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Sometimes It's Better Not to Win

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Sprawled comfortably on the sofa, Rhys contemplated his martini—shaken, not stirred, of course—and decided that his plan had a better than fair chance of succeeding. Of the guards with Merry, Galen was currently incapable, and Doyle, for whatever reason, unwilling, so that left himself, Frost, and Nicca. Killing Frost was not an option for what he had in mind, but Nicca... Yes, Nicca found it easier to say yes than no at any time, and this would even benefit him.

Raising his head, Rhys focused a blue eye on his fellow guardsman. "Nicca, have you considered that there are only three of us sharing our princess’ bed just now, and if we were to share our nights, we would both have her two thirds of the time? Just imagine, only a single night to spend alone," he coaxed.

Tilting his head to let his knee-length brown hair fall back over his shoulder, Nicca looked away from the window, his expression calm, but curious. "That would be a fine thing indeed, though there are two questions - would Meredith approve, and are you going to try to use the situation to your advantage?"

While the brown-skinned Sidhe was far from the most dangerous of the Ravens, he also was not going to allow Rhys to trick or cajole him out of Meredith’s bed when it was his right and his honor to share it with her.

"If we both agree, I believe Merry would as well, although, of course, she has the final say." Rhys eyed the other guard with appreciation. "And the only advantage I would take, Nicca, would be with your full approval. I am not attempting to oust you from our princess’ bed, only to share time with both of you." He found himself curious about the younger Sidhe, and he hoped that Nicca would be agreeable.

Weighing both what Rhys said and what remained unspoken, for among the Sidhe that which remained silent generally was more telling than that which was aired in public, Nicca nodded.

"If Meredith is agreeable, then so am I."

Fully satisfied and half-asleep with satiation, Nicca lay on his side, his head propped up on his hand, running his fingers over Merry’s chest, face and hair as she writhed under Rhys. In the months the two of them had been sharing the princess’ bed, they’d fallen into a companionable friendship although Nicca sometimes shook his head in wonder at the older Sidhe’s attitude toward life and the modern world.

He readily admitted, however, that Rhys was beautiful and damn talented in bed; he’d had to put forth an extra effort to keep up with the other immortal, not that pleasuring Meredith was ever a chore.

Shuddering in completion, Rhys rolled off Merry, not wanting to crush her smaller body, and found himself on top of Nicca, staring into startled brown eyes. Caught up in the sensuality of the moment, Rhys lowered his head and kissed his fellow Raven.

Nicca’s eyes widened, but the reaction was more one of concern as to what Meredith’s reaction to the kiss would be than shock or horror at feeling another man’s lips pressed against his.

When Merry made a small sound of enjoyment, Nicca relaxed, one hand winding up around Rhys back to tangle in the elder fae’s curly white hair, the other reaching out for the princess as he opened his mouth beneath Rhys’, tasting his flavor as their tongues slid against each other’s.

Rhys exhaled a soft sound of satisfaction as he fitted his mouth more closely to Nicca’s, tasting another man for the first time in a human age. Almost forgetting the glowing princess at their side, he curved one arm beneath the younger Sidhe’s back, arching him upward against his body, his tongue beginning to explore the moist hollows of his mouth.

"Watch it, boys, or I’ll get jealous," Merry chuckled.

Drawing his lips back from Rhys’ almost regretfully, Nicca stroked the back of his hand down the petite woman’s cheek, managing not to move out from under the older Sidhe as he kissed Meredith. "If it offends you, Princess, it will never happen again." He did want it to happen again though.

Rhys turned to look at Merry, smiling crookedly. "As if we could ever forget you, Merry. Now admit it, you like watching us."

Meredith replied with a wicked grin, which freed Rhys to kiss Nicca again, his body settling more fully atop the other fae.

Relieved that he’d so recently made love to Meredith as his body was simply too tired to respond, Nicca fell into the kiss with sensual abandon, Meredith’s hand on his arm assuring him that she didn’t mind.

"I can see why Meredith enjoys your kisses," he murmured, once they’d pulled back from each other.

"Likewise," Rhys replied, smiling almost gently at the most sensitive of the Ravens. Though Nicca was as formidable a warrior as any of them, somehow he was... softer. Rhys frowned very slightly, trying to pin it down. Perhaps timid or sensitive? He looked forward to having the opportunity to find out for himself.

Finally rolling to one side, Rhys pulled Merry between them so the small princess lay bracketed by her lovers.

"Does anyone need anything?" Nicca asked, turning on his side once again to face the other two, one arm going out to circle Meredith’s waist, his fingertips brushing Rhys’ stomach and lingering there as he did so.

