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An Unwanted Interest

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Kandomere looked out the floor to ceiling window of his office at the MTF building as the sun rose over the trees. This view of the courtyard garden was a pleasant perk of his job and part of his morning ritual was to enjoy an espresso while looking out over it. The building itself was human designed, functional, efficient, and blocky, but thankfully they'd engaged an elf to design the landscaping, or perhaps an elf taught human. The MTF had more elves than the rest of the FBI, which was not many at all and almost entirely from his own house, and so some effort had been made at aesthetics. Unhappy elves tended to share their unhappiness with a bit more thought, planning, subtlety and viciousness than humans, so one could call it simple self-preservation on the part of upper management. Regardless, it was beautiful. Tiered pools flowed down to a large central reflecting pool surrounded by tall elegant oaks. Japanese maples and wood ferns served as the understory plants interspersed with short paths and carefully placed curved wooden benches. The view never failed to calm him. The oaks existed before him, and might possibly linger after he was gone—their lifespans were similarly long. A point of stability in the chaos that seemed to ebb and flow through his life.

He was not here for the sunrise view though, or for work. His motivation for being here this early, every work day for the last seven days, was slightly embarrassing to him. Since Leilah's death four months ago, things had been quite calm. There were no difficult cases to work currently, just the usual minor witchery and amulets, a few trinkets here and there. Potentially dangerous certainly, at least to the untrained or unwary, but not on par with the return of the Dark Lord. He had no reason to be here this early, he knew this, and yet here he was, again. It was foolish.

His reason sauntered across the courtyard and took a seat under one of the trees to sip her coffee. She always arrived early, the same time, and after he first spotted her he'd arrived early in hopes of seeing her again every day since. It could be what humans called an “obsession.” He crossed his arms and thinned his lips, amused. His race was prone to develop intense interests the other races found unnerving, even predatory. It puzzled him, this aversion. Who did not pursue what they wanted? Elves were simply more focused, more capable. If his interest continued, he would endure it. Control it. Pursuing her appealed, literally and figuratively, but this was work. Pursuing her through those trees into the wild forest beyond, her scent leading him first, then the sound of her pounding heart until...no. Work was not the place for those games, he would not indulge himself. He would not. But watching seemed harmless, an indulgence that risked nothing. It would not distract from his purpose to watch her and she would likely come to bore him quite soon. Her choice of clothing was certainly doing it's part to lose his interest. She wore the same basic ensemble daily—jeans tucked into practical black leather boots, worn waterproof fitted jacket also in black, and her, of course, black motorcycle helmet tucked under one arm and a black backpack slung over one shoulder. Positively funerary, though it was likely she was one of those humans who prized function over beauty as if it had to be a choice. It was certainly not her sartorial sensibilities that intrigued him so intensely.

She was attractive, possibly beautiful in an exotic way. He assumed her black hair was long as she invariably wore it in a bun. Not a fashionable bun, no, a base of the neck bun like an elderly woman. Charming. At least it was shiny and looked to be clean. No makeup. No jewelry he could see from here. Boring, she was boring to look at. What was his fascination with her? Big dark eyes, black or dark brown, hard to judge from this distance. Pale pale skin, almost translucent, which was odd given her high cheek bones, full lips, and nose suggested an ancestry different from what her skin tone would indicate. Tall-ish, maybe 5' 9” or so with a lean frame that could be athletic or possibly skinny. The clothes were so distasteful it made it difficult to actually discern her actual attractiveness. He he did not favor skinny, not at all, or tall. Or sartorially impaired. Why was he so fascinated by this woman? He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed in annoyance.

She moved with a lithe grace unusual in humans, and he thought she might be fast for her kind. He would not find out. As she turned her head the pale length of her neck caught the light--her skin actually was quite beautiful and would be so easy to mark. No. While he liked observing humans, and had enjoyed liaisons with a few over the years, he'd never a indulged himself with a co-worker. Especially foolish to pursue amusement with a human co-worker—humans became attached so easily. They mistook interest for love. He had to be far more clear and careful than with an elf. Elves understood. Plus, in each of his prior arrangements with humans he had been certain of the female's interest, stoked it until she virtually reeked of lust, then satisfied her and himself until eventually parting. He was the object of fascination, not the one fascinated. Never. And at work, fuck. It would pass.

He heard the door open behind him. “Boss, we got a bad one.” Kandomere turned toward Montehugh's voice and raised a brow. For Montehugh to consider it bad, it must be horrific.

“Hikers found what looks to be an Inferni bright test site and something else, something that sounds like a kind of incantation circle. A lot of bodies, not just ashes and blast. We laid down the usual BS but we need to get on sight fast—local sheriff is a fucking idiot if ever one walked the earth. Remember that serial killer case a while back? Yeah, that asshole.”

That had been a truly epic clusterfuck, the crime scene a disaster, evidence lost. Not his division, but he'd heard about it. Apparently the voters, predominantly human in that backwoods area, hadn't cared that their sheriff had enabled a serial killer to continue killing by rendering the crime scene virtually useless. Kandomere detested fools.

Kandomere nodded. “Let's go.” He glanced back to the window as the woman stood and began to walk into the building. She never looked up, completely oblivious to his scrutiny. Why the fuck did that bother him? He stepped up next to Montehugh and they walked to the elevator. Montehugh had been on leave for a few days, and he looked pissed to be back early.

“Hosato was fuckin' thrilled when I got the call. His words, 'As the years pass, I hate your job more and more.'” Montehugh sighed. “But he stilled kissed me goodbye.” Shooting a look at Kandomere he said, “How 'd your date go with the new one, Miklain?”

“It was amusing.” Kandomere smiled slightly. She had been satisfying and creative, but he doubted they would continue their liaison long. Unlike Montehugh, he could not find a partner who fully engaged him who was willing to accept the limitations of his job. Perhaps if he found his mate, though that seemed more unlikely with each passing year.

“Montehugh, you should send Hosato flowers, some of those candies he loves.”

“Truffles. Yeah, I know I'm a lucky fucker, no need to rub it in.” Montehugh pulled out his phone, as he got in the car, “Hello. Look under Hildebrandt Montehugh. Yep, this time send whatever orchid I haven't sent before and a bunch of chocolate truffles.”

Kandomere started the engine and suggested, “Have them send Elorean Chocolates, the deluxe truffle box, and a bottle of Ithil Red.”

“Ok, those chocolates, make'em a deluxe truffle box by Elorean Chcolates and..” Montehugh paused.

“Ithil Red. The 2014 vintage is quite good and still reasonable.”

“A bottle of 2014 Ithil Red. Yes, Thank you. The note, just, 'Love, Red.'”

“Hosato should be well pleased.” Kandomere knew how Montehugh's husband loved wine and chocolates, and he had personal experience with the suggestions himself. “As should you, later.”

“Aphrodisiacs? The man wears me out already. I'm a hollow shell of a man.” But he smiled with satisfaction at the thought.

Kandomere nodded. They drove the rest of the way to the site in companionable silence until they pulled into the Angeles National Forest. Beautiful, he thought. Though his house was not descended from wood elves, he felt calmed by the forest. This was the bare edges, where humans would go. Further in was the domain of the wood elves, who had even less tolerance for the Inferni than intrusion from humans. Their memory was long, with some of the longest lifespans of his kin, and they were no friend of the Dark Lord or those who aligned with him. They were supposed to turn over any who wandered into their domains, just as they were supposed to forgo the use of magic. They dependably would turn over hapless hikers, aid the lost or injured, and even surrender those foolishly trespassing their lands in order “to see a real elf.” They were not evil, decidedly not, but certainly more wild. Those they deemed enemies or evil would simply disappear. All the great woods were connected, the MTF suspected, by magic portals allowing travel. The Wood-King's realm was quietly worldwide, but as it was steadfastly opposed to the Inferni and peaceful unless provoked, its sometimes use of magic was ignored. Thus, the wild places of the world were protected from dark magic, and the MTF attended to the cities--a useful, if uneasy, alliance.

“That's a shit-ton of cops,” Montehugh grumbled. “I hope someone's controlling the scene and not letting it get fucked up.”

“I see Patel's car.”

“Oh, yeah, it's fine then.” Montehugh and Kandomere both smiled. Diya Patel was a tiny woman who weighed, maybe, 95 lbs. She was also one of the most viciously efficient medical examiners anywhere, known to hold and nurse a grudge for years until the perfect opportunity for vengeance presented itself. She had gleefully brought down many an incompetent in her time and at 60 was near perfection at both her official craft and her side hobby of crushing fools. They got out and crunched across gravel into the woods following the rest of the crew into the clearing.

“Mother of God.” Montehugh breathed, then stopped, stunned for a second.

There were intestines and viscera strung through a circle of oaks surrounding a clearing of bright green grass. Bodies hung throat cut and castrated or disemboweled from all the major branches, too many to count easily. A two foot stack of naked human children laid end to end comprised the incantation circle. Gods. At the center, a stack of blood soaked stones with burn marks on the top and sides—something had exploded on the other side and the stones had shielded the part of the altar they were facing. It was an altar, that was certain. The area still rung with power, like a discordant bell. It made his teeth ache, this was dark dark evil magic. The place stunk of Inferni.

As they drew closer, he saw the bodies were all eviscerated—the source of the macabre decorations. The deaths had not been easy, runes carved into the bodies showed too much bleeding to be post-mortem. Kandomere felt nauseated and furious, there were likely thirty or more adult bodies and about the same number of kids. How the fuck do that many people, especially that many kids go missing and no one notice? He shook his head. Focus on the job. He circled around to the front. Someone had been chained to the altar, an adult by the size of the burnt in shadow. The stone seemed to be embedded with what looked like the glittering fragments of wand. Had they tried to make a wand? This had been an act of great power but he was not sure of the purpose.

“Kids. Fuck me. Boss, why the fuck torture kids to death?” Montehugh shook his head.

“Power. There is power in life, more power in young life as it is farther from death, power in innocence and pain. This was done for power.” Kandomere replied quietly.

“Power for what?” He replied.

“That, my friend, is a very good question. This would raise a great deal of power, but for what purpose? I do not know.” Kandomere did not enjoy not knowing, not at all. It was his purpose to know, to be one step ahead of the Inferni.

“So, this is something new?” Worriedly, Montehugh scratched the back of his neck, smoothed the front of his perpetually rumpled suit.

“Yes. Or so old as to be forgotten.”

“Fuck. See, I don't like that.” With a sigh, Montehugh stepped away to talk to the team of techs and examiners.

“Kandomere.” Patel's voice called him over to where she stood directing everything.

“Yes.”

“There's more bodies in the woods drained of blood. Any idea who did this and what they used all this power for?

“It looks as though the Inferni were trying to create a wand, but the runes are not right. I've never seen runes like these before. I know it is them, but their purpose is not clear.”

Patel looked concerned. Kandomere was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of magic. It was very rare indeed he did not know the purpose of a piece of magic.

“Are they trying to bring back the Dark Lord?”

“Always, Patel, this is their goal. But first they will need wands. I will need to research these marks, but if those are wand fragments...”

“They are.”

“Then it looks the Inferni are trying a new way to create a wand and failing miserably.”

Patel shook her head. “That's good but these new methods..”

Kandomere looked back at the site, then looked intently at Patel, “They are desperate, vulnerable without Leilah and her wand. This is an act of desperation.”

Patel nodded. Neither mentioned the cost of this desperation.

“I'll get you detailed images of the runes, the circle, chemical analysis of the wand fragments..”

“Thank you.”

“Catch them quick, Kandomere.”

“I will do my best, Diya.”

“We all will.” She sighed and returned to the site.

Chapter Text

Khirad's phone rang as she was about to get in the shower. Misterial. No shower today then. Ugh. She grabbed the phone and started twisting her hair into it's habitual bun—easy and low profile enough to fit in her helmet.

“What?”

“Oh, that's a nice way to greet your sister!” Her elven adoptive sister laughingly chided her.

“I have to get to work. What's up?”

“You're coming to the Full Moon Solstice. Grandfather has planned it for the Angeles Forest to make it convenient for you—no excuses!” Mist's voice was decidedly firm, if cheerful. She was in a good mood then.

“Misteriel, no. No way. I have too much work to do.” She had heard there was a massive pile of evidence heading to the lab, she'd be swamped. She loved her job as lead biologist in the MTF lab, but the hours could suck at times.

“But grandfather misses you. He has specifically required your presence after you missed the winter solstice feast.”

“Required?” Khirad's voice dripped with sarcasm and disdain. Yeah, fuck required she thought. Not anymore. Required my pink ass.

“Requested. With a please.”

Khirad laughed. Mist was a fucking liar. She knew the old elf had definitely said required. And not said please. So, that's a nope for this solstice then. She'd actually planned on going.

“You know he misses you, we all miss you.”

“I was home last month. I stayed for the whole weekend.” It had actually been nice, and she loved them a great deal. The possessiveness, mmm, not so much, but she had to admit on some level she enjoyed this power struggle with her adoptive grandfather.

“This is the solstice, and the Full Moon Solstice, the last one was..”

“70 years ago. I know.” Full Moon Solstices were a huge deal in wood elf culture. She figured she'd have to go, but, ugh, required. Why did elves have to be so difficult, especially males. Especially high born males like her grandfather.

“This may be your only..” Great, a reminder that she'd die before any of them. Thanks Misterial.

“Fine. Fine. But I truly can stay only for the evening and the next day. And you know what happens when I go to the Solstice, right?”

“Somebody claims you're their mate.” Misterial said with a sigh. “Sometimes, it's not every time.”

“Four fucking times!!! And even when the blood test proves I'm NOT their mate, there's still a bunch of drama. This is all about grandpa's money and power; it's not even about me.”

“Khirad, it's not just his..”

“It IS. Please, I'm no elf.” She knew she wasn't ugly, but non-elf mates were rare and not preferred. No way this was her charms.

“Nothing happened the last Solstice you attended.”

“Yeah, but no fucking way I'm ending up chained in a fucking basement somewhere.”

“Other mates are so rare and times have changed.”

“What a comfort to know that I have such a small chance of having all my personal choices taken away.”

“Grandfather would not allow it. He's made that quite clear now. He loves you. He adopted you.”

“Eventually. When I was 19. Bit late that.” Why had it taken six years for him to adopt her? Oh, yes, because it was a reward for service. It still burned her that he'd given her the joining amulet so late. She loved her family, but contact with more humans had made it clear just how fucked up elvish family dynamics were compared to human ones. Though she believed grandpa would take care of her—he'd certainly gotten the last four to back off and leave her alone--she always wondered if it was because the old elf viewed her as his human, or maybe Misterial's human, or if he actually loved her. Elves were possessive. The sun was hot, water wet, and elves stupid possessive.

“Khirad...”

Khirad pulled on her pants, “Hold on, let me get my shirt on. Ok, I'm back”

“This will be grandpa's last Full Moon Solstice. He's Seen it.”

“Misterial...” Oh, god, no one could lay down a guilt trip like an elf.

“I mean it.” Mist's voice had a seriousness and finality that had nothing to do with guilt trips. Khirad's heart fluttered. Findal seemed immortal, still looked as young as ever, frozen into his early 30's for hundreds of years. She knew he was reaching the time when he would begin to die, but so far there were no signs of the decline. Once it started, his life would progress onward from his 30's much like a human, though faster-- an elf rarely lived 20 years past the onset of the decline.

“Is he declining, has it started?” Khirad asked worriedly.

“No, no, but..”

“Ok, I'll be there.”

“I'll send you something suitable.”

“Something suitable I can wear on my bike for the two hour ride out there.”

“I'll send something suitable to your apartment today and a car for you tomorrow.”

“They'll have to pick me up at work—I really am slammed. Big new case, tons of material to process.”

“You can change at work.” Mist's voice sounded like she was being very very patient. It made Khirad smile.

“Fine, fine. Send me several outfits so I can pick. I'll wear one of them, promise. I'll bring the rest back.”

“Keep them. And I will send a stylist to prepare your hair and makeup. What time?”

“8:30, but I can NOT have a stylist come to my job.” A fucking stylist? At the MTF? No way. She liked being under the radar, minding her own business, doing her job and then out.

“You work with at least one elf since your promotion and move—grandfather is ridiculously proud by the way. I am sure you are not the only one to have a stylist...” Mist sounded puzzled and annoyed.

“It's the fucking MTF headquarters. No, not even that blue haired pretty boy Kandomere has a stylist come traipsing into work like, 'OMG!!! The MTF!!! What hair goes best with magical serial killers and terrorists!!!”

“You work with Kandomere?” Mist sound very interested all of a sudden. A crush? She could have him. He was certainly pretty to look at but seemed cold. Oh, and was a elf. Nope.

“He's in the same building. I've seen him a couple of times with some burly red-headed dude.”

“His house is very prominent.” Oh, fuck, not a crush. Matchmaking. She could here that tone in Mist's voice.

“And I should care because?”

“Well, he is quite good looking.” More of the tone. Gods above and below.

“He's an elf. And a co-worker.” Khirad sat and yanked on her boots. No way was she interested in Kandomere. He was a city elf at that. She'd learned how to fly under their radar by actively dressing as basic as possible, and sticking to mostly human zones. How grandfather had worried and complained about her decision to live outside the Elf District, “Elven law considers you an elf, why not enjoy the benefits? Why hide your lineage?” It was easier to avoid the attention of male elves by avoiding male elves, duh. And she was human. She was. Maybe not according to elven law, but flaunting her joining amulet just felt creepy, like a collar. She still wore it, under her clothes. Grandfather insisted on it and he was right—it did offer protection. The only place to get food like home was in the Elven Districts, and sometimes it was worth it to go there. Back in San Diego she'd had some experiences with interested male elves in the District and flashing the amulet was a disturbingly effective way to get them to back off. They went from, “human, you would make a good pet,” to “please do not tell your family of my insulting behavior.”

Mist replied defiantly, “I'm an elf.”

“Right, and I wouldn't date you either. I love you, but I enjoy my freedom too much to date an elf.”

“Not all elves are possessive.” Mist sounded slightly offended.

“Wait, hold on, what was that hit song in Ovusi? 'You better love me or else I'll kill you.' Remember that song?”

“It was a parody.” Was not.

“It was a commentary on elves well established tendency to be possessive as fuck. And to view humans as property. I've had my own experience with that, four times. Five including Galdor, who KNEW he wasn't my mate and STILL went apeshit when I broke up with him. Nope. I prefer to keep living, thanks. ” Khirad paused and said, “And I already have a guy.”

“What? Already!! You've been there a month! Tell me more!”

“We met at the gym. He's hot. I'll tell you more tomorrow. And show pics.”

“So you'll come?” Misterial's loud excited voice made Khirad's ears ache and heart glad. They might not understand her, but her family loved her. She was almost certain of it. She wished she could be certain of it. Fuck. Not thinking about that again.

“Yes. Actually, I was already considering it. I finished the gifts I've been making for you guys.”

“Jewelry?”

Khirad smiled at the avaricious interest in Misterial's voice. Elves and jewelry. “You'll have to wait and see...”

“You're killing me.”

“Naw, you love me. Why would I kill you.” Khirad paused, “I'll give you a hint, it's moonstone.

“Oh, like that piece you made last year!”

“Have to wait and see.” She sing-songed teasingly as she bent to feed her companion, Ten. Ten for, “it will take ten seconds for her to rip you to shreds, fucker.” It had seemed cool when she was sixteen. Ten was a trollhund—180lbs of intelligent, fearless, badass. Trollhunds looked like a cross between a cougar and a wolf and were one of the few species of companion animal willing and able to hunt literally anything. They also lived long lives, 40-50 years, making a them a lifelong friend. There was a colony in the woods next to Findal's primary dwelling. His face when she had come back from hunting with a trollhund cub at her heels had been priceless. He'd said, “Like calls to like, I see.” But she thought he might have been proud—Trollhunds rarely chose to be companions, and it was unheard of for one to select a non-magical being like her. She'd wondered, she'd had reason to, but the MTF rigorously screened every potential employee for magic and did a full genetic workup—she was 100% human and magic free. Innate magic was not a bar to employment—elves worked there after all—but the MTF wanted a clear picture of exactly what they were getting.

“About the stylist...” Mist pushed. She always pushed.

“I'll do my hair and makeup. You know I can. And if you don't like it, you can fix it there. Send me pics of what you want and I'll comply. Promise.” And she would, it would be easier.

“K. Love you! See you tomorrow!!”

“Love you too.”

Khirad headed for the kitchen, grabbed her lunch and stuffed it in her bag. Snatched up her helmet from the entry alcove table and out the door to the elevator at a run. She hated running late, hated it. Granted, she was late for being early—she liked to have a cup of coffee in the courtyard and relax before heading inside—but it threw off her ordered day. Mist was probably right. The last solstice had been fine, the gold diggers apparently giving up. She knew she was lucky to have a family at all, and ridiculously lucky to have been adopted by Findal and Mara who loved her dearly. But she just didn't really fit anywhere. Her family treated her just like their own daughter, like an elf. But she wasn't elven. People who thought the differences were superficial, just pointy ears and excellent fashion sense, were so very wrong. She grew up with elves and their take on things still surprised her. They found her equally incomprehensible at times. No, she would find a nice human boy, hopefully one not too boring, and settle down. Gym boy had promise—he was at least good in bed and a fellow scientist, though he worked in industry. Seven years older at 32, but not so far off her own age to not get her jokes and enjoy the same music. A month, so not enough time to pick out curtains. We'll see.

She started the Ducati—a gift from Mara who loved motorcycles and muscle cars passionately despite living in the woods and mostly riding horses. Not really accurate to call Findal's multiple grand halls “the woods” but they sure weren't the city either. The low rumble of the engine muffled by her helmet, she pulled out of her spot and headed into work. No time for coffee this morning, fuck it.

________________________________________________________

 

Kandomere stood at the window, espresso in hand. He'd been here for hours already going over the pictures of the crime scene, the runes, the bodies, and had looked forward to watching his human as a break from horror. Where was she? He narrowed his eyes in annoyance. It was 30 minutes past her usual arrival time. This, this was not acceptable, this tardiness. Just as he began to turn from the window, she came loping across the courtyard—she was fast—and disappeared into the building. He crossed his arms over his chest. Technically on time probably, but he was still displeased. He had no right to be displeased, and yet, he felt a simmering anger of being deprived of what he had come to think of as their time together.

Did she have coffee? No, he didn't see any. Perhaps he could bring her coffee. Which division did she even work in? He rubbed his forehead. No, this was a terrible idea. He didn't even know her name, what would he say, “Hi, I have been watching you drink your coffee every morning for nearly two weeks and noticed that this morning you did not have coffee. Here, I brought you an espresso. Enjoy.” Then he could smile at her, humans loved when elves smiled. Yes, that would make it that much better. Fuck. He needed a break. The lobby had a coffee bar, maybe she'd stopped by there. At least he'd get to stretch his legs. And maybe learn her name.

Kandomere walked to the elevator and rode it down to the lobby. As he exited he saw his human waiting for her coffee and talking with the smiling young barista. Stalking towards her, he heard her say, “Thank you,” as she received her coffee, her voice pleasing and melodic. The name written on the cup, Khirad. Pretty. Was she Middle Eastern then? She was quite pale for that part of the human world, but the dark hair, the eyes, the features all fit. Fascinating. She was far prettier up close too, decidedly not boring physically. But young, far too young for him. Stupid for him to come down here, what was he thinking? He was indulging this foolish interest. Just a coffee, then he'd stop this foolishness, return to his office, and forget this human girl. He walked up as she was leaving and breathed in her scent. She smelled absolutely delicious, gods above and below, mouthwatering. Chocolate and home, wine and...and recent sex with another male. Human. As a wave of absolute fury and jealousy washed over him, he snarled, then stood with his hands gripping the counter as he collected himself. He felt physical heat rising up his body, his head hammering with the urge to turn, stalk after her, grab her wrist and pull her to him, to mark her with his scent and his teeth. To take her home and fuck the other male's scent off her.

“Can I help you, sir? Are you ok?” He heard the barista's voice and centered himself on that. Against his will, he turned and watched the elevator doors slowly erase her. She was leaning against the wall of the elevator looking completely relaxed, eyes on her phone. Did she not even notice him? Women invariably noticed him, but not her? Had her lover so satisfied her she saw no other male? Rage, jealousy, lust, he'd never felt such an intense reaction to another being. What the fuck?

“No, thank you. I am merely tired. Difficult case.” Kandomere was disgusted to find his voice sounded furious.

“Oh, um, ok.” The human boy looked absolutely terrified. Pitiful.

“An espresso. Please.” There. Better. He sounded cordial. He felt wrong, and so very angry.

The human smiled uncertainly and quickly made him an espresso. Kandomere took it and stalked back to his office to pace. His mind was in turmoil, picturing Khirad with some faceless human enjoying what he now wanted so badly. He snatched a crystal vase full of delicate orchid blooms off his desk and threw it against the wall with such force it shattered.

“Boss, if you didn't like those orchids, you could have just said,” Montehugh said jokingly behind him. “I fuck up all the time so Hosato has a real nice collection of them. He'd have sent you a different color, you just gotta ask.”

Kandomere spun around to face Montehugh, he was breathing hard. He ran his hands through his hair and straightened his clothes. He hadn't heard Montehugh come in.

He looked at Montehugh, saw the worry in his eyes. How he must appear to him right now--Kandomere was always calm, cold even, unruffled under fire, controlled. He flushed with shame and replied, “ I am...preoccupied.”

Montehugh eyed the dent in the wall, “Maybe a little more than preoccupied?”

“Yes. More.” With some barely adult human female who ignored him.

“You want to talk?”

“No.” What could he explain? That for the first time in his life he was in the grip of an interest? That he felt out of control? No. No. He would focus on work.

“Ok, well, I got back some of the lab results. You were right. There's wand fragments, partially crystallized but incomplete—they're trying to make a wand.”

“Show me.” Yes. Work. Focus on the case. He could consider the meaning of his shameful loss of control later.

 

_________________________________________________________

Whoever pissed in his cornflakes was definitely getting his dick cut off. Khirad avoided eye contact and positively motored for the elevator to get away from whatever the fuck was making Kandomere take on what she called elves', “Somebody needs a killing,” look. Nope. Not this bitch. Out of the line of fire. He'd seemed fine until about five feet from her then bared his teeth and looked like Findal when he heard there were Inferni about in their woods. What. The. Mother. Fuck. She did what she always did with inexplicably angry elves—pretend she didn't notice them at all and get out of the blast radius. Couldn't have to do with her, she had never spoken with him, didn't know him at all. Maybe he was pissed about the new case. It was bad, she'd heard a little, but Kandomere was known as professional, cold even. Huh. Not her problem. But she'd avoid him anyway. Though, gods, if she'd thought he was good looking before, up close he was gorgeous. Practically radiating a dangerous predatory sexuality, that silky blue hair catching the light as he stalked towards her. Wow.

 

…and a giant nope. Angry elves were deadly elves and not always predictable. Nope. Best to avoid. She'd hole up in her lab and leave late after everyone else was gone. She would have had to anyway in order to be ahead enough to go to the Solstice, but whatever the fuck was up with the blue-haired beauty queen was added motivation. She'd texted the concierge to take Ten for a run, she was golden to get in her work groove for as long as she needed to get out of here at a somewhat reasonable time tomorrow. Putting in her earbuds, she got to work.

Late into the day, she finally came up for air. So far, with the exception of the cellular disruption typical of exposure to violent dark magic, the samples seemed typical of the usual California mix of humans. A few with elven or orc genetic material, but not enough to be out of the norm. She still had a lot of samples to work though, it was a time consuming process, but the only pattern seemed to be ordinary beings selected at random. The only constant was they were young, ranging between 21-2. Heartbreaking, the kids were the fucking worst. She could understand Kandomere's rage a lot better now—she had samples, but he would have seen the actual scene. Rubbing her eyes, she tried not to picture the sheer amount of bodies those all samples represented. She needed a break.

She checked the clock—5:30. Coffee bar closed in 30 minutes. Time for coffee and to eat her lunch—she was ravenous. Better late than never. Grabbing her bag, she headed for the cafe. Maybe she'd go out to the courtyard and eat under the trees? That would be a good break. She'd missed her morning courtyard time—the trees and the sound of falling water reminded her of home. That sounded lovely.

She settled in her usual spot, sighed and took a sip of her coffee. She'd indulged and got an absolutely enormous iced mocha with extra whipped cream and extra chocolate syrup. Oh gods, was that good. Closing her eyes she leaned back against the oak and rested for a bit, just listening to the water. Peaceful. She'd just stay like that for a little while. Breathing in the forest, her mind wandered back to her earlier meeting with Kandomere. Mist was right about one thing, he was absolutely gorgeous. And absolutely out of her league. All elves were attractive, she was used to that, but there was something dangerously appealing to him. As if he'd look her way without the inducement of her family ties. She hoped he didn't know, then hoped he did—she hated to see the change in elves' faces when they realized she wasn't, “just a human.” Maybe Kandomere wasn't like that. He'd certainly been upset over so many human deaths. That was surprising in itself. Plus, he chose to work with humans and while she hadn't heard that he'd joined the MTF bowling league, she also hadn't heard anything negative about him. He seemed...fine with humans.

This was pointless. She would never date a co-worker and he'd never be interested in her. Khirad sighed, then opened her eyes. Kandomere stood a few feet away, leaning against a tree and watching her, his face unreadable. She looked back, then looked away—she felt awkward, wasn't sure what to say.

“It's peaceful here, isn't it?” He said quietly. Even his voice was appealing, completely masculine with a slight accent. He must have grown up speaking Ovusi first.

She looked at him, he'd moved a little closer. His eyes were intent on her, like she was prey, his body tense.

“Yes, it is. I often take a break out here.” She unwrapped her sandwich, lifted it to take a bite.

“My name is Kandomere, and you are?”

“Khirad Greenwood. How nice to meet you,” she said politely. Thought it actually was quite nice to meet him. He seemed tense, but friendly. Interesting.

“Come, have dinner with me.” He said abruptly. “You are new here, correct? Let me show you a place close to here that is popular with the MTF. It will be better than a sandwich, I assure you.”

Khirad was tempted. A lot of the MTF employees went out after work, or grabbed a bite together. It was nice of him to include her.

“I really can't. I have a massive amount of work to do tonight if I'm to enjoy the Full Moon Solstice. Raincheck next week?”

He looked surprised, “You plan to celebrate the Solstice? The celebration in the Angeles Forest”

She nodded, took another bite of her sandwich and replied, “I was invited by a friend.” Not exactly a lie. She took a sip of her coffee, then licked the cream off the straw. Yum.

She looked back at him and found him inches away, staring down at her lips. She watched mesmerized as he reached out and ran his thumb along her bottom lip then brought the bit of cream back to his own mouth to savor it, his intense silver eyes never leaving hers. Her entire body tensed, and she felt a pull of hunger that had nothing to do with food. Why was he toying with her?

“You missed a bit, there.” He said softly.

She stood, not sure how to handle this, and said, “I need to get back to work. I'll talk to you later,” and made to brush past him but he grabbed her upper arm and stilled her. She didn't look at him, was afraid to as he leaned close enough for her to feel his breathe on her neck and breathed in her scent.

“I will see you at the celebration tomorrow, Khirad. And when you dance beneath the moon, you will dance only for me.” He licked her neck, gently, carefully ran his teeth along her soft throat, then paused, stepped away and let her go with a nod. “Tomorrow,” he said, and it had far more meaning than a marker of time.

She looked at him, speechless. Then hurried back inside. What the fuck just happened?

Chapter Text

The lights of the Elven District shone through the curved wall to ceiling windows over a meeting of the LA Inferni coven. A strikingly handsome silver haired male elf stood addressing the rest who were seated throughout an enormous and beautifully appointed modernist living room. The coven leader, a slender female elf with pale violet hair and piercing purple eyes, listened with obvious irritation.

“The problem is a lack of power to fuel the change. The incantation itself is sound, the material beginning to form for the next stage of the process, but there was insufficient power.” The elf addressed the coven somewhat laconically, as if unconcerned with the coven leader's annoyance.

 

“How much, Baal?” 

He shrugged, “I don't know, this is new magic and..”

“An estimate.”

“It is not simply a matter of numbers. With more pain there is more power. Half-breeds are good, and of course the younger the better.”

“And if we used elves? Or other magical creatures?”

Baal raised his eyebrows, “Yes, but with care..” 

“Yes, yes, the possibility of blood-feud. Of course we will select those elves who have most forgotten who they are, what it is to be an elf.” The coven leader's voice was firm, determined.

“Then, perhaps 150-200, far less if you have young, and even less if you are willing to be more creative with your pain next time, Lirael” Baal voice was level, as if discussing the weather or how to make a sandwich.

Lirael nodded, “Of course. Another hundred years of this magical ban and elves will have allowed themselves to entirely blend with the other races. There is talk of opening the Elven Districts, our sacred language is taught in schools for the amusement of the lower creatures. Elves no longer merely use humans for amusement, they consider them friends. And the humans use their machines and science to grant them power while fouling the land, as our people begin to forget they are more than mere flesh. No price is too high.”

The rest of the coven made sounds of agreement or nodded.

“We have three more who have the necessary genetics for the formation of a wand and the opening of the gate. I suggest we attempt it in two stages, with first the formation of the wands.” Baal paused thoughtfully, “We'll need to find more with the proper genetics, at least one more if all goes perfectly.”

Lirael snorted, “When does all go perfectly? We continue to look for the proper genes. We will find more.”

“Four in a year, with an extensive search. The combination is rare.”

“We will coordinate with other covens. They will be found.” 

Baal paused thoughtfully, “If we could harvest enough death we could do it in one step, but we would need one of the rarer magical beings. A djinn would work, or a river or forest god. Several dragons. The amount of magic needed to open the gate will be immense.”

Lirael stopped him with a wave of her hand, “And perhaps we could find a Gatekeeper willing to open the gate and usher us into the Darklands?” Her voice made it clear how likely she considered that prospect. “No. We will form the three wands and fulfill the prophecy. We must.”

 

 


 Kandomere found his thoughts going back to his human as he drove to meet Miklain. He'd regained his control, and thus the upper hand. She'd reacted as he expected--he'd scented her arousal and slight fear. A familiar response, but it disturbed him how much he'd liked the combination, how he'd wanted more of both. She'd still had a slight scent of the other male, perhaps that was what drove this need to dominate her utterly. That, and when he'd gotten closer she'd had a scent of elf as well.

 

Perhaps she was indiscriminate in her lovers? That would explain his need to dominate her—he did not share. A challenge then, to separate her from her lovers and so satisfy her that she would want no one but him. The things he would do to her, with her, for her. Kandomere smiled widely, sharp white teeth glinting. And he thought he might mark this one, permanently. He might not be able to stop himself from doing so, though it would be ill done—this, like all his liaisons, was certain to end.

 

He'd wanted to bite her in the courtyard, had not been able to resist running his teeth across her pale soft throat. As a rule, he left no permanent marks on his partners. Some had requested it, even begged for it, but no. Her, he wanted to hear her gasp at his bite, feel his teeth sink in until they were inside of her. She smelled edible, he wanted to taste her.

 

Foolishness. He was simply reacting to the other males' scent and would conduct this affair as he did all his affairs—with control. Tonight he would amuse himself with Miklain, take the edge off his hunger, and would be ready to hunt tomorrow. Perhaps she could even offer some insight into his reactions; she was nearly as old as him and viewed their arrangement as he did—casual pleasure.

 

He arrived at Miklain's building, drove under the portico and handed the valet the key tab to his Ferrari. Sauntering past the human security guards, he walked up to the concierge desk, “Apartment 347, Kandomere.” The concierge, of course, was elven—an attractive young female with bright green hair to match her eyes. Pretty. 

She smiled flirtatiously at him as she contacted Miklain for approval, then nodded, “It is always a pleasure to see you, sir.”

Kandomere headed to the elevator, then up to Miklain's door. He knocked once, a brief rap, and waited.

“Kandomere, I thought you might not come tonight.” Miklain smiled in pleasure, “Well met.” 

“A difficult case, but I would not miss our time together by choice.” He replied, following her into the apartment. He watched her sinuous movements, the way the pale yellow silk negligee clung to her curves, the fall of her golden hair and felt...nothing. He was unmoved by her. He must be more tired than he thought.

She poured him a glass of Ithil red, a gift from him, and handed it to him. Leaning close, she inhaled his scent, “Your scent, it is different.”

“Is it? I am very tired.” Her scent, he could smell her arousal but it did not move him. It was also fading. Strange. 

She smiled and cocked her head, “I think you would prefer to talk tonight. Come, sit.” 

Kandomere sat, watched as she stepped into her bedroom and returned wearing a long cashmere robe and, of all things, fuzzy panda slippers. She sat next to him, close but not seduction close, and said with amusement in her voice, “So, tell me her name.”

“Khirad.” He sighed in irritation. “She is human. And a co-worker.” He leaned his head back on the couch and stared at the ceiling. “It is not ideal.”

Miklain laughed at his disgruntled voice. “A human?”

“A young human, maybe 24, 25.” He sighed, rubbed his forehead, “I have six times her years.” 

