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All the Futures That Could Be

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Without opening his eyes, Edgar could see large, strong Red Wolf trembling, fighting to restrain himself. Red Wolf’s every breath was torture. The moon was full behind him, encircling him, large and white and low in the sky. It both called to him and separated him from what he wanted the most.

Small, human, and oblivious, Rum was positioned a few yards away. Damaged, mentally frail Rum in his disheveled uniform was smiling for once, perhaps at the beauty of the moonlight.

It was winter 1943, and Rum was a human born to fight, but slowly losing pieces of himself to the war. He still didn’t understand what it meant to fight alongside a wolf, and he was still a human who didn’t recognize love as beings do. In the bitter cold, somewhere behind enemy lines, Rum was a human standing beneath a full moon with werewolf who loved him, and that werewolf was in agony.

Edgar almost couldn’t breathe. He knew how he wanted the story to end, how every fan of the Red Wolf and Rum graphic novels wished that scene had ended. But already he could see the thousands of possible twists and turns ahead, all of them exquisite, most of them as painful as the actual moment in the book.

But today he wanted Rum to look up. Today, Rum should look at his friend in time to catch the longing and for once understand it, and be strong enough to accept it.

Edgar would prefer that Rum then leap into Red Wolf’s arms, but considering he had written a 9k college/coffee shop AU of them last week where that had happened, he supposed he should wait.

Anyway, the mood was wrong. The many possible variations of the story were vanishing as he contemplated that one crystalline moment between them. If he made Rum turn around when Red Wolf was the most vulnerable, something bad would happen. Most likely, one of them would run away. They weren’t ready, no matter how much Edgar wanted them to kiss.

Edgar sighed. After four books, the fans deserved some kissing. But he wouldn’t get it today, not for that scene. Maybe he could go back and do a quick porny sequel to the coffee shop AU. He always felt a little silly for sharing those sorts of stories, which were probably laughably bad. But he could while away afternoons thinking about what sort of passion Red Wolf might reveal, or all the little ways Rum would show affection.

Soft kisses from Rum would leave even the fiercest soldier weak.

Edgar hummed as he felt it, the spark, the absolute certain knowledge that when M. Greenleaf finally let the boys get together—as she must—that it would be Rum who took that step. And though Edgar could, and had, imagined violent passion between them, it was that first gentle kiss that would take the great Red Wolf’s strength and leave him even more firmly bound to his mate.

And then, if she were cruel—and good—she would tear them apart again, for a while, for long enough to take her readers’ hearts and keep them for her own. And M. Greenleaf was just that good—and cruel.

Edgar reached blindly for the cup on the table at the end of the couch and drank the last of the cocoa that had gone cold. When the two mates finally reunited, Red Wolf would claim Rum. Edgar might die of feelings.

He shivered and nearly dropped his cup as he set it back down. Werewolves were so different. He could not imagine how Rum would feel in that moment and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. Edgar was dragon and so no one would ever claim him. But oh, to know without a doubt he was wanted, to feel such strength over him, he would—

A scent in the air stopped his thoughts completely.

Warm scent, dragon and male and just… so very male and so very dragon, curled around Edgar from across the room. It had not crept to him because Justin would never have allowed it to. Justin’s scent did not creep or tiptoe. It filled up the space, conquered it, and it was oxygen to the fire deep inside Edgar, heat lightning to his every spot of exposed skin.

Edgar took a deep breath and opened his eyes.

Instead of a werewolf, Justin Khan stood before him. But he might as well have been a werewolf no matter how many dragons in Edgar’s extended family who would consider that an insult.

Justin wouldn’t. He was, after all, the dragon who, outraged at the many human sports organizations that banned beings and magic users from their teams in the interest of “fairness,” started his own group for beings who wanted to play in their free time.

When Justin, who had just started grad school, was supposed to have free time was a question Edgar knew better than to ask. Justin would make time for what he wanted. That was to be expected; even by dragon standards, no one could name a child Justinian Khan and expect him to be meek and retiring.

