Up the Garden Path

by shukyou (主教)
illustrated by noodlenoggen

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/228251.html)

Ianaver Swordhand is a human fighter. Standing a majestic six and a half feet tall, he has high strength and charisma balanced by relatively low speed and dexterity. He wears a dwarf-forged breastplate, a gift from Nortiln Giantcrippler, the party’s other fighter (and himself a dwarf); he wields a sword that has a plus-three in dragonslaying, which is reputed to be very handy should he ever be approached by a dragon.

Literally the only reason Noah can remember most of this is because it’s all written on the piece of paper in front of him, on the table between his can of PBR and Jai’s bag of white cheddar popcorn.

“Coming over the ridge, you see a forest,” says Ruby, her words slightly garbled by the stick of red licorice jammed in the corner of her mouth like the world’s floppiest cigarette. “Huge fucking forest. We’re talking trees as far as the eye can see. An eerie mist rolls along the ground, shrouding the interior in mystery. Other than that, though, it looks like a completely ordinary forest.”

“I think I’d like to know more about this forest,” says Jai, speaking not so much for himself as for Viceak Hawklight, centuries-old human mage, whose magics have over time turned his skin a copper sheen and deepened his human eyes into dark pools of starlight. Jai has a little pewter statue in front of him of an inch-high wizard, painted appropriately. All the others have similar miniatures of their characters, except for Ruby, because being the DM is apparently the opposite of having a single character, and Noah, because this is his first game. “I’m casting a spell of checking that mother out.”

Ruby shrugs and nudges a red die across the table to him. “Roll for perception, wizard.”

Jai takes his hand that was resting on Noah’s knee and picks up the die, then drops it a few inches above the table; it clatters around the detritus there and comes to a stop on the far side of Layni’s beer. “Wizard fail-rolls a two,” says Layni, picking up her beer to show the table the outcome of the die’s fall.

“Looks like a completely ordinary forest!” chirps Ruby, looking smug. Jai mock-scowls at her, which only makes her smugness grow. “Who wants to check it out?”

“I want to check the hell out of that completely ordinary forest,” says Walker, who is, for all intents and purposes, Nortiln Giantcrippler. He told Noah at the beginning of the game that ‘Giantcrippler’ is actually just a family name and some of his best friends are giant, and Noah’s subsequent befuddlement made Jai laugh. Noah doesn’t want to be nervous around these people, especially since they’re Jai’s best friends, but he can’t help it; he’s never had a boyfriend before, never done the meet-the-friends thing before, and never played a tabletop role-playing game before. Considering that his parents never miss a Sunday evening service at the Emmanuel Korean Baptist Church, he’s not sure what part of this equation would upset them the most.

They do seem like good people, though, and they’ve been nothing but nice to Noah for the past several hours, even as they’ve grown drunker and more ridiculous. Zak — or, rather, Corhana Beestinger the halfling rogue, though Noah isn’t entirely sure what either of those last two words mean — raises a fist to the air. “I will go with my dwarf friend into this forest! And if anything dangerous should be found in there, well, I run faster than he does.”

“If anything dangerous is in there, I’m going to pick you up and toss you into its mouth,” says Walker, miming doing just that while Zak laughs. “And then plunder your digested corpse for your invisibility cloak.”

“Is that any way to treat a dead lady?” asks Zak, holding a knobby, unladylike hand to his chest.

“I’ll go too,” says Noah, doing his best to get into the spirit of things. “Into the forest, I mean.”

The other players at the table give a rousing cheer and drink from their respective cans of beer, which Noah has come to recognize as a gesture of support and encouragement, so he smiles and drinks along with them. “Our newest ally has the adventuring spirit!” declares Layni on behalf of half-elf cleric Ravamorel Greensleeves, whose tiny pewter self wears a very shiny blue hooded cloak. “Let’s send him in first.”

Jai squints a scowl at her; Noah has realized that most of the tabletop interactions here involve pretending to be angry while other people laugh, which is new to him, but still strangely appealing as far as group dynamics go. “Let’s send our rogue in first to check for traps in this completely ordinary forest.”

“I’m with the half-elf here,” says Zak, jerking his thumb in the direction of Layni, who is, according to Jai’s brief preparatory dossier email, Zak’s real-life girlfriend; Noah hates himself for being stereotypical about it, but having a girlfriend is not what he would have expected from a man playing a female character. They make a cute pair of opposites, though, with his muted hipster palette next to her bright punky pinks and rainbows. They make Noah a little nervous too, though, because if they’re this group’s standard for an adorable, stable relationship, that standard is pretty high.

