After the Rising: The Vaille Brothers Saga
Volume Four - Eye of the Storm
Chapter Seven

by Talya Firedancer

"You really should go to the infirmary," Alicia Carson said for the third time, hovering back in the doorway with crossed arms.

"No...time..." Arashi gritted between his teeth, leveling all of his formidable concentration on keeping his stomach in its proper place. He clenched the hard cold rim of porcelain in both hands as if he were the one keeping it upright, rather than the other way around. "I need to report." He paused as his stomach clenched and his throat rippled but he held onto his bodily functions with iron will and avoided the unpleasant heaves that had cursed him for the past ten minutes or so.

"You'll be doing no good here if you can't report for trying to find your toenails through your stomach," Alicia pointed out.

Arashi closed his eyes. "Thank you...for that image." He wanted to rest his aching head against the rim of the toilet simply because he was sure the cold surface would do his fevered skin some good. "Get me some aspirin and water. Please."

There was a pause. "Promise not to throw it up this time?" Alicia questioned with a sigh, but it was rhetorical. Sharp heels clacked over tile as she entered the bathroom and rummaged about in the sink compartment, locating the bottle of analgesic.

Moments later a cup nudged his hand and Arashi supported himself on one arm, scraping bangs away from his face in a fruitless effort not to look as bedraggled as he felt. He took the aspirin first, palmed it into his mouth, then took the cup from Alicia's hand and swallowed enough to force the pills down. He wanted to drink the whole thing down greedily but didn't dare, because that was what had provoked the heaves last time.

"You know, in the infirmary they could give you a hypo-spray and you'd be up in no time," Alicia pointed out. "Sticking it out like this only makes you seem woefully atavistic."

Arashi gulped to keep his gorge down, then risked another sip of water. "Go back to the conference room, I'll be there in a minute," he promised, slumping from his kneeling position into a sitting posture. He held the cup against one heated cheek and contemplated trying to finish the rest of the glass. No, not yet. "I really...hate medical labs."

Her arms were folded again, he could tell by the tone of her voice. "Fine, but if I hear retching in here again I'm calling a nurse," she warned him.

Right. At least she hadn't promised to call his father. Arashi sat on the cool tile of the bathroom floor for a moment longer, taking sips by intervals from the cup. He thought he had never tasted something so blessedly delicious.

The images and information were still seared in his brain and he was pressed with the urgency to spill everything out, have it recorded in case anything faded. Unfortunately the physical after-effects of whatever info dump Turlach had thrust on him were still with him, the debilitating headache and the uneasy stomach. This might be what it was like to have a migraine. Damn Turlach and his invasive mental touch anyhow, a brief here it comes, sorry, then days' worth of information and images thrust wholesale into his head.

The why, Arashi thought he had pinpointed. He, Arashi, was the last known contact with Orion that Turlach could be sure of. The psychic who'd been tracking all of their willing and covert plants lived in shielded quarters when not actively working, and his part in the current field operation had been called off by Alicia when the moles kept dying. That left Arashi as someone to whom Turlach knew the information should go.

How still had him baffled. Arashi had been affinity-tested more than once in his lifetime and his gift for languages had raised questions in certain quarters. Aside from the genius index that turned up on every evaluation he'd ever had, there was nothing remarkable about him. He didn't possess any psychic powers or sensitivity. The thought that Turlach could shove all that information into Arashi only because he'd met him once, the prospect that he was that powerful of a psychic, was intimidating.

Good thing that Turlach was on their side, even if his loyalties had been somewhat questionable.

Arashi finished up the last of his water, grunting satisfaction when his stomach burbled but stayed in place. He got to his knees using the base of the toilet for support, then from there managed to climb to his feet. He swayed on the spot, the tile floor looming an interminable distance below him, then concentrated on getting one foot moving, then the next, then the next. The conference room really wasn't so far after all.

"Good, it's about time," Alicia said, and though her tone was crisp there was a definite concern in the way she evaluated him. "So what's this report you were so desperate to deliver?"

"Wolfe and Turlach," Arashi replied, lowering himself by creaking intervals into his accustomed work station. "You tasked them with discovering Granac Bowen's primary motivator and any secondary objectives that he has. Turlach gave me his findings to date."

Alicia halted in the act of calling something up at her terminal. "Wait, what?" she demanded. "You're no psychic."

"I'm not," Arashi agreed. There wasn't an ounce of psychic ability in him, and every last drop of blood in his body was human to the final chromosome. "I can't figure it, either. I heard Turlach. Then everything that he wanted me to know was flooding into me."

"Impressive," Alicia murmured.

He would agree with her if his head wasn't still striving to split itself in twain and he didn't have a pretty good foreshadowing of what the worst hangover in the world would do to him. "Yes, well, glad you can get something out of it," he muttered, folding his arms and tempted for a long moment to hide his head in the cradle they formed. "You wanted my report, here it is. He does have the Third."

"As Gabriel reported," Alicia said with a nod, her fingers moving over the keypad at her data station.

"And as Gabriel said, Turlach confirms that no one in Granac's camp can translate it. It's a very ancient document, pre-dating the Rising, possibly pre-dating human civilization itself. There's been language drift and Granac isn't nearly so old as he would like all his subjects and allies to think. He can't read it. He wanted Wolfe to think otherwise, but Turlach knew better."

Arashi pushed aside the associations that came with the knowledge. Turlach could pass as human but some of Granac's people could tell the difference. In the master of Long Island's presence, he had known Turlach for part-demon, and accepted Wolfe's explanation that the boy was his bedmate and 'useful to him in many respects.' That he was psychic got explained by his ability to hunt down all those that ran cross-purposes to Granac, and putting that to good use over the next few days had proved it. Neither Wolfe nor Turlach had revealed that Turlach could read Granac's intentions and he hadn't guessed. Not yet.

Of course, the master of Long Island would never guess that a pair of part-bloods so ruthless as to kill indiscriminately would be allied with the human resistance.

"What else?" Alicia asked him, lacing her slender fingers together and leaning forward, blue eyes fixed on him.

"Well, the loss of his translator was a severe blow," Arashi related. "Here he has this tremendous power that, if harnessed, will allow him to conquer and rule as he likes and he's not old enough nor powerful enough to know how to use it. Gabriel was, to him, the accidental find of the century. From all that Turlach has observed, Granac is livid at the purge of the city and seeking any means possible to secure Gabriel again."

Alicia shifted position again, tapping one hand over her data surface. "But he can't, because we've tightened security measures," she observed, satisfaction rising in her voice.

"Yes, well." Arashi propped his head up with both hands.

"What about his intentions? His ultimate goal?" Alicia prompted.

"I'm getting to that," he said, slanting her a look just this side of annoyed. The lingering effects of the headache were still with him. "He welcomes all part-bloods. That is, part-blooded Nephilim who come to truly join his cause, no matter the source and no matter their power or lack thereof. He wants to build his power base in Long Island and gather enough demon-blood to his side through the strength of what he has to offer. And for any with Nephilim heritage, he offers compelling arguments. Rule the world, take what you want, do as you like with no constraints so long as you follow him and fight when he wishes. Fair share of plunder for all and keep whatever you can claim."

Alicia's fingers drummed over the table margin. "And the human realm?"

