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The Winter's Thaw

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Moscow, 1292 A.D.

It’s as cold as Misha’s ever felt it. The winters seem to be getting harder as he gets older, and not even the thick animal furs he wraps around his body can keep the bone-deep chill away. Not that his body is very old, of course. He’s not a young man by any means, but there are plenty of monks in the monastery that are older. He shouldn’t be thinking such complaining and ungrateful thoughts. But his mind...his mind feels ancient. And like it has been cold for years.

Today just isn’t a good day for gratitude and contentment, he supposes. He’ll pray for forgiveness later, but even that thought rings false.

Does this God he’s been praying to since he was barely a man even exist?

Days like today, when the wind howls through the rafters and he can’t feel his toes or his heartbeat, he isn’t sure.

The abbot interrupts Misha’s thoughts, and he looks up hungrily, hoping that the abbot has something to speak about, something that will break their silence and allow Misha to speak himself. Immediately, he feels a familiar pang of guilt at that selfishness, and he adds it to his list of sins, the ones he’ll pray forgiveness for later.

“It is time for everyone to join in the refectory,” he says. The other monks nod their heads and rise immediately, not another word to be spoken as they all walk calmly to their evening meal.

The sparse words are not enough to calm Misha’s restlessness.

At dinner, he listens to the scripture reading, one he’s familiar with, a commonly studied verse that is inoffensive at its worst and comforting and hopeful at best. Still, his mood doesn’t lift.

So he gets on his knees as soon as he is alone in his room, rosary in his hand. He tries to pray. Usually, the familiar ritual gives him peace. It settles something inside of him and reminds him of his purpose, even if he doesn’t always make him feel like part of the same higher power the other monks seem to have access to.

But tonight, he simply can’t rid himself of this... thing . The ugly thing inside of him. The thing that brought him here in the first place, after it saw him banished from his childhood home.

It’s always there. Dark and dangerous and powerful.

When he was a child, he hadn’t known how evil it was. It hadn’t seemed evil then, when he could feel the earth inside of him, when he could almost communicate with it. And it hadn’t felt evil when he wished for rain, then watched as storm clouds rumbled through the sky. But when he showed his mother and father what he could do, when he placed his hand in the rushing creek behind their home and turned it to ice, they had panicked.

It wasn’t natural or normal. It was the old way, the way of magic and sorcerers and that way was condemned now. That way was unholy. Misha should beg for forgiveness, beg for God to heal him and cast out the abominations inside of him.

And he had tried. He tried so hard to please his parents, to please God, that he had almost killed himself with grief over it, wasted away. But he couldn’t stop. It was as if he had no control over himself or the evil inside of him.

Eventually, he was sent away, told to leave and not come back, that his parents wouldn’t have him in their house.

Misha forces himself not to think about the rest, about how he learned what magic actually was and almost lost himself to it. The things he learned, the things he did, the things he enjoyed doing...well, that’s all in the past now.

Tonight, however, the past refuses to be forgotten, and no amount of praying and reciting scripture can settle Misha’s spirit.

It makes for a very long night, and a very weary mind the next day as he tries to read.

“I’ve just used the last of the firewood. Could you fetch another load?”

Misha looks up from the bound parchment and squints, his eyes as tired as the rest of him feels from trying to decipher the holy verses from the tiny handwriting on the page. He nods his answer, following the vow of silence that calls for speaking only when necessary.

Ivan narrows his eyes, then speaks again, looking a little uneasy about it. “Are you feeling well, Misha?”

Stricken with a strange feeling of glee at the unnecessary and therefore forbidden words, Misha answers too quickly. “I’m very well, Ivan, thank you. I simply didn’t sleep well last night, and am feeling a bit tired. I’m sure I’ll feel better tomorrow.” It’s more than he’s spoken to anyone in months. And he shouldn’t feel so dizzily relieved over it.

The dark thing inside of him stretches like it’s waking up from slumber, pokes at Misha’s insides and spurs him to speak more.

“I’ll go get the firewood.”

Ivan nods, the stern look on his face telling Misha that enough is enough , and they are on the verge of disobedience with this conversation.

Quietly, not wanting to make Ivan uncomfortable just to appease his own sinful nature, Misha stands and heads for the small kitchen of the monastery, where he can bundle up in more furs before braving the snow outside. The wood is kept in a protected shed, but the walk there is open, frigid and jarring as Misha steps out into it, all but taking his breath away despite his layers of protection.

Despite how his feet ache with the cold and his teeth chatter, he’s grateful for the break from his reading. Memorizing the word of God is not something he finds particularly interesting today, especially since he’s had it memorized for years already. Out here in the open, he lets his mind wander, lets himself revel in the fact that he just used his voice, and is almost feeling like a human instead of a disobedient monk when he gets to the shed.

The strange voice catches him off guard, and for a moment, he shrugs it off as just a figment of his imagination, as the wind howling strangely. Still, something inside of him responds to it, and he pauses long enough to look around the grounds, eyes searching for anything out of the ordinary.

A few seconds pass, and he hears it again, unmistakable this time. Whipping his head around, he squints into the gray afternoon and sees a small figure approaching, a woman stumbling toward him in the snow, arms reaching out like she’s asking for something, though he doesn’t understand her language.

He starts toward her without hesitation, his gut telling him that she needs help. It only takes a few seconds to reach her, and she looks at him with wild, feverish eyes, babbling words he doesn’t comprehend.

“Danneel,” she says finally, frantically, moisture of her breath turning white in the air, and Misha wonders if it’s a name or just another word in this language he doesn’t understand.

He doesn’t have time to ponder it, however. The mysterious woman closes her eyes and falls forward in a faint.

Chapter Text

She’s a tiny bit of a thing, and Misha catches her easily, lifts her into his arms as her head falls back, lost in unconsciousness. He really should take her inside. Given her current state, they could make an exception and allow a woman into the monastery, let her recover before they send her on her way. But he just can’t hand her over to the care of the others. He’s seen how outsiders are treated. Besides, there’s something... different about this situation. Something he needs to figure out on his own.

Quickly, he carries her into the shed and lies her down on the ground, removing one of his own furs to give her a little extra warmth as he gathers a cart full of firewood.

It takes him longer than he would like to get the firewood back to the kitchen, even longer to get it unloaded and to find Ivan.

“The firewood is taken care of,” he tells him, lowering his eyes and struggling to keep his voice the calm, quiet tone that is expected of him. He’s still using too many words, but it’s out of nervousness now rather than defiance. “I think I shall retire to my own chamber now to pray.”

Ivan nods and waves his hand in dismissal, and Misha has to force his legs to walk rather than run. The second he’s out of Ivan’s range of vision, he takes off, throwing his furs back on and racing to the shed. The woman is still there, exactly how Misha left her, pale except for the bright pink spots on her cheeks, long, dark hair tangled where it peeks out from under her head covering.

Again, Misha gathers her in his arms. He takes all the back hallways, all the less traveled areas to get to his room. There are no locks on the doors here, so after he lays her on his bed, he shoves his chair in front of it, jamming the handle.

“A fire,” he thinks to himself. “She needs a fire.”

Misha has always been strangely practical in times like these, has always been able to operate in an urgent situation and do what needs to be done. He’ll wonder who she is and why she’s here later. Right now, she needs to get warm, and that’s what he focuses on.

