To elf gamers, Jericho was a hero. His virtual role-playing game was the first the magical beings had been able to play in the twelve years they had been public. Magic still played merry havoc on most game systems—electronics, too—but Jericho’s company was the first to find a way around that.
So while elves were still secretive on the whole, Jericho was less surprised than most would have been when an elf appeared on his doorstep one evening.
“My niece loves your game,” the tall elf said, stepping into Jericho’s parlor with a sly grin on his perfect lips. He carried a long-stemmed rose and wore a soft-looking green sweater over cream-colored pants. His white-blond hair fell to his shoulders in wisps. His eyes were arresting, the shade of the soft dip in a violet iris’s petals.
His wink startled the programmer out of his staring. Jericho was not used to being around elves; most chose to avoid humans, and the few game testers for his company’s magical audience had worked with a team under him. “Uh,” Jericho stammered, “I’m glad.” That sounded lame. Not at all like someone who could enthrall board members with a well-spoken sentence or silence them with a raised eyebrow. Which Jericho could. When he was not being mentally derailed by a hot elf.
“My name is Rome,” the elf said, extending his hand.
“Jericho,” Jericho said, taking it.
But Rome changed his grip at the last instant, and kissed Jericho’s knuckles before he knew what was happening.
“Uh,” Jericho said dumbly, feeling his heart flutter. Then he shook his head, took his hand back, and said, “You’ll have to excuse me. I’m not used to being around elves, and I’m hopeless around hot men.”
Rome chuckled. “I see. Are you always so honest?”
Jericho shrugged and ducked his head for a moment. “So, to what do I owe this late night visit?”
“A proposition,” Rome said, striding past Jericho and into his living room while Jericho looked on in confusion. Then Rome sprawled on the couch and crossed his legs in a way that showed off his…crotch…
Jericho yanked his eyes back to Rome’s face. Rome was smirking. Jericho flushed. “Do you want something to drink?”
“A glass of water, please.”
When Jericho returned, Rome was playing with the rose, dragging its red petals across his pink mouth. Jericho set the water in front of him and sat safely on the other end of the couch, tucking his feet under him. “So, the proposition?”
Rome, who was taking a sip of water, held up a finger until he’d put his glass down. Jericho really did not need to watch him swallow—it, like everything else the elf did, was sexy enough to drive him crazy. “I understand that you are looking for ways to allow people to accurately play elves in your game.”
“Who told you that?”
“Then it’s true?”
Jericho glared. Suddenly, Rome was not just sexy and pretty—he was also sitting on a leak in Jericho’s company. In a company as small as Mighty Blade Games, the testers had the most access to elves. Great. “Are we off the record?”
Rome laughed, a rich honey sound. “I’m not a reporter. I’m a school teacher. I came to offer my services in exchange for some of yours.”
“Excuse me? School teacher?” Jericho looked skeptically at Rome. He seemed entirely too sensual to be teaching young, impressionable minds.
“I’m a magic teacher.”
Every nerve in Jericho’s body suddenly perked up. “You’re a magic teacher? You teach people how to use magic, magic teacher?”
Rome nodded. “That’s what I do. It’s safe to say if anything is wrong with the magic in your upcoming new release, I will know it immediately.”
“And you’re offering your services to me… How, exactly?”
Rome put the rose down next to him on the couch, and then slid a finger into his mouth and out again. Jericho had a feeling he was being teased, but that feeling was forgotten when the finger came out again, laden with ice crystals. Without touching the crystals, Rome formed a rose that hovered over his hand. It began as a thin bud, thickened, and then bloomed. “Would you like to touch it?”
Jericho bent forward, steadying himself with a hand on the middle cushion, and reached out.
It was ice cold, so cold his finger nearly stuck to it.
“Wow,” Jericho said, smiling like a child. He licked his finger to warm it and then sat back again, enchanted.
The rose then split cleanly down the middle. Half floated to land peacefully in Rome’s water glass. The other landed in Jericho’s. The ice made a cracking noise when it entered the water.
Jericho grinned. “Wow,” he said again, already trying to translate what he’d just seen into game code.
“I can show you what magic might be useful to your audience—what it’s like to be a magic user, if you will. I will take you to meet my students, give you private performances like that one, and get you to think of magic like an elf, rather than a human mimicking one for a game. As I told you before, my niece loves your game. She’d really like to play an elf the way we actually are.”
Jericho nodded. “That would be helpful. Very helpful. But I can’t make any kind of deal unless I know your asking price.”
“Of course.” Rome grinned, and for a moment Jericho found himself staring at those canines. Did they get longer for a moment? “I need more energy for a certain kind of magic, and I thought you would be perfect to provide it. Having met you, I don’t think I was mistaken.”
This felt like dangerous territory again. “What kind of magic?” Please don’t be blood magic, Jericho thought.
“Sex magic.” The elf didn’t look the least bit embarrassed about his words.
Jericho, on the other hand, wondered if his jaw might have come unhinged, it dropped so fast. “Sex magic? Wait—so, like, you want…” That couldn’t be right. “What do you need for sex magic? And how do you get this energy you need? You’re not able to, like, drain my life or anything, are you?”
Rome laughed. “That requires a much darker form of magic, and in civilized circles such harmful magic is banned and its users face heavy punishment. The energy I need is derived from sex. My sex magic batteries are rather low, so to speak, and I want you to help me recharge them.”
“You want to have sex with me.”
Jericho hadn’t meant it as a question, but Rome said, “Yes.”
Jericho wiped his suddenly sweaty palms on his dirty jeans, and then swept the hair out of his eyes that wasn’t in his eyes at all, he’d just hacked the fringe off yesterday. “Okay…how much sex? Does it have to happen inside, like, a pentagram? What needs to happen for you to get this energy, and how much of it do you need?”
“It’ll just be you and me. No pentagrams or circles of salt or sacred candles. And as for how much…” He grinned. “Let’s just say I need as much time in bed as you’ll need to learn magic necessary for your game to be effective.”
“So…for the duration of the lessons, I’ll be, uh, your sex magic battery. Thing.”
“Precisely.” Rome fingered the stem of the thornless rose beside him on the couch, and then lifted it to his nose. He held it out to Jericho.
Jericho licked his lips nervously. He couldn’t believe he was even entertaining this trade. This was ridiculous. It was prostitution for his work. It was—
Rome slid the rose across Jericho’s cheek, a playful caress, a tease as much as the elf’s sure grin was a tease, as much as the way he was sitting and dressed to impress with his gorgeous cheekbones on display and the way his Adam’s apple bobbed when he took a sip of water and when he swallowed around his finger to make the rose…
Jericho sighed, a sound that suddenly stuttered when Rome slid across the middle cushion so that their faces were less than a foot apart. He should say no. He needed to say no. This was a perfect stranger—emphasis on the “perfect” part… And yet something about him just felt right.