"Enslaved, not destroyed, in Granac's vision," Arashi replied. "If anything, that makes him more dangerous than Mad Lucien, whose only goal is wiping out everything in his path. Bowen is ambitious. He wants to expand his empire, and this is the starting point. He wants to unleash the power of the grimoire, but only enough to levy the threat of what he could do to ensure cooperation."

"All right," Alicia said, and she didn't seem fazed. Not yet. "Here's the long and weary part of the report, then, Arashi. I'll need the numbers of everyone Turlach knows to be on his side. I'll need as many names and faces as you can provide, so that they can be blacklisted with the Wall and City Defense Corps. Time to get comfortable. Do you need anything?"

Arashi grimaced. "Just more water for now. There was one more thing, though, the last thing he said to me. It was interrupted, like he was caught at the tail-end of his sending."

"What?" Alicia said warily, hand paused in the act of dialing up an order for him.

"'He's going to act soon,'" Arashi quoted. "That was it. It didn’t tie in with the previous image, either. I got the sense it tied in with the earlier information, the fact that reacquiring Gabriel is Bowen's top priority. But that could mean anything, from an assault on the Wall to some kind of covert operative sent after Gabriel again."

"Well, they won't be making any more Gate infiltrations," Alicia said with grim satisfaction. "No one comes in without having their intentions read by Orion's finest. I'll send an alert to the team, though, to have them keep an eye out. Shemyahza would die before letting them take Gabriel again, I'm sure...and that only works to our advantage."

Arashi smirked, the expression unexpected even to himself. "I wager you got more than you bargained on, there." He recalled the proprietary way the Nephilim had eyed the professor during that briefing. Next time he'd seen them, their body language had been even more intimate.

"Gabriel certainly did," Alicia returned, flashing him a rare smile. "Now, the rest of that data, if you don't mind."

Arashi braced himself, and willed the last of his headache away as he focused inward to fall into the trancelike state that encouraged perfect recall. "Whenever you're ready," he intoned, and pulled up the numbers of shock troops, support staff, skilled practitioners such as summoners, and willing recruits. Still the last reverberation of Turlach's warning stayed with him like the skull ache he couldn't get rid of.

He's going to act soon.


Lips moved over his skin and laid a trail of fire behind, and he moaned appreciation for the skillful touch. Hands were not long after, roaming over his thighs and skimming over his knees, pushing them apart, making way for the body that settled between them.

"I knew you'd be this good," groaned a guttural male voice, and Roman struggled to get to a vantage point where he could see.

He lapsed onto his back as the mouth moved over the quivering-sensitized skin of his inner thigh, a tongue tracing the femoral artery toward his groin. Roman voiced encouragement, reaching out to guide the head of his lover to where it would do him the most good. The man eluded his grasping fingers with a soft husky laugh, ducking his head to plant a kiss on Roman's thigh that became the fastening of teeth, sucking pressure forming a throbbing imprint on his skin.

"No...augh...don't bite!" Roman pleaded, because even though it was hard to make him bruise it was still possible, and hickeys were hell to cover with makeup. His skin was part of his livelihood. "Don't bite, please..." He trailed off and his breath thickened in his throat as the man moved higher again, nipping at the soft flesh so close to Roman's evidence of arousal.

"Let's see how much you can take," the voice said, and the hands were gone, the lips pressing now against the curve of his ass because Roman was doubled up with his stomach against his legs.

Something slammed into him with the force of a train and he was stretching, tearing, screaming--

Roman tumbled off his seat with a yell and the classroom bell was shrilling away, blending in with the high-pitched scream from his dream. His whole body shook with the unwanted thrill of endorphins, ready to launch him at the nearest prospective opponent or run out the door, whichever proved necessary. Arousal still had him, too, and he pressed his legs together and glanced around wildly.

Half the class was on their feet already, students with school bags over their shoulders posed and ready to go. The other half was staring at him. Arashi rose from his desk beside Roman and peered at him from a safe standing distance.

"You all right? You need medical help?" his classmate asked.

"Fine. I'm fine," Roman mumbled, wrapping his arms around his knees. He'd get up, but in his own sweet time. It was clear Arashi wouldn't be offering a hand any time soon, anyhow.

"Good," Arashi said shortly, and turned to go.

"River! What's going on?" Charlotte Mead demanded, appearing at his side. She wrapped an arm around his shoulder and searched his face with anxious eyes.

Felicia Arks approached at a good clip, bending to scrutinize him with much the same detachment as Arashi had analyzed him. "You gonna live? First he seizes, and now here you are toppling out of your chair."

"I, um, I had a bad dream," Roman admitted, letting Char support him as he got himself to his feet. He leaned against his desk and sucked in a few bracing breaths.

"You fell asleep in class? Boy..." Felicia trailed off, appalled.

"If they'd let me mainline caffeine I wouldn't have this problem," Roman quipped, turning to scoop his belongings into his school bag. "That or if they'd learn to teach their subject matter with anything less than the dry boring approach."

"You said it was a bad dream but I don't know, it sounded like the first part was pretty good," Charlotte giggled, leaning over to bump her shoulder against his. "I was close enough to hear."

"Um." Roman's face flamed hot. He could handle it when guys knew what he was doing, but for Charlotte to call that to attention...that was plain wrong. "Please tell me I wasn't making too much noise."

"Not too much," Char assured him.

"God," Roman groaned, digging the heels of his palms into his eyes until starbursts of protest formed against the black backdrop of his lids. "It's no wonder I've been having perverted dreams after falling asleep in class. Do you know it's been almost forty-eight hours since I was laid? That has to be some kind of record deprivation for me. It's torture when I know someone in the house is damn well having sex and it's not with me. And Damon wouldn't even let me have phone sex because I told him I had other plans after school and he guessed it was another guy."

Char bestowed a puzzled smile of sympathy on him and Felicia snorted in disgust.

"You are a piece of work, Roman," his bodyguard informed him.

Charlotte clapped her hands together. "You're a work of art, River!" she chimed in. "How can I help the cause?"

Roman grimaced. "Run interference with my bodyguard?"

Charlotte's eyes widened to their utmost. "But, River, she's right here. The element of surprise is gone."

Felicia snorted again, and Roman gave her a grin. "Charming, don't ever change." He snagged her in the crook of his arm and ushered her toward the classroom door. "It's all right, I've got it covered. We managed to negotiate around the point of me going off and having coffee, and she's acknowledged that she doesn't have a say in who I sleep with."

"She's right behind you," Felicia reminded him, disgruntled. "She has a name, and if your ass keeps forgetting, I've heard that tasers can be a great memory aid."

Roman craned his head over his shoulder. "You are way too eager to find an excuse to use that thing; you ought to have that psycho-analyzed," he quipped, and the dire look she leveled him in return was almost reassuring in its predictability. Roman shared a conspiratorial grin with Charlotte as they put their heads together, continuing to navigate the crowded hallway.

"So who's coffee?" Char wanted to know.

"You don't know him," Roman replied.

Charlotte thrust her lower lip forth, disentangling from him only to fall into step beside him and link her arm through his. "So, introduce me."

"No way, Charming, you think I'm going to corrupt the innocent? There's no way I'd let him within a mile of you, you're far too cute," Roman claimed. "Besides, I'm meeting him off-campus. I didn't want him showing up at school."

"Tabloid fodder?" Char ventured.

"And how," Roman told her with a wink. He dropped his voice to a stage whisper. "He's a co-worker."

"Oh, like how Damon is a co-worker?" Charlotte inquired innocently.