Within just a few minutes, Misha has a roaring fire in his small fireplace, heat radiating through the room. He lets it settle into the corners, makes sure all the drafts have been driven away before he moves to the bed and starts to strip away her outer layers, relieved to find that the linen garment she’s wearing underneath her furs are dry enough that he needn’t worry about undressing her further.

She sighs in her stupor, mumbling that word “Danneel” again, and Misha notices the dangerous flush in her skin.

With a sinking stomach, he rests a hand on her forehead and feels the fever burning through her, hotter than skin should ever be. Again, his practical nature takes over and he immediately seeks to help her. Misha isn’t sure what supplies the monastery has that could possibly be of use to her, and whatever supplies he might find, he isn’t sure how to take them without someone noticing.

Before he can come up with a solution to this next problem, her hand clamps down on his wrist and her eyes fly open, staring out at the room and seeing nothing, Misha is sure of it. No words come out of her mouth, just loud gasping breaths as her eyes cloud over.

As Misha struggles for something to say, he feels it . There’s a fiery heat in her grip that isn’t coming from the fever, something that sparks like lightning over his skin. Something he hasn’t felt in a long, long time but would recognize anywhere.

Magic.

Whatever is ailing her is magical.

Does that mean she’s a witch? Or that witches are after her?

Misha’s body freezes as his mind races, barely notices as she falls back down onto the bed. This is dangerous. This is unacceptable . He’s spent a very long time pretending magic doesn’t exist, covering up and ignoring the fact that it runs in his own blood, and he has no interest in getting involved in it again. It’s dangerous , evil, the very thing he’s struggled against.

He should toss her back outside. If she’s magical, she’s as evil as he used to be, and she might pull him back into that world. He’s weak right now anyway. His moods have been unpredictable and he’s been having far too many impure and disobedient thoughts. He can’t have her influence in his life for even a moment, can’t be this close to temptation.

But he looks at her, watches her eyes close again, weak and pathetic, and knows that he can’t just let her lie there, suffering.

He leaves her alone in his room long enough to get a bowl of water and some clean cloths, and he manages to hide a few dried herbs from the kitchen inside his robes, herbs that they sometimes use to bring down fevers.

Even as he rushes back to the room, he knows they won’t work. Not against magic. But he has to try.

Over the next several hours, late into the night, he sits by her side, cooling her forehead with a damp cloth, forcing a bit of water mixed with the herb down her throat whenever he can get her to drink. She’s mostly still, whimpering every now and then, twitching a little when he holds her hand. Misha wonders what kind of magic she’s locked in, if she’s in pain.

Eventually, he falls asleep sitting in the floor, leaning against the bed, one hand around hers and the other holding his rosary.

 

The woman is worse when he wakes up. It’s early, too early for even the other monks to be awake, and the fire is still attempting to burn in the fireplace. The woman is still burning hot to the touch, no sweat on her forehead to release the heat inside of her.

For a few hours, he just stares at her.

If this is a magical fever, he cannot fix it with herbs and a cool cloth to her skin. If he is to help her, it must be with magic of his own. He knows it. To be honest with himself, he’s not even sure he’s able to help. He has stifled his magic for decades now, suppressed the urge to use it until he wonders if it was ever real to begin with and not just a nightmare. There’s probably nothing he can do for her.

Even as he has the thought, he knows it’s a lie. Suppression never works. Every day, he watches the monks struggle to hold back the parts of themselves they hate the most, the parts they deem sinful or evil. That’s why they’re all here. To try and rid themselves of their own darkness. But it’s never far away. Despite the years of abstinence, he can still feel the magic humming under his skin every morning when he wakes up. Every evening when he grips his rosary beads to pray, every night when he goes to sleep. It’s louder now that this woman is here, like it senses her presence.

When it’s time for the monks to rise and begin their day, Misha leaves his room, nervously makes his way to the abbot. Through a very short conversation, he explains that he’d like to increase his solitude in order to increase his time for prayer. It’s not uncommon for monks to ask this every now and again, and is considered good for one’s immortal soul. He’s granted permission to remain in his room for the next week, coming out only to get his own meals from the kitchen. It’s not the best plan, but it’s the only one he’s got, and the only way he can think of to keep his secret safe.

Once that is taken care of and he’s locked away not to be disturbed, he makes one more attempt to bring the woman’s fever down naturally. For the rest of the day, he cools her skin and feeds her the herbs with water or broth. She drifts in and out of consciousness, mumbling sometimes, mostly just silently looking around with hazy eyes that can’t possibly be making sense of anything.

While he works, he thinks. When he takes breaks, he reads. This time, he’s not reading scripture. He pulls out his old journals instead. They’ve been hidden beneath a loose board in the floor since he came here, a part of his past he just can’t let go, despite the fact that he’s supposed to. He was taught to read and write at an early age, and while the rest of the boys his age were running around playing made up games, he was writing, recording everything that happened to him, how he felt about it all.

Up until today, he hasn’t looked at them since he came to the monastery, but he feels a strange pull as he gets them out. Maybe they’re part of the reason he can still feel the life he used to lead. It’s still there, hiding beneath the floor under his bed every night as he sleeps.  

Maybe if he had burned them, purged himself of those memories, he could find some peace. But that was never an option. They are part of him, overwhelming him as he reads them once again.

If it means he can save someone’s life, maybe keeping them was worth the trouble.

He skims as quickly as he can and finds the parts he needs. It’s all there- his magic, what he learned about it, how he let it take over until he didn’t recognize himself anymore. He tries not to let his eyes linger too much on those words.

The spells are all there, too, and that’s what he needs. Everything he learned, everything he could do, all the ways he could expand his mind and move his hands and change the things around him.

If he can help her, if he has that knowledge at all, it will be here, in these words from a lifetime ago.

As he searches, the woman stirs, mutters the word “Danneel” again, over and over. Misha sighs heavily, his heart aching with how lost and hurt the voice sounds.

Something in his gut twists when he finally finds what he’s looking for. This is it. Two days ago, he was calm, content, doing what he was supposed to be doing. And now he’s given sanctuary to a sick witch, and he’s looking at a spell to save her. Will he go through with it? If he uses magic again, will he be able to stop? Should he use it at all, even if it means the woman will die?

Misha knows his decision even as he asks himself the questions. He can’t bring himself to pray about it, because this isn’t between him and God. And for that, he should be punished. He knows that. It’s a sinful thing, and his blatant disregard for all that is holy and right will surely find him eternally damned.

And yet, he doesn’t feel any of that. Not truly, not in the way that matters. In fact, he feels more alive, more in tune with himself than he has in a very, very long time. It makes his body tingle, like he can feel his blood pumping, makes it hard to catch his breath.

“Jared?” the woman mumbles.

That’s definitely a name, one that Misha is familiar with from reading scripture, and he suddenly forgets about his own struggles. This woman has people, family, who are probably worried and scared for her. He’ll worry about his own soul when this is all over.

Her forehead is still burning hot to the touch when he brushes her hair back.

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you.” He cannot make that promise, not truly, but he says it anyway. He’ll do everything in his power.