Jericho bit his lip and sighed again. “Yes.” He nodded. “Let’s do this.”
Rome smiled, a brilliant expression that lit up his already dead-sexy face. Jericho’s stomach sank, even as his cock took a keen interest in the situation. Rome bopped him on the nose with the rose and then leaned over to set it on the coffee table. “Shall we seal it with a kiss?” He stroked Jericho’s cheek with his thumb and leaned in.
Jericho closed his eyes and waited. He could feel the heat of Rome’s lips, but they never touched his. He opened his eyes and found Rome just looking at him…waiting.
So Jericho sucked up his courage and moved the last half-inch forward.
Rome’s lips were smooth and his tongue was agile and strong against Jericho’s. He wondered if the elf would be so skillful with his mouth around a cock. His resultant whine in Rome’s mouth only got stronger when Rome’s other hand settled on his hip and his fingers skimmed their way under Jericho’s t-shirt.
When the kiss finally broke, Jericho knew he was either very, very lucky, or very, very screwed.
Or both at once.
“Would you like to start now?” Rome asked, voice husky.
Jericho said, “Haven’t we already?” and took a fistful of soft sweater and used it to drag Rome’s mouth back to his own.
Rome chuckled into Jericho’s mouth and pressed him back into the couch.
Their first lesson was the rose.
Their first time was on Jericho’s couch, desperate and half-clothed against the cream-colored cushions.
Rome didn’t stay the night the first few times. He was a perfect gentleman about making sure Jericho was fine afterward, and about leaving Jericho enough time to sleep before work in the morning.
Then he took Jericho to meet his niece, who showed him the water magic Uncle Rome was teaching her. Afterward, the two men went back to Jericho’s house and settled in for the evening.
That was when Rome said, “I think I shall spend the night here.”
Jericho didn’t register what he’d said—he was deep in a programming haze. Water magic was difficult to translate into code—each droplet took a different-shaped path and color before it meshed with the stream from little Haley’s other hand…
Rome sat in the leather chair nearest Jericho’s workstation—a semi-circle collection of monitors all facing Jericho’s keyboard, mouse, and spare laptops. He had apparently been flipping through Jericho’s baby photos from the more embarrassing albums his mom had left with him, because when Jericho finally turned to ask what the chuckling and “aw” sounds were about, he saw one album in Rome’s lap and two more stacked on the table in front of him.
“Rome!” Jericho did a double take and then shot to his feet. “Don’t look at those!”
“You were a charming baby. I thought that might be the case.”
Jericho stopped halfway to Rome’s chair, torn between tearing the photo album out of his hands to hide it, and flushing. Flushing won, though the urge for the other didn’t go away. “Why are you looking at those?” he asked.
“Why should I not?” Rome looked perplexed.
That look was bullshit. Jericho had known Rome almost two weeks now—long enough to know when he was trying to get away with things by pretending they didn’t matter.
Jericho pursed his lips and took a final step forward, shutting the book on one of Rome’s perfectly manicured hands. “Please don’t look at my photo albums,” he said, staring Rome in the eyes.
Rome’s innocent expression turned into a pout. When he tilted his head, a lock of platinum hair fell across his cheek. Jericho was halfway to moving the hair off Rome’s face before he realized what he was doing and stopped. “What’s wrong with these pictures?” Rome asked, moving the hair himself after a moment. “Why can’t I see them?”
Jericho pulled the book away, set it on the two other albums, and carried them to his bedroom. “Because,” he called over his shoulder. He set the albums on one of the nightstands and then shut the door when he came back into the living room. “Did you say something earlier?”
“When?” Rome asked. He looked annoyed.
Good. He was altogether too comfortable going through Jericho’s things. First going through cabinets and cooking something that was admittedly delicious, then using Jericho’s computer without asking, and now digging out and flipping through his photo albums. Just because they made this deal didn’t mean Rome got to…got to invade the other parts of Jericho’s life. Those things were for people he was dating, people who loved him and who he loved.
They weren’t for people who were using Jericho to recharge their…sexual batteries. People who were encouraging Jericho to prostitute himself for his work.
Even if he was really sweet, and the sex was really good. Really, really good.
“I’m spending the night here,” Rome said.
“You’re—wait, what?” Jericho stumbled, missing his chair and using the computer table to keep on his feet. He looked lost. “You’re doing what?”
“I’m spending the night,” Rome said matter-of-factly. “I think it’s time, don’t you?”
“T-time?” Jericho sputtered.
Rome stood and stalked to Jericho, the confidence in his steps both sexy and worrying. He slid sure hands up Jericho’s tense arms and pulled him close. It wasn’t Jericho’s fault that his own hands automatically lighted on Rome’s hips. Or that the skin underneath his tight black shirt was so soft…
“Jericho,” Rome said, cupping his face, “I think it’s time I spent the night.” Rome’s blue-violet eyes caught Jericho’s in a hypnotic gaze. “I also think you’ve done quite enough programming for one evening.”
When Rome kissed him, it was like being submerged in lust, but the fear of drowning in the other man was never frightening for long. His kisses made Jericho feel weak-kneed and impossibly sexual. Rome kissed like he needed Jericho as much as he needed air.
When Rome pulled away, Jericho’s lips followed his, and when their second kiss ended, Jericho couldn’t remember why Rome spending the night was a bad idea. Really, it sounded like a wonderful idea. Waking up next to Rome’s soft, warm skin, strong arms wrapped around him and legs tangled up in Jericho’s…that couldn’t be a bad thing, could it?
“Let’s go to bed,” Rome said softly.
“Yeah,” Jericho mumbled, sliding his hands into Rome’s hair and pulling him down for another kiss. “In a minute.”
Jericho woke up hard. It was Rome’s fault. The elf had a hand wrapped around his cock, and Jericho’s thrusting was entirely out of his control. Up until the moment Rome bit his shoulder, Jericho had dreamed of the elf and was not awake enough to fully appreciate the real one.
“Fuck,” Jericho gasped when Rome bit him a second time.
“You wake slowly,” Rome said.
Jericho wanted to tell him to shove it, that not everyone could be instantly alert when they woke up; but Rome chose that moment to slide his thumb over the head of Jericho’s cock, and all that came out of his mouth was a moan.
Rome’s other hand stroked Jericho’s thigh. His cock was sliding along Jericho’s ass. They hadn’t had that kind of sex though, and Jericho hoped they wouldn’t start today. He’d never gone that far with anyone, and he didn’t think a sex/business partner was the best person to begin with.
He tensed when Rome parted his thighs. “Wait.”
“This won’t hurt,” Rome said. Then he slid his cock between Jericho’s sweat-slick thighs and pressed them closed again. “Oh,” he said, more an exhalation than a word. He pressed Jericho tight against him and started thrusting in time to his jacking on Jericho’s cock.
