugartits. She twined an arm around his neck and left a smacking kiss on his cheek, breath stinking of ale. “Vaarrrrrric, hi! Did you come to see me fly?”

“Something like that,” he muttered, lips quirking despite himself. Hauling five and a half feet of Hawke over his shoulder wasn’t easy, but he had years of experience by now. The hand smacking firmly against her rump was just a delightful bonus to his usual dashingly heroic rescue. “Come one, we’re going to bed. Sorry about that, kid,” he added to Sera.

She shrugged philosophically. “There’s always tomorrow, aye?”

“Aye!” Hawke laughed—and shoved her cold hands up the back of his coat as he began to haul her away. “Hey, Varric, does this mean you’re going to ravish me?”

He huffed a laugh, ignoring Sera’s gleeful snickers as he made his way carefully down the steps. The Inquisitor was still waiting at his usual table, below, watching him pass with his thoroughly soused lady love, eyes bright with amusement. “Let’s get your to bed first, sweetheart,” he said, fondness threading through every word. “Then we’ll see where we stand.”

“Or lay,” Hawke mused, already beginning to sound sleepy and docile. She’d once admitted—drunk, again, but after these long, hard years, that was sometimes the only way she felt safe being vulnerable or free—that no matter what was happening or where she was, she could always feel her heartbeat begin to slow and her breathing ease whenever he was near. “You know, as it were.”

“As it were,” Varric agreed, heading toward the tavern and their shared room. The cool night air felt good against his flushed cheeks; carrying a human was no joke. “You’re absolutely right, Hawke.”

She was quiet for a moment, then murmured, almost quiet enough to be missed: “Say it again, Varric?”

And he knew, as always, immediately what she meant. “Sweetheart,” Varric whispered again, heart swooping at the way she sighed in pleasure and relaxed against him, trusting and loving and…and safe.

 

Chapter Text

“Ugh, kill me,” Billy said, dropping forward until his forehead rested against his knees. “Or let Nate finish the job; whatever.”

Teddy huffed a low laugh and settled next to him in the grass. “You okay?”

No.” But he was grinning when he said it, lashes flickering as he darted a quick look. Nate and Eli were half a field away, still, yelling about…whatever. It all blended together after a while. “I’m so sore my muscles are going to go into revolt any day now. No, seriously,” he added at Teddy’s grin. “They’re going to just march away in protest and I’ll have to change my codename to, like, Skeletor or something.”

“TM Mattel?”

“TM your face.”

They laughed together, because they were good at that, and the moment almost slipped by. But then Teddy shifted awkwardly…then shifted again, catching Billy’s eye. When their gazes met, he actuallyflushed before the color suddenly melted away.

“Yeah?” Billy asked. He knew he should probably let it go, but there was a part of him that always dug in its heels when Teddy tried to cover up something about himself—some normal reaction, some little nugget of geekery, some gem about the way his incredible brain worked—as if he had to change himself somehow to fit in. Which, fuck that, Teddy was amazing; so Billy pushed. “What are you thinking?”

Blunt as a wooden plank, that was Billy Kaplan.

Teddy’s blush returned in full force as he relaxed control of his powers, swirling across his cheeks and down his neck like a drop of red ink on paper. He cleared his throat and scratched the back of his head. Billy fought hard not to look—he really did!—but something about the way Teddy’s biceps flexed when he moved, skin sun-warmed and just beginning to freckle… Gah, it just did things to him. Stupid, stupid, impossible things that were going to be really hard to explain when they actually started wearing tights.

“Do you…” Teddy began, then stopped.

Billy lifted his head. “Yeah?” he prompted.

“Well…I mean,” Teddy tried.

His ears were cherry red; he couldn’t meet Billy’s eyes. Whatever it was, Billy wanted to hear him say it desperately. Also? God, he was adorable. It was so unfair. “You mean?” he promoted, nudging Teddy’s knees with his sneaker. Come on, he added silently. You can trust me; whatever it is, I won’t freak out on you like he would.

Teddy cleared his throat, took a breath, then said all in a rush: “I could give you a massage?”

And like fireworks on a clear summer day, Billy’s brain exploded into a dazzle of colors and light and inescapable, indescribable teenage hormones. Wow, he thought, gaping helplessly—just as red as Teddy now, all in one go. Um, um, wow. Teddy’s hands on him, rubbing over skin, digging deep into muscles as he arched and sighed and and and, “Oh God,” he said, and hid his face again, painfully aware of how suddenly, blindingly hard he was.

“Or I could not!” Teddy added quickly, but the breathy way he said it, the strain in his voice, was not helping.

Explosions in his brain, pleasure and mortification blooming, and all he could think on a loop, like a skipping record: Oh God oh God oh God oh God yes please.

Chapter Text

“Hey,” Taran said, poking his head into Dorian’s tent, “have you seen the…oh.”

Oh.

Dorian looked up, brows scrunched into a frown—though whether that was due to the interruption or the ridiculously tiny excuse for a bathtub he was currently scrunched into, Taran couldn’t say. He was turned sideways to Taran, exposing a gorgeous expanse of bare flank…shoulders…arms…knees pressed against his chest and rivulets of water drip-drip-dripping from the ends of inky black hair.

Maker. Taran could feel his mouth dry up, his heart pound, his brain derail. Dorian was naked and wetand looking at him with arched brows and bemused dark eyes that made it clear he knew absolutely every filthy thing that had just gone winging through his head.

“No, I’m afraid I haven’t seen the oh,” Dorian said, leaning indolently back in the tub—well, as far it would allow, anyway. One arm slung over the rim, revealing an unfairly gorgeous chest. “But I’m sure I’ll keep an eye out for you, Inquisitor.”

“Uh…” He was rooted to the spot, and he had to swallow before he could get any words out. “Uh, right. Okay. Good. I’ll just…keep looking. For it. Right.” Taran slowly began to shuffle back, tent flap fluttering closed again.

Through the heavy canvas, he heard a low chuckle and—oh Andraste take his hide—a teasing little splash. “You do that, Inquisitor!” Dorian called.

He squeezed his eyes shut and dropped his head, dragging in a long, serrated breath. His skin felt too tight—his trousers were certainly more than a little snug—and his head was whirling. That image of Dorian in candlelight, golden-warm and glistening as drops of water wended their way down his chest… That was going to follow him deep into the Fade tonight. Turning back to the ring of tents, Taran took a numb step forward, then another, flushed hot and thrumming and aware.

Then slowly, shyly, he began to smile.

Chapter Text

“Forgive me, Brother, for I have sinned. It has been pretty much all my life since my last confession…”

Sebastian looked up from the teetering pile of edicts, startled-still, eyes flared wide. Hawke had to swallow back a laugh at the pure horror (and unmistakable glint of interest, because she was nothing if not a corrupting influence) she saw on his face.

Instead, she fluttered her lashes and very deliberately tugged at the tight lacings of her bodice, letting the tight boning crack open. Letting the swell of her breasts press forward. “Am I doing this right?” she murmured, going for sultry even as amusement shivered beneath her words. “This was what your life would have been if you’d stayed with the Chantry, right?”

Her husband set aside the quill and carefully (meticulously; Prince Vael was nothing if not conscientious about his work) slipped the scrolls back into the wooden secretary. He cleared his throat. “You would know more about how the church worked, Marian, if you spent more than ten minutes at a time within its walls.”

“Oh, but Brother Sebastian,” she gasped, rapidly unraveling her tight stays. Her breasts tumbled free of the constriction of her fine silk dress, rose-tipped, nipples already hardening at the cool sea breeze and the flush of heat on Sebastian’s face. “I’d much rather you teach me all about my sins.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “The Maker is going to strike us down some day,” he said, even as he rose and moved toward her—resisting with words but never, never deed. He wanted her too much; the rough hands sliding down her waist and gripping the fall of her blue silk skirts said as much. The heat of his breath as he bent her back to take the peak of her breast into his mouth and suck—scoring teeth along the tightened nub, sending a flood of heat crashing through her, making her jerk and cry out within the safe circle of his arms—said as much.

He wanted her. He always, always wanted her. Maker.

“Sebastian,” Hawke murmured, tangling her fingers into his bronze-colored hair and pulling. Restless, arching, already so incredibly wet. He swirled his tongue along the tightly puckered skin and she shuddered hard. “Sebastian.”

He pulled back just enough for her to feel the hot gust of his breath against her spit-slick breast. Maker, how she arched for him. “Hush, Marian,” her husband murmured in that gravel-rough brogue. It sent a shiver through her core. “Can’t you see I am praying?”

Chapter Text

Cora stared into the mirror, tracing the scars with her eyes.

She did this now. Sometimes it felt like she didn’t know how to stop. Even when she was nowhere near a reflective surface, she could feel the pull those silver-pale marks made against her skin. She saw the way even her most grizzled soldiers flicked their eyes up, then away, and imagined she heard them whispering:

Too bad. Rumor is, she used to be beautiful.

Whether or not they really said it didn’t matter. She was certain she could see it in the way they looked at her—and that was enough to make her skin crawl.

There was a soft footfall behind her, but Cora didn’t turn around. She didn’t need to. “Thank you for doing this,” she said.

Vivienne sighed, moving into Cora’s room. “Of course, my dear,” she said in her lowest of voices—the one she saved just for Cora. “But you have to know you have no need of it.”

“Don’t I? Don’t answer that.” Cora turned, trying to smile. The six snaking scars pulled tight across her cheeks, her jaw, her forehead. Her eye.

Vivienne answered anyway. “Yes,” she said, throwing the little silver box on the bed with a surprising lack of care and moving to crowd Cora back against the mirror. Her fingers were cool when they cupped her jaw, her expression loving but merciless. “And you, my darling, are a fool to doubt it.”

“Then I am a fool,” Cora murmured. She reached up to curl her fingers around Vivienne’s wrist, thumb brushing back and forth across her pulse. “No, I know you’re right. I know it’s all in my head, but—I’m a Trevelyan.” She offered a weak smile. “Appearances must be maintained.”

Vivienne gave her a truly speaking look.

She blew out a breath. “Fine,” she said. “I am perfect to behold, scars or no scars. But you wear makeup to cover imaginary flaws—why shouldn’t I?”

“My dear, you can wear whatever pleases you,” her lover said. She tipped her head, dark brows arched over impossibly warm brown eyes. “It’s when you convince yourself that you need it, not want it, that I begin to worry.”

Cora tipped forward, long braid swinging between them as she rested their foreheads together. “You know you’d worry anyway,” she murmured, pressing her thumb against the other woman’s steady pulse. “You big softy. I could almost believe that you love me.”

“You realize, I once killed a man for insulting your honor,” Vivienne pointed out with a coy grin.

Cora arched her brows, pulling back. “Only one?”

“Would you believe I loved you if I admitted to more?”

“Well,” she drawled, pretending to consider. When Vivienne just swatted at her, she laughed and tangled their fingers, tugging the other woman toward the bed. “Please tell me you hid the bodies, at least. Poor Commander Cullen is already nearly snatching himself bald.”

Vivienne settled on the bed, reaching for the silver box. The makeup inside was expensive, imported from Antiva and reportedly used by the Crows in their disguises. It would hide anything Cora wanted hidden, and she—

She wanted it, not needed it. She did. She did. Void take it all.

“—without his mane,” Vivienne was saying, flipping open the lid with deliberate care. She looked up, one brow arching, and Cora flushed and quickly averted her avid gaze from the box. Busted. “Cora,” she chided, reaching up to trace her thumb over one jagged scar. “I would kill a thousand insolent men who dared look at you and not see you for what you are.”

“And what’s that?” Cora murmured, hating that she needed the reassurance. She’d been the Trevelyan Rose for so long that she still wasn’t sure how to look at herself in the mirror now and not see the thorns—but Maker, how she wished she could.

“Why, my dear, you are mine,” Vivienne said, stroking her thumb across Cora’s lower lip. “And everyone knows I have absolutely marvelous taste.” Smiling at Cora’s startled laugh, Vivienne leaned in to brush their lips together, slow and soft and warm.

Breathless.

Cora pressed in immediately, eyes slipping closed. Hungry for that warmth, that reassurance. Vivienne always made her feel so very beautiful—gasping and spread beneath her, thighs spreading in invitation and breasts tipped with rosebuds, she would arch and laugh and writhe to the twist of those perfectly manicured fingers.

She would come undone and be reborn again.

Maker, but she needed that now. The mattress dipped beneath her weight as she shifted to slide her hands around Vivienne’s waist, fingers stroking over worsted silk and velvet. She could feel the bones of her lover’s corset shaping the willowy waist, and Vivienne smiled against her mouth at the questioning scrape of her nails.

“The makeup will take well over a quarter-hour to set, my dear,” she murmured, tongue dipping past Cora’s lips, then away—teasing, elusive. “If you want to use it now, I’m afraid this will have to wait.”

The mask or Vivienne? Truly, there was no question. Maybe she wasn’t fully steady in herself again yet, but at least when she was in bed with the woman she loved—with the woman who loved her—she still felt like so much more than a collection of scars. With time and care, perhaps she would find her way back to that beyond these walls again.

Taking a deep breath, Cora reached blindly for the silver box and pushed it toward her bedside table. She pulled back just enough to meet Vivienne’s eyes, one hand dropping to deliberately begin unfastening the golden buttons that kept her own dress clasped. One by one by one, the heavy material falling away to reveal the soft spill of her breasts; the simple half-cup corset lifting them like a gift, nipples tight and pink. “I know,” she said, making a choice. It was simple, really; she would always choose this woman. “It can wait; it’s just us here.”

“Yes, my dear,” Vivienne murmured, digging elegant fingers into Cora’s dark braid and tugging her down amongst the satin pillows. “That is very true.”

Chapter Text

I am an anomaly. I am an aberration.

As hard as I’ve fought to make this strange life at the end of the world my own, I can never seem to shake the awareness that I don’t belong here. The old world ghouls, Nick with his memories, even Shaun—they’re a part of the Commonwealth the way I know I’ll never be. They fit, pieces of the cog in a greater machine. Railroad, Institute, Brotherhood—it doesn’t matter. There’ll all part of something bigger.

And me? The reason chaos follows wherever I go is because I am the virus attacking their body. I am the alien invading their lives. I. Don’t. Belong.

And yet as Deacon brushes his thumbs along my cheeks and tilts my jaw for a better angle—lips soft against mine, breath catching deep in his throat—for the first time since waking up from a long sleep and stumbling out into a Commonwealth I can never really be a part of, I feel…

Safe.

Warm.

Happy.

It’s that feeling of finally, finally coming home after too long away, and oh God, I’d better never tell Deacon that one kiss from him was enough to send me spiraling out into crazy existential fantasies—he’s barely tolerable without the ego boost.

(That’s a lie; he’s wonderful.)

One hand slides up into my hair, callouses dragging over skin and his lips part on a breath. I can feel it, hot against my mouth, and all at once my crazily tumbling thoughts snap into focus—narrow down on the simple pleasures of his lips, his hands, his heart racing where I’m pressed against his chest, as the physical reality of his body beneath mine overwhelms me with a flood of startled joy.

Deacon is kissing me. We are kissing. Here, in the center of the Institute, curled in a tangle of limbs and dramatic non-confessions of love, while all those scientists and all those synths move about their lives in the main atrium below. Blissfully unaware they’ve let snakes into their perfect garden.

Holy crap. Des would flip a nut.

I turn my face away on a sudden, irrepressible snicker, breaking the kiss to press my face against his shoulder. The wonderful ridiculousness of it all is hitting me hard. It took us so long to get to this point, and we choose here—here!—to finally admit what we’ve both known all this time. He cups the back of my head and slides his other hand down my spine, chuckling with me even though he doesn’t know the joke. Or maybe he does—Deacon has a way of reading the darting minnows of my thoughts better than anyone.

“Sorry,” I gasp against the collar of his jumpsuit.

“No, no, go ahead—laugh it up. The old ego needed a reboot anyway.” He noses against my temple, breath tickling my cheek, and the intimacy of that sends an electric shiver down my spine even as I collapse into another helpless giggle. I’ve wanted this for so long. I’ve fantasized about the first time we’d kiss (inevitable as a Hepburn-Tracy flick, the two of us riding off into the sunset together because no one else would have us) for a long, long time now. Never had I imagined this. Never had I pictured the two of us cleaving together on the other side of near-death, the Institute we’re working to destroy buzzing just beyond those windows, my old man of a son hiding from the mortified shock of Mommy making time with that weird man in a wig and sunglasses.

Yeah, I never pictured it all going down this way, but I should have. It’s so quintessentially us.

“You know, I get it. This place makes me want to do something crazy too,” Deacon says. His hands keep moving over me restlessly, as if he has to constantly reassure himself I’m all in one piece. That he hasn’t lost me. “Something real top level bananas. Like go streaking through the halls or smudging soot on all the microscope lenses or inciting a bloody revolution or—hey—didn’t you say there were gorillas? There is so much fun we could have with gorillas.”

Scary thing is, he’s right. How did Shaun ever think it was a good idea to bring us both here? We could tear this place down before anyone ever thought to notice…but no, we’re ahead of the timeline. There’s a plan in place, and things have progressed too far to sew chaos into these fertile fields now.

Damn it all.

“How about a compromise?” I say with a crooked smile, shifting in his lap so I can look him in the eye again. Deacon has such beautiful, soulful eyes. No wonder he keeps them covered up all the time—I can see so much of him in the awed way he looks at me. It makes my heart lurch and my stomach do useless flip-flops and… God, this man is dangerous. Wonderful. Perfectly imperfect.

“Yeeeees?” Deacon teases, arching a brow. He’s going for playfully irreverent, but those eyes keep giving him away. Not even Nate ever looked at me like this, and I feel… He makes me feel so…

So…

I swallow, deeper emotion brimming up to temper the playful giddiness. When I cup his jaw, sliding my fingertips along the rasp of stubble, his eyes close, beautifully long lashes resting against his cheek. He swallows hard enough I can hear it. I want to press my lips against the line of his pulse—feel it thundering as I kiss my way down, down, down his neck to the bit of skin bared by the open collar of his jumpsuit. I want to follow that trail with my tongue, my teeth. I want to hear his laughs turn into moans.

I want so, so much, and for the first time in all the months we’ve spent tumbling across the broken face of the Commonwealth together, I think I might possibly be allowed to have it.