Chapter Text

It takes Misha three days to gather everything he needs. He cannot be seen moving about the monastery when he has asked to stay in solitude, and he certainly cannot be seen pilfering supplies. Stealth and cunning is required, so he moves slowly, taking a little at a time from their herb supply.

The woman shows no change during that time, lying in his bed in her delirious stupor, muttering every now and then, opening her eyes a few times, still without seeming to focus on anything. With each passing moment, Misha grows more fretful, terrified that she will worsen before he can attempt to heal her.

The night he finishes gathering everything he needs, his heart is pounding in his chest as he shoves the chair firmly in front of the door to stop anyone from entering. He can’t be too cautious.

Misha can’t wait, can’t let himself think too much about this. He just has to do it, just has to jump in and save her. He sits down at the foot of the bed, next to the woman’s feet, and crushes the herbs between his fingers, meticulously adding them to a small bowl in amounts as precise as he can make them without proper measuring tools. As he works, his whole body starts to feel lighter, starts to feel like it’s awakening after a long sleep. By the time he’s mixed the right combination, he’s moving out of memory, out of instinct, like his entire being has just been waiting silently to do this again.

The knife gleams in the firelight as he pulls it out of his robes, holds out his hand and takes a deep breath. The woman is still, almost like her body can sense what’s happening and is waiting.

Misha almost doesn’t feel the cut when he drags the blade over his palm, pressing into his flesh. He’s too focused on what he’s doing to care about such a little pain, and the sensation only barely takes hold somewhere in the back of his mind. He bleeds over the herbs, chanting ancient and powerful words, putting the force of his life, his very essence into the mixture. It’s that essence, strong and healthy, that will heal her. The herbs can take care of physical ailments once the harmful magic is released, but it will need his blood, pure and full of life. If this works, that will be the thing that pushes the magic out. His blood will run through her body and replace the poison in her with life , with pure energy. And he will share his health- and his very self- with her until she is has recovered.

As he adds water to the bowl, still chanting, he can feel his world shifting. It’s the exact feeling he had so long ago, great and powerful, like he has secrets inside of him that no one else knows, like he is something more than those around him. His hands are steady now, his gaze focused, and his mind feels like a sharpened weapon.

And it doesn’t feel wrong . It should, but as he holds the woman’s head and coaxes the mixture down her throat, it feels like he’s part of something important . It isn’t just power. It’s his power. That’s a feeling he has never felt at the monastery. It’s a feeling he craves, constantly denies himself, wants to revel in now.

The woman seems to go into a deep sleep, a restful and real sleep, once he’s gotten the herbs and liquids inside of her. Her breathing evens out and her muscles relax into the bed. Misha breathes a sigh of relief, but he knows that she still has a long way to go. There is still danger inside of her.

He sits in the floor by the bed all night yet again, not letting himself fall asleep this time, waiting for any sign of improvement from the still form on his bed. A few hours into his watch, he notices glistening moisture on her forehead. Pulling himself to his feet, he touches her skin to find sweat.

The fever has broken.

Misha wants to laugh and dance and shout with joy, but he forces himself to just smile instead, so hard his face hurts. He quickly gets fresh water from his basin and wipes her forehead, cooling her body further, helping it along. He watches the lines in her forehead relax like pain is leaving her, like she’s finally comfortable.

How can magic be evil when it can save someone? Certainly, it was also the cause of her illness. But isn’t that the way of humans as well? Good and evil in balance, always struggling against one another. And no one declares humanity itself unnecessary, or something that should be ended.

It’s the power that is seen as evil, Misha knows. That’s what scares men like his abbot. His abilities give him control and power that others do not have. They put him above others, if he chooses to think of it in that manner. That power will corrupt, will go against the one true God, will eventually make him declare himself a god.

But Misha knows that isn’t true. He knows himself. And he doesn’t feel evil.

 

********

 

The woman opens her eyes as the sun comes up, like it’s coaxing her awake. Misha is right there, waiting and watching as they focus this time, actually see him.

“Don’t be afraid,” he tells her, in a voice as soothing as he can muster. “You are safe.”

She swallows hard, raises a hand to her head as she blinks a few times. “Where-where am I?”

Her accent is thick and unfamiliar, but she seems to know and understand his language enough to speak to him.

“You are at a monastery. I found you outside in the cold, and I have cared for you since.”

Her frown deepens, dark eyes wary and mistrustful. “Am I still in Moscow?”

“Just outside of the city,” Misha nods. “You were very ill. I’ve been feeding you broth and water. Would you like some real food? Some bread?”

“I would like to know what happened,” she says, voice a little more commanding now.

Misha smiles softly, trying to reassure her that he is no threat. “I’m not entirely sure. I went to fetch firewood several days ago, and you were stumbling around our grounds. You were clearly ill, so I brought you inside and hid you away in my chamber.”

“And you-you nursed me back to health?”

“I did.”

“How?” It’s a question, but it doesn’t sound like one. It has the heaviness of an accusation, like she knows he isn’t telling her the complete truth.

Misha finds his first real smile, brought on by the shrewd strength he can feel emanating from her. “A spell.”

She freezes, facial expression carefully controlled, holding back whatever thoughts that statement caused.

“My name is Misha,” he tells her. “And I will show you exactly what I did. But first, tell me your name and how you’re feeling.”

A silence hangs between them for a few moments, the woman still leery of him, still deciding whether or not she’s safe here. Misha gives her all the time she wants.

“My name is Genevieve,” she finally says. “And I feel exhausted.”

Misha nods. “You’ve still got plenty of healing to do. The spell will continue working until you are well. What happened to cause this?”

She shakes her head no. “I thank you for your help, I truly do, but I do not wish to discuss what happened.”

“Perhaps you’ll tell me when I’ve earned your trust,” he replies.

Genevieve’s lips twitch up into what might be the beginning of a smile. “Perhaps.”

They look at each other for a few seconds, and Misha can feel how they are connected now, his blood in her body. Like they are bound together, sharing a part of each other’s consciousness.

“You used a blood spell to cleanse me,” she says finally.

He only nods.

Her eyes flash then, scared and wide. “Danneel. Where is Danneel?”

“You kept saying that word while you were sick. I knew it was a name.”

“Of course it’s a name,” she hisses, struggle to get out of bed now. “Where is she? And Jared? Jensen?”

“Is that your family?”

Genevieve nods frantically, dropping back on the bed when her muscles prove to be too weak to support her body.

“I’m sorry,” Misha tells her, grabbing one of her hands and squeezing. “There was no one with you.”

“It doesn’t matter. I can call for them. I can-I can get them here.” She sounds as if she’s talking to herself now, planning something in her mind.

“Wait,” Misha says, loud enough to draw her attention. He feels a little dizzy with all this talking, more words than he’s said in years. His own voice sounds a little strange as it echoes through the usually silent room. “It’s dangerous to bring people here. Tell me what happened, and we’ll figure out together what to do.”

“They’re witches,” she says. “Like me. Like you. They understand the danger, and they won’t cause any trouble.”

“I’m not a-“ He stops in the middle of his sentence, because it’s a lie. He is a witch. Whether he wants to be or not. “How will you call for them?”

“A spell. Danneel is my- Danneel will find me. We can always find each other.”

“Slow down. Tell me what happened to you.” Misha doesn’t mean to sound harsh, but he can’t let this happen, can’t bring magic down upon the monastery, can’t blindly follow this woman he doesn’t know.