Jericho tensed with pleasure, and Rome groaned into his neck. His hips rocked hard into Jericho’s. The second time Rome did that, Jericho realized his thighs flexing around Rome’s cock were responsible. He flexed again and Rome gripped him harder, jacked harder.
Flex, relax, flex, relax, and each time Rome made a more desperate-sounding noise, thrust his hips with a hard slapping sound against Jericho’s ass, breathed faster against Jericho’s neck.
Jericho came when Rome bit his ear hard enough to bleed. Rome came moments after, when Jericho’s wail trembled in the air and his body tensed around Rome’s cock.
Jericho barely noticed the cum on his sheets and thighs when he’d calmed—instead what he noticed was Rome gingerly pulling out his cock from between Jericho’s thighs. He already missed the feeling of Rome at his back, gasping in his ear as he squeezed around the elf’s cock.
That wasn’t supposed to happen though, Jericho reminded himself. This wasn’t a real relationship. Rome petting him on the stomach, making his sensitized skin quiver—that wasn’t love. That was battery charging.
And last night was battery charging too. Lots and lots of battery charging.
Fuck. He shouldn’t have let Rome stay over. Someone staying the night in Jericho’s bed always made him feel too connected, too emotionally needy.
“Hm?” He looked up as Rome bent over him, hair falling like a curtain blocking either side of his face.
“We should get up.” Then Rome’s usual playful expression melted into a frown. “What’s wrong?”
Jericho looked away. “I’m an idiot.” He sighed. “What’s on the schedule for today?”
Rome raised an eyebrow, but said, “You’re sitting in on my fire magic class today. Also, Wanda called to remind you about the board meeting at eleven.”
“Wait—when did Wanda call?”
“An hour ago. I didn’t want to wake you—you looked like you needed the sleep.”
Jericho didn’t know whether to be grateful or exasperated. “Which phone did she call?” he finally asked.
Rome grinned. “The home phone. Why do you set its ring so obnoxiously loud?”
Jericho groaned and put his hands over his eyes. “She will never let me live this down,” he muttered.
He could still hear the grin in Rome’s voice when he said, “That charming woman? I’m sure she’ll be discreet.”
Jericho groaned again. “I hate you,” he muttered.
Rome slapped his thigh lightly. “Time to get up and seize the day.” He jumped out of bed, and soon dragged Jericho with him.
Jericho didn’t want Rome to go to work with him, but Rome insisted he had to meet Wanda, and anyway, she had invited him to sit with her during the meeting.
That did not bode well for Jericho. Wanda was the motherly type, and a woman determined to see Jericho happily settled with a Nice Young Man. She’d been this way ever since she heard Jericho’s sob story about his parents kicking him out for being gay, with the clothes on his back and the money in his bank account. Thankfully, Jericho was a senior in college by that point, and lived on-campus. Some rush work with the financial aid office and his adviser had kept him in school long enough to graduate.
That Jericho went on to start a company with his friend Karris, “made it,” and even tried to reconcile with his parents, just made Wanda think him more of a dear. Ever since she became a secretary for the growing company, she’d taken it upon herself to mother the young entrepreneurs. That wasn’t the problem though. The problem was Wanda gossiped. Jericho did not need rumors starting about him and Rome.
When Jericho walked into the one-story office building that served as the home of Mighty Blade Games, Wanda actually stood up and came around the semi-circular front desk to greet Rome. She was a petite woman with salt-and-pepper hair pulled back in a bun, and sparkling blue eyes behind wire-framed glasses. Despite looking the part of a kindly older lady, however, she could be a wicked flirt when she wanted to be, and had been known to make men half her age stutter—though whether that was with shock or attraction Jericho didn’t want to guess. Her greeting hug with Rome lasted a little long for Jericho’s tastes, but he couldn’t blame her—the elf was positively radiant this morning. He looked amazing in Jericho’s navy blue t-shirt and the white blazer and jeans he’d worn the previous day. Fuck it, who was Jericho kidding? No one in their right mind would believe the two of them were dating.
“You must be Rome,” Wanda said, pulling him around her desk and sliding the chair by the printer across the way to him. “Jericho didn’t tell me he was dating—he’s so secretive. You must be close for him to bring you to work.” She winked at Jericho and gave him a proud smile.
Jericho winced. “I’m not—”
“Oh, don’t give me that bunk, young man,” she said, wagging a finger at him as she sat. Rome snickered. “He spent the night, and don’t tell me he didn’t. He answered your phone.”
Jericho knew he was flushing. “Right,” he said uneasily. Looking between Wanda’s mama-bear smile and Rome’s amused expression, Jericho knew if he tried to defend himself, he’d regret it. “I’ll just go…to the back. To the meeting.”
“You do that,” Wanda said. “Not everyone’s here, but the stragglers should arrive soon. And don’t worry—I’ll take good care of your hubby.”
Rome nodded. “I’m sure I couldn’t be in more capable hands,” he assured Jericho.
At this, Wanda beamed. Jericho shook his head warily and walked back to his office. He’d sketched out some ideas for the new elf game characters and the kinds of powers they’d be able to use. He was by no means finished, but Karris, his co-owner and the woman in charge of character design, would be happy to have something to start working with.
By the end of the board meeting, everyone knew about Rome. Toby and Karris followed Jericho to his office afterward, ribbing him about bringing his hot date to work.
“So you’re dating an elf, huh?” Toby said. Toby, who doubled as their financial expert before they had the money to hire out, was the capable mind behind the company’s web site. Toby was also Jericho’s college roommate senior year, and the friend he’d moved in with after his parents kicked him out. “I didn’t think you had it in you,” he continued, slipping his laptop into its case. “I mean, he’s not exactly your type.”
“Yeah,” Karris agreed. “I thought you had a thing for bad boys.”
“In his dreams,” Toby quipped.
Jericho glared at them. “You both suck.” He flipped open his laptop at his rarely-used desk—he preferred to code in the common room, as they all did—and started checking his email.
“You can’t ignore us,” Karris said, “just like you can’t ignore mister golden god outside. I mean, damn that man is hot.”
Toby shrugged. “She’s actually right.”
“Toby, you wouldn’t know a hot guy if he fucked you in the ass,” Jericho snapped. “Anyway, what happened to you not rating the relative hotness of other men?”
Toby winced. “He’s so hot even I can tell he’s hot.”
“I’m pleased you think so,” Rome said, slipping into Jericho’s office and looking around. “Oh—I’m Rome.” He held out a hand to Toby. “Karris and I met in the entry, but I believe you were one of the early ones.”
Toby looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him where he stood. “I’m not gay,” he said, warily shaking Rome’s hand.
“I didn’t think you were,” Rome assured him. “Anyway,” he said, walking around the desk to lean on Jericho’s chair and peer over his shoulder, “I’m quite taken.”
Jericho could hear the leer in his voice, and looked sideways at Rome to find the leer aimed at him.