Meredith only managed a sleepy murmur as she was already dozing off, and Rhys chose not to reply, only staring over the sleeping princess at his fellow guard, an unreadable expression in his blue eye. One hand moved to cover Nicca’s, drawing it flat against his belly and holding it there. After another inscrutable glance, he closed his eye, still holding Nicca’s hand.

His expression a mix of surprise, wonderment, and, growing happiness, Nicca settled back under the sheets, his lips curved in a tiny smile. He knew that he was here as Andais’ choice of Meredith’s suitors while the others were men she trusted and desired, but this... Perhaps this meant that he was finally being accepted into her circle and that he and the others would become friends.

It was Frost’s night with the princess, which meant that the others were at loose ends. Galen, still suffering from the injuries inflicted by the demi-fey, had left the apartment entirely, and Doyle had withdrawn so completely as to seem not to be there. Rhys found himself as close to alone with Nicca as was possible in an apartment that size inhabited by seven people, and he decided to test the other man’s receptivity to his plans.

"You know, it’s very likely that once Merry does become pregnant and marry one of us, the others might be given to her and be freed forever from the chastity Andais imposed on us. Then we would be free to lie where we will." The bright blue eye fixed on the younger Sidhe, watching for his reaction.

"That is a most pleasant thought," Nicca murmured, resting his head against the back of the chair he was sitting in, closing his eyes and smiling softly at the thought of it. "Much more so than the thought of Cel taking the throne, for a number of reasons."

Rhys shuddered theatrically. "A more appalling situation I cannot imagine. It’s fortunate for all of us that Andais placed us off limits to him as well as all others, for the way he treats his male lovers is even worse than the women." He shook his head, careful not to lose sight of Nicca. "Then again, it’s been so long since I had a man in my bed that I find even Cel almost beginning to look good," he laughed self-deprecatingly.

"Would that I could say the same." Nicca opened his eyes and lifted his head to look at Rhys, noting that the elder Sidhe’s eye was narrowed in confusion. "Not all the Ravens were off limits to Cel," he explained with a shrug. "One of the things I look forward to in the future is the chance to have some kind of normal relationship again."

Rhys’ eye widened, and for one of the few times in his long life, he didn’t know what to say. "I... I think it’s safe to say that nothing Cel ever did could be considered normal," he finally said carefully. He rose and moved over beside the other man, sinking to his knees on the floor at his side. "Will you let me kiss you and show you how that should be?" Despite the few kisses and caresses they’d exchanged while sharing Merry’s bed, he’d never really been able to fully concentrate on Nicca.

Nicca’s eyes darkened with sadness, and he sighed. "I didn’t tell you that to upset you or to make you feel sorry for me, Rhys. I do know what a normal relationship with another man is like, though..." He paused and reflexively glanced around the room. Years of being forbidden any form of intimate contact had ingrained such reflexes into him. "A reminder would be nice."

"I don’t feel sorry for you, Nicca," Rhys said bluntly, "I want you." He leaned slightly over the semi-recumbent Sidhe and licked at his lips, then blew gently on the moist flesh. Smiling at the gasp, he covered Nicca’s mouth with his own, his tongue seeking entrance.

The gasp turned into a quiet moan when Rhys’ tongue slid against his, not demanding anything, simply asking and granting pleasure with every slide against his own. Nicca’s hands moved from the arms of the chair to the older Sidhe’s shoulders, and he sat up as much as possible, falling into the kiss with mindless abandon.

Groaning his pleasure in Nicca’s response, Rhys’ arms wrapped around him, supporting and drawing him nearer. Their tongues teased each other, moving from one mouth to the other as each explored and tasted the other. Finally, Rhys ended the kiss with a last gentle nip to Nicca’s kiss-bruised lower lip, and he smiled at the Sidhe half lying in his arms. "When we are free, Nicca..."

Closing his eyes, Nicca drew in a deep breath and nodded, but when he opened his eyes again, he kept them lowered, not wanting Rhys to see that they were troubled. "Unless one of us fathers Meredith’s child," he said in an undertone.

Rhys nodded, admitting that would change the situation, but he hoped it would not come to pass. He had no desire to be king, and he could not imagine a worse king for Meredith and the Unseelie Court than Nicca... unless perhaps it were Galen. "Be that as it may, if things fall out otherwise, Nicca, I shall have a question for you." He stroked a thumb over the other Sidhe’s lower lip, tugging playfully.

Eyes lighting with pleasure, Nicca nodded, the move pulling his lip from Rhys’ grasp. "And I shall have an answer for you."

The small backyard behind Meredith’s house was sultry with the heat of summer and fragrant with the smells of blossoming flowers. Eyes closed, consciousness deeply entwined with that of the plants around him, Nicca sat cross-legged, not moving and scarcely breathing.

