After the Rising: The Vaille Brothers Saga
Volume Two - The Demon Tome
Chapter Four

by Talya Firedancer

The delicious aroma of hot, sumptuous food permeated the room until Roy's mouth watered and his stomach cramped, and he was no longer able to ignore the fact that he was hungry in favor of the wavering screen of the notepad before him. When he looked over, Keiran was absently chewing on a knuckle as he scanned through a file. Fascinating sight...Roy took hold of himself and shook his head.

"That's enough," he said aloud, sending his notepad into screen-saving mode with a flick of his finger.

"Umm?" Keiran looked up, dazed. "Oh...done already?"

"Not hardly," Roy said, dry. "But it is time for dinner."

Keiran gave him a melting, grateful glance that spun Roy's stomach another half-flip and a twist. "Thank goodness for that, I'm starved."

"I noticed."

They brushed elbows as they left the study that had been their cloister for the past several hours. In point of fact, Roy had no idea what time it was. Keiran moved from him as if touched by electric shock, and Roy frowned. It was a petty thing, but just another circumstance that made Roy realize how far apart they were. But then, he'd known Keiran's affections were fixed on gorgeous Professor Vaille from day one, as were most of the "kids" in their classes, so there really was no point to it all.

He supposed he'd hired him on partly in the capacity of assistant, and the other part pure masochistic torture.

Cedric beamed at them over a field of red and white checked table-cloth as they emerged. "Oh, good! I was about to send Humphrey to get the two of you."

Roman finished placing napkins and silverware and waved one slender hand in a guarded wave. Roy was stricken with how much he looked like his elder brother, save for a few inches of height and the leaner lines of his body, shoulders less broad. "Hi," Roman spoke up. "Sorry about earlier." His mouth tightened, as if expecting reproach.

"Don't even think of it," Roy said quietly. "I understand, and it's done with."

Keiran was asking diminutive Cedric if there was anything left to do, to which the boy replied no, Humphrey and Felicia would transport dishes to the table and all they had left was to sit. Roy scanned the living area and spotted Damon's dark head, and Kellan's sleek ponytail. He supposed that they were all assembled, then the suite's door chimed, and Cedric dashed off to meet it, exuberant as a puppy with company.

Roman had sidled up to his elbow. "He loves company," the teen said, following his brother with inscrutable eyes. "We hardly bring any over for dinner, except you sometimes, or Damon the one time."

"Why only the one time?" Roy said, blurting the one question that rose immediately to mind.

Roman's generous mouth quirked. "My brother and Damon really don't get along," he replied.

Can't imagine why, Roy thought dryly, but kept it to himself. He had, at least, heard Gabriel speak of Damon, usually couched in such rigid neutral language that it was clear he censored himself. He'd never been able to extract what truly bothered Gabriel about Roman's lover, aside from the fact that he was exactly that – sleeping with the beloved younger brother.

Cedric returned with Arashi in tow, leading him without touching him, though he looked as though he might want to take him by the hand to make sure the youth with the harassed expression didn't escape. Arashi had an ear-path plugged into one canal, its stem disengaged and pointing down from his ear, and he wore a frown that looked congenital.

"What news?" Roy greeted him, and Arashi's frown deepened. Just then, the door chime sounded again, setting Cedric off again.

Wearing an incongruous white-frilled apron, Humphrey came from the kitchen with a hot mitt on each hand, each one carrying a steaming dish of food. "Keep moving," Felicia urged him, at his back with another hot dish.

Roman lifted his voice to reach the others. "We should grab seats, the food is ready."

Roy pulled out the seat where he was standing. One was just as good as the next, as far as he was concerned. Across the room, Cedric was ushering Alicia Carson toward the dinner table. Kellan and Damon were heading over. Roy watched Damon make his way over to Roman's side, still pondering Gabriel's inexplicable dislike. The man certainly was handsome enough to find offensive, if that were a particular sticking point of his colleague's, but that wasn't it. Covertly he sized him up, the neat hair, charismatic, mobile face, and broad shoulders enough of a package that Damon could model himself, if he were so inclined. Was it because the photographer had almost certainly been sleeping with Roman for a few years, though he had just turned sixteen? He had joked before that Roman was like Gabriel's nagging wife, but refused to speculate further.

He was surprised when Keiran slid into a seat at his elbow, giving him a brief smile. Roy consigned it to being the only familiar face in a roomful of strangers and gave Keiran a nod and half-smile in return.

"Done with your fit of hysterics, now?" a tart voice inquired, and Arashi Loire was seating himself across the table, that scowl etched on his face.

"Fuck off–" Roman began, half-rising from his chair, only to sit as Damon held him in place, pressing his shoulder until he dropped ungraciously back into his chair.

"Knock it off," Roy said, daring either of them to defiance as he glared back and forth between them. "I don't care what kind of relationship you two have at school; here you'll keep civil for Cedric's sake."

"He started–" Roman began, and Roy cut him off with a stern "I'm finishing it." Roman glared, Arashi glared, and as long as the two of them weren't talking, as far as Roy was concerned he'd done his part.

"Alicia, welcome to dinner," Roy said, as the lovely blonde took a seat near the head of the table. She was still dressed in her neatly-pressed suit, hair upswept in a cool knot without a single strand out of place. She looked as though she were ready to step into the office for a day's work, though it was early evening now. "Do you have news?"

She turned a neutral blue eye on him as the others finished seating himself. "We should probably wait until after we've eaten, don't you think?"

Cedric grabbed his seat last, taking the foot of the table by default, between Keiran and Humphrey. He leaned forward, nearly dwarfed by a few of the dishes on the spread. "I think we'll all feel better after we've heard something," he said earnestly. "Even if there's nothing new."

Roy took hold of his napkin, unfolding it as if undoing every crease was of vital importance. Alicia's reluctance to give them an update tipped him to the fact that was probably not a good one.

She nodded, compressing her lips. "The upshot is, the hunters were in pursuit this afternoon on the Long Island bridge." Alicia paused, looking around as if that should matter to them. Roy scrutinized the circle of faces and found responses in two – Kellan, and Humphrey. They looked perturbed. "Guile took out one of the bounties, but entry Fenrir made it to the other side of the bridge with the professor. The hunters are still in pursuit." She folded her fine-boned hands together and looked at her plate.

A brief spell of silence fell over the table.

"Let's, um, let's eat," Cedric said awkwardly, reaching for a dish and falling short. Silently Humphrey took a plate and began filling it with salad for him.

"That's bad, isn't it?" Roy said, quiet but enough to carry to the project manager.

"Roy, why would you say that?" Alicia responded, quiet and guarded as she dished pasta onto her plate and passed the bowl to Damon.