“You two are adorable!” Karris’s cooing should have ruined whatever moment Jericho was determined not to have in his office at his desk, but it didn’t.
Instead, Rome kissed him on the neck and then straightened, hands on the back of Jericho’s chair and leaning casually against it. “We’re glad you think so,” he said cordially.
“There is too much man-love in this room for me,” Toby said, and rushed out.
Karris snickered, but followed. “I’ll leave you two alone,” she said.
“You—” The door shut. Jericho didn’t bother finishing his plea for her to stay. Instead, he tilted his head up to glare at Rome. “I can’t believe you just did that.”
“Did what?” the elf bent over Jericho and grinned. “I don’t recall doing anything untoward or impolite.”
Jericho opened his mouth to tell him off.
Rome ducked swiftly and kissed him.
When Rome finally pulled away, Jericho was still annoyed. But his grudge seemed less important now than how bad the office gossip would be if he had sex with Rome on his desk.
A few hours later, Jericho was seated in Rome’s luxury sedan on the way to a school that, to his knowledge, was accessible only by elf magic. Elves didn’t allow humans inside. “Are you sure it’s okay if I sit in on your class?” he asked again.
“Relax,” Rome said, patting Jericho’s knee—one of many signs of public affection he had been graced with since their deal began, and again one of the many things that made Jericho confused about the parameters of said deal. “Aether is looking forward to meeting you.” At Jericho’s confused expression, Rome clarified. “My co-teacher—she’s strong in the magical areas I’m weaker in, as I’m stronger in her weaker areas. We’re lucky we match up so well—it means our students get someone who’s close to their strength level no matter what kind of magic they’re using.”
“You told her about me?”
Rome smirked. “She’d have to know eventually. The sex magic charges we create are being used to strengthen the school’s wards.”
Jericho’s eyes widened. “You’re using sex to keep the school safe from…whatever the hell you keep the school safe from?”
“And to help strengthen any weak points in the wards’ magical structure, among other things.”
Rome raised an eyebrow. “Sex magic is the most primal and wild of all. It’s so integral to life, it ties all the other magics together. Without it, the wards couldn’t bind properly.”
“Great,” Jericho muttered. “My jizz is the glue holding your school together.”
Rome snorted, and Jericho caught him trying to smother a smile as the two pulled into the parking lot of a campus that looked like a castle had crash landed in the country and spawned baby castles everywhere. Jericho had expected something more…Lord of the Rings-esque. Like trees. Or waterfalls. Instead, the school campus looked like some of the universities Jericho had visited during his college search: large, imposing, intimidating stones.
Rome parked in a teacher space near the front steps and led Jericho through a side-door and down a hallway of offices. He unlocked his office door with a key—Jericho realized he’d been expecting magic rather than something so mundane—and strode into a room with two desks facing each other. Rome’s was the desk on the right, if his rifling through its top right drawer was any indication.
Jericho stood near the door, waiting.
Then someone tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” a woman with cropped brown curls and pixie-like features said, sliding past him into the room. She held a stack of papers and a basket of rocks and wood chips. She dropped both on the other desk without seeming to mind the dirt that fell through the basket weave. “You must be Jericho,” she said brightly, dusting off her hands before extending one to him. “Rome tells me you’re the one helping him with the wards.”
“Yeah.” Jericho shot an annoyed look at Rome, who was ignoring them in favor of a packed file cabinet in the corner. “I guess I am.”
“Ah hah,” Rome said suddenly, yanking out a manila folder. “I knew it was somewhere around here.”
“What were you looking for?” the elf woman asked. “If it was Alethia’s file, I could’ve told you where you put it.”
“Well, we can’t all have perfect memories, can we?” Rome said, grinning up at her. “Anyway, I like to feel accomplished when I find things I’ve misplaced.”
The elf woman rolled her eyes while Jericho hid a smirk in his hand. “Rome, Rome, Rome,” she said. “Oh—I never introduced myself. I’m Aether. Rome is my co-teacher and partner in magical crime.” She grinned. “We have a common foe.”
Rome’s grin turned sour. “Speaking of whom, I got a call from him this afternoon. He wants to cancel the heart magic class even though four students have signed up for it.”
Aether’s jaw twitched. “I’ll take care of it,” she finally said.
The good humor in the room seemed gone now, and it was a determined Rome who walked out of the office and led Jericho, with Aether, to a classroom in one of the towers and set up the tables with a piece of flint at every seat.
“Someone is usually singed during this lesson, so you might stay at the desk for today.” Rome pulled out a chair at the side of the desk in the front of the classroom and motioned for Jericho to sit. Aether was flipping through papers, but Jericho could see her stifling a smile as she looked at them. What was with women thinking his relationship with Rome was cute? It was a business arrangement! …Even if no one knew but them.
Rome took that opportunity to thread his fingers through the hair at the base of Jericho’s neck and gently tug.
Jericho’s breath caught in his throat. Then he leaned his head back against Rome’s hip and glared at him. “Don’t do that,” he snapped. Rome knew what that did to him.
Rome merely blinked those gorgeous blue-violet eyes at Jericho and said, “You looked tense. I thought it might relax you.”
“Like hell you did,” Jericho said. “If I pop a boner in your class because you’re trying to ‘relax’ me, I will make you regret it.”
Aether laughed. Rome didn’t look the least bit embarrassed. Instead, he turned to her and said, “Can you see why I chose him?”
“You’re quite the pair,” Aether said.
The students filtered in a few minutes later, satchels and backpacks in hand, and sat at the tables in a manner that seemed like they all had a customary chair. By this point, Rome and Aether had discussed their lesson plan: how to make fire with a flammable object but without an initial flame. The students were already proficient in controlling fire when given a flame—now they had to make the spark and nurture their flames while still retaining control.
It was a fun class to watch, even if looking at fire so much left uncomfortable impressions in Jericho’s eyes. The person who got singed was a girl so powerful in her fire-making abilities, she accidentally scorched the table and singed part of her eyebrow. Thankfully, the student next to her put out the flame with a well-aimed squirt of water magic before Rome or Aether had to move to assist. Rome led the class, taking the stronger students in hand while Aether took the weaker fire students under her wing. By the time class was finished, Rome’s students had learned how to control their flames, and Aether’s had learned how to make enough flame to control.
Jericho decided he liked watching Rome teach. He was as kind to the students as he was to his niece when she demonstrated the water magic Uncle Rome had taught her. The students seemed to like both their teachers, and weren’t afraid to crack jokes at Rome’s expense.
At the end of the class period, the students sat back at their tables, looking excited. Rome and Aether stood facing them at the front desk. “What’s the question for today?” Aether asked the class.
Rome ducked to softly explain to Jericho, “Every Friday they’re allowed to ask us one personal question.”
The students had perked up when Jericho returned his gaze to them. One raised his hand.
Jericho had a feeling he wouldn’t like this question.