The return of his powers with the wounding and re-binding of the Nameless had been wondrous but disconcerting in that the others had regained parts of themselves they had lost as well, and then there was Galen and Meredith, who had not lost anything in the creation of the Nameless but who had taken power in the fight with it - what would the future prove for them?

Feeling a disturbance as someone walked across the tiny lawn, Nicca slowly came out of his almost trance-like state, opening his eyes to see who had come out into the yard. Seeing Rhys, he sat up, watching his fellow guard carefully. Rhys was his friend, and there was the opportunity for so much more with him, depending on what happened with Meredith, but the man Nicca admitted to himself he had fallen in love with now was gone. In his place was the colder, harsher death-god of Celtic lore, and while Nicca knew that his presence was beneficial to Meredith’s safety, he also mourned the loss of his friend and bedmate.

Rhys tried not to frown as he approached Nicca, the man he wanted as his lover, and saw the caution with which the other Sidhe regarded him. He thought he had made progress in winning him, yet now Nicca seemed as wary as he had in the beginning. He sighed faintly as he drew near and sank to the ground next to Nicca, reclining easily on one side.

"I’ve wanted to speak to you for some time now, Nicca," he started slowly. "I hope you did not misunderstand when I decided I could no longer share our nights with Merry. It was not that I did not want to be near you or that I had grown jealous of her. Rather, I had grown jealous of you, and with my control of my returned powers still shaky, I feared what I might do to her if I had to watch you touch her instead of me." He smiled crookedly, for a moment seeming the old Rhys.

Nicca drew his knees up to his chest, resting his arms on top of them and his chin atop them, his earth-colored hair spilling down over one shoulder when he turned his head to study Rhys, his expression serious but also accepting. "I understand, Rhys. You don’t have to try and make me feel better about the situation. Considering what you’ve regained, you would be a fool not to put yourself in serious contention for Meredith’s hand and the future kingship. There’s no need to give me pretty explanations. You would be a good king; I wouldn’t. I doubt even any of the ghosts you speak to would argue that point."

He smiled then, though his eyes remained solemn. "I’m certainly old enough to know that what you want and what you receive are usually two different things. But I will always be proud to be your friend."

Rhys wondered if beating his head against the ground would make him feel better. It certainly couldn’t make matters worse. This was even worse than he’d feared; he’d been prepared for Nicca to be nervous about his reacquired powers, knowing the other Sidhe had not have very pleasant experiences with more powerful male lovers, but this...

"Nicca... Of course I cannot say that I will not be king since that depends entirely on which of us impregnates Merry," he said bluntly, "but let me be as clear as possible. I like Merry. That is all. I do not want to be king. I do want you."

After searching the older Sidhe’s single eye for a long moment, Nicca nodded. Standing, he walked over to the rose bush in the corner of the yard, tracing his fingers over the bare stem until it burst into buds which quickly blossomed into full, red flowers. Breaking off one of them, he walked back to Rhys, squatting down and holding out the blood red blossom as both an offering and an apology.

"When things are settled, I will be waiting," he said quietly, before straightening up and heading back into the house.

Rhys toasted Meredith and Frost, soon to be his queen and king, pleased that matters had turned out so well for all concerned. Frost would be a worthy monarch, and now the couple could allow the seeds of love they felt for one another to bloom. As could he.

Smiling, he approached his fellow guardsmen, his whole attention focused on Nicca, not even noticing the amusement on the faces of the others. "Things are now settled, Nicca, and I would have your answer to my question. Will you accept me as your lover?"

"Well and gladly," Nicca answered, his voice thick with emotion. "I have waited for this moment, and for you, Rhys."

Stepping forward, he placed a gentle, almost formal kiss on the older Sidhe’s lips before catching and cradling his face between his palms so that the kiss could deepen.

Rhys slowly wrapped his arms around Nicca, almost unable to believe that this was real, that they were free to be together, but the warm weight of his soon to be lover and the very real tongue thrusting inside his mouth convinced him. Pulling his head back for a moment to laugh with sheer joy, Rhys quickly took the lead, his tongue stroking its counterpart, his hands gliding over the lithe back and soft hair, his body hardening against Nicca’s.

Finally allowing their lips to part the merest breath, he smiled wickedly, amusement sparkling in his blue eye. "If we don’t wish to be this evening’s entertainment, I think we should take our leave now."

"No," Nicca murmured, trailing his fingertips across Rhys’ face and through his heavy white hair. "The things I’d like to do with you are best done alone. Your rooms or mine, my love?"

"Mine, I think. We’re less likely to be disturbed there," Rhys replied, finally loosing his grip on Nicca enough to allow the other fae to shift to his side, arms firmly around each other’s waists. "Good night, all," he said absently to their audience of their fellow Ravens, leading Nicca away from the party.