“Charmer?” he murmurs at my continued silence, lashes flickering as he opens his eyes again. There’s a worried line between his brows when he studies my face. His big hands bracket my hips. I’m straddling him, though I don’t remember shifting into place—his trim hips fit so neatly between my spread thighs. “Grace,” he adds, using the name I’d all but given up on. And then, best of all: “Partner, what’s going on up there?” Deacon reaches up to lightly tap his finger against my forehead, trying to make it a joke.

I catch his wrist and turn my face, biting the meat of his thumb. The noise he makes in response—startled, unnerved, turned on—makes my stomach twist in anticipation.

God, this man, this man.

“Compromise,” I say again. My voice sounds low and wrecked, giving me away; he shudders at the sound of it, and I can actually see the moment he catches on. Pupils slowly blowing wide, eyes going heavy-lidded, lips parting. He swipes his tongue out quickly, dampening his lower lip, and the way his breath catches, then speeds up when I watch sends steady heat blooming through my body. Christ. “No bloody revolution,” yet, though neither of us has to say that out loud, “no stirring up the hornet’s nest.” Again, yet. “But if you’re…up for it…”

He groans at the double entendre—or maybe he’s groaning at the subtle roll of my hips, grinding our bodies together in a delicious burn—and drops his head forward. I just grin. “…if you’re up for it,” I say, “I know the perfect way we can scandalize the pants off the Directorate.”

“Hopefully not literally,” Deacon quips, hands sliding down down down to cup the curve of my ass. He squeezes just a little, as if asking permission; in response, I dig my nails into his shoulders and rock forward again. Fuck, I can feel him straining hard against the white Institute jumpsuit; the grind of his cock against the slick ache of my cunt is almost unbearable. I squeeze my eyes shut against a rush of blinding heat. “Ah, make that hopefully not literally for them. For the record,” he says, looking up. Those beautiful liar’s eyes are nearly black, and when his hips push up, his cock drags once more against the seam of my pants. Fuck, fuck, fuck. “I am…jeez…very much in favor of other pants coming off. You know, just in case there was a vote or something.”

I’m six seconds away from ripping the clothes right off him, but I make myself press my lips against his instead. His hands are actually trembling when he lifts them to cup my face, kiss going long and sweet and burning bright with promise.

I love you, I love you, I love you, neither of us say.

“Votes confirmed and tallied,” I say against his mouth. “The results are in, pending formal announcement. Motion for a change in venue on the table.”

“Oh my God, how did you know I had such a kink for Robert’s Rules of Order?” Deacon teases. His voice is pure gravel. His breath is coming fast enough he sounds winded. Each drag of my breasts against his chest—nipples tight enough to hurt—has him swallowing back a broken-sounding whine.

I can’t help but drag my lips, my teeth, along his jaw, shivering at the rasp of stubble. My God, what will that feel like against my inner thighs? I shift at the thought, aching, wet, and we both groan at the way our bodies fit together in promise. “Deacon,” I say, “I mean an actual literal table. Let’s move this to the Directorate’s conference table.”

That is enough to have him jerking back, brows up, eyes wide, face a clear mix of no shit? and oh my God, yes. “The…oh,” he says on a barking laugh, grabbing my thighs and gripping tight. Our bodies buck together when he staggers up to his feet, but I’m braced solidly against him, ankles locking at the small of his back and arms threaded around his neck; I’m not going anywhere. “Oh, that is pure genius. Yes, yes, and an added yes; point the way. They are going to be so pissed, I couldn’t think of a better place to finally—”

The rest breaks off, swallowed by my mouth as he kisses me hard, almost convulsively. The devil in him loves the idea of defiling the Directorate just as much as I do. So they think they can create and propagate slaves in the name of progress? So they think they can spy on the Commonwealth?

Well. Let them spy on this. It’s the biggest fuck you we can manage until the plan with Patriot is set tin motion. I couldn’t think of a better way for Charmer and Deacon to finally come together. (And hopefully come together, har har.)

“Grab a pillow,” I murmur into Deacon’s mouth, body alight with sparking, wicked joy. We are doing this. We are finally, finally actually doing this. “These tiles are hell on the knees.”

His laugh carries me just as easily as the strong arms wrapped so tight around my body. I press a grinning kiss against his neck in response, giddy with it. Because, you know, I may be an alien in this strange, broken world…but I’m definitely not alone.

I’ve got a partner, after all.

Chapter Text

“Merlin, no!”

Merlin freezes—literally freezes—mid-air, one foot suspended over a thousand feet of nothing, the other already halfway to following. His arms are flung out wide, head pitched forward as if he’d been intending to duck and roll down into the endless dark. Small rocks and bits of gravel make too much noise as they clatter over the sheer cliff face. His breath is coming in panicked bursts.

Oh, he thinks. Oh, wow.

Arthur’s arm snakes around his waist and yanks him back from the edge before he has time to right himself. They go tumbling together, sprawling back across the rocky ground in a tangle of limbs and unprincely curses. Merlin’s bony elbow digs into Arthur’s stomach and Arthur’s breath fans hot across his neck. They’re shaking, trembling with a spike of adrenaline that leaves Merlin hollowed-out and bewildered.

It had happened so fast. Too fast. He’d barely had time to process the fact that hey, wow, I’m probably going to die now when he’d been caught by a desperate snare of magic, the invisible threads winding about him like a dozen strong arms.

“There’s a reasonable explanation here,” Merlin offers weakly, turning in Arthur’s arms. It isn’t as if Arthur hasn’t turned a blind eye to obvious magic before. Maybe he’ll be willing to look the other way, or claim a ridiculous amount of credit for saving Merlin’s hide. Merlin can picture it so easily—Arthur cuffing his ear in something between exasperation and worry. Insisting Merlin take extra care shining his armor or mending his tunics or any number of menial tasks Arthur seems to take such delight in assigning him, all as repayment for saving him yet again. He’d have to grumble and pretend to look annoyed as Arthur spread tales about his idiot manservant who couldn’t keep his feet under him, and after a week things would go from tense to familiar and safe again.

He’s almost certain that’s what will happen—so when he meets Arthur’s eyes and sees the brilliant gold of magic fading away, it’s like he’s tumbling into the dark all over again.

“Oh,” Merlin says, stunned. Arthur struggles to sit up, gaze dropping fast, but all the pieces are clicking into place so quickly that no amount of bluster can hide it. “Oh. Oh, you—You prat!”

He tangles his fingers in the collar of Arthur’s tunic, dragging him back down when Arthur tries to pull away. It wasn’t his magic that saved him after all—it was Arthur’s magic, and the fact that he’d been living in terror for over a year while Arthur had been harboring the very same secret under his nose is infuriating.

Arthur grabs at Merlin’s wrists, trying to twist away from his body, but Merlin’s got a strong grip on him and he’s not planning on letting go. He allows a tendril of magic to snake out, using it to strengthen his arm as he drags the crown prince down to the hard ground and flings a thigh over his hips, pinning him. Arthur has to see the flare of gold—he can’t possibly miss it—but he seems more focused on wrenching Merlin away than answering in kind.

“You. Bloody. Git,” Merlin spits, grabbing a handful of shining blond hair. “You could have said something!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Arthur struggles, hips bucking as he tries to break free, but Merlin’s casting invisible bands about his body, tethering him to the ground. He wants to pop him one on his stupidly pretty mouth. He wants to kiss him to spite him, as if daring Arthur to deny he shares this secret too.

He wants to twine around him like a limpet and never let go, because Arthur is his sodding destiny and two sides of the same coin and fine, all right, maybe the dragon was on to something there.

Instead he straddles Arthur’s hips with a determined glower, thighs squeezing tight. “You could have told me,” Merlin says. “It’s not as if I’d turn you in.”

“You could have told me,” Arthur shoots back at him. There’s a faint flare of gold about his pupils, as if the urge to use magic is getting to be too much. “Or don’t you trust me?”

Merlin crosses his arms with what he hopes is a dangerous scowl, brows drawn tight together. “Oh, excuse me, how many witches and warlocks have been put to death by your father in the last few years? I seem to have lost count.”

Arthur goes still beneath him, tongue darting out to wet his lips, and his expression is so blindingly earnest, so torn, that Merlin wants to cup Arthur’s face between his palms and erase the hasty words. He forgets, sometimes, how seriously Arthur takes his duty. He’s such an ass in day-to-day life that it’s easy to overlook that Arthur is going to be a great man someday. That’s he’s already on his way there.

“Too many,” Arthur murmurs. Then, uncharacteristically, “I’m sorry,” his eyes flashing a burnished gold. Merlin gasps as Arthur’ magic twines about his, trying to loosen the invisible bonds holding him down. It’s incredible—a touch so intimate his entire body is trembling with it. He’s fought other mages before, clashed and came out victorious somehow, but it was never like this.

Merlin closes his eyes, head dropping down. His hips push forward in a thoughtless, needy thrust. He’s hard, he realizes with a shaky sigh. He’s hard and pressing between Arthur’s thighs, nestled against… Against…

“You’re still a bloody prat,” he gasps, eyes shooting open. Arthur laughs and unwinds the last of the invisible threads, arms going around Merlin’s waist. Merlin lets himself be drawn down and laid out, rolling his eyes a little at Arthur’s need to be on top—big surprise there, he mentally scoffs—even as he tentatively strokes his palms up the other boy’s spine and meets his eyes.

This feels forbidden. It feels right. It’s just like magic, and Merlin has a moment to realize this thing he has for Arthur has gone and turned him into a giant blithering girl before they’re kissing and, oh, okay, it’s all worth it.

Arthur cups Merlin’s jaw to tilt his head, taking control of the kiss. It’s slow and deep and hot, Arthur’s tongue urging his lips to part before slicking inside. Merlin shivers and presses up against his big body, jaw aching as he opens his mouth wide for him. He knows he seems greedy and a little desperate, but he is, he’s gagging for it, tongue stroking along Arthur’s in quick, encouraging licks, hips rocking up as heat pulses through his too-long limbs.

Please please please please oh, yes, more, he wants to say, and he’s so pathetically grateful he can’t speak now—can’t do anything more than suck on Arthur’s tongue and dig his nails into his muscled shoulders—because he’s pretty sure Arthur would never let him live it down. He feels the flare of magic just under his skin, and the answering heat pouring out of Arthur, so it’s no surprise when their clothing begins to unravel itself, peeling back from their straining bodies as they lose themselves in the messy back-and-forth of teeth and tongues.

Arthur bites Merlin’s lip and tugs sharply. Merlin rakes his nails down Arthur’s suddenly bare back. Arthur pushes Merlin’s thighs apart and settles between them, digging a bony hipbone against the throbbing heat of his cock. Merlin bucks and curses, legs wrapping around Arthur’s waist, heels digging into the small of his back.

“Arthur,” he hisses, head tilting back. Arthur’s tongue trails across the pale skin of his neck, down to his collarbone. His calloused fingers rake across Merlin’s chest and circle his nipples, then scrape across the tips. Merlin wants to scream for Arthur to just do something already, muscles clenched tight and trembling. He’s pictured this a thousand times, and always in his imagination he’s cool and self-confident and giving as good as he gets. Better than he gets, if he’s honest with himself. This is nothing like his fantasies, and Merlin’s embarrassed by the frantic noises he makes even as he rubs up against Arthur in desperate heaves, nails leaving red marks across golden skin.

“Arthur, Arthur, damn you, just, what are, oh!” His eyes go wide and the world dissolves into a cascade of gold as a sword-calloused hand slides around his cock, grip tight. He barely has time to draw in a breath before he’s coming with a yowl, shuddering in helpless waves, coming undone layer after layer and utterly unable to give a toss. He manages to force his eyes open as he shakes and jolts, and the look of intense…something on Arthur’s face is almost too much, his eyes glowing bright, his mouth open on unsteady breaths.

I didn’t know, he wants to say. Why didn’t you tell me? But he doesn’t, he doesn’t say a word, because he didn’t tell Arthur either. He didn’t tell him and they lost so much time because of it.

Secrets, Merlin decides, going limp and breathless in Arthur’s arms, are bloody stupid.

Chapter Text

Her hair was longer than it had been when she’d died. Before, it brushed her jaw, flipping out at the ends when she bothered to blow dry it in the early mornings before classes and responsibilities took them from each other. He remembered how she’d complain about that, standing naked or wrapped in a towel, blow dryer hovering behind her as she drew the brush through her hair.

Warmth gusting everywhere. Fine strands that he knew were red but which looked almost black through the distorted gleam of ruby quartz. The smile that lingered on her face as she looked up into the mirror and caught him staring at her with that same awed expression a year and a half of dating hadn’t managed to wear away.

She’s mine, the expression seemed to say. This woman standing here, this brilliant, beautiful woman whose mind brushes against me like the first glow of light—this woman is mine.

She was his even when he and Ororo were miles away being heroes and Jean was left behind with the Professor. She was his even when she slipped in late at night smelling faintly of the good brandy she and Xavier shared over chess sets and long, deliberately casual talks. She was his even when he imagined Logan reaching up to tangle his fingers into her hair, even when he felt the flicker of her desire when Logan passed.

She was his completely and inescapably…until she’d died. Until an act of intolerable bravery and a wall of water snuffed out the glow that always hovered in the back of Scott’s consciousness. Until there was nothing left but the guilt and the loss and her things still scattered through their room and her presence still ghosting through their memories.

Scott had wanted to claim her even then, even when she’d sacrificed herself for them, but he couldn’t bring himself to be that selfish. Jean belonged to all of them, now. She lingered in the shallow slump of Ororo’s shoulders and the wide, lost dark of Marie’s eyes. She lived in the long nights the Professor sat alone in his study, an empty glass of brandy by his hand, another sitting across from him as if waiting for slender, delicate fingers to lift it up to the light. She breathed through Bobby’s trembling body as he stood by the window and scanned the skies as if waiting for the flicker of flames across the blank surface of clouds to let him know he could stop holding his breath and hoping so very hard. She carried through the whispers of the children and rose again and again like a phoenix from the flames as they shared stories of her brave death.

Scott couldn’t be selfish enough to claim her when so many needed her so very badly, so he merely did what he did best: he straightened his shoulders, he lifted his chin and he pretended as if he weren’t falling apart inside. Some he managed to fool. Bobby gave him disgusted looks and Kurt looked gently baffled when Scott rebuffed his overtures with, “She’s dead and I’m not. I don’t have time to dwell.”

Some he could never fool. Ororo tracked his progress through his empty, aching days with warm, empathetic eyes. Charles brushed against his mind often, soothing with each mental caress. Jean had used to do that. He missed that most of all.

Logan had taken the direct approach, confronting him again and again until the only things he really had to look forward to each day were the soft, tender touches of Charles’ mind and the brusque, rapid-fire aggression of Logan’s School of Tough Love.

“She’s dead, Summers,” as if he could forget. “She chose you in the end,” as if that made any difference now. “Her mouth tasted like a desert wind,” as if they, at least, could share in that. “I woulda liked to touch her again,” as if, at last, they spoke the same language. Scott responded to these flashfire talks with baffled acceptance, arms crossing over his chest as Logan bared his teeth and talked of Jean. Everyone else treated him like glass, but Logan delighted in shattering glass and letting it splinter his fists. He talked about the things he would have said to Jean, the things he would have liked to experience: how at first it had been her pretty face and then how it had made Scott furious and then it had been her mind, God, her mind wrapping around his like red gauze as she sifted through his thoughts. Scott wanted to be angry listening to this man make love to Jean’s memory, but he found himself nodding, agreeing, remembering. Yes, it had been like that for him as well. Yes, she was impossible to resist. Yes, yes, yes she was mine but now she’s no longer mine, she’s ours.

Even when Logan grabbed him by the shoulders and kissed him, whisker-sharp and hard, Scott hadn’t been angry. He’d run his fingers up through Logan’s hair, twisting the gelled peaks and wondered, tongue sliding out and swallowed fast and rough, whether this was how Jean felt. Pressed deep against a hard, compact body, eyes closing and pulse fluttering, he’d felt like he was her for a moment: he’d felt torn and exalting, red and gold and bursting with the tastes, the textures. The burn of stubble was exciting and the strong arms were a secret thrill and Scott was never this rough, but Logan, Logan…

He’d pushed Logan away as he struggled back to himself, but for days after he could feel the sharp burn and kept trying to stretch his mind out to touch everyone around him.

After the third month he’d given up reliving and had gone about simply remembering. Xavier no longer lay out two brandy glasses every night and Logan no longer flared his nostrils whenever Scott passed or tried to confront him about the way that bit of skin just below Jean’s ear smelled. Ororo and Kurt stopped trying to be a friendly ear, Marie stopped watching him with that cold, level gaze and Bobby stopped watching the sky for fire. Scott packed up many of Jean’s things and slept in the middle of the bed and only cried at night when it was either that or burst. He stopped picturing every inch of her long, slender body and instead let himself take a mental step back to see the entire thing like a portrait lovingly done but no longer so very desperately needed.

Hung in the shared consciousness of the mansion was Dr. Jean Grey, telepath and telekinetic. Dark, beautiful eyes, fair skin, long-limbed body with its white lab coat. The stylish chokers she’d taken to wearing when Ororo had sifted through her closet and tsked at all the conservative clothing. The flippy red hair that she’d styled despite grumbling every morning. She was a fixed memory, a stable, unchanging constant in the center of a world that invited change with each new anti-mutant protest, each new Brotherhood member. She was their icon. Their Holy Mother.

Which was why when she was found again clothed in rags and lost in her own mind, it hadn’t been her seeming rebirth or the sound of her voice echoing in his ears after months of letting go that had shocked Scott. It was her hair, curling down in wet tendrils, brushing her shoulders when she huddled in on herself and stared up at the X-Men with a pained mixture of recognition, confusion and fear.

Her hair was longer than it had been when she died.

“She was never dead,” Dr. Hank McCoy said in those early days when Jean slept in the med bay and couldn’t find her voice. “I cannot say exactly what did happen to her, but I do know that she never died.”

“She retreated into herself,” Charles Xavier said not too many weeks later when Jean still hid from those she had known, shaken and reclusive in the safety of the Professor’s drawing room. “Her powers exploded at the dam and her mind curled in on itself to protect her.”

“She smells different,” Logan said as he crouched at the foot of Scott’s bed, ignoring the man in his confused tangle of blankets and instead staring out the window. “Her, but sharper. Edgier. As if something hot’s covering her skin from head to foot.”