“And you want her...”

“Badly. I am not myself.”

Miklain paused, leaned over and breathed deeply of his scent, “Could she be your mate?”

“A human? Do you have any idea how unlikely that is?” Kandomere paused, “My scent..” 

“It is different, not unpleasant exactly but..”

“You want me as much as I want you.”

“Yes.” She replied, “Which is not at all.”

“Fuck.”

 

 


At first she was shocked, but by the time she arrived back in the building Khirad was furious. How dare he treat her like that at work! How dare he treat her like that at all! She pulled out her phone and texted Mist on the ride up to her floor.

 

Kandomere's a fucking DICK.

WTF? What happened?

Dude just ran his teeth across my throat like I was his fucking mate! 

No way! Did he bite you? 

No, no, but he told me, I shit you not, that I would dance for him at the solstice. Not with him, for him. The fuck?

Kandomere said this?  

Yep. 

And you weren't into it? 

What do you think?

You were?

Fuck you. Ok, yes, he's hot but I HATE being treated like a sure thing. Plus, that teeth bit? Fuck him.

 

Humans, the stupid ones, the fetishists, thought that being marked by an elves' bite was sign of matehood. It could be, but it wasn't like elves could not bite whoever they pleased. And so some of them used this myth to lure humans with the promise of more than just sex. It was like convincing someone you were engaged when you really just planned to nail and bail. Ugh, and she had to work with this tool.

 

What are you going to do?

What can I do? File a complaint? A human versus an elf?  

YOU are an elf!!!

 

Khirad sighed and rubbed her temples. It would not go like that unless she involved Findal, and even then Kandomere was a senior agent. Ugh.  

 

He's just fucking with me. You know how you do. ;)

What if you're his mate?

Dude, no. Just, no.

This is really out of character for him! Grandfather pays close attention to the MTF and he's spoken well of Kandomere more than once.

He's not my mate. But he is a fucking dick.

Get even. Fuck back.

No, no, no. No way.

Do it. I'll help. Trust me.  

Mist, no.

Yes. He's coming to the Solstice, right?

Oh, yes, so I can dance for him, the condescending fucker. Unless he's just toying with me, which is just as likely.

He'll be there.

I don't care.

Ok, let me think. I will need to research his preferences.

Mist, no.

Khirad, yes. No one insults my sister.

Fine. At least I won't be bored at the solstice.  

No, you won't. Trust me?

Always.

Love you

Love you too

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Khirad piled Ten into her Land Rover and headed out for a 4:30AM run. One of the few places she could run with Ten off leash was in the Elven District. Trollhunds were revered by city elves as some sort of cultural heritage thing. They loved, loved, Ten but thankfully had enough sense to wait for her to approach them if she deigned to do so. Humans, not so much, at least some of them. It was just safer for everyone for her to run with Ten in the District.

 

She set a comfortable pace, thinking about yesterday and Misterial's morning text. I'm sending a car to take you to work this morning—you don't want to leave your bike at work. True, but she knew Misterial and knew this was part of some intricate plan of hers. She should have kept her mouth shut about Kandomere, but she'd been so instantly furious. Now, she just felt disappointed. He'd seemed ok at first, and everything she had heard indicated him to be more like Misterial than, say, Findal. Mist was her age, and younger elves generally tended to more progressive. Perhaps Kandomere was much older? But what would a traditionalist be doing at the MTF? Plus, his partner seemed to like him as did his other human co-workers.

 

But he'd behaved so...proprietary with her. As if it were a foregone conclusion she'd respond to him, and let him have and do whatever he wanted. He acted like she belonged to him. And he did it at work, so blatantly. That was not the behavior of a progressive, not at all.

 

What should she do? Misterial's plans ended with the target's public humiliation, always, and for elves few things were worse. Khirad didn't want him humiliated, at least in part because she'd prefer to not work with a mortal enemy, but she did feel somewhat humiliated herself. Elves just didn't treat female elves like that, not in her experience, not in public, and absolutely not the first time they met them—they reserved that sort of aggressively sexual behavior for humans. Female elves were equals, humans were not. Why did she feel hurt that he would treat her that way? Maybe she'd expected more of him because he was part of the MTF?

 

Though he'd began by inviting her to dinner—that was polite. Khirad felt like she was missing something, some piece of the puzzle. The more she thought of Misterial humiliating him, the more uncomfortable she became. It would be truly awful, Misterial was a master at elf politics and a brutal combatant in them. She enjoyed exacting payment for wrongs. She'd make it hurt, make it public and memorable. Something in her gut said that Kandomere might not deserve that.

 

Pausing in her run, she texted Mist.

 

Hey, I'm taking an Uber in to work. I don't need the car until 8:30 tonight.

 

You know he deserves it

 

Actually, after sleeping on it, I'm not sure

 

Your call

 

Thanks, Mist

 

Fine

 

Seriously, I'm not sure

 

Really? Or are you just being soft again?

 

No, I'm genuinely not sure. She probably was being soft by elvish standards, but it didn't feel right.

 

Ok, I'll wait.

 

See you tonight, Mist.

 

And you, sister.

 

 

Time to head back. She took off back to the car, this time setting a bruising pace. Running all out cleared her mind. She needed her focus on the case, not this petty conflict. If he tried anything again, she'd be ready for him.

 

Getting lost in her music, she began to enjoy the cool morning air, Ten loping through the park and half-heartedly chasing squirrels. She saw Ten pause and focus in on another runner across the park, taking off towards them leisurely but with definite purpose. Blue hair. Oh, fuck, fuck!

 

“Ten! Ten, stop!!”

 

Ten paused, looked at her, and then continued making a beeline for Kandomere. Trollhunds were excellent at discerning and eliminating threats to their companions. Shit. She was going to kill him.

 

She ran as fast as she could, maybe she could get her off him before he was dead. She was nearly at him. He stopped, spotted Ten heading towards him, and smiled delightedly. Was he an idiot? What was he thinking leaning over towards her and holding out his hand? Fuck, he was losing that one for sure—that was the one he'd used to grab her arm. Ten would scent her on him, probably already had, and scent that she had been afraid of him.

 

Ten was nearly at him, fuck.

 

“Kandomere, run!” Fuck, that's stupid. He can't outrun a trollhund. He's done for.

 

He looked up at her, puzzled, then recognized her...and smiled. A nice smile, closed mouthed and not flashing his teeth. Ten ran up, circled him, and then butted her head against his hand.

 

Khirad stopped, well beyond grabbing distance, and breathed incredulously, “She actually likes you. You.”

 

“You know Ovusi.” He replied, surprised.

 

“It's pretty common, they teach it in all the schools,” She replied dryly.

 

“But, you speak it beautifully, like an elf.”

 

She switched to English, “Have a good run. Ten, let's go.”

 

Ten just looked at her and then languorously rubbed her body along both sides of his marking him with her scent.

 

“Wait, why did you tell me to run?” He seemed puzzled.

 

“I misjudged.”

 

“You were surprised she liked me.”

 

“Look, I need to go.”

 

He stepped closer, and she move back. His eyebrows raised.

 

“You fear me?”

 

The anger bloomed inside her again, “No, I dislike you.” Maybe she feared him. “Look, I need to go. If I get angry with you, Ten, it's just not safe.”

 

Ten was winding around him in a way that was close to obscene, she'd never seen the trollhund take to someone so quickly or intensely.

 

“Yes, I am in terrible danger. I can see that.” He moved to step closer to her, then stopped himself. “I am not sure...”

 

“Yesterday, that stunt with the teeth. Pretending as if you were my mate, as if I were some idiot and a sure thing? Fuck you.”

 

Stunned, he looked like he had no idea what she was talking about, like she was a crazy person. Gods above and below, it was too early in the morning for dealing with elves, especially this elf.

 

“Fuck this, I'm out.” His face became desperate, terrified—he was going to grab her again. She took off running as fast as she could, just to get away from him, this stupid situation, just all of it. Tears began to run down her face, and that made her even angrier.

 

 

 


 

 

His first instinct was to chase her down, to make her listen to him. She'd been so angry, so hurt--he'd seen her eyes fill with tears and it clawed at him. He'd scented her fear and anger and no arousal at all. He felt sick. What had he done to produce this reaction? His mate disliked him, intensely. Intensely enough she'd feared her trollhund companion would sense it and attack him.

 

What had she said? He had been so stunned at her emotions he had found it difficult to hear her. It was clear he had offended her deeply, or perhaps there was another reason for her reaction? No, no, she had been quite clear it was a personal dislike for him. This was every elf's nightmare—an other mate who would not cleave. One who hated them.

 

And she was his mate, he had no doubt of it. All the signs were there, even the trollhund's reaction to him cemented it. He was hers. But she hated him. She'd said she disliked him, but her feelings were too intense for mere dislike. She ran from him, feared him. This was a disaster.

 

What had she said to him? Think, fool. Something about him using his teeth and...pretending to be her mate! She thought him one of those vile elves that preyed on naive young human females! Kandomere burned with shame—he would, had never behaved such a way. Why would she think that of him? She said he treated her as a sure thing as well, but he had scented her arousal—she had enjoyed what he was doing. That's why he did it! He rubbed his forehead.

 

Perhaps his mate disliked elves and was ready to believe the worst of them? That was certainly common. But then she had spoken perfect Ovusi. Had he heard her and not seen her, he would have thought her an elf. She had a slight lilting accent typical of wood elves. He found it beautiful, wanted to hear her speak to him again in Ovusi, though perhaps to say kinder things. Had she had a wood elf as a teacher? Was that how she met a trollhund pup? Perhaps another elf tricked her and made promises he did not intend to fufill? Was that the true source of her hatred? If so, he would exact revenge on him.

 

Kandomere reached his car, got in and headed back to his apartment. He was still confused by her reaction, perhaps he should discuss it with another. Who? Humans were perplexing, even the ones he knew well he found their reactions often difficult to understand. He sometimes had to simply assume goodwill and ignore what very much seemed like deliberate provocation, even from Montehugh.

 

He could talk to Montehugh. He had maintained a satisfying relationship with a human for 17 years, despite frequent conflict. It seemed so difficult, to know that one's mate could leave at any time, felt no physical compulsion to stay. It did not puzzle him when human parted, but he did feel puzzled by how they formed lifelong bonds such as Montehugh and Hosato. Elves were bound biologically, by fate and magic to the partner perfect for them. As long as their mate lived, they would cleave to them. Most did not live long after the loss of a mate, grieving themselves to death. If she managed to escape him he would grieve like this, descend into madness, and eventually die. He now knew why he felt such a compulsion to dominate her. He had never felt so powerless, such despair. His mate despised him. She did not want to even speak to him.

 

He would invoke the law. It would require her to spend enough time with him to keep him from madness, to touch him. It did not require sexual contact, merely skin to skin contact and conversation. There would be training. She would have to pretend to tolerate him, and avoid incurring his jealousy. Shower before she came to see him, pretend there was no other but him while she was free to do anything, see anyone, marry and have a life without him. While he remained alone. The law required this pretense otherwise he would be a danger to society. Pitiful. But he could continue his work—that was what was most important. His house had sworn an oath. He would fulfill his part. He must.

 

So, he would endure the blood test as long as he was there to witness it and ensure none of his blood went elsewhere-such could be used in a spell to bind and manipulate him. Had an enemy gotten his blood and enchanted him into believing she was his mate? The test would reveal that too—mated elves released a hormone that could not be duplicated, a blend of flesh and magic unique to each elf. If it was a spell, it had certainly been an effective one—his focus was gone. He had work to do. She hated him already, what did he have to lose? Perhaps he could pay her for more than her touch? He had heard of such arrangements though he felt nauseated at the idea of it. Linked to a female he had to pay to accept him? The gods must hate him for this to be his fated mate.

 

The first place he would go is the lab, resolve this issue and acquire proof. Then, he would formulate the next step. Perhaps he would try to speak to her before he resorted to forcing her via the courts. He wanted her good will, so badly. But he would have her regardless, at least enough of her to complete his work.

 

Showered, shaved, wearing his favorite suit and his father's gorget, he felt reminded of who he was. He would endure this. Rise above it and protect the other races, ensure the Dark Lord remained bound. This was the responsibility of his house. He called for his car and headed down to the lobby.

 

Montehugh called him on the way to work.

 

“Boss, got some info back from the lab. That new lead biologist, Khirad, she's good, fast. I like her.”

 

Of course she worked in the lab. Why not? Could nothing be simple for him anymore? Fine, he would have her do the test and talk to her at the same time. He grew tired of this.

 

“Tell me.”

 

“Boss, you ok? You don't sound so good,”

 

Kandomere gritted his teeth, gripped the wheel and shouted, “Just fucking tell me!”

 

There was a long silence at the other end, then Montehugh said, “You're not ok. You either tell me what's going on or I recommend you for magical evaluation. Boss, you're, I think you've been hexed.”

 

“No. I have a mate now. She has rejected me.”

 

“Boss, I..” Montehugh paused, clearly at a loss for words. “What can I do?”

 

“I need you to go with me to the lab this morning.”

 

“Tell me when, I'll be there.”

 

“I will text you when I arrive.” He paused. Perhaps she would be less afraid if Montehugh spoke with her first. And it would be good to have him there as a reminder to restrain himself. He felt close to the edge. “Meet me in my office.”

 

 


 

 

Khirad stepped out of her Uber, paid and grabbed the bag of her things for the Solstice. She'd thought about calling in, thought about it hard, but she did not run from a fight. She loved her job. She just needed to get to the lab, knock out her work, then get out of there and go home. She could figure this out at home over wine with Mist. Maybe talk to Findal as well. She still felt like she was missing something, and Ten had loved him. Ten's judgment was excellent, and while she was cordial to most, the only people she loved besides Khirad were Misterial, Findal, and Mara—trusted family.

 

She hurried across the courtyard and hope she did not run into him. Ten might like him, but she did not. He looked at her like prey, like he would eat her, his body language dominant and predatory. He seemed the opposite of safe and kind, she feared him. She couldn't help it. She felt he was a threat to her. Normally Ten hated the males that made her feel that way. She'd talk to her family, they would understand what was happening better that her.

 

Across the lobby, no coffee for her today, straight to up and into her lab. She'd work solid, get ready for the Solstice, then get out of there. Putting in her earbuds, she forgot about everything and narrowed her focus to work. She'd found an interesting pattern in the samples and with that curious thread to follow she could shut the rest of this out.

 

 


 

 

The day went to shit. First, he and Montehugh had to go downtown to interview a couple of humans who said they had noticed elves picking up runaways and that the runaways never came back. They'd gotten good info from that, at least—the Inferni were going to try again soon. Then was a homeless schizophrenic that the police thought was Shield of Light, but was actually just insane—no tattoo and no actual sense. Kandomere had seen that she was referred for treatment, but her shrieking had given him a pounding headache.

 

He needed to see Khirad, to resolve this. He felt compelled by her dislike—what if she fled? Please, no more disasters. Let him reach her today. His sympathy was with the mentally ill woman, though he was so far quieter with his instability.

 

“Let's head back, boss.” Montehugh said, “Don't worry, I know it's late but Khirad promised to stay until I got back. I told her I needed a favor.”

 

“Did she ask the nature of the favor?”

 

“No, she seemed preoccupied. Just said she'd like to be out of there by 8:30 if possible.

 

“Good. Thank you.”

 

“I'll call her, let her know we should be there by 7:30, even with traffic.”

 

As Montehugh drove, Kandomere considered confiding in him but simply didn't have the will. It would become obvious quite soon anyway. Soon, he saw the MTF building. It was likely empty at 7:30 on a Friday. It was a very good thing he had Montehugh with him. His control felt thin indeed.

 

When they entered the lab, Montehugh went first. She was the only one still working. He did not see her until he stepped past him. His mouth went dry, heart pounding—she was dressed for the Solstice. Dressed for another, that human he had scented, or the elf, or some new lover. Her hair fell in a sheet of black water down to her waist, her dark eyes huge and smudged with khol, lips red as blood. She wore a Saint Laurent asymmetric black leather mini dress and red leather Saint Laurent simple strappy heels. Diamonds at her ears and the pale column of her throat bare.

 

“Beautiful,” he murmured in Ovusi, “Exquisite, gods above and below, perfect.”

 

She froze. He could not stop himself from moving towards her, his eyes riveted on her as she stood, began backing away from him as she looked for a way to escape. No. She would not leave him. No other would touch what was his. And then, he had her. She trembled in his arms, he heard Montehugh shouting something, but all he saw was her. He caught her wrists in one hand, pinned them over her to the wall, careful so careful not to hurt her. He breathed her in, his other hand in that soft smooth hair cupping the back of her head. Her. The whole world was down to this, her skin against his. He looked down at her, she was so afraid of him. Why? He would never hurt her.

 

She turned her head, leaning away from him, and exposed her soft throat. He could see her pulse fluttering under the surface, wanted to catch it, mark her, mark her for all to see. Later, when she was not so afraid. For now he would be gentle gentle gentle. He brushed his lips lightly across her throat, kissing her jawline. The more contact he had, the clearer he began to feel. He leaned his cheek against her neck, kissing her shoulder. She was so afraid of him, he could smell it on her and he regretted it. He didn't want her fear.

 

“Don't fear me, little mate, I would never hurt you.” He spoke softly in Ovusi against her ear. Brushed his lips along the shell as he whispered, “Please.” Breathed her in, felt drunk on her, his headache disappearing, tiredness and irritation fast diminishing. He rested his head against her shoulder, stroking the back of her head. He held her for a while, and felt her begin to relax, the fear diminishing.

 

He leaned back and looked at her face. She looked stunned, so beautiful, but utterly overwhelmed. At least she wasn't trying to get away. He released her hands and cupped her cheek, running his thumb along her neck. Maybe, she would not hate him. Maybe he could win her. He breathed in and began to feel calmer, less desperate. Her scent was less fearful, and he thought he might detect a hint of arousal. Wishful thinking, fool. Her hands were on his shoulders, she was touching him by choice. Dark eyes looked up at him, her expression unreadable to him.

 

He realized he had her backed against a wall in the MTF lab. Hardly a good start to winning her. He was utterly at a loss for words, could think of nothing to say to her. He hadn't hurt her, he looked her over for marks, and she was not hurt. He felt back in control of himself, and reluctantly stepped away and adjusted his suit.

 

“I, I regret that.” He regretted nothing but the fact she was afraid. Had she responded, he'd have taken her against the wall in front of Montehugh—he still felt such a hunger for her that it shamed him.

 

She nodded, waited until he stepped back a bit more.

 

“Boss, she'll do the test. Come over here.” As if they needed the test now. Montehugh was speaking to him in that calm reasonable voice he used to deescalate encounters with the mentally ill.

 

He walked over and sat where Montehugh indicated. She started prepping a tray to draw blood, turned on the machines she would need for the analysis, snapped on gloves. He would have preferred to feel her hands on him.

 

“I need you to take off your jacket and roll up your sleeve.” Her voice was calm, level, with only a hint of the fear he could still smell from her.

 

“I will not hurt you. I will not.” He said as he stood to remove his jacket. He sat, removed his cuff link, and rolled his shirt up.

 

“I believe you.” She definitely did not. She must not lie very often because she was terrible at it.

 

“Ok, boss, relax, let's see what going on.” Montehugh said in that annoyingly calm voice.

 

“Of course.” Her hair brushed against his forearm and chest as she tied off the rubber tourniquet around his upper arm. He ran his free hand through it and she looked at him in surprise. Again, there was a the faintest hint of desire.

 

She swiped the join between his elbow and forearm, then said, “I am clear on the process for this, but blood draw is a skill. I may hurt you, it may take more than one try to hit the vein. Are you certain you want me..”

 

“Yes. Yes. I want you to see the result for yourself, for you to do the test.”

 

“I'll try not to hurt you.”

 

“Thank you.” He inclined his head in deferential gratitude. It's not bodily injury he fears from her, but he does fear the loss of her. And he realizes then--they are both afraid of each other.

 

The needle slips easily into his flesh and he watches the vial fill with his blood. It nauseates him, and the risk makes him begin to sweat.

 

“Kandomere, I promise I will dispose of all of it, the needle, the vial, all of it by fire in your sight.” She sensed his anxiety and was kind to him? He looked up at her and found compassion in her eyes. She pitied him? A flush of shame filled him. He nodded.

 

She removed the needle, placed a pad of folded gauze over the small injury. “Hold that for 30 seconds. It should be healed closed by then.” Taking the vial, she placed it in a centrifuge and pressed start. “I'll first need to separate the blood components and then I can run the tests.

 

“These tests, they can...be certain?” Montehugh's voice was deeply worried. And even a little afraid. Why? Afraid for him?

 

“Yes, absolutely. His blood will contain a form of oxydesin, their bonding hormone.” She paused, glanced at him, and he scented a spike of fear. “But, ah, non-human mates are incredibly rare. A powerful enough curse could mimic the effects, the feelings.”

 

She feared he was cursed, they both did. Of course. “Restrain me. It would be safer for both of you.”

 

Montehugh nodded, looked at him, and then sighed, “Boss.”

 

“I do not believe myself to be cursed or hexed, but,” he looked directly at Khirad, “I want you to feel safe with me. Restrain me.”

 

Khirad looked pointedly at Montehugh, and Montehugh shrugged and pulled out his cuffs. Kandomere pulled down his shirt sleeve, put his cuff link back in and put his arms behind his back. Montehugh said nothing, but he put the cuffs on tightly. She visibly relaxed at seeing him restrained.

 

“Khirad,” She stiffened and looked at him, “I am not cursed or delusional. I am your mate.”

 

She sighed, shook her head, and turned back to pull the vial from the centrifuge. “We'll soon see.”

 

She seemed to get lost in her work, moving from instrument to instrument, her heels clicking against the floor. Intelligent, beautiful, and his, he would just have to persuade her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Khirad focused on the test in front of her and tried not to think about how it had felt to be held by him. He was so strong, so fast, beautifully terrifying. Surprisingly, he'd also been incredibly careful not to hurt her. That made sense since it was clear he genuinely believed himself her mate. He wasn't playing games and toying with her, he was tormented. Poor guy. If she'd known he'd been cursed, she'd have been nicer to him. And contacted the curse squad. Montehugh wanted her to hold off calling them until they were certain he wasn't her mate. Since he was cuffed, she'd comply but this had to be a curse.

 

He watched her with an unnerving intensity, as if he were afraid she'd disappear if he took his eyes off her. To be honest, she'd like to. Her plan had been to party with her sister, not this BS. She glanced at the clock—8PM. She was going to be running late. Once she got the tests processing, she'd text Mist and let her know. This was a clusterfuck, they should just contact the curse squad now and get the guy started on some relief. Though knowing the curse squad, they'd make her run these tests first anyway, lazy bastards.

 

She'd run the tests for cortisol, adrenaline, and testosterone levels too. In the odd chance he was her mate, that would give her an idea of how far advanced his mate sickness. It was strange for it to progress so fast, but each elf was individual and her rejection had probably added to his stress and accelerated the descent. Other mates were so rare, and elves not particularly excited about being studied in general, so it was largely uncharted water.

 

Mate sickness was a horror, one of the few physical disadvantages elves had over the other races. It was probably an evolutionary adaption meant to curb elves' aggressive nature, but there simply hadn't been enough research to validate that theory. In peace, it was a rare occurrence--elves were subject to few diseases, and pretty damned durable. Among the elderly it was common for one mate's decline to trigger the other's, and so often they died together. Mate sickness was thankfully a rare occurrence.

 

She knew mate sickness intimately--Lucath, her adoptive father, died from it. She'd been a fucked up kid when the wood elves took her in at ten. What she'd lacked in size and strength, she'd made up with sheer creative viciousness. Findal said she'd had all the charms of an angry feral cat, a dirty one. That was probably accurate. Mist had latched on to her and stuck like glue, gradually wearing down her resistance until she'd given up and grudgingly accepted her constant presence. With Mist, eventually came Lucath and Lyraial--Mist's parents. Unlike Mist, who wore her down by fighting, they were unfailingly kind and stubbornly determined to civilize her. No adult laid a hand on her, not once, not even Findal. They just expected her to behave well, showed their disappointment, and in Findal's case his utter contempt and disdain, when she did not. Gradually, their opinions started to matter. After a couple of years, she loved and trusted Lucath and Lyraial and had a wary fondness for Findal.

 

It seemed that the split second she sighed and settled into feeling safe, Lyraial died in a hunting accident from a snapped neck. She would never forget the wails Lucath made when he saw his mate's body, or the horror of watching him slowly lose his mind, the way he begged so pitifully for his mate at the end. The idea of anyone being tied that tightly to her, or her being tied that tightly to them, terrified her. No being should endure that kind of pain. Lucath was the main reason she studied biology—to find a solution for mate sickness, or at least some kind of palliative care. The research was difficult as mate sickness was a closely guarded secret from the other races, and viewed as an inevitable outcome. Subjects were reluctant, hard to find and no other species had a similar reaction.

 

Still, she had learned more than anyone who came before her, and found a few options that made the early stages of the disease more bearable. One human SSRI antidepressant helped a great deal with palliative care, but she had found nothing that would allow an elf to rise back out of grief like the other races usually did. Unlike the other races, elven physiology was magic and flesh. That was the reason most brights were elves. She suspected that she would need a tattooed rune, or some form of permanent spell, to manage the magical aspect of mate sickness, and a pharmaceutical to manage the physical aspect. Looking for this combination is part of what led her to work for the MTF.

 

Hmm, this curse was doing a solid job of mimicking the early stages of mate sickness. Cortisol and adrenaline were both quite high—he had to be anxious as fuck. Testosterone was ridiculously high. He must have iron self-control. Looking at these numbers, he should be a raging violent mess. She looked over at him, found him staring intently at her. That was unnerving, but he looked pretty calm. There was absolutely no way he could be feeling calm with numbers like these.

 

Gods, he was trying not to freak her out any more than he already had. Once this mess was over, if he still had any interest in her, if he asked her out she was going. As much as she could find someone who frankly scared the shit out of her sweet, it was him. And he had to be tough as fucking nails.

 

“No fucking way. That can't be right.” Khirad looked at the positive test for oxydesin.

 

Montehugh looked up from his phone, “What?”

 

“It's not a curse.” Khirad felt sick. She barely knew this male, but she was tied to him now. He would turn into Lucath if she rejected him. She looked over at him. At least he was handsome, and he seemed to be a good person. But an elf, there was no way this would not be complicated.

 

She walked closer to him, saw how he leaned closer to her then stopped himself. He was really trying. It wasn't fair—he deserved an elf for a mate. She deserved the right to pick the man she wanted. Fate had royally screwed them both.

 

“I'm his mate,” Khirad said softly as she reached out to stroke his face. He needed her touch, might as well start now. “He has mate sickness, that's what's wrong with him.” He leaned into her hand and closed his eyes.

 

“What even is that?” Montehugh said in a bewildered voice.

 

“Can this man be trusted with secrets?” She asked Kandomere in Ovusi.

 

“Yes. I have told him much but not this.” He replied in Ovusi.

 

“Elves mate for life. They don't pick their mates, it's some kind of magic. No one knows how it happens. If their mates dies, they almost always die.” Khirad explained in English.

 

“But, you're fine so..”

 

“I rejected him. I thought he was just being...I didn't think he was my mate. That triggered the sickness to start. In older elves it can progress quite quickly.” She looked inquiringly at him—just how old was he?

 

“I am 159,” Kandomere replied calmly.

 

Khirad's eyebrows raised. It was around early middle age for an elf, human equivalent to about 35, but wow that was a lot more years than 25. Shit. It was unusual for an elf that old to be unmated. 159.

 

“That would do it. The age and my rejection, he's not thinking straight.” Khirad pulled a chair up opposite him. “Uncuff him.”

 

“I'm not so sure..” Montehugh began.

 

“Dude, I'm the expert and the one who was just slammed against the wall—I'll take my chances. Uncuff him. He needs physical contact to calm down. As long as he thinks I'm safe and not going to leave him behind, he won't freak out again.”

 

“Your call.” Montehugh looked over at Kandomere, who gave a nod.

 

“Kandomere, I'm going to hold your hands while we talk. I understand. I will not leave you.” His eyes were beautiful. I guess if I have to have a pet elf, this one is not too bad, she thought wryly. What a gigantic clusterfuck this was. What the fuck was she going to do about tonight too? Should she bring him along? The idea of him meeting Findal gave her actual physical chills.

 

Montehugh released the cuffs and she steeled herself to be grabbed again. He leaned forward and gently grasped her hands, his fingers stroking the back of them. His self-control was genuinely impressive. Parameters. Start with those. “Kandomere, I know you need to touch me. I'm willing for you to touch my arms, my back and shoulders, my head from the neck up, and my feet.” She smiled and said, “I'd take a backrub or a footrub from the Dark Lord himself.”

 

He tilted his head and said, “Yes.” He certainly didn't sound excited, but she didn't blame him.

 

Fuck! Her cellphone vibrated—it was 8:45. Mist, no doubt.

 

“I need to answer this; it's my sister.”

 

When she took one of her hands away to answer the phone, he pulled her on to his lap. So much for limits. Fine, Montehugh was here to chaperone, it would be fine.

 

He pulled her to his chest, wrapped her tightly in his arms, and rested his head on hers. She listened to his heartbeat and noticed it was slowing—good, he was becoming less stressed. Hopefully, once he relaxed, they could negotiate some sort of agreement that would allow her to live her life and for him to get at least some of what he needed. She'd have to talk to Findal too. There would be political aspects of this clusterfuck as well. She wondered what he knew about her family.

 

 


 

 

Kandomere listened in frank amazement to Khirad's side of the conversation and snippets of the other person—they both sounded like elves. He'd never heard a human with such fluency in Ovusi and the idea there was two of them, or a whole family of them, was beyond amazing. Perhaps her family were linguists, and she the rare exception who chose biology? Also, how did she know about mate sickness, especially so much about it? He was beyond thankful that she did. It would make it easier for her to accept him.

 

What a curious creature. Even if she had not been his mate, he would have been fascinated by her. He pulled her closer and slid her silky hair to the side—she used elven hair products, ones they refused to sell to humans. How had she gotten them? Counterfeits were common, but this scent was real. He leaned in to kiss her neck.

 

“Stop that.” She said in irritation, “It's distracting, I, just stop it.” He smiled against her neck, he'd definitely scented a hint of arousal. She might not like him, but she found him attractive—he could begin with that.

 

“Of course.” He replied with a contrition he definitely did not feel in his voice.

 

Her scent was an intoxicating mix of human female, scents he associated with elves, and something more, something just her.

 

She was arguing with her sister about going to the Solstice celebration. The sister was insisting. He tuned out the conversation, it was none of his affair and obviously Khirad planned to stay with him here. He was deeply curious about her family. It was rare for humans to be allowed to attend, perhaps her family had rendered some service to the Wood King and been granted the status of elf-friend? But an entire family? That was normally an individual honor and exceedingly difficult to come by, at least in part because wood elves refused to stop using magic. As long as they kept it secret, kept it light, MTF policy was to ignore it.

 

It would have been a poor fight to pick—Findal their king had solidified the wood elves as a worldwide isolationist power while establishing a reputation with the other races for making the wild parts of the world relatively safe. People liked wood elves, mainly because Findal had skillfully positioned them as the “nice” elves that helped you when you got lost in the woods. Governments liked them because they secured the wooded portion of national borders for free and did not interfere with any group except the Inferni, who they eliminated mercilessly. Findal's vast wealth also granted him a great deal of power, and it frankly just seemed stupid to kick the anthill. The wood elves had been neutral for a very very long time, but they were a merciless adversary to those who attacked them.

 

Kandomere agreed with the policy, but he would have preferred his mate to not be involved with them. There was no proof that the wood elves engaged in dark magic, but Kandomere found it likely. The idea that magic could be divided neatly into dark and light, and that one division could be beneficial, seemed unlikely to him. The division was an easy one to make—dark magic was powered by death and pain. Wands were always dark—a wand was created from the dead body or death of a bright. Once made, the wand could be used for good, but it would always be easier to use for evil.

Findal's folk had their own innate form of nature magic. Weak individually, but very strong when channeled as a group. One wood elf could make a garden disease free, two could make fruit appear out of season, three could make fruit appear out of season overnight, and 3,000 could make the trees uproot themselves and dance. Or tear their terrified enemies limb from limb. That hardly seemed like light magic to him.

 

But fighting them to bring them to curb would be an unpopular and deadly decision, so the MTF contented themselves with simply monitoring. Still, he did not like Khirad's involvement with them. He would put a stop to it once she cleaved to him.

 

She had finished her conversation with an enormous sigh.

 

“Let me go,” she said, pushing at his arms.

 

Reluctantly, he released her. She back in the chair opposite from him and let him take her hands.

 

“Ok, so you're going to have to come with me to the Solstice. I can't miss it, and in your state there's no way you'd let me go without a fight.” She sounded annoyed, and deeply weary.

 

“Of course, I would be delighted to accompany you.” And he would be, though he found it odd she felt compelled to attend.

 

She rubbed her forehead, clearly stressed, “Do you own elven formal wear, court attire?” Her voice made it clear how unlikely she thought that was. Had she been an elf, he would be deeply offended. His house was prominent and he was the firstborn of his mother, there was nothing he did not have. But why the fuck would be need that?

 

“Of course,” he said disdainfully.

 

“Great.” She looked at her watch. “Fuck. It's nearly 9. We absolutely must be there by midnight for the Invocation of the Moon.”

 

Why the fuck would she need to be there for that? That was strictly the province of wood elves and led by the royal family. What did her family do? Were they documenting the ritual? It was hard to imagine Findal becoming progressive enough to allow an entire family of humans to attend and view one of their most sacred rituals. He wasn't even sure he would be allowed to witness it.

 

“Ok, so we'll take the car to your apartment—we can change there. We have to be fast though. Mist thankfully sent the clothes I'd need for the Invocation in case something went wrong and I had to leave late.” She looked at him. It was clear she classed him as something going wrong, “If your attire is not sufficiently formal, I'll figure something out with Mist.”

 

“I assure you, my attire will be acceptable but..” He was offended, who was she to judge him?

 

And she interrupted him! “Great, let's go. We can talk more on the way.”

 

“Boss, are you sure you're up for this, whatever the fuck it is?” Montehugh said testily.

 

Khirad looked at them both and said, “Unless he wants to either let me go alone, or royally piss off my family, he doesn't have much choice. I have to go, he can do what he wants.”

 

“Why the fuck would your family care about some fucking elf party in the woods?” Montehugh was clearly tired and ready to go home. Shit, he was too.

 

She drew herself up to her full height and looked disdainfully at Montehugh, like an elf noble looking at a human. She even had the sneer down. “The Invocation of the Moon is hardly some, “elf party.” I'll forgive you your offense this once.” Then she seemed to catch herself, and said, “You have no idea, do you?”

 

“What the fuck does that even mean?” Montehugh replied grumpily.

 

She looked at him, cocked her head, “Do you know?” 

 

“What the Invocation of the Moon is? Of course. I am not an idiot.” Could she be more offensive?.

 

She rubbed her forehead again, “Fuck, you don't. Findal is my adoptive grandfather. Misterial, my sister. Since I'm technically part of the royal family, I have to be there even though I have no magic. It would be viewed as an insult and a repudiation of my family. ”

 

All the pieces slipped into place and Kandomere stared at her in horror and amazement.

 

“Findal adopted a human?” Montehugh said incredulously.

 

“And there's that look I love so much. Great. Just great.” She pulled her hands out of his and stood up. “I'm leaving, and you can either come with me and follow what I say, or stay the fuck here.”

 

“I'll go.” he replied. He would not let her out of his sight. 

 

“Lucky fucking me.”

 

Chapter Text

After she'd disposed of his blood by fire, they'd all headed down to the limousine. Montehugh tried to argue that Kandomere should just stay here, but he was having none of that—she was stuck with him. In the car, he'd sat next to her, held her hand, and glared at her, some fucked up combination of angry and affectionate. She'd tried to avoid eye contact, and had petted Ten with her free hand, focusing on the feel of her fur. It was super fun. After the quick and utterly silent ride to his apartment, Khirad dressed in her court clothes and headed to his kitchen. He'd told her to treat his home as hers, and she was ravenous after missing dinner. His apartment was beautiful—simple, clean, modernist and elegant. And huge, he was clearly wealthy. After she made a sandwich and poured a glass of orange juice, she leaned against the counter and texted Mist.

 

Ok, so I didn't tell you this earlier, but Kandomere is coming with me.

 

Because he's your mate.

 

How the fuck did you know?

 

I was worried so I talked about it with grandfather. He laughed and said, “He's her mate. How amusing.”

 

Ugh. So he knows he's coming with?

 

He's expecting him. Plans to negotiate concessions.

 

Oh, gods. Look, I'm just going to try to work out some informal arrangement with him.

 

Politics. I'll see you here.

 

Sure.