As they walked, an idea occurred to Rhys, and he frowned slightly. "Would you prefer your rooms? The ghosts would probably not be as thick there as I have not yet spent much time in those rooms. Would that be more comfortable for you?"

"As long as they don’t offer advice or instructions, I don’t mind," Nicca answered, tightening his arm around Rhys’ waist as he spoke. "And I should begin to try to get used to them, considering I’ll probably be around them more."

In truth, Rhys’ returned powers had disconcerted Nicca in the beginning, but in the time they had spent together since then, he’d grown used to the conversations the white-haired Sidhe had with seemingly empty rooms and with his more commanding air.

Rhys grinned suddenly. "You don’t want advice on your prowess from the ghosts? Some of them are very old and experienced," he teased.

"I really like the sound of that," he added more seriously, "you getting used to them." He drew Nicca a fraction closer. "I like it a lot."

"I like the idea of getting used to you more." Nicca leaned his head in closer to Rhys’ cheek and nuzzled his earlobe. "As for the ghosts, if they want to give you pointers, that’s their choice - and yours - but I can live without critiquing."

Smiling, Rhys led Nicca along the corridor toward his rooms. "To be honest, I don’t want to share even the sight of you with anyone, not even the ghosts. I’ll make sure they leave us... I wouldn’t want either of us to be inhibited... or able to walk tomorrow."

Finally reaching his apartment, Rhys opened the door and gestured for Nicca precede him. "Enter and be welcome," he said formally, rekeying the magic protections to allow Nicca entry at any time.

"Their presence isn’t an issue," Nicca answered, entering Rhys’ apartments and feeling a shift in the auras there from neutral to welcoming as Rhys changed the wards. "Though I don’t wish for you to be distracted by them, so do as you will, my love."

Turning to look at the elder fae at the last, he smiled and began undoing the ivory buttons that held his russet-colored silk shirt closed, baring his skin to Rhys’ hungry gaze.

All thoughts of the ghosts or anything but Nicca flew from Rhys’ head as he watched the taller Raven undress, slowing baring the brown flesh that the older Sidhe so desperately hungered for. Never looking away from his lover, Rhys shrugged out of blue silk poet’s shirt, already unfastened to the waist, and tugged off his boots so he could remove the skintight black leather pants as well. Naked, he strode toward the other fae, pressing himself against the half-clothed body.

"You are beautiful," he breathed, pulling Nicca’s head down so he could kiss him.

After long, desperate minutes in which they fed on each other’s mouth, Nicca pulled back though his fingers still clenched tightly in Rhys’ white curls. "What I am is yours," he whispered, arching his body hard into Rhys’ before stepping back and quickly shedding the rest of his clothing.

"Now come make it fact as well as feeling." Totally bare, he turned and walked toward his lover’s bed, feeling the cool brush of his hair over his back and legs and the heat of Rhys’ gaze on his skin.

Rhys watched Nicca lie down on the bed, his softly glowing brown body and hair standing out from the stark black of the satin sheets that were the former death-god’s indulgence. Swallowing hard, he moved toward his lover, sitting on the edge of the bed at his hip, one hand stroking the silken fall of hair and firmly muscled back from nape to buttocks.

"I’ve wanted you for so long," he murmured, twisting around so that he knelt astraddle Nicca’s prone body, hands lightly gripping his waist. He glanced quickly at the bedside table to be sure that the container of oil that he’d put out earlier was still there, then concentrated on his lover. His own hair fell around them like a shimmering white tent as he arched over the other Sidhe’s body, hands coming to rest on either side of his head.

Panting, his body pressing upward in an attempt to find more contact with Rhys, Nicca moaned in answer. The smooth glide of the satin sheets was harsh compared to the whisper of Rhys’ hair against his flesh, and he reached up, his fingers stroking over his lover’s hands. He couldn’t speak, could only feel, and want, and need until his mind went blank in an all-consuming whirlpool of desire.

Nicca’s moans were music to Rhys’ ears and heightened his own arousal. He shifted his weight to one arm so he could sweep the long fall of silken brown hair to one side of the prone man, baring the elegant length of his spine. Murmuring his pleasure, Rhys slowly lowered himself until he could press a whisper soft kiss to the nape of his lover’s neck. Smiling at the shiver that produced, he then licked the same spot, then bit down, not breaking the skin but still claiming Nicca as his. Ever so gradually, he shifted downward, licking and biting at each vertebra, the long length of his hair slowly settling over Nicca’s back as he moved lower, lightly dragging over his sensitized back with each succeeding movement.

"Rhys - Goddess -" Nicca writhed under the gentle marking, quivering muscles under his skin causing the wings he was marked with to shiver as well, creating cascades of muted colors against his earth-toned skin.