Genevieve raises her chin defiantly, sealing up any vulnerability threatening to show. “I was attacked. My… family and I were in Moscow. Another sorcerer thought we were challenging him, though we wanted to…to…”

“To claim Moscow as your own territory?”

She nods. “We weren’t. Honestly. We live quietly, moving from place to place to see the world. We were just looking for...we don’t want to take anyone else’s place.”

Misha’s intuition believes her. “And this man, he attacked your whole family? Or just you?”

“Coven,” she says hesitantly. “We aren’t so much a family, but a coven. And he only attacked me. I was alone that night, and it all happened so fast. But I was the one he was after. He thought I was the one in charge.”

“Are you?” Misha asks.

“Our coven depends on each other. Jared is our high priest, but we don’t act as such unless we absolutely have to.”

“I see. And you think you can summon your coven here? Without endangering my place at the monastery? Without making yourself known to the monks here?”

“I can.”

Misha frowns for a moment. It’s that, or let her disappear out of the monastery and into the night, never knowing what became of her. He waves his hands in a gesture of agreement. “What kind of spell is it?”

“One I can do with just my mind.”

Misha watches as Genevieve closes her eyes and goes very still. A few silent moments pass before she opens them again.

“I…I’m afraid I’m too weak to do this alone,” she whispers, clearly disgusted at the thought of being less than her full strength.

Misha can hear the question in her voice, and he closes his own eyes, searches within himself for all the reasons he shouldn’t be doing this, for all of the promises and vows he’s made to God and to himself.

They all sound empty now.

It’s more than just desire to help someone in need. Tonight, with magic still floating through his body, he feels more like himself, more right and good , than he has in…well, ever. All of his work here at the monastery, all his attempts to make up for his past are the real lie.

He holds out his hands, offers them to Genevieve, who remains unaware of how meaningful a gesture it actually is. What it means to Misha. “Let me help.”

With a small smile, she links her fingers through his. They stare at each other for a moment, and Misha appreciates for the first time how beautiful she is. Her hair is long and dark, shiny, the light reflecting off of it like moonlight on water. Her cheekbones are high and regal, her lips full and pink. But the real beauty is her eyes. They are dark, so dark, wide and wise, like they can see things he can’t. The second he has the thought, he’s certain it’s true.

And then she does something . She doesn’t move, exactly, but Misha feels their grip tighten somehow, like it’s holding on from the inside out. Like they are linked together through whatever spell she’s casting.

Everything is connected. Misha felt it when he was a child, felt it when he was sent away, felt it when he did the blood spell, feels it now. It makes sense to him, how everything works, how all the energy moves and flows through living things, how everything relies and depends on everything else. It makes more sense than anything he’s read here in the monastery, more sense than anything they’ve tried to teach him about sin and forgiveness.

Genevieve closes her eyes again, and he can feel her borrowing his strength, combining the force of his energy with her own weakened one. Memories that don’t belong to him flash through his mind. A woman with auburn hair laughing, twirling around in the rain. A tall, muscular man with a kind smile throwing his arm around Genevieve. An altar of flowers, iron talismans, and ancient texts.

It’s over before he can focus on any of the details.

“How far away are we from Moscow?”

Misha shrugs. “In this weather? Two weeks on horseback.”

Genevieve smiles, the first one that looks full and natural on her face. “They’ll be here in one.”

Chapter Text

Genevieve eats her first real meal that evening, after Misha has managed to take some bread and cheese from the kitchen without being noticed by anyone. He brought enough for both of them, but Genevieve eats it all herself, ravenously tearing at the bread with her teeth.

“I’m sorry,” she says when she’s finished, but she doesn’t sound the least bit contrite. “I haven’t eaten in days.”

Misha laughs. “I understand.”

Genevieve leans back against wall behind the bed, legs stretched out beneath the blanket. There’s color in her cheeks now, and though she looks weak, she looks well. “I suppose I should thank you for taking care of me. I know that if you hadn’t taken me in, I would be dead. But I’m not sure how to convey how grateful I am. When my coven arrives, I’m sure they can repay you with-”

Misha rests his hand in hers, still shocked at the sensation of human touch, feels the warmth as she squeezes it, eyes fervent in the firelight. “You owe me nothing. Truthfully, I think you’ve saved me as much as I’ve saved you.”

Her dark eyes narrow as she studies his face. “You are a natural witch, aren’t you? I can feel how deep it goes into your soul. How did you come to be at a monastery?”

Misha hesitates for a moment, but then decides to speak freely. The two of them are in a strange situation, and his normal boundaries are meaningless here in this room with her. “I came here because as a child, I was taught that my power was evil. My parents sent me away, and I was so angry that I almost drowned in my magic. This monastery saved me. It taught me the ways of God and of goodness.”

She lets out an angry snort that takes him by surprise. “You mean, they taught you to conform to their notions of what’s proper. You’re different, Misha. You aren’t evil. You’re gifted.”

Again, Misha has that feeling of wholeness, of being complete. There’s a certainty in her words that settles in his chest, resonates with him the way he’s always wanted the church and its teachings to resonate.

“When Jared and Jensen get here, they’ll show you,” she continues. “We aren’t evil. Our magic is just part of who we are. And it’s a part of who you are, too. Are you happy here?”

A sad smile spreads across Misha’s face as he thinks about his daily struggle to be accepted. To accept himself. “I want to be. But I feel like a fraud.”

Genevieve pushes herself forward from where she’s sitting enough to wrap her arms around his neck and pull him into a hug. It’s more human contact than he’s had since he was a boy, and it’s very nearly overwhelming. The smell of her hair, the soft give of her flesh as he gently squeezes her…he wants to stay right there for as long as she’ll let him.

Like she can sense his thoughts, she doesn’t pull away for a long time, content to just rest in his arms.

“We’ll help you get free,” she says, voice sounding very much like an oath.

Misha doesn’t say anything, because there are no words that could explain his confusion or the whirlwind going on inside of him. He just holds her tight and watches the fire burn in the fireplace, quietly roaring like the magic inside his veins, wondering what will become of him when he meets the others, when this coven exits his life as quickly as it entered.

Over the course of the next few days, Genevieve makes much improvement. Her laugh comes easily and more often, always in hushed tones so as not to alert anyone in the monastery to her presence. She eats and drinks heartily, and even gets out of bed twice a day to walk in circles around Misha’s chamber, making sure her muscles stay strong.

Misha is captivated by her, by the swirl of her hair and the wisdom she speaks, by the life and light she brings to his cold, gray world. He doesn’t want her to leave. Every day that passes, he loves her more, and every day that passes, he fears the moment her people come to take her away.

He musters up the courage to say as much, one night when they should be sleeping, Genevieve in his bed and him wrapped in a blanket on the floor. He can hear the kindness in her voice when she answers. “I don’t belong here any more than you do. I belong with my coven.”

“Then where do I belong?”

“Misha, my dear one, that decision is yours to make. Now rest.”

Misha obeys.

 

********

 

“They’re here.”

It’s the dead of night when Genevieve shakes him awake, and her voice is full of urgency, of eagerness as she tugs his blanket away from his body.

“Let’s go! They’re here!”