“All right,” says Ruby, waving her hand in the middle of the table to get everyone’s attention. “We shall push ourselves past this impasse in our traditional manner: democracy. All those in favor of the more traditional approach to the problem of an unfamiliar area — which would be sending in our most alert and perceptive party member — show of hands?” Jai raises his and elbows Noah, who follows suit. “All those in favor of sending our newest and least experienced player into a treacherous situation where he’s probably going to be eaten…?” Walker, Zak, and Layni all raise their hands. “Ah, democracy! Cowboy up, Swordhand, you’re leading the pack.”

Jai rolls his eyes. “Fine, but as a stalwart guardian of the realm and upholder of the good, et cetera, et cetera, I insist I be allowed to follow at his side.”

Ruby glances over at the other players. “Acceptable?” The three nod. “Fantastic. Accompanied by Viceak Hawklight, you, Sir Ianaver Swordhand, venture forward into the completely ordinary forest, as your trusty companions wait just beyond the borders of the wood for word of your findings. You step inside and a great and eerie quiet surrounds you; there are no sounds of birds or wild animals, and no wind rustles the leaves in the trees. You venture onward until you come to a clearing, off of which branch three paths. The first is well-lit by the sun and lined by many colorful flowers. The second is darker and mossy, and in the distance you can hear the sound of running water. The third is the darkest, but as you peer into the dimness, you can see that it ends at the mouth of a foul-smelling cave. Where shall you go?”

“Well, brave fighter,” asks Jai with a smile, “which way do we pick?”

Noah frowns, thinking on his choices. “Does it matter?” The last thing he wants is to make a bad decision at a crucial moment.

“Yes and no,” says Jai, stretching his arm across the back of Noah’s chair so that his fingertips rest against the skin just above Noah’s shirt collar; Noah, aware everyone’s eyes are on him, tries not to shiver visibly. “There’s a different story down each path, but you can’t pick a wrong one. Just whichever sounds like the best to you.”

Popping a watermelon jelly bean in his mouth for courage, Noah nods. “Flowers and sunlight sound okay. Let’s go that way.”

“First path it is!” announces Ruby with a smile. “Are you going to check it out first, or are you just going to walk straight ahead?”

Is there anything I should check out?”

“Roll to see,” says Ruby, pushing the red die back to Noah. Noah tosses it; it comes up with a five. “Okay, you smell something. It’s a nice smell, though. Very green, like you get when you walk into a florist’s. Does this change your mind?”

Noah looks at Jai. “Should it?”

Jai shrugs, still stroking the back of Noah’s neck with tiny brushes of his fingertips. “Depends on if you like flowers.”

“Flowers are good.”

“I’ll remember that.” Jai winks.

“You step forward down the floral path,” narrates Ruby, reading from a tattered manual she holds in her lap, turned so none of the players can see what’s inside. The top right corner of the front cover has the name ‘Arjuna Bhattacharya’ handwritten on it in thick black marker; technically it belongs to her older brother, but since he left for college years ago without taking it with him, she has declared it rightfully hers. She’s Jai’s oldest friend on campus — they’ve known one another since middle school — and Jai made a point to take Noah out to lunch with her before inviting him to the group’s long-standing Thursday night game. Noah thinks she likes him, but she’s got the kind of pixie face and dry sense of humor that make it so hard to tell. “The air is sweet and clear here, far less oppressive than it was in the earlier sections of the forest. Gentle vines cling to the sides of trees and drape down over the path.”

“Well, while you guys are tiptoeing through the tulips,” says Walker, pushing back from his chair, “this dwarf is going to ye oldey refrigerator for another round. More ale for my companions?”

“And make some more popcorn,” says Layni, rocking back in her chair to look up at his face; he’s built like the high school football player he used to be, and he towers over her. Zak keeps a hand on her knee, steadying her against toppling over. “I got a new box yesterday. It’s in the middle cabinet.”

“Ale and the traditional half-elf snack of choice! My quest begins!” Walker gives the table a deep, ostentatious bow before turning and crossing the ten feet into the apartment’s half-kitchen, separated from the main room room by a planter wall stacked high with papers, books, and the other trappings of a three-bedroom off-campus apartment inhabited by four people who aren’t too fastidious about cleaning. Noah’s been here before, but only when no one else was home and only long enough for Jai to pick up a book he’d forgotten. It’s different now, full of noise and beer cans, and he likes it better this way.

