Chapter 14

" – so Simon tells me, 'I don't think this is what Orend meant by light exertion'," Kix giggled. "And I said, 'Darling, are you saying I'm not light?' and he laughed so hard I almost fell off. But ooooooooh, it felt good when he laughed!"

Skip laughed too, trying unsuccessfully not to blush. Dante had gone off with Eban and James to follow up on investigating the poison; Dante had suggested a chemist in town who might be helpful. Skip had been glad of the opportunity to spend more time with Kix, and he'd been relieved to see how much healthier-looking the Vizier was today. In fact, Kix had been in a downright cheerful mood, and even before he'd started telling bawdy tales on himself, Skip had had a pretty good idea how the other man had spent his night – and his morning before Simon had gone to meet with his treasurer.

"God, Kix, if Simon knew you were telling me these stories – "

"Oh, he'd get that thundercloud expression on his face, and his voice would get all growly," Kix grinned, wiggling his eyebrows wickedly. "And I'd make my eyes really big, like this, and quiver my lip, like this, and three minutes later he'd be in bed plowing my field again."

Skip groaned, trying to keep that image out of his mind. He didn't like to think about Simon fucking Kix; hell, he didn't like to think about anybody fucking Kix. It wasn't jealousy – maybe envy? – although a part of him was jealous of Simon's easy intimacy with Kix. No, it was something else. No matter how he reminded himself that this Kix had never been molested by their father or by Skip himself, Skip couldn't seem to disassociate those horrors from the idea of somebody fucking Kix. Not to mention that he couldn't imagine Kix wanting it.

"What's the matter?" Kix said gently, laying a hand on Skip's arm and startling him out of his thoughts. "I could see from your eyes that you'd gone somewhere else, the way James does sometimes. You're not worried about Dante, are you?"

Skip shook his head. He wasn't worried about Dante; he figured the dark assassin would be more than a match for anybody who bothered him, even if Eban and James weren't with him. But he couldn't tell Kix what he'd been thinking, either, and all the things he couldn't tell Kix was an invisible wall between them, and he hated that.

But there was something he could talk about with Kix, and desperately wanted to.

"Kix, I could, um, really use some advice," Skip said. "It's kind of personal."

Kix frowned sympathetically.

"Problems with Dante?"

Skip grimaced.

"I don't know if it's a problem or not," he said. "Maybe, I don't know, maybe I'm imagining things." He sighed. "I don't know where to start. This is kind of embarrassing."

"Now, surely you didn't get embarrassed discussing your lovers with your twin," Kix chided gently.

Skip winced slightly.

"Never got to do that," he said quietly. Not that I had any lovers in that sense of the word.

"Oh!" Kix looked taken aback, but he recovered quickly. "All right, then, your best friend."

"He was my best friend." My only friend.


Skip could see Kix struggling hard with his curiosity, and while he couldn't bear to tell Kix the whole story, he could relent at least a little.

"Kix and I – we didn't see each other for a long time," Skip said quietly. "And it wasn't long after we got back together that he – he died."

"Oh." Kix's voice was heavy with sympathy; his fingers were warm, squeezing Skip's hand. "Well, I know I can never take his place, and I'd not want to, of course, but as we're brothers now, I'm glad to listen and help if I can." Then he grinned. "Besides, you can't listen to all my adventures with Simon and tell me nothing; it's not fair!"

Skip chuckled.

"Okay. It's just – " He took a deep breath. "Dante's stopped biting me."

Kix blinked, frowning.

"After a blood bond? That sounds odd. When did he stop?"

Skip thought back.

"The first time he did it was right before we came here," he said, not wanting to tell Kix that Dante had probably only done it to protect him. "And then he did it again the next day, in the bath, and then – " He had to strain to remember. "Oh, yeah, that night. And then he never did it again."

"Really? How strange." Kix shook his head. "What about you? Has he let you taste him?"

"Oh, yeah," Skip said, flushing again and hoping he wouldn't have to stand up anytime soon. "Yeah, he likes that. I do too," he admitted.

"And you've made love?" Kix asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Yeah," Skip said simply, glad he probably couldn't blush any redder.

"And you haven't argued or had any other problems?"

Skip thought. Yes, there'd been the – misunderstanding – after that first disastrous dinner in the dining hall, and of course Dante couldn't have been happy when Skip told him he didn't like getting fucked.