Justin played rugby with werewolves, and football with trolls, and once, baseball with elves who were obsessed with the numbers of the game more than the sport itself.

Edgar had seen pictures, although he’d wisely not attended any of the games, despite invitations. Werewolves would know. Dragons also knew, or at least suspected, but they would never offend his dignity by mentioning it. Even Justin said not a word. Edgar liked to think it was a sign of respect, but he suspected his family was silent on the subject out of hope that someday Edgar might do something about his very obvious feelings.

He would not, for many reasons. Not the least of which was the silence from Justin himself.

“Hello, Ras,” Justin greeted him, unusually quiet. But the room itself was quiet, and others were often hesitant to change that.

Edgar blinked rapidly, trying to pull himself from the vision of tortured love to the present moment of Justin’s tall form in the doorway, the dramatic black and gold of him only made more so by dance of flames from the fire in the fireplace, and the last burst of sunset through the stained glass windows of the library.

It was not truly a library. Books filled the shelves and the floor and every available space except for the couch where Edgar sat with his laptop, but these books were not for anyone to borrow. Printed out, dog-eared fanfiction, arranged in binders, took up the space beneath the couch, done when he was a child, before e-readers and tablets and laptops had made storage easier. Dead-tree novels and comics and magazines gave the room the faint smell of aged vanilla.

A few movies, but only a few, could be found, alongside children’s stories and grocery store genre fiction, and human young adult novels about werewolves that were so, so wrong but so, so wonderful.

Too many stories and not enough stories, thousands upon thousands of them in the room as they were in Edgar’s mind. But to others it was hushed, and the crackle of the fire was peaceful, so they would often come to sit on the couch and listen to him talk about stories as if they believed what humans did—that storytellers were Seers. That was why Edgar was shown respect although he was a dragon with no treasure of his own.

But he certainly didn’t feel wise or all-seeing. He felt slow and foolish, half-lost in a graphic novel about love and unable to pull himself completely free.

Because his feelings were already obvious, it was all right to stare for another moment at the height and breadth of Justin, a dragon of a size to almost rival the old ones. Edgar’s heart beat faster as all the ancient tales spun out before his eyes, but with Justin the hero, or villain. Justin, black and gold and too clever, thorough and persistent and determined to show humans he felt no fear of them.

In contrast, Edgar, thin and soft and serious, with scales of light blue green and a mess of brown hair, might impress a human. But though he made some dragons uncomfortable, he wouldn’t say he impressed them. His family loved him, but no one longed to appease him, to lay treasure at his feet, one piece at a time, until he was theirs.

Edgar put a hand to his throat, then lowered his gaze to his computer screen.

He realized he’d left his notes on a potential love scene open and firmly closed the laptop before he looked back up.

He wasn’t surprised at Justin wandering through his family’s house. The Khans owned a house just across town, and Justin had been friends with Edgar’s older brother, Felix, practically since they’d both been hatchlings. Justin had spent summers with them as a child, and too many weekends to count since then. If he didn’t have a key of his own by now, then Edgar’s mother would have let him in, and possibly told him to come see Edgar.

She would never give up.

Edgar was forgiving, however, since Justin smiled at him, and looked stupidly compelling in his fleece jacket and jogging pants. He’d probably played some kind of sport before coming over. Which, although interesting to imagine, still didn’t explain what he was doing here.

“Justin.” Edgar couldn’t help but smile back, despite his confusion. “Didn’t your classes just begin? You’ve stressed repeatedly that humans are harder on beings in their colleges, which means you have to be your best. Oh—” Edgar’s thoughts splintered in different directions. He imagined Justin sick of humans treating him badly, storming off—but no, that was not Justin’s way. Justin was tired, then, and needed a break—no, he wouldn’t come here. They were friends, but Edgar was a Seer, at least to others, and Seers usually made people uncomfortable. The room offered peace, but Edgar sometimes didn’t.

But… Justin wouldn’t hide from the truth either.