Roman coughed. "Ah, well, kind of," he hedged. "I'll talk to you later, okay? I don't know how this is going to go, it could be a complete disaster. The guy is kind of a dick."

"But I thought that's what you liked!" She said it with such wide-eyed sincerity.

Roman had to throttle down his instinct to laugh this time. It was a close one. "Char..."

"Roman means the guy is a complete jerk who gave me the slip in order to have a little convo with Roman and two other models," Felicia supplied the information, her elegant features tight with disapproval. "This whole meeting is taking place despite my protests, Roman, and like I said - you're not allowed out of my sight, you got that?"

"I got it," Roman said, waving a dismissive hand. He disengaged from Charlotte as they reached the turn-off that would take her to the lockers. He and Felicia were going straight ahead to the school exit. "See you tomorrow, Charming."

"Right. Be safe!" She gave him an encouraging wave.

Once they reached the wide flight of stairs that led from the high school on down to the drive, Roman paused and hitched his bag over his shoulder, scanning the cars. Part of him was expecting to spot a familiar car in spite of the argument he'd had on the phone last night with Damon regarding the disposition of his free time. He'd finished up with a more or less unnecessary jab that Damon would probably need to spend all of his available afternoon and evening on the proofs for the long-delayed photo shoot and it was a good thing because that was all he'd see of 'River,' then he'd hung up. Instant regret hadn't proved potent enough to make him re-dial Damon's number. Instead he had retrieved Kennedy's, to take him up on that offer of coffee.

His decision had been the subject of intense debate between he and his bodyguard that morning, culminating in Shemyahza Guile's unexpected intervention with Felicia as the demon reached over to retrieve the jug of cream to pour into his coffee. "Let the boy do as he wants," Shemyahza had spoken up. "He's of age and you're his bodyguard, not his parent." That had left Roman glaring, both over the use of 'boy' and the implication that he couldn't win his own argument. Well, he might not have been so resentful if he hadn't been about to appeal to Gabriel for intervention.

The drive was empty, and Roman's shoulders slumped in spite of himself. They had had a really good photo shoot the other afternoon. Damon had been willing to accept and protect him. So where did everything go horribly wrong with him? Was Roman that self-destructive that he was willing to throw away a good thing? Or did he really think that he was protecting Damon from anything?

There was the prospect of killing him with repeated sex. That still disturbed Roman; that, and the fact that he'd been ready for it so soon after the session in the usenet booth with Damon. And that was the most recent time he'd had sex and it was killing him. If it weren't for Felicia's continued presence by his side he was sure he would've leapt on one of his classmates and torn their clothes off by now. Even unattractive Trevor was advancing higher on his list out of sheer proximity.

Felicia's fingers gripped him by the elbow joint, startling Roman out of his introspective. "Let's go," she told him, casting a sidelong glance at him. "Unless you've changed your mind...?"

"Not a chance," Roman proclaimed. He set out for the sidewalk that paralleled the drive, leading out to the nearest street.

Kennedy had offered him choice of time and place, which was canny of him. It allowed him to pick someplace in his home turf, and he could have left himself with enough time to go home and change first. He'd opted to go straight from school to the Enervated Works, a local café that supplied food, beverage, massage tables in back, private cubicles, meeting rooms for larger parties, and occasional live entertainment. Kennedy had known of it, which only made sense as it was a local college hang-out that supplied the high school students with their caffeine fix as well. It was on the far side of campus so he set out at his top pace, determined to get there a good ten minutes before he'd told Kennedy he would meet him.

Roman could have stopped at home, still. He could even have brought a change of clothes. His choice of meeting Kennedy in his school uniform was partly psychological, partly strategic. If a guy liked the fact that he was young, usually the uniform was a turn-on. The uniform also emphasized to Kennedy that Roman wasn't going out of his way to make this a date.

Besides, no matter how badly Roman wanted to sate his rising instincts, he would probably have to take Kennedy home to get satisfaction and that was not going to happen.

Always the optimist, Roman had still decided to go ahead and book a private room for an hour and a half. If things went much better than he expected, and if his bodyguard decided to act modern and guard a door with only one exit - much as she'd stood guard over the usenet booth - there was always that option.

The afternoon unfolded in beautiful weather around him as Roman strode along the sidewalk that bordered campus, making good time. Felicia was silent beside him, her light hazel eyes working over all the different variables in their surroundings, human and otherwise. The golden glyphs on her bare dusky arms stood out as if catching and concentrating the sunlight. The further they walked, the more the high school crowd was thinned out, replaced by clusters of college students here and there. Unlike the primary and secondary levels, the college students weren't bound to wear uniforms. The only way to distinguish them as students was the presence of the school bags that helped them carry around notebooks and other vital materials.

Recognizing a few here and there, Roman delivered a few waves but kept up the pace. He didn't dare slow down because he didn't want to get caught by a group wanting signatures from 'River.' Two lights and a street crossing later, Roman stood before the Enervated Works, hitching his bag over his shoulder in a fussy, nervous gesture. It took him a few tries to get it properly settled.

"I don't suppose I could pay you off to wait out here," he ventured hopefully.

Felicia crossed her arms and gave him a sardonic lift of one brow.

"Right, I didn't think so." He sighed.

"Roman," Felicia spoke up. "You've got no natural sense of caution, do you? You barely know this guy, and from what I know of him he's not trustworthy."

Roman shrugged. "He's not a threat to me," he said honestly. "Seriously. If it came to that I think I could turn his own desire against him."

Felicia shook her head. "No, that's not quite... ah, never mind." She sighed. "Anyhow we have to pick Cedric, Rukawa, and Humphrey up from after-school activities so I'm not just going to leave you here to do as you like."

They were blocking the door, so Roman took a couple of steps back until his legs pressed against the low wrought-iron fencing that ran the perimeter of the outdoor seating area. He stretched his neck to peer through the window. Great, the place was already crowded, and if they couldn't find seats he knew Felicia wasn't going to be amused that he'd taken it upon himself to rent a private room. "I'm not going to forget we're picking up my little brother," he said, letting the annoyance bleed clear through his voice. "That's the kind of mistake that Gabriel makes, you know." When they had been younger, Roman in junior high and Cedric in primary, he had met his brother outside class to walk him home on days he wasn't working. It was a wonder Cedric hadn't garnered more cool points from that fact but then, Cedric was quite the insulated little nerd.

"Right," Felicia said, and she was on bodyguard point again, scanning the sidewalk then the interior of the café.

"Can you at least find it in your heart to have the discretion to sit at a table by yourself?" Roman requested, with what he thought was a fair degree of politeness.

"That's fine," Felicia agreed at once, surprising him. It was entirely unnecessary of her to tack on, "I'm sure I don't want to hear what the two of you talk about anyhow."

Roman wrinkled his nose at her, hitched his school bag on his shoulder one more time, then summoned up the dignity to cloak him as he turned to push the door of the café open.

He gave the room a cursory glance, not really expecting to see his party and already contemplating what he wanted to order that day. Something sugar-free and non-fat, of course. The wave from a corner of the room caught his eye, and Roman found himself returning the gesture, surprised to see Kennedy at a much-coveted corner table. The man must have been there at least an hour to get a place that was in such hot demand. Roman held up his finger to indicate 'one moment,' then tilted his head toward the order counter; Kennedy lifted his chin and his smile widened.