 

“Since you feel uncertain of my ability to select appropriate court attire, perhaps you would care to choose it for me?” Khirad looked up from her phone and her mouth went dry. Kandomere was standing in the doorway with nothing but a towel tied around his lean hips, his face tight with annoyance. Gods above and below, he was perfect. Pale dusky skin stretched tight over powerful defined biceps and a broad muscular chest with a light dusting of dark hair leading down to the edge of the towel. A flush of heat began low in her belly, and she wondered what he would look like naked, how he would taste.

 

“If you keep looking at me like that, we'll never make the Invocation,” his voice sounded ragged with hunger, a breathy irritated growl.

 

Khirad blushed and looked away, “I'm sure whatever you pick will be fine.”

 

“If you're sure you trust my judgment, princess.”

 

“Fine, I'll help you pick.” What was he so pissed about? And that look of horror on his face when he'd realized her house, honestly, that had smarted a bit. She was used to apologies for bad behavior, and fear that her family would retaliate, but this elf did not seem afraid and he certainly wasn't sorry. He seemed angry and offended. Did he think she was hiding her family connections? What fucking reason did she have to tell him? Or any of her other co-workers? Hell, she hadn't even told Aaron about her family and she'd been dating him a month--why would she tell him? Who does that? Fuck, what the fuck was she going to do about Aaron? She really liked him and things had been going so well. She glanced at Kandomere and tried to picture his reaction if he found out about Aaron. What would he do? She did not want to find out.

 

Findal would know. That could be a problem in itself. Findal was ruthless—if he thought Kandomere a threat to her, he would deal with it. He exiled the other elves that attempted to claim her as their mate, and exiled her first, and only, elvish boyfriend Galdor, though Galdor had fled before the pronouncement. Exiled. She sometimes wondered if that was all that had happened. The four that claimed she was their mate, she felt pretty sure that had been a political power play and so for them it seemed likely they actually had been exiled. But Galdor had been obsessed--if Findal found him she doubted her was still alive.

 

She'd started dating him when she was 16 and had thought it was just casual fun. But when she decided to leave to go to college with Mist, he'd turned darkly possessive. When she broke up with him, it had darkened further into murderous obsession. He could acknowledge that she was not his mate and in the same breath state, unequivocally, that she belonged to him. It was hard for her to believe he had given up if he knew she was still alive.

 

And now she had this new elf to deal with. This new angry possessive elf who so far hadn't hurt her, but definitely could if he wanted to. Galdor had, and he had been her friend for years. But Galdor had been a teenager, so maybe Kandomere would manage better given how insanely old he was. 159. That was daunting. She'd keep Aaron a secret until she could talk to Findal and work something out. There had to be a way to keep Kandomere alive and for her to still retain her freedom.

 

“Are you going to help me, or not?” His voice absolutely dripped with sarcasm. Khirad realized she'd been staring off into space. Gods, she was so tired. She'd hoped to sleep on the way to the Solstice, fat chance now.

 

“Sure, lead the way.”

 

Khirad followed him into his bedroom, trying not to look at his broad muscular back. He'd be able to scent her desire and so she focused on anything but the fact she was in his bedroom and he was nearly naked.

 

With a sarcastic flourish, he indicated his closets.

 

“Court dress is on the left side of the second closet. I hope there is sufficient choice to meet your exacting standards.” He was clearly trying to pick a fight and she was not getting sidetracked—they had 30 minutes to get on the road.

 

Stepping into the closet, she found a wealth of gorgeous choices. The blue and silver would look good with his coloring and offer no offense to Findal. The colors were seen as peaceful. Hmm, but perhaps he should represent his own house? She'd never paid attention to the intricate genealogies aristocratic elves were expected to know because she had no idea she would suddenly become one at 19. How was she to know Findal would actually adopt her legally?

 

Mist

 

What?

 

Which house does Kandomere belong to?

 

You don't know? What is wrong with you?

 

A lot, so much, but can you just give me his house's name and colors.

 

Why do you need them?

 

I'm helping him dress to meet Findal.

 

You are picking Kandomere's clothes? Please tell me you did not imply he could not dress himself appropriately?

 

I asked if he had court attire and told him that you would help him if it wasn't formal enough.

 

There was a long pause before Mist replied.

 

You have deeply insulted him. His house is Aiderion. Their colors are blue and silver. Aideron is an old house, as old as ours and just as wealthy. He is the firstborn of his mother, the heir to the house. He can certainly pick his own clothes, and likely far better than you.

 

What do I do?

 

You'll have to select his clothes since you started this. And your taste had better be the equivalent to his or he'll judge you for it, and with good reason. Show me the choices.

 

She sent pics of the choices.

 

Have him wear the blue one with the silver trim, but add the crimson cape to acknowledge he is petitioning for our houses to be joined. Assuming he still wants to be joined to you after you offered such an insult.

 

I'll apologize.

 

You really should. The clothes will help. By selecting the cape you are accepting his right to court you. For gods' sake, let him pick his own footwear and jewelry.

 

I have zero desire to be courted by him.

 

It's just a courtship—you're basically letting him try to win you over. What humans call dating.

 

I didn't think elves did that with mates? Isn't it always fate?

 

It is, except for the half-elven. They can often choose. Findal spent some time going over the protocol and the few recorded examples. Don't worry.

 

Thank you, Mist, I owe you.

 

Hurry.

 

Will do.

 

 

Kandomere crossed his arms and turned his back on her as she headed to his closet. Not only did she dislike him, but she thought him a fool. Never had he been more insulted. She looked down on him, and his house was as old as hers. Was she trying to drive him off? He would leave if he could, or throw her out. He hadn't realized it was possible to be quite this furious with one he wanted so desperately. Matehood was a basket of surprising joys, apparently.

 

He heard closet door shut behind him. He sneered, “Did you find something suitable?”

 

“I hope you think so.” She sounded tentative, uncertain. He was intrigued as to what she had selected that would make her sound that way and turned around. The blue and silver were what he would have chosen himself, but the cape was more than he could have hoped for from her.

 

“If you think another choice better, I..” She sounded so nervous. Did she think he would reject her? That he could?

 

“No, this is perfect. Exactly what I want.” He crossed to her, gods she was beautiful in her crimson sheath gown. Fine silk intricately embroidered with actual gold and rubies molded to her body like a second skin and then poured over her hips to stop at her feet. He wanted to rip it off her and show her he was more than her equal, fuck her brutally until she told him she belonged to him, was his alone. He'd take her to the peak over and over, backing off until she begged him for release, begged him to bite her pale unmarked throat and lay claim to her. He would ruin her haughty gown, then ruin her, own her, clothe her in the colors of his house. He would live to hear her beg.

 

He took a step towards her, and she stepped back. He would need to learn to control his face around her—whatever she saw there had frightened her, again. He, gods, he did not want her to be afraid of him. If she were afraid, she'd run. He'd lose her. He would exercise control—perhaps she had not intended such offense, though it was hard to imagine how she had not given the training all aristocrats endured. Still, he'd been wrong so many times with her maybe he should just assume there was no offense intended? Findal's house though, they were a guileful patient house, trustworthy and loyal only to their own. His mate was unbound to him and a member of a particularly dangerous house. He must be careful.

 

Since she had marked him, would she let him mark her with something of his colors? He looked over at her. She was watching him warily, as if she were trapped with an unpredictable animal. It stung his pride that she so clearly didn't want to be here, though given his recent behavior he could hardly blame her. Perhaps that was the root of her lack of confidence in his choices? How to repair such a poor beginning?

 

He would make his first gift to her, something in his colors and from his house. If she accepted, it would further demonstrate she was willing to consider him. She wore ruby drops from her ears and a slender necklace of rubies set in gold in a pattern of leaves and flowers. Exquisite. Why did she normally dress so drably? A question for another time. He walked to his jewelry case and selected a few items for himself and for her a heavily engraved antique platinum ring set with a large clear sapphire surrounded by blue moonstones—a beautiful piece that had belonged to his great grandmother. The sapphire and platinum represented his house, and moonstone to honor this day. It was a gift worthy of her and signaled the depth of his regard and commitment to her. He hoped it would fit.

 

He turned to her, “Come here.”

 

She arched a brow at his commanding tone, but complied.

 

“Give me your hand,” She held out her hand and he decided she was too far from him for his liking, grabbed her wrist and pulled her to him. Her hands burned against his bare chest, and he wanted so badly to kiss her full red lips, to lose himself in her. She looked up, at first seeming mesmerized by him, then a look of irritation crossed her face and she pushed against him.

 

“We don't have time for this.” She sounded irritated.

 

“Here.” He released her, then slipped the ring on her left middle finger. It fit a bit loose, but well enough. She looked down at it, and he knew he had chosen well—her eyes widened and she smiled. He realized he'd never seen her really smile before, and he liked it rather a lot.

 

“This is beautiful, thank you.” He thought to make some sarcastic remark about it being good enough for her, but she seemed so genuinely pleased and relieved his anger began to diminish.

 

“I thought it would suit you. It belonged to my great-grandmother.”

 

She looked surprised, “I, this is too beautiful, a family heirloom.” She moved to take it off but he covered her hand with his own.

 

“I want you to wear it. Will you?” He found himself holding his breath.

 

She looked up at him and nodded. Relief flooded him and while he was still somewhat offended he decided to forgive her. He bent his head and kissed her, the barest brush of his lips over hers, then when she didn't pull away he deepened it, tasting the sweetness of her mouth, crushing her to him with one hand at the small of her back and the other cupping the back of her head. Kiss me back, he thought, show me you want me too.

 

And she did. Tentatively at first but then with more passion, pressing her body to him, her hands in his hair as if she prevented his escape, as if he'd try to escape. Her silky tongue slipped into his mouth and he groaned, it was so good, so much better with her than any before her. Was this an effect of mating? His heart pounded, he felt breathless, light-headed, what the fuck? If this was how she made him feel from a kiss what would it be like to do more, so much more, so many things he wanted.

 

He lifted her up and carried her to his bed, still kissing her. Fuck the solstice, fuck her family's anger, he didn't care—this was what he wanted. Her, willingly in his bed. He hit the edge and they tumbled in and she laughed and smiled up at him. Then, she seemed to catch herself and looked away from him, her face closing up.

 

“We have to go. Please.”

 

He sighed, kissed her neck, then levered himself off her and said, “I'll get dressed.” He could seduce her, if he was careful and smart about it. This ceremony was important to her, so he'd do his best to see her there and hopefully impress her family.

 

She all but ran out of his bedroom, and where he had only scented her intoxicating desire, now he could scent fear. He sighed. Her reactions confused him. Why would she fear him?

 

He dressed quickly, arranged his hair, and added appropriate jewelry. She wasn't wearing a cloak and the evening would be quite cool, especially in the forest. He selected a cloak of gray silk lined with pale blue velvet, heavily ornamented in blue thread and trimmed with small sapphire gems. It would be warm, and even better clearly denote her as his.

 

He stepped from his bedroom and saw her on her phone texting someone. She looked up and her eyes widened, then she looked away nervously.

 

“You look very handsome.”

 

“And you are exquisitely beautiful.” He held out the cloak to her. “It will be chill, please.”

 

She turned and he realized the gown was backless. My gods. He stepped forward and ran his hand down her smooth back, watched goose bumps form on her skin as she shivered. “So beautiful, my gods.” He pulled his hand away and slipped the cloak over her shoulders, then tied it around her throat. He would never let her go.

 

Kandomere, please, we have to leave now.”

 

He nodded, walked to the door and opened it for her. “Let's go.”

 

Chapter Text

They got in the limousine. In the dimness of the light his eyes seemed to glow, the corneas brilliant silver coronas around the full moon eclipse of his pupils. She knew he could see her as clearly as under the noonday sun. If she could leave him behind, she would--she felt trapped by his need for her and his terrible strength.

 

“May I hold you,” he said quietly.

 

She looked down at the seat to avoid his eyes. That seemed like a genuinely bad idea after her reaction earlier. When he'd bent to kiss her, she'd thought, I wonder what it would be like, and decided to just go with it. Just a kiss, after all, and he'd seemed so much less angry she'd wanted to keep it that way since it was just them in the apartment. It could be an apology of sorts, and she did owe him one according to Mist.

 

And then she'd ignited in his arms. It hadn't started that way, his kiss had been light, gentle, and then it had suddenly been so much more. He'd tasted so right, so good, so perfect, she'd forgotten all the reasons this couldn't work, her fear, her family, Aaron, everything but the feeling of him. He'd grabbed her ass and picked her up like she weighed nothing, then fallen with her into his bed. It had been so clumsy, she'd laughed and then she'd looked up into his face smiling.

 

There's been nothing playful in his face. He'd stared at her with such intensity, such naked hunger and possession her heart had stuttered in her chest. Savage, he'd looked utterly savage, his muscles tense as he held himself above her, the drying strands of his silky blue hair tumbled about his face. Those sharp white teeth bared as he scented her. His eyes, the pupils blown wide with lust and rimmed with a circle of incandescent silver-blue. Galdor all over again, Galdor at the end obsessed and dangerous.

 

But, Kandomere had let her go. She hadn't expected that. He hadn't let her go far, but he hadn't tried to push her beyond her limit, or hurt her when she refused him. But then, neither had Galdor until it had become clear she was truly leaving him. He'd been angry when he'd realized she planned to leave the halls with Mist, had always viewed her interest in science as peculiar but until that last argument she hadn't realized the source of his disdain.

 

“Science is simply humans trying to compensate for their weakness.” He growled at her, “Why waste your time?”

 

“Look, I want to do this. I'm doing this.”

 

He'd looked down at her, frowning, then said, “What a fragile foolish thing you are.”

 

She saw him then, not how good looking he was, how strong and accomplished, but him. He didn't see her as an equal, he saw her as a thing. She'd been so angry, and since he'd never hurt her, since no one in the halls had ever hurt her on purpose beyond a few foolish childhood fights, she didn't fear him. She'd been an idiot.

 

“I think we should part. I'm not your mate, you've said it yourself, and you have no respect for me or my kind.” She then turned to leave.

 

He grabbed her upper arm and snatched her back, placed his hand around her throat and snarled, “Mate or not, you belong to me. No one will touch you but me, least of all humans.

 

“Let go of me.” She'd pushed at him, still not afraid. Angry, but unafraid.

 

And then he'd placed both of his hands around her throat and squeezed, lifted her off the ground like she was nothing and shook her like a dog with a rat. She'd clawed at his hands absolutely powerless against his strength until with a crack the lights had turned out and she was gone.

 

She woke up on the floor with the copper taste of blood in her mouth, her head ringing and the rest of her body numb and unresponsive. He'd tossed her into the corner of his bedroom like she was trash. She could hear him packing his things, cursing her vilely the entire time, and prayed to all the gods that he not hear her breathe. She tried to stay conscious, afraid she'd never wake again, but she failed.

 

They told her when she awoke in the healing ward that there had been such a small spark of life in her that Findal had used his own life force to heal her—he'd literally given years of his life to save hers. She'd thought Galdor had loved her and that Findal had tolerated her as a stray his granddaughter was too fond of to turn out.

 

They said Findal had wept over her. It was still hard to picture that.

 

Kandomere wore his opinion of the other races for the world to see engraved on an antique gorget, “Elves above all, above all elves.” He wasn't wearing it now, but he'd worn it every other time she'd seen him. Findal would probably agree with those sentiments, Galdor would definitely.

 

Findal had finally allowed her to be her own person, but then he loved her as a father not a lover. How long before Kandomere turned into Galdor? It would be safer to just give him what he wanted until she could get to her family. She felt sick at the idea of forcing herself to cater to another out of fear, but experience had taught her that despite all her training with Mist, an unarmed human was no challenge to a motivated elf, especially in close quarters. Especially if the elf were trusted and struck in surprise.

 

If worst came to worst, she could use runes to defend herself, if she had time to draw them on her skin with her blood. After Galdor, she'd thrown herself into their study, determined she'd never feel so weak again. Runes were more a matter of study than magical ability, in her opinion. They described the flow of the magical natural world and could be used to divert power for the user's purposes. The price was high, very high for a human as they were typically powered by the life force of the user, and of course they were illegal as hell. Findal had aggressively disapproved, fiercely and stubbornly disapproved. But the more she had learned, the more she wanted to know until she thought of nothing else.

 

She aged quickly with their practice, wrinkles and silver in her hair. Findal threatened to bar her from the royal library but Mara intervened.

 

“This must run its course, mate. She must find her own way back.”

 

Findal had sneered, “And when she is dead, her human life wrung out of her in this foolishness, what then? Should I not act to protect my own?”

 

“Fate will have its way, my love.”

 

“This, this is not fate. It is stupidity and human stubbornness. Look at her, look at the silver in her hair!” He glared at Mara, then stalked away.

 

A few weeks later he returned to her in the library, “Come with me. Now.”

 

She'd followed him through a portal to the oldest of their halls, then down into the earth. Partway she had to sit, she was so tired, and with a snarl he picked her up and carried her the rest of the way.

 

Below the traveled halls, past wards of increasing power, into rough caverns illuminated with patches luminous lichen and thin silver streams of pure power in the walls he carried her. Finally, they entered a cavern lit by the pale light of a perfectly round silver-green pool. He crunched across black sand and then set her on her feet at the edge.

 

“Get in.”

 

“What will happen to me?”

 

“If you were an elf, likely nothing. Once a century, this pool is full of life. It has been 73 years since it was last used.”

 

She stood there, on the edge and considered. “I don't think I want that.”

 

“You imagine you have a choice?” he said then lifted her and slung her into the center.

 

The pool swallowed her like a it was a living thing, like she was being born in reverse—a return to the womb that birthed her. Something considered her, tasted her, was surprised at something new after so very long. A decision was made. Compassion and warmth, anger, righteous anger on her behalf, the light filling her until she felt tight with it, a too full bag until it poured into new channels within her and made itself a home. And then Findal held her as she wept for the first time over what Galdor had done to her, the pool gone like it had never existed. He carried her out of there like a child, tucked her into bed like one, and left her with a kiss on her forehead. They never spoke of it, and she refocused her energy on preparing for college like any excited eighteen year old.

 

Something, her near death, Findal's healing, her study, the pool, all of them combined perhaps, had cracked a door inside her she preferred to not think about. It had opened once for Misterial. She definitely preferred not to think about that. She was human, all the genetic tests agreed, and none of the MTF tests had detected any magical ability. She was human. It was all she wanted to be, and to have a human mate. She sighed and glanced up at him.

 

“Khirad, truly I mean you no harm. Don't you think your trollhund would protect you if I did?” His voice was soft, gentle, reasonable. Like he was speaking to a frightened child. Her anger flared. She was not a child and her fear was not unreasonable.

 

He looked concerned for her, like he saw her and not just what he wanted. That was different from most male elves. Ten's head was on his thigh, her eyes half closed as he petted her in long gentle strokes—she definitely didn't perceive him as a threat. And he had a point. If she'd had Ten with her when Galdor had attacked, he would almost certainly be dead now. Ten would have scented when his anger shifted to murderous rage and he would never have been able to hurt her so badly. Ten had disliked Galdor, part of why she had not taken her to his quarters. Another mistake she never made now—Aaron came to her apartment or she took Ten with her to his. Ten tolerated Aaron, but she wasn't particularly fond of him either.

 

But Ten clearly liked Kandomere. Adored might be a better word actually. She butted her head against his hand and made the grumbly rocks in a blender purr that indicated she was very pleased indeed.

 

Khirad looked back up at his face. “I think I'd rather stay over here.”

 

He looked disappointed, but nodded. “As you wish.”

 

She watched him warily, what would he do? Grab her again?

 

A pause, then he flushed and his ears twitched in embarrassment, “I know my behavior has been...less than ideal.” Then after a brief pause, “I want you, badly. I want anything you are willing to give me.”

 

What could she say to such raw honesty?

 

He nodded, then leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes, still caressing Ten with one hand. He was leaving it up to her to choose. His mate sickness was certainly less than before, but she knew he was not out from under its lash yet. Probably by tomorrow he would be back to normal, if she allowed him to touch her.

 

Possibly sooner if she allowed him to hold her for the hour and half ride out to the celebration site. That would be better for them both, likely make it easier for Findal to evaluate him as a potential threat. Findal had laughed at hearing he was her mate. She wasn't sure why he had found it so funny, but it did seem to indicate Kandomere wasn't a threat to her.

 

His breathing had slowed, he looked utterly relaxed.

 

It was a little chilly in the limousine, even with the cloak, and he would be warm.

 

“Just holding me?”

 

“If that is what you wish, yes.” He kept his eyes closed, still relaxed.

 

“Ok.”

 


“I know my behavior has been...less than ideal.” Then after a brief pause, “I want you, badly. I want anything you are willing to give me.” It had not been easy to admit his shameful weakness, or how deeply he desired her, but perhaps honesty would help her to accept him. 

He watched her as she weighed his words, then looked away. A denial then. He closed his eyes and tried to relax. He absolutely did not feel relaxed, he felt pulled tight with the memory her taste and the limousine filled with her scent did nothing to help that hunger. He wished he felt more certain of his ability to control himself with her. Always before her he'd been the master of his impulses, his actions the result of meticulous planning and forethought. But with her, gods, he just acted. So far that had proved to be less than helpful, though thankfully he hadn't hurt her.

 

But he strongly suspected someone had hurt her, almost certainly some male elf. If Findal had not punished the elf, he would. He would even if Findal had, adding his own layers of pain and humiliation to whatever justice had already been dispensed. He would take great pleasure in it over decades.

 

That was the only logical explanation for the intensity of fear that had radiated off her after he'd kissed her. She hadn't feared Montehugh, and many humans feared Montehugh. It had amused him how fearless and haughty she'd been when Montehugh had thoughtlessly insulted the Invocation. She hadn't feared him when he had first spoken to her in the courtyard, nor in the park, or when he'd been cuffed. But each time he showed her how much he wanted her, she feared him.

 

She wasn't untouched--he'd scented that wretched human male on her and sex. And she certainly wasn't cold. Gods, that kiss and her laugh and smile. Until she saw him above her, and then there was the scent of her fear again. She didn't fear pleasure, he suspected she feared the interest of male elves.

 

Understandable, even if she had not been hurt by one. His kind were predatory, vain, selfish, and aggressive. Their own females were their match in strength and viciousness and so in elven society there was neither a need or a desire on the part of their females for males to restrain themselves. If a male overstepped his bounds, a female would brutally retaliate. Males treated females with respect out of a sense of self-preservation, and vice versa.

 

Human females were soft beings compared to elves, far easier to physically dominate and control. He knew some of his kind were drawn to them for that very reason, and if he were honest he enjoyed that aspect of them as well. The humans he'd bedded seemed drawn to him specifically because of his nature, not in spite of it, and had enjoyed the experience of being pursued and hunted until, eventually, they were completely helpless under him. He had enjoyed the intensity of their desire, the experience of having such a fragile being trust him not to injure them and instead bring them intense pleasure.

 

But sometimes they had wanted him to injure them, sometimes to injure them badly. He had excused himself from such encounters, and as he'd gotten older had learned to detect the signs of those with a fetish for intense pain and avoid them. But, he'd still come to expect human females to want a certain sort of experience from him, for him to be the aggressor and pursuer, and he'd been more than pleased to provide. His race were hunters by nature, those games were an easy pleasurable thing.

 

He suspected his mate had specifically avoided the attention of males elves. That would explain the hideous clothes too. He'd thought her simply incapable of properly dressing herself, but that was now obviously inaccurate. No, she'd been doing her best to hide her beauty. Ridiculous. If anything it had increased her appeal as she was clearly not an elf fetishist. His people loved a challenge, and loved being first at anything. She'd have been better off striking the middle path.

 

So, his mate was a human who feared male elves and probably did not particularly enjoy being pursued. And she was an elven princess from a house antagonistic towards the MTF and known to be particularly vicious and deceptive. Well, like all his kind, he did enjoy a challenge. This would require a more subtle sort of hunt.

 

She found him attractive, in that respect he was lucky. And it helped that her trollhund companion so clearly favored him. He had power and status. Though he suspected that meant little to her, it would mean a great deal to her family. They shared a common cause and commitment to the MTF. She would understand his devotion to the job and likely match it based on the hours he had seen her work. Despite being human, she spoke his native language and most likely understood his culture, perhaps too well if he was correct in his theory regarding her aversion to male elves.

 

He wanted her, was fascinated by her, suspected he would be even if she were not his mate. He'd been obsessed by her weeks before he scented her, even while he'd still continued his liaison with Miklain. It was not just the mating instinct that drew him to her, not at all.

 

“Just holding me?” She sounded so tentative. Gods, yes, he'd hold her.

 

“If that is what you wish, yes.” He kept his eyes closed, forced himself to continue to appear relaxed.

 

“Ok.”

 

He heard her slide across the leather seat towards him and waited, afraid to spook her. She crawled onto his lap, her hands on his chest, and he closed his arms around her and opened his eyes. Her head was on his chest, eyes closed, and he felt such a sense of triumph and satisfaction. Gradually, she relaxed into him and eventually he heard her breath slow into sleep. She must be exhausted.

 

He wanted his skin on hers, so he slipped a hand beneath the cloak he gave her to stroke the smooth warm skin of her back. He thought with amusement how she had partitioned her body into areas acceptable for him to touch, her back being one of them. He could obey her rules while absolutely circumventing the purpose for those boundaries, and just as easily arouse her with a back rub as a kiss. She sighed in her sleep, snuggled closer to him and drew her legs up as if she were trying to fit all of herself into his lap. Gods, that's adorable, he thought before he closed his eyes for just a minute and followed her into sleep himself.

 

That feels so good, he thought as he awoke to find her idly stroking his hair. Her hand stilled, then when he did nothing more than place his arms loosely around her, she continued to pet him.

 

“We'll arrive in ten minutes,”

 

He nodded, too lost in her to speak. Don't move, he thought, be still and maybe she'll stay. She did, continuing to run the fingers of one hand through his hair, while the other cupped the back of his neck.

 

“Are you ok with me touching you like this?”

 

“Yes.” He would pay her to touch him like this, would use magic to get her to touch him like this.

 

“Good.” She smiled slightly and ran her index finger along the edge of his ear.

 

She had to know what that did to him, to every male elf that's ever been born. Was she testing his control? He did not care. He'd let her tease him, torment him, he'd beg her for the privilege.

 

No fear, some desire, he thought she might be toying with him. Why? Ah, ten minutes. She felt safe. He liked her feeling safe, he decided.

 

The lights came on as the limousine rolled to a stop. She slid off him, flipped open a mirror and fixed her hair, smoothed her dress, and retied his cloak around her neck. She looked perfect, and after their nap together smelled like him. Perfection, every male would know she was his. He ran his fingers through his own hair and straightened his clothes, time to meet her family.

 

Chapter Text

As soon as they exited the limousine, and let Ten out to follow after them, they were greeted by a group of twenty male and female elf warriors elegantly dressed in Khirad's house colors of red and gold. They were outfitted with a mix of the ancient traditional weapons of the wood elves—bows, daggers, and swords—as well as an impressive array of modern weapons, as if a well-equipped SWAT team stormed a Renaissance Faire and picked only the nicest things. At the head, a female elf stood dressed in fine robes the crimson and gold of Khirad's house, Findarion.

 

Kandomere noticed that the female elf ignored him as if he did not exist, while the warriors watched him with a wary readiness and anticipation. Ah, let the games begin, he thought with a sigh. Findal intended to make this as difficult as possible, apparently.

 

“Lady Khirad, the Invocation of the Moon is nigh.” The female elf bowed, then indicated a path through the woods, the trees curved and woven into intricate patterns to form an archway of densely interlocked branches. Beautifully eerie, naturally unnatural—that pretty much summed up the wood elves themselves in Kandomere's opinion.

 

“Well met, Filwen. This is my business associate/guest-in-the-house (the Ovusi word encompassed both meanings and was decidedly not a word one would use for a more personal relationship), Kandomere. I extend to him the hospitality of house Findarion and expect all to do the same.”

 

Kandomere was deeply displeased with her description of their relationship, though he supposed it was not entirely inaccurate from her point of view.

 

“Well met indeed, my Lady, your father will happily meet your guest-in-the-house/supplicant/beggar at a time convenient for all. For now, he will be provided with accommodations/holding suitable to his house and rank if you would be so kind as to provide it?”

 

Kandomere's jaw tightened at the absolute gall of the insult, and admired it's careful viciousness. The chamberlain could claim to have not recognized him, or to have had a lapse of memory, deepest apologies my Lord. In reality, the message sent was, “I plan to keep you away from my granddaughter you no-name beggar, to possibly incarcerate you should you prove difficult.” It was very close to an open declaration of war. Findal was clearly less than amused with Kandomere's conduct with Khirad, and in all honesty he could not blame him—his behavior had been far below ideal.

 

Before he could speak, Khirad took his arm and said laconically, “I do appreciate grandfather's kind offer, but I prefer the pleasure of escorting Lord Kandomere of house Aiderion, firstborn of his mother and heir to his house, myself. I am sure the traditional seating for honored guests has been prepared and properly appointed—it would grieve me greatly to see you humiliated by a lack of hospitality to a treasured guest-in-the-house, chamberlain.

 

Kandomere was frankly impressed. Formal Ovusi was an intricate language with multiple shades of meaning. Khirad's statement was carefully crafted to be explicitly clear that he was a guest who would be treated with the honor due his position or that she would blame the chamberlain and her attendants for failing to fulfill their duties of house hospitality due to neglect and incompetence and not as an intentional slight to Kandomere. She'd basically cast a cloak of protection over him and declared that any insult to him would be an insult to her and promptly and aggressively punished. He was utterly glad he was not in the chamberlain's position, though he suspected this was at least in part a fishing expedition to discern Khirad's attitude towards him—if Khirad defended him, Filwen would back off and report to Findal. But had Khirad agreed to be separated from him, well, he would likely have had a close look at Findal's well-appointed dungeons.

 

At least she didn't hate him anymore, not enough to see him humiliated and forcibly separated from her. It was hardly reason to rejoice given that she basically described him as a friend from work, but perhaps better than he actually deserved.

 

Filwen bowed deeply to him and the warriors averted their eyes and came to attention in a guard position as opposed to being poised to drag him off, “Well met, Lord Kandomere, firstborn of Lady Marwen of house Aiderion.”

 

She was deliberately letting him know that she had omitted his house by including the name of his mother, another insult. He would respond with graciousness to honor his mate, though he would not forget the insult. Not at all. “Well met, Filwen of house Findarion, may your rewards match your service.”

 

Khirad nodded and led him into the forest. No one followed them and for a time there was nothing but the crunch of the leaves underfoot. Soon, he could hear them nearing the celebration.

 

“Khirad,” He clasped both her hands and turned toward her, “Thank you.”

 

She looked up at him, gave him a small smile, and said, “We'll work something out, Kandomere, some sort of an arrangement. Let's get though the Invocation first.” Then she took his hand and led him on, clearly in a hurry to join her kin.

 

It was obvious she naively meant to comfort him, to let him know she would be there for him and kindly not abandon him to either Findal's machinations or mate sickness. But after her description of him as basically a work friend and her desire to have an arrangement as opposed to a relationship, Kandomere felt intensely disappointed, frustrated, and frankly angry. The fact he had no right to her and no right to be angry did nothing to answer the part of him that clamored for him to simply kidnap her, carry her back to his house's ancient fortified keep, and make her his. In the old days, elves simply carried off other mates the moment they scented them and frankly he could see the appeal of the simplicity of this action.

 

She would be utterly miserable and would never forgive him, that was certain. He would never have her trust, and she would be constantly seeking to escape. Any children they had would be twisted by their mother's misery. There would be war between their houses, no small thing with Findal's subtle house. It would not be open, not in this age, but it would nonetheless be brutal and costly in lives and wealth. Taking her was also simply wrong, assuredly illegal, and he prided himself on respecting the rights of all under the law. But the impulse, yes, he now understood it disturbingly well. He would have her entirely to himself, and that too would be no small thing.

 

They stepped out of the forest into a huge clearing, four times the length of a football field and perfectly round. There was a soft lawn of pale green grass dappled with tiny white flowers that glittered like fallen stars. The full moon illuminated the field brightly, gilding everything in silver. She guided him to a section outside the circle but facing it where tiered rows of pavilions flew the colors of houses deemed worthy to witness this sacred event. None but Findarion could actively participate, but some few could watch. His house as one of the eldest of the houses had been regularly honored in the past, but their choice to be involved with the MTF had disallowed their continued inclusion. Kandomere himself had read of the Invocation, felt the slight tug of the ritual's gentle magic even in LA, but had never attended. He felt uncomfortable as a representative of the MTF to witness such a flagrant use of magic. Certainly it was known that the wood elves engaged in such practices, but it was quite something else to attend.

 

She guided him to an opulent pavilion that flew his colors. It was larger that the other pavilions, and very well-appointed with a bar complete with bartender and a selection of his favorite foods. Servants bowed at his arrival and greeted him respectfully. Interesting. Findal was apparently allowing Khirad to determine his fate, or perhaps this was the subtle beginning to some new game. For now, at least there was the appearance of favor and respect.

 

“I'll see you after the Invocation,” she said with smile. “I hope you enjoy yourself.” She shrugged off his cloak and handed it to him, “Thank you for the use of this, but it will get in the way during the Invocation.” Somehow, that seemed a portent of things to come, that she put his colors aside so lightly, so easily, and with so much cheer. This was the happiest he had seen her and it displeased him to know that it was not because of him but rather because here she felt safe from him. She was so beautiful in her happiness.

 

“It is yours to keep, a gift. I will return it to you after you are finished.”

 

She smiled happily, “Thank you. I'll be back.” Then she hugged him briefly and bolted down to the field.

 

He was determined to win her willingly, but feared he would have her however he could, to his shame. Perhaps he would have the control necessary for this despicable arrangement she preferred to him as her mate, but he doubted it. Yes, that may have been Findal's message—he too doubted Kandomere's control, knew precisely the drives that might threaten his ward's happiness and would act if necessary. As long as she was happy and with him by choice, Findal would treat him with honor. But he would see that she had the choice.

 

He stood at the edge of the fields and watched her until she was lost in the sea of red clothed elves, a single human fearlessly, thoughtlessly, weaving within a pack of predators to find her place. A sheep pretending to be a wolf? No, she did not flaunt her adoption. A sheep the wolves took and became too food of to eat? It was bitterly amusing that she considered this house, of all the houses, the place she felt safe. How ironic. All the houses watched each other, and he knew that within Findal's lifetime those that wandered uninvited into the wood elves sacred rituals did not wander back out. And how exactly had Findal come by his human ward? Reportedly, the wood elves would steal particularly lovely human children and keep them, for a time, as spoiled pets. But this was far beyond that.

 

“She's quite lovely, isn't she?” He heard a deep, lilting voice behind him, one that instantly commanded respect. Findal.

 

“Very.” Kandomere replied, turning toward the elf-king.

 

Findal was every inch the king. He was clothed in a crimson tunic embroidered in gold with scenes of battle. On his legs, leather pants a slightly deeper crimson tucked into high dark red leather boots that were also figured in gold. He wore a magnificent sword at his side with a blood-red ruby the size of an egg in the pommel. Across his shoulders and over them he wore a three inch wide heavily figured gold necklace set with rubies the size of half dollar pieces every inch. Another necklace was worn around his neck and consisted of a thick gold chain with a single enormous diamond that had the coat of arms for house Findarion carved into the face. Upon his golden head, a beautifully made golden circlet set with green leaves of carved emeralds and white flowers formed of faceted diamonds, the same flowers that grew in the Invocation circle. His dark gold hair flowed over his shoulders and down to his waist, but there was nothing effeminate to this warrior king. He was tall, taller than Kandomere, pale like all elves, and looked down on him with the eerie pale golden eyes typical of house Findarion. On his left hand, the ruby ring of Findarion, and on his right his sapphire sealing ring to his beloved mate, Mara firstborn of house Belaraion.

 

That particular mating had been something of a scandal, though no one could deny it had been to the benefit of both houses. Locked in war for two hundred years, both houses were nearly decimated. Then, Findal and Mara had faced each other on the battle field and recognized each other as mates. According to legend, they fought their mating out of sheer burning hatred one for the other. Within weeks though, peace was negotiated and the two mates joined, though the early relationship was reportedly tumultuous. However, after 379 years of matehood, they were considered an epic love story and an example of how elves were blessed by fate above all other races to recognize their perfect mate even in a bitter enemy. His life would be far easier if his mate had been another elf, though the more he came to know his little human the more he thought he would prefer no other.

 

Kandomere bowed to Findal and spread his hands, “Well met, King Findal of house Findarion, first born of Lady Aerven, Mate of Queen Mara firstborn of Lady Mariel of house Belarion and Lord of Wooded Earth, I greet you with weaponless hands and a heart clear of ill intent to you and yours.”

 

Findal slightly inclined his head, “Well met, Kandomere firstborn of Lady Marwen of house Aiderion.”

Then he paused and a slight smile quirked his mouth, “Mate-who-is-as yet-unmated of Lady Khirad earned place/honored child-guardian second born of Lady Mara house Belarion and Lord Findal of House Findarion, I greet you with the anticipation/potential of alliance/joining in peace.”