Puzzled, Edgar focused on him again. “If you’ve come looking for Felix, you’re in trouble, because he’s not here. He’s interning in Los Cerros. First time he’s ever lived on his own, and he’s being a big baby about it.”

Edgar had never lived alone. He still slept in his childhood bedroom—or on this couch more often than not. He most likely never would move out on his own. Seer he might be, but he was much too weak for the world of humans. They demanded action, not thought, and didn’t like the truth as much as they claimed to.

Justin, naturally, owned a house near his campus. Edgar had never been there, not even when the housewarming invitation had arrived in his name.

He knew better than to look at the lair that could never be his.

“I know where Felix is.” Justin rolled his eyes before coming forward into the room at last. He sat on the other side of the couch without disturbing a single volume stacked on the arm closest to him. “He has the money to hire a housekeeper, but won’t because he wants to prove something. Then he texts me at four in the morning about fabric softener. Big baby is right.” He let a noisy sigh as he stretched out, perfectly at home in a sea of books. “Felix will be fine, Ras. I’m more interested in what you were doing when I got here.”

“Um.” Edgar made a truly embarrassing gurgling sound that was meant to be a gentle shush. “When did you get here?” He widened his eyes. “Was I making faces again?” Everyone said he made faces when he was writing, and he didn’t want to know what his expression had been while contemplating Red Wolf’s fragile mating bond.

The cloud of smoke around Justin was white and fluffy and as satisfied as the curl of cat’s tail.

Edgar put his laptop to the side and sat back. Despite his rising blush, he smiled again. Justin didn’t appear to be in any hurry to leave. He put his arms behind his head—once again without dislodging a single book at the back of the couch—and let out a breath as he got comfortable. He smelled like someone finally getting home after a long day.

Edgar paused. “Are you exhausted from school already? If you aren’t well you shouldn’t have driven up here for the weekend—oh.” He glanced away, but the only thing to look at that wasn’t Justin watching him with intensely dark eyes was his clasped hands in his lap. Edgar considered the shimmering hint of emerald scales on the backs of his hands and then, much too late, noticed that he was wearing the black flannel pajamas he tended to wear when he was alone. He tried to smile anyway, light and friendly, but his voice wobbled. “Are your parents hoping to introduce you to someone?”

That was the situation for so many dragon children these days. With dragons no longer in hiding, they were free to choose partners wherever their hearts desired. Which was great for those dragons lucky in love, but somewhat alarming to the older dragons, who worried either that dragons were dying out, or that all the mingling with humans and elves and the like had weakened the dragon bloodlines.

It was true that dragons now were smaller than the ones of legend, at least according to how humans had depicted them, but Edgar thought it was a bunch of people worrying over nothing. Nonetheless, he and Justin and Felix and every other dragon child knew what it was like to turn eighteen and be expected to meet as many other dragons their age as possible in the hopes that they might choose a dragon for their treasure instead of something else.

Nothing wrong with the something else, of course, but a few dragon children first wouldn’t hurt anyone, or so the logic went.

The introductions were constant and annoying for the first few years and then trickled off once their parents ran out of people to throw at them. But that was the exact sort of reason that Justin’s father might have called him up here.

“Are you hiding here with me?” Edgar teased, although his hands tightened, and his vision filled with gray smoke, and there was a pain, a not insignificant pain, in his chest. “You should go. You might not find a life partner, but you could at least find a plaything or two. Unless you’ve already found some at school.”

“Edgar Erasmus Magnat.” Justin slowly shook his head. “What goes on in that brilliant mind of yours?” He grinned. “Have you been imagining me in wild orgies? You have, haven’t you? Thousands of different tales running through your brain…. Admit it. Some of them were orgies.”

“I’m serious,” Edgar answered primly, oddly at ease with the stormy up and down feelings of jealousy and excitement and delicious pleasure at being subjected to Justin’s teasing. No one else ever joked about the stories and yet understood exactly what it meant to have a mind always running. “You should go,” Edgar said again, his fire raging. “You should be looking for your treasure.” For a moment he could not breathe. “And if your treasure is not there, you could go back to school and find a human, simply to irk your mom. Think about that. Hmm? Not even your mother could argue if you found yourself a dragon’s boy.”