"Well, kind of," Skip said slowly. "But, I mean, things seemed all right afterwards. I mean, we've done everything else."

Kix shook his head perplexedly.

"I don't know," he admitted. "It sounds more of a Feeder problem than a lover problem. Perhaps we'd better ask Blair."

"Do we have to?" Skip said, wincing. It was one thing to confide in Kix – although he'd known the other man only a few days, still in some ways he felt almost as close to him as he had to his twin. But Blair he hardly knew at all.

"Oh, don't be embarrassed, Blair studies all sorts of things," Kix said blithely. "I'll send for him – I'm not going back in that dirty workroom, not in my nice new tunic, and I know that's where he probably is."

Kix sent a servant to fetch Blair back, and in a short time the scholar arrived – true to Kix's prediction, Blair's hair was finely dusted with metal shavings, and he had a dark smudge on one cheek.

"Blair, for the gods' sake, you look like you crawled out of a pigsty," Kix scolded, hurrying over to brush off Blair's hair and wipe his face. "Now sit down, have a sweet and let Skip interrogate you about Feeders. He's terribly shy, so don't tease him," Kix added sternly.

Really embarrassed now, Skip repeated what he'd told Kix. To his consternation, Blair frowned thoughtfully.

"That's very interesting," he admitted. "You never made love before he bit you? Even though he'd already given you his blood?"

"Uh-uh." Skip squirmed. "I mean, that's right."

"But the other two times were during lovemaking."


Blair grimaced apologetically.

"Sorry, I'll have to pry a little more. Do you want Kix to leave?"

Kix pouted, and Skip stifled a laugh. High Lord Simon might fall before that pout, but he'd encountered that same expression on his twin's face all too often.

"No, that's all right," Skip said resignedly.

To Skip's discomfort, Blair did indeed pry, wanting a great deal more detail about their lovemaking than Skip was happy giving. Under some gentle prompting from Kix, Skip reluctantly mentioned that they'd had an argument, and he blushingly related telling Dante that he wasn't comfortable being penetrated; thankfully neither Blair nor Kix pried any further on that subject, but Blair nodded when Skip told him.

"I don't know whether it's significant or not," Blair admitted. "He still bit you after that, so I'd say not. But the sequence of events is strange."

"Why?" Skip asked, glad the interrogation was over.

"Well, in the ordinary course of events, a Feeder would take a thrall, and the biting would come first, for food," Blair told him. "Then – maybe – the sex, then, even more rarely, allowing the thrall to taste the Feeder's blood. Now, you tasted Dante's blood first – and that makes sense, because of the threshold sickness. Then he bit you the first time, and I won't speculate on why, but it doesn't seem to be for the usual reasons since you weren't involved otherwise, and unlike a pure Feeder he didn't need your blood to nourish him." Blair glanced at Skip a little more astutely than Skip liked, and Skip wondered if the man had seen through Dante's ploy to save Skip's life. "And then there's the two- way exchange of blood, always with sex. He told you his Truename, which is – well, for a Feeder, it's damn near unthinkable. But then he gives you the ring, which is a very traditional Feeder gesture. And then here's the bizarre thing – after he gives you the ring, he never bites you, and he keeps putting you in a very dominant role in bed."

"But why wouldn't he want to taste Skip's blood after that?" Kix said, shaking his head.

"Well, he did once," Skip remembered suddenly.

Blair frowned.

"I thought you said – "

"He didn't bite me," Skip corrected. "When he gave me the ring, I accidentally pricked my finger on it and, um, rubbed the blood over my lips and told him to come get it."

Blair's face split into a huge grin.

"Wow," he said. "Classic thrall seduction. You knew just how to tease him, didn't you?"

"Well – " Skip squirmed, remembering his wanton chase up the stairs only the night before. "I guess so."

"See, a favored thrall who'd been gifted with a ring would do just that sort of thing," Blair told him. "Most people don't understand just how much power those thralls wield. It's easy to think of them in terms of slavery, but you've also got to remember that a Feeder's life depends on them. Once they've snared a Feeder's heart, too – " He glanced at Kix and grinned. "Well, think of it in terms of a High Lord's beloved Consort. But that shouldn't stop Dante from wanting to bite you. Quite the contrary."

"Maybe Dante's intimidated by Skip having all that power over him?" Kix suggested. "I don't think he's ever even had a lover, much less one so close to his heart."

