It's hard to stay awake during the ritual. Sydney finds himself nodding in his seat, his head lilting to the side momentarily before he catches himself. This is his fourth time sitting through the yearly bonding ritual, where newly promoted Arc mages are matched with their future bond mates. He gets the point of the ritual. It's an important part of balancing the Arc's magic – too much magic left unchecked and unbalanced can burn out a mage. He just hates sitting through it.
The chanting reaches a crescendo. It wakes him a little as the steady hum of voices grows louder, more insistent, more purposeful. He shifts in his seat. It's almost time for the bond mates to be chosen.
The first Arc mage steps up to the podium. He places his hand on the crystal globe affixed to the podium and a beam of light shoots out into the crowd. Cheering erupts and a blushing young woman steps forward, the beam tracking her every move. She takes the hand of the Arc mage and they move off to the side, smiling widely at each other.
Sydney yawns as the next candidate moves forward. Another beam of light. Another round of applause as a match is found.
Dust motes catch in the light coming in through the stained glass windows and Sydney gets distracted watching the motes dance in the air. He claps halfheartedly when the rest of the audience does. He wants to stir the water in the basins below to life, to let them dance with the dust in the air but he refrains. To do so would be blasphemy. He wonders what Cedric is doing now and whether they'll have much time to see each other after the ceremony is over. The afterparty usually drags on for hours but Sydney just wants to get home to Cedric and spend those hours in bed.
Silence falls heavy over the audience and it takes him a moment to realize it. It's too quiet. There should be applause but something's interrupted the flow. He turns back to the ceremony only to find that everyone is staring at him. Panic hits him, making his chest tighten and his face grow hot. He looks down with growing horror to find the beam of light, that cursed beam of light, hitting him square in the chest.
He shifts to the side, hoping in vain that he's just in the way but no, it moves with him.
He can't breathe. He can't think. This is wrong. This can't be happening. He looks over at the confused eyes of the Arc mage at the podium. He's never seen the man before in his life and now he's expected to bond with him? What about Cedric?
"No." The word escapes his lips unconsciously. He repeats it a second time, stronger, louder and throws himself, bodily and magically, away from the beam of light. The world twists around him, shifting, spinning, and then he's gone.
Sydney doesn't land where he expects to but that's hardly a surprise with wild magic. He wobbles on his feet and then he starts running. He's not familiar with this part of the city, but the maze of streets eventually turns into a broader avenue and from there he follows it south, towards the river. The market crowds are thick at midday. Everyone's in a rush to prepare for the night's feasting but not him. No. There will be no feast for him.
It takes him nearly an hour to get to the docks and then nearly half of another hour to find Cedric amidst the bustle of the dock workers, sailors, and passengers milling about the docks. Cedric is loading crates onto one of the boats when Sydney runs up to him, grabbing Cedric's sleeve and tugging until Cedric puts the crate down with an exasperated but fond look.
"What is it, Sydney?"
"There's a problem. We have to go."
Cedric frowns. "What problem? Go where?"
"I need to leave the city," Sydney says. He knows he sounds panicked and irrational, because he is. He can't think, he just knows he needs to get as far away as possible, as fast as possible and take Cedric with him.
"What?" Cedric just looks at him, concern growing on his face. "What's going on?"
"I'm a bond mate." He nearly chokes on the words. They bubble out of him, almost like a sick and twisted laugh. Tears form at the edges of his eyes. He can't help it. It's all such a cruel, cruel joke. "Me. Bonded."
Cedric stares at him. He looks like he's been gutted. It's about the same as how Sydney feels. "Oh."
Sydney grabs Cedric's sleeve again and tugs. "We have to go."
Cedric just shakes his head.
"Please. We need to go."
Cedric exhales like he's been punched. He looks away, back at the crate he'd set down and then at the ship. "I have to finish this," he says, matter of fact, like loading a bunch of crates is the most important thing in the world. "I'll be home soon. We can talk then."
Cedric's voice cuts through his. "Go home."
Sydney stares at Cedric. His hand falls away. Cedric isn't running away with him. He should have known better. Cedric isn't the type to run away. "Okay."
He goes home.
The door opens and Sydney leaps to his feet. He's had two hours to stew and pace holes in the floor and generally make himself even more worked up than he was before, but at least he can think now. He can think which means he can plan. They'll go to Malta. Sydney has cousins there and it's far enough away that they can live a peaceful life. They'll have to start all over again, but with Sydney's magic – not fully trained but still passable for minor work – they can make a living. It'll have to do.