A dragon’s boy was an archaic term, and gendered besides since it didn’t always mean a literal boy, but at its root it meant the bond between a dragon and the Other it loved and swore to protect. It was not unlike a mating, but also… so very different. Even a weak dragon with no treasure, like Edgar, was more powerful than a human, or a fairy, or a werewolf. That changed the nature of any romantic bond, made the dragon stronger somehow, in ways even Edgar didn’t understand. They had to be stronger, to meet the needs of their boy. They had to be stronger because to keep the balance, mighty, powerful dragons had to submit to their treasure. It was unthinkable and wonderful all at once.

“A boy?” Justin frowned hard for a few moments, then switched to a grin. “You think I’m that powerful, Ras? I’m flattered.”

Justin’s large, well-muscled body seemed closer. But that could have been Edgar’s stupid, possessive fire making him more aware of the heat from another dragon not very far away.

Edgar rubbed at his arms, as if that would make his awareness of Justin disappear. “You will be that powerful.” He had no hesitation for that vision. “You wouldn’t have it any other way, and neither would I.”

He meant it to be funny, although it was true. But Justin cocked his head to study him and then nodded. “Then I will be, if you need it.”

“You—” Edgar’s throat locked for a moment. “You’re welcome to stay here, if you are hiding from more potential matches. You may stay as long as you like.” Edgar’s little lair seemed to curl around Justin, or maybe Justin wore all the possible futures and stories in the room like a mantle.

Justin made a small scoffing sound despite his wide smile. “Ras, I swear to you, I’m not hiding from anything.”

“But… are you well?” Edgar pulled his legs up to sit crosslegged, then peered at Justin’s jaw and his perfect nose, and the fierce slash of his eyebrows, and the dark fall of his hair. “You wouldn’t drive up here for no reason.”

Justin made that sound again. “It’s only an hour’s drive, Edgar, if that. Not the end of the world.”

“But my understanding was that grad school is harder, and that I—that we shouldn’t expect frequent visits from you.” Edgar tried not to close his eyes to remember each and every story he’d imagined where Justin went to grad school and loved it so much he never returned here, not even for visits.

Perhaps his scent gave some of that away anyway, and Justin took pity on him. “It will be harder, but it’s not that difficult yet. And even if it was, I’d be up here again. Anyway, I like the drive.”

Edgar had a foolish heart and Justin was mean to tease him. But he didn’t really mind. He relaxed his hands, only to wave them accusingly in Justin’s direction. “You said it was a boring drive. I heard you.” He was still smiling. His heart beat faster and his mouth felt inordinately dry, but he was happy with Justin next to him.

“Well, boring is relaxing.” Justin tried to argue with a pleased, slightly smug grin on his face. “If you hate seeing me that much, Ras, I’ll go.”

“No no!” Edgar whined immediately, leaning over to reach for him without letting his fingers actually grip the fleece of his jacket. “Stay. Please stay.” Edgar curled his hands into the couch cushions instead, and flushed at the delighted look he got for it, because of course Justin hadn’t moved a single centimeter.

“That’s the key, is it?” Justin mused, as if he didn’t already know. “To pull Edgar from his stories, I just have to remind him that I exist.”

“Jerk.” Edgar crossed his arms and glanced away. “I haven’t forgotten you. But I don’t want you to waste time here if you have other things you need to do.” Now he was getting too close to one truth he did not speak of, not even when telling a story. Justin knew of course, how could he not, with Edgar’s desires carrying to him in the air? And still, Justin was kind enough to come here, to be his friend. But he wouldn’t stay. So Edgar forced himself to go on. “I know I might seem lonely, but I’m not.”

Justin’s smiled slipped. He stared at Edgar, then around at all of his books. “In one of your visions of the possible, do you imagine I believe that being here is a waste of time? Do you really believe that, Ras? I don’t think you do.”

Considering what might be was so much more difficult with Justin’s gaze on him.