"The way you told us," Roy said, thinking to himself, the look on your professionals' faces. "I can tell you're trying to keep it neutral, but you don't tell us like we're waiting on more information, you say it as if we've lost a fight. Plus, Arashi's looking for a fight."

"Sorry about that," Alicia demurred, as Arashi exclaimed "What!?"

"What does it mean, they've crossed the bridge?" Roman demanded. He was leaning forward in his chair, and Damon reached over, covering a hand with his – support or reminder to behave, it was impossible to determine.

"There are demons on the island," Arashi said shortly, speaking over a shushing command from Alicia. "A whole fortress full. Guile and Carselyle have got a plan worked out to get inside and seize Gabriel before anything happens to him. They're working on his recovery, and that's all we know for now."

Alicia spread her hands as if to agree, 'there you have it.'

"They're working on it, right?" Cedric said brightly. "That''s all we can really know, isn't it? They'll do their best..." He trailed off forlornly, and Humphrey passed him a dish of brussels sprouts.

"Correct," Alicia said, her tone gentling. "Cedric, we hired the best. You heard Shemyahza. He and Jo are among Orion's best operatives, and Nara is one of the best psychics. If anyone can retrieve your brother, it's the team that we fielded today."

"It's the 'if' that worries me!" Roman exclaimed.

Arashi made a derisive noise, that set Roman off again, and Cedric and Damon began scolding them for fighting, while Roy focused on dishing up some perfectly al dente pasta, passed it on to Keiran, and nabbed the sauce boat before Roman realized he was monopolizing food. He let the bickering and fruitless calls for order continue as he settled his plate, looked up and nearly laughed at the nonplussed expression on Alicia Carson's face, and picked up his fork, striking it against his water tumbler and making the glass chime loud enough to draw silence in return.

"Enough!" Roy barked, and was gratified when the chatter stopped.

Roman turned a shamefaced, sidewise glance on him then focused on the dishing of food; Arashi slumped in his chair and avoided eye contact with anybody. Roy looked back and forth at the two of them, then accepted the bread basket as Keiran passed it. "The two of you squabble like my middle-school kid brothers," Roy said, injecting all the considerable scorn that he could muster. "Roman, I know your brother is missing and you're out of your mind with worry, but everything that can be done is being done. And Arashi, you're a professional, despite your youth; I'm sure we'd all appreciate it if you'd act like one."

That said, Roy settled himself in his chair, enjoyed the stunned looks that crossed the boys' faces, and plied his fork on the food. "Cedric, this is an excellent meal."

"Um, thank you."

They ate and made light conversation after that. Cedric bemoaned the fact that he couldn't attend school tomorrow; Roman rejoiced in the same. The three bodyguards ate stolidly, not contributing much to conversation but keeping an eye on everything. Damon told an amusing anecdote from a job he'd worked for a famous drinks company, not naming names but providing enough info to make a good guess. Alicia supplied a non-sequitur about Shemyahza Guile's success rate, which was apparently quite high, and he was the primary hunter on the field mission. And Roy thought about his friend and boss, alone and in the dark, possibly tied up or chained, undergoing torture. He couldn't even begin to think what a demon would do to torture a human, and his mind simply balked at the thought of rape.

After they had all eaten their fill of salad, garlic bread, and pasta – only Cedric and Kellan touched the brussels sprouts – most pushed their way from the table and adjourned to the living area. Arashi stayed for a moment, adjusting his ear-path and glancing at Alicia. Keiran popped to his feet and began clearing dishes. Roy sat lounging, lacing his fingers over a replete belly and trying not to think what had brought them here this evening.

"I'm sorry for my outburst," Arashi spoke up, the chestnut tufts of his brows lowering in a solid line.

"It's done," Roy said peaceably. "But please, whatever he's done to irritate you, and I know him so of course it can be considerable, try to give him some leeway, all right? He...he cares a great deal for his brother."

"Of course," Arashi said with a curt nod. "I forgot myself. There's no excuse for it."

"Well, I don't know about that," Roy said, mollified.

"Please excuse me," Arashi continued, getting to his feet and inclining his torso in what appeared to be a short bow. "I've got more work to see to."

"Arashi, you're not working second shift, are you?" Alicia put in, leaning forward with the first frown Roy had seen on her lovely face.

Arashi's snort answered first, then he appeared to remember his manners like a momentary pain crossing his face. "I haven't put in eight hours yet, Ms. Carson. There are things I need to get done. I'll let someone take third shift, if they're still out there."

"It could be over that quickly?" Roy latched onto that promise.

Arashi's eyes flicked toward Ms. Carson, then he pushed on his chair, skidding it in beneath the table. "Yes," he said shortly, and departed.

Alicia rested her cheek on the back of one manicured hand, meeting Roy's eyes with a straightforward look. Keiran was back and forth again, taking more plates on his trip to the sink, giving Roy a glint of uncertain smile, then gone to finish tidying up.

"Has anyone been recovered from Long Island?" Roy asked point-blank once no one remained in earshot any longer. Mellow and full, she seemed as if she might actually be inclined to give him answers now that the brothers were out of the picture.

Alica's mouth twisted ruefully. "So you noticed my reluctance to elaborate," she said, not seeming surprised by Roy's observance. "Right. I don't have any current criteria to judge, Roy, but all I can tell you is that no one's been lost to the Long Island fortress."

"But...?" Roy prompted.

"Well, there are a lot of terrible stories about Long Island and the way it used to be," Alicia replied. "Shemyahza has even been there, a long time ago to hear him tell it, and the stories about rape and torture were the least of it. Brutal things were done to people over there, disgusting and de-humanizing things. But now they're under new management..."

"New management?" Roy repeated, his brow furrowing.

"Yes, so no one knows. According to the scanty intel we can get out of the place, someone new came along a half-decade or so ago, fought it out with the previous owners, and came out on top. And no one knows anything more about it."

"Not even Shemyahza?" Roy wondered. The tall dusky-skinned Nephilim had been awfully confident, to the point of coming across as arrogant.

Alicia shrugged her shapely shoulders. "Perhaps the Sparda would know. But none of our connections know anything more. This new ruler of Long Island is more elusive than Lucien on the West Coast."

"Yeah, well, the King of L.A. likes to leave his sick presents, that's not exactly low-profile," Roy observed.

Alicia's mouth thinned. "Indeed."

There weren't really any pleasantries that they could exchange after that. Alicia excused herself and departed. Roy stood, stretched, and eyeballed the cleared stretch of table. Keiran seemed to have that well in hand. Everyone else had adjourned to the couches in the living area and the flat-panel display on the wall, keyed to menu mode while Roman dialed up an archival program for everyone to watch. Television as an industry wasn't much these days, down to a handful of channels compared to where it had been around the turn of the century – something like several hundred, Roy had read once – but most servers had massive data banks full of material from the last century and the decades leading up until the Rising. He watched them for a moment, Roman and Kellan siding against Damon in favor of a particular program, and his mouth twitched. It was amazing, how a person could adapt to a semblance of normality even under unusually trying circumstances.