"I suppose it's possible," Blair said, nodding. "You know, sometimes when James has had a lot of trouble with his senses, when he's really had to depend on me, sometimes he just needs a push, some little gesture to remind him that he's not powerless, so I'll make, you know, submissive gestures, in cat terms. You could try something like that."

Skip wrinkled his nose. He didn't like the sound of that.

"Like what?" he said suspiciously.

Blair thought about it for a long moment, then glanced at Kix. Abruptly his eyes lit.

"Got it!" he said. "Just the thing. Kixster, may I paw through your jewelry?"


Kix fetched a good-sized box with numerous drawers. Blair poked through the drawers, then smiled and pulled out a silver earring set with a sapphire.

"This just matches that hair clasp he gave you," Blair said, holding it up to compare. "When a Feeder takes a thrall, he usually marks them with a piercing, usually an earring because that's most visible. It's a kind of 'hands off, he's claimed' gesture to other Feeders. But it's not generally through the lobe, more often here." He touched a spot about halfway up his ear. "If you wanted, we could give you a thrall piercing, kind of a way of saying, 'Bite me, I'm yours.' And I'm sure we could look through Kix's wardrobe and find something suitably . . . thrallish . . . for Dante to come home and find you wearing."

Skip thought about it. He wasn't exactly crazy about the idea of an earring; nor was he sure that he was really worried about Dante biting him in particular. As they'd said, Dante didn't need blood. What worried him was that for some reason Dante was holding back in their relationship, putting his own needs or desires aside.

"Let's do it," Skip said suddenly. "It's worth a try. I mean, it can't hurt."

"Well, it will, a bit," Blair chuckled. "But hopefully Dante can take your mind off it."

And that was how Skip found himself reclining on Dante's bed in a positively scandalous translucent pale blue silky getup from what Kix called his 'come-and-get-it' wardrobe, no goddamned underwear this time, thank you very much, skin and hair perfumed, slender silver bracelets on wrists and ankles and one sore ear, hair down but swept back to display the earring and Skip's throat to best effect. He'd paced the room nervously for hours, and it was quite late when he finally heard Dante, James and Eban ride into the courtyard. He'd taken his time arranging himself in what he hoped was a seductive pose on the bed. He knew that despite the late hour – it was well after midnight – Dante would probably have to report to Simon when he arrived, and of course he had to get Díoltas settled in the stable himself, since the stableboy was long since gone to bed; even taking those necessary delays into consideration, it seemed an eternity before Skip heard the downstairs door open and close.

Then Dante opened the door, smiling, his mouth open to speak –

-- and froze.

Skip took a deep breath.

It worked before.

"See anything you like, Ciarán?" he murmured seductively.

Before Skip's eyes, all expression drained from Dante's face, and his eyes turned cold.

"Get out of that – garbage," Dante said hoarsely. "And get rid of that – that thing." He waved in the general direction of Skip's ear. And as suddenly as that, he turned and strode back down the stairs.

And the sound of the door slamming was very loud in the silence, but no louder in Skip's mind than the crash of his heart falling and shattering into a million sharp-edged shards.


It took over a dozen hard knocks at the door before Kix answered, rumpled and half-asleep.

"Skip!" he grinned, yawning. "How did it – " Then he took in Skip's expression and the bundle of clothes in Skip's arms, and his grin vanished. "Whatever happened?"

"I fucked up," Skip said dully. "Just like always. Is there somewhere else I can stay?"

"Oh, dear," Kix said, pulling Skip into a hug. "Of course, you can sleep next door in my rooms." He turned and called over his shoulder, "Go back to sleep, darling, I'll be back later."

Kix settled him in the huge bed and gradually, over several cups of tea and gentle questions, finally got the story out of him. Kix shook his head, lips thinned with exasperation.

"I don't know what got into that boy, but the gods know, he's probably sorry already," Kix said gently. "Never you mind, Skip, we'll get it figured out tomorrow. Everything will look better after a good night's sleep."

"I don't think I can sleep," Skip said numbly, although he felt wrung out and exhausted.

"Of course you will," Kix said cheerfully. "Because I sneaked a sleeping potion in your tea, and I'm going to stay right here with you to chase the bad dreams away. Now lie down and snuggle up, and tomorrow we'll fix it, I promise you. Trust me."