His hunch was right.
“Professor Rome, why is that man sitting in on our class, and are you dating him?”
Jericho flushed and put his head in his hands.
Rome laughed. “If you must know—”
Jericho raised his head suddenly and said, “That was two questions. Pick one.”
Rome stopped abruptly and cocked his head. “Good point.”
The student stopped looking so smug. Jericho’s smugness, on the other hand went from zero to I-So-Busted-Your-Nosy-Ass in zero-point-two seconds.
The students looked at each other. Finally, one said, “Why do you have him sitting in our class?”
Rome raised an eyebrow and turned to Jericho. “Would you like to take this one?”
Jericho stood and leaned against the desk next to Rome, purposely standing close enough to make the students wonder at his relationship with Rome. Nosy brats—let them wonder. Jericho certainly did. “My name is Jericho, and I’m the president of Mighty Blade Games.” That got a good reaction from some of the students. Jericho smiled. “I’m here to make sure our games stay playable for everyone and grow exponentially in their kickass factor.” He paused, looked sideways at Rome, and grinned wickedly. “Also, Rome owed me for upsetting my staff this afternoon.”
“I upset no one but you,” Rome insisted.
“As we speak, Toby is questioning his sexuality. That’s your fault.”
Aether raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Class dismissed,” Rome said loudly. “Go. Out. And you—” he turned and poked Jericho in the chest, “would be wise to stop making insinuations about me to my students.”
Jericho grinned. “What?” he asked softly. “Are you nervous?” Never before had Jericho heard students pack their bags so softly he had to strain to hear them. He turned and grinned at the students, all of whom were still staring wide-eyed at the front of the classroom. “I think he’s nervous,” he said with a grin.
Suddenly, Rome wrapped an arm around Jericho and clamped a hand over his mouth. “Class dismissed,” he said firmly. Even after the last student left, Rome didn’t let go, though he did drop his hand to clasp the other around Jericho’s waist. “You realize you’re going to pay dearly for that,” he muttered in Jericho’s ear before sucking the lobe into his mouth. “Now they’ll definitely think we’re dating.”
Jericho grinned. “That’s your problem.”
By the time Rome’s three classes were done for the day, Jericho realized it might be his problem after all. Apparently word traveled fast that there was a human in the school, and faster still that said human might be dating Rome. Students kept stopping by Rome’s office “just to say hi,” and some of the teachers even came by, ostensibly to talk about the wards, but who were clearly trying to get the measure of Jericho and his relationship with Rome.
The day was almost over when the comfortable atmosphere of Rome’s office was invaded by the “common foe” he and Aether had mentioned earlier that afternoon: a red-faced elf strode into the office, golden hair whipping behind him. Though his voice was calm, he was clearly angry when he saw Jericho talking to Alethia, Rome and Aether’s top heart magic student.
When Alethia saw the elf, she and Aether quickly found excuses to leave the room. When they left, they closed the door behind them.
“You brought him here?” the stranger began immediately, ignoring Jericho and stalking straight to Rome.
Rome didn’t get up from his chair. Instead, he leaned back and clasped his hands, a study in nonchalance at its sexiest. Jericho didn’t know how he could be so calm—this elf rubbed him entirely the wrong way, and they hadn’t even been officially introduced.
“Brought who here?” Rome asked. “Jericho?”
“A human! You brought a human into these halls!” He pressed a hand against Rome’s desk, fingers clenched white against the wood, and used the other hand to make stabbing motions with his finger at Rome and Jericho. “Just because you fuck him—”
“I think that’s uncalled for,” Rome said, voice suddenly hard. “After all, I seem to recall you assigning a particular section of the wards to me. Sivaal, meet my helper.” Rome nodded at Jericho, a brittle smile on his normally playful face. “Anyway, the headmaster gave me permission, and the rest is not your concern.”
Sivaal put his hand on his hip and glared at the two of them. Jericho crossed his arms and glared back. Sivaal scoffed. “A human?” He frowned down at Rome again, then turned to leave. “I thought you had better taste,” he shot as he was closing the door.
Jericho thought he should feel angrier than he did—Rome certainly looked pissed off. But mostly, Jericho felt a dark amusement. “He totally wants to fuck you,” he said, sitting on Rome’s desk and looking speculatively at the closed door. “Can’t blame him,” he admitted. When he looked down at Rome, the elf was fighting a grin.
“It was that obvious?”
“I’m quick that way,” Jericho said, snickering. “But yeah—it’s pretty obvious.”
Rome’s amused expression melted into a sigh. “He was one of the older students when I studied here,” he said, slumping into his chair. “He took more of an interest in me than I did in him. Nothing changed when we started teaching. If anything, he’s gotten worse.”
Jericho ran a hand through his hair, messing it up just to have something to do. “Well,” he said at last, “at least you’re not encouraging him.”
“I don’t have to. Everything I do he sees as somehow meant to send him a message to try harder.”
“Sounds frustrating… But hey, it could be worse.” Jericho nudged Rome’s leg with his foot. “You could be stuck sexing him up to refill the wards.” Rome shuddered, and Jericho grinned. “See? Worse.”
Rome grinned up at Jericho and yanked him into his lap. Jericho relaxed against Rome before he realized how automatic it was, how right it felt. “I think we should change the subject,” Rome said. “Let’s talk about your punishment for your behavior in class today.”
Jericho snickered into Rome’s hair. “Have I been a naughty student? Is Professor Rome going to punish me with his big stick?”
Rome smacked Jericho on the thigh, but he was laughing. “You’ll pay for that, too,” he said.
Jericho’s punishment, it turned out, was twofold: that night’s magical demonstration could never appear in the game—and it also kept Jericho from coming until Rome had spent himself twice. The elf generally had more stamina than Jericho, but for once his playful streak felt like torture. The first time Rome came, jacking their cocks together in a sure fist, Jericho’s cock twitched as if he, too, had orgasmed… But the expected relief at release was not there, and the only white on Jericho’s chest was Rome’s.
By the end of their second go-round, Jericho was begging to suck Rome off, begging to touch him in some way that would make him come. Rome had him pinned to the bed and was doing all he could to drive Jericho crazy. Jericho’s only consolation, as the spiral of his pleasure wound tighter and tighter around his spine, was that Rome clearly got off on watching him lose control.
When Jericho finally got his head between Rome’s thighs, he couldn’t go down on the elf fast enough. He used every trick he’d learned on old boyfriends, in gay porn and self-help books, and from Rome himself. Soon, hands stroked his chin and gripped his hair, and Rome’s hips were making abortive little thrusts. Jericho pulled off a bit, gratified by the fingers that tightened in his hair and the whine that leaked from Rome’s throat. Then he peeled back Rome’s foreskin with his lips, and tongued the soft head of Rome’s cock.
Rome let go of him abruptly and gripped the sheets. “Jericho…” he gasped.