He spared a last glance for Keiran, elbow-deep in water at the sink, then withdrew to the quiet of the study.

Roy sighed and laid his red ident disc down on a data surface, taking a seat and allowing himself to do nothing but look at the bulky safe that took up a large corner of the room. Inside lay the grimoire, the dangerous piece of work that had gotten his mentor kidnapped. Not just any kidnapping, either; he was gone to an unknown demon leader who had taken Long Island. At every new turn a deeper layer revealed itself.

The data surface beside him pinged quietly, calling his attention. He removed his ident chip and ran a finger over it, and the surface lit up to reveal the basic system window, neutral color and background. A call line opened, and an unobtrusive female voice said, "Call for Roy Masters."

"Line origin?" he requested, a little confused. As far as he knew, no one knew that he was sequestered in the Cygnus building, unless Alicia had already discussed it with staff at Vanderbrant Uni.

"San Francisco branch," came the reply.

"Ahh," Roy breathed, leaning forward on an elbow. He keyed acceptance and a wider screen opened; the surface tilted up at a comfortable distance to allow face-to-face conversation.

The connection established, and he found himself looking at an oval, classically pretty face with high cheekbones, vivid sapphire eyes peering anxiously at him, framed with a wealth of red hair. "Roy? I've heard some alarming things, and now here you are in the Cygnus building, one of the most secure facilities in North America. What the blazing hell is going on?"

"Yuuko," Roy greeted his cousin with a tired smile. "Don't you have the security permissions to get a report on that?"

Yuuko's full lips formed a provoked moue. "Well, yes, and if I didn't I could wangle one, but you're my cousin, damn it! I wanted to be sure you were all right, face to face as it were. Roy? You are all right, aren't you?"

"All in one piece," he reassured her, one finger seeking out his temple and attempting to rub away some of the strain. "I've been temporarily relocated, as it were."

"You look like hammered shit," Yuuko told him bluntly, pleasantries attended to. "Roy, what the frick is going on?"

"It's Gabriel," Roy said in brief summary. "The damn fool has gone and gotten himself kidnapped."

Yuuko scowled at him. "Now, I know there's more to it than that."

"Well, yes. We were working on a new contract..." Relieved of the obligation of adhering to confidentiality, Roy spilled the entire tale. His cousin Yuuko Masters was a high-level professional in the San Francisco branch of Orion Corp, and as indicated, had all the appropriate permissions to access the news herself, but Roy found himself relieved in the telling. She made all the appropriate shocked or sympathetic noises at the right moment, and let him get through the whole thing himself. Yuuko had always been a good listener when it suited her.

"Well, I wish I could say I was surprised that Professor Vaille has been kidnapped, but given what he was working on..." Yuuko let the sentence dangle, and Roy sighed heavily. At least she hadn't added 'and also, he's a big flake.' They communicated regularly enough that she knew his mentor's idiosyncrasies.

"They have a couple of hunters, Shemyahza Guile and Joseph Carselyle, out after him right now," Roy related.

Yuuko's brilliant blue eyes widened. "Really? I've heard things about them, they're both very good. Guile is, at least, enough for the Sparda to stay out here in the West to avoid his competition."

"What's the big deal?" Roy said with half a shrug.

"Well, the Sparda's only half-blood, you know," Yuuko said with a trace of a smile. It was almost a snicker. "And Guile is full-blood Nephilim, from all I've heard."

Roy gave her a suspicious look. "You sound as if you know Dante Sparda personally," he accused.

"Heh." Now it was a broad smirk.

"Spill," he ordered, "or I'll sic my mother on you. I can open a line to her right now, if you'd prefer. Convenient."

"No, not Aunt Marian!" Yuuko cried, affecting horror. "My sole remaining distaff relative, who may yet pursue me to the ends of the earth to see me safely married off!"

"Now you're obfuscating," Roy accused.

"Oh, fine," Yuuko said, dropping the act. "Don't give me any grief. I'm about to move in with a man, one of Orion's sometime contract hunters, in fact, and before you ask – we're not involved, not that way."

Roy blinked at the screen. Yuuko widened her eyes at him. After a moment of this he tilted his head and said, "As one of your responsible male relatives, I think I'm obliged to lodge some kind of protest–"

"Don't you dare," Yuuko warned. "We're in a high-rise loft, I couldn't possibly afford rent on my own. And Ashe is unbelievably decent, for all that he's a man, a bounty hunter, and an incurable pervert."

"Ah, in that case, I'm definitely required to lodge a protest."

Yuuko shrugged, the motion producing some pleasant secondary effects that, if the screen were larger with a greater pan, would capture the heave of her spectacular breasts. Being both gay and a blood relative, Roy was relieved the screen wasn't any larger. "We're about to sign the lease. Anyhow, he knows the Sparda; I think he's his adopted son, or something. Gorgeous, both of them, but not my type."

"Don't get in over your head," Roy felt compelled to warn.

Yuuko blew him a kiss. "When have I ever? All right, keep me updated on the situation, will you? And let me know if there's anything I can do. I may be a glorified secretary around here so far, but I've already got friends in the division."

"You'll rise fast," Roy assured her.

"Just so's long as I'm comfortable and the work is interesting," Yuuko said somewhat cynically. "Okay, I'll check back if I don't hear. Take care of yourself."

Good advice, he mused. He probably shouldn't pull the all-nighter he had been contemplating. "You too. And Yuuko...thanks."

"That's what family is for, right?"

He sat in front of the blank screen after she'd signed off, head in his hands. What a course he'd traversed in between waking up and now this. He must have zoned out, he couldn't possibly have dozed, because next thing he knew Keiran had re-entered the study and the clack of screen files roused him to look at his assistant. He tried to shed his weariness and wondered if he shouldn't have had a nice after-dinner cup of...

"Coffee?" Keiran offered, waving the steaming black beverage in front of his nose.

"Bless you," Roy said gratefully, seizing it and downing a good third of its contents. "Ahh, they stock the good stuff."

"They don't scrimp on all the details," Keiran said appreciatively. "Let me know if you need a refill, I'll get the urn. So, what's next? How can I help out?"

Now Roy knew he was reaching the limits of willpower, because those innocent words provoked a quick and dirty fantasy of turning Keiran over the data surface and "helping" himself to what he wanted. And the boy stood there, within easy arm's reach with a shiny, eager expression on his face.