 

Before Kandomere could unpack that layered statement well enough to form a reply, Findal sauntered onto the field to join the inner circle of the royal family. His primary impression was that the Wood King found this entire situation vastly amusing. While he supposed this was better than murderous rage, it was offensive as was his blunt description of the tenuousness of his relationship to Khirad.

 

His designation of Khirad was extremely intriguing. Findal implied Khirad had earned her place as second born, a possibility only available to those who had saved the life of the first born in great peril and at great personal cost. Elven law would have allowed Findal to adopt Khirad as the lowest child in the house, but it would require her to have the place below the first born if she sacrificed deeply to preserve their life. This would be far more than a mere risk of her life for the first born's and the entirety of the royal house, including any other children she displaced in rank, would have to be in agreement to give her this place. He could think of only a few times such a thing had happened.

 

What could his gentle and somewhat fearful human possibly have done to earn such a place, in such a house? He could not imagine she had much skill at arms, at least not compared to an elf. Had she developed some biological element that had somehow healed the first born of perhaps a poison? But that would involve no personal peril and sacrifice. It would be utterly rude and unacceptable to ask her how she had won her place. He definitely had some research to do once he returned to the office, aside from the weight of the Infernii's current atrocities. Why did he have to find his mate at the cusp of renewed Inferni activity?

 

Kandomere reflected. Thankfully, since she allowed him to hold her during the drive his ability to plan logically was far better. After some consideration, he rather thought the Inferni's actions might actually work to his benefit. His mate would be working long hours on the same case. This would give him multiple opportunities to communicate with her regarding a purpose and interest they both shared. She would have little time for that vile male he had scented on her, and that would very likely create tension between them. Kandomere would offer support in the form of coffee, lunch, snacks, there were many small convenient ways he could ease her life and bring her pleasure. She had accepted that he was her mate and was willing to allow him to touch her. He would be certain to use his skill to make that time intensely pleasurable and sensual. He could lure her to him as opposed to actively hunting her. Perhaps the timing was actually quite good.

 

He stood and moved up to the empty top tiers of the partial amphitheatre. From that vantage, he could see the tens of thousands of wood elves arrayed in concentric circles. Aside from the inner circle of the royal family, it seemed that they formed according to arrival as opposed to any sort of hierarchy. Each elf held a knife in their hand and waited patiently for the moon to reach it's zenith and the solstice to be met. They chatted merrily with each other, laughing in their musical voices, then, beginning with the outermost circle, cut a slice across each palm and joined hand to hand as their blood dripped together to the ground. Blood magic, powerful, potentially dark, and absolutely forbidden. This was not a typical part of the Invocation—Findal was doing some disturbingly different.

 

The royal family were last to join. Kandomere saw his mate cut her hands and join with Findal on one side and Misterial on the other. When their joined blood hit the ground, a massive upswelling of magic poured up and out from them and through the trees as lines of light tracing out into the far distance. He felt the magic, not evil, not dark, but wild and uncontrolled and incredibly powerful. Lightening branched across the sky as the circles began to move like the great wheels of some ancient engine. One circle went clockwise, one counter-clockwise, one moved in as the other moved out, they seemed to bleed into each other and back out in intricate patterns that Kandomere felt he could almost, nearly understand. They reminded him of starlings, their patterns perfect as if they became one being made of many.

 

They began to sing, piercingly beautiful and utterly illegal verses inviting the moon to battle and to cleanse the land. This was definitely not the typical Invocation, not that gentle welcome. This was a call to battle and a pulling down of power, a deliberate challenge but to who?

 

There was no way to get his mate out of there, none at all, so he could only stand by and endure this flagrant display. Perhaps that had been the source of Findal's amusement. Kandomere could do nothing to Findal without also implicating his mate as a participant.

 

The power built, unbearably, until Kandomere felt it begin to search. Despite not being in the circle, he felt joined to it—through his connection to Khirad? A dark place, the place the Inferni poisoned with their attempt to create a wand, the power found it, considered it, and excised the darkness and returned it with interest to the one's who defiled the woods. He could feel the place, sense it in L.A. and knew that whoever had orchestrated that slaughter was very likely now dead there. He would text Montehugh the general location once he could move again. For now, he was part of the power and felt the search spread out.

 

One the other side of the forest, a beginning of darkness. The Inferni had begun a new location. He felt two lives end and knew that it was true—Findal would suffer no Inferni in his woods, would end them mercilessly. The power snapped out and obliterated this beginning, cleansed it until the entirely of the forest rang with life and light and felt clean like the world had just been formed. This was an answer to the Inferni's challenge and a reminder—the wood elves would be neutral unless provoked.

 

Magic of this magnitude was unacceptable, dangerous, no one should have it. And yet it was likely a good thing that the Inferni were banned from the wild places of the world. Far easier to catch them in cities as major magical works were difficult to hide in such closed spaces. He comprehended the wisdom of ignoring Findal's rebellion, but that didn't mean he liked it. And he definitely didn't like his mate involved. What motivated her to pursue a career at the MTF? He could not remember a time he had met a being so full of interesting contradictions.

 

Kandomere began to feel the Invocation change, become less martial but no less powerful. He suspected this would be felt as far away as the MTF in Seattle and definitely have the attention of the local MTF. An ambassador would be dispatched to visit Findal, an investigation conducted to ensure his use of magic remained secret, a reminder given to be discreet again, and that would be that.

 

The power moved through the woods, he suspected globally via the hidden portals they used for travel, and healed. The waters ran clear of any contaminants, the trees free of damage from pollution, and non-magical creatures would feel it as a boost of energy, a feeling of joy and lightness. Magical creatures of darkness, or those like the Inferni who had given themselves to darkness, would sicken and flee. Those of light would be filled with power, overfilled from this display.

 

Kandomere felt himself renewed, his mind clear and his control returned. He breathed deeply of the power and felt more himself than he had for weeks. Disapproval and gratitude mixed in him as he heard the elves, and one human, begin the last verses of the traditional Invocation. The circles had tightened into the the center of the field, a seething mass of red. As the last haunting note ended, the power returned and sealed the elves, one to another, then descended into the earth.

 

Laughter and talking began immediately as the elves began to return to the varied open gatherings for the Solstice. The Invocation was closed, and the location hidden by layers of enchantment and wards, from the rest of the Solstice celebrations throughout the forest. Now, those who wished to feast would go to feasts, those who craved dance had the option of everything from an EDM rave to medieval pole dancing—the Wood King certainly knew how to throw a party and never spared any expense. Genius, really, as the good will ensured him far more latitude than he would otherwise have.

 

Would she return to him? She had said she would. Kandomere scanned the crowd looking for his human and her dark hair. Most of the wood elves had hair a variety of gold, so he should be able to spot her. There. She was returning to him, flanked by Misterial, Findal, and Mara. He returned to the pavilion and watched as she broke from her family and ran back to him smiling.

 

“Wasn't that amazing! I feel so alive!” she smiled up at him and all he could do was smile back despite his decidedly different attitude toward their apparently quite different experiences. She likely could not sense the intensity of magic he could and was innocent. He took her hands and looked to see if she were wounded, but there was no sign her palms had ever been cut.

 

“I am glad you are unharmed,” Kandomere said with genuine relief.

 

“It was just a little cut, no big deal on a Solstice night.”

 

“As you say”

 

She took his hand, “Come, meet my family.”

 

Chapter Text

She felt like a 5lb bag stuffed with 10lbs of life, but overall this had been the best Solstice she had ever attended. Findal and Mara were both in excellent moods and everyone had loved her gifts. Findal had positively grinned in genuine delight at the platinum, moonstone, and diamond circlet she had made him. It was lovely, she had to admit in pride. It had a huge translucent blue moonstone at the center with intricately interweaving lines of platinum studded with diamonds tapering to the back of the head. The moonstone was carved with the crest for house Findarion with Findal's name etched around the bezel. Around the setting of each small diamond was etched the name of one of his forebears—that had been tiny difficult work—leading back to the original founder of the house. Once he realized the significance of the piece, he bowed his head and gravely said, “Thank you, child of mine.”

 

Mara too, had loved her piece. A similarly huge moonstone set in the middle of the shield crest of house Belarion. On the back of the pendant was engraved the the royal motto of Belarion, “No Other Shall Rule Me,” and her name. For the chain, she had crafted individual links of platinum using the tiny star shaped flowers that grew only in the invocation circle as decoration on the exterior of the links. Each flower was centered with a tiny diamond and the smooth interior of the links were engraved with Mara's forebears as well, leading back to the founder of her house. Mara had embraced her, and blessed her, “My long life was only missing you, little one, to be complete.” Khirad had blushed at the heartfelt praise, unsure what to say in return but glad she spent so many hours on their gifts.

 

Misterial got a whole set, also in platinum, diamond, and moonstone but more modern, influenced by the great Danish modernists. Khirad knew her sister, and knew this was a style she would actually wear and hoped she loved it. Based on the hug and kiss she received, she would assume it was a win.

 

Findal arched a brow and said, “So, it seems you have collected a mate?”

 

Trust Findal to get right to the point with her. “Yes, he's definitely mated to me. He took the blood test and it's certain.”

 

His mouth quirked in a repressed smile, while behind him Mara's eyebrows rose, “You made him submit to a blood test?”

 

“No, he pretty much demanded one, and demanded I do it. His partner thought he was hexed.”

 

Findal glanced over at Mara, and they both appeared to find this hugely amusing, “Hexed?”

 

“Yes, but it was the early stages of mate sickness.”

 

Findal's voice turned grave, “You appear well.”

 

“He didn't hurt me.”

 

“Just acted with an amazing degree of disrespect!” Misterial added in angrily.

 

Khirad flushed, “I think he has shown great restraint given his situation.”

 

Findal looked at her and nodded, “That is perceptive of you, child, I would very much agree.” Findal paused in thought, “And are you disposed to consider him as a mate?”

 

“I don't know, I barely know him. But I won't abandon him to Lucath's fate.”

 

“He is quite handsome, is he not?” Mara said with a smile, “And has the reputation of an honorable man and a fierce warrior.”

 

“A city elf. Look at that ridiculous blue hair,” Findal said dryly, “But yes, an honorable man from a great house, nearly as great as ours and just as old and wealthy. He is the first born as well, and a power in his own right for all he wastes it on the magic hunters.”

 

“I work for the MTF...”

 

“You work there to find a cure for mate sickness and to have access to both their library of runes and the instruments you need to pursue your research.” He raised his eyebrows and looked at her pointedly, “What do you think your mate would think of your study and use of runes?”

 

“Like I care.”

 

Findal laughed at that, and looked over at Mara, “In this she is much like you were in the beginning.” They shared a look of mutual affection with no little heat to it.

 

Khirad just wished they'd let this be, just this once give her some space.

 

“Come, mate, let us meet this suitor. I expect life to be a bit more interesting for a time.” Mara said with good humor and took Findal's hand. “It can not be more difficult that our mating, surely.”

 

“No, mate, surely not.”

 

They walked across the invocation field, greeting their people with good cheer. Khirad spotted Kandomere looking worriedly for her and realized that he thought she might ditch him. Without thinking, she ran to him and smiled as he took her hands.

 

Behind her, Mara and Findal exchanged a glance and smiled as well. They watched as she led him over the grass to them.

 

“Well met, Lord Kandomere, firstborn of Lady Marwen of house Aiderion, mate in waiting of Lady Khirad earned place/honored child-guardian second born of Lady Mara house Belarion and Lord Findal of House Findarion, I greet you with joy and welcome you to our lands.” Mara sounded genuinely pleased to meet Kandomere. That was a good sign, Khirad supposed, though the mate-in-waiting part made her grit her teeth. She wished they could let her find her own way with Kandomere.

 

Findal inclined his head, “Greetings, Lord Kandomere, I welcome you again.”

 

Khirad wondered how that had gone without her present, but it appeared that both males were not in open animosity so it must have gone somewhat well. Findal appeared at ease, but Kandomere seemed uncomfortable and even a bit disapproving. She could guess it was the magic of the Invocation, he very likely disapproved, but this was her life. If he wanted to be part of it, magic was occasionally part of that too. She shared his discomfort with magic, but knew from experience it didn't just go away because you wanted it to. Better to be prepared and manage it, like any other natural phenomenon.

 

Misterial hung back, eyed Kandomere with suspicion, then said haughtily, “Lord Kandomere, firstborn of Lady Marwen of house Aiderion, beggar for the hand of Lady Khirad earned place/honored sister-guardian second born of Lady Mara house Belarion and Lord Findal of House Findarion, may you conduct the rest of your hoped for betrothal with more grace than you began it.”

 

“Mist!” Khirad looked to Kandomere in horror at the insult in Misterial's words.

 

Kandomere flushed, replied with quiet dignity, “Well met, Lord Findal, Lady Mara of house Belarion first born of Lady Mariel and Queen of Wood and Sky, Lady Misterial of house Findarion and first born of Mara of house Belarion, I greet you in humility with open hands and a heart filled with remorse for any offense I may have offered. I hope to prove myself worthy of the Lady Khirad, my mate.”

 

Khirad was instantly furious, just so done with everyone. Instead of being allowed to make her own decision, to find the person she wanted via trial and error like a normal person, they were boxing her in with their politics and demands. She looked at Misterial, “This is my honored guest, I will not see him insulted. Not by you,” She looked at Findal and Mara, “Not by anyone.” She stood back and looked at all of them, “I am my own person, I will pick my own mate, my own life, my own way, and you can all respect that or leave me to myself!” Then she turned on her heel and took off running across the field towards the halls, Ten loping easily at her side.

 

She'd had quite enough of all of them over the last couple of days, and this mating stupidity. She wanted a normal human life, just to be a regular person. And this fucking dress, it was impossible to run in. She hiked it up, and pounded across the boundary to the halls as her joining medallion thrummed briefly acknowledging her homecoming. Fuck this shit, she was going to bath, change, and go for a run until her mind was clear.

 

“Lady Khirad,” The guards looked surprised to see her, and positively shocked at her demeanor, then schooled their features into neutrality. Fuck them too. Khirad nodded, then stomped into the halls and made her way to her quarters.

 

Entering, she waved away the servants who aimed to help her do what any reasonable being should be able to do by themselves, “Thank you, but I need time to myself.” They were used to this oddity of humans, this alone time, and respected her wishes.

 

She carefully removed the dress—it was lovely and someone had worked quite hard on it—and hung it up in the wooden closet for clothes that needed to be laundered. She kicked off her slippers, and tried to remember if she'd thought to leave running shoes here—gods, she hoped so. First a bath—showers weren't really a thing here. Plus, something about a bath made her feel new, like she'd washed away the day. And this fucking day could certainly stand a good washing. She peeled off her underwear and stepped into the bath, a huge pool that was continuously refreshed with water she'd long ago adjusted to her preference. Quickly lathering up her entire body, she slipped below the surface and rinsed. Better.

 

After drying off, she found she had left a pair of running shoes, socks, a couple of sports bra, and a couple of pairs of black running tights here. Thank the gods. Among her options was the tshirt Findal hated the most—her worn out holey Lord of the Rings tshirt with Legolas smirking on the front. She smiled briefly, pulled on a warm base layer, then donned it. After she tied her hair back, she checked the charge on her phone—70%--then pulled out a pair of headphones from her junk drawer. It would be better for everyone of she went for a long run.

 

She should text Kandomere, then realized she didn't know his phone number. How the fuck was her family planning out her mating to some dude that she didn't even know well enough to text? Fuck this, fuck it with a sharp fucking stick. If she didn't know for certain he was her mate, hadn't seen first hand what would happen to him, she'd bounce so hard. She hated feeling trapped, and that was elves all over.

 

Hair tied up, dressed, she filled her water bottle in the sink and grabbed a couple of granola bars and a Snickers from her stash, a bag of dried meat for Ten in case game was scarce. Maybe she'd just chill in the woods tonight, she'd certainly done that plenty of times growing up when they had all just gotten too much.

 

She headed out and saw them coming in. Nope. Back door it was.

 

“Khirad!” she heard Kandomere call after her and thought, fuck you very much, and kept on trucking. He'd be fine. Her grandparents would keep Mist from killing him and they seemed to like him just peachy. She should be glad, but it just made her that much angrier. She didn't even know why she was so angry, just that she need away from them desperately right the fuck now.

 

“Khirad, wait!” And now Mist. Nope. Her grandparents were too smart to call after her. Findal and Mara as King and Queen would have to punish her if she ignored their voices, and over time they had learned that she needed to get away sometimes, to be alone. They didn't understand it, but they accepted it as something human or something just her. She ducked down a corridor and through a passageway leading to the back entrance to the halls. Making sure Ten was with her, she took a chair and wedged the door shut behind her just in case.

 

With a nod to the guards, she was out and into the cool night air, ponytail bouncing behind her as she took off for one of her hidey holes. Better already. They'd have hopefully chilled the fuck out by the time she was back, and she would have a clearer head herself.

 


 

After they leisurely made their way back to Findal's halls, everyone refusing to acknowledge Khirad's outburst but instead chatting amiably about the weather, Kandomere spotted Khirad across the hall wearing one of the single ugliest tshirts he had ever seen. Aggressively hideous, some faded vile army green thing with a distorted image of an elf on it and actual holes big enough he could clearly see her the other shirt beneath it. The second born of house Findarion dressed in rags by choice--completely mystifying.

 

“Khirad!” He called after her. She looked at him and literally turned the other way and began running. He felt as confused by this as he had by her outburst earlier. First, she'd defended him. But then she'd raised her voice and clearly addressed both her family and him stating she'd run her own life, thank you. Was she angry with him? She wasn't angry in the limousine and had even petted him. He thought over his behavior since the limousine ride—he had given no offense, none, had barely interacted with her. He rubbed his forehead, and sighed.

 

Then Lady Misterial called after her, and she actually ran faster and ducked into a corridor. Misterial ran after Khirad, and Kandomere relaxed—she would fetch her, calm her down. That was far better than him chasing her. He knew that chasing her would mean something quite different for him that her sister, and likely end with him offering offense again.

 

Misterial emerged from the corridor looking furious--no Khirad.

 

“She barred the way, Findal. She actually barred the way.”

 

Findal and Mara did not look surprised at all. So, this was not new.

 

“She will return in time, and be the better for it. If she does not come back by morning, I'll send out the scouts to find her.”

 

Kandomere heard a phone vibrate, saw Misterial pull out her cellphone, “She say she is going for a run and will come back later.”

 

“That she communicated at all is a good sign. She may return soon.” Mara said ruefully. “She is likely feeling overwhelmed and trapped.”

 

Kandomere considered this idea. How would he feel if an elf declared and proved herself to be his mate while he felt no connection to her, did not know her at all? It was an odd perspective to take, but he thought he would not much like it. Would he agree to allow that elf to accompany him to meet his family? If he were honest, no, he rather thought he would not. And how would he feel if she pressed her attentions on him? Deeply unhappy and trapped.

 

Khirad was trying far harder than he had given her credit for and she had reached her limit. He had pushed her to it over the last few days. He sighed again, and rubbed his forehead harder—his head was beginning to hurt. “It was truly not my intention to make her feel such.”

 

Findal smiled at him, unbelievable, “Of course. It is always so in the beginning with a difficult mating. Yours is likely to be far easier than ours,” he smiled at Mara and she nodded.

 

“Yes, it is true,” she replied. “Come, let us have wine.”

 

“I'm heading back to my quarters for now. Good night.” Misterial glared at him, still clearly blaming him for upsetting her sister, and left.

 

Kandomere followed after Mara and Findal to a small beautifully appointed room with a balcony that overlooked the courtyard below. Servants awaited them and with a wave from Findal poured three golden goblets full of wine. Kandomere's mouth watered in spite of his distress—Findal's cellar's were famous. The two elves seated themselves in ornately carved chairs laded with pillows and gilded in gold, and indicated a less elaborate but no less comfortable chair for him.

 

Findal glanced at Mara, saw her nod, and then began to speak, “It seems likely you imagine your mating to be complicated, and perhaps it is, but no less so than some elven matings. Before we recognized each other, I tied my mate's brother's body to my horse and dragged him back and forth in front of their keep until they sent forth troops to fetch the body. My warriors and I slaughtered them and nearly took the keep. I left with his body still trailing behind my horse, though I did finally return those of his bones I could find as part of the mating agreement.”

 

Mara interrupted him here to say with some lingering anger and resentment, “I imagine it was a challenge for you to gather them after you fed his body to the dogs counter to all decency and the traditions of all civilized people.”

 

Findal had the good grace to look somewhat embarrassed, then continued, “My gentle mate,” here he glanced at Mara with some irony, “killed one of my brothers in battle. That does not sound so bad, you may think, but she did it before our walls slowly over the course of an hour while mocking him for his lack of skill—an utter and unbearable humiliation. She also had my beloved third sister, pregnant, poisoned.”

 

“I did not! I do not know who disposed of your horrible sister, but it was not I!” Mara said with a weary but indignant fury—it was clear that this was not the first time they had discussed this, not by far. “And what of you? You sent my uncle back to us missing his feet and hands! Cauterized so the healers could do nothing for him! He starved himself rather than exist dependent on others! What of that!”

 

“You know full well that your wretched uncle was the reason for my sister's untimely pregnancy. I simply ensured he would remember to keep his hands to himself from now on and would not wander into our lands again.” Findal now sounded indignant as well, “And as for my sister's death, who but you had the patience, the subtlety, and the motive to commit such an act?”

 

“I tell you, I swear by all the gods I am innocent of this crime!!” She slammed her fist on the arm of her chair, then turned to Kandomere, “Your situation seems quite easy compared to our mating. We both considered suicide as opposed to accepting each other, knowing the other would descend into madness and a slow and painful death.” She glared at Findal.

 

Findal laughed, “I think it was quite a close thing for Mara, though I must confess I myself was so smitten with her beauty I quickly abandoned such foolishness. While you are of different races, neither you nor Khirad seem violently opposed to each other. And surely you are more than a match for any human she might consider? Take heart, boy, it is not so bad.”

 

Mara took Findal's hand and said, “He is right. Once I realized how much he wanted me, my plan was to have him besotted then to kill myself in his sight. His last vision of his mate alive would be her cursing him and expressing her hatred.” Mara smiled and Kandomere found himself feeling rather glad he had his kind human for a mate. Khirad had been concerned for him, a stranger not of her house, and had accepted discomfort to comfort him. Yes, Findal was right--his mating was not so bad.

 

“I already respected him as a warrior, none was fiercer, none more brave, cunning, or brutal. His skill was legendary. And when I saw him practicing, without all his armor, just him in the sun,” She looked over at Findal and smiled, “I thought perhaps I might wait another day, then another day, until finally another day turned into a hundred years and I had come to love him.”

 

Findal smiled indulgently, “I did a lot of practicing in the sun for just this purpose.”

 

“Villain.” Mara said fondly.

 

Findal nodded in agreement, and Mara's laugh rang out musically.

 

His eyes sharpened and he looked at Kandomere askance, “We can both scent that you are mated to her, but would you accept her as she is?”

 

Both elves stared at him intently and Kandomere very much had the impression that more than just his mating to Khirad hung in the balance. There was a thread of threat in the air that had not been there before.

 

“Yes.”

 

Mara sat back, her dark hair spilling over the side of her chair to the floor, silver eyes watching him closely as she indicated to Findal to take the lead.

 

“And if she had magic? What then?”

 

“She does not.” The MTF screened their employees for magic quite rigorously and agents were appraised of those who had so much as a trace.

 

“But, just for the sake of argument, say she did. What then, magic hunter? What would you do?”

 

Kandomere was unsure of the motive for this line of questioning. Khirad had no magic, was not magical, he was certain of it. There was no scent of magic about her at all. But, for the sake of argument, he considered it.

 

“I would protect her. Unless she aligned with the Dark Lord and even then I would seek to separate her and restore her to sanity.”

 

Findal nodded and seemed relieved, as did Mara. Kandomere very much had the sense that there was more to this story. He would do his own research. If his mate was a magic user, as unlikely as that seemed, he found it impossible to believe she was of the dark variety. Perhaps she had picked up some of her family's mild nature magic but he would be able to scent that as well.

 

Findal considered him, “I assume you have some curiosity as to how she came to be with us?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Her parents were the worst sort of humans, barely sentient beings.” Findal leaned back in his chair and grimaced in disgust. “I met Khirad when she was probably ten or eleven. Her age is uncertain. There is no birth record for her, other than the one we constructed.” He swirled the wine in his heavy golden cup. “She was tracking a deer through my woods having shot it with a ridiculously insufficient bow. I, too, was hunting and came upon the blood trail. Following it, I became increasingly angry at the needless suffering of the beast. The trail was long, indicating the shot was far from fatal and thus would guarantee the beast a slow painful death. By the time I found them, I was furious.”

 

He paused in the tale to take a sip and resumed. “This filthy mud and leaf covered creature was crouched over my half-grown doe, crying and apologizing for causing it to suffer. She had finished it clumsily with a knife, the throat gaping open. How she planned to get it home, I do not know.” He sipped his wine again. Kandomere had the strangest sense he was fortifying himself to tell the story. “I heard her mention her hunger, how she had to catch something, but I had no compassion.” He looked at Kandomere. “I do not remember my exact words, but I know my intent was ill.”

 

“I remember how fearless and weary she was, how small and astonishingly filthy. I had my guard remove her from her kill and hoist it onto one of our pack horses. She simply watched, did not protest, and then looked us up and down with such disgust my fury was rekindled. Again, I cannot remember my exact words, just that new tears began to track down her muddy little face. I remember her words though, 'I'm a weak hunter. I'm sorry I made that little deer suffer, but I'm hungry. But you're not hungry, you're just mean and selfish,'”

 

Findril smiled slightly at the memory, “She then turned and ran, likely smart of her. I was furious, but also intrigued. Most humans grovel, but this filthy little slip dares to judge me?” He paused and looked grim, “I did not realize then that she was used to the selfishness of those larger than her, and had borne their unjustified wrath often.”

 

Kandomere felt disgusted. Elves did not mistreat their offspring. To hurt one's child would be to hurt oneself, unthinkable.

 

“I sent one of my guard to follow and observe. She returned to me troubled. When Khirad arrived empty handed, her mother beat her and refused her entry. She slept under the trailer in her blood and the filth and the mud like a dog. I had told my mate of the filthy trespasser, and once my anger cooled we had both laughed at the ridiculousness of such a creature's defiance. Upon my guard's words, my mate said, 'This was poorly done, husband.'” He paused, reflecting. Mara nodded in agreement with his tale.

 

Kandomere sat silently, waiting for the elflord to continue. His mate had been abused. Fury coursed though him and he promised himself he would pour down blood and pain on these creatures who hurt her, relatives or not.

 

“We do not, as a rule, interfere in the lives of humans. We keep to our forest deeps and they keep to the edges or the cities.” He paused, gave a nod. “But we find it difficult to ignore evil once we see it.”

 

“That is understandable. I find it difficult myself.” Kandomere replied, and took a drink of his wine.

 

Findal arched a brow, “And yet in your cities...” Mara tapped him on the hand and gave him a sharp quelling glance.

 

“That is a discussion for another day. I ordered my hunters to assist her when possible, to drive game towards her, to make it easy while remaining unseen. They became fond of her, over a period of months, and developed a hatred of her parents who continued to mistreat her. The hatred of elves is no small thing.”

 

Findal looked at him levelly, and Kandomere was certain this was a warning.

 

“I intend her no harm,” he stated firmly. “She is my mate.”

 

Findal and Mara simply gazed at him and he felt the weight of their years, and all the many kills they had made. He gazed back—he knew he was innocent of ill intent toward Khirad, let them search his heart. No other reply was necessary.

 

“No doubt you think we killed her parents and took her as a changeling,” Findal said sarcastically, “Nothing of the sort, though had I given the order my guard would have happily merrily complied.”

 

Another warning, thought Kandomere. His mate was well protected and well loved, at least by her elven family. While the threat was likely intended to be chilling, he was actually quite pleased that she would not be reliant on him alone for protection as most humans would be. This was very good luck, especially considering the nature of his work.

 

Findal continued, “The mother overdosed first, followed by the father. No one came for her, or the bodies, and after a week I had my guard bring her to my halls. My guard searched and there were no documents regarding her at all. She had not attended school, she was an utter savage.”

 

With a ghost of a smile, Mara added, “Our halls became quite lively for a time. Khirad was unused to any limitations and is exceedingly strong of will. She fought everything, everyone, and was extremely suspicious of our motives. My granddaughter Misterial loved her immediately, and Khirad eventually returned that love. They became inseparable. We, too, became increasingly fond of her. Despite her mistreatment, she was brave, fierce, cheerful, kind to animals if not her fellow sentient beings, and had a thirst to learn.”

 

Findal nodded, “She grew up well, and when Misterial decided to attempt university, she accompanied her. Khirad attended on scholarship, stubborn girl.” He looked at Kandomere, “She is remarkably independent and will take it ill if you attempt to use wealth as an inducement. Though she is quite fond of gifts.”

 

“Especially jewelry. She makes it herself as well, is very skilled.” Mara added. Kandomere remember the ring he gave her and felt pleased. Perhaps the only thing he had done right so far, and she had kept it on even for her run.

 

Findal proceeded, “I already thought of her as a granddaughter, but had I not, she earned her place with us that first year of university. If not for her, we would have lost Misterial. That story is not mine to tell—it is Misterial's should she decide to tell it. To all our grief, when Misterial returned to us, Khirad did not stay past Misterial's healing. I erred by demanding she return immediately and stay with us, her family. I missed her and wanted her safe, though she interpreted it as my trying to possess her, control her. Even now, I do not understand this human need for independence. To be alone is to be weak, to be heart-sick. When one is parted from those they love, it is an ache. Humans feel something different.”

 

“She will need time alone. You would be a fool to fight this as we did at first.” Mara added.

 

Findal looked at Kandomere with pity, “Even if she comes to love you, Khirad will not ache for you as you will for her. Humans do not feel the same bonds as us, they can not. Not the same intensity, the same need for their loved one's physical presence.”

 

Mara looked at him and narrowed her eyes, “Your instincts are as ours, but you will control them. We will not tolerate her being sequestered. There will be war should she disappear mysteriously.”

 

Kandomere nodded, and replied candidly, “I have no desire or need to force her. I am not without skill, and do not arrive empty handed to beg.” His house was wealthy, almost as wealthy and old as Findal's. He was a worthy suitor, not a child with no experience enticing and pleasing another.

 

Findal leaned back his head and laughed, “Very well, Kandomere. I have heard of you, and your house. I will support your suit and render such aid as I can.” The king looked wily, “And in return, you will overlook reports of magic that involve my people.”

 

“Agreed, unless it is dark magic or your people are aligned with the Inferni.”

 

“The Inferni, and those aligned with them, do not enter our woods. If they do, they do not leave.”

 

“I am aware.”

 

“And you will accept her, regardless of her past, regardless of her future, you will cleave to her alone, and link your life force to hers if she allows it, you are willing swear this?” Mara asked.

 

A blood oath. This was no small matter what she asked of him. Kandomere thought of his human mate, her obvious kindness, her gentleness. It was certain that there was some darkness in her past, likely some darkness involving magic, but whatever had happened had not tainted her with it. A trollhund would not remain with one who was dark, and she, she was so full of light. And share his life force? He would insist. It would shorten his life but lengthen hers and that was a bargain he was happy to make.

 

Kandomere held out his hand, “Queen Mara, may I borrow your dagger?”

 

She smiled at him, and handed it to him. He cut his palm and held it over a bowl one of the servants presented for the purpose of his oath. Once the bowl was full of enough of his blood to fuel an oath of this power, he spoke using ancient Ovusi, “I, Kandomere, swear that I will accept my mate Khirad regardless of her past, regardless of her future, and I will cleave to her alone. If she allows me, I will link my life force to hers that we may share this life equally, and walk together in peace. All that is mine, is hers.”

 

The magic curled into him and the binding completed. He watched as all but the blood on his hand disappeared, his sacrifice accepted. Finally, he used some of the residual magic to heal his hand, and presented it to them with an arched brow. He was not without skill of all sorts, regardless of his personal convictions regarding magic and obedience to the law.

 

Findal positively roared with laughter, and Mara said with a smile, “I think I am becoming quite fond of you, Kandomere.”

 

“Then we have an agreement?”

 

“Indeed.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Khirad ran through the more open paths of the forest by the light of the full moon. In areas where it darkened due to the density of the trees she slowed to a walk then picked back up into a run. There was no danger of her getting lost, not with Ten along. Finally, she slowed and sat down at one of her favorite places in the wood—an ancient stone bridge that spanned a rushing river. She felt a little better having run off a lot of her anger. The sound of the river soothed her, and the bridge was lovely especially by moonlight.

 

She sat and dangled her legs off the edge, petted Ten after she curled up next to her and laid her head on Khirad's thigh. Nothing, she thought of nothing for a time until her phone vibrated. She looked down at her phone, saw Aaron had texted her a couple of times during her run but she'd been too preoccupied to notice. Fuck.

 

Hey, how's it going?

 

Hey, babe, how's the solstice?

 

Everything ok,babe?

 

Shit, with everything that had happened she forgot to text him. He thought she was here with friends. What the fuck could she say? Hey, babe, my grandparents who happen to be royalty, elven royalty, are probably cutting some fucking deal and/or murdering the elf who is my fated magical mate. So, how's your fucking night going?

 

She texted back, It's great.

 

Really, text me a pic!  Was he checking up on her? WTF?

 

Well, it's mostly over.

 

So, text me a pic of that.

 

wtf with the pics?

 

Why are you being so secretive?

 

Why are you checking up on me?

 

You're out with some other guy, aren't you?  Well, he wasn't wrong exactly, but it still pissed her off.

 

Are you fucking kidding me?

 

No, I'm fucking not. You didn't text me all night.

 

You just texted me like an hour ago—I didn't notice it until now.

 

What could she say, I'm having a meltdown over the idea of basically being trapped into marriage with stranger—I'm a little fucking busy?

 

Everyone I talked to said the only humans that go to the Solstice are pets. Are you some fucking elf's fucking pet?

 

You MUST be high AF and/or drunk. WTF? Really?

 

Answer me, are you fucking some elf?

 

Fuck you.

 

Khirad turned her phone off, felt sick to her stomach she was so angry. Fuck him, they'd been dating a maybe a month and had sex once, one time, a few days ago. He hadn't said anything about being exclusive and had told her at the beginning that he was too busy for anything more than casual right now. Fair enough, she was busy herself, but he didn't get to be jealous over her when he'd set the parameters of their relationship as casual. Or did he just think he could do whatever the fuck he wanted while she, what, waited for him? Fuck that. Casual was just that—casual. It was none of his gods damned business who she was fucking.

 

She flopped back on the bridge and considered her life. Last week things had been pretty great, but this week absolutely sucked ass.

 

“Hey.” Khirad looked over to see Mist come out of the woods holding a bottle of wine and two mugs.

 

“What?” She closed her eyes and thought, I will punch her if she starts in on me.

 

“I brought wine. Your favorite. And your cookies.” Mara made these elven cookies just for her that she swore were laced with a narcotic.

 

“Fine. But I'm not sharing. Give.” She held out her hand and Mist settled in next to her, stuck the Ziploc bag of cookies in her hand.

 

“Mated.” Mist's voice sounded stunned.

 

“Don't you even fucking start.” Misterial sighed and poured them both a mug of wine. A lighter one for Khirad, but fuck that. “Hit me, I'm getting wasted. Fuck this shit.”

 

They sat in silence for a while, then she sat up and shifted to lean against Mist.

 

“So, Aaron thinks I'm a pet off fucking an elf by the light of the moon or some shit.”

 

“What, no, surely not. Your human is stupid.”

 

“I didn't think so, but I've just been spreading the wrong all the fuck around this week.”

 

Misterial laughed, “Do you want to know what Mara and Findal are doing?”

 

“Oh, I bet I know.” She deepened her voice and exaggerated Findal's stately manner, “Why, had it not been for her beauty, I would have skinned all her relatives alive! LOL, mating!!!”

 

“Oh, come on, it's a great love story.” Misterial laughed.

 

“Maybe for elves, but it just seems...creepy that all of a sudden, bam, you're linked forever to someone you hate who hates you too.” She paused, “Or just some stranger.”

 

“They're really happy. Do you know any elven couples who aren't?”

 

“No, but..”

 

“Humans divorce all the time. I don't understand how two people go from loving each other to hating each other—that seems worse to me.” Khirad had to admit it, Mist had a point. But, still, mating was weird. 

 

“I don't know him. I literally don't even know his phone number, Mist. I was going to text him to let him know I'd be back and not to freak out, but I didn't know his number. It just seems like I ought to know somebody's phone number before, oh, deciding to spend the rest of my life with him.”

 

“I'm quite sure he'd give it to you.”

 

Khirad held out her mug, “You know what I mean.”

 

“You better slow down.”

 

“Fuck that. I told you, I am staggering home. No, you're going to carry my ass home.”

 

“I'll drag you.”

 

Khirad laughed. “Remember that time we got in a fight and you knocked me out and dragged me home by my hair?”

 

“I remember you dragging your nails across my face and calling me an orc fucker.”

