Maewyn's Prophecy: A Heart Aflame, page 3
Archer just nodded, to himself, really. The house seemed a pretty long way off, but he started to walk, dogmatically, holding the thought of a nice soft bed in his mind.
Well, big ol’ wards could burn. He supposed that shouldn’t surprise him; most things burned when exposed to magical fire. It didn’t observe the niceties of needing volatile fuel or oxygen. Magical fire consumed whatever it was given.
But that wasn’t the heat that was kindling inside him now. Jealousy? Pointless, really. He and Roman were bonded immutably, inescapably. Surely that meant infidelity was almost impossible? That didn’t seem entirely fair, but more than that, as a rational fact it didn’t assuage the deep, crawling resentment he felt. The feeling that Heron was the one Roman was meant to be with. Somebody just as magical, rational, and beautiful as himself.
Roman caught up with him about halfway back, just as the singing sound inside his head was beginning to make it hard to think and he felt a bit like he was trying to walk on the deck of a pitching ship.
“You’re really an idiot, you know,” Roman said in what was probably meant to be a fond tone of voice, but to Archer it just sounded intensely patronizing.
He turned to Roman and pushed him away. Archer achieved rather more of the equal and opposite reaction, staggered back and ...
Roman caught him. Archer stiffened and swayed for a moment, but then leaned in towards his lover, knowing in his heart that this was not a man ... elf ... whatever who would ever push him away.
Roman held him. Archer pressed his face against the smooth, familiar curve of his neck.
“I know,” Archer said. “I can’t seem to help it.”
Roman just sighed. “Let’s get back to the house. Apparently the reason arch-mage Heron came all this way is actually you.”
Chapter Three: Eye to Eye
Much as Archer just wanted to lay himself down and wait for the ringing in his ears to subside, apparently Heron had something to say. So the august company gathered in the library.
Heron stood before them, his long fingers steepled together. An elf who lived largely in Underhill had a certain look to him, a kind of sharp perfection, as if the rest of the world was very slightly out of focus. Heron naturally drew the eye, and after everyone assembled and settled on their preferred perches, they just looked at him for a moment.
Finally Wolfy tore her golden eyes off Heron, and they settled with an almost audible snap onto Archer. “What the hell were you ...”
“Whatever the reason, it is most encouraging,” Heron interjected smoothly. “It is clear that young Mr. Archer has significant power, which is exactly what I require. I need an ample source of the pure flame to develop my methodology ... in situ.”
This was the point where Giffen would normally make a very sarcastic enquiry about ‘Mr.’ Heron’s methodology. In his absence, there was a rather awkward silence.
“Look, Ronny,” Roman said with a familiarity that raised a few eyebrows. “There isn’t any risk to Archer, is there?”
“Your boy’s a mage, isn’t he? So there won’t be any danger to him at all.”
Archer’s eyes flickered over the company and saw most of them made nothing of the comment, but Bear’s normally amiable face was creased with a slight frown. Given that the big man was empathic, that left Archer wondering who was feeling something they shouldn’t be. It was probably him, and the big, heaving waves of jealousy and resentment he must be putting out. Of course, it might also be Heron wasn’t as shiny and white on the inside as he was on the out.
“We can begin in the morning,” Heron said with an angelic smile that somehow stopped just short of his eyes.
Everyone else seemed thrilled at the prospect and beamed in reply, Bear perhaps a little later than the others. Archer heaved himself to his feet and went upstairs.
Roman wasn’t exactly right behind him. Archer put his foot on each step, reminding himself to try and be a better person. He did try; it just didn’t seem to be something he really had the knack of.
Heron was one of the most highly respected elven mages, offering Archer the honor of participating in the effort to save Ireland from the spell that kept anything magical from living there. Roman was Archer’s gorgeous and utterly loyal, not to mention magically bonded, lover -- just hanging back to catch up with an old friend.
Nothing to worry about there, then.