He tried to keep his head high, but it was hard when kids stared at him in the halls and whispered. He tried to keep sleeping in the middle of the bed, but he kept waking curled up on the left hand side, his side, as if his unconscious body expected Jean to slide in next to his at night. One morning he woke and reached blindly for his glasses, laying so close to the edge that he nearly fell. A soft, steadying hand on his hip made him yelp in surprise and he did fall, arms flailing as he waited to hit ground…and did not.

Sheets rustled as she climbed out of bed. The floorboard creaked as she walked around to his side. A bare thigh brushed his as she crouched and then fingers were tugging the glasses from his death grip and slowly sliding them onto his face as he was lowered to the ground.

When Scott opened his eyes, Jean was crouched above him, hair tumbling about her shoulders, shadows only making her eyes more beautiful. “I found my way back,” she said, voice low and still a little lost, and Scott hadn’t been ashamed at all when he pulled her into his arms and began to cry.

**

Even then, things were different. The familiar soft brush against his mind was brighter now, startling him until he adjusted to the flicker of reds. The tone of her voice was stronger, accent a bit more apparent. The cut of her clothing was a little lower—low enough to make Peter stare and Scott shift in arousal whenever she looked up from the medical texts she and a now distinctly blue-haired Hank were discussing. She barely had to concentrate to juggle several complex tasks with her telekinesis and telepathy and sometimes, when the sun hit her just right, he could swear that the shadow cast by her slim body was that of a bird, wings spanning as it lifted to the sky.

She said I love you the same, however, and kissed him the same, and if he caught her casting Logan quick, warm looks…well. He was merely glad to have her back at all, even if he knew she’d never be completely his again.

**

The sun was setting, casting warm shades of red across the hardwood floor of their bedroom when Scott slipped in and quietly shut the door behind him. Jean had called to him mentally, inner voice tinged with something he couldn’t quite place except it made him nervous and excited rolled up deep inside his belly.

“Jean?” he called softly, then __Jean?__ with his mind, striding into the center of the room.

__Stop__ he heard clearly and he paused, head cocked. The lances of sunlight fell across his hands and thighs, staining them as Jean paused in the bathroom door, looking at him seriously.

“Jean,” he began but she shook her head and he shut his mouth, waiting for whatever it was she needed to say.

“We’ve been together a long time, Scott,” she murmured, eyes slowly trailing up and down his body. He felt a shiver of warmth where her eyes touched, spreading across his fair skin as she smiled and slowly moved into the bedroom. “Long enough that your mind holds no surprises for me.”

He watched her as she moved closer, dark eyes bright. It was strange, staring into her eyes. Sometimes he could swear he saw shapes moving in them, winging across her pupil and spiraling out into her iris in flickers of flame. The thought frightened him, aroused him, somehow, made him spread his feet and wait silently for what Jean wanted to say.

“It’s comfortable,” she murmured, close now. He could feel the heat of her skin, could smell that specific scent that always said Jean to him. If he listened hard enough, he thought maybe he could hear the rush of blood beneath her skin and the swipe of her lashes through the air as she looked down at him—so very tall—and blinked. “Safe,” she murmured, fingers tracing across the bridge of his glasses, breath gusting across his face. Jean shifted until their hips brushed, then moved away, smiling at Scott’s quick, stifled little noise. “You make everything safe, Scott. Sheltered and protected and good, but…I feel like I’m being flayed alive, inside.”

He snapped his head to look at her, brow creasing. “Jean, wha—”

“Hush,” she said, lifting a hand. Scott made a strangled noise and squeezed his eyes shut fast as his glasses slid off of his face, leaving him blinded and vulnerable.

“What are you doing?” he asked, hearing the glasses settle on the bedside table, hearing her take another step back.

“I feel like there’s something inside of me, beating to get out,” she said, almost conversationally. “I feel like I’m going mad.” Soft, elegant hands cupped his face, fingertips brushing his temples. “Do you understand, Scott? Do you understand what it’s like to be so full that you’re trembling with it, aching with it, this want crouched like an incubus on your chest?”

Jean always had a way with poetry. It was something she and the Professor shared laughing over their leather-bound books and scrabble tables. Scott had never felt quite at home with words; fumbling about like a fool at her heels, he’d always been content to be silent and still and listen to the webs she and Charles would weave. He wished he understood now what she meant. He wished he could pull her into his arms and touch them hip to hip and breast to breast and forehead to forehead and share it with her.

“When you were gone,” he tried instead, face lifted and eyes closed. “When I thought you had died, I…” Ached, longed, grieved. “Was very sad.”

A breath against his face as her hands slid down his neck to brush his shoulders. “No,” she said. “I shouldn’t have expected you to understand. It wasn’t fair of me.”

“I want to.”

“I know, Scott.” She slipped a button through its hole, then another. Jean twisted each disk before pressing it through with her thumb—he could feel the light press on her thumbnail against his chest, then belly as she undressed him.

“I wish,” he began, hands fisting.

“I know.” She tugged his shirt from his pants before sliding her palms over his chest, pushing it off his shoulders and down his arms. It dropped to the floor with a soft disturbance of air. Her thumbs hooked under the hem of his undershirt and tugged it up. Scott lifted his arms, allowing this with warm, baffled compliance. His arms were trapped back by the cotton before she tugged it the rest of the way down, tossing the undershirt aside.

“Everything I am,” he murmured, aware of her fingers unbuttoning his pants and sliding them down his slim hips. “It’s yours. I promise th—”

“Shh.” Jean touched a finger to his lips, silencing him. “Don’t promise, Scott. You know you won’t be able to keep it.” Her voice was low and not-quite sad. He could remember long conversations through the months they had been together and before: him sitting stiffly and explaining in careful, measured words why he had to give so much of himself to the Cause. Why they could never have anything like a normal life. Why he’d always be just a little drawn away from her, part of his mind always focused on what had to be done. She used to stand at the window while he talked, red hair brushing her cheeks as she pressed her fingers to the glass. Nodding gently.

“I will,” he protested, kissing her fingers. “Your death changed everything.”

There was a long silence, filled with the sound of the wind rattling against the house and the low rise and fall of their breaths. Someone walked down the hall, tread heavy. The creaking of pipes that no weekend plumbing could ever fix. Her mind brushed against his, hot and shocking red-orange-gold, fanning through his consciousness. “Yes,” Jean finally said and he could feel the brush of her hair as she crouched down before him. A touch at his ankle guided him to raise his foot, balancing on one leg as she tugged off his shoe and sock. Then the other, floorboards creaking under his shifting weight. She leaned in as she pushed down his khakis and underwear, lips brushing his thigh. “Yes, my death changed everything.”

“Love you,” Scott said, almost desperately.

“Love you, too.”

She’d never said it that way before. Always, always before Jean had been so very careful to make it personal. I love you, Scott. Love you, Scott. I love you. She’d always been so careful to never say I love you, too. She claimed it sounded too route, as if it were an echo when the words should never be a chore and always a gift. Scott hadn’t really listened to her when she talked about it or even particularly understood—it was just another part of Jean that was too cerebral, too emotional for him to grasp. Now he found himself clenching tight at those words.

He was naked. He felt achingly vulnerable standing in the center of their bedroom, bare and blind as an infant. Jean stood and stepped away. Scott could hear the whisper of cloth and at first he thought she was undressing, but…no. No, there was the sound of his belt buckle. There was the sound of the closet opening and closing. She was folding his dirty clothes like he always did and placing them meticulously in the hamper over her bundled up jeans.

Scott bowed his head, waiting. He shivered a little, feet planted and hands at his sides. He was more than half-hard, erection bobbing between his thighs. He always felt a small pang of embarrassment in this state, aware of the hang of his cock and balls. Aware of his slim, boyish figure. He was sparsely haired which only served to narrow his chest and hips. Jean sometimes brushed her fingers over the thin swath along his lower belly and teased him that it wasn’t so much a happy trail as a moderately contented one.

The closet door shut. Scott smiled a little at Jean’s laugh, realizing that she’d caught his fragments of memory.

“Very contented,” Jean said and she was still so far away. He could feel her watching him in the way their mental link contracted, focusing. She was examining him, eyes sliding over his body. His muscles shivered in the wake of her visual caress, tightening and loosening as his cock firmed further. It was a slow seduction, but she was so very practiced. She knew his body so well.

Better than anyone ever could. Better than anyone, perhaps, other than…

Other than…

Scott immediately blocked out the thought, lips firming, but Jean’s soft flicker-flame caress along the bond relaxed him again.

“Don’t be ashamed, Scott,” Jean said seriously. “There’s no shame in taking comfort.”

“…Jean, I didn’t…”

“You should have.”

Scott’s mouth dropped open and he took a step back. Immediately he cursed himself and straightened his shoulders, firming his posture—it wasn’t like him to react so strongly to shock and yet. And yet.

Was she saying that he should have taken up with Logan? Impossible. Impossible. He misunderstood her. Never mind that their mental link allowed them to think on an elevated level. Never mind that they shared so much information in a constant loop that he couldn’t have possibly mistaken the soft color of her thoughts. He had to have misunderstood her because otherwise she meant he should have given himself to the enemy—the enemy despite months of friendship, always always the enemy—and that was unthinkable, that was—

The door opened and closed.

Impossible. The thought was as impossible as the sharp tang of whiskey, sweat and old smoke. Leather. A laughable amount of hair product.

A beat and then, “What the hell is this, Jeannie?” Logan snarled.

“It’s exactly what it looks like, Logan. Thank you for coming so quickly.”

Scott could almost see Logan through Jean’s eyes. He could almost see how Logan’s gaze moved between them: Jean standing next to the closed closet doors and Scott standing in the center of the room, naked and open and now, God, hard, achingly hard. Scott squeezed his hands into fists, feeling the quick little jerks of his cock. Logan would scent that. Logan would smell his arousal, his fear, his confused anger.

God how much he wanted this: a secret fantasy, locked down deeper than his memories of the airplane crash that took his parents from him. Locked down so very deep within himself but laid open now raw and naked and, fuck, dripping on the floor. Recognized by all because Jean would hear it and Logan would smell it and there were no secrets left for Scott between these two primal, powerful forces.

Another silence as if Logan was waiting for more. Or, Scott thought, perhaps they were talking telepathically, thoughts passing across his skin and stroking his flanks, his nipples, making his body ache as he stood there in obedient silence, waiting.

“Looks like a hell of a lot,” Logan finally said, words coming slowly as if he were choosing each one with a care Scott would have never given him credit for. He imagined it wasn’t often that the woman you loved was offering you full share in her own lover.

He had to stifle a laugh. He wondered if he were going crazy. Madness had to sound like Logan sliding off his leather jacket and slinging it over the back of a chair. It had to smell like Jean’s sandalwood perfume as she moved closer and slid a hand up the small of his back. “It’s everything,” she said seriously, kissing Scott’s shoulderblade. A brush of thought __Don’t be afraid. Don’t turn away. I love you and I know. I know and I love you because of it__ and he wondered whether she meant his attraction to Logan or the darker, stronger tendrils of emotions that he refused to examine.

__Both__ she said as Logan’s heavy boots thudded to the ground. His shirt. The jangle of dog tags made Scott whimper in the back of his throat. __Lust and lo—__

“Don’t,” Scott said sharply.

“Don’t what, Shades?” Logan said. “You having second thoughts?”

Scott laughed, relieved when Jean allowed him to silence her. Relieved that Logan misunderstood. “Fifth,” he said, chin lifting. Even with his eyes closed, even naked while they were still partially clothed, Scott could gather his dignity around him. It was a trick he’d learned in the orphanage: beat me up, trip me, call me names. I’m better than you all.

“That many?” His pants dropped, change falling out of the pockets. “Didn’t know you counted that high.”

“I’ve got a hand free.”

Jean’s hands went to Scott’s hips, turning him to face Logan. She kissed his shoulder and he could feel the amused curve of her mouth.

“Yeah?” Logan said, stepping in closer. The smell of him was strong now. It seemed to blend with Jean, earth and fire, one on either side of him. “Use all the fingers, then?” His breath was sour, but not unpleasantly so.

“Well, Logan, there are only five fingers per ha—”

Fingers dug into Scott’s hair, yanking him in for a kiss. He stumbled forward, unbalanced, hands coming up automatically to brace against Logan’s chest. Logan was hairy and compact, muscles bunched beneath his fingers. His hands slid through that thick hair as he melted into the kiss, mouth soft and wet and surprisingly giving. Logan made a low noise, nails gently raking the curve of Scott’s scalp, then rougher, harder as his tongue pushed into the other man’s mouth.

Scott drew in a ragged breath, but all he could feel was Logan, all he could taste was Logan, dark and hard and not at all like Jean but exactly as he remembered it. He whimpered, pressing forward, and jerked in the hard grip of his arms when their erections slid together. Logan was hard and pressed against him, slick and hot against his belly. Scott reached down, working a hand between their bodies and cupped his sac, fingers sliding through the dark curls of Logan’s pubic hair.

Jean stepped in close behind him, palms reaching out to press against his back. They scalded his skin, making him jerk and moan. Logan rutted up, hips and hard, calloused hands nudging up Scott’s thighs until he was wrapping his long legs around the other man’s waist. Scott’s ankles locked and he leaned back, tongue thrusting desperately into Logan’s mouth as Jean’s hands slid up and down his back.

“Down,” Logan snarled, breaking the kiss and Scott began to slide off his body before Logan’s hands moved to cup his ass, nails digging into his skin. “No, Summers,” he said, pulling him back up again. He moved Scott’s long body, positioning him until their cocks were aligned. “Ain’t what I meant.”

“Then specify,” Scott snotted, eyes squeezing shut tighter when Logan caught his mouth for another blistering kiss. Sharp teeth pulled at Scott’s mouth and nails raked across his skin, moving up. Scott gasped, tongue pushing out as he struggled to rock closer, take more, something breaking loose inside of him. Jean leaned in and bit at the nape of his neck, hands sliding over his shoulders as she mentally fed him images of their embrace: Logan small and powerful, Scott pale and aching, Jean a stabilizing force that grasped his hips and helped guide him in an aching, heady rhythm. He twisted, rubbing their cocks together, elegant only with her guidance, her support.

__Take, Scott__ echoing through his mind, and he sobbed at the sudden blinding connection: the three of them tangled together, thoughts snarled like a Celtic knotwork. He flowed through Logan, feeling the heady rage and want and need, seeped back into Jean with her fears and demons and bled back into his own skin, tainted by fire and earth and flowing between the two as precome on his belly became oceans and Jean’s hands sliding to part his body became time.

She knelt behind him as Logan kissed and bit across his jaw and all Scott could do was moan, “Please, please.” Elegant fingers slid him open and the very tip of her tongue traced the clenched skin of his pucker as Logan bit at the juncture of his neck. Scott jerked forward, howling, body rutting up and back with a sudden flashfire of need. “Please please now please fuck love you please love you love you,” he cried, hips moving in a rough circle, hands sliding over muscular shoulders, hairy arms, heavy chest, corded neck up to cup his face with a strange, trembling tenderness. His head fell back, eyes closed and mouth open as he drew in pained, ragged breaths. Logan’s cock slid against his belly, Jean’s tongue thrust into his opening and everything broke around him in a cascade of colors he never saw but knew by name and dim, shadowed memory.

“Logan!” Scott and Jean shouted together, minds melded in a sunburst of need. Orgasm was an explosion, rocking them both back, battering against Logan as heat blistered through him. Logan gasped and through their joined minds Scott could see with him: see the spreading wings of flame, see Jean standing as if pulled by some force, see the way his own face twisted in the glow of heat and wonder.

Logan sobbed, a strange noise coming from deep within his belly, and thrust once, twice, three times against Scott before he came. He turned his face and kissed Scott hard as if seeking something to ground him as he spurted across his belly, body shaking with fine, cascading tremors. Scott lifted his hands to Logan’s face and slid his thumbs over his closed eyes, needing them on equal footing, needing it to be about scent and hearing and touch and taste and the steaming, slippery come between their bellies, dripping between their thighs.

They continued kissing even when the desperation warmed to simple desire. Scott’s mouth felt swollen and tender, his body aching. His chin and cheeks would be red, he knew, from stubble burn and his back and shoulders throbbed with the heat of the phoenix effect. Jean moved forward, arms sliding around him from behind, hands moving across Logan’s arms, and it was as if the sun had shattered and fallen from the sky to somehow, some way, create a perfect pattern of life below: swirls of red and black and Scott between, Scott warm and sinking back into comfort offered. Broken and sated and feeling nothing but the scratch of his whiskers and the slide of come and the delicate brush of her hair.

Longer than it had been when she died, tangling like flames across his cheeks.

Chapter Text

It was colder than it had any right to be, Rictor thought miserably as he huddled deep into his down-filled sleeping bag, but before long it would be hot enough to leave him scowling and cursing beneath a hastily-tied bandana. This place was a crazy mix of contradictions. The nights were dark and filled with chattering teeth and clouds of white breath; the days were lazy and stripped down, jackets abandoned in the tent or in the bed of a beat-up blue Chevy that had seen too many summers. There was no median between the two. There was no period of simple comfort where he could kick back in jeans and watch the red-tinted land while Shatterstar crouched beside him in the hazy dust, smelling of suntan lotion and sweat and pale, alien skin.

Now, chin tucked against his chest and knit cap stretched until it covered his eyes, Rictor couldn't remember what had possessed him to come to canyon country just a few weeks into spring. A misplaced sense of adventure? A gut feeling of restlessness staying at the X-mansion always gave him? Or, perhaps it had been the strange, almost longing shadow in Shatterstar's eyes as they sat sprawled in the den watching television just a handful of days ago.

The screen had been filled with shades of red and gold as the sun set over a dusty canyon. The hero of the film paused and looked out over the land, red bandana pulled down from his face to reveal dirt-stained skin and lines engraved from nose to mouth. Shatterstar made a soft noise, and Rictor turned to catch the line appear between red brows, the almost-yet-not-quite troubled expression that ghosted over sharp features.

"What's wrong, 'Star?"

Silver, alien eyes blinked at him. "It reminds me..." And then a shake of his head as he turned back to the television. "It is nothing, friend Julio."

Rictor'd begun planning their trip later that afternoon.