As he wove through the occupied tables to get to the counter, Roman checked his chronometer. He was fifteen minutes early, so Kennedy had definitely been there a while.

"Oh...let me order for you," Roman said over his shoulder to Felicia as they reached the cashier.

"No need; I use an expense account. Have fun." She grimaced as she said it.

Roman turned back to the short, manically grinning cashier and he didn't have to hide his own smile. "A double-tall non-fat sugar free vanilla latte," he told her, and set his order in motion.

Most days he liked to lounge at the opposite end of the counter after paying to watch them make his drink. That day, he found himself sneaking glances past the espresso bar at Kennedy, whose attention was fixed on whatever materials he'd brought with him to tide him over during his wait. That piqued Roman's curiosity. When his latte was up he grabbed it and made his way through the throng to that far corner table, which was up on a dais-like area that went up two steps from the rest of the café floor. The dais had a good view of the outside, looking out beyond the heads of those seated in the outdoor area and with a clear shot to the scenic college campus across the street.

"So early," Roman noted, taking the seat across from Kennedy. He sneaked an upside-down glance at the contents of the notebook in front of Kennedy.

"I thought it would be a good idea to come over after my last class," Kennedy said with a shrug, powering down his notebook. He met Roman's inquiring look and tapped the display. "Advanced biochem."

Roman's brows threatened to rise clear off his face. "I didn't know you were in school," he commented, trying to recall how old Kennedy was. He definitely looked to be in his mid-twenties, about the age of Gabriel's graduate student, but advanced biochem was an undergraduate course. The other cause for surprise was the subject matter. He would've thought Kennedy for a business major and that track never took anything beyond the Intro to Science required for all non-applied science majors.

Kennedy's smile thinned out, becoming more brittle. "I'm working my way through school. Tuition isn't cheap and I couldn't score a scholarship, and part of my paycheck goes to my family."

"You're not going to pursue modeling?" Roman said, leaning back to get comfortable in his chair. He sipped at his hot espresso drink.

"I like doing it for now, but come on. Most agents think their clients shrivel up and die when they turn thirty." Kennedy folded his arms on the table and favored Roman with a conspiratorial kind of smile. "I can't model forever, so my game plan is to switch to something a little more high demand. And call me crazy, but I want to make a difference. If I can score an entry-level lab technician position with Orion, that will offer plenty of career opportunities and maybe not enough job satisfaction as flashing my smile for the cameras, but enough to get by."

"That's really...amazing," Roman said, a little surprised to note that he meant it. And you have no idea what you're in for, he wanted to warn the man.

"What about you?" Kennedy prompted, reaching out for the super-sized cup on the table between them.

Roman snorted. "What about my plans? Ah, well, I don't really have any. If you mean career-wise. Besides modeling as long as I can, I haven't thought of anything that I like to do that I take quite so seriously." Besides sex, he censored himself.

Kennedy's brows quirked but he was still smiling. "With your looks you can probably model for a good while longer," he agreed.

"And then there's administering the Vanderbrant Foundation," Roman continued. "I'm not really sure what all is involved in that but I don't think I'll be able to get out of that particular obligation. I'm sure there's much more involved than attending board meetings."

Kennedy's mouth had dropped open. "The Vanderbrant Foundation?" he repeated numbly.

"Uh...yeah." Roman rubbed at his head. Sometimes he was surprised to find people that didn't know, rather than the other way around. "My grandfather was Donough Vanderbrant."

"The Vanderbrant," Kennedy proclaimed, sagging back in his chair. His hands fell to his thighs with a dull thud. "Holy shit. And Roman, I owe you a serious apology."

"You already apologized," Roman reminded him, favoring him with a double-edged smile.

"Yeah, and you didn't exactly accept it," Kennedy pointed out.

Roman's brow knit. "Huh." He cast a discreet look around the café, which was filling up to maximum capacity. His bodyguard caught his eye, her head moving in that brief lift that let him know she was ready to respond to any movement Roman made that might possibly indicate he wanted something. Hastily Roman returned his gaze to Kennedy, whose clear blue eyes were steady and sincere.

And he was probably a good liar, the thought crossed Roman's surface consciousness. That was a good thing to keep in mind.

"I'm still not sure of your intentions," Roman temporized. "I mean, come on. One day you're trying to poison me--"

"Aphrodisiacs are hardly poison," Kennedy interjected, lifting his hands.

"--the next day you're trying to force me into a gang bang in my own dressing room," Roman continued, talking right over him, "and then the day after, you show up at my house - to which you should not have known the address, I'm sure you probably bribed or charmed someone in Admin for that, and you're trying to apologize for all that's come before. Then as what is either a final fuck-you or a serious one-eighty you turn around and ask me out for coffee. Why?"

Kennedy sighed, and his handsome face disappeared behind strong fine-boned fingers that scrubbed back and forth. When he lowered his hands, he looked less cocky, a little more real. "Well, when you say it like that, it's a hell of a way to get someone's attention," he admitted.

Roman stared. "You...what? Back up. Last I heard you had a steady girlfriend. Then all of a sudden you're showing up with two other guys and the intent of 'gang bang' scrawled all over your face. Now you're telling me you did it wanted to get my attention?"

"Kind of?" Kennedy offered, and he steepled his hands on the table and looked down at them rather than meet Roman's eyes. "I don't know. I don't really know what I was thinking. The thing with the girl was on the rocks long before you came to Psyblade. We parted ways not too long ago, then there was Aaron, going on and on about how great you'd been that one time he had you, but he was griping about not getting a second chance. And that got me thinking about you."

"If you think honesty is going to outweigh the growing creepy factor here, think again," Roman told him. "Come on, Kennedy. What are you trying to say here, that you got a crush? If you tell me that whole thing really was your idea I'm going to stand up and say goodbye now."

"It wasn't!" Kennedy blurted, reaching across the table and clasping his wrist as if to anchor him there.

Roman held still, more out of worry that Felicia could probably kill at a distance. He was sure she was licensed death armed and unarmed.

"Seriously, that wasn't my idea, I just went along with it," Kennedy said. He let go of Roman's wrist and rubbed at his hand convulsively as if he'd been delivered a shock. He met his eyes, though, transmitting a line of solid blue desperation to Roman loud and clear. "I guess I knew it was wrong, no matter what...was said about you liking it. But I figured it was my only chance. That's pretty shitty, huh? So, I won't blame you if you want to bail out now."

Roman regarded him for a long moment. Kennedy didn't break eye contact, letting Roman search his gaze for the truth he offered up.

"Was I ever on your list?" Kennedy asked when it appeared Roman wasn't going to say anything first.

"On my list of potential conquests?" Roman broke into a grin. "Oh, honey, I guess that's just going to have to remain my secret, isn't it?" In truth, he'd never given Kennedy more than a few admiring, covert looks after hearing the rumor about the live-in girlfriend. Roman was an ass, he knew, but just because he cheated on his lover didn't mean he would go for being the enabler to anyone else's cheating. Besides, that rumor had made him tentatively label Kennedy as straight unless proved otherwise.

Apparently Roman could turn anyone with his kiss.

"Yeah." Kennedy looked out the window and rocked his coffee cup back and forth between his hands. "Well. Sorry, again."