“What?” Misha rubs his face and tries to force his mind awake as he pushes himself to his feet. “How do you know?”

“I can feel them. Come on!”

“Wait. We need to get dressed first. There’s been more snow, and the air is freezing. And we’ll have to move slowly. Make sure we aren’t seen or heard by anyone.”

Genevieve is practically bouncing as he pulls on his boots and his furs, handing her one to put over the coverings she had on when he found her.

“Everyone will be asleep, but we should still be cautious.”

She sighs, but nods. As he leads her through the familiar hallways, he can feel her energy humming, her muscles wanting to run. As for himself, he’s nervous. He isn’t sure what to expect or what’s to come.

Or what will become of him.

After tonight, he knows the monastery won’t be his home anymore. He isn’t sure what he wants or what the course of his life should take. Genevieve promised to help him, but he has no idea what that entails.

Everything is so confusing.

The second they step outside, Genevieve is running, as fast as she can in the snow, toward the wooded area behind the grounds. Misha keeps up with some effort, lungs burning as he sucks in great gulps of the frigid air.

“They’re close,” she calls, slowing down to a walk once she’s inside the trees.

“You should go slowly. You’re still recovering.”

Genevieve ignores his suggestion. They walk for the better part of an hour, Misha guesses, before he catches a glimpse of auburn in the gray.

“Danneel,” Genevieve whispers, before she takes off at a sprint again, and throws herself into the arms of a woman who seems to suddenly appear from the shadows.

Misha stays where he is and tries to give them some privacy for their reunion, but he can hear the laughter and the tears and the murmured affections in a language he can’t comprehend. And the kisses. He can hear kisses, deep and wet kisses that sound private, like something that should only happen between those two people, without anyone watching.

He’s so stunned that he watches for longer than he should, watches as they hold each other, as their bodies curl into one another. He knows what this is despite the fact that he’s never experienced it. It was something he learned as a boy, heard his father and uncles joke about, heard the women whisper about. And when he joined a monastery, he took a vow of chastity swearing he would never take part.

But this? This is two women who are clearly involved in a romantic relationship with one another. It would be bad enough if it were a man and a woman committing the act outside of holy matrimony, but this? This is too much.

And yet, the way they look at each other is pure. The smiles on their faces are genuine and joyful, love radiating between them. It is obvious that there is nothing sinful here.

Genevieve eventually breaks away and gestures for Misha to come forward. He does, hands behind his back and head bowed nervously.

“This is Danneel,” she says, not an ounce of shame or embarrassment for their open display.

The woman smiles, looking a little shy and almost as nervous as Misha. “I am very happy to meet you.” She has the same strange accent that Misha can’t place, but like Genevieve, speaks his language fluently. “If Gen owes her life to you, than I owe you mine as well.”

Misha can feel the blood rise in his cheeks, though he isn’t sure what it is about the woman that makes him feel shy. Maybe it’s the intensity in her words, in her quiet stature.

“You owe me nothing,” he says.

“Come, you must meet Jensen and Jared.” Danneel smiles, leaving no room for argument, and leads them deeper into the woods to a small clearing. There is one large tent set up, and waiting on either side of the entrance are the two largest men Misha has ever seen. It’s not just their height that is intimidating, though that would be enough. But Misha can feel the power that has nothing to do with their bodies. It’s ancient and large, carefully crafted and wielded. He has no doubt they are lethally dangerous if they choose to be.

The tallest man runs forward and scoops Genevieve  into his arms, kissing her just as Danneel had. Misha looks over to Danneel, worried at her reaction, but she’s still smiling warmly, like she’s as happy for their reunion as she was her own.

Now that, more than one person claiming ownership over the same person’s heart, is something he’s never heard of.

When he puts her down a few moments later, the other man steps forward to hug her gently, kissing the top of her head and whispering a few words in her ear that make her smile and hug him again.

“My name is Jared,” the tallest man says, and Misha recognizes him from Genevieve’s memory. He’s the man with the kind smile. “We all owe you our thanks. Ask anything of us and you shall have it. Anything you desire.”

“Truly, no one else need thank me. It is my duty and pleasure to take care of anyone in need of it.”

Jared nods, that kind smile even sweeter now than in the memory. “This is Jensen,” he says.

The other man silently nods at Misha, his expression unreadable. Misha formally returns the nod.

“May I ask where you are from? You’re speaking my language, but I do not recognize your accents.”

Genevieve smiles a little mysteriously. “We’re not really from anywhere any longer. We’ve been traveling a long time.”

“I see.” Misha doesn’t know what else to say.

Genevieve turns to Jared. “I know you have many questions, and we can talk about it all before we sleep. But first, I need you to promise me something.”

“To help Misha,” Jared says, anticipating her request.

She nods, eyes questioning.

Jared smirks. “I just had a feeling that he needed it.” Misha gets the sense that those words have a deeper meaning. Like his presence here isn’t entirely unexpected.

Though that can’t be right, can it?

Jensen steps forward, and Misha finds his gaze drawn to him. He’s harder than Jared, colder somehow, but there’s something in his eyes that captures Misha’s attention. The way he positions himself in front of Danneel, the way he watches Jared…he’s protecting them. Silent devotion that Misha can feel from where he stands. Jensen is quiet, but there’s more to him than meets the eye.

Of all the coven, Jensen is the one who fascinates him the most, without saying anything at all.

“Come into our tent,” Jared says, jovially slapping Misha on the shoulder. “We’ll celebrate Gen’s safe return and discuss anything of importance where it’s warmer.”

The tent is large enough for Misha to stand in, with soft carpets on the ground and a real bed taking up a vast space in the center. It’s decadence Misha has never known, never dreamed of.

“Here. Drink.” Danneel hands him a jug and Misha takes a large swallow of the vodka, letting it burn through him as he tries to make sense of anything that is happening to him.

Genevieve moves to the bed and Danneel joins her, Jared dropping his long body into a chair. Jensen remains standing, so Misha does the same. The jug gets passed around as Genevieve tells them what she remembers of her attack, then of waking up in the monastery. The other three listen closely, look at Misha with wide eyes as Genevieve describes the spell he did to heal her, tells them the story of his life as he told it to her.

When she’s finished, no one speaks for a few moments.

Misha stares at his boots. The story sounds so strange coming from someone else.

Jared is the one to break the silence, his voice booming through the tent. “He’ll stay here with us for a few days. We’ll figure out what’s next.”

“What?” Misha asks, shocked by the sudden decision. “I can’t. I-“

“You want to go back to the monastery?” There’s no malice and no judgment in Jared’s voice. If he goes back to the monastery, Misha knows they won’t trouble him about it.

But he can’t go back there. Misha only thinks for a fraction of a second before he shakes his head. “No.”

“Then you’ll stay here with us,” Jared says again. “We’ll see to it that you’re taken care of for the time being.”

“Thank you.” It’s all he can bring himself to say. He feels dizzy, a little drunk from the vodka, and the whole world seems to be moving a bit too quickly for him right now. He can’t catch up.

“We can discuss all that tomorrow,” Genevieve announces. “Right now, we should rest.”

She gets up, walks over to kiss Misha on the cheek, leaving his skin burning where her lips touch. He watches as she kisses both Jared and Jensen full on the mouth, then grabs Danneel’s hand and pulls her out of the tent.