 

“Yes, and you came out of the woods with huge bloody scratches all over your face and blood all down your shirt, dragging my ass home right in front of the dwarven delegation. I woke up just as we passed Findal.”

 

“He never said a word.”

 

“I know, but his face! I wish you could have seen it when I smiled up at him.”

 

“He was so angry. 'Misterial! When will you learn your Khirad is a mere human!!!'”

 

“Do you remember when I called him a mere elf?”

 

“How long did he ignore you that time?”

 

“Two months, but he quite calling me a mere human. I think I wore him down by referring to everything as a mere whatever it was.”

 

“Oh, gods, I remember that. And in that same tone too.”

 

“I shall ride my mere horse.”

 

'Won't you join me for some mere tea, grandfather.' I remember that one.”

 

“His jaw would tighten trying not to laugh at the end before he finally gave up and started talking to me again.”

 

They laughed and Khirad felt much better. They sat for a bit in silence and then Khirad said, “Mist, I don't want to hurt Kandomere.”

 

“How could you possibly hurt him?”

 

“He thinks he's my mate.”

 

“He is your mate. We can all scent it on him.”

 

Khirad went silent.

 

Mist sighed and said, “It will be a huge problem and almost certainly result in war, but if you really don't want him I'm sure grandfather will kill him for you, or grandmother. One of them will have it done.”

 

“What, why would he have to be killed?”

 

Mist sighed, “Gods, you really know nothing. Did you not pay attention in class at all?”

 

“I have an MA from Stanford and my BA was at Harvard, I think I do all right.”

 

“I meant our classes, elf classes.”

 

“I paid attention to the stuff that I thought applied to me. Which was not a lot. ”

 

“Gods. Fine. Elves are aggressive and territorial. Mated elves are calmer in general, but worse about their mates and children, especially small children. Early in the mating, female elves are more aggressive in displaying their wealth and beauty, and male elves are far more physically aggressive and territorial until the mating is consummated.”

 

“You did not just go there.”

 

“This is the reality of your situation. Think of it as a biologist.”

 

“I think I'm too drunk for that now.”

 

“You're not even that drunk.”

 

“Fine, refill, and keep going boss.”

 

“Basically, your job is to offer him vast wealth and beauty, and his job is to make sure no one else has access to it.”

 

Khirad stuck her finger through one of the holes in her tshirt, “I got your vast wealth and beauty right here, baby.”

 

“You aren't that funny. Pay attention.”

 

“Fine.”

 

“I'm serious, Khirad.”

 

“Are you super serious? Like seriously serious?”

 

Mist smacked her hand on the bridge, “Would you just listen?” She paused and glared at Khirad, “Ok, so Findal read about the half-elven. Some of them are like you and can choose, or just take a while to recognize their mate—the records didn't seem clear on exactly how they accepted their mate. If they accepted, everything was fine.”

 

“I hear a but coming...”

 

“But every case where they did not accept their mate ended in the death of one or both of the pair, or the elf simply took the half-elven.”

 

“Took? That sounds awfully rapey.”

 

“Kidnapped. I don't know if they forced themselves on their mate, the records don't say. Sometimes there were children, sometimes not.”

 

Khirad sighed. “I don't know Kandomere well, but I just don't see him as a rapist.” She thought about it. “There's a law now that in cases like this the elf and non-elf make an arrangement. Did grandfather look at any modern cases?”

 

“He did. All the ones he discovered were human and elf and basically the human was having sex with the elf on a regular basis for money.”

 

“That's so fucking grim. Honestly, I feel bad for the elf. I feel bad for Kandomere. It's just not fair. He should have an elf that recognizes him. He should have what Findal and Mara have.”

 

“You like him.” Misterial sounded happily surprised.

 

“I guess I do. I think he's probably a good guy. He's, ok, he's a little creepy, but..”

 

“But?”

 

“Well, I think he's really been trying to restrain himself.”

 

“Oh, I assure you, he has.”

 

Khirad rolled over on her belly. She was certainly feeling the wine now.

 

Mist stroked her hair, “If you like him, I mean surely he could not be worse than your stupid human, Aaron?”

 

“Aaron was just casual, I didn't care about him.”

 

“It could begin that way with Kandomere. Mara and Findal started from total hatred.”

 

“Right, but what if I don't want him, what then?”

 

“We kill him. But at least you tried.”

 

Khirad looked at Misterial. Mist looked calm, had suggested killing Kandomere like going out for tacos. That was fucking chilling. “I don't want to hurt him, I don't know, it feels awkward.”

 

“You're worried about hurting him how? He's tremendously stronger than you, how do you think you could hurt him? You make no sense.”

 

“Look, he has feelings for me of some kind, that's obvious. I don't really understand those feelings but I don't want to hurt them and reject him. I don't know.” She rolled back on her back and rubbed her head with both hands. “It just feels like leading him on, like taking advantage of him.”

 

Misterial burst out laughing, “He'd be absolutely thrilled to have you lead him on. He craves you more than you can possibly understand.”

 

“I know. He reminds me of Galdor.”

 

Mist's voice became deadly serious, “He's nothing like Galdor. He swore a blood oath to cleave to you. He'd never hurt you.”

 

“Wait, what?” Khirad sat up, her head swam a little, “He did what?”

 

“Grandmother asked him to swear an oath to accept you and cleave to you, no matter what. He also swore to link your life force to his, if you would allow it. He's absolutely nothing like Galdor.” Mist paused, “I like him Khirad, and so do grandfather and grandmother.”

 

“It should be my choice.”

 

“I told you, it is your choice.”

 

“A blood oath. Kandomere used magic? Really?”

 

“I swear.”

 

“If he swore not to hurt me, maybe...”

 

“He won't hurt you, but he may hurt himself. His family would almost certainly retaliate and hurt you, though you could probably avoid them if you came to live out the rest of your life in the halls. He'd definitely kill anyone else that you had sex with if he scented them on you. He'd track them and kill them, he wouldn't be able to stop himself.”

 

“That's so fucked up.”

 

Mist said nothing, topped off her glass of wine, and then added, “Look, you like him. You find him attractive, that's obvious.”

 

“Gods, could you get more embarrassing?”

 

“It really is. We can all scent it on you—it's likely a confusing torture for him.”

 

“I'm sorry? What the fuck am I supposed to do about it?”

 

“Act on it. Why not? Supposedly sex with one's mate is unbelievably erotic.” Mist smirked, “And Kandomere has a reputation of some definite skill.”

 

Khirad was sure she was flaming red right now, “Stop, just stop. I'm begging.”

 

Mist laughed, “Prude.”

 

“I am not, but..”

 

“But what? I assure you, he would be happy for you to 'take advantage of him.'” She then laughed, stood and offered her hand to Khirad, “Let's go back.”

 

Chapter Text

To some extent, Baal had gotten quite lucky. When he chose to do the first attempt to form a wand and open the gate, he'd selected the forest as a direct challenge to Findal. He'd also set up the beginning of the next circle there to add fuel to Findal's wrath. As expected, Findal had retaliated with a show of force and power using the Invocation to “cleanse” his lands. Baal had anticipated the power seeking him out and the return of his power with abundant interest as an attempt to murder him—a somewhat blunt predictable action on Findal's part but normally very effective against Brights. Baal was no mere Bright though—he was a the child of an ifrit mother and an elf. For him, Findal's action would be more of a very good meal and provide enough power to definitely form the first wand with the addition of the blood and pain of the ceremony.

 

He had not anticipated the massive gout of power that had rushed into him, wild natural untrained power, would have very likely been murdered had he not been dreaming with his acolytes and been able to bleed off the excess into them. Some had died—a loss, but he would consider it a winnowing of the weak. But that power, that was not Findal, not his mate Mara—he knew their flavor. And it was new since he had last rode the power on Findal's Invocation. A child then, most likely, and likely a royal child but not necessarily—power could be surprisingly egalitarian in his experience. Findal and Mara would likely know the source, but not definitely—the power had been so raw it may have just emerged at the Invocation itself. He would inquire into the state of Findal's house. Power of that magnitude would need to be used, bled off, or it would find its own course. Though with Findal's house that might manifest in nature, just a gradual daily bleed into the surroundings, the grass a bit greener, the trees healthier, better weather. Elf, or like him, some blend—that was a virtual certainty.

 

Another stroke of luck—one of his surviving acolytes was of Findal's house. Or had been, prior to being disciplined over some human pet. Findal had taken offense over the loss of his possession, understandable, and exiled the elf. Seven years later, Galdor still burned with the humiliation of his punishment and longed for revenge, took his revenge out piecemeal on dark-haired human females and the odd occasional wood elf that wandered into the city. But the chance to truly strike at Findal? Galdor would be happy to hunt this power, would take to this task with relish.

 

With this addition, Baal could no longer fully see the pattern of the web he was weaving. Concerning, but if he could acquire this power it would likely speed the return of the Dark Lord and certainly speed his own rise. Perhaps he could take them as an acolyte, assuming they were either innocent and thus easily broken or of Galdor's disposition. He could also use them as a singularly powerful death, good for a wand at a minimum and possibly, with sufficient pain and humiliation, good to open the gate itself after they formed the first two wands.

 

If Lirael heard of this elf, she would insist on them being sacrificed. But it would be more to Baal's advantage to have them as an acolyte, presuming he could dominate them and make use of them. It was quite possible that this elf was more powerful than Baal, but they were young, unskilled, raw. A challenge then, he felt a thrill through him, and possibly a way to reinforce his own power. Even if they were not easy to break it would be worth his time, and ultimately both beneficial and pleasurable, to wear them down until they surrendered. He'd had many acolytes over the years and some of the best had begun quite unwillingly. All had, eventually, succumbed. And there were few things more pleasurable than breaking one strong of will, strong in power. Yes, he would break them. The Dark Lord would come, and he could use this elf once trained to speed the Dark Lord's return. It would be a waste to use this elf as a sacrifice unless there was no other option.

 

Meet me at home at 10 AM. Galdor knew that home was the coven headquarters. The MTF scanned for certain communications and the limits of their net were unknown.

Yes. In person, Galdor would refer to him as Lord, but again the MTF monitoring made everything so difficult.

 

Baal stood and stretched. He considered an amusement—perhaps he would visit his latest acquisition, a supple little pet that cried so prettily and marked so easily on her paper white skin. He enjoyed the contrast of his rainbow of marks, her pale skin, and flaming red hair, wide blue eyes so dependably filling with tears on his whim. Sometimes he was kind, brought her nothing but pleasure and even showed her tenderness. She would become so foolishly hopeful that she had pleased him well, imagining that something she had done, some silly human action had somehow determined his kindness as opposed to it being pure whimsy. So foolish and so human.

 

It amused him that she imagined she had any power at all, though given her pale fragile beauty he supposed she normally did. Until him, and then it became his, like her, until he eventually tired of this game--when he ended it, she would beg, they always begged no matter how he hurt them, no matter how much pride and strength they had in the beginning. They were all so certain that they would snare him, be enough. Foolish. This one more so than most--if he so much as gave her pleasure for more than a few days she began to be confident of her ability to move him, so amusing. And then he would hurt her again, savor her despair, her sense of powerlessness, her pitiful stubborn desire to please him when in fact he was using her to please himself quite well indeed. Foolish. Harvesting her pain was a very minor source of power, but a pleasurable one nonetheless. Yes, a visit with his pet and then bed. Tomorrow he would form the first wand.

 


 

 

Kandomere was well and truly drunk he realized as he followed the guide back to his quarters. He waved away the servants—he was quite used to preparing his own self for bed, thank you—and wondered where he was in relation to Khirad's rooms. After the pang of hunger that reverberated through him at the thought of her in that red dress, he decided that in his current state it was better he didn't know. He removed his cape and tunic, glad to be rid of the heavy tunic especially. Those who considered suits uncomfortable had never worn traditional male elven court clothes.

 

The chamber was beautifully appointed and suited to his rank. His bed had been turned down, and fine cotton pajamas in navy with his family crest and name embroidered in silver thread on the pocket lay folded at the foot of the bed with matching navy leather slippers tucked below. He wondered if some tailor and shoemaker had made them just for him this very night—the hospitality of this house was flawless, with the exception of his mate deserting him.

 

Kandomere stalked into the bathroom, irritated at her despite understanding intellectually how she probably felt. He had experienced this many many times with humans. He understood their reasoning, understood that it was important to them, and yet the emotion of it eluded him. Even with Montehugh, he sometimes found the feelings incomprehensible, especially if Montehugh decided to recount some spat with Hosato that troubled him. Montehugh would explain and Kandomere could follow the explanation step by step but how they arrived at anger or reconciliation was ultimately mystifying. Like being told two plus two didn't equal four, but instead equaled five, then having it demonstrated to him repeatedly that this was, in fact, a possibility in the world of humans, and the right answer. But he still kept coming up with four, which frankly made a lot more sense.

 

He slipped beneath the water then randomly selected one of the many bath product options—my god this was fine, no doubt made by Findal's people and available only here. He would need to ensure his own house at least the match to Findal's before he brought Khirad home. If she allowed him to bring her home, if he did not simply take her home and keep her there. An idea that very very much appealed to him in his current state of inebriation. Definitely a good idea he did not know where her quarters were located, an excellent idea. Findal had likely posted a guard—he knew he would have. Luxuriating in the feel of the product, he wondered if Khirad would allow him to bathe her when she returned from her run, an idea so fantastical he shook his head. He was a fool.

 

He rinsed and left the bath, toweled off and dressed in his pajamas and added the fine quilted navy velvet dressing gown and the leather slippers. The dressing gown was similarly embroidered with his crest and name, also on the pocket. Everything fit perfectly, absolutely bespoke just for him. He felt such a sense of welcome from Mara and Findal. They seemed genuinely pleased with him as a prospective mate. If only his mate concurred. Her absence continued to gnaw at him, the need to know she was safe, but he knew this was foolish—she was on her own lands with her trollhund as companion. He laid down on the bed and closed his eyes. Still, his instinct would not let him sleep.

 

He would inquire if she had returned. If she were back, he could go to sleep in peace. If not, he would wait for her. A bad idea, certainly, but instinct was riding him hard—he needed to know she was safe. Her sister would be with her, and he felt certain that one look from her askance, her gimlet eye fixed on him like a portent of his own death, would be plenty of impetus for him to restrain himself. If house Findarion decided his death was necessary, he felt sure that Misterial would happily volunteer to do the job personally.

 

He stepped out into the corridor and was immediately approached by a servant.

 

“My lord,” he said with a slight bow.

 

“Has the Lady Khirad returned?”

 

“No, my Lord.”

 

He sighed, worried. “Thank you.”

 

He turned to return to his quarters, but behind him he heard, “My Lord, she needs must enter through the main door at this hour of night. One could bring a comfortable chair within sight of the door and a carafe of wine, should you wish to await her return.”

 

He turned back to the servant, saw the very slightest hint of a smile in the elf's eyes. Findal's promised aid?

 

“Thank you,” Kandomere said and inclined his head in respect.

 

“My Lord.”

 

Kandomere followed the elf back to the main hall and settled into the chair prepared for him, propped up his legs on the footstool, and took a sip of the the wine already poured. Definitely Findal.

 

He closed his eyes and allowed his mind to wander, until he heard laughter and talk—Khirad and her sister approaching! He rose, acknowledged the guards who opened the door for him, and stepped out onto the portico. Gazing out over the time worn stone steps, he watch them approaching over the lawn.

 

“Do you remember that time at college you cornered that horrible girl Alyssa in the shower and threatened to wear her scalp as a cap if she stole your shampoo again?” Khirad laughed.

 

“You laugh, but I meant it. The disrespect!”

 

“She was awful, but I felt a bit sorry for her.”

 

“You are too soft, we all tell you that, soft soft soft little Khirad.”

 

“Well, I'm not an elf. I'd have been expelled.”

 

“You ARE an elf, legally. Grandfather would never have allowed it.”

 

“I can imagine that conversation.”

 

Both of the females said, in unison, and in Findal's stately tones, “Surely you do not mean to expel my granddaughter over a mere human?”

 

Both females dissolved into laughter, obviously drunk.

 

“Imagine their faces! Looking at me, then Findal, and trying to figure out how this,” Khirad pointed to herself here, “came from that.”

 

“As if they would have the courage to question him!”

 

Amusement, relief, and anger warred for preeminence inside him. That hideous shirt—he'd rip that off first. It was an offense to the gods and he felt sure he'd be rewarded on its destruction. He'd rip it off with his teeth.

 

Misterial spotted him first, and smiled at him. That was odd. Khirad spotted him next and froze. Mist patted her on the back and said, “Good fortune, warrior,” then ran up the steps and into the halls

laughing, Ten trailing after her at her call.

 

He took a step towards her, and she took one back, poised for flight. He'd chase her, he would definitely chase her, mark her, she needed to not run from him.

 

“Don't run. I'll chase you.”

 

“Do you think you could catch me in my own woods?” She said skeptically, edged away a little more, then staggered and caught herself. She was even drunker than him—yes, he could catch her easily.

 

“Yes.” All his hunter's senses were alive, he scented her on the air, judged the distance to the woods, how quickly he could catch her. What he would do with her when he did. He was sure he had that intent look on his face humans found so unnerving. He could not help it.

 

She edged back one more step, taunting him. Did she not understand what would happen, how thin his control? “Stop it.” He stepped down one of the steps toward her. His voice lowered to a hungry rumble, “You are so vulnerable.”

 

Fear, he scented her fear now and her sweet desire, and it was too much. With a snarl he closed the gap between them, grabbed her from behind as she turned to run. “Stop, now,” he snarled against her neck.

 

Of course she ignored him, struggled, made it worse. He ripped her shirt away from her shoulder and set his teeth against the soft, so soft, flesh between her neck and her shoulder, just barely biting down, aching to bite her, mark her, tear her sweet flesh and taste her, to own her and make visibly his to all.

 

She froze, he could hear the hammering of her hummingbird heart, her fear flooding his senses. His instincts clamored, clawed at the cage of his self-control, and he pressed his teeth in a just a little more until she gasped. No. He would not hurt her. He forced his jaw to open and removed his teeth from her. Kissed the little indentations so carefully--no blood, thank the gods. He would not be savage with her. He would not. Licked the spot like he would have if he had bit her. He would have healed his mark into thin white mating lines visible only to elves. For humans and the other races, she would wear his ring.

 

“Be still.” He kissed her neck, “My control...is not good.”

 

“You won't hurt me.” Her voice sounded surprised, but firm, like she finally understood.

 

“No.” He kissed up her neck, and it was so good. Just this, holding her, was so good.

 

She relaxed into his arms, her hands stroking over his as he kissed her. Fear was fading, replaced with desire. Yes, yes. He breathed her in, buried his face in her hair, kissed the back of her sweet fragile neck.

 

“Let me go.”

 

“Do not run.”

 

“Ok.”

 

He let her go and stepped back, hating the distance between them already. She turned to face him and to his surprise stepped forward, took his hand, “Come with me.”

 

He followed her up the stairs, through the halls, would follow her into the Darklands if she asked, and finally they arrived at what he knew were her quarters—they had her scent. She paused, as if considering, then opened the door and looked up at him.

 

“Would you...”

 

“Yes, very much.”

 

She smiled and walked inside, motioning for him to follow. As if he needed encouragement when she was allowing him not just near her but into her personal quarters. He could not believe his luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Warning--Smut.

 

This was probably a bad idea, but she wanted him, at least for tonight, maybe. When he'd somehow restrained himself and let her go, let her choose, she chose to at least explore him a little, just to see what he might be like. He would stop if she told him to. He wouldn't hurt her. So, she would take what she wanted from him and see if she liked it.

 

She'd thought about running, before he'd leapt for her. More as a test—what would he do?--than wanting him to chase her down. This place was as safe as it was going to get for her to try the limits of his control, to see who he was when he had to choose between what he wanted and what she was willing to agree to do.

 

And she wanted to see him, to touch him, and to see how that affected him. When he'd pinned her and set his teeth in her—her shoulder still smarted a little from his bruising bite—he'd panted and growled like some kind of animal, his arms like steel poles lightly covered in flesh and skin. And then, he became the controlled elf she had seen at work again. Well, almost. He was tense, hungry, his eyes avidly watching her, but controlled, visibly putting himself under control.

 

It was hot as fuck to affect him so intensely, to see in his eyes how much it disturbed him that she had such power over him. Yes. She could shred his control at will, have him aching and raw. She strongly suspected this was completely new for him, that he was normally as controlled in his personal life as his work one.

 

He moaned at her taste—moaned!--just from licking her neck. How would he sound if she went down on her knees and took him in her mouth? Was he big? She would explore him as much as she wanted, then stop when she felt like it—he was hers. Was she his? She wasn't at all sure of that, but she knew with certainty that he belonged to her.

 

Her quarters had multiple connecting rooms and she led him first into the sitting room. She preferred comfort and simplicity to ostentation, but with some wrangling Mara had allowed her to decorate her rooms using antiques from the Arts and Crafts era of American design, all oak, leather, and muted colors with repeated designs inspired by nature. Well, except there was the massive TV mounted on the sitting room wall for her and Mist to watch movies and stupid TV shows, but otherwise, yes, peacefully inspired by nature.

 

He followed her in and she indicated with a wave the seating, then felt uncomfortable because that was such a Findal gesture. Kandomere didn't seem to mind and sat in the closest chair and leaned back, watching her intently.

 

“Wine?” She poured herself a generous glass. She felt good, drunk, yes, but enjoying it. No time to slow this party down.

 

“No. Thank you.”

 

“Worried about your 'control'?” She teased him with an arched brow, leaning against the bar and taking a sip of her own glass.

 

He glared at her, then said, “Yes.”

 

She smiled--he looked so much like Findal in that moment, clearly annoyed with her human foolishness, but refusing to rise to the bait.

 

Thoughtlessly, she rubbed her shoulder where he bit her. His eyes followed the movement and he said, “Come here.”

 

She refilled her glass, saw him frown at her either drinking too much or possibly not coming when called. If the second, he'd better get used to that.

 

She sauntered across the room to him, taking her sweet time and making a show of it, and was pleased to see his eyes follow every roll of her hips. When she stood in front of him, he moved to get up and she put her hand on his chest and indicated for him to stay seated. Draining her cup, she set it over to the side on the end table.

 

“Is that elven wine?” He inquired a little too blandly—he was judging her drinking!

 

“Yep, sure is. Are you going to give me a lecture on the dangers of binge drinking now, agent?”

 

His eyebrows raised, and there might have been a hint of faint amusement in his eyes. “No. But it is quite...potent...”

 

“For humans?” she said with a sigh. “If I had a dollar for every time an elf said something like that to me...”

 

“You have much experience with elves. More so than most humans.” He didn't sound entirely pleased by that.

 

She looked down at him, realized the probable source of his discontent, and decided to be honest, “If by experience you mean intimate, then no. I had one elven boyfriend throughout my late teens. I broke up with him. He nearly killed me. That was plenty for me. I've avoided them ever since.” She selected that moment to join him in the chair, moving to straddle him and sit back on his knees.

 

“Does he yet live?” Trust an elf to go right to meting out vengeance.

 

“I'm not sure. That would be a question for Findal. My guess would be no.”

 

“I will inquire with him tomorrow.” His voice held a measured fury that she found strangely comforting.

 

Then, he reached out his hand and covered her bruised shoulder with it, his eyes intense silver bright and locked on hers. He muttered a word in old Ovusi, then heat spread through her and pleasure.

 

“Oh...” That...felt amazing. After a moment, the feeling subsided and he stroked his hand through her hair. She looked at her shoulder—healed.

 

“You used magic?”

 

He raised his eyebrows, “Yes.”

 

“That's illegal.”

 

“Are you going to report me?”

 

“No, but..”

 

“But?”

 

“You aren't what I thought you were, are you?”

 

“What did you think I was?” He sounded amused now. One hand was still petting her hair, the other had moved to grip her hip, pulling her a little closer to him then stopping.

 

She blushed. “I, well...”

 

“Clearly these thoughts are unflattering...” He seemed torn between amused and displeased. “I am aware you thought I was toying with you...”

 

“Yes, at first.”

 

“You know..”

 

“Yes. Yes.” She did know—he was all too serious.

 

“Tell me, how else did I seem?”

 

“Cold.”

 

“Cold?”

 

“Yes.”

 

He traced a finger across her bottom lip, then down her throat to the torn edge of her tshirt.

 

“Do I still seem so?” His voice held enough heat to physically warm herself by.

 

“No.” She said softly, “No.”

 

“Hmmm...you seem unconvinced.” The hand at her hip slipped under both shirts to slide up and cup her breast, the thumb moving over her nipple through the thick fabric of her sports bra.

 

“I'm sweaty.” She leaned back. His hand followed as he leaned forward.

 

“So you are.” That hungry growl was back in his voice, and she felt herself flush with heat.

 

He leaned further in to scent her. “Your scent is exquisite torture.”

 

“It's not that bad,” she joked, “I did take a bath today.”

 

He smirked, “You need another.”

 

“That's polite.”

 

“I want to tear the clothes off of you and then wash you with my bare hands,” he growled, then stood up holding her against him, “I want to see all of you, touch you everywhere.”

 

She looked up at him, fuck it. Why not? Sliding her fingers over the smooth cotton of his pajamas, she reached the top button and undid it. He moved to pull her closer, “No. I'll undress you first.”

 

He raised his eyebrows, then smiled and nodded. That smile, one part delight, one part hungry predator.

 

She pushed the velvet robe off him first, taking it and folding it over the side of the chair. He moved to place his hands back on her and she shook her head, “I touch you.”

 

His nostrils flared, and his hands settled at his side into fists.

 

Yes, like this, she was curious about him and in no hurry. Her experience with male elves was limited to Galdor, and she had been so young then, done relatively little so long ago that this was new and she wanted to savor it.

 

Looking into his eyes, she started at his shoulders then down to feel the indentation of his collarbones through the fine cotton. Over the broad muscles of his chest to brush her thumbs over his hard nipples and hear him gasp, see his head jerk slightly back , wonderful. To drag her fingertips over the ridges of his abs. And finally trace his hip bones down and around to cup and stroke him with both hands. Oh. He was big. Not scary big, but close.

 

“Gods!”

 

She smirked to hear how needy he sounded. All the blue was gone from his eyes, and the silver was a rim of pure white fire. That's interesting, she thought, that's the exact look they get when hunting and the prey is in sight and almost caught.

One of his hands lightly touched the back of one of hers, pressing her down on him harder, like a request as opposed to a demand, “Hands to yourself.”

 

He glared at her, but obeyed.

 

She undid the rest of the buttons quickly, too enamored of seeing his naked skin to drag it out and tease him. After she reached the last button, she ran her hands up and across the warm expanse of his skin, moving closer to slide the shirt off and down his arms to fall to the floor. Lacing her fingers with his, she could feel him hard against her, and smell his scent. Not his cologne, him.

 

She felt his warm breath on her neck, kisses, and almost let it go. No, she had an end goal in mind now, something she suspected he would like and that might break his thin control. Him, out of control and hungry, excited her and frightened her and made her clench with need for him.

 

“Do you want me to stop? I touch you.

 

His only response was a growled, “Fuck.

 

“That's what I thought.” She kissed his chest, then slipped her hand into his pajama pants to grip him tightly then stroke him up and down, palm the smooth head, then down again as he moaned and bucked against her hand. Kissed across and down to take the hard nipple in her mouth, bite it lightly, then flick the tip with her tongue while lazily stroking him.

 

Gods!”

 

She leaned back to look up at him, still stroking. Mouth open, hands tightly clenched at his side, watching her avidly. He looked perfect, his smooth pale skin dusted in dark hair, muscles tight with need and control. She licked and nipped down his torso then grasped the sides of his pajama pants and pulled them down to his ankles. He stepped out of them and then he was completely nude, standing over her as she sat back on her heels and looked up his muscled legs, his rigid thick cock, the planes of his abdomen and his chest, to look into his face.

 

He reached for her, and stopped himself, baring his teeth. So impatient. She smirked as she ran her hands up his thighs around to his tight butt, and bent her head to lick the tip of his cock, once around the head, just a taste. Kissed up his chest until she was standing pressed against his naked body. She stood up on tip toes and grasped a handful of his hair tight. Then she pulled his head down and to the side and kissed his neck first, then bit him, hard, exactly where he had bitten her.

 


 

This was the sweetest torture he had ever endured. She was deliberately teasing him, he could see it in her face, her smug little smirk as she lazily examined him naked while still clothed herself. Then that slow tease up his body, he ached to touch her, his forearms tense from repeatedly clenching his hands into fists. This was karma, he did this to his lovers, teased them until they were out of their heads with lust for him.

 

She ran her fingers through his hair then grabbed a handful, pulled his head to the side and kissed his throat. Bit him, bit him hard. His brain whited out. My mate bit my neck, mark her, mark her back, take her. His instincts clamored and he was certain she had no idea what she was playing at. His hands clenched with the effort to keep himself from pinning her under him and returning her bite with one of his own.

 

Stop that.”

 

“You don't like it?” She licked his neck, and kissed her bite where it throbbed to the beat of his heart. Filthy savage, my gods, yes, his human was perfect.

 

“I like it too much, I won't be able to restrain myself.”

 

“Hmmm...” she kissed across his chest to the other side. He could see her smirk between kisses. Bite me again, he thought, see what happens.

 

“You have been warned. My control...”

 

She sank her blunt little teeth into his upper pec and looked him in the eyes while she did it, pulling back with his skin in her teeth to release it and lift one side of her mouth and smirk. Evil little savage.

 

Fuck!” With that he grabbed her and thew her over his shoulder. She was laughing. He'd have what he wanted now, what he'd fantasized about earlier. It was his turn. He scented water, strode to the bathroom and opened the door.

 

The bathroom was enormous, in the center a huge pool carved out of the natural rock, faint tendrils of steam rising from the slowly circulating water--it looked to be fed by a hot spring from below and a stream of cool water pouring down a slanted rock face to form first into a smaller pool linked to the larger one. The water was perfectly clear, the large pool deep, wide, and long enough to swim laps. There were curved teak benches and loungers around, plenty of places to set her down and strip her bare. Cool air wafted through a large floor to ceiling windows, ruffling the translucent curtains and letting in the light of the full moon. The bathroom was dimly lit by amber sconces and pendant lamps suspended from the far ceiling by thin strands of silver metal.

 

He set her on her feet and pulled her against him to kiss her brutally, one hand on the back of her head, no escape. Hungry for her, he tasted her, wasn't careful and tasted a slight tinge of her blood from his teeth. He groaned, began to pull away but she placed both hands on his head and pulled him back, kissed him savagely, her tongue in his mouth, then pulling back to suck on his bottom lip. He bared his teeth at her, grasped the torn edge of that hideous tshirt and tore it in half. Next, her base layer suffered the same fate and he unzipped her sports bra to reveal beautiful full breasts, my gods, peeled all three layers off to have her half naked.

 

He wanted her all the way naked. He pulled her running tights down with her underwear, moaning as he scented her arousal stronger, how wet she was for him, so fucking good. Helpfully, she kicked off her shoes and stepping back with a hand on his shoulder, pulled off her socks and the pants, kicking them away. She then danced back out of his reach towards the warmer pool and with a laugh jumped in and swam away from him with long powerful strokes.

 

He watched her swim for a moment, then paced over to a stone bar and chose a few products he liked, placed them in a basket along with a bottle of wine and a couple of goblets. He chose a pale sweet summer wine, something not too strong, but pleasurable. He would have to introduce her to the Ithil varietals and their aphrodisiac effects—though her wine choices were quite good, they were innocent. He wondered if she had ever brought anyone else here like this and suspected the answer was no.

 

One asshole elf in high school, so she had possibly experienced very little of just how intensely a skilled elf could give pleasure. A lack he was very happy to recify. She'd stopped at the other end of the pool, he could see her smirking from here. He toyed with the idea of waiting her out, but knew that in this case it would never work. She wanted him, but he wanted her more—he'd cave first. And he wanted to hunt her. Why deny himself such a pleasure. He sauntered to the midpoint of the pool then set down his basket.

 

“Come here,” he said, then sat down on the side of the pool, feel dangling in the water as he leaned back on his hands.

 

“And if I do?” she said archly.

 

“I'll pour you wine.”

 

“Is that all?”

 

“No, not all.”

 

“What else will you do?”

 

“Come here and find out.”

 

She swam closer, and stopped, treading water.

 

“Closer.”

 

She swam a bit closer, now in water shallow enough for her to just barely stand, but still far enough away she thought herself safe—she was wrong. He leapt to his feet and gave a great push, diving to come up behind her and wrap his arms around her. He held his prize close, kissing her neck as he held her tightly. This time, she didn't struggle, but instead leaned back against him and relaxed into his arms. Her bite still throbbing pleasurably on his neck, her softly compliant in his arms, his instincts were quiet for the first time in days. But he was immeasurably hungry for her.

 

He brought his human over to the edge and turned her, stroking his hands through her dark hair. They were both waist deep here and he watched the water collect into drops over her skin. She was not skinny as he had thought at first, but athletic and toned, curved just perfectly with high full rosy tipped breasts and a surprisingly ample ass. Those repulsive hiding clothes of hers, he'd just keep her naked and solve that problem. Naked and waiting for him in his bed, that was the only work she needed to do. Tied to his bed, chained to his bed and wearing nothing but his house's jewels better yet.

 

Hand in her hair to hold her where he wanted her, he yanked her into his arms and kissed her while his other hand cupped her ass and pressed her against him. She kissed him back, grabbed his ass to pull him closer to her and ground on him, using him to pleasure herself by rubbing herself on him and gasping into his mouth with each stroke against her clit. Obscene human, his perfect little human.

 

Let her get close, then deny her—that was his usual method. Tease until they begged him. But she felt so damned good on him. She was getting close, bucking against him, doing all the work, so hungry for him.

He broke the kiss, and held her a few inches away from him, “Not yet.” Elves were cruel. He was cruel.

 

She looked lost, lips kiss swollen, nipples hard, chest flushed with the beginning of her orgasm. He was very cruel.

 

“Please.” A soft moan. So plaintive.

 

“Not yet.” He smirked. “I touch you.

 

Her eyebrows raised, and she reached a hand under the water, “Do you?”

 

Touching herself. His human was shameless. He watched, avidly, as she leaned against the wall, her eyes on him as she got closer to her goal. He simply waited, then right at the moment her sensed her at the edge, he grabbed both her hands.

 

I touch you.”

 

She was panting, so fucking hot, he could barely hold himself back.

 

“Please touch me, please.

 

He smiled cruelly, reached for the product he'd selected and poured it into his hand. He began with her head, the farthest point from where she ached for him to touch her, and she actually growled at him in frustration. Adorable. Massaging the shampoo into her scalp and she poured some of the product into her hand and began to wash him as well.

 

“I ought to get some in your eyes on purpose,” she said, glaring at him.

 

“That would be ill-advised.”

 

“Whatever.”

 

“You earned this punishment.”

 

“I'm going to rinse, my hair is plenty clean.”

 

“I will rinse you when I am ready.”

 

“You're really slow.”

 

“Am I?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I am thorough in all things.”

 

“Slow.”

 

“Patient.”

 

“Slow. Like, turtle slow. Probably because you're so old.”

 

Old? He was not old. Equivalent to, maybe, 35 in human years. He had hundreds of years ahead of him.

 

“I am experienced.” He dipped her back and gently rinsed her hair, “Close your eyes,” he dunked them both under the water and felt her rinsing his hair while he finished hers.

 

Back up, both reached for the product. He poured some into her hand first. They began washing each other, each exploring the other.

 

“Old. You're clearly pacing yourself.”

 

What? “I beg your pardon.”

 

She was smirking, “Taking your time, my bad.” She ducked down and rinsed herself, and he did the same.

 

Pacing himself? Did she imagine she could outlast him? Did she think he was concerned about his stamina?

 

He grabbed her, set her up on the side of the pool and leapt out himself. She was already on her feet, backing away from him with a smile.

 

“I'm going to bed. Would you like me to call the kitchens to have them deliver a carafe of warm milk to your rooms?”

 

He stalked after her, following her up the stone steps to her bedroom. “You won't be sleeping.” The bed was enormous, carved out of a living tree that the room had been built around. Ceremony. His mate in her rooted bed. His heart began to beat wildly, his instinct awakening again to mark her, take her here in her bed. Did Findal plan this? She was so fucking unpredictable he wasn't sure how he could have. But if he first bedded her here he accepted that her house had primacy with their first born.

 

“Are you sure? At the rate you're going, I bet I can get in a nap at least.”She sat back on her bed and scooted back. Then stilled at his expression.

 

He crawled up the bed until he was over her, “I'm certain.” Fuck it. Findarion was a fine house.

 


 

It had been fun to tease him, but then he saw her room and some change came over him, that hungry, feral, dangerous look was back in his eyes and she wondered if maybe, just maybe, she'd pushed him too far.

 

She wanted this, wanted him hungry and out of control. It was dangerous, he was dangerous, but she wanted to know the limit here where she felt safe. And it was exciting, seeing him like this, wild as opposed to buttoned up and civilized. Pretending to be civilized, more like it.