I trusted Dante, Skip thought, even as he obediently crawled under the covers, spooning up against Kix's warmth, Kix who didn't know that Skip had repeatedly raped his twin. It's not Dante's fault. It's mine. I did something wrong, something stupid. I don't know what, but it was me. It's always me, sooner or later. Just like Kix – my brother. The best things in my life, and I just have to go and fuck it up.

When Skip woke, he was alone in the huge bed; a few moments later, however, the door opened, and Kix walked in, carrying a try.

"Ready to break your fast?" he said cheerily.

Skip rolled over, staring at the wall.

"Not hungry," he said. He swallowed. "Have you – have you seen Dante?"

Kix made an impatient noise.

"Oh, the fool's still locked away in his tower," he said exasperatedly. "Don't worry, if he doesn't come down soon, I'll have Simon summon him."

Skip nodded tiredly. It didn't matter. He'd already fucked things up. Nothing mattered now.

"Kix?" he said softly. "Is there some way to, um, send me home? Back to my world, I mean."

Kix put down the tray and sat down on the edge of the bed, stroking Skip's hair.

"I don't know," he said gently. "You see, it's a problem – well, I'm not certain how to explain it to you."

Skip sighed.

"Try," he said.

"There's so many worlds, all layered on top of each other with only a thin magical veil between them," Kix said apologetically. "Nobody knows how many. There may be no end to them, you see? And since I didn't bring you here, I've no idea which one you came from, or how one gets there from here. It's like – like if I tell you I grew up in the village of Drestwick," Kix said suddenly. "I could tell you about my village, but you see you don't know where it is, or what country lies between here and there, or what route you'd take to get to it. Without that information, I couldn't even begin to open a Gate there. And even if I could, each world is so vast, I'd need fairly exact information where to open your Gate. Otherwise I might Gate you to the bottom of an ocean, or far up in the sky, or inside a wall. Do you understand?"

"I understand that I'm stuck here," Skip said flatly.

"It may not be that bad," Kix said comfortingly. "When I've got my strength back, I'll try my most powerful scrying spells. It's risky, a bit, but it's possible to get the precise information I need. And of course if we can find the mage who brought you here, then we can learn exactly where you came from."

He patted Skip's cheek.

"But don't decide you want to be rid of us so soon," he begged. "I've only just gained a brother. I'm not eager to lose him yet."

Skip nodded, but it wasn't a nod of agreement, only acquiescence. It hardly mattered. There was nothing for him in that world, either.

"I've really got to talk to Simon," Kix apologized. "Why don't you sleep a little more?"

"No thanks," Skip said, forcing himself upright. "I think I'll take a bath, wash off all this perfume and stuff."

"All right," Kix said, frowning slightly. "Shall I have Blair come keep you company?"

Skip grimaced. He knew that Kix was thinking of Skip's twin killing himself, maybe worrying that Skip might do the same.

I wish to hell it was that easy. If I could've brought myself to do that, I wouldn't have spent the year since Kix died doing it the slow, hard way.

"No thanks," he said. "I'm used to being on my own. I'll manage just fine."

Skip gathered up some clean clothes and made his way to the bathing room, chuckling bitterly. Yeah, damn right I'm used to being on my own. Get a grip, Thomas. We've been here before. Should've known this would happen anyway. Guys like you don't get fairytale endings.

He brushed his hair out of his face and a tangle caught in the forgotten earring, making him wince. Angrily he grabbed the ring and pulled hard, yanking it out of his ear. The clasp gave before it could rip through his ear, but he felt a trickle of blood dribble down his skin anyway.

My blood. My unwanted blood.

Skip slid into the bath and scrubbed himself hard, then again, then again until his skin stung raw in places. He could wash the perfume off his skin, but he couldn't wash away the memory of Dante's touch, those incredibly gentle hands, the moist lips. Skip gritted his teeth and scrubbed harder, harder, barely noticing when the door opened. He didn't look up, and the sigh, when it came, wasn't Dante's.

"Come here, little one," James said gruffly, wading into the bathing pool, leather trousers and all. He took the sponge and soap from Skip, then picked him up with surprising gentleness, grabbing a linen bath sheet to wrap around him. Skip made no protest when the Sentinel carried him just as he was, wrapped in a bath sheet and dripping all over the floor, down the hall. James paused, sniffing the air, then wrinkled his forehead and carried Skip back to Kix's rooms, depositing him gently on the bed before vanishing out the door. He returned a few moments later with a basin, a clay jar, and Blair. Blair glanced at Skip and his eyes widened.