Jai picks up the die and spins it with his fingertips. “All right, I’d like to look around,” he says, and he drops the die; it clatters and comes up twelve.

Ruby consults her book, tracking her place with the eraser end of a pencil. “Okay, so maybe it’s an enchanted forest.”

“I am shocked,” says Jai, sounding not shocked at all. “What do I see in this enchanted forest?”

“Four objects!” Ruby holds up her left hand and ticks the items off on her ring-covered fingers as she goes along; the rings are big and plastic, and none of the stones are red. “You see: a small orange rock with some writing on it, a rusted ancient arrowhead, a white bone, a lavender flower on a tall stalk.”

Jai smiles at Noah and squeezes his knee. “I am going to pick that flower and present it to Sir Swordhand as a token of my affection, because he likes flowers.”

Noah knows something has gone terribly wrong when he sees the mischievous-yet-polite smirk on Ruby’s face corkscrew into a full-on evil grin. “You bend down,” she says, leaning forward and letting the book slide down in her lap, “and grasp the stem of the flower. Because you didn’t roll a sixteen or higher, though, you don’t notice the trap until it’s too late. When you tug on the flower, the stem doesn’t let go, but a poof of bright violet powder blasts out, covering your face and chest. Surprised, you gasp and breathe it in.”

Sensing that the moment for action has fallen to him, Noah sits up a little straighter. “I, uh, ask him what’s wrong.”

Jai opens his mouth to reply, but before he can say anything, Ruby cuts in: “He can’t answer. The pollen’s taking hold of him. He writhes on the ground. If only your half-elf cleric had come with you, her knowledge of herbology might come in handy here.”

“Cleric is currently waiting for her traditional snack,” Layni calls over her shoulder. The first sound from the kitchen area is a rude one, followed by the startup whir of a microwave.

“Is it … poison?” asks Noah. It seems stupid, but this has become oddly stressful for him; Jai has been playing the same character with these guys for two years now, and Noah can’t imagine it’ll help their relationship if said character dies at the imaginary hands of his stupid new boyfriend.

Ruby’s expression softens a little. “Okay, fortunately you remember that when you were all crossing the Snake Tongue River an hour ago, you agreed to carry some of the things from other people’s packs because you’re stronger than they are, and one of the things you took was Ravamorel’s copy of 1001 Wild Herbs and Magical Plants, third edition, translated into the Common tongue. You pull it from your pack, turn to the index, and flip through until you find a drawing of the flower in question: the Phalla Lily.”

Jai points an accusing finger at Ruby. “You suck.”

“And you are currently in the paralytic throes of arousal, so hush.” Ruby whacks his finger with her pencil before turning her attention back to Noah. “The pollen of the Phalla Lily is known throughout the land for one key property: its incredible, insatiable, incurable aphrodisiac qualities. Persons who inhale the pollen must be guided to orgasmic release soon, lest they die of unsatisfaction.”

“‘Unsatisfaction’?” Zak snorts a laugh. “The publishing house needs a better translator.”

Hapa elf problems,” Layni says, holding her hand up for a fistbump that Zak returns, complete with subsequent explosion.

“Reading further,” Ruby continues, though Noah gets the strong impression she isn’t actually reading anything at all, “you see that the pollen is very fast-acting, leaving its victims dead within hours, sometimes even within minutes. You can run back the way you came, find your other party members, see if any of them have the items to make the antidote, and return to where your comrade lies, wrestling for his life against the effects of the Phalla Lily — assuming, that is, you can find your way both out and back again. Or you can take matters into your own hands.”

A quick survey of the faces around the table — including Walker’s, come back from the kitchen with a bowl of red-dusted popcorn in one hand and a six-pack in the other — reveals four devilish grins and one frown that has no joking behind it, the latter of which belongs to Jai and is turned on their DM. “Come on, Ruby,” he sighs, stroking the back of Noah’s neck. They haven’t been dating long, but in that time, Jai has definitely shown himself capable of keeping an eye out on Noah’s behalf. He’s two years older than Noah, he’s got more experience with things like school and living on his own and being openly gay, and here he is again, ready to save Noah from a sticky situation, even if said rescue involves Jai’s putting himself between his new boyfriend and his old friends.