“Where are they going?” he asks, nervous to be all alone with these two strange, giant men.

“To sleep,” Jared says, his grin suggesting that he doesn’t actually believe his words.

“But…won’t they be cold outside? It’s freezing tonight.”

“I wouldn’t worry.” Jared’s grin widens. “They’ll find a way to keep warm.”

Misha doesn’t ask any questions, a little unnerved by the soft, warm tone of Jared’s voice.

“May I ask you a personal question?” Jared continues, leaning back in his chair and stretching his legs out in front of him.

Misha nods nervously.

“How intensely did you study magic? Do you know the extent of your powers?”

Misha swallows hard, tries to put words to thoughts he’s never been allowed to speak before. “When I was young, I didn’t know what I was. When I was old enough to understand, and when I was sent away from my home, I…” His voice trails off as he remembers that dark time from his past.

“You what? You don’t need to worry. You won’t say anything that shocks or offends us.”

“That’s not my worry. I…I just haven’t spoken about this. To anyone. Ever.”

Jensen steps forward and waits until Misha is looking at him before he speaks. “You don’t have to tell us tonight. You’re probably overwhelmed.”

It’s as if every fear and doubt and bad feeling inside Misha shrivels up and backs away at Jensen’s voice. The low, scratchy tone scrapes over his skin and soothes him in its rough way, like it’s solid enough to keep Misha here on the ground when he feels as if he’s about to float away.

He recognizes that voice.

He’s never heard it before, he’s sure. He and Jensen have never met. But something in him knows that voice, knows the intricacies of it, can feel the heart beating behind it. He stares at Jensen longer than he should, struck dumb by this knowledge, by this feeling, until Jensen clears his throat and looks down at the carpeted ground.

“Thank you,” he finally says. “It would be nice to just…talk about this tomorrow, perhaps?”

Jensen looks at Jared then, and Misha knows they are communicating somehow, having a conversation without words, with barely any facial expressions. Eventually, Jared nods and stands up. “I’m going to join the girls tonight. Help welcome Gen home. I’ve missed her.”

Misha watches, waits until Jared’s almost to the opening of the tent. “Thank you,” he calls out. “You’ve all been…very kind. And I…I-“

“The pleasure is ours,” Jared grins. “Trust me.”

Misha’s body seems to relax a little when it’s just Jensen with him. He doesn’t feel so open and exposed with only one pair of eyes to watch him.

“Your eyes are such a bright blue,” Jensen says, barely above a whisper, moving to stand right in front of Misha and gaze at him.

“Wh-what?”

Jensen smiles a little, his skin crinkling at the corners of his eyes like he might actually laugh sometimes. Even as he tries to process the strange statement, Misha thinks he would like to hear that laughter.

“Your eyes. Jared described that blue to me once, but I assumed he was talking about the sky, or maybe a flower. I didn’t know eyes could be that blue.”

“Jared? I don’t understand.”

Misha is suddenly exhausted. It’s a bone deep exhaustion, one that makes him feel much older than he is. It’s brought on by the strange events of the last several days, by the confusion of these people and how they’ve altered his life just by saying hello. But Misha knows he’s felt this exhaustion for longer than just tonight. He’s felt it every day that he’s denied himself who he really is, every day that he’s worked and prayed and denied himself to try to be something different, every day that he’s lived a lie.

It’s so easy , to talk to these people, to convince himself that maybe he doesn’t have to do this anymore. Maybe he can live as they do, using his powers and being who he really is. He isn’t proud of how quickly he makes that decision, of how easy it is to turn back to his old, righteous ways once an opportunity presents itself.

But in this moment, he’s too exhausted to worry over it.

Jensen is watching him carefully. “Yes. Jared. Did Gen tell you why we are in Moscow? Why we came here to begin with?”

Misha shakes his head no. “She mentioned you were looking for something, but she didn’t explain anything further.”

“Jared is special. Throughout our time together, he has felt a…calling toward certain places or people. Whenever he feels that, that pull, that intuition calling him, we go. It has led us to almost all of the important people and events in our life. It’s how we met. And how he and I met the women.”

Jensen should have said our lives . Misha notices that he doesn’t. Whoever these people are, they are absolutely captivating.

“Jared brought us to Moscow. He told us there was something important waiting for us. Something blue. I didn’t understand, but I trust Jared, and here we are.”

He steps even closer, close enough that Misha has to fight the instinct to take a step back. “We were waiting for you.”

“For me?” That can’t possibly be true, but Misha can’t find the words to argue.

“You feel it, don’t you? I’ve been feeling it all night. You and I…”

Misha nods, giving into this like one gives into good dreams, hoping against hope that they’re true.

“That’s magic,” Jensen tells him. “We’re connected somehow through our magic, aren’t we?”

“I don’t know what I’m feeling. I can’t describe it. But…”

Jensen leans forward, so close now that Misha thinks he can feel the heat from his skin, and waits patiently for Misha to find words.

“But I feel peaceful here. Like there’s nothing to fear.”

Jensen smiles a full smile, his whole face lighting up with it, and Misha finds himself smiling back foolishly, like all of this makes perfect sense somehow, like he has any idea what he’s doing here with this coven.

“Some bigger force brought you to me tonight,” Jensen says. “And I learned long ago not to resist fate.”

Before Misha understands what Jensen plans to do, Jensen has his hands on either side of Misha’s face, holding him still while he presses their lips together. It’s soft and warm, not at all aggressive, but Misha is still shocked, taken aback by Jensen’s boldness.

When he pulls away, Jensen is looking at him like he’s done something amusing. Misha stares back, face burning with his blush as he tries to think of something to say.

“It’s alright,” Jensen says. “Calm down and think for a moment. How did that feel?”

“We shouldn’t have done that.”

Jensen’s amused look turns into a smirk. “But how did it feel ?”

It felt wonderful. Like the connection Misha feels between them was complete for a moment, like something bigger than they are was satisfied when they kissed.

“Let’s try something else,” Jensen suggests, taking a step back and letting Misha have space to breathe. “If you could do anything you desired right this very moment, no consequences or rules to hold you back, what would you choose?”

Misha stares at Jensen’s face as he contemplates the words. Jensen is beautiful. Strikingly so. Misha has always appreciated the beauty of humans, has always seen them as works of art. Many times his eyes have been drawn to people, to their faces and their bodies and the way the move or how they sound. He’s convinced himself that it’s simply an appreciation of God’s work, but standing in front of Jensen, he sees it for what it is.

It is a lustful attraction, a desire to touch and feel. A desire that he has suppressed his whole life.

Jensen is the first person Misha has encountered who is too beautiful for him to suppress his urge any longer.

“No consequences or rules,” he repeats, muttering to himself more than to Jensen. He’s already come this far. There’s no point in trying to control himself now.

Jensen stands still as Misha walks forward, pushes himself up on his toes so they’re the same height, and kisses him. They stand there, lips pressed together for a moment, and just when Misha starts to wonder if he’s doing this wrong, Jensen moves, slants his lips a little to slide between and over Misha’s, slow and soft.

Misha’s knees buckle. Luckily, Jensen seems to be better at this, and throws an arm around Misha’s waist to catch him and haul him up against his chest. Misha hangs there and lets Jensen kiss him, lets himself feel the pressure of another body, the intimacy of connecting with someone else.