"Oh, gods, James – he's bleeding through the sheet, what – "

"I know, I smelled it," James said grimly. "That's why I looked in the baths. He's scrubbed his skin off in places. He hasn't said a word, and he slept in here last night, I can smell it. Go find Kix, will you, and find out what's going on?"

Blair nodded tersely and vanished down the stairs. James carefully unwound the sheet, coaxing the wet fabric gently away from the raw places. He shook his head ruefully.

"Well, little one, you've made a proper mess of yourself," he said quietly. "Is this about Dante? It is, isn't it?"

Skip turned his head away, saying nothing. James touched the ragged wound in the side of his ear.

"That's going to hurt," he said with a sigh.

"I'll live," Skip said roughly. "Look, just leave me alone, all right?"

James looked at him thoughtfully.

"No," he said at last. "I think not." He opened the jar and began dabbing soothing ointment over Skip's skin, ignoring Skip's glare. Impatiently Skip pushed James' hand away.

"I said," Skip said icily, "leave me the fuck alone. I'm not a child, I'm not an invalid, I don't need a fucking nanny, and I sure as shit don't need a goddamned cat-man staring at my naked body. Now get the hell out of here!" Only now that he'd emerged from the almost comforting cocoon of numbness did he begin to feel the pain of his abraded skin, his throbbing ear, and it only fueled his anger.

James' eyes narrowed and he stood up, thank God, but just as he looked about to leave the door burst open to admit a white-faced Dante.

"What's the matter, muírnigh, what happened?" Dante panted. "I felt – " Then he froze, staring. "Ah, gods, mo grá."

Suddenly, as simply as that, the rage and hurt in Skip's heart peaked. He grabbed the nearest item on the night table, the selfsame bottle of perfume Kix had put on him the day before, and hurled it in Dante's general direction, narrowly missing James.

"Get OUT!" he screamed. Dante dodged, and the bottle shattered against the wall; abruptly the room was filled with the overpowering aroma of violets. James clapped both hands over his mouth and nose, turned green anyway, and fled headlong into the hall, almost colliding with Kix and Blair.

"By the gods, what – " Blair began.

Skip grabbed another bottle and hurled it, almost hitting Dante this time.

"I said get OUT!"

"Nay, I'll not," Dante said quietly but firmly. He strode over to the bed, and before Skip could grab any new ammunition, seized both of Skip's wrists in an iron grasp. "Stop now."

Skip roared in incoherent rage, struggling with all his might, twisting and kicking. Dante's position limited his ability to dodge, and at least a couple of Skip's kicks connected solidly, but Dante never moved.

"Dante, maybe you should – " Kix began.

"Nay, your pardon, milord Vizier, but I'd ask you to go," Dante said calmly, gazing levelly into Skip's eyes. "'Tis between him and me."

"Let me go!" Skip howled, trying to wrench free.

"Nay, I'll not do that." Abruptly Dante slid onto the bed, still holding Skip's wrists but now pinning Skip's body with his own weight, almost nose to nose with the smaller man. "I'll not let you go, Spencer, mo anam. Never let you go."

Skip strained futilely against the iron grip for a moment longer, then gave in, slumping back limply to the bed. The tears he'd held back successfully until now trickled out of the corners of his eyes.

"Why?" he whispered brokenly. "Why don't you want me anymore?"

Dante lowered his head, his forehead touching Skip's.

"Ah, muírnigh, I want you," Dante whispered back. "I love you."

Skip was silent for a long moment. He wanted to argue, but he could feel the truth of Dante's words as strongly as he could feel the pain of Dante's bruising grip on his wrists.

"Then why did you leave?" he whispered. "Why did you look at me that way?" As if I was some horrible repugnant thing you'd found growing in your bed.

"Ah, Spencer." Dante sighed. "Can we just say it brought back bad memories and leave it at that?"

Skip said nothing, and Dante sighed again.

"Muírnigh, I – " Dante slowly released Skip's wrists but didn't move otherwise, gazing down into Skip's eyes. "I can't have you be that to me, a thrall, a slave. D'you understand? I can't bear what that makes me. I want you to belong with me, not to me."

Skip took a deep breath.

"I don't want that either," he said softly. "Can't we sort of, you know, belong to each other? Does it have to be one or the other?"