His erection was pressing against the sheets, and he could feel Rhys’ length against his ass, but he couldn’t move other than to squirm due to their positions. "I need to feel you in me, Rhys," he rasped, pushing up onto his elbows and managing to look back over his shoulder though all he could see of his soon-to-be lover was a heavy fall of moonlight hair. "To remember..."

"Soon, my love," Rhys promised, raising his head to meet Nicca’s eyes through the veil of his hair. "Very soon." He moved a fraction lower, and his tongue rasped over the quivering opening, tasting his lover for the first time. For long minutes, he continued to learn and tease the younger Sidhe, first licking, then slowly pushing his tongue inside the other man. Only when Nicca was bucking beneath him did he sit up and reach for the container of oil, which he placed in his lover’s hand.

"Get me ready for you, love." He settled on his knees at Nicca’s side, his straining erection in easy reach.

Shifting onto his side, Nicca swept his hair back over his shoulder and reached out to take the oil, holding it in his hand while he opened it and dipped his other fingers inside, coating Rhys’ cock with the slick unguent and caressing him at the same time. "So beautiful," he breathed, trailing his fingers along the firm flesh, then down over Rhys’ heavy testicles, unconsciously licking his lips at the sight before him.

Rhys moaned as Nicca touched him, the sensation of his lover’s fingers on him increasing his arousal tenfold, enough that he had to catch hold of Nicca’s wrist and draw his hand away. He closed his eye against the sight of Nicca licking his lips as he looked at him, needing a moment of calm if he was not to come before they had their pleasure.

He opened his eye to meet Nicca’s knowing gaze, and they both smiled. "I want you so much," Rhys breathed, dipping his own fingers into the oil and stroking them over his love’s entrance, one easily slipping inside to coat the slick passage. Then, he shifted to lie over the taller Sidhe, his erection firmly nestled between the taut cheeks, and he teasingly thrust his hips, the oiled cock gliding along the crevice.

"Then don’t tease either of us." Nicca’s voice was a hoarse whisper, and he lifted his ass, pressing Rhys’ cock more firmly against him, opening himself further for the penetration that eluded him.

"No, no more teasing," Rhys agreed, pushing forward so that he sank into Nicca’s body. "Oh Goddess, I’ve wanted you so long." He lowered his head to kiss his lover’s shoulder, gasping as they finally came together. "I love you."

Nicca’s throat tightened, making speaking an impossibility, and he grabbed for Rhys’ hand, squeezing his fingers in a bone-crushing grip as he felt Rhys’ balls brush his ass, then the whole of his torso fold over him.

Rhys stayed motionless for a long moment, simply luxuriating in the sensation of finally being inside Nicca, but it wasn’t enough for long. His hips rose, drawing out of Nicca until only the very tip of him remained inside, then he pressed forward again, sinking into him to the root. As he repeated the motion again and again, somehow managing to keep the languid pace of that first thrust, he licked and nibbled at the wings etched onto Nicca’s back.

"Rhys..." The word was a drawn out moan as Nicca shuddered, the flesh of his back quivering as his Rhys’ mouth worked over the muted tones that mottled his back. "Too much, not enough, want you here forever..."

"You have me, love," Rhys promised, his strokes gradually speeding up, the long-awaited claiming of the other man driving him beyond control. "Lord and Lady, I love you, want you, so much, so long, so good..." His words trailed away into an unintelligible moan.

Pushing up further onto his hands and knees, rocking back to meet Rhys’ every thrust, Nicca gave a sob, the older fae’s words tearing into his heart and settling there with a permanence that was almost frightening. "Love you, so much. No one else," he whispered, longing to see Rhys’ face but unable to because of their position. His erection slapped against his stomach, demanding attention, and Nicca whimpered as need raced through him.

The changed position made it possible for Rhys to reach around and wrap his fingers around his lover’s erection, wanting to give him the same pleasure he was giving Rhys. "Come for me, love, I want to feel you come, want us to come together."

No sooner had Nicca felt the touch of Rhys’ hand on his cock than he did as his lover asked. Pleasure surged through his veins, and the glow of his skin turned incandescent as he came, shuddering under Rhys’ weight, his back arching as jets of semen gouted from his cock to coat the black sheets with pearly whiteness.

Nicca’s orgasm triggered Rhys’ own, and he cried the other Sidhe’s name as the pleasure burst through him, making him shudder and collapse on top of his lover. Panting for breath, he remained still for a time, then carefully separated them and rolled to one side so that he could gather the other man into his arms, pulling him close and kissing him tenderly. "I love you," he repeated, staring into the brown eyes only inches from his own.

"Love you," Nicca murmured, worming a hand up between them to trace a finger over Rhys’ face, outlining his lips, then moving upward to his nose, ghosting lightly over the patch that covered his missing eye. "I never dreamed this could happen."