In that moment, Noah understands what’s happening. “No, wait,” he says, and Jai pauses, caution still furrowing his brows. There’s no need for caution now, though, not with the stakes so high. This is as clear a mission as he’s been given all evening, clearer than the party’s first battle against the skeleton knights, clearer than bartering with the troll blacksmith, clearer than the drinking contest with the centaur bard. It’s a challenge, and he can back down from it or he can rise to it.

And he hasn’t been playing the game for the last three hours without learning something about courage.

Noah looks Ruby in the eye. “I take his pants off.”

The table explodes in another round of cheers and Walker puts an open can of beer right in front of Noah, then claps him on the back so hard Noah worries for a moment that his lungs may have exited through the front of his chest. “You roll to take his pants off, Sir Swordhand,” says Ruby, pushing a blue four-sided die his way.

Noah tosses the die with confident force and it bounces once before coming up a bright white 4. “That means no more pants, right?”

“For a four, you can take off everything he’s got on,” declares Ruby. “You remove his wizard’s robe, his wizard’s hat, his wizard’s breeches, and his wizard’s anything else he’s got on under there — and because you rolled so well, any wizarding booby traps he’s got going are rendered null and void.”

“I don’t have wizarding booby traps in my underwear,” says Jai, who still sounds a little cautious, but has begun to relax and lean back against the back of his chair. He raises an eyebrow at Noah, who gives him a thumbs-up in response. Noah’s come this far, he can’t back down now.

“Underwear or in any other places.” Ruby leans forward and rests her elbows on the table, no longer making even the pretense of reading the book. “And you are still incapacitated by the pollen, unable to speak or control your movements or, really, do anything that isn’t gaze up into Sir Swordhand’s eyes, begging silently for the release you so ache for. So zip it.”

With a sigh that can’t hide the smile behind it, Jai draws an invisible zipper tag over the line of his closed lips. “Okay,” says Noah, considering his options, “I … consult the book to see if it has any tips on the most effective things. Positions. Effective positions.”

Ruby shakes her head. “The book itself has no recommendations. However, there are several blank pages in the back which Ravamorel has used to make her own annotations. Perhaps something may be found there….?”

“Oh, yeah.” Layni pops a piece of popcorn in her mouth — the mysterious red is chili powder, Noah can smell it even at a distance — and wipes her fingers on a napkin. “Big ol’ section titled Sex Pollen Tips, followed by more than a few mentions of penetration and some schematic drawings of medieval strap-ons. Thorough. You’re lucky I take such detailed notes.”

Noah thinks on this a moment. “Do the notes indicate which person has to be the one penetrated?”

“The notes,” says Layni with a shrug, “are unspecific.”

He and Jai have had penetrative sex exactly twice, which is not-coincidentally the exact number of times Noah has had penetrative sex, period, both encounters in Noah’s tiny dorm room, both times with Noah on all fours against the mattress, Jai kneeling behind him, and a soon-to-need-laundering towel spread beneath them. Noah, however, has been sure of his sexual orientation for nearly a decade and, having had no one around he could trust with that information until quite recently, learned at a young age how to bypass the parental controls on his computer. Theoretical information is still information. “I search through his pack for something approaching lube,” Noah says, thinking practically.

The move actually seems to catch Ruby by surprise, and she bites her lower lip, thinking. “Wizards don’t often carry around K-Y–”

“Actually,” Zak interrupts, “Sir Swordhand needs to look in his own pack, because back when we were crossing the Snake Tongue River, I gave him all my non-essentials because I was tired of carrying them on my little halfling back, and one of the things in there was a jar of Lamia Oil, known for both its non-toxicity and its lubricative properties.”

Snickering, Walker cocks an eyebrow at him. “And where did you pick up this jar of Lamia Oil, exactly?”

Zak just smiles. “Oh, you know me. Wherever we go, picking pockets, making friends.”

“All right!” Ruby claps her hands together. “After searching through Viceak’s pack and finding nothing, you get the brilliant idea that you should probably search through your own pack, just in case. In there is a jar of Lamia Oil, which I really hope for your sake smells better than it sounds.”

“Like a summer breeze,” Zak promises. “Made from snake-ladies. Try not to think about it.”

“And I’m just lying here?” asks Jai.