"One or the – " Dante blinked. "Muírnigh, why did you make yourself up like a thrall?"

Skip swallowed.

"You stopped biting me," he whispered.

Dante's jaw dropped. Then he closed his eyes, rolling off Skip to lie on his back, one wrist over his eyes.

"Ah, gods."

Skip rolled over on his side, wincing as sheets pulled away from his skin.

"What?" he demanded.

Dante groaned again, rubbing his eyes.

"Muírnigh, you couldn't have just asked?"

"And I suppose somebody stapled your mouth closed so you couldn't talk to me instead of storming out the door?" Skip retorted.

Dante snorted abruptly with laughter. Skip scowled.

"It's not funny, damn it!"

Dante sobered and rolled over to face Skip.

"No, muírnigh, it's not," he said. "Spencer, my heart, I stopped because I didn't know you liked it. Most don't. I thought you bore it for my sake. The first time you struggled, and I knew I'd frightened you." He reached down and touched the ring on Skip's thumb. "With this, I knew I was giving you a pleasure you wanted, that we could share safely, d'you see? There's so much old fear and sadness in you, and yet still you offer what you don't really want to give, only because you want to please me. That frightens me, that you'd let me do something you don't like. That's horrible to me, muírnigh, it's what a thrall desperate to please his master might do. So it seemed easier to let you choose our pleasures. And then when I saw you dressed that way, with the earring, it seemed I'd been right, and I was terrified that I'd done this to you."

This time Skip couldn't stifle a brief bark of his own laughter. Dante was right; it was funny in a sick sort of way, the two of them dancing around each other, each trying and failing to read the other's mind. I'll have to write a new book, Skip thought wryly. Humans are from Earth, Halflings are from Wherever.

"Okay," Skip said, taking a deep breath. "In plain English, all right? I love everything we've done together. All of it. Nothing you've done has scared me or hurt me – I struggled the first time you bit me because you startled me, all right? It's not like I've been bitten a whole lot before. And I'm sure as shit not gritting my teeth and putting up with anything we've done. Unless you count that damned underwear and the fucking hose I have to wear. And just because I don't like getting fucked doesn't mean I want to be on top all the time, either, okay? And if I happen to dress up and play slave boy for you, then I'm doing it because, one, I want to excite you, and two, I don't have any problem pretending – pretending – to be your slave boy for a little while. Just for fun. Is that plain enough for you?"

Dante searched his eyes for a long moment, then smiled, that beautiful solemn smile that made Skip's heart swell up tightly.

"Aye, Spencer," he said quietly. "'Tis plain enough. Only next time, will you say it before all the hurting?"

Skip snorted.

"I will if you will," he said.

Dante's eyes twinkled.

"Agreed, and gladly," he said. "Two conditions, muírnigh."

"What?" Skip said suspiciously.

"First, you promise you'd always tell me if whatever I'm doing, or we're doing, doesn't please you," Dante said softly. "Aye, there's our bond, but I'm not used to these feelings, and my own are confusing enough, let alone yours!"

Skip smiled.

"Okay," he said. "I promise. Really. And what's the second one?"

"Ah, the second." Dante took Skip's hand, raised it to his mouth and laid a slow kiss in the palm, making Skip shiver. "That you let me make amends to you for the hurt I've done you. And the hurt my harshness caused you to do yourself."

Skip shivered again, sliding his hand over Dante's cheek.

"Um, that sounds really damned good," he whispered. "But much as I hate to say it, we may have to wait a while, let me heal up a little."

Dante ran his fingertips down Skip's chest, carefully avoiding the raw places. His eyes darkened with a mixture of desire and sadness, and Skip could only wonder what the smell of blood was doing to the halfling.

"Ah, Spencer, your poor sweet skin," Dante said softly. "I canna bear to see you hurting, muírnigh. Let me?"

Skip nodded eagerly, twisting his ring around on his thumb, but to his surprise Dante shook his head.

"Not that, not today," Dante murmured, pulling a small dagger from his sleeve. "Today you need more of me than that, to heal you." He pulled his tunic over his head, then to Skip's dismay cut deeply into his chest, holding out his arms silently for Skip.

Skip went to him, but he hesitated.

"Doesn't that hurt? I don't want to – "

"Shhh, no, it'll heal quickly," Dante reassured him. "All that hurts me is the distance between us."