Rictor moaned and poked his head out of the safety of his sleeping bag and into the still-cold air at the first note of birdsong. He reached up to tug off the cap, blinking in the dark seclusion of the tent. A glance over at the other sleeping bag revealed that Shatterstar was already up and out, but that wasn't really a surprise. Shatterstar slept on a warrior's schedule, rising before the sun even after he'd come to live at the school. Early on, none of the kids had known what to make of the boy with the waist-length red hair and the starburst tattoo. It hadn't helped that 'Star hadn't known how to speak English. It hadn't helped that he didn't speak any language of this world.

Kids whispered that he was an alien. Some claimed he was Shi'ar and some that he was something else, something far more dangerous. None of the adults would say for sure, and that only fueled the rumors. Even when Shatterstar had learned the language (in a matter of weeks, which had shocked everyone but Charles Xavier), the whispers had continued. Ostracized himself for his quick temper, Rictor had begun to sprawl with Shatterstar every evening in front of the tv, watching the strangely intent expression more often than the programs themselves.

He sighed as he pulled down the zipper of his sleeping bag, wriggling out. He'd slept in his jeans the night before, two sweaters and three pairs of socks barely able to trap his body heat. Rictor hopped from foot to foot inelegantly, tugging off a pair of socks before quickly shoving his feet into thick-soled boots. Dirt and sand scattered across the sleeping bags as he stomped his feet into his boots. It would drive 'Star crazy later, but it was better than stepping outside unshod.

The tent zipper always stuck. "Dios," Rictor muttered, tugging it up by degrees. Finally he gave up and slipped through the small opening, turning to pull it closed again. His breath rose about his face, tinged blue in the dim pre-dawn and he shivered, wrapping his arms around himself. They'd found a small niche to camp in, hemmed in on three sides by sheer canyon walls and sporting a look-out cliff two-thirds of the way up. That's where Shatterstar would be, Rictor knew, knees drawn up and silver eyes staring fixedly at the horizon as if his rapt attention could bring the sun.

Rictor went to the small, banked fire, thankful beyond words that 'Star had nestled the copper pot in the coals. He found his coffee mug waiting for him, instant mix and powdered cream settled together on the bottom. He poured the hot water in, grabbing a spoon and stirring before tossing the spoon into the bin of dirty dishes. Steam curled up from his mug, warm and inviting and somehow enough to bring him fully awake even before he took the first sip.

Rocks crunched under Rictor's feet as he walked away from camp, moving around the bend of the canyon wall. The sky was beginning to brighten, cap of the sun surely visible by now. He strolled toward the base of the cliff, taking quick sips of his coffee and drawing in the deep, old smell that always seemed stronger this time of the morning. It was a smell that reminded him of his home in Mexico before his powers had kicked in and he'd sent half the town into the earth. A knowing smell. A dead smell, Shatterstar claimed.

He paused when he reached the natural stairway that led up to the lookout, dark eyes blinking in confusion. Laid neatly at the base, heels and toes perfectly aligned, were Shatterstar's boots. Rictor frowned and looked up, seeing a sock on one foothold and another sock on a handhold.

He set his coffee aside and slowly began to climb, gathering articles of clothing as he went. Shatterstar's jacket was next, then a short-sleeved shirt, then a long-sleeved shirt, each pinned by a rock to keep them from being swept away by the breeze. Half-way up, Rictor found 'Star's undershirt and, just a little above that, his jeans. Change fell from the pockets as Rictor threw them over his shoulder, a mixture of pesos and dimes hitting the rocks with a small metallic clatter.

Pinned at the lip of the lookout was a pair of worn flannel boxers and Rictor shook his head as he crawled up onto the ledge and stood. Shatterstar was perched on the very edge, settled into an easy, graceful crouch. The long, lean lines of his body were golden-pale, his broad shoulders dusted with freckles and a blush of sunburn. The dip of his spine was a light shadow moving into the curve of his ass, and the long arch of his neck was so very graceful as he turned his head to look at Rictor.

Shatterstar's red-gold hair, usually bound up in a topknot, flowed around his shoulders, long, curling ends brushing the crease of his thighs. It softened his sharp face, off-setting the disturbingly bright eyes and inexplicable star that covered his left eye.

"Hola," Rictor said, smiling a little as he walked over. He arched a brow and tossed down 'Star's clothes, sitting next to him—though a little further away from the edge. "Sleep well?"

"You almost missed it," Shatterstar said reprovingly, ignoring his question. He gestured down through the canyon and Rictor turned his head to take in the vista. The reddish-brown walls of the canyon were maroon in the early dawn, shadow-dipped and dark. The floor of the canyon was paler where it curved out into a U, stretching east toward the slowly rising sun.

Sunlight touched against distant rock, making it glow brilliant and awful in the dim. The crags and dips of stone looked as if they had been sprayed in blood, so red it was almost a sound, almost a coppery tang against Rictor's tongue. He supposed again that this was why it was called the Canyon del Muerto.

The sky was a watercolor of pinks and reds and oranges, blues and violets smeared wetly at its peak. Rictor could feel the beginning of heat touch his face as sunlight crept up their ledge, brushing his feet, then calves, then thighs. He closed his eyes in pleasure, lifting his face to the new warmth with a soft noise of contentment.

He started when a strong, broad hand pressed flat against his chest, pushing him slowly to the ground. Dark eyes blinked open, surprised, to stare up into silvery-blue.

"'Star?" he began, but Shatterstar covered his mouth with his own, swallowing the word with a flick of his tongue. Calloused, capable hands smoothed over the longish strands of dark hair, gripping them firmly as Shatterstar cupped the back of his skull. He was sprawled back on still-cold rock and the scattered remains of 'Star's clothing, tongue thrusting eagerly up into the warm mouth as Shatterstar shifted, blindly grabbing a balled up shirt and slid it under his head.

"Mmm," Rictor murmured. His jaws ached as he opened his mouth wide, tongue pressing out and curving a little at the tip. 'Star closed his teeth around the very tip and lightly nipped, tugging it before leaning in and swallowing around the entire length. Red hair fanned around their faces, tickling Rictor's shoulders and brushing across his cheeks. He reached up to dig his fingers into it, gripping the bright strands as the other man sucked greedily on his tongue.

The quick, sharp tugs at the root made Rictor shiver, made him spread his thighs as his cock began to harden, throbbing in time with the deeply rhythmic suckles. He moaned into Shatterstar's mouth, fucking his tongue in, hips pushing up restlessly.

He jerked when a hand moved to his waist, then moaned again when fingers pushed up past the thick barrier of his clothing, seeking skin. 'Star's fingers were cold and roughly calloused. They made his stomach muscles quiver as they slid over skin, painting abstract designs. Rictor hissed when they circled his belly button and bucked his hips when the tip of one slid inside, teasing the small divot with the curve of a nail. "Ah, fuck," he moaned, breaking away from the searing kiss to gasp in quick, desperate breaths.

Shatterstar pulled back to look at him, pale skin flushed, pupils expanded until his eyes were black outlined by rims of startling blue. His finger stroked over Rictor's stomach before digging into the waist of his pants, thumb sliding under the metal disk of the button and guiding it through the hole.

"What're you doing, 'Star?" Rictor asked, amazed at how rough his voice was. Always thickly accented, it was almost unintelligible now and he switched to Spanish instinctively, knowing the other man would understand him. "We should—oh!—go back to the tent."

"I do not wish to miss the sunrise," Shatterstar murmured, also in Spanish. He pushed down the zip with the side of his palm, spreading Rictor's jeans open. He licked his lips, then slithered down, long strands of hair curling over Rictor's stomach and thighs as he pressed his nose against the arch of his erection and drew in a deep, rumbling breath. Scenting him. Purring in contentment and greed.

"But—oh!" Rictor cried, hips pressing up. He rubbed his cloth-covered erection against 'Star's cheek, hands gripping at his sides. Shatterstar nuzzled against him, then turned his face and pressed his lips to where the head of Rictor's cock was nestled. His tongue darted out to press against the rapidly growing wet spot, tonguing over the black cotton of Rictor's underpants. They moaned in unison, voices echoing in the slowly warming air. Shatterstar's mouth closed over the head of his prick, tongue moving in a wide, lazy circle.

"God, yes. Yes, please, 'Star." He spread his thighs wider, offering, and 'Star growled as he slipped cool fingers into the waist of his underwear and tugged it down roughly. Rictor's cock sprang free, thwapping wetly against his belly. He shivered at the cold air, then whimpered when 'Star gusted breath over the exposed head. Fingers slid over the soft curve of his sac, hooking under and lightly tugging, drawing from him a desperate yowl. His cock jerked, smearing drops of precome across his dark skin, dampening the hitched up hem of his shirt. He twisted, heels digging into rock, face turning against the shirt that pillowed his head.

Rictor whimpered when a hand wrapped around the base of his cock, lifting it, then moaned when softly parted lips brushed over the head. Shatterstar adjusted his grip, thumb sliding over the crease of foreskin and pushing it in as his hand stroked down. The glisteningly damp head of Ric's cock was flushed a dark red and 'Star murmured in appreciation as he pursed his lips before sliding out his tongue to tease at the tiny hole. He rode the bucking of Rictor's hips, mouth opening and wrapping around the head as his hand stroked up from the base, pausing only when the curve of his lower lip brushed his knuckles.

His hips pushed up again, insistent, and Shatterstar shifted, lips stretching over Rictor's cock as his hand tightened, then slid down. His mouth followed, tongue flattening against the base, curling against hot, throbbing skin as he swallowed. Rictor cried out sharply, nearly bucking him off, but 'Star pressed his free hand against his belly, keeping his hips firmly in place as he took more and more down the tight passage of his throat. The slick muscles relaxed around Rictor's prick, tightening only when 'Star's nose brushed into the dark curls of pubic hair.

"Fuck! Fuck, 'Star, love you," Rictor hissed, hips rocking involuntarily. His body felt oddly too-warm now, shuddering as his lover swallowed again. Throat muscles closed around his length, milking him and oh God it was so, so very good. He made a low, whimpering noise in the back of his throat and shifted, trying not to thrust up and choke the other man. "So good. Your mouth is so good, feels so good on me," he babbled mindlessly, hands clenching and unclenching. The ground trembled beneath his fingertips and he only had a moment to worry that his powers were triggering a quake before Shatterstar pulled up then took him all the way to the root again in one liquid swallow.

"'Star!" he cried, head tossed back, chest arched up, hips pinned by his hand and his weight and his greedy, demanding mouth. The hand on his belly slid up to press against his lips and Rictor took Shatterstar's fingers into his mouth, tongue sliding over the salty pads and slipping between the creases. He mimicked 'Star's mouth, deep-throating his fingers and bobbing up and down in time with the other man's swallows, moaning and whimpering against his knuckles as his own hands tangled into snaking strands of red-gold hair.

He made a noise of protest when Shatterstar slid his fingers from his mouth, sound cutting off into a choked swallow when 'Star's other thumb slid beneath his balls and pressed up hard against his perineum. His body was shuddering, fine tremors moving through him as 'Star whimpered around his prick, mouth moving up and down quickly. Teeth gently scraped against him, just enough to make him freeze in place with an in-drawn breath. The pad of 'Star's thumb stroked in a wide circle, sliding beneath the crease of his balls and just catching the edge of his pucker, driving him wild. He was pleading hoarsely now, holding onto the ends of 'Star's hair as if the bright strands were the only things keeping him from spiraling out of control, hips undulating in quick, ragged thrusts.

When Shatterstar lifted his mouth from his cock, Rictor nearly screamed in frustration. His fingers tightened in his hair, trying to hold him there, but fingers closed over his wrists, squeezing until he let go. Instead, Rictor pressed his palms to the red rock, chest heaving and body spread open. His prick was thick and flushed and obscenely wet, jutting up from his body in a demanding arch. 'Star touched his lips to the head one more time, then gripped the base with surprisingly slick fingers. He crawled up to straddle Rictor's hips, eyes meeting his, and Rictor jerked as the pieces fell into place: 'Star sucking on his cock until it was wet and throbbing, 'Star pressing his fingers into Rictor's mouth, those fingers moving away despite his protests, 'Star's helpless little noises.

He licked his lips and stared wide-eyed up at his lover as Shatterstar positioned himself over him, hand guiding his jerking cock into place. The head pressed against 'Star's slick, stretched opening before Shatterstar shifted his hips and began to press down.

If Rictor could have found the breath, he would have screamed. Instead he made a low, choking noise, hips pressing up to help with the careful, painfully slow glide. He could feel 'Star closing around him, could feel the tremors in the pale body as he rocked down. The passage was tight, gripping around his cock in a way that made him roll back his eyes and hiss between his teeth. Rictor let go of his stranglehold on 'Star's hair and instead gripped his hips, thumbs sliding across the sharp edges of his hipbones. 'Star's erection jerked, spitting precome across Rictor's sweater and for a moment he was consumed by the image they presented: Rictor laying on his back, fully dressed and Shatterstar braced above him, pale and naked, hair tumbling across his chest down to his waist, cock full and thick and so very needy.

'Star shuddered when the curve of his ass brushed Rictor's balls, Ric's cock buried deep within him. He paused there for a moment, looking down at his lover with bright eyes, lips parted as he panted in quick, steadying breaths.

"Te amo," Rictor murmured, staring up at him. He could see the blazing sun just behind Shatterstar's head, rays fanning out from the waves of his hair. It looked almost like a halo in a Renaissance painting, yet Rictor couldn't imagine any saint ever looking quite like this. He reached up, body trembling with the need to move, to thrust, and brushed his fingers over the dark spike of the strange tattoo that covered his lover's eye.

Shatterstar's eyes fluttered closed and he leaned into the touch before rocking his hips in a slow, wide circle. His eyes opened wide, mouth falling open as he gasped. "Te amo!" he moaned, rocking again.

Rictor groaned. The feel of it, the tight pressure of it was incredible, was enough to make him sob in a breath and thrust. Shatterstar leaned in to brace his hands against Ric's chest, sliding nearly off of his cock before slamming back down. They cried out together, voices vibrating through the canyon until they seemed to be wrapped in echoes, surrounded by low, desperate moans and sharply pitched cries.

Shatterstar slid up, then pressed back down again, body clenching around Rictor's erection. Ric grabbed at his hips again, thumbs digging into his flesh as he guided him. He angled his hips, positioning, then pulled 'Star down hard, loving the way he arched and yowled when the head of his prick slammed against his the swollen heat of his prostate.

Again, and again, moving in a deep, heady rhythm that he could feel in his toes. The world seemed to rock with him, earth gliding up as if it, too, were spearing open that beautiful body, as if it, too were thrusting inside the maddening heat, seeking more, seeking everything. He grabbed a handful of hair as red as the canyon walls and yanked him in for a needy kiss, tongue pushing into his mouth as his cock thrust into his body over and over. One of Shatterstar's hands slid down to wrap around his own cock, fingers a blur as he twisted and mewled and demanded more and more and more, biting Rictor's tongue as he twisted up and

Came.

Back bowed, screaming as he threw himself into his release. Come hit Rictor's sweater, spattering pale across the dark cloth in elongated drops. His body spasmed around Ric's erection: quick, milking jerks that made him sob. He thrust up mindlessly, balls slapping against 'Star's ass, tongue shoving down his throat as he pleaded and arched and, finally, came with a shudder so deep he could feel it reaching toward the earth's very core.

Rictor quickly brought a palm down to the earth, calming it even as he twisted helplessly beneath his lover. Finally, panting, he fell back, aware of the small tremors still rumbling through the canyon.

Shatterstar glanced over his shoulder at the sound of small rocks clattering down the cliffside. When he turned back to look at Rictor, his entire face was transformed by one of his rare smiles.

Rictor reached up, hand shaking, and cupped a warm cheek. 'Star leaned in to the touch, then pressed a kiss to the curve of his palm. He shifted, whimpering a little, and slowly relaxed down on top of Rictor's body. Their mouths found each other, lips soft, tongues stroking in a lazy, sated kiss. The sun was fully risen, shining down on the canyon, and soon the day would grow hot again.

"Gracias," Rictor murmured into red-gold hair, staring up at the sky. The rock beneath him was warm and comforting, the body on top of him a relaxing weight. He closed his eyes, then opened them again when Shatterstar shifted to look at him.

Those eyes really weren't so alien at all if you knew how to read them, Rictor figured. More silver than blue, pupils round and dark and solemn—he could still see the smile in them, could translate the emotions that always bubbled deep under the surface.

"De nada, Julio" Shatterstar said, almost formally, then smiled again when Rictor arched his neck to press their mouths together.

In a rapidly lightening sky, the sun shone down on them, casting light on crags and crevices of red stone as it slowly warmed the earth.

Chapter Text

Tim was just damned stubborn, Kon decided. Forget admitting that he was wrong about something. Forget admitting that he maybe, possibly could have conceivably been off the mark. Even when faced with (what Kon considered to be) compelling evidence of his error, he held strong. Even when argued quite deftly into a corner, he refused to relent. Even when hanging onto Kon's hand so high in the air that the clouds were a wispy curtain and the farmhouses were nothing more than dots on a patchwork field of green and gold he would not give in.

Even then. Especially then.

"I'll drop you," Kon said and even though both of them knew he wouldn't really do it, he hoped that the threat would be one of those things that cleverly revealed just how frustrated he was. Like when Superman puffed out his chest or Pa Kent raised his voice or Batman, well, looked at you. One of those things that made it abundantly clear that he was tired of facing down stubborn best friends who were always right but who were, this one time, so very wrong.

Tim twisted his head up to look at him, brows faintly arched. He was in civvies and wasn't wearing a mask—a surprise to Kon every time he looked down and caught sight of those steady eyes. Tim looked alien bare the way most people looked outlandish in costume. It just seemed wrong to see him in jeans and a shirt as if he were a regular guy and not some kind of super-intelligent mega-freak who, oh yeah, was still wrong and still dangling and still watching Kon with growing amusement.

The real hell of it wasn't even that Tim didn't believe him. The worst part was that if he dropped Tim now, he'd still have proven nothing—which, most likely, was a hefty part of Tim's amusement. Tim, no doubt, had the pie chart all prepared in his mind—probability A versus probability B. X equals the likelihood of Kon actually winning this argument. Simple statistics.

Kon hated Math.

"… I hate you," Kon conceded, biceps tightening as he hoisted Tim up. He caught him with tk, maneuvering him until they were face to face. Or, rather, face to neck— Kon was annoyed enough to want to keep the height advantage. It was one of the few things he'd managed to pick up from Superman and actually use: if you made them look up at you, you were in control of the situation.