Misha had no idea he was so hungry for this, that he was so desperate for it.

Jensen eventually pulls away, waits for Misha to regain his balance, then lets go.

“You know,” Jensen says, voice smooth and alluring, “we could show you so many things. So much more than you’ve ever dreamed. Do you want to see it?”

Misha closes his eyes and thinks about the monastery, about the force of magic welling up inside of him, the force he was never really able to rid himself of to begin with. He’s still wearing rosary beads, but they have nothing more to offer him.

“Yes. I do.”

Chapter Text

“Misha?” Jared’s voice floats into the tent from outside, and Misha can hear the cold in the hoarseness of it. He’ll be so glad when they leave, when they find one of the exotic, warm places they’ve described to him during these long winter nights.

“I’m inside the tent,” he answers loudly, not lifting his hand from the parchment, where he’s writing, feverishly scribbling down words. He writes a great deal lately, trying to sift through all the new events and emotions cluttering his mind and his heart, trying to make up for the lost time when he didn’t allow himself to feel anything.

The fur at the entrance of the tent is pulled back, a blast of cold as Jared comes in, Jensen following close at his back, like a second skin. Misha looks away quickly, but not before that image, innocent as it is, is etched in his mind.

Misha’s still not used to them, to the way they are inexplicably bound to each other. He’s spent a month watching them, four weeks memorizing every look, every touch, every way they silently speak to each other. And he can’t figure them out. It’s something more than the marks they have etched into their skin, something more than the years they’ve spent together, something more than the open, easy smiles Jared gives and the protective way Jensen is always guarding him.

It’s something cosmic. Something beyond understanding. Like one soul split into two bodies.

“What are you writing today?” Jared asks, his long body sprawling out on the bed.

“Only some thoughts I was having,” Misha says, as if they are of no importance. He wouldn’t want Jared to ask to see them. His writing lately has become an open wound, his inner most secrets spilling out onto the page like the ink is his blood. It’s purging him, changing him into something new, something he desperately wants to become.

Jared opens his mouth to press Misha, but Jensen interrupts. “We’ll be leaving tomorrow. Are you prepared?”

Misha smiles, both as a thank you for saving him from Jared’s questions and as an answer to the question. “Yes. The morning cannot come soon enough. Where are the women?”

“In the village,” Jared says. “They found a small inn and are having dinner there. I’ll join them and spend the night, as we have a few supplies to purchase early in the morning before we set out.”

Misha swallows hard, heart beginning to beat a little faster as he looks at Jensen, whose lips turn up just a tiny bit at the edges.

That means they will be alone for the night.

Misha is unable to concentrate the rest of the afternoon. He helps Jared and Jensen pack their large wooden chest with their herbs and spices, with their powders and potions, with their talismans and all the other objects from their altar that Misha doesn’t recognize yet. They still have so much to teach him, and he is so very eager to learn.

But not today.

The usual flood of questions doesn’t come to him, and he works on the task silently, strangely aware of Jensen near him, watching him as they pack.

Jared is also watching him, but doesn’t say anything, and Misha suspects they’ve communicated somehow, that Jensen has told Jared to leave the matter alone, without actually saying it out loud. Someday, Misha would like to know how they do that.

It takes forever for Jared to kiss Jensen goodbye and leave, and yet Misha is still not ready when he departs, whole body feeling weak, like he can’t take a full breath and his heart is using too much energy. Jensen silently waits a few moments, long enough for Jared to get a decent start on his journey into the village, and then he steps up behind Misha, places a hand against the small of Misha’s back.

Misha jumps at the contact.

“Don’t be nervous,” Jensen says, voice warmer and sweeter than Misha’s ever heard it. “It’s only me.”

It isn’t the first time Jensen has touched him. And that’s the very thing that has Misha so nervous. Since their initial meeting, when they kissed for the first time like it was a normal thing for them to do, Jensen has been physically affectionate with Misha on many occasions. He’s kissed Misha several more times, linked their hands together for long periods, nudged against him almost every time they were close enough to do so. He even held Misha in his arms for hours the night Misha told him about his past- all of his past.

And Misha’s growing accustomed to physical contact. All four of them are so open, kissing and touching and loving each other freely, all the time, bodies shared like they all belong to each other. They are all careful with Misha, knowing it’s different for him, but he is still touched and kissed more than he can keep track of. And he never sleeps alone any longer. He has his own nest of thick, comfortable blankets on the floor that make a very fine bed, but none of them understand separate property, and someone (or more than one person) always ends up next to him, and he’s ended up in the bed a few times. He likes the warmth and comfort of someone breathing next to him, the safety and security of being together.

But somehow, Jensen’s touches are different. Jensen’s kisses unsettle him in a way he craves, a way that the others’ kisses don’t. He has grown to care deeply about all of them, but it is only Jensen that constantly invades his thoughts, his dreams, that seems to truly understand him.

“I don’t wish to be nervous,” Misha whispers. “I keep thinking it will fade, but…”

“It will,” Jensen grins, turning Misha to face him and resting his hands on Misha’s waist. “We could work on that tonight, if you wanted.”

There’s a heat behind his words that settles inside Misha, in a place he’s only recently discovered the true pleasure of. He’s been denying this part of his body for so long that it still catches him off guard when he feels this... longing , this physical want in him that is very obvious if one only looks down. After everything he’s seen and heard the others do over the last month, Misha has decided this is definitely a part of himself he wants to explore. He’s just been waiting for Jensen to guide him through it.

“I would like that very much,” he says.

Jensen kisses him then, no more discussion needed. Almost immediately, this kiss feels different. It feels deeper, lustier, like Jensen’s not holding anything back now. He digs his fingers in and pulls Misha close, so close that their hips bump, that Misha’s clothing brushes against his hardness, making him gasp at that new sensation. It’s... incredible .

Jensen slowly slides his tongue out into the kiss, pushes it through Misha’s lips and into his mouth, rubbing against Misha’s own tongue, circling in his mouth like Jensen wants to taste every bit of him. Misha groans without meaning to, sags against Jensen because his knees are too overwhelmed by this to remain standing. Jensen holds him up, lips turning into a smile as he keeps kissing him, sucking on his lower lip and giving it back to him feeling hot and swollen.

“How does that feel?” Jensen asks, leaning back enough that Misha can see the laughter in those bright green eyes.

“It feels like...I can’t explain it.”

“Is that a good thing?”

Misha nods vigorously, leaning forward to place his arms around Jensen’s neck, wanting to hold him close. “Very good.”

They kiss for a long time, and Misha can’t calm down, can’t relax, can’t catch his breath. He’s seen what kissing leads to, has witnessed it almost every night since he’s been with them. He isn’t sure that he can do that , he’s terrified of it, and yet his fingers can’t stop as they run down Jensen’s neck, pull at his clothing.

Misha feels desperate and needy and out of control. And this time, he does absolutely nothing to restrain himself. He doesn’t talk himself out of it or practice control and self-discipline. For the first time in his entire life, he gives in to it simply because he wants to. Because it feels good.

Jensen makes a low noise in the back of his throat and tightens his hold, begins pushing Misha back toward the bed. Misha goes willingly, easily, lets himself be guided.