Sydney freezes as he realizes the person walking through the door is not Cedric, but rather the young man from the ceremony earlier. The color drains from his face and he starts to turn before a word stops him.
"Wait." Just like that he does and he knows it's started already. He can feel the prickle of bond magic settling over him, keeping him from fleeing like he wants to. It's not a full compulsion. He could break it if he tried but the second word makes him change his mind. "Please. I just want to talk."
Sydney turns. The man is quite handsome up close. If Sydney weren't madly in love with Cedric, he'd be flattered, maybe even glad. He isn't.
"I'm Eric." The man takes a few quick steps forward until they're close enough to shake hands.
Sydney takes the offered hand gingerly, like it's a snake waiting to bite him. "Sydney."
"I know." Eric smiles. "That's how I found you." He waves a hand at the house surrounding them. "One of your classmates told me your name, so I was able to look up your address in the registry."
"Look," Sydney starts. He needs to get the words out before they choke him. "I know, with the ceremony, we're supposed to bond but I can't. I'm taken. I already have someone I love and I love him dearly. I can't be your bond mate. You need to choose someone else."
Eric frowns. He opens his mouth to speak but Cedric beats him to it.
"It doesn't work like that." Cedric is local. He's lived here his whole life so he knows more about the bonding ceremony than Sydney ever will. He grew up with them. "You're going to be bonded."
Sydney scowls and steps around Eric to face Cedric. "No. I refuse to accept that. I'm not letting you go."
"You have to." A brief flash of sadness crosses Cedric's face, only to be replaced by resignation. Cedric's already accepted that they have to break up.
"No." He won't accept it. It doesn't matter if everyone else has given up, Sydney won't.
There's a cough behind him and Sydney turns. "What if you don't have to?"
"What?" Sydney and Cedric say in near unison.
Eric takes a step closer. "You two obviously have a connection. I don't want to break that up for the sake of my magic. What if we split time? I don't need Sydney around all the time to maintain the bond."
Sydney blinks. "You'd share me?"
"If your partner is willing." Eric looks past him at Cedric. "I could see you during the day and that would leave the nights free for your beloved."
Sydney turns with pleading eyes towards Cedric but his pleas are unneeded. Cedric looks absolutely stunned. "Yes," Cedric says. "I would be amiable to that."
Sydney grins. He throws his arms around Cedric's and plants a wet kiss on his lips. "Thank you." Cedric's arms wrap around him slowly. Sydney pulls away slightly, not enough to leave Cedric's grip as he turns back to Eric. "Thank you. You don't know how much this means to me."
Eric smiles. "I think I can figure it out." He offers a hand to Cedric and they shake on it. Eric claps Sydney on the arm before heading towards the door. "I'll see you tomorrow then? Whenever you normally head in is fine. I have an office on the fourth floor, east wing."
Sydney nods. "Tomorrow then."
"I'd like to do the bonding ritual next week," Eric says as Sydney steps into the office after a tentative knock.
Sydney frowns and opens his mouth to protest but he can't think of a good excuse not to. He and Eric are meant to be bonded. There's no escaping that, and his one concern with the bonding was neatly taken care of last night. He has no excuse other than that he doesn't want to and that is no good excuse.
He closes his mouth with a snap and nods. Eric isn't even looking at him. His attention is held by an array of potions boiling on the table in front of him.
"Alright," Sydney says. He takes a step closer and tries to peer around Eric to see what he's doing. Preparing some kind of ingredient, obviously, but Sydney can't recognize what yet. He's beside Eric before he knows it. Eric looks over at him and a spark of something jumps between them, making Sydney feel entirely awkward.
He takes a step back, putting distance between the two of them.
"You don't have to be shy," Eric says with an easy smile.
"I don't, but I am." Sydney turns away to take in the rest of the lab. He's never been in an Arc mage's lab. His visits to the upper floors are limited entirely to visiting professors and even that is done only on an as needed basis.
Eric turns back to his potions, adding whatever he'd been grinding into the red beaker. "What time's your first class?"
"Eleven." He has most of an hour to kill before then. Usually he'd be spending the time in the library but he hadn't been able to concentrate there. Everyone had been staring at him, like they were silently guilting him into being a better bondmate. It wasn't like he'd had any preparation. There were only a handful of Arc mages graduating every year, sometimes just one. The chances of one of them being a gay man was slim and he'd just never thought he'd be picked.