Roman smirked. "Apology accepted," he said. There was only so long he could string it out, he supposed. The banked fire in him was getting hotter. On some level, he had been thinking about sex all day. It had contributed to a worse than usual share of attention paid to his classes. He hadn't had any privacy since the night before, after cloistering himself in his room to get away from the sight of two disgustingly happy couples, even if not everyone involved realized how blissful they were. And even masturbation was no relief anymore, because it took an abominably long time to get off and then he'd gotten hard almost ten minutes after, as if masturbation alone didn't have what it took to satisfy him.

Kennedy shot him a quizzical look. "Okay."

"Okay," Roman agreed, and stretched in his chair. He watched Kennedy from beneath his lashes and there was interest there, for sure. Oh god, he wanted to let him know he'd rented a private room. Was this how it was going to be? Booking men in intervals throughout the day to keep himself satisfied and avoid putting too much strain on anyone in particular? He wasn't actively trying to be coquettish when he slanted a look over at the mesmerized Kennedy, draping one arm over his chair, and drawled, "So what do you want with me, Kennedy?"

Kennedy's mouth opened and closed a few times before he managed to form a dazzling, almost shy smile. He leaned forward, elbows on the table, and said in a confiding tone, "Well, I can think of a few things. Sex for one, I mean, if you want to; but hell. You're a really complex person, Roman, I think it would be pretty cool to date you."

Roman gave him the appraising eye.

"You know that I have a boyfriend--" he began.

"Whom you're not married to," Kennedy put in.

"--but above and beyond that I have to let you know, I don't date anyone with whom I'm not sexually compatible." He put it right out there and leaned against the back of his chair, licking his lips.

Kennedy's eyes fired up, transmitting equal parts desire and hopefulness. " that an offer? God, I hope so, because if not that is an unbearable tease."

Roman gave him a shrug along with a playful smile as he tipped his coffee cup from side to side, checking for its remaining volume. He'd sipped at it steadily during the course of their conversation and it was nearly empty. "Well, there are obstacles, you know," he said, tipping his head in the direction of the rest of the café and his bodyguard, who was leaning with her arms crossed on a table in the general throng, probably long since finished with her coffee in favor of paying undivided attention to Roman and his companion. "I have a bodyguard."

"...With a taser," Kennedy picked up the thread of the expectation, unease crossing his handsome face. "Point taken. I'd offer my place, but--"

"I'm pretty sure she would deem that unacceptable," Roman finished that train of thought for him. "Besides, I don't know how long it would take to get to your place, but I have to go pick up my little brother after his club activity today. We're all taking the same car home."

Kennedy leaned back in his seat with a new expression, surprise, maybe respect even. "I didn't know you had sibs."

"What, I act like a spoiled only child?" Roman supplied dryly. "Yeah, I guess I do. I have an older brother and a younger, and we're all pretty different. I mean, I suppose I'm more different from the two of them than they are to each other, but..." He trailed off, not really sure where he was going with that thought especially in the face of Kennedy's slow, deliberate lick of the lips.

"Do you want to?" Kennedy asked him, and he was stretching back in his chair, his shirt stretching over sculpted but not overly bulky muscle.

Felicia was right, he had absolutely no sense of caution. "Gods yes," Roman blurted, eyes straying down as far over the smooth ripple of abdominal muscle as he could see. He'd kind of, he had almost wanted to the other day, but it hadn't been...he was starting to lose his grasp on why it had been wrong. He hadn't wanted to. No, that wasn't exactly it. He'd had other obligations.

"Then..." One brow arched, and a foot nudged his under the table. Combined with the searing look in Kennedy's blue eyes, that sealed it for Roman.

He wanted, and he wasn't going to be stopped by logistics. It had been an unbearable length of time since he'd known someone's flesh against his own bare skin and he was going to make it happen if he had to stop time or throw fire bombs into traffic. Still...

"I'm not going to make it with you in a bathroom," Roman said, adamant. That was his one rule, as if by having it and sticking to it he was capable of saying he had standards.

Kennedy looked over his shoulder and around the café with a searching, desperate expression as though a five-star hotel room would materialize on demand. "Then, I guess we postpone," he said, his shoulders slumping.

He could still walk away from this. He could tell Kennedy sorry, another time. He could call up Damon and hope the man would be okay with picking him up for a quickie. That thought stiffened his resolve; the rest of him was already beyond eager. "One moment." He picked up his school bag and Kennedy gave him wide, off-balance eyes. "I'll be right back." The man relaxed. As he left his seat, Roman was careful to maneuver his bag so that he didn't give away any embarrassing bodily details.

Roman made his way around crowded tables, picking his way across the floor to the place where his bodyguard had taken up a station. He hovered over her table, gripping the back of the chair opposite Felicia and holding onto it with both hands. "Here's the deal. I booked one of the private rooms in back. I want to take Kennedy back there and have sex with him. It's got only one door, so once we're shut in we're in there until the hour's up."

Felicia raised calm hazel eyes to meet his. "Okay."

"Okay?" Roman repeated, staggered. "That's it?"

"That's it. Like Guile reminded me this morning, it's not like I can prevent you being a dumbass. Go to." She unfolded herself from her chair and stood, towering over him without even really trying hard.

"Wow. Uh, all right," he said, and turned to go back to Kennedy. A hand snagged his arm and Roman glanced at the dark, strong fingers clinging to the uniform fabric over his upper arm, then up into Felicia's eyes.

"I check the room first," she told him. "Then I'll wait outside."

He was still stunned by her unexpected acquiescence. There had to be a trap of some kind. "It's the Arbor Room," he told her. "The one all done up in greens and tans." She released him and began edging toward the back of the café, casting a glance his way every heartbeat or so to let him know she was still watching. Roman gathered himself and returned to the corner table in the front area of the shop, from which Kennedy tracked his progress with an expectant mien.

"Let's go," Roman told Kennedy, who brightened like a hunting dog on point.

"Where to?" Kennedy asked him, lifting his head as if searching for Felicia, who was waiting near the rear hallway of the café.

Roman gave him a demure smile, lowering his head to aim it through heavy-lidded eyes. "I reserved a private room."

Kennedy shot to his feet. "Hell, are you kidding me?" he exclaimed, causing a few heads in the immediate vicinity to turn in their direction. "Sure, let's go!"

Roman dissolved into a somewhat reproachful grin. "Well, I wasn't sure it would work out so why tell you I'd hedged my bets?" he teased him.

"I never thought I'd get this lucky," Kennedy admitted, raking a hand through his light brown hair. He stooped to retrieve his bag, packing away his notebook and other essentials in record time. "Still, I knew I felt something when we were kissing, I just knew it."

That caused Roman to stumble as he turned to begin picking his way back through tables. Kennedy was there in a flash, steadying his elbow and giving him a wide, dazzling smile brighter than the one he turned on for the cameras. Was that another one he'd reeled in with his powers? He'd really turned in on for Kennedy the other night, though that was more to prevent himself from being forced than to actively encourage a sexual encounter. If he was an incubus, even if he hadn't been activated until recently, had he enticed a man who might otherwise not have been interested?

The answer to that no longer mattered to Roman as they approached the back of the café and Kennedy's hand cupped his elbow, all but burning a hole in the fabric with the heat coming off his skin. Roman was tired of looking and not partaking. Kennedy was hot, and he needed this, and even if it meant he had to get more 'fixes' in a long line of sexual encounters Roman was certain of one thing: he couldn't do without, not for a moment longer.

As they got closer, Felicia opened a door that led off the hallway and pointed one long slender finger at Roman.