Tim shifted, testing the give of tk before settling. If he was at all unnerved by hanging in the air hundreds of feet above the ground with no visible means of support, he made no sign of it.

Not that Kon expected him to.

"You're still wrong," Kon offered conversationally.

"You don't have all the facts."

He shoved his hands into his pockets. "So give me the facts," he said, knowing Tim wouldn't. Tim had a tendency to hoard information. Kon guessed it made up for not having super powers of his own. "You're such an ass, man," Kon muttered. Their calves were brushing as they hung mid-air, as relaxed as if they were sprawled on the sofas at the Tower. "Such an ass."

"Conceded."

"It's my turn to be right!" And okay, that was a little childish.

Tim apparently thought so, too. "I hadn't realized we were taking turns at it, Kon."

He cleared his throat. "Well. No. But hey, why not toss me a bone now and then? I mean," and he was starting to get worked up again at the injustice of it all, hands out of his pockets and waving around to emphasize his point, "it's not like you can't afford to let me be right sometimes. Even Bart's right sometimes—a lot more now than before, actually, and maybe I'm tired of being the last one to get it. Maybe I'm tired of being wrong to your right and it wouldn't hurt if you made a mistake from time to time."

Tim was watching him impassively and Kon wished briefly that they were on the ground so that he could move. He wanted to pace and wave his hands and really wrap himself around this because, he realized, there was more to this than he figured. There was more to it than just general annoyance at Tim not giving in and he should really explore the issue before something came along to threaten the city and he no longer had the time for indulgent self-analysis. "You could let me come out on top," Kon said. "Not even a lot, man. Just now and then you be wrong about something and then I'll be right and then…"

"You want to have sex with me."

"…I would be…" Kon's words trailed off as he mentally backtracked. Wait. What? "What?" he demanded, flabbergasted.

"I want to have sex with you."

"What? What?" They both dipped a little—not enough to be dangerous but just enough to betray exactly how shocked Kon really was…on the off chance Tim somehow missed the wide eyes and gaping mouth, of course. "Tim, I… What?"

Tim looked at him serenely, features utterly composed. "I thought we were supposed to be trading off between being right and wrong," he said and his voice was so insufferably Tim that Kon wondered if maybe he couldn't get away with dropping him after all.

"But." He gestured at Tim, unable to find the words. He gestured again when Tim just looked at him. "But. I. What the hell?"

The corners of Tim's eyes crinkled slightly.

"Okay," Kon said slowly, mind working. Tim was sitting forward, hands clasped and head cocked as he waited. He looked so damned smug was the thing. He looked as if he were perching on the edge of his seat even up here, even in what was supposed to be Kon's element, lower than Kon and yet still holding the upper hand as always.

"Wait so. Which was right?" Trading off between right and wrong. The bitch was that Kon couldn't tell where the beginning was. Their original argument? He knew Tim was wrong, so if Tim realized he was wrong and conceded his error, that meant that Kon wanted to have sex with Tim but Tim didn't want to have sex with Kon. Of course, Tim could still be thinking he was right about the original problem, which meant that Kon didn't want to sleep with Tim but Tim did, in fact want Kon. Or he could be ignoring the first point altogether and starting with the statement "You want to have sex with me." The problem with that was that Kon didn't know whether Tim was starting out right or wrong and was that asshole laughing at him?

He narrowed his eyes at Tim whose lips were twitching suspiciously.

"I really hate you," Kon said, throwing up his hands. He had never been all too keen on puzzles, but Tim was a puzzle that endlessly fascinated him even when, yes, it turned out he was just being fucked with. Again. "I really should let you fall. Agh, hate you. So much. So, so much."

"I'm very sorry to hear that, Kon," Tim said, and Kon could hear the amusement in his voice. It was Tim-amusement—quick and lilting and hidden enough that only someone like Kon would catch it. Someone who knew him—maybe not the complex twists of his mind, but spot-on when it came to his emotions.

Knew him well enough to tell when he was amused but not, it turned out, well enough to tell if he had been joking about the sex thing. Kon hadn't really paid attention to the possibility of sexual tension between them before. He'd been too focused on Cassie's bared stomach or Raven's dark possibly evil sex-mojo-whatever thing. In fact, if he'd been asked, Kon would have laid all bets on him being straight. Straight as apple pies and spit curls and dorky secret identities.

And yet… And yet if Tim told him Kon was gay—told him that he, Kon, wanted Tim—Kon wouldn't argue. He figured that the knowing each other thing went two ways and he'd been wrong about himself before.

He sighed, knees bumping against Tim's. He was mentally chasing his tail again; Tim had an alarming ability to send him into somersaults with just a few well-chosen words. "Fine, fine, haha," Kon muttered darkly, looking away. "Let's just—go back down because we're not getting anything done h--"

The rest of his words were stolen, lost into Tim's mouth as Tim closed the short distance between them. His strong arms wrapped around Kon's neck, lithe body arching up as he licked past Kon's parted lips and into the cavern of his mouth. He tasted warm and wet and faintly coppery, tongue stroking in deep and knowing.

Kon lost control of his tk for a moment, dropping them a few terrified feet that ruffled their clothes and made him lose his breath but which did not, shockingly, make Tim stop kissing him. Tim's wet, hot tongue pushed again and again into his mouth, curling at the tip to explore the hard roof of his palate and the sharp ridges of his teeth. Kon murmured in appreciation, using bands of tk to anchor Tim against him as their tongues stroked languidly together. He automatically wrapped his arms around Tim, holding him close and forgetting everything but the wet slide of tongue, the sharp dig of Tim's fingers into his shoulders, the press of his hips as he settled between Kon's spread thighs.

Kon gasped, swallowing around Tim's tongue. His broad hands slid down the other boy's spine, moving to curve over the tight swell of his ass and squeeze. He felt Tim's cry echoing through his body, felt a sudden dizzy ache of warmth and shock.

He was kissing Tim.

He was kissing Tim.

Oh, this was absolutely brilliant!

Kon moved one hand up to cup the back of Tim's skull, tilting his head for better access. It was a shock—again, always—to realize how small Tim was in comparison to him. He fit so neatly against Kon's larger body, chest rubbing up against his, hips pressing in. Kon sucked hard on his tongue and felt the tremor move through Tim's compact body. He did it again, finding a rhythm that his hips echoed fitfully. He was almost shocked to realize he was hard, erection pressed against the zip of his jeans and, okay, maybe Tim was spot-on about this wanting to have sex thing.

Kon loved it when Tim was right.

Tim shivered and moaned into his mouth, tongue-fucking him. He shifted his hips and both of them jerked when their cocks pressed together, white heat sparking between their bodies. The thrusts intensified, hips quickly finding a comfortable counter-thrust, and Kon was doing his level best to keep kissing, keep thrusting in return, keep them airborne and keep his mind from exploding into drifts of color as he raced toward what promised to be a very, very embarrassingly quick end.

He shuddered, nipples tight enough that they ached. Tim's nails cut through to his skin and Kon could hear the clear rasp of denim on denim as they rubbed together. He gripped Tim's ass hard, making him yelp, then gentled the touch into an almost caress.

Finally Kon broke the kiss to draw in a breath. He tilted his head back, staring up at the sky with a kind of wordless wonder. Tim pressed his face against Kon's collar, lips swollen and wet and so achingly soft as they brushed the dip of bone.

Gradually Kon calmed. His heart was pounding loud and insistent and, oh, he ached so badly it made his toes curl but he wasn't about to come mid-air while wearing his favorite pair of jeans. He stroked his hand absently over Tim's ass before sliding up, fingers moving under the untucked hem of his shirt to brush the base of his spine.

"The first one was right," Kon murmured, breaking the comfortable silence.

"Mmm." He would have never pegged Tim for a snuggler.

"And." He shifted his hips and shivered at the press of Tim's erection. "The second one was right."

Kon could feel Tim's lips curve into a smile against his skin. "Mmm," Tim echoed, tongue darting out to tease up his neck.

"… you lied, dude."

Tim laughed, biting Kon's earlobe. His teeth were sharp and insistent, the quick pain followed by the gentle brush of his tongue. Kon closed his eyes and moaned, hands moving restlessly up and down Tim's spine again. He kneaded his ass, jaw lifting to give Tim better access.

"You were right about one thing at least," Tim murmured, sucking on the delicate lobe.

"Mm? Wha-?"

Tim's voice was low and wicked, his muscles tightening as he wrapped athletic thighs around Kon's waist. "You should have dropped me," he said.

Chapter Text

“Anders. Anders. Anders. Anders. Anders.”

Anders frowned down at his own spidery handwriting, easily ignoring the sing-song voice. It faded into the background of his thoughts, categorized with the crash of the waves against the pylons, the creak and sway of Darktown, the gurgle of sewage. It was just a backdrop to his own, more pressing thoughts. It was nothing.

“Anders. Anders. Anders. Anders. Anders. Anders.”

He dipped his quill into the inkwell and touched the tip of his tongue to his upper lip as he re-read his last sentence. The humanity of the mage is considered base, subsumed by— What? Subsumed by the laws of man? The fear of the populace? The terrorist force of the Chantry?

The humanity of the mage is considered base, subsumed by the…

“Anders. Anders. Anders. Anders. Anders.”

“Here,” another voice cut in—this one sullen and deep resonating down to his bones. Anders looked up, blinking in confused awareness, even as Carver swooped in…and semi-gently knocked him upside the head.

“Hey!” Anders squawked, ducking too late. He was already laughing, grabbing at Carver’s wrist and twisting away. He saw the flash of Carver’s teeth, an answering smile brightening the blunt lines of his almost-handsome face, and it was patently ridiculous the way his heart leapt and strained in his chest like a soaring bird. Ridiculous and illogical and inconvenient and— “I’ll have you know, I am doing very important work here.”

Carver snorted. Off to his left, standing still and blinking owlishly at the two of them, was one of Anders’s volunteers. She’d been the one calling his name for the last however long. “Yes, very important work,” Carver agreed, “starving yourself and ignoring your staff. It’s a wonder you haven’t reformed all of Kirkwall at this rate.”

He glanced over at Marta before Anders could think of a suitable comeback. “Right here will be fine,” he said. “He’s finished for now.”

“He’s not finished,” Anders protested, but he was already setting aside his quill and gathering his sheaf of papers. There was a gratifying number of them, each page filled from edge to edge with his careful script—perhaps it wouldn’t be so very wrong to take a short break. “He’s barely even started, and he deeply resents this intrusion.”

“He’s also speaking in third person,” Carver pointed out, taking the basket Marta handed over and plopping it in front of Anders, “which, I don’t have to tell you, is a terrible sign. Here,” he added, pushing aside the red cloth and revealing a mouthwatering array of fruits, breads, meats and cheeses. “Food. I’ll stay and make sure you eat it.”

Anders set his stack of papers safely aside and reached into the basket, pulling out a small bottle of red—not anything from Fenris’s cellars, he was relieved to note. “Your maternal instinct never fails to amaze me, Carver,” he teased, touched that his friend had thought to bring him dinner. His stomach, Anders realized, was a series of knots; he couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten. (Better not admit that to Carver out loud if he didn’t want to be scolded fair into next week.)

Carver’s brows drew together as he perched on the edge of Anders’s desk. “I’ll show you maternal. If you don’t finish the whole basket, I’ll turn you over my knee—see if I don’t.”

Anders looked up, brows dancing playfully. For a moment, he felt all of sixteen, taking playful jabs at his fellow mages and flirting shamelessly. “Ooh, intriguing,” he purred.

The flush that swept across Carver Hawke’s face was brilliant and sudden as a crashing wave. He sputtered, looking away—looking anywhere but at Anders—and shifted awkwardly on the creaking desk. The hunch of his shoulders and the dip of his lashes reminded Anders the way nothing else could just how young Carver was. Sometimes, it was too easy to forget the years that separated them…and the complete lack of experience Carver would have gained running from village to village in the shadow of his older brother and twin sister.

No wonder he was bashful. No wonder he never seemed to know how to respond those rare times Anders allowed himself to flirt. Step carefully, you idiot, he reminded himself, smile gentling. Anders tugged the cork free and took a swig, then handed him the bottle in a peace offering. “Thank you for the food,” he said, digging into the basket and allowing the tension to seep away. “I appreciate the thought. I won’t tell you how long it’s been since I last broke my fast.”

Carver looked up, semi-scowling. It wasn’t one of his real scowls. It was another mask, intended to hide the worry banked in his eyes. Anders couldn’t even remember how long it had been since he’d looked at Carver and only seen the surly, awkward, angry front he kept so firmly in place. “You’d better not,” Carver said. He set the wine aside, untouched, close to Anders’s elbow. This is for you, the gesture said, eloquent in a way Carver’s words rarely were. I’m worried about you. I want to take care of you. “You’ll only make me angry.”

“Maker forbid,” Anders said. But he leaned against Carver’s knee for a moment, enjoying the brief point of contact and the way Carver’s frown flickered, died, twisted up at the corners into a near-bashful smile. “Why don’t you tell me what you’ve been up to today while I make short work of this picnic?” he added. “Is there any news from the Gallows?”

He didn’t pull away right away, and Carver didn’t straighten. Instead, they remained pressed very, very lightly together as Anders ate and Carver talked—a sort of peace settling over them the way it always seemed to now that they were allies. Basking in the low rumble of Carver’s voice, Anders gave himself over to the simple comfort of food and drink and companionship, wishing he had the courage to reach up and slip his hand into the other man’s.

Wishing he had the strength to look into his eyes and let him see exactly how touched he was by his friendship, his concern, his…love.

Dangerous thoughts, Anders warned himself, feeling the flicker of Justice low in his belly. This warm comfort couldn’t last, after all. There were causes to fight, wars to wage, injustices to right. And yet, in this moment—with the sun streaking its last rays through the clinic’s high windows and catching in messy dark hair—Anders could almost pretend this was something he was allowed to have. This was a future that wasn’t closed off to him.

A boy nine years his junior, surly and sullen and bursting inside with all the boundless affection he had to give—determined to save the mages because it was the right thing to do, save his brother because he cared more than he would ever admit, and save Anders because…

Because…

Maker take him, Anders had no idea why Carver wanted so badly to save him. But sitting together in the clinic, his stomach finally full and his heart trembling like a caged bird in his chest, he thought, maybe, it didn’t matter why so long as he could pretend this could be his.

Chapter Text

“I’ll see you later tonight,” Poe says before signing off. His eyebrows dance. “For our anniversary.” Then the holo goes dark.

It goes dark, and Finn is just sitting there, frozen in place, mind whirling like a fighter caught in freefall because…what? What? What?

What anniversary?

“Um,” he says, looking up, then craning around, as if Rey will appear by some miracle over his shoulder. As if she’ll sense him freaking out in his own head and cross an ocean of stars just to take his hand and talk him through this. She’s usually good—great!—at translating these little moments for him. These little missteps and misunderstandings and mistakes and okay wow anniversary. Those are…big, right? Those are important? Those are relationship-breaking important if you forget them, he thinks, and how were you supposed to know you were about to have one?

“Ah, Master Finn,” C-3PO says, bright eyes like a lamp as he moves into the room. “I was asked to inform you—”

“I need help!” Finn yelps, scrambling up from the metal crate that has been serving as the comm room’s chair. It’s a little outpost they’ve found themselves on, hardscrabble in a way Finn’s gotten used to seeing in the resistance. They’ve only been here a month, but it already feels like home. “I need, I need—” He sounds way too panicked. Finn straightens like a light’s been switched, throwing back his shoulders, going for cool. Cooler. Passably in control, at the very least. “You’re a protocol droid.”

“Indeed I am, sir,” C-3PO says, blithe as ever to the sudden zipping change in mood. “I have been programmed with—”

He clears his throat. “Okay,” he says. This doesn’t have to be a disaster. He can do this. He may not instinctively know all the little touchpoints and rituals of normal relationships—normal lives—but so far winging it has been working for him, so. Right. Doing this. So, so doing this. “Tell me everything you know about celebrating anniversaries.”

**

It turns out, asking C-3PO to tell you everything he knows is a serious misstep and he should know better by now.

**

(He still takes notes.)

**

“I need a shower,” are the first words Poe says when he strides inside the base. He grinning, dark hair shining and ropey with sweat, beads of it trickling down his temples. It’s just the three of them here now (well, four, with BB-8 chirruping a happy greeting), so Finn’s taken this whole thing to heart and decked out the main room. It’s bigger than their little storage closet of a bedroom anyway, and candles would be dangerous in that restrictive space—even though out here the cross-breeze keeps threatening to blow them out, which, gah—and he’s not sure the pile of presents would fit, even small as they are. Not with two full-grown men and a sudden need to strip Poe of his flight suit and see if those beads of sweat wend all the way down.

Poe slows, then stops. He looks around, blinking. “So,” he says after a beat, helmet under one arm. “I’m thinking I’m missing something here. Catch me up so I can get in on the—the whatever this is.”

“Anniversary,” Finn says quickly, stepping forward. He’s dressed up as best he can, shoes shined and jacket relaxed around his shoulders. C-3PO even helped him find a bit of red cloth to fold and sew into some kind of elaborate tie. It hangs around his neck, supposedly traditional. He can’t help but think it looks like a noose, or a leading rope. “Happy anniversary?”

Silence.

Pure, stunned silence.

Then Poe begins to laugh—low and soft, gentle. It’s always gentle enough that Finn knows that he’s not being laughed at, even when he’s unmistakably the cause, the butt, the—whatever. He watches as Poe sets aside his helmet and tugs down the zip of his flight suit, revealing the line of his throat and a bit of springy dark chest hair over his soaked undershirt. He should be disgusting, but Finn can’t help but think he smells amazing. “Finn,” he says, “have you been freaking out over this?”

“What? No,” Finn says, then slumps a little when Poe reaches out to take his hand. “Yeah. But I wanted to do this right. You know…candles. Flowers.” They’re sad and droopy and more like weeds, but they’re the best he could do. “Gifts. Music. Wait. C-3PO forgot the music. I—”

He begins to turn, but Poe just reels him back, closer this time. His warm brown eyes are scanning Finn’s face, like he’s memorizing this moment. “And what did you think we were celebrating?”

“…our anniversary?” Finn tries in a quiet, slightly strangled voice. It’s always so incredibly hard to find his breath when Poe is this close. “Uh, you said… Last night, before you signed off, you said…” His words trail off, useless in the face of Poe’s thumb tracing so, so lightly across the meat of his palm. Just…yeah, gragh, how is he supposed to think when Poe does that?