"You're welcome to sit down. Make yourself at home."
Most of the chairs were covered in stacks of books or papers but Sydney found one beside a small table that wasn't. It wasn't the most comfortable chair but it would do. He sat and then found himself at odds with what else to do. He stared at his hands. He stared at the walls. He stared at the door and wished the clock would speed up. His attention kept flitting back to Eric, whether he wanted it to or not. Side-effect of the bond forming.
"You don't have to be quiet," Eric says, breaking the silence. "We're supposed to get to know each other, make sure we can work with each other before the ceremony."
Sydney nods. "Okay. What do you want to know?"
Eric half-turns. He's still smiling. He seemed to be perpetually smiling, like it was stuck there. "Where are you from?"
"Merida. The southern portion. A town called Avalia, just north of the river Kree."
"I'm from here," Eric says. "Born and raise in the upper town. My parents have a house off of High Street." That was a pretty wealthy part of town. Much better than Dockside where Cedric was from. "What brought you to the academy?"
"I was recruited. Water talent."
"What year are you?"
"Are you planning on staying on towards upper levels?"
Sydney shakes his head. "No. I can't now," he gestured between them. Bondmates were discouraged from reaching the higher levels, lest they add too much power to the bond. "Not that I wanted to. I'd rather find a practical use for my skills."
Eric nods. He turned off the heat to the potions and stepped away. "Would you go back to Merida?"
Sydney shrugs. "The plan was to go wherever Cedric could find work. There's always work for a mage but his skills are a bit more limited. Obviously that plan's changed."
"It doesn't have to," Eric says, like it's nothing.
Sydney boggles. He's pretty sure his face is fairly comical, judging from the way Eric is obviously trying to hold off a laugh.
"I can do my research anywhere. I don't have to work out of the Academy."
"But your family is here, and Cedric's family is here."
"And yours isn't. You must miss them."
Sydney nods. He hasn't seen his family in three years and it's been too long by far. Letters aren't enough for him and he misses them dreadfully. His sister just had a baby. He wonders sometimes if he'll ever get to meet his nephew.
"There's still time to figure things out. You have another year and some to go still."
He nods again for lack of a better answer. A glance at the clock tells him he should be leaving. Part of him wants to stay. He forces himself off the chair and gestures towards the door. "I have to..." Eric nods, but it doesn't make Sydney feel any less awkward leaving.
Will he always feel so out of place around Eric?
On Saturday Sydney wakes to an empty bed. While not unusual on a weekday, on the weekends it's a little more abnormal. Cedric hadn't mentioned taking another shift but money's been a bit tight lately so maybe he had. They're scraping by on Cedric's pay and Sydney's scholarship but just barely.
The soft sound of conversation from the other room draws him out of his lazy reverie. He pulls a pair of pants on and steps into the common room rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
"Good morning," a pair of voices chime and Sydney pauses.
"Hi." Eric smiles from the kitchen table where he's sipping coffee across from Cedric. Sydney had obviously interrupted their conversation, though what those two had in common enough to converse about was beyond him.
Cedric scoots his chair back in invitation and Sydney pads over on bare feet to sit in Cedric's lap. They share a quick kiss before Sydney's attention turns back to Eric. He's somewhat self-conscious of only wearing a thin pair of pants but he supposes if he's to be bonded to Eric – God, the ceremony's only days away – then they'll have to get used to being around each other in states of semi-undress.
"What are you doing here?"
Cedric pokes him in the side, but Eric doesn't seem to take offense. "I stopped by to visit. Cedric mentioned that you were going to tackle a hole in the roof and I offered my help."
Sydney's eyebrows rose. "You're going to fix the hole in our roof?" They kept putting off fixing it. They couldn't afford to pay a carpenter to do it, so Cedric had planned to do it himself but they hadn't gotten around to doing it, until now apparently.
Eric grins. "My father was a carpenter. I know a few things."
"We're glad for the help," Cedric says before Sydney could say something stupid. "It's very kind of you to offer. Isn't that right, Syd?"
"Yes, thank you," Sydney says before Cedric can poke him again.