"You wait there," she informed them, then left the door ajar so that she could keep one eye on Roman as she prowled the perimeter.

The Arbor Room was one of the Enervated Work's nicer private rooms, with a table and chairs and a saggy-backed but cushy sofa pushed up against the far wall. A painted mural of trees and grasses embraced the four walls of the room in the greenery of imitation foliage. As Roman had noted earlier, there was only one way in and out of the room and there weren't even windows, just soft yellow light filtering down from above. The room was rented out for study and small meeting purposes and if anyone figured out what he and Kennedy were doing there they could be kicked out, he could lose his deposit, and they could both be fined.

Felicia returned, giving him a jerk of the chin that substituted for a nod.

Roman dragged Kennedy into the Arbor Room, and he didn't have to tell the man to pull the door shut behind them. It clacked shut. There was no lock, but he had the room until the end of the hour and with Felicia standing watch, he had no worries they would be interrupted. His bag thudded to the floor and Roman twined his arms around Kennedy's neck, all too willing to allow himself to be crowded against the wall nearest the door as blind kisses were scattered over his face, the skin below his eye, over his cheekbone, the corner of his mouth and finally his lips.

"Gotta be quiet," Roman gasped, as Kennedy made a fast track up his jawline for his ear and the tender flesh below there, unerring as if guided to the pulse point that happened to be a particular turn-on for Roman. He stroked his fingers up into the short-cropped hair at the base of Kennedy's neck and had to bite his lip to stifle a groan as Kennedy's mouth made a hot wet path down the cords of his neck.

"You work on that," Kennedy murmured, rubbing his hands on down the back of Roman's uniform pants and clasping at the swells of his buttocks. "Hope you don't mind if I help myself." He tracked back to Roman's mouth then, and kissed his mouth open until they were both panting.

"That's what we're here for," Roman agreed, loathe to peel his arms away just to wriggle out of his uniform top. Fortunately, Kennedy's hands were there taking care of it for him, stripping down the zipper and peeling his top open to stroke over bare skin.

He pressed himself against Kennedy as skin was revealed, hungry for direct contact. He rode Kennedy's shirt up with both hands and Kennedy's mouth reconnected with his, lips catching at him in an urgent refrain.

"Let's go," Kennedy panted, and separated their bodies enough to work his tee shirt up over his muscled shoulders. "C'mon, let's go." He gathered Roman back into his arms, mouth seeking.

They tangled there against the wall for a long moment, lips pressing and meshing and roaming with the will to connect, to keep the movement between them going. Kennedy nibbled on his neck but didn't go for the suck mark the way another man might, knowing by common occupation that was off limits for Roman. Strong arms gathered him up, crushed him to Kennedy's chest, and the bare skin against his was enough to glut Roman in the delirium of pleasure.

There was a subtle current of dissatisfaction, though, even as Kennedy plunged his tongue into Roman's mouth and they shared another hot kiss. Roman ignored it and wound his arms tight around Kennedy's neck, hitching up against him. Kennedy's arms went under his thighs, then Roman was wrapping his legs around the man and bumping the angry jut of his erection against Kennedy's stomach.

"Where do you want me?" He murmured it into Kennedy's ear, licked the lobe and drew back to savor Kennedy's eyes darken with desire.

"I don't have lube," Kennedy whispered back, hoarse.

Roman grinned at him and nudged along Kennedy's jaw, angling for the pulse point below his ear. It didn't make him squirm the way it really did it for Roman, but Kennedy groaned and hands tightened on Roman's ass. "Lucky for you, I traveled in hope today," Roman told him. "Outside zipper compartment of my school bag."

"I am so hot for you right now," Kennedy informed him. He slid his hands up Roman's back, releasing his supporting grip, and Roman untangled his legs in favor of standing on his own two feet again. "You're okay with it? Full penetration?"

"Condoms, too," Roman told him helpfully.

Kennedy crowded him against the wall again with eager lips, hands stroking him from ribs down to hipbones, pressing his thumbs under the hollowed-out bones and murmuring something fervent and dirty and appreciative in his ear. "I wanna fuck you so bad, oh gods I could do it right here, you have no idea what you do to me..."

Roman hooked his fingers in Kennedy's pants and went for the top button, working it free of tough denim. Bare chests were nice, but feeling Kennedy's narrow hips press against his ass would be even better. "I have some idea, I'll have a better idea in a few minutes."

"Damn!" Kennedy's epithet was shaky and anxious all at once.

"I'll go get the lube and condoms," Roman murmured, pressing back against Kennedy's strong body and stroking the sensitive belly skin above his jeans. "You get comfortable on the sofa and wait for me there, okay?" The last opportunity he'd seized, there had been barely enough time and leisure in the usenet booth for a blow job and a hand job. He couldn’t exactly take his time now, either, but he could definitely get the kind of satisfaction that was what he really wanted.

As Kennedy sauntered over to the couch, pulling jeans down over his lean hips, Roman located his school bag where he'd let it drop to the floor unnoticed. He was flush with readiness, waves of heat pounding in his face and through his groin. He wanted to be fucked. And if he couldn't quite shake the sneaking conviction that it was with the wrong person, at least he was with someone here and now and warm and very much willing to pound him into the couch arm.

And hot. He was confronted with that reality again as he turned and straightened, facing Kennedy where he'd draped himself on the sofa with his jeans dragged down around his thighs and his cock fisted in one hand, pumping lazily. The expression on his face alone was enough to induce a toe-curling orgasm. Roman caught his breath and enjoyed the sight for a moment, before Kennedy noticed him in turn and beckoned with a languorous hand.

"Come here," Kennedy told him. The hand on his dick sped up incrementally as Roman approached. His eyes, still brilliant blue even in the dim citron lighting, went up and down the length of him. "Damn, you're gorgeous. Take your pants off."

Smirking, Roman dropped the lube and condom on Kennedy's stomach. The man's stomach bunched and he gave him a curling Cheshire smile in response.

Roman cocked out one hip, putting some flair into it. He turned until only his left side was facing Kennedy, then began to strip his slacks down, teasing the zipper in one slow continuous moment, then baring himself. His blood-flush cock popped out of his underwear almost immediately and he closed his eyes. He was beyond ready for action; in fact, he wanted Kennedy inside him about five minutes ago.

There was a strangled noise from Kennedy as Roman turned almost all the way around and bent from the waist to finish running his slacks all the way down, baring his entire ass for the viewing. Rising again, he crooked a devilish smile over his shoulder to gauge the effect on Kennedy. From the open-mouthed look of pure hunger, he'd say he was pretty successful. He tossed his pants for the nearest chair and was pleased when they landed square over the back.

"So," he purred, advancing on Kennedy, whose hand had stilled on his erection. "How do you want to do this?"

Kennedy managed to convey wordlessly that the very question was better than opening presents at Christmas. He scrambled upright on the sofa, dumping the lube and condom off onto the other cushion and reaching out for Roman, reeling him in.

Their mouths met, locked and fed. Underneath was the same underlying taste Roman had gotten off Arashi, only back then it had been strong enough -- and he hadn't been so desperate -- that he'd had enough self-possession to push the other boy away. Now, even in spite of the dissonance Roman's need was greater. He wanted this, he'd ignored everything else to have this, and now that they were here and there was glorious skin against his, by all the gods it was happening.

When they broke, panting, Roman slid fingers up into the short hair at Kennedy's nape again and put forth his suggestion. "I think you should brace me over the couch arm and mount me."