“The anniversary of what? What did you figure?”

He lets out a loud, gusting breath, shrugging. “I don’t know!” Finn finally admits. “First meeting? First dating? First kissing? First, uh, I love you.” He still blushes at that; blushes harder at the way Poe leans in, eyes going heavy-lidded and soft. “I don’t know,” he says again, quieter. “I didn’t even know I was supposed to be keeping track until it was too late. But I just thought… I didn’t want…”

“Finn. I’m never going to ding you for not knowing things,” Poe says. He reaches up, calloused hand cupping Finn’s jaw. His fingers move so he can brush along the thrum of his pulse, that way he does (“Lets me know you’re alive, you’re okay.”) and Finn shivers, sure he can feel it pounding like a drum between them. “I should have thought before I said anything; I’m sorry.”

“There’s nothing—” But he could be saying it with a kiss instead of clumsy words, so he presses in to brush their mouths together. Light and soft and hot all at once, melting slick with just the hint of tongue; enough to make them both shiver. Poe reaches up blindly and grabs the length of his makeshift tie—and hey, finally those things make sense to him.

But Finn pulls back a little before the kiss can sink any hotter and make him lose focus. “What is the anniversary then?” he asks, breathless.

Poe’s eyes light up, grin going slow and crooked. He bites his bottom lip—then leans in and bites Finn’s instead. “Oh, you know,” he says, tongue brushing over the marks his teeth left behind, making Finn shiver and quake against him. “Something real romantic. Something that reveals the soul of the poet you’ve fallen in with. Something…”

“Poe,” he says, laughing and almost-moaning, all at once. Funny how he didn’t know that could happen until the first time Poe kissed him.

Poe just grins. “It’s the grand anniversary of the first night I tongue-fucked you over a resistance command console,” he says, then laughs at Finn’s pole-axed stare. “Happy anniversary, baby.”

Chapter Text

They were hemmed in from all sides.

It wasn’t the worst situation they’d ever found themselves in, Percy mused as he adjusted Bad News, checking and re-checking his (dwindling; damn it) supply of ammo. In fact, if sat with scroll and quill to tally up their adventures, it likely wouldn’t even reach top ten.

But it certainly wasn’t the easy in-and-out the sorceress had promised. They were deep in the earth, far below the temple; it was dark enough he swore he was starting to forget what daylight was; and the silence was broken only by the fitful shifting of Vox Machina and the skittering whisper of nails against stone…somewhere. Somewhere near. Somewhere growing nearer by the moment.

“This is probably a bad time to mention it,” Scanlan whispered from somewhere by his elbow, “but I’ve been holding a shit for the last three hours, and if I don’t—”

Scanlan,” Vex hissed, a laugh shivering beneath the word. “Is that really necessary?”

“—if I don’t pop a squat soon, my trouser situation is going to become even more uncomfortable.” He paused. “There’s only so much I can stuff inside before the seams burst, you know.” He paused. “My trousers are quite full already.” Pause. “My penis. I’m talking about my penis. I’m talking about how I have a ridiculously huge—

Percy jerked his arm as he cleaned the muzzle of his pepperbox; his lips curved at the dull thunk of impact and Scanlan’s low, hissed, “Owwww.”

“Are you hurt?” Pike piped up, threading past where Vex and Vax and Keyleth had their heads together. She reached out in the darkness, just barely visible. “Did you trigger another trap? Do you need healing—not that you deserve it,” she added in a teasingly scolding afterthought.

Percy snorted.

Scanlan murmured something back—something about pretty eyes and healing touches, though really, he’d given up listening to that sort of nonsense ages ago—and Percy turned away from the gnomes, scanning the little room they’d hunkered down in…just in time to see a shadow detach and slip toward the far door.

He straightened, instant alarm transmutating into sudden, blinding fury. Oh, no. No he didn’t. Not again. Percy pushed past Scanlan and Pike, ignoring the clank of plate mail and Scanlan’s yelped, “Hey!” Vex and Keyleth looked up in alarm as he brushed past them, and even Grog glanced up from the steady sharpening of his blade to waggle his brows in question.

Percy ignored them all. His shoulders went straight, back an iron line and chin lifting as he strode after the silent shadow, so fiercely, honestly, blessedly pissed the fuck off that he barely recognized the old familiar rhythm of aristocratic boots drumming against stone. It had been so long since he’d been that man, but he could practically feel the memory of it settling around his shoulders as righteous gods-damned fury filled him, firing his blood.

He would have shot the idiot in his foot if he dared make a sound.

Instead, Percy shoved his pepperbox into its holster and grabbed for the deeper darkness just as he turned the first corner. He couldn’t see for shit now, but his fingers closed around soft, black fabric, and Percy gave a hard yank.

Vax didn’t stumble back; of course he didn’t. But he did whirl to face Percy, breath hot against his chin in the darkness.

“What are you doing?” Percy hissed—glad for once how imperious he could sound.

Vax pressed a hand to his chest to keep him back. “Getting us out of here. Hold position with the rest,” Vax added, voice dropped into the barest of whispers. “I will scout ahead.”

“The void you will!”

He couldn’t even articulate why he was so incredibly angry at the thought. It was just… It always ended like this, didn’t it? Vax or Vex detaching from the group with no warning, risking themselves while the rest of them—while Percy—sat uselessly waiting, thumb tracing the trigger of his gun. Breath held. Heart tripping along its unruly path. Certain with each passing moment that he’d never see him alive.

Wait, no: see them alive.

…no. No. See him.

“…with you?” Vax was demanding, each word felt more than heard. They were close, they were very close, whispering against awareness of creatures in the dark, each breath little more than shared air. “I can take the measure of this infernal place better than any. When I return, we will face whatever it is that watches us from the shadows, but until then—”

“Oh, shut up,” Percy snapped, stunned by his own realization.

It wasn’t often he was able to get the drop on Vax, but the sharpness of his voice must have startled him; or maybe he simply read Percy’s intent in the bunching of his muscles seconds before it happened. Either way, Percy got a tighter grip on the front of Vax’s dark cloak and yanked him against his body—finding his mouth in the dark for an angry, fearful, claiming kiss. Their teeth clashed and their lips clung; he licked deep into Vax’s mouth at the first startled hiss of breath, free hand settling against the back of his neck. Fine dark hair spilled across his knuckles and he swore he tasted blood—but beneath that, shockingly sweet for all its bite, was Vax.

Vax.

Gods, how long had he been wanting this?

And…shit, Vax wasn’t responding.

Percy began to pull back, an apology on his lips, when Vax suddenly surged up into the kiss, grabbing at Percy’s waist and digging his nails in tight. His lips parted with a swallowed moan and their tongues twined, inelegant and demanding and hotter than anything Percy could imagine. He shuddered, pushing forward, and Vax pushed back, the violence of their kiss translating into the way their hips shoved close—sending Percy back toward the wall, sending Vax stumbling once into the dark, hands gripping in Percy’s hair, fingers digging into Vax’s skin, teeth clashing, tongues slick and hot, breaths panting harshly together, needing, needing, needing—

He jerked back and clapped a hand over Vax’s mouth when the half-elf moaned at the sudden hard grind of their cocks, and they both froze there, panting. It was too dark to see anything, but Percy swore he could feel Vax’s eyes on him. He wondered if they were blown wide and dark; gods but he wished he could see.

Finally, when Percy was reasonably certain they had control of themselves again, he dropped his hand. “Very well,” he whispered, as if the mad clash of their bodies had been a reasoned debate. “But we will continue this discussion later.”

“Aye,” Vax said in a wonderfully husky voice. There was the faintest brush of something ghosting across Percy’s cheek. Vax’s knuckles? No, he must have imagined it. “But first? I scout.”

“I hate you,” Percy muttered, meaning anything but. He was grinning to himself like an idiot, fairly sure Vax was already long gone. It took so little for that man to disappear through his fingers like smoke.

Then, clearing his throat, he tugged at the edge of his tooled leather doublet and turned, ready to join the rest of Vox Machina in interminable waiting—and yelped at a sudden swat across his ass. “Liar,” Vax whispered hot into the shell of his ear, tongue darting out to trace the lobe up to the cool metal of his glasses…and then he was melting away, lost in darkness, leaving Percy with aching heat flooding his body and a ridiculous smile crossing his face.

Well, he figured, touching his mouth. At least no one will see me in the dark.

Chapter Text

The night was young, laughter ringing through the keep. Percy ignored the clamor of voices and focused on this latest arrow, second lens down to magnify the tiny working pieces. His hands were always steady, but there was something about tinkering that brought him to a perfectly zen place—as if he were stepping out of time, out of body, out of—

Liiiiiiiiick.

Percy froze, then slowly closed his eyes. “What do you think you are doing?” he asked, rhetorically. Mostly rhetorically.

Raawrrgle.” Trinket nuzzled at the big, wet stripe up his cheek (and into his hair) huffing hot puffs of air. They made the lapels of his coat flutter, but his hands remained absolutely frozen about his delicate work.

His delicate, dangerous work.

“Trinket,” Percy began. He carefully (carefully carefully, oh gods so carefully) set the black powder aside and laid the arrow on its delicate stand before turning his glower on the bear. “I don’t know what you are hoping to get from this, but—”

His words ended in a thick, wet sputter as Trinket licked him in a swath from chin to mouth to the crown of his head.

“Gragh, gah, gah!” Percy sputtered, twisting and turning to get away. Trinket just pressed closer with a whuffing breath, and Percy barely had time to realize what was happening before the chair was tipping and he was sprawling across the stone floor—graceless and laughing, even as he tried to shove the big, furry head off of him. “What, what are you—Trinket! Trinket, stop it this insta—”

Percy broke off on a laugh at the next swipe of Trinket’s tongue—this time across his neck and ear. The bear’s breath smelled like meat and soured fish, and he felt as if he’d been dropped into a sauna, sweat beading where the heavy fur was pressed, but still—still!—there was something so ridiculously sweet about Trinket’s sudden affection that Percy couldn’t help but wrap an arm around his neck and hug back. “Yes, yes, I love you too,” he said, butting his forehead against the furry one. “Now get off before you crush me to death; what in blazes has Vex been feeding you?”

“Oh, this and that,” a cheerful voice called. Percy grabbed a fistful of fur and pulled Trinket’s head aside enough to look over one brawny shoulder. Vex was standing over them both, leaning forward so her dark braid swung down. Her grin spread wide across her uncommonly pretty face. “A trout here; a haunch there. A gunslinging scientist when he’s been very good.”

He snorted, reaching up. “Which one of us? Don’t answer that,” he said. Vex caught his hand in hers—fingers calloused; he never could seem to control the shiver when he felt them against his skin—and helped yank him out from beneath the great bear. Her eyes danced as she looked him over, and he could only imagine how he looked: rumpled, flushed, still laughing like a schoolboy. Completely undignified.

Oh well. Dignity wasn’t as comfortable as the loose cock of her hip and the steady gleam of her grin anyway.

“Did you sic your bear on me for a purpose?” he asked once he was more or less composed.

“I would never dream of doing such a thing,” Vex protested. She laughed when he just scoffed and adjusted his glasses. “Though that’s a good look on you. Grog, Scanlan and I were going for a pint, by the by. Care to crawl out of your cave and join us?”

“There’s nothing I would love more,” Percy said dryly—surprising himself when he realized that was true—but if someone wants more exploding arrows, drinks will have to wait a few hours. They don’t make themselves, you realize.”

Her eyes had narrowed at the first bit, but they grew wider and wider with visible delight as he finished. “Presents?” Vex breathed. She launched herself forward, and for the strangest moment Percy swore she was going to kiss him—but she just reached up to straighten his glasses, smooth down his ruffled hair, putting him to rights before grabbing his shoulders and whirling him back around. “Sit,” Vex said, giving him a gentle shove. “Invent. Give me wonderfully explodey presents. I’ll save you a seat at the tavern and make sure Grog doesn’t drink all the ale.”

“Very well,” Percy said, flushed, smiling—then yelped when she gave his arse a little smack. When he glanced over his shoulder, surprised, she winked at him. “What was that for?” he asked. Struggling not to blush all the more when her smile grew positively wicked.

“Why,” Vex said, looking him up and down. “For inspiration, of course.”

Chapter Text

It was dark, cold, and cramped—quarters tight enough that if he so much as breathed, he’d feel Vax’s hip digging into parts best left unmentioned. Any other time, Percy may have been willing to see that as a bonus, but considering what they were hiding from… And (lest we forget) whose fault it ultimately was…

Well. He wasn’t exactly at his most magnanimous.

“So,” Percy whispered. He turned his face until his nose brushed against Vax’s temple, breath stirring strands of dark hair. Teasing against his ear. “For the record…”


Vax shivered hard enough that Percy could feel him against the long line of his body. It was a curious sensation, knowing he was unsettling the quicksilver rogue, but Percy didn’t have long to feel smug before Vax was twisting his face away, his own breath coming out in a single harsh exhale. “Stop,” he hissed.

Percy? Did not stop. “For the record,” he continued, deliberately breathing each word into the sensitive shell of Vax’s ear, “when I agreed to see where this went, I wasn’t envisioning in the belly of an umber hulk as a likely option.”

“This isn’t exactly what I had in mind,” Vax pointed out. He caught Percy’s shoulder and tried to push him away, breath audibly breaking. Quickening with annoyance and desire. Served him right. “Stop. That. Percival.”

“No?” Percy mused. His lips brushed the delicate eartip as he lifted his chin; he wondered if he could get away with more while still towing this line they’d drawn between them. No. Probably best to wait on that. “I can’t imagine why you didn’t think cowering for our lives in a dank cavern would be romantic.” He huffed a (cruel) breath, grinning in the dark when Vax practically swallowed his own tongue to muffle a high keen. It wasn’t often he got the upper hand like this. Maybe it wouldn’t be a wasted evening after all. “Of course, you’re not exactly known for thinking first.”

“Would you stop it? I am trying to concentrate.”

He chuckled, gripping Vax’s hip. “On what, I wonder? Planning a second date, perhaps? Oh, I know: how about we throw rocks at a beholder?”

Vax huffed a breath and shifted again, trying to get away from Percy’s hot, teasing breaths. Or was he deliberately dragging his hips against Percy in retaliation? Damn it, he hated not being able to see. A good half of reading Vax was being able to stare straight into his (beautifully) shifty eyes. The rest, of course, came down to good old-fashioned guesswork. Percy supposed that was what ultimately drew him to the twins: with them, the floor was always shifting under his feet and he couldn’t fall back on the route responses he’d learned as a boy.

They were… They were a puzzle. And he’d always had an inquisitive mind.

But right now, that puzzle was starting to drive him a little crazy too—the really good kind of crazy that required long, uninterrupted evenings to explore—so he caught Vax about the hips and pushed him against the wall of the copse they were hidden in. Just hard enough to make his breath catch and his teeth rattle—and oh hell, moan deep in his chest, the noise echoing through the cavern and Percy’s own all-too-responsive body.

Deeper within the cave, something roared in response. The two of them went very still.

“For the record,” Percy said, breathless, heart pounding in a mix of arousal and fright, “this date could have gone better.”

Vax just snorted and turned his face for a blind, sloppy—and yet still hotter than it had any right to be—kiss before wriggling free. “Yes, yes, fine,” he said. “Now would you please bitch as we run, because someone mentioned throwing rocks as a great second date, and I’m eager to survive long enough to—”

He cut off on a laugh when Percy swatted at him, and then they were running: stupid and giddy and somehow indescribably happy despite inevitable death bounding down the cavern on their heels…hands brushing now and then as they took blind corners and impossible risks.

All in all, Percy thought, grinning wide into the dark, for a first date…it wasn’t half bad.

Chapter Text

“And the dragon threw back his big scaly head and let out a giant roar: ROOOOOOAAAR!

Hands hooked into talons, body hunkered close to the stone floor and blanket tucked into his waistband to simulate the all-important tail, Alistair threw back his head and bellowed as loud as he could. It echoed through the great hall and bounced off ancient stone, ten times bigger than he’d ever thought possible. The arl’s dogs immediately lifted their heads; the youngest rose, barking happily in response.

“ROAR!” Alistair tried again, facing off against the pup. “‘I will roast your flesh like mutton and chomp your bones like…like chomp-y bones!’ the dragon said as he glowered down at the knight.”

The “knight” barked in response, little tail wagging. It barked again when Alistair made as if to grab for it, clumsy paws skittering across the floor. Alistair snagged it around its waist, but the puppy just rolled in his arms, willingly showing its belly, tongue lolling out in a smile.

Alistair pulled back, frowning. From a long, long ways away, he could hear the baby’s piercing screams. Again, ugh. “You’re supposed to fight back,” he told the pup. It just panted happily, licking at his face when he leaned too close.

“Argh, get off,” he muttered, wiping a sleeve across his wet cheek—but he was grinning back, already shifting into a new sort of play. It was boring living up in the castle most days. Once he was done mucking the stables, there weren’t many kids about interested in playing. Even down in the village, the few boys his age tended to give him a wide berth, like being a bastard was catching or something.

(It wasn’t. He’d asked.)

That left his own overactive imagination and Arl Eamon’s hunting dogs. The newest litter was the most fun Alistair decided with a whooping laugh, catching her up around the waist. Another of the pups—roused by his littermate’s happy barks—tumbled toward them with more eagerness than grace.

“Oh no, m’lady!” Alistair said, twisting so she was behind him. “An ogre attacks! Stay back and I will defend you with—oof!

The ‘lady’, in no mood to stand back, wriggled free of his grip and immediately tangled between his legs while the attacking ‘ogre’ skidded into him full-speed. Alistair stumbled, hopped, twisted, trying desperately not to fall on the gleefully barking dogs. He grabbed blindly for something to hold onto, fingers closing around soft cloth and gripping tight as he went crashing down.

There was a moment of resistance, the cloth holding tight, before metal screeched and glass shattered and—

Bam!

—the giant curtain rod fell across his already-kicking legs, heavy red velvet blanketing him in sudden, hushed darkness. Even the pups went quiet in the aftermath, and Alistair heard the distant wail of baby Connor growing louder and louder as angry footsteps stalked down the steps.

“Bollocks!” he yelped, scrabbling at the cloaking shroud. He twisted, kicking blindly, boots crunching against shards of glass as he tried to wriggle himself free. He couldn’t seem to get his limbs to obey, however, young body gone awkward and coltish. Around him, the dogs were barking again—all of them, young and old, like a warning bay.