Skip hesitated a moment longer, a sudden pang of squeamishness striking unexpectedly at the sight of the blood trickling down Dante's chest. He'd tasted Dante's blood before, yes, plenty of times, but never this much at once, unless it had been disguised in wine. Hesitantly he touched the tip of his tongue to Dante's chest, then moaned as the magic swept over him again, possessing him, healing him, burning him to ashes from the inside out and resurrecting him. Moments later he blinked stupidly, staring at the smooth and unmarred skin of Dante's chest, running his tongue over his lips for the last faint traces of his lover's flavor. That strange delicious energy was running through his veins, he was rock hard, and somehow he felt that every hair on his body was standing on end.

He squirmed in Dante's arms, but Dante only pulled him closer.

"Shhhh, no, muírnigh," Dante murmured lethargically. "Need to sleep."

Sleep? Sleep? Sleep was the last thing on Skip's mind. He pulled free of Dante and sat up, frowning irritably, but almost immediately his emotions flipped over from anger to worry. Dante was already asleep, and he looked exhausted. He probably hadn't slept at all the night before, and Skip suddenly realized uneasily that he had absolutely no idea how much of Dante's blood he'd just swallowed. Could he have taken enough to actually hurt Dante? The halfling looked pale, but then, he always looked pale . . .

"Shhh, I'm fine," Dante slurred, his eyes open barely a slit. "Just tired."

Skip wrapped his arms around his knees, shaking his head as he looked down at himself. The raw places were all gone, his skin smooth and unblemished. The scar on his forearm had vanished, and Skip wondered what his back looked like.

Well, at least in Kix's room there was no difficulty finding a mirror – there were six of them, not counting the small handheld mirror on the dressing table. Skip turned, eyeing himself critically. There was still dried blood staining his skin. The scars on his back were very faint now. His ear was unpierced again.

Something crunched in Skip's mouth and he made a face, spitting into his hand. He stared down blankly at the gray fragments in his hand, then realized.

Jesus Christ, those are fillings. Shit, I'm in trouble. I hate to think what passes for dentistry around here.

His tongue explored the inside of his mouth, finding two more fillings but no holes where they'd been. Picking a mirror, Skip opened his mouth as wide as he could and looked, shivering.

Oh man. No holes. I regrew tooth enamel? Shit, if I ever get back home, I'd better not get myself killed. I don't match my own dental records anymore. That thought brought on a spate of hysterical giggles, and Skip clapped a hand over his mouth, trying to keep from waking Dante.

And speaking of Dante – Skip wrinkled his nose. How could anybody sleep in here, in that miasma of perfume? Man, Kix was going to be pissed. He probably wasn't going to be any too thrilled about the bloodstains on those silky sheets, either. Skip poured some water in the wash basin and sponged himself off, then got dressed. He stood by the side of the bed, considering, then grinned. Carefully he slid his arms under Dante's shoulders and knees, and to his own amazement, he lifted the larger man easily. Dante barely murmured, his head rolling over to Skip's shoulder.

Jesus. If I could find a way to synthesize that blood – not to mention if I could get home with it – I could buy and sell Bill Gates.

He carried Dante down the hall, occasioning more than a few astonished stares from servants he passed in the hall. He'd tried to work out the logistics of unlocking the tower door with Dante in his arms, but he needn't have worried; Dante had apparently left the doors standing wide open in his panicked rush, testimony to just how alarmed the halfling had been by whatever he'd felt through their bond. Skip managed to close the doors with his foot as he carried Dante upstairs, gently laying him on the bed. Dante didn't wake, even when Skip carefully undressed him and tucked him under the covers.

Skip himself wasn't sleepy at all, but he knew that when the energy of Dante's blood ran out, he'd crash – hard. He picked up one of the books on Dante's nightstand, sighing when he realized it was yet more poetry, and pulled the chair over to the window for reading light. Nah, he wasn't sleepy at all. A little poetry, then he'd go downstairs and get some dinner, maybe bring something up for Dante? Hopefully then Dante would be awake and they could discuss just what sort of amends Dante had in mind.

Skip propped his feet up comfortably, yawned, and flipped through the pages idly. He wasn't sleepy at all, but the warm sun coming in the window felt good, and this was a damned comfortable chair, come to think of it, especially if he pretzelled himself up a little and curled into the padded arm. And the sun was awfully bright, but if he closed his eyes just for a minute . . .

Email: Shadow