“One summer,” he murmurs, keeping his mouth on Jensen’s as he speaks, “when I was a child, I jumped off the highest rock overlooking the lake the children swam in. It was so high that I was dizzy simply standing there, and the entire fall, I felt more alive than I ever had.”

Jensen pauses at the edge of the bed, listening intently.

“My stomach dropped, my blood surged, I couldn’t catch my breath, and it was the closest I’d ever come to real physical danger. I was in awe of that feeling, of truly living, if only for a moment before I hit the water.”

Jensen smiles. “Why are you telling me this?”

“This feels the same way,” Misha says simply, staring into Jensen’s eyes and willing him to understand.

Jensen kisses him again, harder this time, like it’s a primal instinct. Misha forces his mind to stop thinking, and he’s surprised at how easy it is to give in, how quickly his own instincts take over.

Misha is the first one on the bed, suddenly ready and willing, nerves and fear completely gone now. Jensen grins, leans over him without lying down.

“I’ve been waiting for this,” Jensen tells him. “Been waiting to show you how good this will be.”

Misha sighs, lets the words wash over him like a spell. He feels light. Free .

And then Jensen’s hands and mouth are on him. Misha couldn’t think about anything now if he wanted to. His body takes over, and all he knows is Jensen, how warm his hands are, how soft his lips are, how beautiful he looks when he slides Misha’s shirt off and stares at his chest like he’s a work of art.

It’s confusing, this attraction, this desire. Misha never expected to feel it for anyone, still shies away from the thought of it in the daylight, because Jensen is a man, after all, and that is certainly something Misha has been taught is unacceptable. But there isn’t a single part of it that feels anything other than right, than perfect , to Misha.

“So innocent,” Jensen whispers, leaning down to press a kiss to the flat of Misha’s stomach, and it sends a shiver through parts of Misha that have never shivered before. “Want to experience it all, don’t you?”

Misha nods, eyes wide so he can take everything in, can see everything Jensen does.

“Not tonight,” Jensen smiles. “Tonight, we’ll go slowly.”

Misha groans in what can only be called despair. He wants it all, wants to know what makes all four of them scream into the darkness when they roll around together, when their bodies are joined.

Jensen moves his hand, slides down Misha’s chest and into his pants, and Misha grits his teeth. Oh, that is good , such a sensitive, intimate way to be touched.

Jensen carefully wraps his fingers around the hard length, and Misha feels himself pulse and throb in Jensen’s grip, a pressure that’s begging to be released. Misha’s hips move as if they are separate from his body, as if they can control themselves, pushing up into Jensen’s hand to feel more of the contact.

The first stroke makes Misha practically shout, and Jensen soothes him with a kiss, keeps his movements slow and steady, guides Misha into a rhythm.

“Just let go,” Jensen tells him. “I’m right here.”

Everything changes, right then in that moment. Misha looks at Jensen, at this man he’s only just met, at this man who sees him more clearly than his own parents did, at this man who is giving him everything he’s ever wanted, things he didn’t know he wanted.

Misha explodes, pleasure rushing out of him in a loud cry and sharp arch of his back, stars behind his eyes and Jensen’s breath on his skin, hand wringing out every bit of sensation Misha’s body has to give.

Misha wonders for a moment if he has died, if this is his reward for his efforts in life.

And then Jensen brings him back to himself, kisses his lips and Misha knows he’s alive, knows that death would be peaceful, and this is too overwhelming, too much like lightning inside his body to be anything resembling peace.

Misha is so overcome that he laughs, a deep sound bubbling up out of his chest and into Jensen’s mouth. Jensen laughs too, drops his body down on the bed next to Misha’s, ignoring the sticky mess they’ve made of Misha’s pants.

“Jensen?”

“Mmm?”

“I’d very much like to touch you,” he says. He imagines Jensen feeling the way he just felt, how sinfully beautiful he would look as his body seized up with pleasure, with pleasure Misha gave him. Oh, yes , he wants that very much.

“I’d like that, too,” Jensen chuckles. “But not yet. As I said, we’re going slowly. Yes?”

Misha sighs, but nods. Whatever Jensen thinks they should do or not do, he’ll go along with it. Jensen opens his arms and Misha rolls into them, fits his body close to all that solid heat and closes his eyes, suddenly pleasantly exhausted.

Just as he starts to drift asleep, the steady rise and fall of Jensen’s chest sending him under, Jensen whispers into his ear.

“You are everything we wanted,” he says. “When Jared felt your pull, he said you’d be perfect, and he’s never wrong.”

Jensen moves then, sits up and stares down at Misha. Misha senses something important about to happen, opens his eyes and gives his full attention to Jensen, looming over him.

“Misha, you know we are a coven, and you know we practice magic, that it’s in our blood. It’s who we are.”

Misha blinks, runs a hand over Jensen’s shoulder.

“And I think you know now that it’s who you are, as well.”

“Yes. It is.” It’s the first time he’s admitted it so openly, so freely, and his life here solidifies even more, his old life slipping away even further, until it’s just a strange and distant dream.

“Then there are some things you should know. First, we are over five hundred years old.” The words come out quickly, easily, like they aren’t impossible.

Misha laughs, then cuts it short when he realizes Jensen isn’t teasing him. “You...you are serious?”

“We were born in Scandinavia five centuries ago. Jared is better at telling our story than I am, and he’ll be happy to tell it when he returns. But it’s true. The simplest truth of it is that we use magic to stay alive. To stop ourselves from growing old.”

Misha’s mouth is dry, and it’s difficult for him to speak. “And Gen and Danneel?”

“They are much older than they appear,” he smirks.

There’s a long moment of silence as Misha tries to process this new knowledge.

“Misha,” Jensen murmurs, leaning down to speak the words against Misha’s throat, “you can stay with us. Forever. For as long as forever means.”

Misha tenses up, but Jensen’s hands are right there, comfortingly running over his bare chest.

“It’s not a decision you have to make right now. And if you don’t want to, it’s not a decision you ever have to make. But if you decide want to, we want you with us. Always.”

Like everything else that has happened since that day he found Gen, lost and ill and close to death, this makes no sense, and feels more right and real than anything ever has.

Misha lets Jensen kiss at his pulse while he considers the words. Misha already knows what he wants. He wants to belong to them. All of them. He wants to explore the world with them, live a thousand lifetimes of adventures with them. He wants the bond, the trust, the magic, the love, wants every bit of it, and wants it just from them.

Especially Jensen. Misha is in love with him, has been in love with him since they met, still not entirely sure of what that means.

Jensen belongs to Jared. Misha is as sure of that as he is of his own love, more certain of it, and that’s just another thing that seems to fit, that seems to be the natural order of things.

Jensen can never belong to Misha, but Misha can belong to him. Can belong to all of them. Forever.

He knows that Jensen doesn’t want him to rush his answer, and he wants to sort through his feelings first, write them all down and figure out exactly the right words to say when he decides to express himself.

Jensen makes his way back to Misha’s lips, and Misha kisses back greedily.

Always.

For the first time in his entire existence, Misha stops fighting with himself.

He lets his mouth move with Jensen’s, lets his fingers run over the muscles of Jensen’s back, and for the first time, he feels like he’s living.

For the first time, the cold inside of him slips away, and he is truly warm.