Run, run, run.

“Bloody— Bloody—” he panted, struggling. Each kick only seemed to get him more twisted up, blanket and drapes and unsteady limbs all acting against him as sheer panic flooded his system. The baby’s screams were close now; the arlessa’d be stalking through the door at any moment. He reached out, trying to feel along the ground in the darkness to see what was pinning him down, and his palm sliced across a thick shard; heat bloomed well before the pain. “Bloody blasted void and damnation!”

Alistair!”

It was too late; she was already here.

Alistair went still, shoulders hunching instinctively forward. He felt a paw land on the heavy cloth next to his thigh, then a face pressed in close to his. He could smell the hound’s breath even through the arlessa’s best Orlesian curtains.

“Get out of there this instant! What do you think you are doing?”

Knitting! he almost sassed back. But he’d promised the arl—swore to him as one man to another—that he’d do his best not to antagonize the arlessa any more than necessary, so he bit his tongue and just…hummed the response beneath his breath.

Connor? Wailed. Because that’s all the brand new baby seemed to know how to do.

“Well?” the arlessa demanded—closer now, as if she’d stalked near. The dogs were circling, whining. A small, mean part of Alistair wished they’d leap to his defense and knock her down. But…no, no, because Connor might have been an ugly strip of screaming jerky (red and all wrinkled up in leathery lines), but he was a baby and Alistair didn’t want him to be hurt. He didn’t even want the arlessa to be hurt—not really.

Just…maybe…startled a bit. With a bruise. On her bum!

“I was—sorry,” Alistair managed, struggling to find the edge of the curtain again. He nearly tipped over, snorting a laugh, a cold nose pressing into his armpit, another hitting his stomach. “Sorry! I’m just…” He grabbed what he was pretty sure was the end and yanked.

Riiiiiiip.

“Alistair!” the arlessa snapped, pure fire in her voice, as if she were the dragon. Even Connor went quiet for a moment at that.

“…oops,” Alistair said, before deciding to make the most of a bad situation. He found the rip in the cloth and poked his head through, then his shoulders. It ripped farther around him as he squirmed an arm free. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I was just—”

Playing, he almost said. But when he looked up into her eyes, the word died on his tongue. He flinched back, bloody palm sliding across the stone. He couldn’t even say what it was that unnerved him. It was just, Maker, her eyes. The way she looked at him. The angry curl of her lip.

He felt his own lower lip began to tremble, and he bit it hard, determined not to let her see just how much she could get to him. Alistair stared defiantly up at the arlessa, shrouded in her ruined drapes. Waiting.

She shifted Connor in her arms, one hand protectively bracing his head. The motion was gentle, loving—a mother’s touch. He refused to let it make his insides curdle. “Explain yourself,” she said, taking a step forward. The girl pup yipped and bounded in front of Alistair as if to protect him; the movement made the arlessa jostle to a stop, Connor immediately beginning to wail in response. The pup howled in return, matching Connor’s rising pitch with a shriek of its own.

“Oh, by the Maker, be quiet!” the arlessa snapped, glowering down at the yapping hound, body huddling around her son. The little infant’s hands were balled up and swinging, red as rashvine.

Alistair felt a moment of pity, of guilt, and reached out to snag the pup by the scruff of its neck. “Come on, then,” he said, tugging her back just hard enough to get her attention. She scrabbled against the stone floor but let him tug her away with a yip, dark eyes bouncing between him and the arlessa. “She’s not actually going to breathe fire. C’mon,” he added, shaking free of the drape and lifting the small dog in his arms. His hand was starting to really hurt, adrenaline fading as the arlessa just stood there in all her frazzled new-mother glory and glared. His knees were pretty sore, too, and his tailbone ached dully. Alistair made to rub it, but he misjudged his grip on the pup and had to fumble to keep her from falling, pitching forward when he tripped over the blanket still trailing from his waistband.

That sent him stumbling into the arlessa, who gasped and jerked away as if bastard really was catching. She cradled a howling Connor against her breast, catching her balance even as Alistair reached out to help her, grubby—bloody—fingers snatching the end of her nice post-maternity gown.

The bloody handprint stood out starkly against lovely violet silk.

The arlessa sucked in a furious breath, yanking herself away. Connor. Just. Screamed. “Get out,” she said in a voice he’d never heard before. It was low and dangerous, rumbling at the bottom of her register.

“But,” Alistair began, fumbling for the right sort of apology. He figured he probably should have one always at the ready; he’d had to apologize to this woman for so many things ever since the arl brought her into their lives.

But the arlessa was pulling away, her face a thundercloud, actual tears in her eyes, as if Alistair had done more than ruin some stupid old dress and window. “Get. Out,” she said. “Get out! Get out of here now! I don’t want to see you!”

Alistair scrambled back, dog still clutched in his arms. The other pup was cringing at his feet and the grown dogs were circling, huffing, at his side. He took a step toward the door that would lead deeper into the keep, but she screamed, “GET OUT!” with such sudden ferocity that he turned on his heel and ran for the door that would lead him to the courtyard and, and, and out. Out of her sight, out of what had always been his home, out of the stormcloud that had settled over Redcliffe from the moment the newly married arlessa had been introduced to him by the arl with an oddly nervous:

“And this is Alistair, my— I mean, the stable lad.”

“A stable lad who lives within the castle?” she’d said, her smile—the only one she’d ever given him—already fading fast.

And the arl for some reason had just looked guilty, as if he’d been caught in some trap. “Aye,” was all he’d said; the arlessa had hated Alistair ever since.

He could hear those memories swarming like bees in his head, could hear her echoing shout: GET OUT! He slammed out the door with his head ducked against soft fur and his cheeks already streaked with tears; the rest of the hounds raced after him on silent paws. He barely saw the steps beneath his feet, the hardened ground, the familiar packed earth giving way to grass and then worn planks of wood as he sprinted away from the castle and over the bridge, winding up into the hills rather than down down down toward Redcliffe below.

There was nowhere in the castle he could feel safe; there was nowhere in the village he could feel welcomed. There was nowhere for him at all—nowhere he belonged, nowhere he was supposed to be. And that, that just made him feel sick and hurt and angry inside, like he’d swallowed something that made his stomach ache. He wanted nothing more in that moment than to be able to breathe fire in truth and raze the whole bloody castle to the ground. He even thought, in his moment of pure, hurt, little boy’s fury, that he’d happily burn up the arl and arlessa and even little screaming Connor in the blast.

Except… Except now that he’d thought it, the image of them all blackened and screaming turned his stomach, made his eyes burn, and Alistair went stumbling blindly to the soft grass between one step and the next. He let out the whooping sob he’d been choking back for so long, pup tumbling from his arms as he slapped his palms against the ground, catching himself. He immediately curled into a ball, eyes squeezing shut; his whole body shook with a storm of emotion.

I hate her, he thought, ignoring the soft bodies of the hounds as they pressed around him. I hate her, I hate her, I hate them. I hate them. I—

He sucked in a breath, shoving at the dog’s soft snout as it tried to nuzzle his cheek. “Go away,” he snarled without any real heat, voice catching on the words. He sounded stupidly weak even to his own ears; whiny. No wonder the arlessa didn’t like him. No wonder the arl didn’t bother trying to defend him. No wonder he had no friends and no family and nothing, nothing.

He was loud and obnoxious and always saying and doing the wrong thing. He never, never could get it right no matter how hard he tried. So why even bother?

Alistair sighed, turning his face with a hitching breath. He let himself get nudged over onto his back by one of the grown hounds, another pinning his legs while the two pups licked at his tears…and running, snotty nose.

“Groooooo-ooss,” Alistair said, voice breaking mid-word. It was just past sunset, the twilight settling in soft and violet around him. On this high Redcliffe hill, he could see the blanket of stars uninterrupted by lights from the castle. Somewhere in the distance, a ram bleated, and bugs chirruped cheerfully.

From the underbrush just off to his right came the soft pad of feet.

Alistair twisted around to look, wiping at his face. He wasn’t afraid; it sounded like four feet, not two, and none of the dogs were responding as if they sensed a threat. Except— The girl pup lifted her head, looking up with a curious, “Arooo?” Next to Alistair’s knee, the boy pup stumbled forward, tripping over its own long ears.

“Uh,” Alistair said, squinting into the gathering dark. “Hello?”

Leaves rustled…and then a mabari emerged from the underbrush, slowly pushing its way through with astounding grace, as if melting out of the shadows themselves. It was big and old, fiercer than any dog Alistair had ever seen, with a thick neck leading into an odd irregular hump before flattening down into powerful haunches. Silver streaked its fur and its ears were notched with old wounds. It was missing an eye, but the kaddis swirling across its face made the scar tissue seem almost…beautiful. Around its neck hung an elaborately woven collar, reeds and grass and dried flowers folded together in unexpected twists and shapes.

Alistair stared, mouth agape, at the unexpected creature. A mabari. An actual mabari!Wooooow,” he said at last. “Who are you?”

“I’m Kyra,” the mabari said without moving her mouth. Then, “Why are you crying?”

He yelped in surprise, scrambling up to his feet so fast he nearly overbalanced. His heart was all at once racing again, and Alistair didn’t know whether to go running back down the steep incline to the relative safety of the castle or…or closer to see this strange, impossible apparition better in the growing moonlight. Torn between the two impulses, he just gaped in shock…

…and promptly fell back on his (sore) arse with a whooshing breath when the mabari’s dark hump detached itself, lifting up and up. It wasn’t a part of the beast at all—it was a girl, wolf’s pelt cloak around her shoulders, a single dark braid tumbling down her back.

He blinked at her, part relieved and part disappointed. (As frightening as the thought had been, it would have been so cool to meet an actual talking mabari.) She was an elf, with the delicately tapered ears and big, big eyes of her race. But she didn’t look at all like the servants that crept about Redcliffe castle. Her skin was dark chestnut brown; her hair a deep black. She was small, but poised in a way he would never have expected. What’s more, her big golden-brown eyes didn’t drop to the ground in reflexive servility the way all other elves he’d ever met did.

Instead, she looked right at him, her brows furrowed into a little frown. It was the frown that unstuck his tongue.

“Sooooo,” Alistair said, looking up at her. Riding the back of her huge old mabari, she seemed incredibly tall—even though he had a suspicion she would be smaller than him if they were standing side by side. “Are you riding into battle, like a houndmaiden?” The question sounded less stupid in his head.

The girl’s frown just grew, and Alistair braced himself for mockery. But then she leaned forward, odd nut-and-bone necklace clacking as it swung against her clavicle, and asked with the utmost earnestness: “Why? Do you need me to battle someone for you?”

He had no idea what to say to that.

“Is that why you were crying?” she continued. She didn’t sound like she looked—wild, like one of the elves that lived out in the forest. Instead, her accent was pure Ferelden, as common and comforting as Redcliffe itself. “Did someone hurt you? Haemir and I can help if they did.”

“I wasn’t—” Alistair began immediately, then stopped. He wiped at his face with a dirty cuff. “Oh, it’s all right. I’m used to it by now.”

The girl—Kyra—frowned even more at that, but she seemed to take him for his word. She grabbed the scruff of Haemir’s neck and swung herself down, landing lightly on bare feet. She was dressed in a strange hodgepodge of homespun and leathers, tattered trousers mended and mended again, in sharp contrast to the beautiful hand-tooling of her fitted leather vest. Standing, she was barely taller than her (admittedly huge) mabari; Alistair was bad at judging the ages of elves, but she looked around ten, like him.

“Hi,” he said, for want of something better. The older hounds were settling back into naps, clearly unconcerned about Kyra in their midst. He took that as a good sign; he took the little, almost shy smile she cast him as a better one. “I’m Alistair.”

“Hi Alistair,” Kyra said. She moved close, crouching in front of him with a steady grace he couldn’t help but envy. The pups wound around her, but she didn’t let them overbalance her, swaying easily as she reached out a hand. “May I see?”

“See?” he echoed, feeling stupid.

She cocked her head. “Your hand,” she said. Before he could make up his mind, she reached out and gently caught his wrist, turning his hand palm-up. It was smeared dark with blood and dirt, bits of grass caught along the deep gash. His fingers twitched reflexively. “It looks bad.”

“Um. Okay?” His heart started pounding for some reason, and he bit the inside of his mouth to keep from saying something stupid that would chase her away.

Kyra frowned down at his hand; when she looked up to meet his eyes, there was a heavy earnestness to her gaze that kept him utterly still. “It’s deep,” she said. “If it doesn’t heal right, you may lose some motion in your fingers.”

“I need my fingers,” Alistair protested. Then, puffing up, “I’m going to be a famous knight.”

She closed her other hand over his, gently clasping the injured palm. Her lips curved into a shy echo of a smile. “In that case,” she said, “I’d better do a good job. Hold still.”

“Wha—” Alistair began, but her fingers were already glowing a brilliant blue—like the sky in stained glass, or the arlessa’s favorite gems—and he gasped, reflexively jerking away. Kyra caught him tight before he could pull back, the glow intensifying, growing brighter and brighter like a sun trapped between their young bodies, casting everything around them in stark shadow.

And just as quickly as it began, the light snuffed out and he was left blinking away swimming silver motes, shaken and not half as afraid as he knew he was supposed to be. “You’re,” Alistair began, curling his hands into fists when Kyra let him go. He didn’t have to glance at his cut palm to know that it had been nearly completely healed. “You’re an, um. Apostate?”

His voice rose on the word, cracking.

“Yes,” Kyra said. She tilted her head. “You don’t have to be afraid of me,” she added.

Alistair straightened. “I’m not afraid of anyone!” he protested. “Well, except the arlessa,” he added in a sudden attack of honesty. “But that’s because she’s meaner than a demon.”

And speaking of demons…

He hedged back a little at the reminder, studying her, searching for signs of possession. The Sisters talked about it all the time—how magic was dangerous and a mage outside the Circle even more so. It was illegal for a reason. Kyra probably had demons crawling all over her, like ticks or lice or or or or or something.

But she just smiled at him—sweet, gentle, nicer than anyone had been in a long while—and it was too hard to think of this girl making a pact with a demon, no matter what the Chant said. Maybe… Maybe there were exceptions? Maybe not all apostates were all that bad?

Maybe it was just a demon making him think not all apostates were all that bad!

Or…wait. Could demons do that?

Alistair faltered, struggling to figure out what to say, torn between instinct and training and confusion. Before he could manage to shake his thoughts into order, however, Kyra grabbed his good hand and hoisted him up to his feet.

“Where are, where, what?” he sputtered.

“Mother will want to see you,” she explained, leaning down to scoop up the circling pups. She deposited one—the girl—into Alistair’s arms, keeping the boy tucked close. “To make sure the healing took. I’m not as good as she is yet, but I’m learning. Someday I’ll be the greatest healer Ferelden has ever seen.”

“Um…okay.” He followed along behind her obediently, though even he couldn’t quite say why. It just seemed easier to do what she said—when she looked over her shoulder and smiled at him, gold-brown eyes gone bright, he couldn’t help the answering grin no matter the doubts swirling madly in his head. “That’s…good. Healing is good. Knights need healers,” Alistair added.

The girl grabbed the scruff of her mabari’s neck and hauled herself up in one fluid, graceful move. She set the pup in the cradle of her lap and reached back to offer him a hand up. “Oh, I’ll fight too,” she said with enviable self-confidence. “I’ll strike down my enemies and heal my allies, like the old warrior-mages in the stories. Someday, I’m going to be a legend.”

He scrambled to climb up after her, feet flailing before he managed to swing a thigh over the shaggy beast’s back. It was a truly massive mabari and Alistair had yet to reach his next major growth spurt. At least, that’s what his wounded ego kept trying to protest when he wrapped an arm around Kyra’s waist and did his best not to feel utterly dwarfed. “That’s…I mean, yes, right, good to have goals.” Suddenly, being a knight seemed tame in comparison. He hadn’t even considered anything more, but all at once, he wanted it. He wanted the future this strange girl was painting for him. “Does a legend need backup? Um. Shieldbrothers?”

She glanced over her shoulder. “Do you want to be my shieldbrother, Alistair?”

Alistair bit his lip. Yes. Oh, Maker, yes. “I… Well, I’m good at falling down on things, at least.”

“A very important skill,” Kyra said mock-gravely. “Let’s get you to my mother, then. You won’t be a very good shieldbrother if you haven’t got a hand strong enough to hold a shield.”

“Right, yes, that makes sense,” he said, words ending on a surprised yelp when muscles bunched beneath his thighs and suddenly Haemir launched forward. Leaves whipped by in a green blur and he grabbed hold of Kyra’s waist, squeezing his eyes shut—

—only to turn his cheek and open them again moments later, watching as the hills of Redcliffe swam by like the tail of a comet, castle growing farther and farther away as they bounded across hills, into hollows, away from his old life.

Yes, he thought, heart pounding high and fast in his chest. Kyra’s dark braid whipped by his cheek and one of her hands dropped to where he gripped her waist, squeezing as if to say without any words at all: I’ve got you.

And, inexplicably—mortifyingly—Alistair felt his eyes begin to burn again. Yes, he thought nonsensically, not even sure himself what he was agreeing to.

It didn’t matter. All of it, none of it—it didn’t matter. What mattered was the wind in his hair and the hound beneath his thighs and the feeling of breaking free for the first time in his life, beholden to no one. Not the arl, not Redcliffe castle, not the Sisters—not even the Maker.

Yes, Alistair thought, laughing, Kyra laughing with him, their voices snatched immediately by the streaming wind. Maker’s breath, yes yes yes.

Chapter Text

The room was dark, save for the flicker of monitors—blue-white and flashing with each new bit of information gathered, each new secret discovered, each new world destroyed, oh goddess.

Goddess.

Liara squeezed her eyes shut, lifting one hand to press the meat of her palm against her lips. She felt dangerously full, as if each sucking breath were too much, expanding her lungs achingly wide and and and goddess goddess, she didn’t know how to breathe past it. She didn’t know how to grieve past it. Millions lost: a home, an entire people, and she’d studied lost civilizations all her young life, but she never once dreamed she might become a part of one.

She never once dreamed—

Tears burned hot on her lashes and those blue-white lights flickered again and again as the death tolls rose. A whole world given to ruin, while she sat crying like a child, wishing… She didn’t even know anymore. She barely knew herself anymore. She felt unmoored, as if the last dying gasp of her planet had cut the final ties tethering her to the past, and now she was drifting. Lost.

