cover art by akamine_chan
They meet for the first time at the House of Secrets and from across the room, Franc feels the pull. It's raw and urgent and he wantswantswants. The look on the other man's face, pale and sharp-featured, makes it clear Franc's not the only one feeling the attraction.
Franc procures a Key from the Mistress of the House and approaches the man, bowing. The Key rests in the palm of his hand, presentation and offer.
The man doesn't hesitate, and the brief brush of his fingers against Franc's hand as he takes the Key sends a delicious shiver across Franc's nerves.
The room is lit only by a single, flickering candle, but it doesn't matter. There's no time to look as they scrabble at buttons and ties, desperate for bare skin. There's a flicker of regret; his bedpartner seems beautifully made, but the dimness hides Franc's secrets, too.
"Yes," the man whispers, breath hot against the side of Franc's neck as he follows the line of Franc's jaw with tiny bites. His teeth are sharp, and Franc wonders if there will be marks, something to remind him of this night.
Franc feels a brief moment of panic when the man unlaces Franc's boots, but he doesn't flinch, doesn't hesitate when he runs across Franc's knife. The man is used to handling knives, there's an ease and familiarity to the way he sets it on the bedside table, and Franc wonders until he's distracted by the curve of a shoulder under a fall of black hair.
They kiss, and kiss, and Franc feels light-headed as the man struggles with Franc's trousers, the ties tangling in his fingers. He curses at the strings, and Franc has to bite his lip to keep from smiling at the absurdity of the situation.
"Laughing at me?" the man asks, breathless. He's not even trying to hide the grin that spreads across his face. It's charmingly crooked, and Franc can't help but press a kiss to the corner of it.
The man makes a hungry sound, slants his face, and deepens the kiss; Franc's laughter evaporates in the heat of his desire. His heart is pounding, echoing through his blood, reverberating through his bones, settling into a heavy ache between his thighs.
Franc's trousers hit the floor and the man tumbles him onto the bed, hand cupping Franc's cock, friction and pressure and ecstasy engulfing his senses.
In the morning, he's alone, the empty half of the bed only holding the barest hint of warmth. Franc is sore and aching, lazy and sated. The looking glass shows him a man, passion-bruised and well-pleasured. He looks wanton and debauched, and he realizes that he likes it.
It had been an impulsive decision, to visit the House of Secrets. Franc's life was too dangerous, too transient, for him to form bonds, and sometimes he just needed to be touched. A craving that he couldn't satisfy with drink, or powder, or the twist of his own slicked hand.
A quick trip to the House, a donation to the Mistress, and a night lost in carnal indulgence. Simple. Quick. Easy.
Franc should have known better; his Luck was never that good.
He couldn't stop thinking about the man, the way he moved, rocking slowly into Franc, making him feel the stretch and pull. The sounds he made when Franc sucked a bruise onto his thigh, the way his fingernails dug into Franc's shoulders to pull him close, closer, how he watched Franc's face as he drowned under the sensations trembling through him.
When he closed his eyes, Franc couldn't see anything but the man, laid out under him, strung out by Franc's touch, his face open, unashamed and honest.
He haunted Franc, kept him awake and restless and hard.
Franc makes it a fortnight before he gives in.
The Mistress knows who Franc is asking about, and confides that the gentleman in question has been back to the House several times in the last two weeks, but never retired to a room, never took a Key. She would hazard to guess that he'd been waiting for someone particular, an especial bedpartner.
She has learned almost nothing about the man other than he was new to the City: she didn't know his name, nor where he came from, or why he came to the City.
Franc worries. Maybe he's making a fool out of himself, as the Mistress seems to be hinting at. It makes Franc's chest tighten in anxiety; maybe the other man doesn't feel the gravity of what is between them. Maybe Franc's deluding himself. Maybe—
The man comes into the House, and it feels like all the air disappears, and Franc can't catch his breath.
He can't take his eyes off the man as he procures a Key and approaches Franc. "I've been waiting for you." His voice is soft, a little rough.
Franc bows. "My name is Franc."
"Franc," the man repeats, and Franc want to hear him saying his name over and over and over— He touches a finger to Franc's lips. "My name is Jerard."
The name, it suits him, and in the end, Jerard's name is a desperate refrain falling from Franc's lips in the dark of the night.
Franc is an master of denial, and it takes three more meetings with Jerard at the House before he can admit to himself that he's in over his head, overwhelmed by the way he feels about Jerard. He's never felt this way before, not about anyone.
He's not made for a settled kind of life; his family's history makes it an impossibility. Jerard makes him want to try, and he doesn't know what to do with that.
It's late, toward dawn. Jerard is almost asleep, lulled by the soft patter of raindrops against the window, and Franc is drifting, touching Jerard, tracing the shape of his body with his fingertips. They'd exhausted each other in the night, repeated rounds of pleasure so sharp it bordered on pain. Jerard murmurs something, a question, and Franc shushes him.
The candle's on the verge of guttering out, down to a stub, and Franc watches as the shadows play across Jerard's skin. The wind rattles the shutters; the gentle storm's picking up intensity, and thunder rumbles in the distance.
There's no warning.
There's a blinding flash of light, brighter than the sun, that lasts for what feels like forever. Franc blinks repeatedly, trying to clear his vision of the afterimages burned into his sight. Then comes a bone-rattling boom; Franc feels the House shake and shift, bucking like an untamed horse. He tumbles to the floor, while pictures fall off the walls and the wash basin crashes to the ground, unheard because of the loud ringing in his ears.
Franc turns, reaching for Jerard and—
Sitting in the middle of the destroyed bed, horribly out of place, is a medium sized Dracon. Shiny black scales tipped in diamonds, a sleek, hungry shape that triggers a primordial fear that's bred into Franc's blood and bones.
Without thought, his knife is in his hand, up and ready to strike, and it hums in anticipation. It was forged in magic, to pierce Dracon hide, and it's never missed its mark. The Dracon rears back and hisses angrily, displaying an improbable number of razor-sharp teeth. The air crackles with the sharp tang of ozone, and Franc tenses to spring—and stops. "Jerard?" His voice is forlorn, small, and Franc can't help himself, he drops the knife and reaches out a hand toward the Dracon's pointed muzzle. "Jerard?"
The Dracon stretches out his neck in increments, and slowly, carefully presses into Franc's touch.
Franc closes his eyes and breathes deep. "You're a Dracon."
There's a swirl of air and his eyes flutter open. Jerard is standing amid a jumble of boards and bits of metal, shredded sheets and blankets, his mouth curved down. "You're a Dracon Hunter."
It's tradition, that Dracons and Dracon Hunters are mortal enemies. "Only in name. My family stopped Hunting Dracons several generations ago." He points to the knife lying on the floor. "Family heirloom, now."
Jerard tilts his head. "What do you Hunt, then?" He lifts his chin. "You clearly Hunt something."
Franc shrugs. "People. I take coin to find people who are missing. Runaway husbands, eloping couples, embezzling business partners." He takes a step closer to Jerard. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about my family history." His hand skims up Jerard's chest, across his shoulders, petting at his hair.
Jerard laughs a little. "I'm sorry I neglected to tell you about. . .my affliction."
"Runs in the family, does it?" Franc can't help himself, he nuzzles at Jerard's ear. "We're kinda doomed, mortal enemies and all."
Jerard settles his hands at Franc's waist. "We are what we are." He presses close. "I don't care about tradition."
Nothing about their relationship has been in any way traditional. "Me, neither," Franc whispers, holding tight to Jerard.