"Er..." Roy took hold of himself. He couldn't keep letting himself get distracted. "There, that box of screen-files, if you would. Keep scanning for any reference to the grimoire Gabriel was working on."

"Right!" Keiran hesitated, his eyes lingering on Roy a beat longer, then he took up his station again. "Roy, you don't look as if you're feeling well."

A polite phrasing of 'you look like hammered shit.' Roy sighed for the countless time. "Yeah, I have a feeling we'll be pulling an all-nighter."


One could only take so much reloaded video programming when one's elder brother – friend, role model, lover, helpmeet, and half of all remaining family rolled into one – had been kidnapped by a pack of vicious psychotics. Roman remained still as long as he could, Damon's arm about his shoulders, as they watched an archival drama from a few decades before the Rising. It had a science fiction slant, which had intrigued him enough at first to side with Kellan in the choosing, but the further they got, the more laughable the special effects seemed to him, and it was all about veiled race-relations under the guise of negotiating a treaty with an alien tribe, which was ultimately boring to Roman. Cedric had gotten up long since to putter around the kitchen, so he disengaged Damon's arm, giving an apologetic smile to the querying look, and went to join his brother.

He leaned his hip against the kitchen counter, watching mesmerized as Cedric kneaded and rolled a wad of dough. "What are you doing?" His little brother was dolled up in the blue apron with white ruffles that Humphrey had sported earlier, triple-tied and still baggy around his tiny frame.

Cedric turned up wide, jade-green eyes in his direction. "Making cinnamon rolls. For breakfast, or people can have them now, if they're really hungry. Assistance really does have everything!"

Roman fidgeted. He kept his mouth clamped shut around the words, how can you do that at a time like this? He didn't even know how to do anything useful, so how could he say anything? "No one could be hungry after a good meal like that, Cede."

"Cedric," his brother corrected him promptly. "And fine, they could have them for dessert, maybe. Just because you're always on a diet doesn't mean others are."

"I'm not on a diet," Roman said, shifting from one foot to the other, fiddling his thumbs, tapping fingers over the counter. "I just have a high metabolism." Helped along by a healthy, active sex life, he added in his thoughts.

Cedric shrugged. "Whatever," he said, and turned back to his wad of dough. "You should go do something."

Tap, tap. Roman drummed his fingers over the counter. "Like what?" He kept his voice light. "You don't want me hanging around?"

Cedric turned again, giving him those wide eyes. "Well, cooking soothes me. It makes me feel better. But you're on edge, and it's going to make me nervous if you stay here much longer. What do you do when there are things you don't want to think about?"

Sex, came to the tip of Roman's tongue, but he held that back. Cedric might have had the talk with Gabriel, but that didn't make it right for him to expose his younger brother to the varying degrees of his own perversion. "Uh..."

"I know! Why don't you go work out?" Cedric suggested. "There are full facilities here. I don't know if they're on this floor, but..."

"You trying to get rid of me?" Roman said, teasing.

Cedric shrugged. "I think it would be better if you did something to take your mind off it. We're not going to do each other any good, fretting over something that can't be fixed by either of us."

Roman swiped pale bangs out of his eyes. "Dammit, Cedric, why do you have to be the mature one?"

Cedric chuckled, wiped his hands on a towel, and crossed the kitchen floor to give him a brief hug about the waist. Roman petted the silky-fine strands of his brother's hair, the same pale platinum-lavender hue as his own. "One of us has to, right, aniki?"

Roman sighed, accepting the hug, then leaned against the counter again as Cedric returned to his dough. The motion of it, the pull and push as he worked his hands into its soft length, certainly looked soothing. "All right. I'll go find a fitness facility and get out all of this nervous energy, okay?"

Cedric nodded, the crown of his head bumping Roman's abdomen. "Yup. And I'm sure that Damon will appreciate it, too."

Roman just about choked, though he knew it was said in innocence.

He stopped off by the couch to let Damon know where he would be for an indeterminate amount of time, and Damon held him close by the nape of his neck. "Just what is the problem between you and Arashi?" he whispered, dark eyes knit together in a troubled look.

"Oh, him," Roman hedged, waving a flippant hand. "He's a new transfer to the class, I don't like him...he rubs me the wrong way." Uncomfortably he suppressed the thought that he'd been trying to get Arashi to rub him entirely the right way that very morning.

Damon was still scowling. "Has he done anything to you?"

"Of course not," Roman said, settling the mask of his poker-face over his features. He widened his eyes. "Damon, did you call us in? We were supposed to have a meeting this evening, weren't we? To reschedule–"

"Shit!" Damon bolted up from the couch, and Kellan hissed at him for quiet. "I'll, uh, go do that right now..."

Roman folded his arms, smirking a bit as he watched Damon make a beeline for the nearest data display. He liked to watch Damon going about as much as he liked to see him coming. When he was out of sight, Roman excused himself from the room and escaped to the hallway. He sighed, leaning against the cool steel panel and tipping his head back, engaged by the way the skylight overhead pictured the roseate sky that was surely overhead in parts aboveground. They might be in confinement, but it was a pretty confinement.

He struck out in the direction he thought the elevators might be, then had to turn back. He should ask Assistance first if he could get some work-out clothing. Before he reached his suite, though, a door contracted and Arashi stepped out into the hallway. Roman froze.

Arashi spotted him, looked as if he wanted to go right back into the door he'd emerged from, then rolled his eyes and advanced. His face had a set expression that indicated he was going to ignore him.

"Hey," Roman said, irked. "What's your problem?"

Arashi ground to a halt. "My problem?" he said softly. "Let's see. How about, you were going to use me this morning to cheat on your boyfriend? Think that might perhaps give me a little justification?"

Stung, Roman shot back,"Whatever I do is my business, so if I sleep with you it's none of his."

A thin flush rose in Arashi's milk-pale cheeks. Incredulous, he said, "You really believe that? You think it's not hurting him, if you sleep around? More importantly, do you really think I would sleep with you, knowing that you have a lover – more than that, someone who seems like a great, devoted kind of guy – and pulling me into the kind of situation I'd never choose. That's really damned selfish."

Damn, it was just a booty call, the rationalizing part of Roman's mind commented, while he said aloud, "I didn't really think of it that way." His face felt hot.

"Obviously you didn't think about it at all," Arashi retorted. "The guys you're with – since I'm sure there's been more than one – how do you think they feel? If anyone does fall for you, tough luck for them, huh? And if your lover ever found out, he'd be justified to leave you, but either way, he looks nice enough it would probably break his heart."

"It's none of your business!" Roman fell back on his weak defense, and Arashi's eyes blazed.

"Not anymore, it's not," Arashi replied. "From now on, I'm not coming near you. You wanted to know what my problem is, now you know. My advice – pick what you want and stick with it. Either you've got a boyfriend or you don't."