“I suppose not,” Edgar answered, after a drawn-out moment, and then huffed a cloud of irritated white smoke. His speech always went more old-fashioned when Justin was near, as if he was in a regency romance and he lost all sense when confronted by Justin’s thighs in tight buckskins.

They did not make regency romances about men loving men, or about dragons, but Edgar could easily be the socially awkward relation of a rich house, watching the handsome duke as he was pursued by countless eligible daughters of the Ton. But in a story like that, the duke might turn at the right moment to see Edgar on a balcony in the moonlight, or take pity on him and ask him to dance, only to be captivated by his sweet manners.

Edgar closed his eyes.

Justin’s voice came to him, soft and close. “Are you thinking up another story, Ras? Will you tell me this one?”

Edgar’s eyes flew open. Justin was on the middle cushion, sharing a warm, secret smile with him as though Edgar could not still feel his breath on his neck.

“No.” Edgar pressed his lips together to stop his smile. Justin should not tease, but dragons responded to need, and Edgar did not want him to stop. “I doubt you would find it interesting,” he insisted, although Justin’s curiosity was sharp on his tongue. Justin might enjoy indulging Edgar like this, but he would be less happy once Edgar’s story devolved into Georgette Heyer erotica, or the scandal of the duke and Edgar caught in a compromising position and forced to marry.

Anyway, Edgar’s erotica was somewhat lacking. He had no practical knowledge to rely on.

Justin put his head back. “As if I didn’t come here for one of Ras’s stories.”

Edgar studied him carefully, while he waltzed with the duke in the back of his mind. “Once, there was a younger brother, an heir to nothing, who was sometimes forced to go out into Society at the behest of his family.”

“Are they cruel?” Justin wondered instantly, only to relax when Edgar shook his head.

“No. He does not truly mind the crowds. It’s the crowds that mind him, and it’s… very difficult for him to focus when there is so much to imagine. He does not do well there, among the glittering Ton, attending dances and card parties with too much conversation. But his family worries. If he cannot provide for himself, he must be seen to, cared for, but he will never attract the attention of any worthy party.”

“Why not?” The gold in Justin’s scales caught the firelight and the last gasp of sunshine through the windows.

Edgar deliberately closed his eyes. “He’s smart but not clever, quiet but not witty. He has a habit of finding the truth and speaking it. More than that, he has no fortune of his own, and no great beauty to attract love. His family hopes, but he knows there is no grand match waiting for him.”

“That is one version of the story,” Justin protested softly. “I know you have another, and another. Tell me a happy one.”

“A duke, handsome and somewhat arrogant, who has to marry for his family, might find him suitable. Perhaps….” Edgar lowered his voice. “Perhaps he might find him more than suitable. Maybe he dances with him out of kindness, but the poor boy is quiet and calm in a sea of noise. The duke, who is much sought after, and rightfully so, finds he enjoys his company. The boy, although lacking a fortune, is of a noble bloodline. A marriage of convenience might in time blossom to friendship, or more.”

“No. Happier.” Justin did not accommodate the books around him. He shaped them to his will.

Edgar turned his warm face away. “You want the fairy tale? Where the first dance is mere kindness, but the duke is immediately struck by the boy’s softness, and charmed by his clear voice? Where he calls on him, again and again, and seeks him out at dances, and coaxes him out into the garden, and forgets himself among the perfumed rose bushes and steals a kiss?”

The air was warmer than it should have been. Warmer than even a fire and two dragons should have made it.

He didn’t want to look over at Justin’s long silence, but eventually he had to.

“Is that what you were working on when I arrived?” Justin’s rough voice made him shiver. “What a life you must lead when I’m not around.”

Edgar swallowed. “I never do anything, you know that.”

“So no other dragons have been to see you?” Justin wasn’t smiling. “No one leading you out to any rose bushes?”