Sydney stands and finds a shirt before firing up the stove to cook breakfast. It's not a grand meal – toast and eggs – but Eric seems pleased with it anyways. Afterwards Eric climbs up on the roof without any tools and talks to the wood, reshaping it with magic. He patches not only the main hole but a few other spots where the shingles had gone missing or started to peel away. By the time he's done it's like they have a whole new roof.
It's amazing and more than he can properly thank Eric for, so he invites Eric to stay for dinner. It's the least he could do, but something about the invitation alone seems to please Eric like Sydney had offered him his weight in gold.
Cedric comes to the bonding ceremony at Eric's insistence. Usually it's only the bondmates and an officiant, but Eric says something to the officiant that gets Cedric allowed through the doors. Cedric stands solemnly at one side of the chapel, waiting while the officiant intones the formal script, walking through the ceremony with all the unnecessary pomp and circumstance for something with only three witnesses.
Eric and Sydney join hands over a basin of water. The surface ripples with Sydney's nerves. He can't help it. Eric squeezes his hands and Sydney looks from Eric to Cedric and back again with growing nerves.
He nearly jumps out of his skin as the officiant places his hand over theirs and the water spikes up out of the bowl as the bond hits him. It's like a wave of warmth settling over him, pooling and condensing in his chest. He's aware of Eric in a way that's entirely strange and new, like Eric is part of him – he is now – and Sydney despairs that he'll never feel this kind of connection with Cedric. He could close his eyes right now and point out exactly where Eric was in the room, no matter how far Eric moved. In time, he'll be able to feel Eric's emotions as well, though right now it's just a jumble of unnamed emotion pooling in his gut, too complex for him to sort out.
He drops Eric's hands as soon as the ceremony is over and heads straight for Cedric. With each step he takes away from Eric, he can feel the bond trying to pull him back.
He's in Eric's lab after class, studying while he waits for Cedric to get off shift. He's engrossed in his book, so he barely even notices when the door opens. A familiar hand passes over his arm in greeting and he instinctively leans back, tilting into the other's body and dropping his head back for a kiss. Warm, wet lips settle over his and then freeze.
Sydney opens his eyes and stares up, not at Cedric's warm brown eyes but Eric's green. Eric looks just as surprised as Sydney does.
Realization shocks Sydney's system and he jerks away, dropping his book as he recoils back. "Shit. Shit. I'm sorry. I..." He lurches to his feet. "I need to go."
He doesn't even give Eric a chance to respond before he's out the door.
He avoids Eric for the entirety of the next day. He knows he has to go back. As bondmates, they need to be together for at least a little while, but he can't. He just can't. He too embarrassed. He hasn't even told Cedric yet, though Cedric knows something's wrong. Cedric's too smart for him sometimes. The truth will come out and then Cedric will hate him.
The truth apparently is coming out sooner than he expected, because when he gets home Eric and Cedric are both there. Eric looks guilty and Sydney knows then that Eric told Cedric.
"Cedric, I can explain..."
Cedric holds up a hand to stop him and Sydney obediently shuts his mouth.
"I knew this would happen eventually," Cedric says, and just like that Sydney feels the world start to shift beneath him.
Cedric catches him before he falls and Eric is at his other side. The two of them support him and lead him into the bedroom where they sit on the bed side by side.
"It's alright, Sydney," Eric says. His hand is warm on Sydney's shoulder, rubbing soothing circles. "I talked to Cedric."
"We reached an agreement," Cedric says.
"I don't want to lose you." Sydney can feel Eric's presence like a wall of comfort behind him but it's Cedric he leans towards. "Please don't leave me."
"I won't," Cedric says. "I promise."
"You're not mad?"
Cedric shakes his head. "I'm not mad. But things need to change."
"I won't do it again."
Cedric and Eric share a look and then Cedric shakes his head. "Yes, you will."
Eric's hand slides down Sydney's arm. His fingers twine with Sydney's. It's such a natural move that Sydney doesn't fight it, even with Cedric right in front of him. If anything, Cedric looks pleased. He takes Sydney's other hand in his and leans forward to place a chaste kiss on Sydney's lips.
"Kiss Eric," Cedric orders.
Sydney frowns. He opens his mouth to protest but Eric's free hand settles on Sydney's chin, turning him so that their lips can meet. It feels just as good as kissing Cedric. Sydney blushes and pulls away before Eric can deepen the kiss like Sydney knows he wants to. He can feel it now, the want inside of Eric, directed at him.
"It's okay," Cedric says.