He swept past Roman before he could open his mouth to say another word.

Now thoroughly on edge, Roman palmed open the door to his temporary quarters and stormed in, kicking the nearest piece of furniture within reach.

"I know that piece of furniture isn't yours, so as long as it's not, why don't you try treating others' property with respect?" a cool voice queried from the dimmed living area. Felicia Ark rose from the couch, crossing her muscular arms.

Childish now as well as irritated, Roman snapped without thinking, "Well if I do any damage, I'll just replace it. I have plenty of money, you know."

Felicia looked thoroughly unimpressed. "And that makes it right? Come on. How old are you, boy?"

Nettled, Roman shot back, "Sixteen! I'm of age."

The look Felicia gave him hinted he was still clearly a child. Her golden glyph-tattooes glowed faintly in the low lighting. "Son, what's got your tits in a twist?"

Roman threw a sulky look in her direction and threw himself onto a sofa cushion, defiantly planting his boot-heels on the coffee table. "Why shouldn't I be angry? My brother's missing, he's out there probably hurt, or worse..."

"Lots of people lose their whole family every day," Felicia observed. "What happened to your family, son?"

He wasn't sure why, but the nickname didn't bother him, though he thought it should. "My brothers are all I've got left. My parents were killed by demons during an archaelogical dig about six years ago."

"Hn." Felicia made a sympathetic noise. "And your brother supports all of you?"

"I support myself!" Roman exclaimed. "I'm a model, I've been working since I was twelve."

"Ahh," Felicia exhaled. "That's why you look kinda familiar. Model, hmm?" Her look now was somewhat wry.

Roman waved a hand. "Yeah, and now you're probably thinking, that explains it – he's a narcissist, a spoiled rich brat."

"Oh, are you rich?" Felicia said, rolling her head and putting on an affected look of surprise. "You don't say? Son, I don't want to spoil your illusions but you do come across rather entitled, you know?

Roman shrugged. "Well, I am, so I guess there's not much I can do about it." Was he supposed to apologize for it? He'd grown up wealthy.

"Uh-huh. And you support yourself."

"Well...I could, now, if I needed to." Roman was aware he had begun to sound defensive. "Anyhow, that's not the point. I mean, that's not why I came here."

"Why did you come here?" Felicia queried. "Figured you'd spend some time alone with your nice boyfriend."

Roman leaned on the couch, chewing at his lip. "He is nice," he said softly. Too nice, he though to himself. Damon was good to him, and good for him, and maybe the only reason he had been fighting it so long was because of his own infidelities. He would push away the man who loved him out of guilt, and why was there guilt? Because he slept around. And why did he sleep around? "I feel like I don't deserve him."

Felicia gave him a keen look. "Been with him long?"

"Uh..." Roman thought back to a day not so very long ago when he'd unbuckled Damon's pants and initiated relationship like shuttle take-off. Though the general prevailing attitude toward sex was "they're ready when they're ready," there were still some people who disapproved of it before sixteen, especially when the age difference was almost ten years.

Roman wondered if those people remembered being young at all. Or – they did, and that was where their severe lack of trust came from.

"Forget I asked," Felicia said, folding a leg beneath her and seating herself on the sofa again. She waved her hand. "Cop a squat, or are you coming, or going?"

"Huh?" Roman pulled a face.

"Sit, unless you're on your way to something better," Felicia clarified. "Your boyfriend, how'd you meet him?"

"Huh." Roman clambered over the back of the sofa and settled himself on the middle cusion. These were the questions Gabriel had never asked. He wondered if they were the things a parent would have asked him, once upon a time. "Well, we've been working together for most of the time that I've been modeling. I can't remember exactly which shoot I noticed him, but, well..." Damon was the first man besides his brother that he'd truly had the hots for.

That was probably why Gabriel wasn't so thrilled about Damon. He sensed that much.

His face fell. His lover was still here, and doubtless willing to provide comfort, but now his brother was gone. What was the last thing he'd said to him?

"Fell for him?" Felicia prompted.

"What? Oh. Yes." Roman tipped his head to the side. "Yeah, I did. Actually, Damon was the first person to say 'no' to me."

"I can see how that would be a turn-on for you," Felicia said dryly.

"Hey," Roman said reproachfully. "You must have a really low opinion of me."

"I don't have any opinion of you yet," Felicia replied. "That's why I want to know more about you. Call me crazy, and I'm not like some, but I like to get to know the people I'm guarding, seeing as I might be putting my life on the line for y'all."

Roman blinked. "I'm sorry, I didn't think of it that way." It was just that her questions made him really uncomfortable, because they dug beneath the surface and, in a way, got to the very core of him. He didn't want anyone to see that far, except...

"Too intrusive?" Felicia tipped her head, gave him a brief smile. "I can dial it back a bit. But we're stuck together for a while, you know. Can't say how long."

Roman drew his knees up. "I'm scared," he said suddenly. "That's why I keep bothering everyone. That's why I wanted to go work out, why I'll probably still go and find a fitness facility. I'm scared that my brother is never coming back, the way my parents never came back, and there will be parts of my life missing for good. the things you're asking me now, they feel like things my mom might have asked, or should have asked, but no one asks them because there's no one in my life like that." He got it out in a rush, blinked, and tilted his hair so that a fine pale veil covered half his face, hiding his expression from Felicia's discerning eyes.

She stood, rising from the couch suddenly and making him blink, shifting to look up. "So let's go."

"Uh, what?" Roman said, quite startled.

"There's a great fitness facility a few levels up. They keep plenty of work-out clothes onsite for unexpected visitors. You want to keep your mind off it all, right? It'll help."

Roman unfolded his legs and stood, drawn along by Felicia's no-nonsense attitude. "Okay..."

"Besides," she said with a solemn glance, "I can get to know all about you while we're on that treadmill." Her eyes were twinkling.

"Should I be worried about that?" Roman rallied enough to say. "Okay, then, let's go."


He had been hustled through long, dank halls with a jacket over his head and at one point, thrown over Fenrir's bony-hard shoulder, and now that Gabriel had a measure of freedom again he wiped the grime from his glasses and took his first good look at his surroundings. Gabriel had gotten frightfully angry on the bridge, enough to lose his temper, and Fenrir had snarled at him and lost it as well, zapping him with some kind of spark from one hand and putting him out for the duration. That, or he had cold-cocked him and Gabriel had blanked out the indignity.