"I hoped it would, for some time. I noticed you even before we came to LA with Merry, but I never had any hope then, never thought that the queen might lift the geas. When she did, I found myself hoping that I wouldn’t be the one to marry Meredith and that we would someone remain free. And we are, and we’re together," he exulted, kissing Nicca again.

"Which means my life is perfect," Nicca sighed. "I never wanted to be the one to get Merry pregnant either. I’d be eaten alive and drag her down with me, and I know it. The only reason I was even there was because the queen chose me, but I’m glad she did because it brought us here."

Rhys nodded, then smiled wickedly. "I wonder what she’d think if she knew that her choice of spy had made us so very happy? I’m sure that was not our former queen’s intent.

"But I’m very happy it worked out as it has. And glad you feel as I do," he added, hugging Nicca closer for a moment. Then his gaze shot to one side, and he snapped, "You have nothing to say about it!"

"What’d they say?" Nicca chuckled, not bothering to turn to follow Rhys’ gaze because he knew he wouldn’t see anything. "Something to make you defend my honor?" he chuckled at that last, and stroked a hand down Rhys’ back, kissing his jawline.

Rhys grumbled, still glaring into the corner. Finally he looked back at Nicca and smiled sheepishly. "Someone didn’t think you made a very good queen of the dead." He shot another dirty look to the side. "I think you make my perfect consort, so that’s all the discussion there’ll be about it."

Nicca chuckled, deciding it really wasn’t worth asking just who had said that. "I have no desire to be the queen or co-king of anything. Just being your lover is all I need."

He raised his voice, even as he circled his arms around Rhys’ waist. "Everyone hear that?"

Rhys started to laugh. "I think they approve of you, love. You just got a round of applause. Of course, that might have been for our earlier performance." He grinned wickedly.

"Either way, I’m glad to hear it." Nicca gave Rhys a nudge so that he rolled to his back and pillowed his head on his lover’s chest. "Don’t take this the wrong way, but I was surprised that you still wanted this after you got your power back. You could have so much more, Rhys; I suppose I don’t understand why it’s me you want."

Rhys eyed him oddly. "You don’t think very much of yourself, do you, Nicca?" He sighed softly. "I want you because I love you. Nothing more, nothing less. What more could I have, could I want?

"You accept me, all of me, as almost no one ever has. You complete me."

"I’m glad of that." Nicca stroked Rhys’ face again. "And it’s not that I don’t think that much of myself; it’s that I accept who I am and what my limitations are is all."

"Who you are is the man I love. And so far as I can see, you don’t have any limitations. Well, all right, you wouldn’t have made a good king, but aside from that..."

"I think they’re right when they say love is blind," Nicca murmured, shaking his head and reaching up to brush his long hair out of his face. "But who am I to complain if that is indeed fact?"

"I’m glad to say that I’m going to have a very long time to show you that I’m not blind, that I see you very clearly and to make you see what I see." He kissed Nicca, then dropped his head back against the pillows. One hand idly traced the pattern of the butterfly wings on his lover’s back, and he admired their beauty.

Not wanting to argue the point, Nicca merely gave a noncommittal murmur before relaxing with a sensual sigh, his whole body molding against Rhys as his lover stroked his back. "That feels wonderful," he said after a time, kissing Rhys’ neck for emphasis. "You can keep doing it for the next hundred years or so if you don’t mind."

"To me too." Rhys watched his fingers tracing the intricate patterns on the brown Sidhe’s back, and it almost seemed to him that the wings felt slightly different, a change in texture. "Do you ever wish they were real, that you could fly like your father?" he asked idly. Perhaps having Sage around had been more difficult for Nicca than any of them had realized.

Nicca shrugged as much as their position allowed and pulled his face back from Rhys’ neck so that he could speak. "No, no, I haven’t ever wished that. It isn’t as if I was raised among the demi-fae or had been born with the ability and then lost it."

He shivered when Rhys’ fingers tickled a particularly sensitive spot. "Besides, wings would just get in the way of your arms around me. I like things the way they are much better."

"I assure you I would find a way." Rhys’ tone was emphatic. Nicca was his now, and he would never let him go, not even if he suddenly sprouted wings. "But this is much easier." He watched his fingers tracing the complex patterns, and he realized how content he was. He looked over to the bedside table, finding that the ghosts had anticipated his desires and a tray of food and beverages awaited them.

He reached for some grapes, offering one to Nicca before popping one into his own mouth.

Smiling as he chewed and swallowed, Nicca sat up enough to kiss Rhys, sharing the sweet flavor of the grapes they had consumed between them. "I have no doubt you would," he murmured, stroking a hand over his lover’s face before pulling a purple globe from the stem and offering it to Rhys.