"Fuck, Roman," Kennedy groaned.

"That's the idea," Roman agreed, and it was impossibly cheesy but he couldn't help it. "Don't worry about preparation, I can take it. Slick it up and dive right in."

Kennedy tugged him onto the couch so that they were kneeling, facing one another. They kissed again, harder this time. Teeth clashed against his and Kennedy's tongue pushed in, seeking. One hand was gripping his ass again then Kennedy was moving, drawing Roman with him, bending to retrieve something. He pressed the condom into Roman's hand.

"Put it on me," Kennedy said hoarsely.

Roman had to steady his hand first before attempting to rip open the condom. It would be a real travesty if he tore right through the latex and had to go all the way across the Arbor Room to get another one. That accomplished, he drew back enough with one of Kennedy's arms encircling him to get a good look. Kennedy's forehead pressed against his, then his lips brushed near Roman's hairline.

Kennedy's cock was long, not thick, but perfect. It hung to the left slightly, and it was a hard crimson with a well-proportioned, cut head. Roman grasped it in one hand and Kennedy shuddered, pushing it into the loose grip of his fingers.

"Come on, baby," Kennedy whispered. "Don't keep me waiting."

If only you knew, Roman thought with a giddy kind of humor. He stroked Kennedy once more, almost regretting the fact that he didn't have the personal leisure to prolong their enjoyment with fellatio, and began to roll the condom over the tip where the first drops of arousal were gathering in the slit.

"You want it, sweetheart?" Kennedy was asking him as Roman finished unrolling the condom, smoothing it down over the base. "You want me to fuck you?"

Roman leaned in to kiss him briefly, capturing his lower lip and flicking out with a hint of tongue, then by way of answer he turned around and leaned against the arm of the sofa, presenting.

There was a strangled noise behind him, followed fast by the pop of the lube top uncapping. Before Roman could protest the brief, slick touch, it was gone, replaced by a hard grip on one of his hips. A wet slopping sound followed and Roman craned his head to catch a glimpse of Kennedy fisting his erection again, spreading lube over it good and thick.

"Come on," Roman urged, stretching and arching his back the better to display his ass.

That was all it took. Kennedy's one hand gripped his hip harder, and the other spread one cheek of Roman's ass enough to gain access. He pushed, and with a grunt his cock pushed past the resistance of Roman's outer muscle.

Roman groaned, held himself upright, and waited for Kennedy to push to the hilt. The man grabbed his waist in both hands, pushing deeper and making soft wordless noises. He rocked Roman open with quick flicks of his hips, never quite pausing as he worked all the way inside. He sank in and flexed there at the greatest depth, making Roman mewl and butt back for more.

"Yes," Roman moaned, easing himself back and forth on the arm of the couch. Kennedy loosened his grip on Roman's hips briefly, then it tightened again as he pulled back and thrust in again.

"Gonna fuck you," Kennedy said, voice rough as the quick slap of the back and forth motion of his hips. He sped up, dragging the length of his cock in and out in quick, frantic motions.

Roman clenched his teeth to tamp down the moan that wanted to tear its way out of him. He wanted to brace himself on one elbow in order to reach between his legs and speed his way to completion. Kennedy was surging inside of him, large and penetrating at the right angle to make Roman want to yell his pleasure out for the whole room to hear, fines bedamned, and under all of it there was an emptiness that couldn't be filled with the cock that pounded into him just right to sate his bodily urges.

Kennedy's hands adjusted his hips, and the strokes slowed. Kennedy pushed all the way into him and pulsed there for a moment, fitting himself against Roman's body and rocking this way and that as if to find the best fit. "Unnngod you're the best," the man groaned, and began to pump inside of him again.

Almost there, almost, he could taste it, the quick hard thrusts were piling onto a mountain of sensation and he was almost at the summit. Roman lowered his head and brought his body crashing back to meet Kennedy's sudden, urgent pumping motion and the sound of flesh slap-slapping was louder than the hoarse counterpoint of their breathing. "Do it, gods, come on, just do it," Roman chanted, and tried to drop to one elbow to grasp his desperately hard cock; he couldn't get there by himself. He didn't have the arm strength, though, and trying to change his position made him slip. Kennedy steadied him and Roman bit down on his lip to stifle a scream; frustration, urgency, arousal intermingled and became the same thing until he didn't know why he wanted to shout.

One hand slapped his flank as Kennedy dialed back the pace to more languorous thrusting action, pulling the length of his hard cock out until he almost popped free, then shoving it all back inside in one long slow motion that made Roman keen.

"Shh," Kennedy warned, but his admonition wasn't very sincere. He groped over Roman's hip and stroked over hyper-sensitive stomach skin that tightened under his touch, then found Roman's erection and took him in hand, beginning to jack him off in quick short jerks that were at odds with the still slow pace of his hips.

"Fuck me, come on, fuck me, bring me off," Roman chanted, pushing back and willing him to pick up to that blistering, wonderful timing from earlier, quick thrusts sweeping him up to the summit of that glittering peak. He groaned, remembering at the last instant that he was supposed to be quiet and trying to strangle the noise. "Do it, Kennedy, do me!"

Kennedy doubled over his back and made an inarticulate noise full of need and primality. He surged forward, cramming Roman so full that Roman lurched forward against the arm of the couch, barely able to support himself. Then he began to pound in earnest, any sense of rhythm dissolving into shreds and driving Roman between the two extremes, the hand that still moved over him and the thrusts that battered Kennedy's hipbones against his buttocks.

They continued like this until Kennedy cried out, any capability of muffling it broken along with his self control. He held himself up against Roman, pushing in the faintest of beats, then gave him a few more thrusts and slumped over him.

"God," Kennedy panted, chin digging into Roman's back, hand gone still on Roman's cock. "You are so fucking incredible." He twitched inside Roman and moved in a couple of feeble thrusts.

"Thanks," Roman said, and collapsed on arms against the arm of the couch, unable to bear Kennedy's weight on top of his. "Do you think you could..." He wriggled and pushed his still-raging erection into Kennedy's hand.

"Oh damn," Kennedy exclaimed, "holy shit, really? Sorry..." He sounded puzzled and equally chagrined. With a slick, almost pleasant sensation he voided Roman by pulling out, and drew Roman down onto the couch with him against the sculpted bare chest. One hand caressed Roman's hair, his cheek, and the other hand wrapped around Roman's cock, setting a good firm pace like the thrusts that had rocked him so well.

It took an embarrassingly long time for Roman to spurt and come into Kennedy's hand. By the time he did, their time in the Arbor Room was almost up and Roman was entertaining abysmal thoughts of having to tuck himself into underwear and pants once more and set out to pick up his little brother and the brother's beau, still rock hard.

"That's some stamina, Roman," Kennedy said as Roman shuddered in his arms and produced a copious string of semen all over his fingers and palm. He'd taken to kissing and petting Roman in addition to jacking him off, and had drawn his breath in as if to ask a question when Roman finally bit his lip, balls drawing up to discharge his load.

"Sorry," Roman said, surly even to his own ears. "Doesn't usually happen." He climbed off Kennedy's lap and the couch, making a beeline for his discarded clothing and casting about for a napkin to tidy up before he put it on.

Kennedy grunted behind him, a non-verbal agreement sort of noise. "So. I guess I didn't pass the sexual compatibility test." He appeared on the other side of the table, reaching for his tee shirt.