For all that they were on Long Island and had passed through massive tracts of devastation and barbarity, the room Gabriel had been brought to was wide, high, unexpectedly luxurious. It smelled of some exotic, subtle potpourri. On the opposite wall, window hangings ran nearly the entire great height of the room. Before checking anything else, Gabriel dashed for the window hangings, throwing them aside. The casement revealed a western-facing view of the shoreline, and he pressed a hand to the glass. It was thick, almost half a foot thick, probably bullet-proofed, and had no seam or sill.

Gabriel groaned and turned from the glass, slumping against it as he surveyed the rest of the room. The furnishings were opulent, stuffed sofa and king-sized bed with canopy and rich forest-green hangings trimmed in gold cloth. He was looking at a historically accurate replication of one of the suites from the Vanderbilt estate, which he had leafed through some time during a college history class.

"Amazing," he said aloud, brow creasing, and approached the vanity, touching the varnished dark wood. Could they really be original pieces?

His curiosity had overcome the horror of capture. Gabriel cast another frantic look around the room. Fenrir had dumped him in here roughly, saying something about good riddance. There were old, bronze-edged mirrors, horsehair chairs, an old-fashioned dressing table, even a lacquered wooden night-stand. Nothing really useful for escape, and he knew that the door was locked. It wasn't the torture chamber he had expected by any means, but he was on Long Island.

That was no good thing.

Though Gabriel was better versed on older demonology and history, he kept abreast of current events from special Orion reports in his field. It was part and parcel of his work, and knowledge of the new could provide context for the old. This was how he knew there was a new ruler of Long Island, and he was an unknown quantity as far as the demon community was concerned.

This apparent taste for decadence, the reconstruction of human wealth, worried Gabriel. He wasn't sure what it indicated about his host, but no matter what, he was off guard, already having encountered a setting significantly different from what he'd expected.

Behind him, the door clicked open. Gabriel whirled, casting about for something to hand he could use as a weapon. He wasn't a trained fighter by any means, but this time he intended to put up more of a resistance. He hesitated. It might be vain, but if he died, he wanted it to mean something.

A tall figure shuffled from the shadows to stand in the doorway, on a height with Gabriel. It was a woman – no, a demoness with long violet hair and huge, downcast eyes. She wore a simple wrap, like a robe or kimono, and had large pendulous breasts. She made a beckoning motion.

"I'm to come with you?" Gabriel held back. "What if I don't?"

The demoness looked up, and there was a terrible sadness in her gray eyes. She opened her mouth, baring teeth, gums – and the stump of a tongue. It had been torn out at the root, and there were gaps where her incisors had been, as well.

Gabriel shuddered.

She beckoned again, and turned her back. Her long, violet hair was parted in back to reveal the white skin of her neck. She had been branded with a character, demon script that meant 'chattel.'

Sensitive to the tacit threat implied by her disfigurements, Gabriel followed. Just because he had been dumped in posh quarters to start off with meant nothing. With a place like Long Island, he was certain there were torture chambers somewhere. He'd heard all the old stories.

The hallways were dark and unlit. The demoness moved through them like a ragged ghost, silent, her white robe the only thing Gabriel could clearly fix on in the lack of clear illumination. She moved as if it were broad afternoon – to her, it probably was bright enough. He adjusted his glasses fruitlessly and almost ran into her as she ground to a halt, putting a hand to an old brass doorknob.

Gabriel noted the strip of light limning the crack at the bottom of the door. She opened it, and gestured for him to precede her. "Thank you," he murmured, and the demoness bowed her head low, much lower than a simple statement of thanks would typically merit. Then again...

He took a few steps into a room even larger and more well-appointed than the one he had left, and the door clicked shut behind him. Gabriel glanced behind himself. She hadn't followed him, and he felt absurdly abandoned. Obviously she wasn't any sort of figure in charge here.

Once again Gabriel found himself taking stock of his new surroundings. The room was polished to a sheen, some kind of warm brown tile, probably wood. His shoes made the softest sound as he took a few steps forward. To his right, a living-type area flanked with leather couches and deep-backed armchairs, all facing inward on a wide, square coffee table opposite a bright and crackling fire. To his left, three wide bay windows, all of them thick and seamless as the one in his room, hung with tapestry-quality window dressings. A strategist's table was positioned equidistant from the three windows, and when Gabriel ventured closer, he realized it was a miniature of Long Island and the nearby city. It was a perfect holographic re-creation.

"Magnificent, isn't it?" The mellifluous tenor shocked him, and Gabriel grabbed at the breast of his suit, his heart threatening to frisson right out of his chest.

A tall, weedy figure rose from one of the deep chairs by the fireside. The Nephilim brushed at the front of his impeccable suit jacket – he wore a deep, burnished gold suit with a green sheen to it when he moved, which he did now as he headed for Gabriel. The tie that glittered at his throat was the same fabric, but carmine. He topped Gabriel by a few inches and his hair was pulled back in a sleek tail that didn't disguise its unusual coloring – black streaked through with reddish maroon.

"You must be the leader of Long Island," Gabriel murmured, brushing back a wing of his own unnaturally-hued pale hair.

The demon gave him a slight, close-lipped smile. He had a lean, hollow-cheeked face, handsome and tanned. "Granac Bowen," he introduced himself. "Oh, you are indeed a treasure, Professor Vaille."

That opening statement struck Gabriel's gut like a warning blow. "Why have you brought me here?"

Granac raised a long-fingered hand in a 'stop' motion. "Let us attend to the niceties first. You are my first human visitor, you know, to visit this island."

"I find that hard to believe," Gabriel said in a low, controlled tone. "You're certain you don't have other humans locked up in this fortress somewhere? Tortured or disfigured, perhaps, like the demoness that led me to this room?" If they'd maim their own kind and brand them chattel, why bother to treat people humanely?

Granac was close enough for Gabriel to see his eyes now, and he kept himself from stepping back as the Nephilim approached almost too close for comfort, remaining perhaps half an arm's length away. He had dark reddish eyes that appeared pupil-less until Gabriel focused on them, and distinguished the hot crimson of the pupil from the darker red of the iris. It was an odd effect, one he didn't think he wanted to become too familiar with. He wanted to look away but couldn't quite do it.

"Ah," Granac said softly, examining Gabriel's face, giving him the sensation that he, in turn, was a curious manuscript to be explored. "But you have acknowledged that I am the new leader. You presume to know my policies? As for Callas – she was maimed by her former husband, a man who died during my takeover. I don't condone such displays unless someone has failed me severely – but not so badly that it warrants death." He turned from Gabriel and clapped his hands.

The door opened quickly enough that it was certain the demoness had been waiting just beyond.

"Tea, Callas, for two – including all the frills, sandwiches and so forth." He glanced at Gabriel with that close-lipped smile again.

Gabriel was disarmed, and it frightened him. Brutality was something he'd steeled himself for. This urbane facade was something he would expect of one of their allies, a contract or payroll Nephilim – one of the so-called "good guys."