 

 

She stretched out under him and brought a hand back to her clit, touching herself—he had very much liked that earlier. “Mmm...I”

 

She didn't get a chance to say another word, he grabbed her wrists and pinned her hands above her head and kissed her, rubbing himself against her as he pinned her to the mattress. Gods, yes, please.

He broke the kiss to snarl down at her, then nip lightly at her breasts, then belly until he'd positioned himself between her thighs, “I've dreamed of this since the first time I saw you in the courtyard. Wanted to taste you, hear you.” He inhaled deeply, then looked up at her and kissed her aching clit, licked it, began to suck at it, my gods.

 

She through her head back, “So good, please, please.” Already close, gods, yes.

 

And then she was there, her hips bucking as he held her in place, his arms under her thighs and gripping her hips as he continued through her orgasm and past it, building her to a second one. She thrashed against the sheets, but he was an iron cage of almost unbearable pleasure.

 

“Too good, oh, gods, please, please..” she didn't even know what she was saying, had never felt anything like this before, was out of her mind with lust and pleasure. Clutching the sheets, leaning up to pull his hair as the next orgasm crested and she bowed her back with the force, guttural, animal noises coming out of her mouth and one word over and over again, please.

 

He'd added fingers this time, curling them in her, stretching her, preparing her for him and still he had one arm wrapped tight around her. He looked up at her and she was sure his eyes would glow white hot in the dark, he looked savage, out of control, she didn't know how this would end and a slight hint of delicious fear entered her. He paused, scented, then growled and went back to sucking her, his eyes fixed on hers as she came closer and closer, her mouth open as she panted and watched him.

 


 

She looked wrecked, panting, begging, her hair hanging wet around her face as he worked her towards another orgasm. He was going to fuck her after this, into the mattress, he ached to be inside her but he'd teach her not to doubt him first. She wasn't smirking now, her dark eyes fixed on only him as he took her over the edge to her third orgasm. He felt her clenching on his fingers and it was too erotic, too much, he needed to feel her on him.

 

He moved her leg to the side and kissed up her hip, her belly, then to those beautiful breasts, cupping one and sucking the other as she moaned. So sensitive, he shouldn't hurry but he wanted her, needed to feel her, was unable to think clearly. It was all feeling at this point.

 

Looked down at her, kissed her, he was so ready for her. Kissed her neck, his fingers in her hair, her nails in his back as she moaned, “please, please,” egging him on, bringing him to the ragged edge of any control at all.

 

“You want this, want me like this?” He growled, he wanted to hear her say it.

 

“Yes, please, so much, please.

 

He pushed into her, heard her gasp, and forced himself to wait for her to adjust to him. She was tight, so wet, he wasn't going to last like he wanted, not with her. Then she moved on him, sliding down to meet him and take him deeper and he growled, lost to instinct finally.

 

He gripped her hip with one hand, thrusting in as he kissed her, the other arm wrapped around her back—no escape, she was his. He kissed open mouthed down her neck and took her nipple in his mouth and sucked. She was moaning, yes, yes, and he felt her contract on him as she came.

 

More, he needed more. With a growl he flipped her over, set her on her hands and knees and entered her from behind. Like this, this felt right. He slid his hands up her sides and pressed his body into hers, pulling her back with him, his arms around her as he moved inside her, kissing her neck, nipping it, then biting it a little harder. A faint scent of fear then, but so much arousal, so much. He couldn't think.

 

Bite her, mark her, he had to. Had to. Close, he was getting close, and he felt her go over the edge herself, crying out, then crying out again as he bit her hard, deep, her sweet blood exploding into his mouth like power. It was power, he was drunk on her. Felt alive. Her blood, my god, power. Like hell she had no magic was a brief coherent thought. And then he was over the edge himself, grunting against her neck as he was reduced to nothing but pleasure and instinct.

 


 

It had been so good, my god, and then he did what she'd wanted all along—he lost control. He flipped her like she was nothing, and it was still good, him inside her panting and grunting, just gone. He got rougher, it hurt when he grabbed her, but she was lost for him, he felt so good inside her and she couldn't think to say stop, didn't think she wanted him to, couldn't think at all. He kissed her neck, then he bit her a little too hard. That hurt, but he'd stopped, and then she came, lost herself in that and then he bit her. It hurt. Combined with the orgasm she felt out of her own body, euphoric, afraid, out of control, overwhelmed. Did she like this? She wasn't sure. She didn't like not seeing his face.

 

Blood dripped from her neck onto the sheets and she felt scared, froze as he licked her neck. He was licking up her blood, and purring at it. This was all wrong, not what she wanted, not human, wrong. And then he laid his palm over the wound and healed it and a pleasure so intense it left her breathless rushed through her, so good. Was the bite worth this? Maybe. She felt connected to him in a way she hadn't before and wasn't at all sure she liked it. This was all so strange and her instincts said what they always did with male elves, Run.

 

He turned her to look at her face and she recoiled from him. His mouth was bloody, and he had never looked more predatory. She shrunk back against the sheets and he followed her, scented her, his pupils completely dilated, out of control. He licked her neck, where he healed her and she knew he was making sure he got every drop of her blood because he liked it.

 

Sitting back, he looked down at her, frowned and began to very gently stroke her everywhere she hurt. She flinched, his frown deepened, but then she realized he was healing her and it felt good, really good, and she moaned at it involuntarily. Felt herself begin to build to one last orgasm as he touched her, used magic on her to heal and pleasure her. So gentle, so careful, he examined every inch of her front, then turned her and went over her back. He was silent, but she could see his brows draw together, heard him draw in breath sharply as if in surprise at one point when he was healing her back. Lost in sensation and overwhelmed, so completely overwhelmed by all of the last few days, she just went with it. Plus, she'd never had another use magic on her sensually, and it just felt so dirty coming from an MTF agent. So good, so good, she didn't care. Close, close, and then she was there, a toe curling orgasm, the best yet, best of her life.

He pulled her into his arms and spooned her from behind, kissing her neck where he had bit her over and over like an apology. She was too tired to talk, had no idea what to say, so she just let him hold her.

 

“I...I regret hurting you.” He said it softly, like he was afraid of what she would say in return. “I lost control, forgot your humanity.” He sounded so regretful.

 

She didn't know what to say, how exactly she felt. She had wanted him to lose control, to know what would happen if he did, and it had been a mixed bag of fear, pain, and incredible mind blowing pleasure. But, it had been nothing human and she wasn't sure how she felt about that, or this new connection she felt between them. So she said nothing.

 

He sighed, stroked her hair, and eased her over onto her back. One arm under her, the other around her waist as he looked down at her with deep concern on his face. “I truly did not mean to hurt you.”

 

That had been quite a bite for not meaning to hurt her. She looked away.

 

“Say it,” his voice was choked with some emotion she didn't understand. Say what?

 

“I know you would prefer another mate, a human mate. Say it, then.”

 

She looked at him then, “Would you leave me alone if I did?”

 

“I can not.”

 

“Then what is the point since it doesn't matter?”

 

He was silent a moment, “I would leave you alone if I could. I want you to want to be with me.”

 

“I did want to be with you. You didn't force me.” Mostly.

 

“I can hear your hesitation. You think I forced you?” He sounded horrified.

 

Fuck it. He should just let her sleep, but if he'd rather fight, fine.

 

“You bit me hard enough that I'm currently lying in quite a few sizable spots of my own blood. There would have been more, but you drank it. Yes, I'm a little freaked out about that and no, I don't think I signed up to fuck Dracula.”

 

“You're my mate.” he said as if that explained everything, “What did you think would happen when I first bedded you?” He sounded genuinely puzzled. “How else to form the bond? I had hoped you would taste me too and complete the joining.”

 

“I have no idea what the hell you are talking about.”

 

He now looked horrified and furious. “They allowed me to bed you and did not tell you what the night would entail?”

 

“They didn't allow me anything—I make my own decisions and I'm certain it never crossed their mind I'd sleep with you tonight. I, they think I'm a prude.”

 

“A prude?”

 

“Look, I've never had someone in my chambers. I'm sure Mist thought I'd kiss you a little and then send you on your way. That's what I would normally do, but...”

 

He was so beautiful, even now she wanted to stroke his hair, touch him. It was like part of his hunger for her had rubbed off.

 

He sighed, “And did you not take the class on mating? Was it not required?”

 

“I mostly slept. And no one cared because human mates are so rare, what was the chance I would be one?”

 

He ran his hands through his hair, obviously intensely disturbed, angry, upset. “You know nothing about it, then? I bedded a complete innocent?”

 

Wait, what? An innocent? No way she was addressing that. He could figure that shit out on his own.

 

“Not really, just what pertains to my study of mate sickness and so far failing attempts to cure it.”

 

He blinked, “You conduct research on mate sickness?”

 

“My adopted father died from it.” She looked away. That was a private pain, but it was certainly part of the reason she was here with him right now.

 

He looked down at her thoughtfully, still obviously deeply disturbed and upset. “I should have explained before, been more careful, gentle, waited. I...”

 

It dawned on her then, “You treated me like an equal, like an elf.”

 

“I forgot your humanity. I should have..”

 

She pulled him down and kissed him. An equal. The only other elf who had always treated her as an equal was Misterial. She thought that Misterial actually didn't see her as anything else but a physically wimpy round eared elf with weird dark eyes.

 

“I can live with you forgetting I'm human.”

 

“I don't understand you at all,” he said and looked searchingly at her.

 

She felt a whole lot better about this situation, actually. That biting thing was...daunting...but he would heal her after. Still.

 

“Is the...biting...is it every time?”

 

He looked stunned again, “No, definitely not, and not to that degree. You have no idea what happened, do you?” He held her gently, as if she were much younger, and utterly breakable.

 

“I'm guessing from your voice, no.”

 

He sighed. Her lips quirked a little in amusement at his obvious discomfort. Stroking her neck where he bit her he said, “On the first night mates are intimate, they mark each other.” He paused, obviously really uncomfortable, “The, ah, more aggressive the mark, the more,” he raked his hand though his hair and sat up cradling her like a child.

 

“The more what?”

 

“The more out of their mind with lust the mate. It's a warning to other elves—once healed only elves can see the faint lines of the mark.” He paused, “And tasting each other's blood forms a magical bond. I will be able to sense your moods and find you if you are not too far from me. Other effects can occur, but they vary.”

 

“But, I didn't taste your blood.”

 

“No, if you did it would intensify our bond.” He sounded excited at that prospect.

 

“My mark...”

 

“I was lost for you, it was...extensive. Now healed.”

 

“So every elf who sees me...”

 

“Will know I was out of my mind for you and that I am ready to kill to protect you.” He growled.

 

“But, I thought unmated elves didn't find mated elves attractive? Like, their scent changed?”

 

“Unmated females almost always find mated male elves unappealing but unmated males? That varies.”

 

“I think I'll wear high necked shirts for a while.”

 

“You would hide my mark?” He sounded shocked and deeply offended.

 

“It just seems...private.”

 

“What a peculiar idea. The mark is meant to be seen.”

 

She yawned, and snuggled in to him. “I don't think my teeth are sharp enough to mark you. Would you have a mark if I bit you really really hard? Like an invisible mark like mine?”

 

He laughed, “It isn't invisible. The healing magic used just fades the scars to the point that only an elf's acute eyesight can see them. So, yes, you could mark me.”

 

She yawned again, so tired, just physically and emotionally exhausted.

 

“Do you want me to mark you?”

 

“Yes, very much.” His voice sounded eager, excited.

 

She shouldn't ask this, but, well, he'd asked her. “Don't you wish you had an elf for a mate?”

 

“No.” The reply was instant and completely firm.

 

She opened her eyes and looked up at him, “Really?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“That surprises you?”

 

“Yes, I..”

 

“It shouldn't.”

 

“I don't think I understand you very well, either.”

 

“Well, then in this we match.”

 

 

Chapter Text

He cradled her and after a bit she fell into an exhausted boneless sleep. She was beautiful, his little human, and he felt torn apart and wide awake. His mark was on her, there was no mistaking it or it's savagery—he tore her like an animal, the pale silver scars extended from the base of her neck to the edge of her shoulder. He did not regret it.

 

He felt her blood in him, his own pale magic stronger, and he knew that Findal was hiding something from him, something important. He would find it out. Though perhaps tomorrow would not be the best day for that.

 

He was furious with Findal and Mara, incandescent with rage at the thought of how badly this could have gone, may still go once she awakens. How could they take any chance at all he would bed her so ignorant, so innocent, so utterly unprepared? He'd assumed she knew what she was inviting into her bed, had made sure to ask if she wanted him as he was and she had said yes, had seemed eager for him.

 

He thought back on the bliss, the absolute exquisite pleasure of biting her, tasting her, and felt furious that what he experienced as the single greatest pleasure of his life had brought her fear and pain. She had not expected it, hadn't wanted it, hadn't even know how the mating bond occurred. How could any parent leave a child so woefully ignorant? Yes, she was human and the chance of her being a mate was slim. But once they knew he was her mate he assumed they would explain to her, talk to her, prepare her.

 

She'd run after the Invocation though, and her family had thought her unlikely to do more than kiss him, if that. Findal had trusted him to restrain himself perhaps, an impossible task when she'd taunted and teased him and led him straight to her bed. He suspected she was influenced by the mating as well, as this was apparently out of character for her. A faint ray of hope in this night, the other one the intensity of her reaction to him, and lastly she had kissed him after deciding he had treated her as an equal. Perhaps this night could be salvaged.

 

And him, he was furious with himself as well. He'd been so lost in the experience it had taken more than a moment to register that she was not enjoying herself. He'd showed such a lack of restraint and common sense. He should have been certain that she understood what would happen, what he would do. At least he'd had the strength to cut it short as opposed to luxuriating in her as a mate normally would. Tasting each other until the blood slowed and finally stopped. Leaving the mark to heal gradually as opposed to what he had done. He'd enjoyed seeing all his marks on her-- healing them had only been for her. He felt cheated, not by her, but by her family's neglect of her. He'd thought she knew what she was doing when she brought him to her family bed, had even wondered if it were a play for power. Not at all. She'd just wanted to enjoy him and share pleasure. Instead, he'd savaged her and created a bond he was certain she didn't want.

 

And he had done it without a mating agreement, that was certain to be an issue with her family. Technically, since she had not effectively marked him, the mating was incomplete. There was the bruise of her blunt-toothed little bite on his shoulder, but as she had not broken the skin it was no real mark. It might even be gone by morning with how fast he healed. The bite on his chest was already gone.

 

By marking her and remaining unmarked himself, he'd treated her like a pet, gods. He felt completely nauseated at himself. Marked her as his possession, and she was his assuredly—he would never let her go now. He might pretend to it, but he would not give up until he had won her as his own. He'd at least been honest about that—he could not let her go.

 

He would draw up his part of the mating agreement tonight and have it delivered to Findal and Mara on their awakening. He would give them anything he could anticipate they wanted, on the condition she complete the mating. That would make it clear he was not attempting the suicidal action of taking the second-born of house Findarion as a pet and wanted her desperately for his mate. He didn't care what Findarion offered him, he was in need of nothing but her.

 

Carefully, he laid her in the bed. Her blood, he was riveted at the sight of it and leaned over to scent it. Proof that she was his mate, as if he could not see his mark, smell himself on her and in her. He would get her with child as soon as she would permit it, one more tie to him. He pictured a little half-elven girl, with his ears and eyes—those elvish features were invariably dominant—and the shape of Khirad's face and her wild mane of dark hair. He'd never yearned for children, but now he would gladly welcome them, as many as she cared to have.

 

He slid out of the bed and padded silently downstairs. Surely she had parchment and pen somewhere? No, nothing but a laptop. And an old binder of loose leaf paper and a pencil—that would certainly provide an elegant impression of respect. He pulled on his pajama pants and the top, buttoned it up and added the velvet jacket and the shoes. The agreement could not wait—he would not risk a misunderstanding of his intentions. There would hopefully be a servant who could procure what he needed.

 

Stepping out in the hall, he made certain to check to make sure he would be able to reenter her rooms. Nothing would be worse than for her to awaken to him gone. Yes, the door was unlocked. Good. Into the main hall, empty. Ah, the sentries would be able to direct him to where he could find what he needed.

 

“Well met. I am in need of parchment, pen, and ink.”

 

“Well met, Lord Kandomere. The library is through the third entryway and is the tenth door to your left.”

 

Kandomere nodded and walked quickly to the library. On entering, he found Findal reading and stopped in his tracks. Findal closed his book, and turned to look at him, he scented him and his eyes narrowed into golden slits.

 

“You treat my granddaughter as a whore or a pet?” His voice was calm cold menace.

 

“I came for parchment and pen to write the mating agreement.”

 

“After you took her! Never tell me she consented to this!”

 

“She led me to her bedchamber.”

 

“She did not know the meaning of such an action! She is human!”

 

Kandomere was furious, “She is the second-born of your house. How was I to know such poor care had been taken of her?”

 

Findal was on him in a second, back-handed him into the wall with enough force to make his head ring.

 

“Insolent city elf!”

 

Kandomere leapt back and took a defensive position.

 

“Findal!” Both males turned to face the queen.

 

“He has disrespected the hospitality of our house and taken Khirad before the mating agreement!”

 

Mara fixed him with a cold stare and Kandomere knew with utter clarity that he had never been closer to death.

 

“Is this true?”

 

“Mara, you can scent it on him!”

 

“Mate, be silent.”

 

“Yes. I could not resist her when she invited me into her bedchamber. I came here to make the agreement after she fell asleep.”

 

Mara's eyes widened, “Mate, he speaks the truth.”

 

“It matters not! He should have refused!”

 

At that, Mara laughed. Perhaps he would not die today. “Did you refuse me?”

 

Findal grumbled, “This is Khirad. She is..”

 

Mara walked over and laid her hand on Findal's shoulder. “She has always found her own way, and in this is no different.”

 

She looked back at him, “We will draw up the agreement on the morrow.” Her eyes narrowed, “You will sign it.”

 

He nodded. “Yes.”

 

She looked at him, examined him closely, and Kandomere felt like she saw him down to blood and bone. After a moment, she nodded and smiled indulgently, “Go back to bed, young elf, enjoy your mating.”

 

“Mara!”

 

“Hush, mate. Khirad will want him there when she awakens.”

 

Findal glared at him, clearly preferring to murder him as opposed to make an agreement. Kandomere bowed and made a swift exit straight back to Khirad's quarters.

 

Closing the door, he stripped back down and gathered a carafe of cool water and a glass for Khirad. Given the amount of wine she drank, he would expect her to be dehydrated on awakening. He silently made his way up the stairs and saw her sprawled out gracelessly, beautifully, across the huge bed. Setting the carafe and glass down in easy reach, he climbed back into bed and took her back into his arms.

 

She sighed his name, Kandomere, and snuggled into his arms, kissing his neck where she had bitten him. It was such a mated elf gesture he felt hope, probably unreasonable hope given all that had gone wrong, but he was comforted at the thoughtless gesture nonetheless. He eased back onto the pillows, and swiftly fell asleep as well.

 


 

Khirad woke slowly, languorously enjoying the feel of being gently held and petted. They were stroking her hair, she was on their chest, head on their shoulder with one of their arms slung over her back and idly tracing patterns on her skin. Kandomere. She was being held by Kandomere in her bed at home. Strange, but not unpleasant, not unpleasant at all.

 

Yesterday seemed like a fever dream, like it didn't happen. She felt shy to be naked in her bed with him, blushed to think of all they had done. What had she been thinking? She'd been drunk off her ass, that's what. Now she had a mating mark on her shoulder and an elf in her bed. An elf who would kill for her. That wasn't exactly new, but the reason for him killing was, and who he'd kill. There were different rules for elves, always had been, and the law allowed exceptions for mating inspired killings. Not that different from an MTF agent who privately used minor magic—elves, one and all, viewed rules as conveniences and not binding agreements unless sealed with a blood oath.

 

Fuck, she would have to deal with Aaron. He'd certainly made breaking up easier with that bullshit yesterday. Breaking up by text was just shitty. They'd been supposed to go to a late dinner today when she got back, but she was just not up for that. Text, then. He did call her a pet.

 

It would be easier to just date no one until she got her head straight. She could not wait to get back to work, focus on research and cases, the sooner the better. She'd heard there were runes involved in the case with all the bodies and wondered if she could somehow wrangle a look at them. It might help her understand the tissue distortion—that would be her excuse—but she was more curious than anything else. Perhaps there were new runes or new combinations to learn?

 

What time was it? She felt good so she'd likely slept for a while. Have to get up. She opened her eyes and looked into his—he was watching her, his silver-blue eyes gentle and searching. He was just as beautiful in the morning light, the blue in his hair steely looking. She could touch him as much as she wanted. His hair was as soft and fine as silk thread, so pretty regardless of what Findal thought of the blue. It suited him and brought out the blue in his eyes. They were beautiful up close, the blue beginning to pale out. She thought it was possibly an effect of their innate magic, but wasn't sure. It was pretty and an indicator of intense emotion. She wasn't sure what he was feeling right now, but whatever it was, he felt it in increasing strength.

 

He had nice ears, shapely and masculine. She stroked the closest one, enjoying his intake of breath at her touch. Then his mouth, full and soft, he kissed her fingers.

 

“Let me see your teeth.” She wanted to see them, touch them, not sure why but she needed to do this.

 

He obediently opened his mouth. She wasn't sure what she expected, perhaps them permanently stained with her blood? The bottom teeth were much like hers, the back molars sharper but not much. The top were much sharper, perfectly white, carnivore's teeth. Elves were omnivores like humans, but their teeth indicated a past with a diet dominated by meat. She ran her finger over the tip of his front teeth and felt a dull slightly serrated edge. Those had been buried in her. It didn't seem quite real.

 

She felt her shoulder—it was smooth, no scars she could feel at least. And it didn't hurt. He watched her, and she thought he was afraid to do more. He was giving her space to familiarize herself with him, to explore him. Or there was some motive that was inexplicable to her—that was equally possible.

 

His jawline was beautifully strong, she traced the edge with her fingers to the slight cleft in his chin. She put her hand around his throat and felt his adam's apple move as he swallowed—was he nervous? As if she could hurt him physically, it must be some other feeling. She sat up, her hands on his chest and saw his eyes go to her breasts. He had his hands on her waist now, lightly holding her, and they tightened. His eyes were entirely silver now.

 

She wanted him again, but more gentle. Could he be gentle? Her experience with Galdor had been limited to kissing and petting, but even then she'd usually come away with painful bruises. Kandomere at least had carefully healed her.

 

“Can you be gentle with me?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Really? Not just the elf version of gentle, but actually gentle?”

 

He stroked her hair, “Yes, I will be gentle. Unless you ask me to be otherwise.”

 

Her stomach growled, “I have fruit downstairs, breakfast first?”

 

“If you wish.”

 

She headed downstairs, found her cellphone and turned it on to get the time. 10AM, not too bad. And 21 texts from Aaron she'd read later.

 

“There's a feast at noon, so this is just snacking.” She brought a plate of fruit, some water, and some wine for him—she'd had quite enough of that. She saw him watching to see if she poured herself wine, and remarked. “You're really not very subtle. I'm not sure how you manage to do undercover work.”

 

“I don't.”

 

She sat on his lap and fed him a grape, then fed herself. He snagged a piece of mango and fed it to her, then fed her a piece of pineapple.

 

“You eat too.”

 

“I am hungry for something else,” he said with a growl.

 

She laughed, “And you're trying to feed me quickly so you can be satisfied?”

 

He fed her another piece of mango, followed quickly by a handful of grapes. “Yes.”

 

“I can't eat that whole handful in one bite,” she laughed.

 

“For one so young, you are slow,” he said with a smirk.

 

“Really?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“You're not doing it right. In order for the taunt to work it has to be something you know the other is a little sensitive about. Like you, with being old. So old.”

 

He shoved a piece of mango in her mouth then kissed her. Picked her up and carried her into the bathing room while still kissing her.

 

She looked around and laughed, “I think you have a thing for washing me.”

 

He leaned forward and smirked, “Unless you'd like to meet your grandparents and sister stinking of sex, I think this may be our best option.

 

Her face flamed bright red and he laughed. She had no reply to that. He set her down gently, then his hands circled her waist and he kissed her again. She shivered as the cool morning breeze blew in from the windows, ruffling the pale silk curtains.

 

“Come,” He led her to the warmer pool, helped her in and then got in himself. There was the basket of wine and products from last night. He poured himself a goblet.

 

“Wine?”

 

“No, I really think I had enough yesterday to hold me over for a long while. But, thank you.”

 

“Your tolerance is quite good.”

 

“For a human?”

 

He smiled and nodded, “As you say.”

 

She laughed and put her arms around his neck, then kissed him. His mouth tasted of wine and him, and she kissed him passionately. Nicked her tongue on his teeth and tasted the slight copper of her blood, felt him stiffen and clutch her more tightly then gentle his grip as she broke the kiss to look at him with concern.

 

“You like the taste of blood?”

 

He looked horrified, offended, “No! No, I have never tasted another. Only you.”

 

“So, you like the taste of my blood?” If she understood it, perhaps it would be less disturbing.

 

He looked uncomfortable, then seemed to steel himself to explain, “I like the taste of you. Your blood is a concentrated form of you and when I,” he paused to seem to try to think of a tactful way to say it, “ingest it I grow closer to you.” He looked at her searchingly and then added, “I know you have magic. I can taste it.”

 

“I don't. All the MTF tests agreed—100% human, 100% magic free.” No way was she talking to him about her use of runes, or any of the rest of it.

 

He looked more like his old self, the MTF agent self, and said, “I can taste it.”

 

“You should get your taste buds checked then.”

 

His eyebrows raised, and he smiled a slow dangerous smile, “My ability to taste is accurate. Very well, if you won't tell me I will find out for myself.”

 

“Knock yourself out.” Findal had taken care of the situation with Misterial. And while she didn't doubt Kandomere was formidable, he was no Findal. Maybe in another three hundred years, but not now. She'd bet on it—her secret was safe.

 

“Mates do not normally keep secrets from one another.” He sounded somewhat offended, but mostly curious. Elves were unrelenting once they were curious about something, but he'd find nothing—she'd bet on it. Keeping her secret felt safer and felt like some part of her was still definitely hers. Plus, she barely knew him. Nope.

 

“What secrets? I'm a plain old ordinary human.”

He laughed out loud at that, and she was not at all sure how to take that. Why was that funny?

 

“Keep your secrets, then. When I discover them, I will require a reward.”

 

“Good luck with that.”

 

He looked at her intently, “You doubt me.” It was not a question, rather an angry sounding statement.

 

“There's nothing to find.”

 

“And you lie to me.” He sounded more angry.

 

“You getting angry doesn't make me feel safe.” He looked completely confused at that.

 

“Safe? You think I would hurt you?” Back to sounding horrified again. She was doing a great job of seducing him this morning. Maybe she should have drank the wine after all. Drunk her did a much better job.

 

“I don't think you would hurt me on purpose.”

 

“You do not trust me.”

 

“I'm not a fan of naked morning interrogations, agent.”

 

He snorted, “Very well. I will earn your trust and discover your secrets for myself.” He pulled her close to him and kissed her neck, the spot he had marked her, and said, “I will know you completely, all of you.”

 

Finally he was tired of interrogating her, at least verbally. He slid his hands up to her breasts and rubbed her nipples with his thumbs as he kissed her. He gave them a hard tweak that made her gasp, “Gentle!”

 

Smirking, he kissed down and took her nipple in his mouth, carefully licking and sucking as he began to gently stroke her clit. Gods, that felt good. She was pressed against the side of the pool as he kissed over to her other breast, taking his time, licking and sucking her skin.

 

“Good, that feels so good.” He smiled against her skin and kissed up her neck, still gently circling her clit, then over, then around, so good. Facing her, he looked in her eyes as he touched her, their lips inches apart as she panted—getting close. She moaned and kissed him, wanted him inside her, but he kept gently building her to orgasm. Close.

 

Mmmm...she kissed his neck, down to where she had bitten him before. Felt him tense beneath her with anticipation. He wanted her to bite him, she could feel him holding his breath.

 

“Can you stay gentle with me if I bite you?”

 

“Yes.” It came out like a moaned plea.

 

She nipped him first, it was different doing this sober, seemed more meaningful. He hissed, and it was not in pain. The hand at her back pushed her more tightly into him. So close now, she panted open mouthed against his skin, lost to the feelings.

 

And then he did something, had to be magic, and she came hard, so hard she bit down on him reflexively and he cried, “Fuck, yes.

 

Waves of pleasure and then she felt him grip her hips and slowly push inside her, propping her up against the wall. He began to move carefully, long slow strokes, building her back up again.

 

Her arms were around his neck and she kissed up to his ear, licked the edge, then took the sensitive tip in her mouth and sucked it, nipped at it. “Yes, my mate, yes.” She bit his ear and he growled, but kept his pace carefully gentle.

 

She felt her orgasm nearing again, wondered if she could take him with her together. Biting felt savage, but he obviously enjoyed it. She bit him on the neck this time, carefully—she didn't want to hurt him.

 

“Harder. Bite harder.

 

Oh, so good. She crested and at that moment bit him hard, tasted a bit of his blood on her tongue, heard him shout with pleasure.

 

Like a circuit almost closing, for a split second she felt magic nearly join them. She could feel his pleasure and triumph, feel the intensity of his desire and something else. Not love, not possession, some wholly inhuman and alien combination of them and something more, something uniquely elven.

 

“Finish it.” he growled, “Finish marking me.”

 

“No.” She was not ready for that. In that split second she hadn't known where he began and she ended—no thanks. That was worse than marriage. Nope.

 

He tensed around her, then slowly relaxed, holding her and kissing her neck, stroking his hands up and down her back gently, carefully. He reached for the product and began to reverently wash her, looked into her eyes and said softly, “I will earn your trust, eventually.”

 

She looked down, she didn't know what to say to that. He tipped her head up and kissed her gently, like a promise.

 

Chapter Text

Kandomere was amused as he watched her scrub herself vigorously. It was obvious she didn't want her family to realize they'd been intimate. He hadn't told her of his encounter with Findal and Mara in the library. She'd woken feeling curious, then amorous, and he was not enough of a fool to ruin their morning with discussion of a mating agreement he knew she probably would not want.

 

He would keep his secret, as she kept hers. Though hers was possibly bigger than his. He was deeply unhappy at her lack of trust and faith in him, but he would work to earn it. Given her background of childhood abuse, it was not surprising that she would be hesitant to trust. Her survival instincts were better than most humans, and he could not fault her for that.

 

He wished she had completed the mating, both for selfish reasons, and because then she would know his feelings for her, could not mistake them. For a moment they had been joined. He felt her lust, her curiosity, her sense of being trapped, and her affection for him. He had not expected love, and even the affection was more than he hoped for if he were honest with himself. It was a reasonable start. A flickering candle to what he felt, but not hatred at least.

 

This secret of hers, her magic, she was very confident that he would not discover it. He thought she might be afraid of his reaction if she admitted to it. Most likely his role as an MTF agent, and her mistaken idea that the MTF was unable to differentiate between minor magic and the dark magic of a wand. He thought of her surprise at his minor healing magic, something every elf had and part of their longevity. As if the MTF would hunt done mothers for privately healing a child's skinned knee. Ridiculous. They hunted down dangerous magic, killing magic, and unnatural magic.

 

Brights were targeted if they used magic to hurt others, or if their gifts became obvious enough to make them targets for either the Inferni or Shield of Light. In the latter case, they were matched with an older Bright as a mentor and relocated. If the Bright was married, or a minor, the entire family was relocated. Those that were identified, but who seemed to have no interest in magic and were able to repress it, were monitored. Daryl Ward was one such.

 

If they were able and willing, as Ward had been so far, to not use magic or use it discreetly, the MTF simply observed. In some rare cases, they might recruit a Bright to the service. Shield of Light was incorrect that the MTF simply repressed magic. His division hunted, but others studied and practiced in secret. There were occasions with rogue nations where magic use was required. Again, not his division but he was certainly aware. To ignore magic was to allow others to harness it and leave oneself vulnerable. Only a fool would do such. And should another like the Dark Lord, or the Dark Lord himself arise, they would be prepared.

 

That would never happen if his division did their job properly. It took time for a Bright to acquire the skill of a Sargon or the Dark Lord, and most lacked the innate skill to ever reach such a level. Long before they reached such a power level, he saw them diverted to government service or incarcerated or dead. There were very very few Brights with this potential, though he suspected Ward might be one. As long as the man was untrained however, he remained no significant threat. And he was well able to defend himself so there was no need to place him in protective custody.

 

How had she evaded detection at the MTF? And by him? Had he not tasted her blood, he would have been certain she was not a magic user—there was no scent of magic about her at all. But the potential was definitely there—his taste of her had strengthened his own magic. Fascinating. And she had claimed to be an ordinary human. He thought she might like to be one, strange desire, but she was definitely not. The second-born of house Findarion would never be ordinary.

 

She must have won that status via magic, and since Findal had mentioned some story with Misterial and her first year of college, he would begin there. He was very very good at what he did, and this would provide him an opportunity to show that and to show he could be trusted to keep her secret himself.

 

He watched as she clambered out of the bath, the water sluicing off her body.

 

“Exquisite, you are perfect.” She blushed, he enjoyed making her blush very much.

 

“Hurry up, we have thirty minutes to get ready.”

 

He vaulted out of the bath, headed to her and grabbed a towel. He dried her hair as she dried the rest of herself, then dried himself. Following her into the living area, he saw her check her phone and frown. She headed into the foyer where he saw two sets of clothing covered in dust bags awaiting them.

 

“Huh, Misterial said that there were clothes for us, that we were to wear these for the feast.” She eyed the clothes suspiciously, as if they were poisoned. His might be, but hers were surely safe.

 

She unzipped the first bag and took in a breath, “No, no way. I'm not wearing that.” He looked and saw a beautiful tunic combining the colors and crests of both houses, a traditional mating tunic.

 

She turned to look at him accusingly, “How did they know? They would never have just assumed I had sex with you and couldn't have known you marked me. How did they fucking know?”

 

She was furious, he could feel the heat of her anger. “I encountered your grandparents last night when I left to write a mating agreement.”

 

“You what?” she seemed speechless. “Did it occur to you to ask me if I wanted a mating agreement?”

 

“I marked you. To do otherwise would mean my intentions were dishonorable. I had no choice once it was done.”

 

“Are you fucking kidding me? See now this is what I mean about old. Maybe back when you were young, the late 1800's, that was true. But today, sex does not equal marriage.”

 

“You invited me to your family bed and I marked you, that is not just sex.

 

“What the fuck does that even mean?”

 

He rubbed his head in frustration, dragged his hand through his hair. How could her family have left her so ignorant?

 

“Fuck this. I'm not wearing those. You can wear yours, but I'm not.”

 

His patience was at an end, “Now that our liaison has been made public, if you choose to go to the Invocation feast wearing anything else but this, you declare yourself my whore and my pet. Or you announce your violent rejection of me and declaration of open war. Either way, you dishonor your house or you commit it to war. When next you appear before the court, it will be in these clothes.”

 

Her face filled with horror and rage, “You planned this, didn't you?”

 

“Planned it? Why would I plan such a thing!”

 

“That's why you tried to get me to mark you this morning—it's not complete, is it?”

 

“I did not plan this!”

 

“Fuck you. Get the fuck out of my quarters and take those clothes with you.”

 

“Be reasonable.”

 

“Reasonable? I've been nothing but reasonable. I've tried to go along with this mating bullshit because I watched my father die of mate sickness. I didn't ask for this, and no, I do not want an elf for a mate. Because of shit like this. Always, always, you seek to manipulate me into giving you what you want regardless of how overwhelmed I am, how trapped I feel.”

 

“I manipulated you into bringing me back to your room, stripping me naked, and leading me to your bedchamber? You are deranged.”

 

She looked at him with a cold calm look reminiscent of Findal, or possibly Mara. “Get. Out.”

 

He ignored her and walked over to the provided clothes. His hair was already properly braided, he would dress.

 

“Are you deaf? Get out.

 

He pulled on the pants, then sat and pulled up the boots. “I will not.”

 

She might not understand what was at stake, but he certainly did. If he had to, he would dress her himself and carry her to the mating agreement. He would not see her dishonored or see war over human stubbornness and stupidity. Her house should have taught her, but they did not. There were consequences now neither of them could afford to ignore. She had no choice of what to wear when next she presented herself formally.

 

She threw on a robe and stalked past him.

 

“If you call for the guards to have me removed, I will consider it an act of war. I will not tolerate such disrespect.”

 

Pausing, she glanced at him with hatred, and kept walking. He pulled on the soft undershirt and then the tunic itself. How had this all gone so badly? Why could she not understand that this was the only option?

 

He heard the door open, then close. War, then.

 

But no one came. He sat a few more minutes and it dawned on him she had simply run away again. In her robe. Fuck.

 


 

Talk to Findal and Mara? No, they would be on board with this insanity—they commissioned the clothes. Misterial knew of it too, and had certainly seemed on board as well. Well, she knew her family and ever since Findal had tried to keep her here after Misterial returned home, she always had an exit plan. More than one, in fact.