Archer shut the bedroom door behind him. Edging from foot to foot, he felt a catalogue of aches. It started at the base of his skull and moved on down through his shoulder and left elbow, hip, and knee. He felt rather like a marionette that had been shaken too hard. But it was the pounding in his head that bothered him the most. Surely somebody should have been asking whether he’d blacked out and suggesting he go to the hospital?
He felt a rather mean-spirited impulse to lock the door behind him and drink a bottle of Jack in here all by himself. There were a few flaws in that idea, which rather included the fact that only Roman had a key to that door, he didn’t like any alcohol or cigarettes in the place, and the second Roman turned up Archer would cave in and let him in anyway. Besides, this tendency towards maudlin self-pity really wasn’t doing him any good.
So Archer tried another tack. He took his shoes and socks off and got back into the bed. Given how late he’d been out last night, just writing the rest of the day off sounded like a damned good idea. The headache was probably fifty percent hangover anyway.
He slept fitfully, opening his eyes to peer intermittently at the blurry digits of the clock on the bedside cabinet as the hours wore by. Groping for the remote, he turned the TV on and finally drifted into sleep in the early afternoon to the sound of talk show cursing.
He faded back in to a dim room as the channel clicked over to BBC news. A serious voice recited market statistics. Roman would know he was awake, but on balance he really wasn’t all that awake and didn’t have anything polite to say. There was something all mothers said about that, and it was good advice.
Roman pulled down the warm duvet. “Have you been asleep all this time?”
Archer tried to yawn and winced, raising one hand to his aching jaw.
Roman bent over him. “How did that happen? I thought you just ... set fire to something.”
“Roman, babe, I stopped setting fire to things for fun just after puberty.” Roman wasn’t really listening, running his fingers over Archer’s cheek. “Besides, it wasn’t so much a fire as a minor explosion. Who knew that ...” Roman was pulling up his crumpled tee. “Roman, for God’s sake, I am not some kind of infant.
“You should have said that you were really hurt.”
Heron apparently hadn’t thought it worth passing comment on. Archer slapped Roman’s hands aside. “Roman!”
Roman caught his wrists, pressing them back onto the mattress. Looking up, Archer saw his lover’s eyes were deep brown and placid as ever, but the grip was firm.
“I don’t know what’s been getting into you lately, Archer.”
Archer twisted his body angrily, though no amount of training would allow a human to match elven strength.
But Roman looked aside and released him. “What am I supposed to do?” Roman took the bottom of Archer’s T-shirt and pulled it up over his head to drape it carefully on the wooden chair that stood to one side of the bed.
Craning, Archer could see a bruise like a magenta ribbon ran from under his armpit to down across the front of his hip.
“You could stop caring,” Archer said.
Roman knelt on the bed, the covers scrunched up around his knees, and smiled. His pursed expression faded away in a moment.
“No, I don’t think that I could ever do that.”
“Because of the big mystical bond thing.”
Roman sat back on his haunches, shaking his head. “You think that’s all that keeps you with me?”
Archer grimaced. Hardly. He reached out one hand to rest on Roman’s knee; he was wearing soft denim, the bur of fraying cotton across its surfa
“And you think any less of me?” Roman sighed and slumped down onto the bed.
“I couldn’t possibly think any less of you,” Archer blurted. “I mean -- hell, I hope you know what I mean because words never really worked right for me.”
“I’d better know, then.”
Roman smiled as he nestled in against him, head upon Archer’s shoulder. His face so familiar. Archer reached out and with one finger traced the only line on Roman’s face, a fine, artistic contour between his eyebrows and just to one side. His fingers traced the exquisite planes of Roman’s temple, cheek, and jaw and lingered along the soft skin of his neck, coming to a stop only at the crisp white circle of his white business shirt’s collar.
It was a natural progression to the small mother-of-pearl buttons. Perhaps it was the lingering jealousy or just the shaking his head had got that morning, but Archer felt bolder than usual. Something in him usually stopped him from making the first move, even after all these years.