"Now then," Granac continued, "shall we take a seat by the fire? Or would you prefer to question my methods a little more, first?" He turned and strode for the seating around that square coffee table without waiting for an answer.

Floored, Gabriel stood rooted to the spot. "I'd like to know whether I can expect to get out of this alive, first," he muttered. His brain was already analyzing probable outcomes. This place was a fortress, and it was possible no one knew yet that he'd been taken. He couldn't count on rescue, and when it finally arrived – would anyone even be able to reach him? Let alone retrieve him alive... His legs moved before he realized it. Despite the temperate atmosphere outside, still somewhat muggy in the throes of summer, the inside of this place had an underlying chill. He headed for the warmth, keeping his eyes on Granac Bowen the entire time. The Nephilim remained seated, one hand lax on the arm of his chair, his lean face turned toward the fire. That faint smile lingered on his lips.

After seating himself with the caution of a man who thought he might land unexpectedly on a live mine, Gabriel settled himself with a surprised noise of appreciation. The chair was toasty-warm and very comfortable.

Granac did not engage him in conversation, nor did Gabriel feel like initiating, until the demoness returned with tea and a tray full of food. She kept her head down throughout serving them and disappeared as soundlessly as her arrival.

"I so wanted to meet you," Granac said, pouring tea for both of them, leaving just enough room for either to take cream or sugar.

Gabriel stared. "That's why you had me abducted?"

"Well, the book played a large part, of course," Granac admitted. "But you've cultured such an organic knowledge of our ways, our languages...I knew that you'd be just the person for this little project."

"You don't have the book!" Gabriel exclaimed, now frightened. Roy, and the earnest young redhead – were they all right?

Granac waved a hand, sipping at his tea. "No, not yet. Alas! I'm afraid Fenrir was far too hasty in seizing you, he was to observe you some more, hopefully get closer, but to my understanding there was a bounty placed on his head and he acted in haste. Better to snatch some of the prize than none, and I rather agree."

"How do you know about that book?" Gabriel demanded.

"Ah, now that...that's my secret," Granac said, and reached for a scone. He favored Gabriel with that close-lipped smile again, making him wonder if there were fangs in his mouth as with Fenrir.

He didn't want to find out.

"But what do you want me for?" Gabriel asked. He thought longingly of his brothers, and wished he had never gotten out of bed. On the other hand, if he'd walked them to school, something truly unfortunate might have happened.

"Don't play coy with me," Granac said, leaning forward, setting tea and scone on the table and laying hands on his knees. "You've laid hands on it. You must have known, or suspected what you had before you. Even having never seen one of the Great Grimoires before..."

"But it can't be!" Gabriel exclaimed, aghast. "The time period, the materials–"

Granac gave him a secretive smile. "You'd like to know, wouldn't you? I like your thirst for knowledge...and you have much yet that you may learn, within these walls."

"I'm not staying here." He stated it flatly, though the leaden sensation in his belly warned him for the worst. "And that tome isn't the Fifth. For one thing, it was discovered in entirely the wrong place."

"No," Granac said with a sweep of his hand, leaning back with his tea. "But it is a faithful reproduction, as you must have begun to discover. And I want it."

Gabriel shook his head. "I can't help you," he stated with a certainty he didn't entirely feel. "It's not my book, you know. You would have to go up against Orion to get it, you know, and to accomplish that you would essentially have to level the Wall, and all of New York..."

Granac sipped at his tea. "A fair trade, in my opinion."

"No!" Gabriel exclaimed. "I mean, you can''d never be able to!"

Granac shrugged, gesturing to the tray of refreshments. "Well, I suppose that's neither here nor there, but if you won't help, there are others who'd find it worth their while. But I don't mean to upset you. You wish to know more about it, don't you? The grimoire you've laid hands on...its history...and the other Great Grimoires..."

Despite himself, Gabriel was intrigued. "A perfect reproduction of the Fifth. Then who...?"

Granac smiled, thin lips stretching in that parody of warmth. "Work for me, and you can find out. I have the Third, you know. And I will get the other great books, it's only a matter of time."

"The Third!" Gabriel breathed, leaning forward. The tea in his hand almost spilled, forgotten. Through all he'd learned during his studies, the ultimate repository of demon-lore, sum total of their power, was broken up into six tomes, the Six Great Grimoires. It was a wonder Orion had brought the grimoire to him in the first place – they must not have known for certain what it was, and until this moment, even he hadn't known.

The Nephilim's look was indulgent. "You see? Your work here can only bring you the greatest satisfaction. Work for me, professor, and I guarantee you will never run out of material to satisfy your wildest curiosities. Your true passion is knowledge, and that takes no sides. I can supply you with all you'd ever wish for."

Gabriel stared at him. Granac had kidnapped him for his knowledge. He wanted him to translate the Third, and the reproduction of the Fifth once he acquired it...that meant doing so himself was beyond his means! Much of demon-lore had been lost to the human world, Gabriel knew, because people had stopped believing. The Nephilim's greatest feat. Now, thanks to their own actions, they themselves had forgotten the key to their power, or so it seemed.

"Will you help me?" Granac inquired, setting down his cup. There was an avid twinkle in his red eyes.

Using him to get to Orion, and that book, would be an extra bonus. But as Granac had intimated, there were others who could and would be more than willing to do so, without even the prospect of leveling New York held against them. This Nephilim, this ruler of an island, had one of the most powerful repositories of knowledge in his possession – and he couldn't read it.

Gabriel sighed. "Do I have a choice?" he asked, setting down his own cup. Tea had slopped over onto his pants, his hand, and he hadn't even noticed.

"No," Granac replied, smile widening. A hint of fang peeked over his lower lip. "One way or another, you'll help – even if I have to break you. But I thought it polite to ask."


Cedric settled himself in front of the tilted data display in his private room, crossing his legs beneath him and looking at the number he'd keyed into the un-toggled outgoing line. It was Rukawa's home line, obtained from a sympathetic Mr. McCormack earlier that day. He had called his teacher at school as planned, and Mr. McCormack had been relieved to hear from him, as expected. He couldn't tell him very much, not knowing exactly what might be confidential and what wasn't, but had let him know that his brother had been abducted and he didn't know when he'd be back to school.

After assuring him that he was okay, he had of course asked for the study-table for the next two weeks. At first Mr. McCormack had refused, then Cedric had coaxed him that he needed something to keep his mind off the crisis. At that, his teacher had laughed and asked him if he hadn't already memorized the entire semester's coursework.

"Even if I have, I'll go over it again," Cedric had promised. After Mr. McCormack's protestations that that wasn't his intention, they had chatted for a few moments longer and said their farewells.