Jericho hummed an answer, feigning ignorance at effect the vibration had on his lover, and sucked on the head of Rome’s cock.
Rome arched and shot down his throat.
It wasn’t Jericho’s fault he came immediately after, nothing touching him but the sheets. He blamed Rome’s sadistic sex magic. Still, he was smug when he crawled up Rome’s body and kissed him. “I totally made you come twice,” he said against Rome’s lips.
That satisfied feeling and Rome’s tired chuckle carried Jericho into sleep. It wasn’t until the next morning that he realized Rome had spent the night again.
By the second month into their arrangement, Rome had a week’s worth of clothes and toiletries at Jericho’s apartment, and the two had fallen into a routine. Rome went with him to work and graded papers in his office or at Wanda’s desk, while Jericho and his staff programmed in the common room or worked with the game testers. Sometimes he played video games with them—mostly to make Jericho laugh, though, since Rome turned out to be terrible at every game but vocals in Rock Band, which he quickly learned how to master despite being unfamiliar with most of the songs. Rome often brought them all lunch from various places nearby, and when they were lucky, he’d cook for them the night before and bring in a feast for the next day.
Jericho loved it, even if everyone thought they were dating. “He’s such a sweetie,” Wanda often told him. “Quite a catch.”
By the third month into their arrangement, Jericho had invited some of the more avid gamers among Rome’s students to be testers for the new system. They had come to the office a few times, which Toby, Karris, and Wanda liked especially because they were more willing than Rome to do “magic tricks,” and would suggest cool things they wanted to be able to do in the new game.
The fourth month saw Rome with half of Jericho’s closet and his niece coming over for dinner on Sundays. Everyone thought Rome and Jericho were a couple by that point, and Jericho didn’t see any reason to tell them otherwise. Rome practically lived with him, and was good about letting him work and taking care of him, just as Jericho had learned to screen Rome’s phone calls and introduce him to fun human activities like date movies and water balloon fights in the school quadrangle (Rome’s students really liked that one).
The fifth month was the scariest for Jericho. He was closing in on the end of the magic design process. He had no idea how the school wards were doing, but at least on his end, the deal would be over.
Rome didn’t seem concerned. Then again, Rome was the one always doing sweet things like not pressuring him into having anal sex and cooking him dinner and slipping it on his desk while he coded. Rome didn’t insist, as some of Jericho’s boyfriends had, that Jericho stop everything and pay attention to him whenever he wanted. He seemed to understand Jericho’s moods the way Jericho realized he understood Rome’s: when he’d had a hard day and was trying to hide it; when he was excited about something but didn’t want to interrupt whatever Jericho was doing; when he wanted to fuck, or cuddle on the couch and read a book, or for Jericho to notice that he was there. It was the closest to a real relationship Jericho had ever had, and some days it was hard for him to be happy just because he was so happy over something that wasn’t real but felt so right.
Those days, Rome tended to pounce on him and drag him off to bed, or the couch, or the kitchen table, or a chair, and fuck him until he didn’t know which way was up or what emotional states existed besides orgasmic and bliss. Something in Rome called to something in Jericho, and not knowing if the elf felt that same siren spell was driving him crazy.
And for once in his life, Jericho was afraid to ask for the truth.
But six months passed, and seven, and still Rome went to work with Jericho, and Jericho went to school with Rome. Rome’s students asked about the game, and Jericho’s co-workers asked about Rome’s students. Wanda started asking when they were going to make things “official.” Each time, Rome would quip something like, “Don’t scare him off,” and Jericho would swat at him and swear revenge on him and Wanda.
In the eighth month, Jericho’s team took the game demo to Rome’s school to let his classes try out the spells.
“There’ll be glitches, and some of it looks like crap,” Karris said, “but the point is to make sure you guys are having fun, and figure out how we can make things better so when the game comes out, you’ll look back on today and say, I was there, that game was crap compared to this one, and I helped make it so kickass you don’t even know.”
Toby rolled his eyes at Karris. “Don’t listen to her. If you see any ways the game can be improved, tell one of us. If you find a glitch, tell one of us. If you think this game is totally awesome, tell everyone you can. Got it?”
The students snickered and murmured their assent as the company laptops booted up. Soon, the students playing chatted animatedly with the testers, and the students who weren’t playing started pressuring those at the computers to let them have turns too.
Jericho felt proud of his team. Of all of them, really, himself included. They had worked their asses off to make a good game, and now it was paying off.
His deal with Rome was paying off.
…But not for him. Now that this part was done, he had no reason to ask Rome to stay—no reason but his stupid, stupid heart that would break when the other man was gone. Jericho had long ago stopped asking about the school wards; some part of him thought if he reminded Rome of their deal, he’d stop being so wonderful and treat Jericho like the bargain battery charger he was.
Something inside him ached at that thought. For once, though, he didn’t feel a reassuring hand on his shoulder, or Rome’s playful eyes daring him to look up and notice he wanted a kiss. That was odd. Rome always seemed to know when he was upset. Jericho looked around the room, his depressing thoughts derailed by curiosity. Where was Rome?
Suddenly, Jericho felt a wash of fear. He frowned. Where did that come from? Rome was probably in the bathroom… Except even as he told himself that, Jericho didn’t think it was true. He strode out of the classroom, distantly noting that Aether was watching him instead of her students, her face tight with worry.
Something was wrong and he didn’t know how he knew it, but this time he would listen to the feeling coiling in his gut. The day his parents found out he was gay, he’d known before they called that something drastic was about to happen. He knew it would change him, and that it would hurt like a sonofabitch. That day he’d ignored his instincts, picked up the phone, and been disowned.
That had hurt. But somehow, he knew that losing Rome now would be worse.
Jericho was sprinting down hallways before he realized it. Left, straight, right and right again, he didn’t know where he was going—just that Rome would be there, and he needed to hurry. Turning into the final hallway, he felt a wash of relief: somehow, he knew Rome was close. One of the classrooms on the right caught his attention. The light was on inside, and just looking at it made the hair on the back of Jericho’s neck rise.
He jumped suddenly as a burst of electricity hurled Alethia through the door he’d been eying and into the opposite wall. The force of her thrown body sent the door careening off its top two hinges. It hung sideways as she slumped onto the floor. Electricity crackled around her like a shorting spark plug. She tried to crawl forward, back to the classroom, but before she could get to her knees, an electric shock rocked through her. She collapsed and lay still.
Jericho skidded to a halt at her side, hand finding the nearest wall to support his suddenly shaky legs. It was burnt from the blast that threw Alethia. What the fuck was going on? He opened his mouth to ask the automatic question with an obvious answer—”Are you okay?”—but then he heard Rome.
“Alethia?” Rome’s voice was desperate, and Jericho felt a wash of pain flood his chest. Rome was hurting. Rome needed him.