 

She checked her phone. 15 minutes until the feast, 15 minutes until they noticed her gone. They'd make her finish it, make her mark him and mate him. They might not, but then it would be their dishonor or war, or some shit. If she didn't appear in court at all, problem solved. She'd skipped before, it would be a source of some gossip but the court would accept her absence as human foolishness. Mara and Findal were too smart to have revealed his marking her, and their personal servants were utterly loyal. Once back in the city, she would keep the mark covered. No one had to know.

 

He manipulated her into this, and she'd been worried about him. Mist was right—she was too soft, too naive, too trusting. She'd brought him home because she felt pity for him, then decided to give him a chance because she found him attractive and thought he was a good guy. And he had neatly boxed her in to get what he wanted, like any other elf.

 

Down to the stables, and to the old well outside them. Everyone was preparing for the feast, so it was deserted. She pricked her finger and touched a drop of blood to the rune she had previously traced there. Up from the bottom of the well came a sealed box—clothes, wallet, apartment keys, money, everything she needed for a quick getaway, though she'd been able to grab her go bag on the way out the door. She would leave the keys, wallet, and money for next time if necessary. Assuming she ever came back here.

 

Sometimes she had to go away for a little while to remind them she was her own person, but this seemed like a much bigger deal. As she dressed quickly in underwear, jeans, tshirt, windbreaker, socks, and well-worn hiking boots, she considered if this was the best option. She kept thinking as she grabbed the backpack and set it on her back. She wished she could just talk to them, and that they would let her decide. Right now she hated Kandomere, found the idea of being tricked into being his mate intolerable. And his certainty he had her boxed, his refusal to leave her quarters, his threat of war—she hated him with a passion she hadn't thought herself capable of.

 

What if he declared war? People would die because she refused him. She paused and considered. Was this some plot to start a war, some power move by his house? No, he did not want war. And he could not fake the mating. But he would declare it, and even if Findal or Mara killed him, war would result. She sat at the edge of the well. If she agreed to mate him, then no one need die.

 

She had a responsibility, one she'd never asked for or wanted, but one it was time she accepted. Had she bothered to learn about her role and responsibilities as second-born, she would not be in this mess. Apparently there was some ritual associated with bringing him to her bedchamber, so, in a sense, this was her responsibility. He'd known though, he had known.

 

Very well. He would get his mate, for all the happiness it would get him. She would learn the letter of what she was required to do and do that, and do it in such a way he'd regret his treatment of her. And she would never trust him, never confide in him. She would give him the minimum and make it clear how little she wished to do that. Enough with being a soft human, it had brought her into the trap one too many times.

 

She stalked back to her rooms, saw a few people in the hall who looked surprised at her apparel. “I was riding and was delayed,” she snapped, and they bowed and went to the invocation feast. They would relay the reason for her tardiness.

 

Five minutes to the feast, she could make it. She entered her quarters to find him sitting with his head in his hands, the picture of dejection. He looked up, at first hopeful, then wary. As if she cared. She peeled off her clothes, hurrying. His eyes followed her. He should enjoy the view, he would not be seeing it again. She would not announce her plan to punish him, but rather let it unfold as Findal did his. Let him imagine she had reconciled herself to him, then let him remember how she had been when she was open to him.

 

She pulled on the dress, belted it, then the jewels. She didn't even care to look at them. She sat and slipped her feet into the shoes, a combined crest of both their houses embroidered into the top of them with silver thread and rubies. Lovely.

 

He was braiding her hair, the presumption.

 

“Don't.”

 

His hands faltered and he stopped.

 

“I swear by all the gods I did not plan this.” His voice sounded broken, angry, pitiful. She was done with pity. Pity had gotten her here, manipulated into a mating/marriage she did not want. She didn't even know what the ceremony would entail.

 

She finished her braid and stood. “I don't care.”

 

He took her hand and slipped his ring on her finger. It felt cold.

 

“Is this traditional?”

 

“No.”

 

“Then I don't want it.”

 

He looked genuinely hurt, though she'd done such a poor job of judging his motives so far how could she know?

 

She left it on, because she was soft and stupid, and it would be easier than another fight. She walked to the door, and once they exited, he took her arm and laid it on his. She glared at him.

 

“This is traditional. If you will allow me, I will guide you.”

 

“Of course, my Lord,” he glanced at her and raised his brows. She gave him her court face, bland and pleasant. He looked wary, as well he should.

 


 

She came back, but different. At first, he thought she was back for him. No, definitely not. If he'd thought she'd hated him before, that was because he had not seen this face. She looked at him as Findal had, and while he knew they shared no blood he could see the resemblance very clearly. He had made an enemy of his mate.

 

But she had dressed and was accompanying him to the feast, and presumably to the mating agreement. Did she plan to declare war there? She did not want his ring, but wore it anyway—that seemed to be a message about her feelings about this mating, as if he could have missed them.

 

And now she had schooled her features into the bland simplicity of a courtier. He would not have thought it possible if he had not seen it himself. All her liveliness gone—he would prefer her rage to this. She had hidden inside herself, there, but not. He hated it.

 

They entered the great hall of Findarion and loud cheers went up congratulating them on their mating. The entirety of Findarion seemed to know of their mating even before they saw the clothes. It seemed unlike Findal and Mara to make it public before signed, but perhaps there was a political motive he could not currently divine.

 

She dug her nails in his arm but was all smiles for her people, genuine smiles. She loved them. He understood then—she was here to avert war. Like a sacrifice. She planned to endure him for the sake of her people. He felt a mix of admiration and absolute fury. He had not planned this, had not forced or manipulated her.

 

Was that honest, though? Had he not suspected she did not know what she was doing? And he had all but forced her to bring her with him to the Solstice. Granted, he had not been thinking clearly but was that an excuse? He hadn't meant it to end with her trapped and unhappy, hating him. Of that he was certain.

 

They neared the high table, and Findal and Mara indicated the place of honor for them. They appeared happy at first, though Findal's smile never reached his eyes. Mara's began to fade as they grew closer, and Findal's eyes promised his death. The only one who appeared genuinely happy was Misterial, which gave him more cause for concern than Findal and Mara. If he managed to leave this house alive, he rather thought it would be some time before he saw his in-laws again, at least willingly.

 

The feast progressed as feasts do, with rounds of well wishes and cheer. There were many many gifts, and she was all smiles and happiness. Though it rarely reached her eyes. Her people seemed not to notice and the feast rolled on. It was interminable. She drank little, and he chose to follow her lead. He would need his wits about him as well.

 

Finally, Findal indicated for them to follow he and Mara. They would sign the official mating agreement now. Or they would negotiate for it. He doubted it would be so easy. Misterial came too, unusual but not extraordinary.

 

He followed them into the royal section to the house records room. There was a preliminary agreement already prepared for them to negotiate. Once finalized, a scribe would write the final agreement and it would be signed in blood by both he and Khirad, a binding oath.

 

She looked as if she were going to her own burial, and he was filled with regret. How could he have known she was so ignorant?

 

Findal spoke first, “Khirad, is this what you want?”

 

“The only other option is now war, correct?” She sounded so formal.

 

Findal and Mara both nodded grimly.

 

“Then, yes.”

 

He spoke before he thought, “I would not have you unwillingly. If I could release you, I would.”

 

“Of course, my Lord, I would not think anything less of you.” Her voice was the polite, distant voice of someone else. Findal and Mara exchanged a glance.

 

He gritted his teeth, and said, “Is there any other option for her? I would not declare war, I swear it.”

 

Findal glared murder at him, “You know there is no other honorable option, now. You have made it so. Do not pretend otherwise.”

 

“What if I renounce my position?” Khirad said softly.

 

“I would not allow it.” Mara and Misterial replied firmly in unison.

 

She straightened and nodded.

 

“I swear to you by all the gods, Khirad I did not intend to trick you or trap you. I thought you knew the significance of where you led me. I swear I would not have you like this, I want you willingly.”

 

She began to cry. It was unbearable. He reached out to her, but she turned to Findal.

 

“He didn't trick you, I did. I sent you back to him drunk, arranged for him to meet you drunk. I also told others of the mating so there was no other option. I prepared and sent the clothes.” Misterial spoke softly.

 

Silence filled the room.

 

“Why would you do that?” Khirad's voice was too calm.

 

“He will share his life force with you; he swore it. Instead of having you, my sister, for another 50-60 years I can have you for 200 or more years. I do not regret it.” 

 

Khirad looked at her, then said, “Give me the paper to sign. For me, it includes these things—I can live where I choose as long as I give him enough attention to ensure he does not fall into mate sickness. I am not required to have children. I can continue my work unmolested and change jobs at will. I am not required to spend time with his family or mine. I am not required to be intimate with him. I am not required to accept his life force or mark him. I don't care about the rest.” She was silent for a moment, “I want to sign and leave now. I have work to do.”

 

“I will not agree to that. You consign me to an early death and to watch my mate wither and die. I do not agree.” He would link her to his life force and she would mark him, those were non-negotiable for him. Period.

 

“I said required. If you can somehow convince me that it would be worth it to hang around another 150 years, I'm sure I'd be happy to make that deal. But 200 years of this? No. I refuse.”

 

Findal held her, stroked her hair as a child, and said, “Misterial, this was poorly done.”

 

Misterial looked frustrated, “Khirad, be reasonable.”

 

“I think Khirad has had quite enough help for now. And her requirements are reasonable indeed given the circumstances. She is simply setting the limits of what she will not be forced to do, which is a shame to all of us that she would think this necessary.” Mara voice was firm, and serious. “Sign, Khirad, I will ensure your limits are worded in such a way as to be clear and binding.”

 

He watched as she cut her finger on the ritual knife and signed the document. She then bowed and left the room.

 

Mara looked at him sharply and Kandomere felt shame at his objections, “If you can not provide my granddaughter sufficient reason to willingly extend her life when all men long for more life, then you have no right to force her to endure your presence past her natural span. You will sign.”

 

He nodded.

 


 

She returned to her rooms and swiftly packed, changed into her jeans, trainers, tshirt and windbreaker. Once she had her bag, she headed out into the corridor. Where had Misterial put Ten? Probably she was out roaming the woods, she'd check after she called for a car. Kandomere could arrange his own ride home, she would not share a car with him.

 

Once she went outside, whistled and called, here came Ten bounding out of the woods. Literally the only being in her life right now she could depend on or trust. Maybe Findal and Mara a little. The car pulled up and she got in. She curled up with Ten on the seat and was gradually lulled into sleep by the movement of the car.

 

“Lady Kirad.” She awoke to see the MTF headquarters shining in the early evening sun. She had never been so glad to see it. She would bury herself in work.

 

“Would you please take Ten and my baggage back to my apartment?”

 

“Of course, my lady.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

She stuck her wallet in her back pocket and grabbed her helmet and keys. Almost home. The Ducati sounded like freedom when she started it, and she enjoyed the ride home. Peaceful, she felt like her again. She'd sleep on these last few days, just take a break from everything, and then figure out something maybe tomorrow. Today she'd just be.

 

Aaron was waiting for her outside her building, could she not get a fucking break? She hadn't even read his texts yet. He saw her, and hesitantly smiled. Held out a large beautiful orchid to her. She loved orchids, had a special spot in her apartment for them, and this was a beauty.

 

“I'm sorry, I was drunk and jealous and stupid.”

 

“You were awful.” But you weren't exactly wrong, she thought. She felt terrible now about hooking up with Kandomere. It was casual with Aaron, but she didn't just hop from guy to guy. She'd listened to Mist, then used Aaron's bad behavior to justify hooking up with Kandomere. Except it hadn't just been a hook up, it had been so much more.

 

“Can we talk?” He was so nice, not pushy, really asking. And it was pointless. Maybe they could be friends? Since her move she had so few local friends.

 

“Ok. Just talk.”

 

He nodded, and followed her up to her apartment. She set down her helmet, and watched as he placed the new orchid in with her other ones. He knew her, knew she would not have been able to resist such a gift. He just got her so easily.

 

“Like it?” He smiled that crooked grin of his, his green eyes glinting with pleasure.

 

“Yes, it's beautiful.”

 

He walked towards her, “Khirad, I want to explain.”

 

“I don't think this is working out.” Better to get it over with, just make a clean break.

 

He paused, looked stunned, then said, “Would you be willing to listen to me first?”

 

He asked. That was so refreshing to be actually asked after this weekend. It wouldn't matter, she could not have him, likely placed his life at risk if she associated with him even as a friend. Kandomere would scent their mutual attraction and she did not know what would happen. She wouldn't see Aaron hurt.

 

But it would be polite to listen at least. “Yes.”

 

She sat down, and he sat next to her and took her hands.

 

“I want to be more than casual with you, I've wanted it since the first week but I didn't know how to tell you. I didn't want to scare you off by being too serious too soon. Last night I got drunk, really drunk, and my brother, he was probably trying to help, he warned me about the Solstice. I knew it was stupid, but I was insanely jealous. When you didn't reply, I lost it. I'm sorry, babe, I was a total asshole.” He paused and raked his hand through his short black hair, “I want a relationship with you, just us, not casual.”

 

“I can't.” This was exactly what she had wanted from him. It had been so much easier when he was being awful.

 

“I don't mind your job, the hours. I know you mentioned that as a problem for your last relationship. I'm serious. I want this.”

 

“Aaron, I can't. I really can't.”

 

“Why not?” He was stroking the back of her hands with his thumbs. He'd never hurt her, bitten her, boxed her in.

 

“My adoptive parents are elves. This weekend I had to take a mate. It wasn't planned, it just happened. I can't. You have to leave and not come back. I think if my mate found you here, I think he would kill you.”

 

“You don't want this mate?” It's complicated. No. Yes. She just didn't know.

 

“You can come stay with me. There are laws. They can't force you to marry someone you don't want.”

 

“It's too late. I already signed the agreement.”

 

“Can't it be broken?”

 

“Now without war.”

 

“War? You mean?”

 

“I mean war, other people dying. Our houses are both old, wealthy, traditional houses. I can't break the agreement, I'll just have to live with it.”

 

“So they are using the threat of war to hold you hostage? I don't think you owe them your life and your happiness.” He just didn't understand. It didn't matter. She was stuck. From the moment Kandomere recognized her as his mate, she was stuck.

 

“Aaron, I think you better go. And not come back.”

 

“Because you want to keep me safe?”

 

“Please just go. Please. I need time to think and I'm exhausted. I just want to take a shower and go to bed.”

 

He pulled her into a hug, and stroked her hair. “We'll figure this out together, babe.”

 

She pushed him away. No. She would accept her position and not be selfish. She would not see him dead or war.

 

“Aaron, leave now and don't come back. You don't understand and I can't explain it. You have to go.”

 

“You don't want me to go, I know it.”

 

“It doesn't matter what I want, I have an obligation. And I do want you to go. Now.”

 

He stood, “You're right, I don't understand. But if you need me, or you change your mind, I'll be there for you.”

 

She stood to walk him out, and felt so cheated. He was a good man. She could have been happy with him. At the door, he looked down at her then pulled her into his arms and kissed her. It felt weird, wrong, he tasted wrong, and she felt mildly repulsed. Great. Kandomere had ruined her for kissing any other man.

 

 

Chapter Text

After Khirad left, they finished the mating agreement rapidly—whatever Findarion asked for, he gave. The requests were reasonable, and the bequests generous—aside from the fact he had signed on for an early death and an incomplete mating, it was a good agreement. He didn't care. She was all he wanted and he did not have more than the pale promise of her agreeing to not see him dead of mate sickness.

 

He could better understand her deep suspicion of elves, though he could not fault Misterial for her actions. Had his sister had such a short span of years, and the chance to triple them presented itself, he would have taken action to see the chance become reality as well. His only objection to the plan was that it had not worked, and in fact seemed to make it far less likely Khirad would accept her new reality. If only his mate were not so stubborn, so unreasonable, she could see the advantages her sister saw so clearly.

 

Findal had left immediately after the signing. He seemed deeply troubled more than angry. Misterial left with Findal, and that was good thing indeed. While he understood her actions, it did not make him any less angry at the complications her botched plan had created for him. Mara remained, considering him. It was, as always, unnerving.

 

“Lady Mara, I would take my leave of you,” he said politely. In truth, he could not wait to leave this house.

 

“She will respond to kindness, eventually. Take heart, Lord Kandomere.” Her voice was regretful, and he thought that frankly this house had much to regret in the way they had treated his mate. Though it would likely be hard to raise a human, especially one that had been abused.

 

He nodded, and made his way back to Khirad's quarters. Perhaps he could now speak to her, reason with her since her sister had admitted her role. Surely she understood him to be innocent and they could discuss things as reasonably beings. He knocked, then when she did not answer, he checked the door. Unlocked. He entered and called her name. No answer.

 

He walked through their rooms, her rooms, and saw she was gone. His ring was on her vanity, and her mating tunic discarded on the floor as if it were a meaningless rag. She had left him behind, to somehow arrange his own return.

 

He was furious. Unreasonably furious. Dangerously furious. He had given her what she wanted as best he understood her needs. He had tolerated offense after offense from her, her suspicion, her secretiveness, her lying to him. When she had accused him of planning to trap her, he had restrained himself and continued to treat her with dignity and respect. Even after she had finally said what he already knew—she did not want him for a mate simply because he was an elf—he had moderated his responses and sought to ensure she was not dishonored.

 

Despite this, she left him behind with no concern for his well being, just as she left him at the Invocation to fend for himself. Even after her sister admitted she had been the architect of their unfortunate mating. His mate was a selfish child. His mate did not care for him at all.

 

He collected his ring, picked up and folded the mating tunic over the chair of her vanity, and returned to his own quarters. Once there, he called for a car—he would not trouble this house for transportation, and changed back into his original clothes.

 

Why had she bedded him in the first place? Had it merely been because she was drunk and curious? He had scented her desire, felt the pleasure he brought her. But still she preferred her human lover to him. She had said as much when he had confronted her after he marked her. What had she asked? Ah, if he would leave her be if she admitted it. He should have left his marks on her, should have made more. Let her human lover see that she was unfaithful to him.

 

Would she return to this human? Would she be unfaithful to her mate? It was unthinkable for elven mates to be unfaithful, but she had refused to mark him and that too was unthinkable. It dawned on Kandomere that he was mated to a creature that could do anything, had no compulsion to be faithful, to be joined to him, to remain with him at all. With each passing day he better understood why elves in the past chose to sequester their human mates. He strongly suspected that there were those who did so even now.

 

He considered consulting his father, but discarded the idea immediately. He had little desire to relate his failure to his sire. His mother would be more compassionate, but likely form an abiding dislike for his mate. Both would probably advise him to sequester her against her will to ensure his own survival, despite the certainty of war with Findarion. Even now, he despised that idea. He wanted her willingly, wanted to convince her to love him based on his own merits. He was a fool. Still, he thought it best to wait and see if, unlikely as it now seemed, they could find peace between them.

 

While waiting for the car, he considered how long he could wait before his need of her became severe. Perhaps she would come to him? Doubtful. It added to his fury that he was dependent on her—he had never been the supplicant in any of his prior relationships and the role suited him ill. He was furious, but otherwise rational. Surely he had a week or more? Montehugh would be of use in judging his moods. He would stay away as long as he could, as often as he could. He was certain this would be her preference and to force more on her disgusted him. He did not need happiness to fulfill his responsibility to his house.

 

He would focus on the case, that would be the best use of his time.

 


 

 

Monday, Khirad threw herself into work. She examined the samples and began to puzzle out a pattern, two actually, that were of interest. Surprisingly, Kandomere left her alone. Perhaps he needed time to think as well. That was good, she certainly needed time to figure out exactly how she'd fucked up and how badly, as well as learn how to manage her fucked up situation without making it worse. It was sobering to realize she had nearly caused a fucking war with her ignorance.

 

Later that evening, she called Findal. He would be annoyed, probably more than annoyed to realize how little she knew about her role and the hierarchies and laws of her house, but the consequences for her ignorance could hurt others besides herself. Mist was her normal go to, but she didn't think she could be civil to her yet. Findal would be better. He was brutally honest, but she likely needed that right now.

 

After the exchange of pleasantries, Khirad asked, “Grandfather, would you please send me everything I need to understand my role as second-born in our house, elven mating, my mating agreement with Kandomere, and any information about his house I should know. I am ignorant of much I need to know, I fear.”

 

“I thought as much. Child, did you not pay attention in the classes for the family? I told you that it was information crucial to your life and safety.” Findal sounded deeply saddened more than angry. She would have preferred his anger.

 

“I did not. When I took them I was not a member of the family. I didn't think I needed to know. I never thought it would apply to me. I, I felt lucky to even be a guest.” It was rude to be so blunt about her former position, but she did not know how to say it tactfully. Maybe it was time to just be open and honest.

 

There was a long pause, she thought he had hung up on her, “Khirad, I know you believe this to be true, but I can not understand how that could be. You have been a member of the family since your first year with us. Lucath named you daughter before the court and it was accepted by all. Have we not treated you as our child? We love and long for you as if you were born of our own flesh.”

 

“You didn't adopt me until after, after what happened with Misterial. There was no ceremony, nothing like what happened then.”

 

“Did Lucath and Liraiel not call you daughter, Misterial call you sister, I and Mara call you grandchild? Did we not treat you as family? Why would we name you family if you were not family?”

 

“I thought, I just thought that if you meant it you would make it legal, adopt me legally. I didn't think you wanted me as real family. I thought you were just doing it out of pity.”

 

Another long pause, Findal's voice sounded sadder than she had ever heard it before, “Beloved child, each time we called you granddaughter, daughter, sister before the court it was recorded legally. You are family a thousand times over by now.”

 

“But, now I am Lady Khirad earned place/honored child-guardian second born of Lady Mara house Belarion and Lord Findal of House Findarion. Before I was just Khirad of house Findarion. I don't understand.”

 

“When Lucath and Liraiel named you child before the court you became their last born. The last born is, well, it is not regarded as an auspicious position and does not include an honorific. You could not be of our house and not be a child of Findarion—who did you think your family was if not those of us who called you child?”

 

She'd thought they did it so outsiders would not think house Findarion kept human pets. How had she been so wrong? It just seemed so unlikely they would want her as family. She didn't know what to say.

 

“I'm sorry, grandfather, I'm so sorry. I should have listened to you.”

 

“Hush, child, we will make it right. And you are a loved protected child of our house, never doubt that. After your sacrifice for Misterial, all agreed you worthy of honor. You were joined to all the champions who came before you.”

 

“I thought I was joined to the house. I thought that was what the joining amulet meant. I thought it was my adoption.”

 

“No, the amulet allows you unfettered access to all of house Findarion, everything, everywhere, without question. It is a symbol of ultimate trust and carries the full power and protection of the house.”

 

Oh, well, that would explain the reaction it got.

 

“Had you paid attention in class, you would have known most of this.” Findal said dryly, then, “It is to our utter sorrow we did not make sure you knew. You were such a good student, we assumed you applied yourself there too. We should have made certain.”

 

“I'm sorry, grandfather. I'm so sorry.”

 

“It is not so bad. Findarion has weathered far worse storms than this. Given how little you knew, you acquitted yourself well, placing the benefit of your people before yourself. You could have run, but you stayed to fight. Mara and I were both proud of that choice.”

 

“I will learn everything, grandfather, I swear it.”

 

Findal laughed, “Everything will take time. I will send you the things most important for your current situation, then we will discuss it. Make no written agreements with your mate without consulting Mara or I, and take care even with verbal ones. Kandomere is not ignorant, and Aiderion is a subtle house. Not dishonest, but very used to getting what they want.”

 

“I love you, grandfather, so much.”

 

“And I you, child of mine, I you.”

 

She cried for over an hour after the call. She had been their child for years. How could anyone be so stupid? They'd said it over and over again, and she just didn't believe it so she chose to think they didn't mean it. After she calmed down, she checked her email. Findal had sent her an absolute ton of material based on the file size. She clearly had a lot to learn.

 

Thursday, and still no Kandomere. If he was giving her space, she deeply appreciated it. Perhaps he needed space too. Given the amount of time they spent together the past weekend, he should be fine for at least a week, and then ok but increasingly irritable for another. She'd use the time to better understand her situation and hopefully him as well. She'd already powered through the first and second set of documents and discussed them with both Findal and Mara. By now, she had a fairly good idea of how badly she'd fucked up and some insight into Kandomere's behavior.

 

The biggest mistake was inviting him into her bedchamber at her family's home. By doing so, she had essentially given consent for him to mark her as his mate or as his concubine or, since she was human, his pet. Had it been her apartment, it could simply have been the hook-up she thought it was. Elves were not repressed about sex, and there was no prohibition of consensual premarital sex. But by inviting him to her family bedchamber, especially because of her position in the house, the act carried a political meaning.

 

Kandomere had taken a risk by bedding her before there was an agreement. She could have claimed he forced her, or that he intended to make her a pet. He very likely wanted to immediately write the mating agreement to make sure Findarion knew his intentions were honorable, and head off any potential conflict. Even with an agreement, by first bedding her in her family home he had agreed to their first born being of Findarion—a huge concession according to elven custom and one that she didn't really understand yet.

 

From the point of view of an elf, Kandomere had conducted himself honorably, reasonably, and with concern for her best interests. So had Misterial, for the most part. But both of them had known this was not what she wanted, at least not yet, and rather than let her make a decision, had taken the opportunity to get what they wanted. Kandomere had said repeatedly he wanted her willingly, but when presented with the chance to mark her, he had taken it and pressed her to mark him in return. He knew—that's why he angrily accused her of preferring a human mate after it was done.

 

But pursuing what they wanted was expected, normal. In elven society it was expected to take the opportunity to get the upper hand. He likely did prefer her willing, but he would take what he could get. That was not at all wrong or dishonorable from the point of view of elves. It made her head hurt.

 

Mara had explained that once she invited him into her bedchamber that no mated elf would have been able to resist marking their mate. When she'd said that he should have said no, Mara had laughed and said it would have been impossible for him to do so. You offered him a chance to have his only desire and you judge him for taking it? Yes, she did. From the point of view of a human, he should have considered what she wanted and given her time and space to choose him as a mate.

 

Regardless, at a minimum, she owed him an apology for accusing him of manipulating her into the mating contract—that had been all Misterial. But she had no way to contact him outside work, and it seemed inappropriate to contact him there. Plus, she honestly dreaded that conversation even though, at moments, she very much missed him. It honestly surprised her how much she missed him, though it might simply be loneliness.

 

Friday came and went with no Kandomere. She hadn't seen him or Montehugh at work at all, so perhaps they were on assignment somewhere. Aaron kept texting her. She was definitely lonely after a week with no Mist, no one to joke around with and laugh. All her other friends were in San Diego. Plus, Aaron at least knew about her situation so she could talk to him honestly. She decide to meet him for dinner that night. He was lovely, kind, funny, the dinner thoroughly enjoyable. He repeated his offer for her to move in with him and emphasized how little he feared her mate. It was clear he'd never seen an elf in action before. It was sweet, but really foolish. It occurred to her that this must be how she seemed to Findal a fair amount of the time. She would study harder.

 

The weekend passed quickly. She spent it in study and felt like she had a clearer picture of herself, her place, and her situation. It was not ideal, but not the utter tragedy she had originally thought. She really appreciated Kandomere giving her space, finally, to think. Perhaps Monday he would be ready to talk to her.

 

At the end of work Tuesday, Khirad was concerned. Montehugh had come by the lab yesterday and brought the photos of the crime scene she requested. If Kandomere had wanted to see her, he could have used that pretext to do so. She wasn't sure what to think. He should be fine for the rest of this week, but after that the tension would build and be worse the longer he left it, potentially dangerous for her. She decided she'd email him tomorrow and ask for a meeting if she had not heard from him by then.

 

Early Wednesday morning, Montehugh stopped by. Without Kandomere.

 

“Got them pics you requested. Any new info?” Montehugh still treated her the same as he did before so Kandomere probably hadn't said anything bad about her. What was up with him? She thought about asking Montehugh about him and discarded the idea as juvenile. She'd email him and ask to meet, that seemed better. And she had found a very interesting pattern, one she thought he'd be intrigued to discuss. She felt pretty proud of the work.

 

“Actually, yes. When I arranged the samples to reflect the way the bodies were arranged, I found a pattern for two kinds of cellular distortion.” She pulled up the image she had created for the scene and showed it to him.

 

“You're gonna need to tell me what I'm looking at here.”

 

She pointed to the altar, “Ok, so we know they were trying to form a wand--we have wand fragments. But there is something off about the fragments, right?”

 

“Yeah, so?”

 

“Well, I think they are not trying to do one spell but two. Or a spell in two parts. So we have the typical tissue distortion that occurs in bodies used to power wand creation, as well as the residue of at least one Bright. But this other distortion, it shows up in only some of the cells and I think they might not actually be trying to create a wand for the usual reasons or in the usual way.” She looked at him, “I'm not sure though, I could be full of shit.”

 

“I'll take any ideas at this point. Sling me some shit.”

 

Khirad laughed, “Ok, so their goal is to bring back the Dark Lord. I think they are picking Brights with a particular genetic makeup. Instead of resurrecting the Dark Lord, they plan to use one Bright to create the wand and then a second or third to embody him. It would be easier than resurrecting a 2,000 year old body from literally nothing. I think they are trying to open the gate to the Darklands and pull out his soul.”

 

“And this would be easier?” Montehugh sounded skeptical.

 

“If they had his body, and it was freshly dead and not too badly damaged or too old, it would be likely be relatively easy if they had the right runes in the right arrangement. Heal the body, stuff in the soul, jump start him with magic. About the same effort it would take to make a mid power wand, maybe less. Assuming someone had knowledge of the correct runes, the correct way to inscribe them, the correct order, and the will and power to direct the flow. They don't have his body, but using someone else's body that shared some ancestry with the Dark Lord would work too. The closer the genetic match, the easier for the soul to be switched. The Darklands would want a soul for a soul though, at least one.”

 

“I'm not going to ask how a lab rat knows all this.”

 

“Thanks. My house has one hell of a library and I like to read.”

 

“Sure you do.”

 

“No, really I do. We had book club.”

 

“The wood elves have book club?”

 

“Yep. I started it, but it really took off.”

 

“Ok, and you can tell this how?”

 

“It's conjecture, but look,” she pointed to the image, “The cellular distortion for the wand is throughout the whole site, continues out even into the plants until it dissipates. But this other distortion is only in the inner circle and in the bodies creating the circle surrounding the altar. Even stranger, it only occurs on the side of the bodies facing the altar, like they are being used to contain something. There are other spells or invocations that could probably create this pattern, but since their goal is to bring back the Dark Lord, my guess is this. I'll know more after I examine the runes and the order of them, inscription, placement etc.”

 

She looked up at Montehugh, she had his full attention now, “I could totally be wrong though. They could be doing some other spell, maybe trying to boost the power of the wand in some way I'm not familiar with.”

 

“Or you could be right.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I'll talk to Kandomere, tell him what you think. Take a look at the pics and see what you think of the runes.”

 

“Can do. If I need to go to Findarion for a day to research...”

 

“We'll make sure you get leave. And Kandomere will probably pass this up to our rune masters too, see what they think.”

 

“Tell them it's just a theory from a well read lab rat. I'll email you the results of the samples and my diagram of the cellular distortion patterns. That may help them.”

 

Montehugh nodded, then paused and rubbed the back of his neck. “You know it's eating him up, right? He's keeping a lid on it but he's...”

 

“Getting worse?”

 

“Yeah. Not as bad as last time, but he's not ok.”

 

“He knows where I am. I'm here in this lab all day.”

 

“You wanna let him wait until he can't control himself? He's stubborn as hell, he will.”

 

“No, I definitely don't want that.”

 

“He's in his office. He likes espresso.”

 

“So, I just drop by with a random espresso? That doesn't seem weird at all.”

 

Montehugh sighed. She got the feeling he'd had this exact conversation with Kandomere.

 

“I don't give a shit why you stop by, but...”

 

“Fine, I'll get him an espresso.”

 

“He actually cares about you. He's never given a shit about any of other others. I think that's why he's so angry.”

 

“Angry? How angry?” Angry elves were deadly elves, she thought, then dismissed it. This was Kandomere. She would be careful, but he would not hurt her.

 

“He won't talk about it. I just know him. It's like before, I can feel it building.”

 

Fuck, that wasn't good. That was not good at all.

 

“Ok, but I want you there in case..”

 

“Yeah, I'll be there.”

 

“I'll head to the coffee bar; I need a break anyway.”

 

Chapter Text

Kandomere scented her before he saw her. His mouth watered, and he hated himself for it. His fury had grown with each passing day she refused to acknowledge him as her mate. The thought she had returned to her human was a constant torment to him. Most likely she had come to give him the scraps of her attention, enough that he would not be a danger to her. He scented coffee, and some slight fear—of course she was afraid, always afraid of him. Today she had reason.

 

There was a rap at his door,

 

“Enter.” He would not fawn. If she could be cold, he could match her. At least for now. The need for her thrummed in him, each day getting a little stronger. But for now, he was still himself.

 

She stepped in, looked around, then took a step back. Who was she looking for?

 

Montehugh. He had his partner to thank for this visit and Montehugh had promised her he would be here. She had come because of Montehugh's concern for him, and to ensure her own safety. Not out of any desire or fondness for him. She did not miss him as he did her.

 

“The Director called him away. If you fear for your safety, leave,” he snapped. He did not want her to leave. He wanted to leap up from his desk, sweep everything off it and fuck her right here, hear her beg him please in that sweet plaintive voice of hers.

 

She hesitated, said nothing. The hunger would get worse. They needed to come to an arrangement. Just because she was a child did not mean he had to be one.

 

“Give me the espresso. I swear you will be safe. We need to talk.” He indicated one of the seats in front of his desk with a wave, “Sit.”

 

“Ok.”

 

To his surprise she sat and slid the cup over to him. Her own coffee, if one could call it that, was one of those ridiculous coffee shake things. Her hair was back in that ugly bun, her clothes shades of misery—she could dress as she liked with his mark on her, no male elf would trouble her with a mark like that. Though of course she had hidden it, as if she were ashamed.

 

He looked his fill, and remembered her under him, the sounds she made. She appeared troubled, and looked away blushing. He stood, faced the window. Easier not to look at her, though he could of course still scent her which was glorious pain, made the ache for her piercing as opposed to a dull throb.

 

She said nothing, just the quiet sound of her breathing and the occasional sound of her drinking that ridiculous coffee. What was she waiting for? Permission to speak?

 

A slurp, an actual slurp.

 

“Have you no manners at all?” he sneered.

 

She started, blushed even more deeply, and looked away from him again. So quiet. So afraid. So different from when she had her family to protect her. He liked her afraid he realized and it sickened him. He did not want to be that elf.

 

“I think I should go.” Her voice was quiet, placating.

 

Sit.” Her fear intensified. Mara had suggested kindness, he did not think himself capable of it.

 

He turned and stalked to her, stood behind her with his hands clenched at his sides.

 

“Here as a sacrifice, to give me the scraps of your life. As if I were a hungry stray dog.” he sneered as he reached out and loosened her hair from the bun. He lifted it to his face and inhaled. Only her scent. If she were bedding that human at least she had the wit to wash away the evidence. He wanted to yank her hair, to hurt her. He hated himself.

 

She shivered and it made him glad. But he kept his touch gentle, at least he did that. He ran his fingers through her hair and then down to lightly circle her neck, his thumbs stroking the base of her neck where he longed to kiss her, “And you hide my mark. Are you so ashamed? Or perhaps you plan to be a true pet and accumulate a collection? Best not to display you are less than fresh goods, I suppose.”

 

He heard her intake of breath and scented tears. He'd expected her to fight and yell, not this. Never this.

 

She stood and ran for the door. He had told her about running, but she never listened. Of course he caught her by the arm, slammed the door shut and pinned her to it, his face in her hair. He kissed the back of her neck, he could not keep himself from doing it.

 

Stop crying.”

 

She cried harder. He pulled her away from the door and turned her to face him. She covered her face with her hands, hiding from him.

 

“Please, please stop.” He was no longer commanding her, he was begging. She made him a beggar.

 

Nothing. She said nothing, was terrified.

 

The door opened, “Hey, boss I...” Montehugh's eyes widened.

 

Kandomere saw himself in Montehugh's eyes and let her go. She shot out of his office, and it was all he could do not to chase her, at least not today. But soon he knew he would.

 

Montehugh looked at him and he saw disappointment and deep disapproval in the man's eyes. It was a look he'd never seen from Montehugh, never. Giving a shake of his head, Montehugh closed the door and left him alone.

 

She'd come to him and he'd hurt her. Hurt her on purpose, been deliberately cruel. Perhaps she'd been afraid to begin with and Montehugh had given her the courage to come to him? His anger was gone and now he simply felt sickened by himself.

 

He sat at his desk, tried to focus on work. His concentration was gone. He could at least look over his surfeit of email. An email from her, for both he and Montehugh. He read over her suppositions, looked at the attached images—excellent, even brilliant work. It was plausible, and deeply concerning. He would definitely pass this along to the rune masters. It would take great deal of power to drive this spell, but less that a full resurrection, she was right about that. She was so intelligent.