Now he sat here, eyeing the display and not quite daring to toggle the line and press 'enter.' But since Mr. McCormack had given him the number, he might have told Rukawa after school. That meant his friend might be expecting the call. Decisions.

If it were his brother, or if Roman were here, he'd tap him on the head and tell him to get over it, then lean over his shoulder and toggle the line for him.

He couldn't depend on other people all of the time.

Cedric sighed, lifted his chin, and toggled the line, hitting 'enter' to establish a connection. After a moment, the "please hold...attempting to establish connection..." cleared, replaced with "Rukawa Residence, awaiting pick-up." Cedric bit his lip and almost cut the line, but then the awaiting screen cut away to Rukawa's sleepy-looking face, his bangs wet and messy and plastered to his forehead and cheeks. His shoulders were bare.

"Rukawa here," his friend said, and then a big hand reached up to swipe damp hair out of his face. "Cedric?" Relief shaded his normally stolid voice, though his face was expressionless as ever.

"Yes, it's me," Cedric said. "I wanted to make sure...that you didn't wait." He stumbled over the words and bit his lip again, willing himself to silence rather than speaking ineptly.

"It's okay." Rukawa's broad hand rubbed over the top of his head, mussing the stuck-together strands. "Your teacher was there."

Cedric took this to mean, 'I didn't wait, because Mr. McCormack was also waiting, and told me what was going on.' He nodded tremulously. "Well, good."

Rukawa gave him a side glance. "Everything all right?"

Cedric fidgeted. "Not yet. But I hope it will be, soon."

Rukawa nodded, then looked over his shoulder.

"I'm sorry," Cedric said at once. "I'm sure I'm interrupting–"

"You're not," Rukawa interrupted.

"Oh." Cedric blinked and simply looked at him. He was at a loss for words, and Rukawa looked it too. He opened his mouth.

"I hope..." Rukawa began, just as Cedric said "Well, I should..." They both shut up and stared at each other.

Cedric's lips tugged upward, and Rukawa almost – almost – looked as if he might smile. "Go ahead," Cedric entreated.

"I hope you come back to school soon," Rukawa said simply, and it looked as if that much was a struggle. Not because he didn't have a firm grasp on English, of course; Cedric understood. Rukawa was laconic to the extreme, far worse than himself or even his older brother Gabriel. It was an effort to speak, sometimes.

"Me too," Cedric said, and swallowed. There was an uncomfortable lump and dinner had gone down hours before. "I should let you go, um...I'll see you soon, okay?"

Rukawa nodded, and a furrow appeared between his brows. "Cedric."

"Er...yes?" Cedric said quickly, hesitating with his hand over the key to disengage.

A brief struggle, then: "Call tomorrow."

Cedric broke out in smiles. "Yes! I will. Thanks, senpai." It made him feel better. He was bad at expressing himself, but Rukawa-senpai did care.

They disconnected, and Cedric sat for a moment before the neutral background of the data display, thinking about nothing in particular. He shook his head. He had been a few days ahead of homework, so he really didn't have much to do tonight besides watch programs with the rest – but that had never been a particular attraction for him. He wanted to curl up and read something with a piece of his favorite music playing softly in the background, and this place was all wrong. Nothing was set up right.

He drifted out to the living area, thinking about doing some more cooking – breakfasts for the week, perhaps a quiche, or another dessert – it had been a while since he'd made plum kuchen. Kellan and Humphrey were still seated in the entertainment niche when he padded past, the two of them watching a sports program guaranteed to keep Cedric moving instead of giving it a chance. Everyone else had departed for their own devices. Humphrey picked up the remote and offered it to him, but Cedric shook his head with an apologetic smile and kept moving.

He had nascent thoughts of offering his eye to Roy again, to help out with whatever he could do. He wanted to be useful in some capacity, and much as baking calmed him, though he typically preferred solitude, right now he wanted to be around other people. Cedric hesitated by the doorway when he reached it, though, because Roy's back was to him, and Keiran was in front of the older man, apparently the recipient of a shoulder rub.

"Mmmn...thank you..." Keiran's breathless voice reached his ears. "Thank you for doing this, Roy."

"Don't mention it," Roy responded, also breathless – likely from exertion. "Anyhow, you gave me a neck rub earlier. Virtue must be rewarded."

"Yeah, but...mmn, you're much better than I am."

Cedric blinked. He kind of felt like he shouldn't be watching this, like the morning he had gone into wake up his brothers and stood at the foot of the bed, realizing for the first time that they did more than simply sleep with each other. Wait. That had been...this morning.

As he watched – more or less riveted in place by inertia and the sense that he shouldn't be there, but if he stirred a step he could be discovered – Roy lifted a hand and brushed a strand of auburn hair away from Keiran's neck, the gesture so soft and...and wanting, Cedric's heart ached. So that was what Roy felt for Keiran.

An unreasonable, unfamiliar emotion stirred Cedric, and without stopping to analyze it he hurried into the room, no longer thinking about not wanting to be seen at all. "Hello, is there anything I can do to help?" he asked loudly, wondering if he should have shuffled his feet to give a bit of forewarning to his entrance. "Sort through things, or scan files, or maybe the two of you would like dessert?"

Roy put Keiran away from him with both hands, so quickly it would have been laughable if Cedric were the laughing sort right now.

"Uh, thanks for the neck rub," Keiran said, rubbing the back of his head in an abashed manner.

Cedric blinked solemnly at the two of them as Roy made a fast track for the far side of the table, putting space between Keiran and himself. "Hi, Cedric...oh, that's very considerate of you to offer," Roy said, giving him an abstracted smile. That made Cedric wonder. Relations between a student and teacher weren't exactly proscribed, but they were frowned upon simply so long as the question remained open as to whether the relationship influenced grades.

Keiran didn't look self-conscious whatsoever as he took his place again. It was only Roy. Cedric looked back and forth between them. He frowned.

When he looked at Roy with his head tilted a bit, the teacher's assistant looked a little bit like Rukawa. Just a little bit. It was the dark hair and broad shoulders, though Roy was taller and older than his senpai.

"Roy?" Cedric prompted.

"Hmm? Oh." Roy gave him a tired smile. "If it's all right, Cedric, would you mind getting me more coffee? The batch you made earlier hit the spot just right. Then I'll ask you to sort through this stack of screen-files and find the ones with photo slides on it."

"Great!" Cedric said, a wriggling happiness rising inside him. "Glad to help."

"And maybe you can help us understand your brother's filing system while you're at it," Roy added.

"My brother has a filing system?" Cedric said, tilting his head. He reached for the urn, stood on tip-toe, still failed to capture it. Keiran took pity on him and handed it over.

"That's exactly the problem."