Jericho dropped to a crouch, keeping as out of sight as he could, and checked to see if Alethia was still alive. Thankfully, she was.
“Sivaal,” Rome said from inside the classroom, “she’s only a student!”
Sivaal would do this? Jericho didn’t want to believe it—Sivaal was an obsessed asshole, but surely he wasn’t capable of this. Jericho pulled Alethia to the side and stood. He didn’t want to believe a lot of things, but that didn’t make them any less true. Sivaal was probably more of a creepy stalker than he’d let on. It was just his luck the guy wanted the one man Jericho cared about most.
Inside the classroom, Rome stood in the center of a circle of red-black symbols on the floor. They had a malicious glow about them. Jericho had never seen anything like them—and there was probably good reason for that. “Black magic,” he realized, staring at the symbols in horror.
Rome noticed him and stiffened. “Run!” he ordered, voice more panicked than Jericho had ever heard it.
“Don’t be stupid,” he snapped, rushing to him. A barrier around Rome stopped him abruptly. Jericho racked his mind for how to break it. It wasn’t chalk on the floor… But it couldn’t hurt to try…
He dragged his shoe across the inky black markings.
They smeared. Just another scuff or two and Rome would be—
Someone grabbed his arm in an iron grip and twisted. Jericho yelped. Sivaal’s livid face filled his vision for the split second before he was hurled into a table. Jericho landed on his back and rolled off, knees hitting the floor hard and throbbing with pain when he tried to push onto his feet.
“Sivaal,” Rome said, “please—stop this.” Jericho looked up. Sivaal was looking at him with a calculating expression. “They’ll strip your powers for this, Sivaal, but you don’t have to suffer banishment. Let him go and I’ll speak favorably of you to the coun—”
Rome’s voice cut off abruptly when Sivaal raised his hand. Rome slammed a fist into the barrier in response. It crackled, but held. Sivaal grabbed Jericho’s neck and pulled him to his feet. Jericho tried to tear his hand away, but Sivaal’s fingers only tightened. “All this for a human?” he mused. Louder, he said, “And I suppose your heart is driving that decision? Heart magic and all that bullshit?” He dropped his other hand, releasing the mute spell. He seemed to really want to know.
“Heart magic is not bullshit, Sivaal. His heart calls to mine.” Rome’s eyes met Jericho’s. “I love him.”
Jericho’s breath caught in his throat. Even when Sivaal wrenched him forward, Jericho couldn’t stop looking at Rome and smiling like an idiot.
Then Sivaal sneered. “If it’s magic, it can be stolen.”
Suddenly, like someone had thrown a switch, Rome’s pleading shout cut off. Jericho felt a sudden vertigo. And then he felt nothing.
Jericho woke up on a stone floor. He was curled in on himself, and he felt sick to his stomach. The air around him smelled musty, dank, like a cellar. The rough stone scraped against his cheek as he moved his head to look around.
The light around him flickered strangely. Candles? Yes—lit candles were perched around the room, and old-fashioned lamps sat on outcroppings in the wall. Where was he?
But more important, where was Rome? Was he okay?
“So you’re awake,” a familiar voice said from somewhere behind Jericho. Sivaal. The elf was hunched over a scarred wooden desk. A book lay open in front of him. “I suppose you’re wondering where you are. By all means, continue to wonder.” Sivaal chuckled.
Jericho’s jaw clenched. He pushed himself to his knees, determined to ignore Sivaal’s jealous barbs and get away, only to realize he was in a black magic circle. The red-black symbols around him looked jagged, coarser than the ones that had been around Rome. Their magic licked at him from the circle’s perimeter, taunting him, daring him to try and break free.
“You found Rome quickly, for a human,” Sivaal continued, “and Rome is rather more than a mere human.” There was a satisfied pause that made Jericho feel sick. “Any information I give you will go straight to him. Unlike you, he knows how to use your bond. Because of that, I’m perfectly willing to tell you what’s about to happen. Rome should know—it concerns him more than you, really.”
“I hope when whatever it is you’re trying blows up in your face, Rome rips your balls off and shoves them down your throat,” Jericho snapped. He wanted out of this damn circle. But if Rome couldn’t bust out of a circle without help, no way Jericho could.
Sivaal’s face reddened. He pursed his lips and held up the book he was flipping through. “Do you know what this is? Oh, but Rome will. Any self-respecting elf knows a forbidden book when he sees one.” Sivaal seemed to calm with this revelation, even as Jericho’s anger started giving way to the fear in the back of his head. “First, I’m going to awaken your heart magic. Rome thinks I don’t believe in it, but I am well aware it exists. It stole him from me, after all. And bound him to a human, of all things.”
Jericho frowned. “Why would you do that? Wouldn’t that just make him love me more?”
“Shut up!” The outburst seemed to surprise Sivaal as much as Jericho. Then a sick smile spread over the elf’s face. “When magic is fully awake, it can be stolen. Rome will have no choice but to love me.” His eyes glinted madly. “Then you’ll be the one ‘incapable of love or compassion.'” He laughed, a broken cackling, and raised his arms.
Something yanked Jericho to his feet and held him suspended in the air, toes barely touching the floor. He hung in midair, fear snapping electric in his stomach and growing wilder with the chant that began pouring from Sivaal’s thin lips.
At once, Jericho’s world was pain, metallic and searing all along his body, like three-pronged knives skinning him alive and burrowing into his chest. Something in him ripped open and was brutally turned on its head.
And then Jericho could feel things outside himself. From Sivaal, he felt a vast emptiness—calculating, frightening, cold. And from somewhere nearby, he felt Rome—frantic, awash with fear, and surrounding that fear, love.
Rome was shouting from somewhere outside the room. Jericho hadn’t seen any doors. How would Rome get in?
Sivaal’s desperation was palpable now, a rot at the back of Jericho’s throat. “You will love me,” he said, and yanked at that open wound in Jericho that connected him to Rome.
It felt like someone was ripping out his heart—ripping out Rome.
He couldn’t let that happen.
He wouldn’t let it happen.
Jericho grit his teeth and tugged back. He wasn’t sure how he managed. Only that for a few eternal seconds, Sivaal’s grip loosened and his expression said what Jericho’d done was impossible.
Then the wall in front of him erupted, and Aether burst through and hurled a glowing sphere of raw power at Sivaal.
Rome caught Jericho as he fell. He wasn’t sure if Rome babbled nonsense to him or just held him, but he could feel the worry, the desire to care for him, as clear as if it were burned into his eyelids.
Sivaal sat in a crumpled heap in the corner. The book lay face down on the floor. Aether kicked it far from Sivaal, eyes never leaving him, but the fallen elf looked only at Rome. “Why couldn’t you love me?” he asked, voice hoarse.
“Take Jericho to a healer,” Aether said firmly. “I’ll watch Sivaal until the others arrive.”