The door hissed open and closed, and Liara drew up into herself, forehead pressed to her knees, heels digging furrows into the mattress. “I’m not—” she tried to say, but the words came out gasping and hollow. Instead, she just squeezed her eyes shut tighter and shook her head back and forth, forehead rasping against the white of her uniform. Go away, she thought, plucking the words from the chaotic scramble of her mind. Leave me with this.

The silence stretched long enough that she almost thought she’d gotten her wish. But then the bed dipped next to her and Liara hissed in a furious breath, lifting her head to glare down Shepard. Or Ashley. Or Garrus. Or any of her friends who thought to push their awkward consolations on her now.

Instead, she met Javik’s flat, hard quadra-gaze and felt something like a laugh choke in her throat.

Of course. No, no, of course he wouldn’t be able to keep away. Not now. Not after everything. “Say,” Liara began, but the words came out rough, shredding her throat. Her shoulders jerked once hard, and she hated the tears on her cheeks, hated the quiver in her limbs, hated every bit of this yawning black hole of loss with Javik staring down at her from the other side. “Say what you must,” she finally managed to spit out in the face of his stoic silence, “and leave me in peace.”

He tilted his head, humming low in the back of his throat. The subtle harmony of that vocalization had mesmerized her the first time; she refused to let herself respond to it now. “No,” Javik said.

She blinked. Straightened, legs dropping down. “What?” Liara demanded.

“I said,” he repeated—slowly, because even now he never missed an opportunity to condescend, “no.” Then, before she could unleash the tidal wave of, of, of fury, of agony, of sheer black terror and despair, he added, “That is not possible.”

The biotic charge building at her fingertips sputtered and died. “What do you mean?” Liara asked instead, voice gone small in her brief confusion—truly making her sound like the child he always claimed her to be.

Javik reached out slowly, as if moving under water. Inch by inch, breath by breath, his eyes on her face, and it wasn’t until he was nearly touching her that Liara realized he was giving her the chance to slap him away. She sat frozen instead, tears briefly forgotten, even as the hollowed loss in her chest expanded and contracted, expanded and contracted—a new heartbeat she could set the rest of her life by.

Cool fingertips brushed just beneath her chin, lifting her face. The touch should have been abhorrent. Everything about this moment should have sent her scuttling away in fury.

Instead, she leaned in, feeling that small point of contact with every inch of her skin. She drew in a breath, and for the briefest moment, it didn’t hurt. That in itself was its own minor miracle.

Javik watched the subtle changes on her face, his own thrown half in shadow—mysterious, but no longer alien except in a literal sense. Somewhere along the line, he’d become familiar to her, and as he leaned in, Liara found herself tipping forward in response. She’d never thought of him as anything but a wonder (a mystery; the find of the millennia) and then a contagonist throwing obstacles into her daily path, but for a moment, everything inside her narrowed down to his soft breath against her parted lips, his cool skin at that one point of contact, his scent all around her, drowning out the reek of battle: green-blue and ancient as a wading pool, its water closing over her head as he brought their mouths together and murmured gently into the kiss:

Even you must know there is no such thing as peace.

Chapter Text

It’s the guilty way his mandibles flare that gets her. Every time.

“S-stop,” Shepard whispers, fighting to sound authoritative. It should be easy, right? She’s an old hack at this sort of shit by now—a career soldier with the scars to prove it. But something about the way he’s looking at her, blue eyes bright, teeth flashing, mandibles spread impossibly wide in the reflexive shit-eating grin that comes every time on the heels of his guilty wince has her stuttering over the word. Sucking in air and fighting back a giggle rising up from low in her belly.

A giggle. Her. Motherfucking Commander Shepard.

The asari councilor pauses in her long-winded report. “Is now a bad time, Shepard?” she asks for what has to be the sixth time, smooth as silk, and all Shepard can do is offer a toothy grimace in return. “We can schedule this for another time.”

“No. No, that won’t be necessary.” She shoots Garrus a flat glare before clearing her throat and refocusing. “Continue.”

The woman studies her over the comm, then gives an elegant shrug and takes her at her word. But she doesn’t have even a fraction of Shepard’s attention. No, hell no, all of that has spiraled back down to a bony carapace (a bonier ass), blue face paint and a smile so dorky she can feel the joy of it bubbling up from her toes. The way Garrus insists on creeping around her place stark-ass naked as silent as he can (failing every few minutes as he gets bored or distracted or just devilish) while she wrangles official council business is strangely wonderful. Or maybe just strange, period.

It’s funny: if she found a way to go back in time and grab mini-her by the scruff of the neck (knocking the gun out of her grubby hands long enough to force her to focus past the piss-poor attitude and tough guy bullshit and actually listen), there’s no way she could explain what it is about Garrus that got under her skin. He’s a whole puzzle full of pieces she’d never given much of a shit about before.

No, seriously, she can imagine herself trying to explain to her younger self. Stop fucking tattooed bad boys; nerdy-ass turian snipers are where it’s at.

There’s a sudden soft crash, followed by tinkling glass. Her very own nerdy-ass turian sniper looks over his shoulder, hands cupping the remains of some kind of alcohol, the rest spreading like blood around his feet. She can practically read the way his thoughts are jumping from oops to oh shit as he looks at her, faceplates shifting, awkward and guilty and fucking adorable and—

“Sorry councilor,” Shepard says, interrupting. “Looks like now’s not a good time anymore.”

Wait, Shepard, do not hang up on—” She jambs her thumb against the disconnect, twisting hard just for the pleasure of it even as she rises to her feet.

Garrus is turning to face her, bony chest just about drenched in the dextro-levo wine, mandibles clicking up and down, up and down, as if he can’t decide whether he should be laughing or ducking for cover. “Wait, before you go for your gun, Shepard,” he begins, voice flanging beautifully, making parts of her shiver in response. “Remember that I’m your best shot. Also, you love me. Also, I’m kind of a big deal around—”

She doesn’t let him finish. Watching him tiptoe around the room all through her excruciatingly long calls—naked save for the visor—was the last straw. Fuck the councilors and fuck her younger self, anyway: she can keep those tattooed badasses and leave rough plates and scars and, mmm, the copper-buzzing tang across her tongue as she licks up a mandible to her future self. God knows when she was sixteen, she wouldn’t have been smart enough to see the pleasure to be had in a three-fingered hand flailing awkwardly before gripping her ass and pulling her close; in a flanged, husky laugh; in the sound of the motherfucking Fleet and Flotilla soundtrack drifting so softly from his visor she almost missed it; in the sharp grit of pointed teeth that would never, ever, ever hurt her gently digging into the skin of her neck…and a rumbling growl as she arched, laughing, happy.

He just makes her so happy.

Shepard turns her face and bumps their foreheads together before brushing his mouthplates with a soft kiss. Big hands flutter before dropping to her waist, keeping her close as her dorky-ass turian all but purs. “What was that for?” he murmured, that flanged voice dropping deep enough to sink into her skin.

She rises up onto the balls of her feet, pressing just as close as she can get. Smiling as he already starts plucking at her clothes, her body heating up with slowly unspooling warmth even as her heart trips along. “Do I have to have a reason to kiss the Archangel of Omega?” she purrs, deliberately lowering her own voice in that way he likes. “Now shut up and let’s make some real noise.”

Garrus shivers, then laughs, nipping at her jaw again. “I hate you tell you, Shepard,” he teases. “But shutting up and making some real noise are—”

She pulls back just enough to glare; Garrus ducks his head, those damn mandibles flaring wide wide wide, threatening to steal another giggle—from her. Her. Savior of the fucking Citadel, giggling like a schoolgirl over six feet something of bony turian ridiculousness. “Garrus,” she says, fighting to swallow the laugh and put some real combat zone crack into her voice.

Bless him, he actually jumps a little at the sound, lifting her up by the waist and carrying her toward the bed. “Yes ma’am,” he says, all seriousness—but when he buries his face against her neck, she can feel the laughter riding out the quivering brush of his hot tongue, and there’s nothing but smug in the way he steals a moan from her one slow scrape of his teeth at a time.

Shepard growls and digs her fingers into solid shoulders. “You asshole,” she says on a breathless laugh, meaning forever, as always: I love you I love you I love you.

Chapter Text

The last thing he remembers is Liara.

She’s kneeling by his shoulder, faintly glowing blue hands cupping the line of his mandibles. There’s something weird about the way she keeps swimming in and out, in and out, in and out of focus, like she’s a reflection in the Citadel’s wading pools. Or maybe a hologram?

He wouldn’t put that past her, actually. Besides, it’d explain why she’s touching him and he can’t feel a thing.

“Liara,” he tries to say, but the words go all mangled on his tongue. He feels drunk, drifting, floating out across clear waters when he’s pretty sure his whole body should be on fire. Judging by the way darker streaks of blue spatter her face and white uniform, this is bad. Maybe as bad as that first rocket; spirits, the last thing he needs are more scars. “Liara.”

That mangled groan gets her attention, at least. She hovers over him, swinging into focus; there are tears spilling down her cheeks, and he wants to wipe them away. They’re close now, closer than they ever were even aboard the SR-1, but his arms don’t seem to want to obey him. His whole body’s in revolt, light as a breath and just as insubstantial. “Liara, I—”

“Hush,” she whispers, close enough he should feel her breath. He doesn’t. Somehow, that doesn’t frighten him, even though he knows it should. “The medi-vac is coming. It’ll be only a few moments more. Just hold on, Garrus. Hold on.”

I’m holding, he wants to say—can’t. And maybe he shouldn’t, anyway, because it feels like a lie. He’s not holding on to anything; he’s floating, consciousness slowly tumbling out like…what had Shepard called those ridiculous little weeds? Dandelion fluff. Drifting in the breeze, catching against the lip of his armor, a few bright seeds in tangles of red hair as she lifted her face in the first open grin he could remember. I used to love these when I was little, she said, plucking another stalk and lifting it to Garrus’s face. Come on, Garrus, she added with that challenging lilt of her eyebrow. Blow.

“Garrus. Garrus! By the goddess, Joker, you need to hurry. Garrus!”

He can count the freckles on Shepard’s face like a star map. He can feel himself zeroing in on them one by one, being pulled down down down to hyper-concentration as if he’s been sucked into a mass effect relay, the reality and the memory blending together as his heart pounds in his ears. Loud, then louder, drowning out the sound of Liara’s voice—the whine of the shuttle landing, and the crackle of static over the line—the gradually slowing whistle of his breath. All he can hear now is that pounding beat like drums in the dark, and over it, whispering through his thoughts like a ghost he’s spent his whole life trying to catch, her voice low and sweet:

Come on, Garrus.

When he blinks again, the pounding of his heartbeat has become the loud bass riff of truly terrible club music. Lights flash around him—reds and blues and searing whites, enough to have him stagger, disoriented. He catches himself against the tall back of a chair, senses coming online one after the other. He feels…strange. But good. More solid than he had a moment ago, if no less confused.

Slowly, he pushes himself up, taking in his surroundings. There’s low tables with dancing Asari. Double stairs leading up along the back of the room toward an empty overlook. A bar, and dark corners just about everywhere he can see, the familiar Omega haunt just as dingy as he remembered it. A flash of red catches his attention, and Garrus lifts his head just in time to see—

Spirits.

“Shepard?” he says, and fuck but he’d feel embarrassed over how lost his voice sounds if he weren’t so suddenly, viciously overwhelmed. He stumbles as he moves to her, taking in the familiar dents and scratches on her favorite set of armor, the way her choppy red hair brushes her shoulders, those freckles and that smile and the way she always seems to be reaching for him the moment he’s about to fall.

And then she’s there, there, catching him against her body, and he doesn’t care if he’s hallucinating; he doesn’t want to stop. He’s crooning deep in his throat, the dual harmonics ghostly enough to make her shiver and a few of the other patrons swerve around to watch. He doesn’t care; he can’t care; she’s here. She’s actually fucking here, his talons raking through her hair and her forehead pressed warm to his.

“Shepard,” Garrus breathes, closing his eyes only to open them immediately again. He can’t not be looking at her. He can’t miss a moment of this. “Spirits, am I glad to see you.”

The noise she makes would’ve broken his heart if it hadn’t already shattered years ago. “What are you doing here, Vakarian?” she says, going for commanding but losing some of the edge thanks to the breathless, quavering laughter in her voice. She hooks her fingers around the back of his neck, and it’s almost like she never died. He’s had dreams like this for years, and right now, every single one of them is a shallow imitation. “You’re too soon, you big idiot. I’ve barely warmed the place up for you.”

“Too soon?” he demands. The soft, quick brushes of her mouth against his plates are everything. The smell of her is everywhere, even through the familiar stink of Omega. Spirits, how quickly it had faded from her worn hoodies and sheets; how good it feels to have it filling his lungs again. “Shepard, it’s been—”

Years.

Forever.

He’s coming apart. He’s crying, voice flanging, and it’s all he can do to hold on. Omega bursts around them in a cascade of lights and noise, but for him, for now, it’s all Shepard. It’s all he ever wanted. Lost and then found again, and how, how, how? “How?” he manages, clinging to her tight, carding his fingers through her hair still, afraid to let go. If he’d known all it would take to get Shepard back was another damn rocket to the face, he would have starting sending taunting dick jokes to the Blood Pack ages ago.

She gives a little laugh, kissing his mouthplate again before bumping their foreheads together. That fringe of red hair falls around them, blocking out the whole world, and he practically keens with the pleasure of it. Yes, this, this, this is all he wants: just her, forever. Shepard and Vakarian.

“Garrus,” she says, fingers digging into the softer skin beneath his own fringe. There are tears on her own cheeks, but he knows she’ll deny them later—claim they were his. Some things really do never change. “I told you I’d meet you at the bar, didn’t I?”

Chapter Text

“Nope,” Kaidan said with a husky laugh, catching her around the waist and slinging her back into the messy pile of blankets. It was an easy, practiced move, the (always impressive) knots of muscle along his arms and back rippling beneath sun-warmed skin. Gorgeous; absolutely fucking gorgeous. Shepard might have been annoyed if he wasn’t so darn pretty.

“Kaidan,” she protested, letting him lay her out amongst the pillows again. The sheets had gotten just cool enough to make her bare skin pebble, nipples tightening in reflexive response. Or was she responding to the way his eyes tripped down her lanky frame, one corner of his mouth tucked into an appreciative smile? God, there was really no telling with this man. “Kaidan,” she tried again.

That smile just grew. “Ma’am,” he said, and that, that was unfair. He knew exactly what that did to her, heat curling tight and smug in her belly, flush blooming across too-pale skin.

Shepard rose up onto an elbow, fighting back the quiet fluster of arousal with a flat stare. “Don’t ma’am me,” she said, giving one of his knees a little kick. He didn’t move—barely flinched—one arm coming down to bracket her in as he leaned close. He knew she loved the way he could cover her until he became her whole world: salt-and-pepper hair scratching along her belly, her tits; a hot breath fanning across her neck seconds before the first kiss.

Soft. She had to close her eyes against the urge to gasp, head tilting back at the brush of those perfect lips. It was maddening, the contradictions: the scratch of stubble and the silky brush of his tongue. Wet heat gliding along her collarbone and then down down between her breasts.

She kicked at him again, but it was more of a twitch of her hips and damn him, but he knew it. His gusting laugh cooled the molten heat of his tongue circling her nipple before he caught the peak of her breast between his teeth, tugging just shy of too sharp. (Just the way she liked it, body rebuilt so many times she needed the extra stimulation.)

Slick heat pooled between her thighs, a pulse beating there in time with her heart; in time with the steady hotwetgood tug of his mouth. One big hand moved from where he was braced on the mattress to catch her knee, pulling it up and out until she had to let it hook around one of those massive biceps. The move opened her up obscenely wide, made her all too aware of how fucking vulnerable she felt—the sharp pleasure of that was its own bright point as she arched and grabbed a handful of silver-and-black hair. “Fuuuuck.”

Kaidan bit again, chuckling; the bastard knew he’d won. Even Shepard’s token protests were all but dead as he pushed his free hand down between their bodies, gun-calloused fingers teasing along the slit of her cunt. He toyed with the swollen flesh, dipping fingertips just barely inside her even as he switched to her other breast, leaving a trail of silver in his wake.

She bit her lip hard, twisting up, then bucking, then nearly kneeing him in the smug-as-sin face as her leg came up higher, hips twitching toward his fingers. “Alenko!” Shepard finally snapped. She twisted his hair around her fingers and jerked him closer, two seconds from flipping their positions.

He knew she could do it, too. He knew she only gave so many warnings before—

“Ah!” The cry was wrest from her, too-loud in the small space as he finally finally finally hooked his fingers inside her body. They pressed deep, filling her two, three at a time and already stretching, giving her the subtle burn she craved. Shepard jerked her head to the side, eyes squeezed shut and mouth open as she ground down against his hand. One thumb was tucked in at just the right angle, bumping up against her clit as he scored her breast with his teeth and thrust ohfuck deep inside of her.

God, yes, yes, that was—she was— “Fuck, Kaidan,” Shepard gasped. She looped her knee more firmly over one broad shoulder and dug her heel into the plane of his back, riding out each steady rocking thrust. She felt like a mass effect field beginning to spark and draw power, and she wouldn’t put it past Kaidan not to be charging his biotics just a little—just enough to really get her singing. She was dripping down his hand and about ready to come flying apart already; how could this man do that to her every time? “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Suddenly he pulled back, letting the peak of her breast go with a little (wonderfully wet, terribly obscene) pop as he grinned up the length of her body. Those dimples flashed against dark stubble. “What a mouth you have on you, Shepard,” he said, all whiskey-smooth and addictive.

Shepard let out a harsh pant of breath, blowing back a strand of hair. Her body was tense, hungry, and the smile she shot him was nothing if not predatory. Maybe a little mean. The Alliance didn’t claim she was a renegade for nothing. “It’s not on me anymore, Alenko,” she said—then arched a single brow, both daring him and giving an order he’d be a damn fool to ignore. “So why don’t you do something about that?”

Kaidan just laughed, ducking his head to nuzzle a delicious beard burn against her stomach. Sweet where she was nothing but salt, their roles easily flipping back and forth like a coin caught forever mid-spin. “Yes ma’am,” he said, letting his breath fan across her quivering skin just to make her jump—and then he did just that.