With a series of deft, one-handed movements, he slid each irregular button free of its hole, exposing the pale, toned flesh beneath.
“Claiming your territory, Archer?” Roman asked archly.
Roman languidly stretched his arms up over his head. “Perhaps not,” he conceded.
Archer eased that staid, bleached shirt up behind Roman’s body until it was tangled about his wrists, and held it there a while, testing the feeling. It didn’t really work for him. Archer was a lot of things, but he never really got his kicks from control. Saw too much of that growing up.
Instead he stripped off the rest of Roman’s clothes, revealing the remarkable body he hid away beneath his conservative attire. Slipping off the bed, Archer shucked off his trousers and reached into the bedside cabinet, where an uncapped tube of lube lay crumpled against the corner of the drawer, and squeezed a small amount into the crease of his palm.
There was a feeling in the air, slipping out of the deeply worn rut of familiarity. As he leant over the bed, Roman eased over to make room for him. Archer spooned against the elf’s back, his right palm sliding over Roman’s trim waist and down the sinuous surface of his abdomen. He eased their bodies close together, feeling the soft warmth of skin against every part of him. Archer’s cock roused, hardened, pressed against it.
Roman reached back and rested his hand on Archer’s thigh. He curled his finger gently over the crease of Archer’s buttocks, sliding down the crease, stopping with a dampened touch that lingered at his ass and pressed very gently in.
“Oh, God,” Archer whispered.
“Don’t let Peter hear you taking the Lord’s name in vain,” Roman murmured.
Archer laughed as he ran his lubed hand over his cock. There was a delicious moment where he knew exactly what he was going to do. Roman teased him a little more, but then relented, raising his thigh as Archer pressed forward. Their bodies fitted together altogether too sweetly. Archer positioned himself carefully, pressing into the tight embrace of flesh. He curled his hand around to support Roman’s thigh, sliding softly home.
He closed his eyes. In the darkness, it felt more real, like they were just two people in love, alone together. But as their passion built, the fire always started. It was less intense this way, but kindled with a rush; he heard Roman gasp as it caught him. Red flame twined with blue and engulfed it.
No matter how the magical flames of their union leapt, Archer kept it slow. Holding his breath, he held himself back. In slick, careful strokes, he pressed down deep to hit the sweet spot that made his lover tremble. He kept the rhythm steady, soft, and constant. Flesh accepting flesh, surrendering to him. His lover, his man. Only in moments like this did it seem real, seem possible at all.
Roman moaned. Archer pressed up tight against him, so close to coming he couldn’t hold himself back much longer. He reached over and touched Roman’s hard cock, working it from root to tip, firm and merciless, until the elf bucked against him, coming with a cry. With a compulsive jerk, Archer followed him into the grey aftermath of love.
The television continued to drone on as dusk very slowly started to fall in the garden outside the window. A strange sadness settled, like a falling veil, over Archer, even as he lay pressed into Roman’s body. He put off the moment of parting where damp skin grew cold and all the stupid cares of life returned.
* * * * *
Around midnight Archer woke. The covers felt warm and smothering over his body and covering his face. He knew he wouldn’t sleep anymore; his body was restless and stuffed with sleep. He felt Roman’s slender arm crossing under his, but otherwise they lay apart. Archer tended to move when he dreamed, so Roman would push him away.
He lay there a while, thinking about what Giffen had said. He wondered how long Giffen had been getting the vibe that he was going to do Archer in. It might explain why he always seemed to be much more of an ass to Archer than anyone else. No point cozying up to a guy you think you might be doing in, somewhere down the line. On the whole, Archer was happier Giffen had decided to go away for a while.
Well, he was and he wasn’t. Prescience was an edge, a very rare and subtle skill. If Tania and Peter were both turning a deaf ear to Giffen, they must have a damn good reason. Archer had worked under the queen’s command for a few years now and had every faith in her judgment, and she no doubt had more information at her command than ol’ Giff.