Jericho clutched Rome and tried to calm his own shattered nerves. He was twitching all over, like he’d been loaded down with electricity that needed to be exorcised somehow. “Can we just go home?” he begged.
Rome picked him up and held him close. “Healer first, then home,” he promised. He pressed a kiss to Jericho’s forehead, and the cellar vanished.
In the healer’s office, Karris and Toby seemed reluctant to leave Jericho’s side. Karris kept trying to feed him and tuck him in. Toby was glaring at anyone who came into the room, like all were possible threats. Jericho just wanted to go home. “I’m fine,” he insisted for what felt like the millionth time when Karris asked if he shouldn’t stay overnight in the healer’s office at the school.
“If you’re fine, then why is your eye twitching?”
Jericho glared. “Because you’re treating me like I’m dying. The healer said the twitches would stop after a few hours. Trust me, I’m counting down the minutes.”
Karris was hurt. Jericho could feel it in that unfamiliar new part of himself. Shit.
“You know,” he said carefully, “Rome said it’s probably a bad idea if we put black magic in the game, but I think we should do something to commemorate this incident of supreme fuckwittery.”
That caught her attention. And Toby’s. She bit: “What were you thinking?”
At Rome’s worried look, Jericho grinned. “Side quest: Sivaal’s Folly. It’ll be a mystery about the elf Sivaal who used dark magic to try to gain the love of his obsession—a human.” Rome’s jaw dropped, and Jericho cackled. “Serves him right,” he said, gripping his side as a spasm rocketed through it. “Asshole.”
“That sounds like fun!” Karris’s eyes turned distant. “A cautionary tale about the dark arts, and how they twisted a once promising elf into a creature of dark desires.” She grinned. “I can have the basic plot and designs to you by Wednesday.”
“Can I help? I get to help, right?”
“Yes, Toby, you can help,” Karris said. “I get full veto power though. No burnt toast elixirs, or whatever.”
Karris and Toby stayed another hour after that, planning for Sivaal’s Folly and filling Jericho in on what he missed during the testing. Then an elf high council member came to Jericho’s room, and the two had no choice but to leave.
The questioning was more like memory sharing than a question and answer. The elf asked Jericho if he would share his experience, Jericho said yes, and suddenly someone else was sifting through his thoughts.
He panicked. Only Rome’s reassuring presence, both beside him and, somehow, within him, kept Jericho from trying to shove the invasive presence out the way he’d shoved away Sivaal.
The council member did not look pleased when her prying eyes got the fuck out of Jericho’s head. “Sivaal.” She shook her head. “At least you two are already bonded. I’m sure it is unnecessary to impress upon you how important it is these events be kept secret. Though…” Her lips quirked into a wry grin. “I suppose the cautionary tale of Sivaal’s Folly would be a good lesson for people to learn. Magic is not all fun and games, as I’m sure you’ve learned today.”
After that meeting, they were allowed to go home. The twitching and spasms had mostly stopped by the time Rome parked in Jericho’s driveway. Jericho took Rome’s arm to steady himself as they went up the front steps. Rome was gentle with him, like Jericho was an injured bird. As much as Jericho appreciated it, he hoped Rome didn’t keep this up forever. He knew once he’d eaten and taken a nap, the babying would probably annoy him.
Rome sat him on the couch and walked straight into the kitchen. “What would you like?” he asked, already getting out Jericho’s favorite comfort food.
“Clearly you already know,” Jericho said, voice laced with admiration. The spaghetti was ready ten minutes later. Jericho cuddled into Rome’s side and ate, feeding his lover whenever he sensed the elf’s interest. It was strange, to feel so in tune with another person. Was this what Rome had always felt with Jericho? This overwhelming need to be with, care for, love always?
How had Jericho not seen in Rome’s actions what he now felt ringing clear as a bell inside of him?
Rome tucked him in after dinner. Jericho didn’t bother fighting it. The elf needed to do it as much as Jericho needed to know he was there, wanted to be there even without their deal. He fell asleep with one hand clasped in Rome’s, the elf’s eyes watching him as he slept. The warmth in them made Jericho want to cry. Instead, he fell asleep.
Jericho woke up hard. It was Rome’s fault. The elf was spooning him, stroking Jericho’s stomach with soft touches that made him want rock back into the hard cock pressed against his ass. Jericho shuddered.
The touches stopped abruptly.
Why? He could feel Rome’s desire like warm honey in his mind; beneath that, love like sunlight on a perfect summer day. But—Rome was waiting.
Jericho didn’t want him to wait anymore. Jericho was sick of waiting for what was clearly right in front of him. He took Rome’s hand and slid it onto his cock.
Rome pressed a kiss to the back of Jericho’s neck, and slowly started stroking.
It was like the first time he woke up with Rome in his bed, Jericho thought.
…Except this time he was ready. He rolled to face Rome, dislodging his hand, and kissed him. “I love you,” he said. Rome’s eyes darkened. When Jericho kissed him again, Rome’s mouth was greedy against his, seeking, wanting, as if the words themselves could be drawn out again if Rome sought them hard enough with his lips, his tongue, his kiss.
When the kiss broke, so did Rome’s voice: “I thought he would take that away,” he whispered, eyes glistening.
Jericho stroked his hip and brushed a feather-light kiss on Rome’s nose. The action earned him a smile. “Well, you’re stuck with me now.” He winked at the elf and squawked when that got him a light smack on the ass, and then a promising squeeze.
Jericho ran his short nails up Rome’s back. It was a light touch that never failed to drive Rome crazy. True to form, the elf arched into the touch.
What Jericho didn’t expect was to feel a strange double sensation: Rome’s pleasure echoed in his head, reverberating like a plucked string in the air and calling an answering sensation in Jericho. “Oh,” he said, a half-shocked, half-moaned exclamation. “Did you feel that?”
Rome seemed surprised but pleased. “I think someone will be taking my heart magic class this fall.”
Jericho raised an eyebrow. “Really? Because I’d like to propose an independent study with my hot teacher,” he said, flipping Rome onto his back and straddling him. He kissed his lover softly then, suddenly nervous by what he wanted to say. “I was afraid to do this before,” he admitted. “I didn’t want to do it because we had a deal, and not a…thing… And then I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want to be the only one so in love they’d do anything to…to keep you.”
Rome stroked Jericho’s cheek, a wordless encouragement for him to say what he needed to say.
“I’m ready. I want to feel you inside of me.” Even the thought made Jericho shiver with want. “Stretching me and filling me and—and making me feel you.” He nodded resolutely and met Rome’s darkening eyes. “I want you to be all there is in the world to me—even if it can only be for a little while.”
A whine escaped Rome’s throat, and the elf surged up and kissed him.
That night, Jericho really did feel like Rome was the entire world. The elf surrounded him, was inside of him, was everywhere. But through it all, Rome’s love suffused every move he made.
Rome was Jericho’s world—but Jericho was everything to Rome.