“Yep!” chirps Ruby. “Sweating and writhing and gasping. Here.” She nudges an orange twelve-sided die his way. “Roll for cock size.”

Jai manages to look mortally offended as he picks up the die. “These are my options?”

“Wizard Hawklight, you are no doubt hiding many things under your robes, but I refuse to entertain the possibility that one of those things is a twenty-inch fleshy magic wand. Now toss it or I’ll default to one.”

Jai rolls both the die and his eyes, and the former comes up nine. “A nine-inch copper cock,” says Layni thoughtfully. “I think I’ve got one of those in my bedside drawer.”

“I think I gave it to you last year for Eid,” adds Zak.

“Hey,” says Walker, poking Zak in his side, “you never give me anything for Eid.”

Zak pokes him right back. “You don’t even know what Eid is.”

“Apparently you get sex toys for gifts, which means I want in on it.”

“Can we please,” Ruby says, tossing a crumpled-up empty bag of Skittles in their direction, “concentrate on the terrible, life-threatening plight that has befallen our dear wizard companion?” With exaggerated choirboy poses of innocence, they both sit up in their chairs; Ruby gives the situation a nod of approval and turns back to Noah. “Okay, Sir Swordhand: wizard defrocked, nine-inch throbbing turgid cock exposed, snake-lady-summer-breeze lube acquired, situation dire — what now?”

Well, Noah supposes, there’s nothing like going all the way. “I take off all my armor and clothes too.”

I,” Layni interjects, “am getting a tingling in that special sense I have when there are naked men somewhere in the area, and I ask my companions if they don’t want to go on in and check on our friends, who may be in some unspecified peril. Are my companions with me?”

“Aye!” cry Zak and Walker in unison, lifting their cans of beer for punctuation.

Ruby nods. “All right, you three start making your way through the forest, taking your time, checking for traps and not pulling up any flowers like a dumbass. But you,” she says, turning back to Noah, “don’t know they’re coming or even how quickly they’ll arrive, so you’ve got to act quickly.”

“I take the Lamia Oil and–” Noah stops, considering his actions. “Is it more like olive oil and sort of liquid, or more jelly like Vaseline?”

Ruby looks to Zak, who declares, “Vaseline.”

Noah supposes that this is the best way to tell Jai that he’d like to switch around in bed sometime. “I take the Lamia Oil and slick up my cock.”

Walker picks up the twelve-sided die and tosses it, grinning at the result. “You mean, your twelve-inch cock.”

“Yes, my foot-long cock,” says Noah, feeling a little flush rise in his cheeks at talking so dirty in front of people he’s only just met, but pushing past that embarrassment as he glances beside him and sees Jai. Any previous look of concern is gone, replaced instead by a pink glow over his pretty brown cheeks, and he’s caught the corner of his lower lip between his teeth, though Noah suspects Jai doesn’t know he’s doing that. As encouragement goes, it doesn’t get much better than this. “And now it’s covered in Lamia Oil.”

“Your twelve-inch sword stands at the ready, jutting out from your lean, muscled fighter’s body, prepared to meet its target,” narrates Ruby, lips twisted into a grin. “Beneath you, on the blanket of his robes, in uncontrolled response to the sight of your magnificent prick, Viceak spreads his knees and gasps.” She gestures to Jai, who makes the appropriate sound effect. “Already, the poison is seeping into his brain. He only has one chance. His life is in your hands! What will you do next?”

Noah considers how to phrase his actions, then just goes for it. “I kneel down between his legs, grasp his thighs, and penetrate him.”

Zak hisses through his teeth. “Twelve inches all at once?”

“I–” Noah frowns, trying to cover for how he hadn’t quite thought through the mechanics of that one. “Well, there’s no time to lose, right?”

“Roll to see how that went over,” says Ruby. Noah does, and the twenty-sided die comes up eighteen. “Oh, you’re in luck, the wizard likes it rough. Penetrated, he gasps again!” Ruby waits until Jai complies with her prompting, though Noah can hear that the sound, while comic, also has a note of sincere need to it. “His cock stirs and stiffens even further, bobbing with every thrust you make into him and slickening his belly! At this moment, your companions walk into the clearing and catch you two in flagrante delicto! Companions, your response?”

“I reach into my dwarf-pack and pull out my trusty silver violin,” says Walker. “Mood music.”