However, sarcastic bastard or not, Giffen wasn’t the sort to get worked up about nothing -- and seers might get vague messages sometimes, but what they were certain of almost always felt true. Archer’s mind swirled from side to side and found no resolution.
With an irritated sigh, he slipped out of the bed and fumbled for his clothes; other than the shirt, they lay crumpled upon the floor. Roman slept on as Archer shoved his sockless feet into his old trainers and opened the door out onto the hall. He had only the vaguest of plans, perhaps a beer from the fridge or to see if there was a recent newspaper in the library.
He stopped short, peering up the hall where a door stood ajar in the darkness, showing a seam of yellow light. Giffen’s room.
With a frown, Archer stepped out and set the bedroom door shut silently behind him. He slipped down the worn hall rug and stopped at Giffen’s room, resting his hand on the wall, looking through the slender gap between door and jamb.
A dark figure moved. Without a touch, the door drifted further open, revealing Archer to the one within.
Heron wore a robe of dark blue cloth just soft enough to show that he had nothing on beneath it. He lowered his hand and looked Archer up and down imperiously.
“This is the seer’s room,” Heron said. It was so clearly not a question that Archer wasn’t sure what to say. “He is not here,” Heron added in the same tone.
Archer didn’t feel like striking up a warm conversation anyway. He stepped forward far enough to lean in the doorway with his arms folded. He wasn’t going to walk off and leave this elf poking around Giffen’s room. He hadn’t been in here more than a few times himself. The room was utterly disorderly, with an overlapping scree of books, papers, CD cases, and clothing covering pretty much every surface. On the wall was a single battered poster for the Proclaimers. Archer had always wondered about that -- soft Scottish pop was hardly Giff’s taste.
Heron turned towards Archer and tilted his head back to look down his narrow nose. “As we are both apparently free, perhaps we might begin.”
Heron pursed his Cupid’s-bow mouth, and for a moment there was a hard look in his eyes that made his pretty face seem nothing more than an unconvincing mask.
“Come with me to the library,” he said. He brushed very closely past Archer, who considered being contrary. But he closed Giffen’s door firmly and followed in the elven mage’s wake.
If they were going to be doing anything magical, Archer would rather prefer to have someone else the
Heron stood at the centre of the darkened library and looked around. Archer wavered at the door. Heron’s skin and long, straight hair, both so pale as to be almost white, seemed to suck up all the light in the room, or even to glow faintly. Archer felt his heart pick up speed and became conscious of his breath coming and going. Heron looked at him and beckoned impatiently.
Archer swayed as if his body wanted innately to answer that summons, but he stood still. “What exactly am I signing up for?” he asked.
“I think you might have heard of the ward around Eire that stops any magic, or magically endowed being, from living in Eire.”
“I think I may have had heard something of the sort,” Archer replied sarcastically. But he stepped forward.
As Archer approached him, Heron reached out one long arm and clasped him firmly over his shoulder. Heron’s thin fingers had a grasp like iron; he turned Archer to face him directly. Archer glanced up into Heron’s large, silver eyes. He experienced a lurch, like being in a car that suddenly decelerated. Archer broke his gaze away.
Heron nodded as if satisfied by what he saw. “There is a spell I wish to use,” he said. “But to be effective, it requires power, raw power. And Tania feels that although your range may be rather limited, in terms of sheer power you are the best we have to work with.”
He sounded rather doubtful of that dubious recommendation. “If you will allow me to assess this ...” Heron raised his other arm. His hand gripped Archer’s neck firmly just behind his left ear. Archer felt each fingertip press firmly against his scalp and just above the hinge of his jaw. Archer kept his eyes cast slightly down. He could see Heron’s clavicle, which cut a clear, straight line to the centre of his chest.
“William,” Heron chided.
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