Roman did his shirt up, lingering over the fastenings while considering his reply. He was sure the other model would take it as his rote answer; after all, look what had happened to Aaron. For all Kennedy knew, he did this as a part of his notch on the bedpost ritual with every new stable of models. "You made the offer, and I was definitely open to it," he said. "Unfortunately I don't think it's going to work out and it's not you -- I mean, you were great, Kennedy." His ass was still tingling, in fact. And his libido was all too open to the prospect of a second round. But if it was going to be like that, then it wasn't worth doing.

Kennedy rested his hands on his hips and eyed Roman with frank appraisal.

"You've got to know you're great," Roman added, giving Kennedy a hint of his flirtatious look to show the man the difference between serious and arch. He dropped the expression and said in all solemnity, "This is totally going to sound like a line, but I've had a lot of changes in my life."

"And you thought maybe I could be one of them?" Kennedy prompted, soft voice barely reaching Roman's ears.

"Something like that," Roman acknowledged. "Remember, you came on to me."

Kennedy's generous mouth twitched in the beginnings of a wry smile, then he shook his head. "Well, kind of. In a really twisted way. Anyhow, I didn't deserve as much as you gave me, Roman, and I sure don't need an explanation. If it's not going to work, then it's not."

Roman finger-combed his hair back from both temples, bestowing a relieved not-quite-smile on Kennedy. "Okay, then. It's not going to work out." And if he wanted to give Kennedy a real chuckle, he could tell him the truth.

He was an incubus, and Kennedy's 'taste' wasn't fulfilling.

"Right. Well." Kennedy paused, scooping his bag from where it had been summarily dumped on the table and fiddling with the strap. "Thanks for giving me a try."

Roman dipped one shoulder in a half-shrug. "You too," he replied.

"Okay, well...I better go," Kennedy said, pausing awkwardly where he stood, then swooping forward to plant a brief, close-lipped kiss on Roman.

Roman returned the pressure, but made no other movement to reciprocate. The whole thing, now that he really let it hit him from the gut outward, was weird in the end and he'd be glad for it to be over. And that thought annoyed him more than any other, because this was what he did. He was Roman Vaille, and he was free with his person with any attractive manflesh that happened to attract his eye.

The door clicked shut behind Kennedy, and Roman took a seat at the table, a wave of anger and despair overtaking him. He wanted to punch something. He wanted to find a hiding place and crawl in, pull up a patch of darkness behind him, and never emerge. He wanted strong arms to surround him in the place where he fit, and accept no substitute.

A stripe of shadow limned in light fell over the threshold, widened into a wedge of hallway illumination and then Felicia was craning her head around the door, one hand conspicuously over her eyes. "Is it safe?"

Roman chuckled mirthlessly. "You already know he's gone," he said.

"Doesn't mean it's safe," Felicia observed, but she sidled the door wider and stood there backlit by the hallway lights. "You okay?"

He heaved a sigh. "You were right," he told her, his mouth forming a bitter twist over the words that were surely music to her ears.

"I'm always right," she claimed, but cocked her head to the side, the sympathy in her gaze washing over him without being insulting. "What was I right about this time?"

Roman pushed himself up from the chair, scraping it back from the table. His ass was still throbbing, though he knew from experience it wouldn't take long for him to recover. Kennedy hadn't been careless with him, exactly, but he sure as hell had been thorough. "You can't prevent me from being a dumbass," he said starkly.

"That was Shemyahza Guile who said that," Felicia corrected him. "I think I said something more like he's no good for you and you shouldn't trust him."

"I already told you he couldn't hurt me," Roman protested. He made a long arm for his school bag, letting hair curtain his face to hide the wince before he straightened. He was definitely going to be a little sore for a bit.

"There's more hurts than just the physical kind," Felicia said, stepping to the door while keeping a hand on it. She was giving him a little frown now as though he'd been particularly dense in a lesson.

"It's just sex," Roman said, shaking his head as he hoisted the bag to his shoulder and put his hand to the door, taking it from Felicia and freeing her up to take point in the hallway.

"Have you ever considered maybe it's the cavalier attitude towards it that's part of the problem?"

"Huh?" Roman responded, now adrift in a conversation with no touchstone for him, and he was sure not all of it was due to post-coital brain softening. "I...I don't..."

"Never mind," Felicia dismissed that line of conversation with a wave of her hand. "Let's go meet the boys, all right? Maybe we'll talk about it later, once I figure out a frame of reference for you or...something."

'Hello, incubus,' he wanted to remind her, but they were in a coffee shop full of college students and a few senior high school kids that Roman recognized and while disclosing what he was didn't run strictly counter to the confidentiality agreement he'd signed, explaining how he could possibly be an incubus would be difficult. Besides, the last thing he needed was a bunch of people staring at him for something weird he'd said; it would probably pop up in the news.

Instead he tagged along at her heels as they walked the few blocks that brought them back to the Vanderbrant High campus. The SUV was waiting where they left it at the close end of the parking lot right up next to the high school building. After climbing in and buckling his belt, Roman took out his phone and weighed it in his hand. From the driver seat he could feel the press of eyes on him from time to time, but Felicia made no comment.

After toying with his registry for a few moments, he scrolled down to Kennedy's number and deleted it with no regrets. Like most of his fleeting encounters, Kennedy had been consigned to one brief, hot session like a flare of magnesium, flash and bang then gone.

He thumbed his way back up to Gabriel's number and hesitated. What would he say to his brother? Kick the demon out, come back to me, and we'll live in domestic bliss for the rest of our lives? Like that was going to happen. He'd never seen his brother like the way he'd been last night, relaxed, participating in conversation, his face in repose settled into pleasant lines instead of that sharp frown of concentration that meant he was elsewhere, always some far distant unreachable place. Roman had known he wasn't enough for Gabriel even when he'd first forced his older brother to look at him, forced him to be with him in a way even though his powers hadn't been active at that time. He wondered if that was really true.

He pressed the up key and the phone went through other contacts until settling on Damon. Dread pooled in the base of his stomach. How was he supposed to apologize for being an ass without losing face? "I can't," he said aloud.

"Can't what?" Felicia prompted, not realizing it was rhetorical.

"I can't call him," Roman answered, treating it like a real question.

"Well, why the hell not?" Felicia demanded, taking the turn out of the drive a little sharp, making Roman exclaim and clutch for the 'oh shit' strap that wasn't there. He scrabbled for a handhold on the door.

"What am I supposed to say? I've been a tool, come see me anyhow?"

"Something like that," Felicia said, unsuccessfully trying to repress a snicker. "Just so long as he gets the point, why does it matter? Tell him to come to dinner. Food is a good way to break the ice."

Roman's brows climbed. "That's an idea." He depressed the call button and held the tiny phone to his ear. Seconds later, Damon's mild purring baritone was telling him he was sorry he'd missed his call, he was unavailable but leave a message... Roman held the phone away from his face, about to cut off the call, then held it up to his mouth like a walkie talkie when the beep sounded. "Call me, please. I'm sorry. You're right, and I miss you." He closed his eyes and let his head thump against the head rest, phone falling into his lap.

"There," Felicia's voice intruded unwelcome on the agony of his self-reflection. "Was that so hard?"

Roman groaned, throttling the childish urge to clap his hands over his ears. Funny how Felicia seemed to bring that out in him. "Woman, you have no idea."



back to index