“Actually, now that I’m here, I’m just going to sit under a tree and watch.” Layni keeps munching at the popcorn; she’s been waging her own campaign against it all this time, and has nearly succeeded in eliminating the horde.

“Yeah, don’t stop on our account,” says Zak. “Unless the dwarf music gets bad, in which case you should stop and throw something at him.”

Walker sniffs. “I am the Isaac Hayes of dwarf violinists.”

“Surrounded by your companions, some of whom are more helpful than others,” Ruby says, eyeing their side of the table, “you continue to thrust against one another’s bodies. Your sweat combines with the Lamia Oil and makes your bodies slip and slide together. Your manly pheromones fill the glade. All the tree pixies and other sentient magical creatures of the forest poke their heads out to see what’s going on, then stay for the free show. Gasping and thrusting, you pleasure one another as best as you’re able, considering the circumstances.”

Noah is glad he’s scooted his chair in close to the table, because Ruby’s words are certainly having an effect on him — not thinking about some burly barbarian-man ramming some metal-skinned wizard exhibitionist-style in a magical flowering forest, but picturing how he wants to fuck Jai like that, off where no one is watching. He doesn’t have a twelve-inch cock or magical snake-lady lube, and Jai isn’t incapacitated with an aphrodisiac, but he doesn’t suppose any of those things really matter. He gives Jai’s leg a little nudge under the table, and Jai nudges him right back, which is as good as a promise of later.

“I suppose if I’m trying to get him off,” says Noah, “I should be giving him a handjob while I’m fucking him.”

illustrated by noodlenoggen

“Oh, and your hand is lubed up, which is an automatic plus-two to a handjob,” Ruby says, and Noah knows she’s just making this all up now, and he doesn’t even care. “His nine-inch prick slides through your slick, hot fist. He writhes beneath you as his orgasm builds. His flushed skin is warm to the touch. For several minutes you pound into him, withdrawing all twelve inches of your frankly ridiculous penis before plunging it back in, over and over again. At last, he stands on the brink of orgasm! Roll to make him come!”

It’s such an absurd command that Noah is momentarily paralyzed with inaction — but then he complies with all due diligence. He sweeps his arm across the table, picking up all six die that have gotten scattered across the surface through the evening’s activities. Clutching them in his fist, he lifts his hand a foot above the table and lets go, setting off a rain of numbers that clatters across the table’s hard surface. In the middle comes down the largest of the die, its upwardmost face showing a bright red 20. “He comes,” declares Noah with an air of triumph.

“He comes!” echoes Ruby, making the statement a triumphant cry. “Buckets and buckets of sticky, hot come, all over your bare bodies! Just huge white explosions of spooge! Looks like it’s been snowing liquid on his chest! Spunk everywhere! And it’s the antidote! He’s going to be okay!”

“Well, thank fuck for that,” says Jai. “Can I move and talk again?”

Ruby nods. “Well, the pollen isn’t keeping you down any longer, but you’ve still got a rock-hard foot-long jing-jang shoved up your fundament, so asking if you can move is a complicated question.”

“Unspeakably grateful to my savior, I seize both sides of his face in my hands and pull him in for a long, passionate kiss,” says Jai, who grabs Noah’s face and does exactly that. He tastes like beer and the pizza they ate earlier and a few bites of Layni’s horrible spicy popcorn and it’s wonderful, all wonderful. The others around the table laugh and applaud, but Noah’s only concerned with Jai’s approval, and now that he’s gotten it, nothing else matters.

“Well, Sir Swordhand,” says Ruby as Jai finally lets him go, “your mission has been accomplished, though you yourself are still in quite a state; what would you like to do about that?”

Before Noah can answer, Jai stands and grabs the collar of Noah’s shirt, dragging him to his feet. “I think we need to go discuss his actions and decisions during this event in private,” says Jai, tugging Noah with him back to the trio of bedrooms at the other end of the apartment. “Give him some pointers, help him find some places to improve, maybe have a couple reenactments….”

Noah steadies himself against the wall to keep from falling over. He can’t stop grinning when he sees the faces of Jai’s friends smiling back at him; he feels about as good as he expects he would have if he’d slain a real dragon. “So, will Sir Swordhand be riding with us again next week?” Zak calls after them, giving Noah a big wink.

“If I survive this performance review, I’ll let you know,” Noah promises, laughing as Jai pulls him into another enthusiastic kiss, then yanks him into the bedroom and slams the door shut behind them.

Author’s Notes

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