"We're going to share," Eric says. His mouth is tantalizingly close. "If you'll have me, we would share you."
"That's a yes," Cedric says, translating Sydney's desires better than Sydney ever could.
Eric's hand dips under the hem of Sydney's shirt and he gasps at the feel of Eric's warm hand on his bare flesh.
"Let us show you how good we'll share." Cedric pulls him in for a deep kiss and then pushes Sydney away, turning him towards Eric so that Eric can mirror the kiss. Their tongue meet for the first time and Sydney can't help but blush.
Four hands pull at his shirt, pulling it off of him before he can really think what's happening. He lets the hands mold him, pushing and pulling him between two bodies. He rocks between them, like a boat caught amidst the waves. He's pulled in for kisses on either side as they raise him to his knees and strip him of his pants. He's naked and they're not, a fact he would announce as entirely unfair if either of them would let him surface long enough to speak. He's not going to complain though, not when there are two pairs of hands on his skin, sending shivers running through him as Cedric and Eric's mouths do wicked things to him.
Eric sucks at the hollow of Sydney's neck while Cedric leans back, pulling open the bedside drawer to pull out the jar of oil they keep there. Sydney moans because that jar means he's going to get fucked and he can't decide which of the two men he wants to fuck him. Maybe the both will. Maybe they'll take turns. The very thought makes him shiver again and he spreads his legs wider, shifts forward a bit until he's straddling Cedric's lap.
Two hands reach beneath him, four slick fingers pressing inside of him at once. He can feel Cedric and Eric's knuckles against his skin as they both sink in deep. Their hands move in counterpoint, fingers dragging inside of him, pulling wretched moans from his lips. His hips move, jerking with the motion of the fingers inside of him. It's a glorious stretch, having them both inside of him at once and he's ready in second. He fucks himself down on the fingers and pants like an animal in heat.
He's ready. He's so ready. He says so and Eric's fingers pull out. Cedric doesn't.
"You first, Eric," Cedric says and he holds Sydney open with his fingers as Eric's cock lines up behind him, sliding in around the fingers.
Sydney moans, low and loud. He's going to come soon. He can barely hold himself together. Eric is moving, his hands on Sydney's hips as he slowly fucks Sydney open. Cedric's fingers are still inside of him, and they move with Eric's thrusts, pulling wide apart as Eric thrusts in, stretching his hole open further. It feels so good, burning in just the right side of pain, but he doesn't understand why Cedric is doing it, not until Cedric shifts, pushing his hips down until the tip of his penis brushes against Sydney's hole.
Then Cedric pushes up, his fingers pulling out as his cock slides in next to Eric's, stretching him impossibly wide. Sydney screams with pleasure and comes right there. He can't help it. He feels full. Too full. Impossibly full. Cedric and Eric cradle him between them as he rides out his orgasm.
When he comes down, they're still inside of him, frozen in place for the moment until Sydney blinks dazedly up at Cedric. That seems to be the sign Cedric was looking for because he moves then, wringing a gasp out of Sydney. The gasp turns into a strangled moan as Eric moves seconds later, shifting in counterpoint to Cedric's thrusts.
They fuck him at the same time, moving slow and careful but still moving, slowly taking him apart inch by inch until all that's left is a quivering mass of emotion. Sydney's back presses against Eric's chest. His head is on Eric's shoulder but his eyes are fixed on the ceiling and the dancing white lights that appear every time one of them moves just right. He's panting, barely breathing except for gasps but he doesn't care because it feels so good. If he hadn't just come, he would now. He'd come again and again as they take him apart with their cocks.
"Eric," he gasps. "Cedric. Eric. Cedric."
He loses track of bodies. It feels like they're all one big conglomeration, shifting and sliding together in a dance of pure pleasure.
It ends too soon. Eric comes first, jerking to a stop behind Sydney with a stifled shout. Cedric follows less than a minute later.
It hurts when they pull out, leaving a void of emptiness inside of him where he'd grown used to being full.
"God," he moans as they lower him down onto the bed. Eric and Cedric wrap themselves around him, one on each side and it feels perfect, like it was meant to be. "Whichever one of you came up with this gets a gold star."
"It was a collaboration," Cedric says.
"A meeting of minds, if you will," Eric added.
"Gold stars for everyone."
Eric chuckles behind him and Cedric grins.
Sydney thinks then that maybe having a bondmate won't be such a terrible thing after all.