"And did someone sneak in here while we were otherwise occupied and leave the tray, or is it your ghosts’ doing?"

Rhys took the grape, drawing it and Nicca’s fingers into his mouth where he thoroughly laved and sucked the long digits before releasing them to eat the fruit. Swallowing and licking his lips, he smiled at the other Sidhe.

"And yes," he finally answered the question, though judging by the dazed look in Nicca’s eyes, he wasn’t sure that he remembered it, "’my’ ghosts brought the refreshments. They like to anticipate my needs." He shrugged as if it were perfectly normal, and to him it was. It was only the last thousand years after he’d given up so much of his power that he hadn’t been surrounded by the dead eager to serve him.

Nicca looked amused. "All of your needs?" he asked, trailing a finger down Rhys’ chest.

Rhys raised an eyebrow, blue eye sparkling wickedly. "They used to. I have a feeling that certain duties have been usurped, however. Much to my delight."

"I’m very glad to hear that. It would be most disconcerting to wake up with someone else in our bed."

"Especially when you roll through them. Even I have to admit to being given pause by that. I much prefer you, my brown man."

Nicca laughed quietly and fed Rhys another grape. "I’m very glad that is the case though I still cannot understand why." He smiled as he said this, not asking for reasons, just curious.

"If you’re asking for an explanation, Nicca, I’m afraid I don’t have one to give you. I just know that it’s true, that I love you. You are my heart’s choice."

"As you are mine." Saying this solemnly, Nicca leaned in and kissed Rhys, stroking a hand over his lover’s pale face, tracing the edge of the patch he wore over his missing eye.

Rhys stilled, his good eye fixed on Nicca, then slowly, muscle by muscle, forced himself to relax back against the pillows. If Nicca wanted to see what the goblins had made of him, Rhys would not flinch away. This too was his right to share if he was to be the master of death’s consort.

"Rhys..." Nicca whispered, still smoothing over that small patch of skin, "it does not make you more or less to me. It is simply you, and so it’s beautiful."

Laughing almost wildly, Rhys ripped the patch from his head. "See then, see what they did to me! I was beautiful, once. That you can bear to look at me without flinching is a wonder to me, but I wish I could still be that for you."

Catching Rhys’ face between his hands, Nicca moved swiftly to straddle the other Sidhe, staring down at him almost fiercely. "Do you think I care about this?" As he spoke, he let his thumb brush over the roughened flesh at the socket. "Lord and Lady, Rhys, do you believe that’s the only reason I want you, the only reason I love you?"

"No, of course not! But..." His single eye fell. "I wish I could be what you deserve."

"The feeling is more than mutual." Nicca laughed almost wildly before lowering his head so that his hair cascaded around his face, hiding it from view.

"Nicca?" That sound pulled Rhys out his ancient self-pity, and he pushed Nicca’s hair back so he could see him. "What do you mean, love? You cannot possibly imagine that I don’t want you?"

Meeting the triple-blue of Rhys’ eye, Nicca smiled almost sadly. "You bear your scars on the surface," he sighed, "while mine are internal, but they shape us both nonetheless."

"Then perhaps it is time we both allow them to heal over," Rhys said quietly, thumbs lightly stroking Nicca’s cheeks. "We can help each other."

Raising a hand, Nicca twined his fingers with Rhys’. "I would like that." He gave a small smile. "And Merry will have our hides if we don’t make each other happy."

"And then we would have Frost after us for upsetting Merry," Rhys agreed with a chuckle. "Best that we stop moping over our pasts and enjoy our present lest we have no future!"

Nicca nodded, rearranging himself so that he was lying half on, half beside Rhys. "I wonder how your ghosts would react to you being one. Not well, I’d imagine."

Rhys winced, remembering some less than pleasant times in the past. "They... do not react well to me being injured," he said carefully.

"Neither would I." Nicca lifted his head to place a kiss on Rhys’ chest.

Rhys smiled, stroking the long brown hair, and he chose not to describe the total carnage that had occurred at times. "I’m pleased to hear it," he said instead. "You can be my official champion."

"I’d rather be your consort," Nicca said honestly.

"You already are, sweet Nicca. If anyone were to try to take you from me..." The shadows in the room thickened and a chill wind whipped through as his eye turned to ice at the thought.

Smoothing a brown hand over Rhys’ brow and brushing the curly white hair back, Nicca nodded. "With Merry as our queen, I feel our lives will be much longer than they would have been otherwise, so there is no need to worry about that... though if you feel the need, you can always prove to both of us that we’re alive."

That brightened Rhys’ mood, and he chuckled wickedly. "Hungry again so soon, my consort? I can see you’re going to be very demanding."