“A few.” Edgar shrugged. “My mother will not give up.” Well, she would have if Edgar honestly hadn’t felt the need to find fall in love or find a plaything, but that obviously wasn’t the case. She just wouldn’t recognize the impossibility of what he wanted. He had no treasure. He might as well have been human. “She wants me to taken care of, and happy. She doesn’t understand what I want, but she means well. Anyway, I am not much good with first impressions, am I?”

“I barely remember a time when I didn’t know you.” Justin flicked his gaze to one of the high windows. “But I feel as though I’ve met you many times.”

He meant the stories. He had to mean the stories. Edgar’s heart kicked against his ribs in panic. He’d gotten careless in the telling if Justin had finally noticed what each of them had become. As children, Edgar had given him adventures about pirates and samurai Robin Hood. That had changed with age. But Justin had never uttered a single word about Robin Hood in love with Marian, blind to the devotion of Will Scarlet, or the bold pirate captain who fascinated his helpless captive.

“How boring for you,” Edgar said tightly. He was grateful he was a weak dragon, or the room would have been shaking.

“I’ve never met a version of you I didn’t like.” Justin was too kind with him. He had so much to give in response to Edgar’s need that Edgar was almost ashamed. Justin kept his attention on the stained glass window depicting a rampant red dragon. “If you tell me other dragons didn’t also find you charming, you’ll be lying, Ras, and you know it. So—” he finally tore his gaze from red glass “—there’s really no one?”

Now Edgar had to turn away. “Why should there be? I scare some of them.” But not all of them, it was true. “And I’m picky, and soft, and… and I have no treasure.”

Justin eloquently gestured around the room. “You have your stories, Ras. You always have. Tell me another one? Or finish the last one properly. Tell it the way you’d normally tell it.”

That was impossible now. Edgar fought the urge to hide his face. “You didn’t really drive an hour just to hear my silly stories, Justin.”

“They aren’t silly.” Justin ground out the words, his tone almost furious. “Even the ones you told as a child were never silly. There is too much in them for that. They are only silly in the sense that human fairy tales seem outlandish if you don’t recognize the truth in them, the lessons and the warnings. Every version you spin out is something real and possible, because you have seen it in all your greatness. You see people, even fictional people, and you know them enough that you can change the details and still know what path they will take.”

“Stop,” Edgar begged quietly, without a trace of dragon pride. “I’m a collector of stories.”

“Are you kidding?” Justin paused, probably to scent the air. “You’re not!” His voice was getting truly rough. “Edgar Erasmus, how can you see everything and yet not this?”

“Shush.” Edgar gave in and put his hands to his cheeks. “Since adulthood, each time you see me you ask for another story as if we were children again. I do not mind, you know that.” He loved it. “But you don’t have to do it to amuse me.” In fact, now it would only make Edgar desire him more, but he left that unsaid.

The silence made him finally look back. Justin regarded him steadily, pointedly.

Because of course, Justin didn’t have to do anything. If he asked, it must please him to do it. Edgar licked cocoa from his lips, and detected hints of Justin’s smoky impatience. “You find the stories relaxing?” he guessed, far too timidly. He did not close his eyes. He hadn’t once ever allowed himself to dream of why Justin indulged him in this particular way. Possible futures always included the one that would be, and Edgar wasn’t bold enough to look at that.

“You could always read something,” he suggested a moment later, only to despair when Justin, naturally, reached for the yaoi manga on top the stack on the arm of the touch. He flipped it open, then raised his eyebrows. “They’re in love!” Edgar’s voice was high.

Justin turned another page. “Is this what had you excited when I got here?” he wondered without looking up. He darted out his tongue to wet his bottom lip—or to remind Edgar of whatever Justin had smelled when he’d walked into his lair.

“No.” Edgar could lie. He wasn’t a fairy. He wasn’t forbidden to by some rule of being a Seer. But his untouched state was hardly a secret. “I was writing. Not one of mine. Fanfiction,” he muttered that word. “I know it’s ridiculous, especially coming from me. What do I know of love scenes?”

The yaoi manga was closed and placed back atop its pile.

Justin turned toward him. It put him even closer, although he was still on the middle cushion.

Edgar’s hands were no longer hiding his blush, if they ever had. He tried a quick smile, as if it was all amusing. “No other dragons for me.”

Justin did not smile in return. “You always say that.” He swept a long, slow look over Edgar, while the space between them grew hot enough to make Edgar’s skin prickle. “So,” Justin was nearly growling, “you could find a human, then. A dragon’s boy, as you suggested.”

“I don’t want a boy!” Edgar told him honestly. “If anything—” He stopped himself there, but Justin wasn’t the sort of dragon to let that go.

“If anything—what?” Justin pressed. “What is it you want, Ras? Tell me.”

Edgar trusted him, but fear still held him back for a few moments. Then, against his will, his eyes dipped closed and he knew that Justin would never tease him for this, not in any version of their story. He looked over. “Justin, do you… do you ever think how it would feel to be treasured like that?”

Justin was utterly still. “What do you mean?” he asked slowly. “You’ve always said you didn’t want a dragon. That life with another dragon was not in your future. You have said that very firmly since you were sixteen and I was eighteen, and your parents began to talk about eventually introducing you to dragons your age.” Justin’s dark eyes flared with golden embers. “You insisted, Edgar. You said you didn’t want another dragon. And since then you have not chosen one, not once, not even as a playmate.”

“You….” Edgar trailed off to silence at the realization that Justin was angry with him.

“Edgar.” Justin was strong enough to rattle the house, but too controlled to ever risk it. Instead the temperature rose and the air hung heavy with tension. “You said those very words to my face. Trust me, I remember it clearly. You didn’t want a dragon. And now you are telling me you do.” It wasn’t quite a question, although Justin’s voice softened at last.

“Not… not in that sense.” Edgar nearly stuttered.

“Not in what sense, Ras? Please.” The word please from Justin, who should not ever beg from Edgar, had Edgar uncurling his legs so he could lean to the side. He took Justin’s hand by the wrist, then released it, shocked at himself.

He looked away and sighed. “What my parents have is rare among dragons, a love between equals. A marriage as the humans would call it.”

“It’s nice.” Justin spoke quietly. “More than nice.” Justin’s parents were far more typical of dragons. They were partners for the sake of their hatchlings, but they sought love elsewhere.

“Yes, it is,” Edgar agreed softly, whispering in both delight and shame. “But… have you ever seen a dragon with a human? Like my cousin and his assistant? They are equals, but there is a different give and take—please let’s talk of something else. A story. You wanted a story.”

“You mean like a boy.” Justin realized out loud, and Edgar had been wrong. Justin’s surprise rocked through the room, sending books and comics spilling to the floor. “Like a dragon’s boy? You want another dragon to keep you?” he asked, with what had to be shock, but then he placed his hand over Edgar’s on the couch and Edgar’s gaze flew from their hands to Justin’s face. Justin’s low fiery voice was devastating. “Edgar, I would keep you.”

Edgar opened his mouth, and was hit with a wave of need, longing and lust combining into desire on his tongue. “I’m not human. I’m not Other. I’m dragon. You are dragon—the dragon, Justin. You should—”

“Edgar.” Justin watched him, too much flickering through his expression for Edgar to catch it all; hunger and satisfaction, impatience and determination. “These moments between us are good, but I could give you so much more. I knew you needed this, the way I need this, but you could have told me. I can give you that. I will—”

Edgar thought his heart might burst out of his chest if Justin said another word. “I don’t have a treasure, Justin, only my stories.”

“Stories you share with me.” Justin’s possessive tone seared him. “That makes them mine.”

Edgar trembled, then jumped when his mug fell from the table and landed on the rug with a dull thud. He’d never shaken anything before.

“I share them with others too,” he argued, faintly, but shuddered at the lie. Two more books fell to the floor. He tried to breathe evenly, although he could not look away from Justin’s eyes. “But not… but not the ones I tell to you. Those aren’t for others. They are mine.” And because he loved Justin, they were Justin’s as well.

Justin had known that. All this time, he had known the extent of what Edgar had felt for him.