Hearing Rhys’ laugh, Nicca brightened as well. "Is that a complaint?" he asked, sitting up again and tossing his hair back over his shoulder.

Sprawled amidst the pillows like some ancient human pasha, Rhys grinned up at him. "Far from it. Though Merry and the others may begin to wonder as the centuries pass and we never make it out of the bedroom."

"They’d simply be jealous."

"And rightly so," Rhys agreed. Situated as they were, he could see one edge of the beautiful wings that were patterned into Nicca’s flesh, and unable to resist, he propped himself up so he could draw his tongue along the bottom edge of one.

Nicca shuddered and arched his back, running his hands up and down Rhys’ arms, feeling the muscles clench under his palms. "I meant of me, not you, but we’re not going to get into that discussion again."

"And I meant of us," Rhys replied, pausing in his oral explorations long enough to explain, then returning to tracing the design with the tip of his tongue. He shifted to his knees so he could reach more, randomly interspersing bites with the long strokes of his tongue.

"Lord and Lady, Rhys," Nicca moaned, falling forward over his knees, his hands clenching in the bed linens as he shivered with pleasure. "That feels wonderful."

"I could almost swear that the mark tastes different," Rhys murmured, "slightly... sweeter. I shall have to taste often to decide." He slowly worked his way up Nicca’s back, still tracing the outline, his hands petting Nicca when not needed for balance.

"H-horrors," Nicca gasped, closing his eyes and arching his back like a cat, feeling his shaft twitch with growing desire.

"I know it will be hard for you," Rhys all but purred, sinking his teeth into Nicca’s shoulder to a point just short of pain, "but you’ll humor me, right?" Now he laved the spot with his tongue, soothing the ache, then blowing lightly on the dampened flesh.

"B-because I love you and all." Nicca’s hips writhed, and he moaned, turning his head, blindly searching for Rhys’ mouth.

"You’re so self-sacrificing," Rhys murmured before covering Nicca’s lips with his own, tasting him hungrily. As he did, he positioned himself against the other Sidhe’s opening and pressed inside, slowly gliding forward while his fingertips stroked the wings on Nicca’s back.

Nicca’s thighs spread wide, and he bucked back to meet Rhys’ thrust, demanding more, now. "I just know what I want," he panted.

"I sincerely hope that’s me." Rhys shifted slightly, going deeper, and all the while he kept licking and biting the wings.

"Well, you did mention something abut a few centuries in bed." Nicca groaned and tightened down around Rhys’ cock, quivering at each scrape of teeth along his back.

"Don’t blame me when neither of us can move by the time I’m willing to let you out of this bed after that!" Rhys chuckled, gasping as Nicca clenched down on him. "Mmmm, so good, my brown man. Why did we wait so long?"

"Because there was that little matter of the chance of one of us getting Merry pregnant," Nicca rasped. "Royal marriages tend to put a crimp in these thingssss..." His words trailed off to a hissed out moan as Rhys bit him again.

"Then aren’t we lucky that Frost was the one who managed it?" Rhys murmured in his ear an instant before sharp teeth closed on Nicca’s earlobe and tugged.

Words were beyond Nicca’s grasp after that, and he writhed under Rhys, doing his best to bring his lover as much pleasure as he was receiving.

"Lord and Lady, love, you’ll bring me off too quickly to please you if you do that," Rhys gasped, hips now moving more rapidly as the pleasure mounted in them both.

"Never," Nicca managed to gasp, dragging a hand under himself and stroking his own erection, wanting them to come together.

"Your faith in me is gratifying," Rhys panted, now plunging quickly in and out of his lover’s grasping body, tongue shakily lapping at the beautiful wings, fingers teasing and petting. "Ahh, Nicca, now, love..." he cried, back arching deeply as he began to climax.

Giving voice to his need in a low-pitched wail that went on and on, Nicca climaxed, his body spasming around Rhys’ as he felt the other Sidhe convulse within him.

As the sharp pleasure ebbed, Rhys slumped over Nicca, bearing him down to the bed where they lay in a tangled sprawl of limbs, Rhys lazily licking Nicca’s back. "Oh, we have such wonderfully exhausting centuries to look forward to."

Nicca chuckled quietly, not moving for fear of having Rhys slide out of and off of him. "We may spend a few decades sleeping to recover from tonight."

"Sounds good to me," Rhys agreed. "And when we finally wake, we can go let everyone know that you are my consort now." He smiled smugly against Nicca’s back.

"If the ghosts haven’t told them?" Nicca yawned, smiling back over his shoulder.

"Good point. We can let them make the announcement while we get started on those ten years in bed."

Nicca laughed again, then settled back onto the pillow, closing his eyes and reaching back to twine his fingers with Rhys’, holding on to him as he fell asleep.