Edgar was a little dizzy. “But when they brought other dragons to meet me, it was never you.”

“I already knew you.” Justin’s gaze made Edgar as weak as a human, so Edgar closed his eyes. It did not stop Justin from speaking the words that must have burned even a dragon of his strength. “And you didn’t want a dragon.”

There were no possible futures in front of Edgar, no stories he could focus on when he could taste Justin’s pain.

“I did,” Edgar admitted, and bent his head. “I did want a dragon—do want a dragon.” Justin had known that, too. How Edgar must have confused him. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, quivering at the strength enveloping him. Justin’s fingers gently urged his chin up, but Edgar kept his eyes closed. “You were so much better at being dragon than me, and always bold and strong, and when you were eighteen and it came time for you to be introduced to other dragons….” Justin had found many playmates. Edgar knew of them even when he locked himself away in his library. “I was only two years younger, but I knew before then that you were my one. You were—but that didn’t mean I was yours, and what I wanted—you did not even want me as a playmate, when my time came. But it… it seems you did.”

“Treasure.” The word, more than the rumble of Justin’s voice, made Edgar part his lips. “Shall I tell you a story?” Justin’s hands settled at Edgar’s ribs. Edgar could feel Justin’s thigh pressed against him. He nodded blindly. Justin’s mouth seemed to be directly over his. “Once, there was a dreamy-eyed, emerald dragon storyteller, who lived in a bright, warm lair of books and colored glass. Other dragons came to see him, but they were turned away, because the storyteller told them he didn’t want another dragon. This was a lie. Which was—excuse me, Edgar—very stupid. And obvious, when the air around him was like lightning for one of these dragons, when he smiled to see him as he smiled for no one else, when his need for this one could bring that dragon to him over any distance.”

Edgar let out a shaky breath.

Justin’s hold tightened, although he gentled his tone. “This dragon knew treasure when he saw it. He decided to himself that if he were lucky enough to be chosen by the storyteller, he wouldn’t mind if his emerald beauty stayed in his lair of stories and stained glass, as long as he was happy. As long as this dragon got to keep him happy, and come to see him, and listen to his stories, then he could be content with a fraction of what could be. The dragon tried to tell the storyteller that, but since his storyteller didn’t want another dragon, the only thing the dragon could have, that he was allowed to keep for his own, were tales told in moments like this one. Tales that called to him, distracted him from his studies, made him burn so hot that nothing could cool him.”

He spoke the words against Edgar’s lips. Edgar felt as if he was panting. “I can’t be wise about you, Justin. I’ve never been able to. There is too much of what I want that I cannot see what will be.”

Justin raised a hand to stroke Edgar’s neck. “Now you know what I want too, so you can see the truth. Does the dragon get a happy ending?”

Edgar gasped for the kiss that wouldn’t come. Sparks flew through his vision, what could have been, and what should have been, what would be. This dragon was meant to conquer but he had waited all this time for Edgar. “You’re asking me?”

Justin curved a hand to Edgar’s jaw. “A dragon’s boy runs his home,” he declared, in rough, growling satisfaction. “You know that. The fiercest dragon will do whatever his treasure demands of him.”

The thrill of those words sent books cascading loudly to the floor. Somewhere, in the distance, Edgar’s mother was probably over the moon—but wise enough not to interrupt them.

The story was clear. Edgar would be his.

“Kiss me,” he demanded, and fire—Justin—met him, hands and mouth and body. They belonged to Edgar as much as Justin’s heart, and Edgar claimed them by gasping for the first touch of Justin’s lips to his throat, and shivering for the slide of flannel as it fell from his chest, and lying back to revel in the strength above him.

Edgar opened his eyes before tangling his hands in Justin’s thick, dark hair. Justin’s approval rumbled through the room.

Mine,” Justin growled, breath soft against Edgar’s thigh, the muscles of his back hard under Edgar’s palms. He was weak with need for Edgar.

It was unthinkable.

And wonderful.

Edgar closed his eyes again and sighed in happiness for the present, and for their future, and for all their futures that could be.