 

The idea of the Inferni having found a shortcut to bring back the Dark Lord was chilling, though so far they had failed. Just because something is possible does not mean that they had the knowledge to accomplish the task. She theorized the sequence of the runes would affect the efficacy of the spell and the degree of power required to drive it. That was very interesting in itself. She knew rather a lot about runes for a biologist, no matter how extensive Findal's library or eclectic her reading habits.

 

It would give him a pretext to speak to her. Findal had mentioned her love of gifts, Mara her love of jewelry and that she enjoyed to make it. Perhaps...

 

He felt disgusted with himself. As if a gift, any gift, could make up for his hateful words. He needed to fix this now, or at least confess his wrong. He left his office, headed to her lab. He would ask her to accompany him to dinner, or at least to speak to him in the downstairs coffee shop or the courtyard. He would bring Montehugh. He would make her listen.

 

He texted Montehugh,

 

Where are you?

 

Lab

 

Jealousy scored him, enraged him picturing Montehugh holding her, comforting her. Montehugh was gay and married, completely devoted to Hosato. Kandomere realized that he was not well.

 

He headed to the lab, walked in to find her and Montehugh looking at pictures of runes, back to work already. Her eyes were red, she'd just stopped crying, and the lab had that silence humans took on when they were trying to give each other “space.” She looked, saw him, and leaned closer to Montehugh and ignored him. He could scent the intensity of her fear from here.

 

He moved closer to her and noticed Montehugh had moved to place himself between them. The air was so full of tension he thought even the humans could sense it.

 

“I read your email. Brilliant work.”

 

She didn't look up, just nodded.

 

“Would you come to my office and discuss it further with Montehugh and I? Please.”

 

She hesitated, and he saw her rub her arms. Had he hurt her physically as well as emotionally? Gods.

 

“I need your help, please.”

 

She nodded and physically steeled herself. Glanced at Montehugh, “We'll be working together, right?”

 

Montehugh looked guilty, he supposed for leaving her alone with him the first time. “Yes, the entire time.”

 

“Ok, then.” She stood, waited for him to lead and followed after Montehugh. It wasn't lost on him that she was keeping Montehugh between them.

 

Once inside his office, he let her choose where to sit—the couch with Montehugh, of course.

 

“Did I hurt you?” She looked to the side and nodded. Montehugh looked surprised, then disgusted.

 

He approached her.

 

“Boss, I think it's better if you stay over there.”

 

“I will heal her.”

 

“No.” What? Why would she not allow him that?

 

Slow tears began to run down her face. How badly had he hurt her?

 

“Khirad, please.”

 

“No. I do not want you to heal me. I want the pain to remind me of who you really are in case I forget.”

 

These were tears of rage. He could still scent her intense fear, but the predominant scent was blind rage, a killing rage. He stepped back.

 

She stood, “You dare to speak to me, the second-born of house Findarion, a champion of my house, as if I were worthless? To lay your hands violently on me?” Her hands were in fists, the air seemed to crackle around her.

 

“Khirad, I...”

 

“Be silent.

 

She sat down, rubbed her shoulder and he knew he had hurt her when he grabbed her arm as she ran. He had not meant to, but he had forgotten to moderate his strength. Again.

 

Breathing deeply, she seemed to be trying to calm herself enough to speak to him. She was still crying and he hated it, hated himself.

 

Again, she stood, as if to pronounce judgment on him. She would disavow him, leave him to die of mate sickness. Of that he was certain.

 

“Before I speak further, I want to know how much of this is mate sickness and how much is you. I've learned some hard lessons recently about making assumptions and I want to believe, to understand clearly before I take any action. You should have been fine at this point, but I'm going to go get my kit to check. You will give me a blood sample to analyze. I will come back with the results. You will stay here. Understood?”

 

He nodded. What could he say? His fate hung on a blood test. Gods.

 

“Montehugh, would you stay with him?”

 

“Sure.”

 

She left and Montehugh looked at him and shook his head.

 

“Boss, you really screwed the pooch on this one. What the fuck were you doing?”

 

Kandomere looked away, talk was pointless.

 

 

Chapter Text

The results were clear—he had mate sickness and it was further advanced than last time. It should not progress this quickly, she'd never seen it progress this quickly. Mates took vacations away from each other, went on business trips, this was bizarre. Something else must be at work, some co-morbidity perhaps? Though elves were typically healthy--very very few sicknesses affected them--and she hadn't heard of anything that could do this. She was no elven physician, but her knowledge was extensive in this one area.

 

She would call Findarion's master house physician, Maderial. Hopefully, she would be available immediately.

 

The house of healing answered and after a moment Maderial came on the line, “Greetings, Lady Khirad, how may I be of assistance?”

 

“Greetings, Head Healer Maderial, I would ask your assistance and discretion. My mate is ill.”

 

She explained the symptoms, the length of time, the hormone levels in the blood, “Is there some disease that could be weakening him? Mates typically can go at least two weeks without the other's presence and experience only some mild irritability the second week, if that.”

 

“Has the mating been consummated?” Maderial was utterly loyal. While she would relay information to Findal and Mara, it would go no further than that. She could be utterly honest without fear.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Hmmm...not just intercourse, but also the marking?”

 

“He has marked me, I have not marked him.”

 

“There it is. Your mating is incomplete, your mate frustrated and insecure in the mating. This is accelerating the mate sickness.”

 

“How do I manage it?”

 

“Marking him would be easiest. The other option would be multiple hours of physical contact, preferably contact that included intercourse. But he will not be at peace until you mark him. It is like an unfinished circuit, a constant torment to him.”

 

“I did not realize this.”

 

Maderial seemed to hesitate, “May I inquire as to why you have not marked him?”

 

“My teeth are blunt, and I, the blood part is gross.”

 

“Ah. So it holds no appeal for humans?”

 

“I don't know, but it creeps me out. Also, I bit him once and for a second I could feel what he felt, it was, I felt like I did not know where I ended and he began. I felt smothered. Lost.”

 

“The joining can be overwhelming for some young elves, I imagine more so for a young human. You can learn to separate and to shield yourself. It would be my honor to assist you with this.”

 

“Oh, thank you.” Marking would not be so bad then, perhaps.

 

“He would have felt that you were momentarily joined as well, increasing his torment. While Lord Kandomere has the reputation of an honorable elf, his nature is not human. I am uncertain if you fully understand the intensity of the mating instinct and the lengths an elf will go to in order to have their mate. Would you like me to call for the king and queen to consult with you concerning options?”

 

“If I mark him, will he be able to go a normal span without seeing me?”

 

“Yes, though in the beginning he will crave you more intensely. I would recommend you go no longer than a week. You will need to see him more often if you do not intend to be intimate with him. Daily, for short spans may be effective.”

 

“Thank you, healer, you have been of great help.”

 

“Lady Khirad, may I speak honestly?”

 

“Please, I would appreciate your wisdon.”

 

“If you find Lord Kandomere so repellent...”

 

“To prevent war. And I do not find him repellent, I simply don't know him. Humans, we take time to find a mate. It feels forced, too fast, and not my choice.”

 

“It can feel the same for elves as well. But we have an inner knowledge that our mate, despite all appearances, will suit us. Could you, perhaps, accept his certainty as your own and allow him to truly court you?”

 

“I will try. And I will mark him tonight or contact my grandparents, I swear it.”

 

A pause, “There is something that may aid you in marking him. An appliance sold in the city for use in certain relationships but applicable to your circumstance as well.”

 

“Elf teeth? Gods.”

 

“It will speed the marking and make it easier for you. I can have a set delivered to you..”

 

“I can do it with my own teeth. I almost got it last time. I'm not wearing false teeth. I'm human, I'll mark him like a human and it'll have to be good enough.” The fuck she was wearing elf teeth. No fucking way.

 

“I wish you good fortune, Lady Khirad.”

 

“And I you, Head Healer Maderial.”

 

She set the phone down, and sighed and rubbed her aching shoulder. He had been awful, but it was not entirely his fault. She understood quite well what the healer was alluding to by asking if she wanted her grandparents. She needed take the leap and accept him or to cut him loose for her own safety.

 

Walking back to his office, she decided she'd talk to Montehugh first. He was the only human that knew Kandomere, and knew him before he became this. She knocked at the door, Montehugh opened it. Kandomere was sitting on the couch in the spot she'd occupied. Creepy, as usual.

 

“He thought you might not come back.”

 

“I need you to answer some questions for me. About him.”

 

“Boss?”

 

“Tell her whatever she wishes.” Kandomere's voice sounded calm. That was better than insanely angry.

 

“Is he a good person?”

 

“Yeah. Before today, yeah, he's one of the best guys I know.”

 

“Did he have a problem with controlling his temper?”

 

“No, he's got better self-control that anyone else I know.”

 

“Does he consider humans equals?”

 

Montehugh paused, “No, not really. But he tries to which is better than a lot of other elves. I think he wants to consider us equals.”

 

“If you had a daughter, would you be glad to have him marry her?”

 

“Before these last two weeks, yeah, I'd have been thrilled.”

 

So this was all new behavior. It fit with everything her grandparents had said about Kandomere as well, but hearing it from a fellow human cemented it. It occurred to her she'd never actually met the real Kandomere. This Kandomere was a fucking dick, but apparently the old one was pretty great.

 

She rubbed her shoulder, and angrily considered what to do next. It really fucking hurt from him yanking her around. Fine. He needed to touch her, she'd start there. Why had he let it get this bad before coming to see her? That was stupid on so many levels.

 

“Kandomere, would you heal my shoulder?” She'd kept her voice relatively level, that was good. She still felt furious with his manhandling her and afraid, terribly afraid. When he'd circled her neck with his hands, she'd thought she was dead. That he'd choke the life out of her like Galdor. That's why she started crying. She hated crying, and that just made her want to cry more. 

 

He looked surprised, then nodded.

 

She unbuttoned her blouse as she walked closer to him on the couch and stripped down to her camisole. Montehugh looked away, but Kandomere's eyes were intent on her. She next to him and he sucked in air when he saw the bruises beginning to bloom across her upper body.

 

He bent his head and said, “I regret my actions deeply, and my foolish and cruel words. I beg your forgiveness.”

 

“You aren't you. It's the mate sickness.” She hoped that was the truth. She was probably going to roll the dice and mark him as her mate tonight, assuming she could figure out a way to do it without coming out looking like she'd been a victim of a shark attack.

 


 

Kandomere had thought her gone, that she had run again. And then she came back, looking grimly resolved. He listened to her conversation with Montehugh and realized she was making some sort of decision about him and trying to do it logically. He could still scent her fury and fear, and he had little hope for a positive resolution.

 

While she was gone, he had reflected in silence. If she returned, he would apologize and beg her forgiveness. How he could make amends he did not know, but he would not give up. If she ran, he would hire another to pursue and capture her—he could not safely do so himself, that was certain. He would attempt to make things right somehow. He would not passively give up his mate out of foolish pride as he had this week.

 

She surprised him with her request for healing after her refusal earlier, but when he saw how badly he had hurt her, he was far less surprised and utterly despised himself. He'd savaged her without meaning to, her upper body littered with developing bruises. 

 

He bent his head and said, “I regret my actions deeply, and my foolish and cruel words. I beg your forgiveness.”

 

“You aren't you. It's the mate sickness. I know that.”

 

Her sister was right—she was too soft, so naive and gentle. It wasn't just the mate sickness, it was his own darkness too, the darkness all elves contained. She was so human. How had he forgotten that again?

 

“I will need to touch your skin.”

 

“Ok.”

 

He touched her shoulder first, muttered the word and felt it reknit itself. Montehugh was visibly uncomfortable, but stubbornly refusing to leave her alone with him. The human went up a further notch in his estimation.

 

Kandomere ran his hands down both arms, disgusted at the bright red hand print on both upper arms. He was a savage. Montehugh looked as disgusted as Kandomere felt. He checked for other damage, but found none.

 

“Do you hurt anywhere else?”

 

“No.”

 

She looked at him, then in Ovusi said, “I want the privacy of Ovusi for the rest of this discussion.”

 

He nodded, and she continued, “Montehugh said you were angry with me. Why?”

 

He blinked. She really had no idea? “You left me.”

 

“What?”

 

“You left without me, after the agreement. You left my ring. You discarded the mating tunic on the floor like it was garbage.”

 

“I just didn't want to ride together in the car after everything that happened. I needed to be by myself and think for a while. I knew my house would provide you a car. I didn't abandon you--I signed the mating agreement, did most of what you all wanted. I only asked for the things that I needed to feel free, to feel like I had some kind of choice. I thought if I didn't put the things I couldn't bear to be forced to do in the agreement, you or my family might put them in the agreement and require them of me. I just could not bear that.”

 

Her words came out in a rush, and Kandomere knew she was speaking the truth from her point of view. It seemed bizarre to him how she arrived there, but it was clear she believed it.

 

She paused and shook her head, “I contacted my house to get documents to help me understand my role as second-born, especially in regard to mating. And to help me understand you. I thought you were giving me time to think, and taking time to do the same. I had no idea you were upset with me. Plus, I didn't know how to talk to you and work was the only place I could see you—it just felt weird. I thought you would come talk to me, then Montehugh told me you were hurting so I came. I didn't know if I could keep your ring, if you would still want me to have it. I just wanted to get out, and I don't care about clothes.”

 

“Clothes?

 

“The tunic.”

 

Of course. She just thought of it as clothes. And she didn't care about clothes, a fact that was abundantly obvious on a daily basis. He had been an absolute fool. This would have been tremendously easier if he had simply gone to speak to her days ago. He sighed.

 

“You thought I left you left you?”

 

What a bizarre phrasing. “Yes, I thought you returned to your human lover and planned to honor the letter of our agreement.”

 

She was quiet for a moment and his heart stopped. She had returned to the human. He would kill him.

 

“I broke up with him the night I returned home. I would not dishonor you or my house so. I did not know you were aware I had a boyfriend, or I would have told you.”

 

“I scented him on you that day at the coffee bar.”

 

“Of course you did. Great. Why didn't you say something, ask?”

 

“I did not feel I had the right.”

 

“You're my mate. I think you have the right to ask me who I'm sleeping with. That seems kind of basic to me.”

 

“We are mates on paper only. You know this.” He could not keep the bitterness out of his voice. Though she had discarded the human, and that was certainly more than he had expected. He supposed she was honorable in her own way.

 

“If we were real mates, what would you expect of me?”

 

“Are we negotiating?” This was far more than he expected, and it made him feel warily hopeful.

 

“Yes, I suppose we are.”

 

“You would mark me. We would live together. We would share a bed. We would share a life, be honest with each other, trust one another and know and accept one another completely. Eventually, I would hope for children. Since you are human, I would want to share my life force with you.”

 

She thought for a moment, then said, “I will mark you. I spoke with my house physician and your mate sickness is accelerated by the incomplete marking. She described it as torment.” She paused, clearly uncomfortable, “I did not realize I left you in torment, I really am sorry for that. I've done a lot of reading and I realize that from the point of view of an elf, I've treated you really badly.” Her eyes filled with tears, “I nearly brought my house to war with my ignorance, I'm just so sorry.”

 

Out of everything he thought he'd hear, an apology was the last thing he expected. She owed him no apology. Her house was responsible for educating her, and she was human and so very very young. Any offense she'd given was done out of ignorance and youth, not her fault. It was unbearable to see her cry and shoulder the blame of this. Guilt scored him, and a fierce anger at her house for leaving her so woefully unprepared.

 

He pulled her into his arms, onto his lap where he held her like a child. Montehugh stepped forward, then retreated when she did not resist. “Your house had the responsibility of your education, and you gave me no purposeful offense. I have not treated you well, especially this day, and have allowed my pride to cause me to be cruel to one I care for very much. It is a shame to me. If you would allow it, I would learn to do better, to be better.”

 

She nodded against his chest, and he felt a knot unwind inside him, the pure pleasure of holding her willing in his arms filling him with relief and a kind of euphoria. He sat back on the couch, bringing her with him, and held her, gently stroking her hair.

 

Montehugh stood, gestured to the door, and Kandomere felt her nod against his chest. He watched as his partner stood, then paused,

 

“I'm going to trust you with her, boss, but...”

 

“I will not hurt her.”

 

Montehugh gave him a hard stare, then left.

 

She sat up and looked him in the face, her eyes red, face blotchy, she looked terrible.

 

“I can not say enough how much I regret hurting you, Khirad.” He cupped her cheek, “I wish I knew what to do to make you happy.”

 

She leaned into his hand, “I feel the same. I should have marked you the night you marked me. I'll start there.”

 

Looking around his office, she said skeptically, “Though I'm not doing it here. That's just fucked up.”

 

He laughed, “Yes, I suppose it isn't really the place to mark a mate, is it?” He pulled her close, “Come home with me?” He held his breath. The idea of her in his bed, he'd woken calling her name every night since his return, he'd likely do anything to have her willingly there.

 

“Can you control yourself?”

 

“Yes. But to ensure your safety, we will stop by your apartment for your clothes for tomorrow and get Ten. If I am a threat, your trollhund will deal with me.”

 

She arched a brow, “Clothes for tomorrow? You think I am spending the night?”

 

He smirked, “Let us call it a hope instead.”

 

“That seems fair.”

 

“Can you leave now?” It was technically the time to leave, but she might have a project to finish. He had much work to do, but it could assuredly wait.

 

“Yup. I'm at a stopping point. I think I'd be better off looking at the runes with you and Montehugh as opposed to by myself.”

 

“You seem to know a great deal about runes, far more than a layman.” He felt her tense against him. He was right!

 

“I find them interesting and we have an extensive library at Findarion. I also design and make jewelry, but I am not a jeweler.” She sounded defensive—her secret was related to this, he could scent it. But now was not the time to push.

 

“I would like to see your work sometime.”

 

She laughed, “Ok, I'll invite you to my apartment so you can see my art,” she made air quotes when she said “art”, then laughed some more. Why was this funny?

 

She saw his face, and laughed harder, “You don't get it do you? Ok, in human culture, sometimes a person, usually male, will invite a person to their apartment to see their art but they are using it as a trick to try to lure the other into sex.”

 

He still had no idea why this was funny, and arched a brow at her.

 

“It's just funny, imagining luring you to my apartment with jewelry in order to seduce you.”

 

Actually, based on the pieces she had made for her grandparents for the Invocation, he thought that were more inducement than her obvious charms required, her jewelry would be a very effective lure. It was beautiful. Totally unnecessary for him though. He would buy her jewelry, any and as much as she wanted.

 

He stood with her in his arms, then let her down to the floor. “Let's go.”

 


 

She'd taken one look at his Ferrari and laughed, “Have you seen my trollhund? Where did you plan to put her?”

 

He'd looked at her coolly and said, “I sent a car for her.”

 

And with that they were on the way. He followed her up the stairs to her apartment, and then in. She noticed he briefly looked angry, then calmed himself. He probably scented Aaron. Enough with assuming, she'd ask.

 

“You look angry. What's wrong?”

 

“I can scent him.” It was a voice of utter implacable hatred, violence promised.

 

“Ok, so how do I get rid of that scent?”

 

He grabbed her and kissed her, “Move in with me.”

 

“Ummm, that's a little fast for me.”

 

“We work long hours, it would be more convenient for both of us.”

 

She heard the advice of the healer, to act as if his certainty were her own. “I'll bring enough clothes for through this weekend and then see how I feel. Deal?”

 

He smiled a giant smile, and swung her around, “Yes!”

 

She packed quickly, and they left. As soon as they walked into his apartment, he took her back to his bedroom and made room for her in his closet. It was not lost on her that he had made the assumption they would be sleeping together. Why lie, he was right. She felt a magnetic pull to him and knew it didn't matter what room he put her in, she'd end up in his arms and in his bed.

 

“I am aware this is not sufficient room for you. I will have closets made for you using one of the other bedrooms. We'll have an architect in and look at plans together. My own taste is modern, but I imagine you would prefer more natural materials. I am amenable to anything that will encourage you to feel like this is your home.”

 

That was so fucking intense, scary. How to explain that? Nope, better to just let it ride. “I'm happy with the space I have. I don't care about closet space.”

 

“As you wish.” He removed his jacket, hung it up, and then undid his tie. She was riveted, seeing this thoughtless ritual. It was so sexy. He stilled, scented the air, then turned to her and walked toward her.

 

“You want me?”

 

“Yes.” And she did. It felt like an unbearable hunger, she'd never felt like this for anyone. As if she didn't have him right fucking now she'd lose her mind.

 

He breathed deeply of her scent, “You want me badly.” He sounded amazed, pleased, happy.

 

She just grabbed him, pulled him in to kiss him, and they were a jumble of arms and legs and trying to remove clothes, no delicacy or teasing to it, just a desperate need to have the other naked as quickly as possible. She thought he ripped her blouse off in one great pull. Given the buttons that pattered against her skin, she guessed she well and truly ripped his dress shirt off too.

 

Soon they were down to bare skin and he picked her up and carried her to his bed. He laid her down carefully, his face rapt as he looked at her in his bed.

 

“You are so beautiful, I could not want for anything else.” Then he joined her and pulled her to his chest to kiss her tenderly, like he loved her. She hadn't expected tenderness, and felt herself relax a bit, realized she had still been afraid.

 

He scented her, smiled and kissed down her neck to lavish attention on first one breast then the other, so good, so good. But she wanted to pleasure him too.

 

She pushed him onto his back, and kissed him. Took him in hand and stroked him as she deliberately nicked her tongue so he could taste her. All in, fuck it, she was going to go all in and see what happened. She was no coward.

 

He stilled, trying to control himself, and she broke the kiss to whisper in his ear, stroking him the entire time. “I want you to taste me. To suck my tongue while I jack you off. Then, I'm going to ride you. You aren't allowed to come until I say so. When I feel like you've earned it, I'll mark you and let you come. Do you understand me?”

 

 


 

 

“Fuck, yes.” Then she licked the outer edge of his ear and bit the tip hard enough it hurt so wonderfully good he jerked in her hand. She kissed down his throat and bit him again, hard, almost hard enough to break the skin and he whimpered for her. He didn't know what had come over his human, what she had read in house Findarion's documents, but he absolutely believed that library must be the best in the whole fucking world.

 

She kissed him and deliberately cut her tongue on his teeth, her taste filling his mouth until it was all he could do to not take control himself, to let her have him. He sucked her tongue and felt her shiver, hold him tighter, her hand pausing as he sucked, then starting back up, faster and tighter, so good.

 

Breaking the kiss, she straddled him and pressed her wetness against him. Not taking him inside, just on him. She began to grind as she stroked her clit and he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, was he really seeing this? Was this really his little human? He held her hips, ran his hands up to cup her breasts as she panted on him, getting close.

 

Right before she came, she guided him inside her, rode him through her first orgasm as he gritted his teeth and resisted, somehow, orgasming with her. He was panting with the effort, right on the cusp, lost for her. Only the promise of her marking him when he'd earned it kept him on his back. The second she marked him would be his turn.

 

“Fuck me!” he yelled. She'd started doing some fucking hip thing that made it impossible to think anything but, don't cum, not yet.

 

She smirked, she knew what she was doing, the wretch and leaned forward with her hands on his chest to look him in the eyes as she fucked him.

 

“You feel so good, I could do this all night,” she was evil.

 

“You are cruel to me, little mate,” he moaned.

 

She grabbed his shoulders and indicated she wanted him to sit up with her straddling him. “I'm so close, you feel so good,” she whimpered and used the extra friction of him against her clit to orgasm again nearly, very nearly taking him with her. He was so close to begging her.

 

Not slowing one bit, her movements became more frantic, and he drove himself into her, wanted to see her come apart for him again, to mark him and take him with her this time. She panted against his neck then bit down hard, viciously, tearing at him like a mate with those blunt teeth that somehow made it hotter. He felt the moment she truly tasted him, joined him, his blood in her mouth, and he came harder than he ever had in his life.

 

He felt her, from the inside, saw himself through her eyes, how beautiful she saw him, how intensely attractive, and how frightening he could be. Felt her sense of her own fragility--how brave she was to give him another chance and another.

 

She liked him, found him perplexing, fascinating, difficult. She struggled to understand him as he struggled. He felt her secret, her fear attached to it, her ambivalence and her fear, fear he would not accept her, would hate her for it. She had done something she felt was wrong but necessary, very wrong. What had she done?

 

Magic, gods, it rolled through him like a wave. Not dark, but wild, untrained, and not human. This was something else, something he didn't recognize, it frightened him a little with it's wild unfamiliar pulse. She might be human, but her magic was not—how was that possible? Fuck it—they'd figure it out. He would help her.

 

His human was good, he could feel the light in her and wondered what she would make of the darkness he knew lived in him, that he controlled and repressed. He could sense her in him and felt only curiosity, reverence, still tentative. Not like him, he looked his fill and wanted more. Behind every door, in every hidden place, he wanted to see all of her but she held parts of herself back. He could be patient.

 

He kissed her and kissed her, bit his tongue so she could taste him as he tasted her—why had he not thought of that before? Because he wanted her bite on him, the mark on his flesh.

 

Lost, lost, he could not feel anything but her and he simply gave himself over to it. He had felt her fear at first, and then she too surrendered and they were finally, finally truly mated.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Khirad felt him inside her. Then, when she tasted his blood, she felt him inside her. She was in him too, saw herself through his eyes, so beautiful, completely unpredictable to him, maddening, and the beginning of something like love. It wasn't like human love, not like what she felt. It was hard to define, hard to wrap her mind around it, uncomfortable to feel, alien. It was fundamentally possessive but not in the same way as a human would be possessive—he saw himself as her possession too and was furious that she did not view him as important to possess. He craved her to possess him, to selfishly monopolize him, to be furious at him for any loyalty to another—to him that felt like love. No, it was love.

 

This made so much more sense. To possess and be possessed by, sort of, summed up their love. It was nothing patient, kind, selfless, no, it was dark in nature. There was a violent hate-filled fury directed toward Aaron and any other who she might choose instead of him. He would likely kill any challengers for his mate, regardless of her preferences, because to love was to possess. He would expect the same from her, and be furious if she did not react to any rivals for his affections. That was all kinds of fucked up.

 

But it really explained a lot about elves. Each time her family had tried to possess her it had been an I love you. Each time she'd pushed them away because she felt smothered, they had felt like she didn't care for them and become more possessive, given her more of what they would like. They loved her jewelry because it marked them as hers. It was something she only did for them, so it was theirs alone. Her wearing the house amulet marked her as theirs. It was woven into the fabric of their society at every level. Even the idea of belonging to a house. It wasn't metaphorical. You were the possession of the house and treasured and protected as such.

 

To belong to no one was pitiful, to have no one willing to kill to keep you was to be alone, to be weak and defenseless.

 

Without the marking she would have never understood him. It was still really hard, and she felt she did not really understand. It was rather like someone giving her a really good description of a place she had never been. But some of the missing pieces to the puzzle of her family and her mate had become less like black empty holes and more like crappy out of focus pieces that sort of fit, maybe.

 

Lost in him, she just decided to roll with it. She felt his determination to prevent the return of the Dark Lord, some passionate family commitment and guilt was tied up in that. He loved his family and respected them. She was amused to feel his very real fear of Findal and Mara. He was angry with them on her behalf—that was sweet in a strange way.

 

The intensity of his desire for her was breathtaking. His mind was a continuous porn reel featuring her in some rather eyebrow raising scenarios, some things she didn't even know were a thing. Lots of hunting and chasing her, and apparently he had a thing for tying her up with his tie, rope, chain, and/or handcuffs. Some scenario that had her chained to a bed dripping in jewelry like a human chandelier. It figured that most of it involved possession and ownership. Fucking elves.

 

And the intensity of his curiosity about her and his frustration at her refusal to let him see all of her, that came through loud and clear. There were parts of her childhood she didn't want to look at herself, and she just wasn't ready for him to see all of her. Not yet.

 

He was completely open, open in a way she found fascinating, surprising, and it made her feel jealous. Had he never felt the sting of being truly rejected? Known, and then discarded and abused as she had been as a child? That seemed amazing to her. She felt his surprise at that and his inability to understand why she didn't just fully trust him.

 

So she showed him a glimpse of her childhood, just one, because she didn't like that part of her mind. Right before her parents overdosed, right before Findal and Mara took her.

 

“I'll give you ten grams.” The man eyed her in a way that she knew was wrong, dangerous. Not dangerous like her parents, but a different kind of dangerous. She could feel it.

 

“Fifteen grams.” Her mother spoke up, “We deserve it.”

 

“Ten should be plenty.”

 

“Fifteen.”

 

“Twelve, and I'll throw in some needles.”

 

“We got needles. Fifteen.”

 

“Agreed.”

 

Her mother didn't even look at her, just said, “Khirad, go with him.”

 

She always had an escape plan, always. They had rages, sometimes out of nowhere, and so she had to be able to get out. And they were stupid. That made it easier.

 

“Lemme get my toys, mama.”

 

The man smiled, creepy even at the time, and said, “Fetch your toys then, girl.”

 

She smiled back, pretending to be stupid herself, and ran to her bedroom. She grabbed her pack, then out the window and into the woods. It was early summer, lucky for her, and so she found it easy to catch game and hide out in the deep woods for a time. After a week or so she tentatively returned, and the man was gone. Her mother was dead, and her father out of his mind high. He was dead too in a few days.

 

They made her, she was their flesh and blood, and they would have sold her to a stranger for more drugs. She let him see that, then shut that door tight.

 

Rage, the first thing she felt from him was an incandescent killing rage. It felt like a bonfire to warm herself by when she was cold. She'd been afraid he'd revile her once he saw how pitiful she'd been. Status mattered to elves, a lot. And she was one who even her parents deemed worthless. It was hard to be of lower status than that. Now she felt his surprise and violent denial at her feelings.

 

He admired her. She survived them and made a place of honor for herself. What he was given, she earned. Huh. She never thought of it like that. She just thought they pitied her. She felt his surprise, his amusement at the idea of elves doing anything out of pity. Interest, compassion, but pity? A firm no.

 

She began to feel herself separate from him, first beginning with the sense of being held in his arms, then realizing she was on her side, her eyes closed. She could hear the whirr of the ceiling fan and his breathing next her neck. Panting, he was panting so she hadn't been out of it for long.

 

They were joined, she could feel the thread of the place they were sewn together and it was definitely magic. But, she still had choice. She could allow him in or close him out, and he the same with her. She suspected he could push if he wanted, but he simply knocked on her closed doors and then grumpily moved on if she wouldn't open them.

 

She opened her eyes to look into his. He was beginning to love her, after his fashion. And she might be able to love him after hers, eventually. She closed the connection between them, saw him frown.

 

“It's a little overwhelming. I'll need breaks.”

 

“I think I better understand that now.” He looked at her with frank adoration.

 

Holy shit, his shoulder was a wreck. It looked like he'd been attacked by wolves sans the long incisors.

 

“Kandomere! Your shoulder! I'm so sorry! I just wanted to make sure I really marked you, but..”

 

He laughed delightedly, glanced at the mark and looked utterly pleased with himself, “You were lost for me, out of your mind for me, admit it.”

 

That was so weird. He was gazing at his shoulder like it was the best gift ever. “I was, I have been ever since our first time together.” It was true. She seemed to have lost the desire for anyone but him. Probably best from a safety point of view but odd.

 

She heard him sigh in satisfaction and was glad she marked him. Reaching out, she stroked his hair and felt tenderness for him, and a sense of pity. She was almost all in, very close.

 

Findal and Mara had spent a great deal of money to hide what happened with Misterial, and they had emphatically warned her to never tell anyone under any circumstance. But he knew about the magic, and could tell when she lied, and now that they were fully bonded it would be a constant source of conflict. She'd felt him worrying at that part of her, circling it—he wasn't going to let it go. His curiosity had been peaked and between that and the possessiveness he'd never let this just go.

 

He wasn't the least bit stupid either. If Findal had missed anything at all, he'd find it. It might be better to just be honest now as opposed to leaving him to figure it out. But he was a senior MTF agent, and serious about removing dangerous magic and dangerous magic users. She'd talk to Findal and Mara about how best to approach this issue.

 

Snuggling into his arms, she decided that could be a problem for another day. Right now she just wanted a nice nap and a late dinner. Maybe just sleep through until morning. She felt the bed lurch and Ten curled up at the foot of the bed. Kandomere sighed and pulled her a little closer and their little family went to sleep.

 


 

Waking with his mate in his arms gave him such a sense of relaxed satisfaction. Bliss. His shoulder throbbed beautifully with the proof of how much she genuinely wanted him, proof that he was hers. When it faded, he'd have her mark him again. Again and again until his shoulder was a patchwork of scars from her blunt teeth. His mate in his bed. Perfection.

 

His instincts again said that this was the way the world should be and after the last few weeks, that peace was an unalloyed pleasure. He glanced at the clock—he'd woken early and was ravenous. They'd both fallen asleep after the bonding and slept through the night. Breakfast would be good, he'd make them both some and he would lay bets she'd awaken to food.

 

Something simple, fresh fruit, an array of croissants, butter and a selection of jams—he realized he had no idea what she liked to eat besides fruit. He added a cheese board from the fridge and prosciutto and set the coffee to brew. Breakfast was ready. He heard the shower—he would join her gladly.

 

Padding into the bathroom, he saw her through the glass of the entrance to the shower enclosure, his mate in his apartment, and was filled with gladness. She saw him, smiled, and beckoned him to join her. With pleasure.

 

Wrapping her arms around him, she kissed him and then said, “If it isn't my gorgeous elf.” His heart positively sung with satisfaction.

 

“Good morning, my mate. I made us breakfast.”

 

“I'm so hungry,” she said with a breathy growl and kissed him passionately. She wanted him again, the water had masked her scent, but he could feel her desire now. He was more than happy to oblige her, though they did not have the time to linger as he would like. Tonight.

 

“What would you like to eat?” he murmured next to her ear.

 

“You,” she bit him on the neck and then kissed the spot, laughing. “You're all mine now, bonded and locked up tight with no escape.”

 

Gods, that was perfect to hear. “Yes, I am. And you are mine as well.”

 

He was already hard from her delicious bite, and when he touched her she was wet for him, so wet. They kissed as he lifted her onto him and he propped her against the stone wall as the warm water washed over them both. Long slow strokes, no hurry, just enjoying the feel of each other until with a shudder they came apart together, a languorous satisfying pleasure. Not the earth shattering cataclysm of last night, but good, happy morning sex with the mate he thought he might be falling in love with, and who might possibly be falling in love with him.

 

It was so much more than he had ever hoped for from her.

 

She stroked the hair back from his face and smiled at him, then reached for his shampoo and started washing his hair. He returned the favor and soon they were both spotlessly clean and that much more familiar with each other.

 

She stole his robe, laughing, “It's mine now! All your robe are belong to me!”

 

He was completely mystified by this statement, but he liked seeing her in his robe.

 

She ate with a ravenous single-mindedness that was impressive, eating nearly as much as an elf female would.

 

“Thank you for making breakfast, this is perfect. I'll make dinner. We can go by the store after work and pick up some ingredients.” She paused, “Do you have any sandwich stuff? I can make us some quick sandwiches for lunch?”

 

“I thought we'd go out for lunch, assuming I am not called into the field unexpectedly. Would you like that?”

 

She smiled and nodded, “And I make dinner.”

 

“As you wish.”

 

He washed the dishes, she took Ten to meet the concierge at the door. After making sure he was approved by Ten, she let the elf take Ten for a morning run. Kandomere smiled as he saw the young elf's thrilled smile at the opportunity to take care of a real trollhund. He would tip the boy well on his return as well.

 

“I usually take Ten for a run in the morning, but I plan to do it after work today—would you like to run together?”

 

“Of course, with pleasure.”

 

All was going peacefully, well, and then they started dressing. As he watched her beauty begin to be draped in such essentially repulsive garments he could not bear it.

 

“Why do you willingly wear such hideous garments?”

 

She gave him the side eye, “I happen to like the simplicity and comfort of my clothes.”

 

“Multiples shades of faded black is not simplicity.”

 

“But it is comfortable.”

 

“It is possible to be both comfortable and have some awareness of aesthetics.”

 

“I'm sure it is. I do.”

 

“You clearly do not.” He poked the pinhole in her blouse, then pinched the extra couple of inches of fabric in her black work trousers. The only good thing he could detect was they were cotton and they were actually quite soft with wear.

 

“That's there for ventilation—it gets hella hot in the lab. And the pants are loose in case I have to fight ninjas. Ninjas are bad this time of year and safety is first.

 

“You mock me?”

 

“No, this would be mocking you.” She stood up perfectly straight and looked down her nose, “Any garment not handmade and ridiculously expensive and pretentious is far too shabby for me.” She paused and pulled at a non-existent waistcoat—damned if he did not recognize that gesture as his.

 

He watched as she pulled on her socks, “There is a hole in your sock, why would you not replace it?”

 

“Lots of hungry orphans to feed. Plus the ninjas keep stealing all the nice socks. Darn those ninja sock stealers.”

 

“We will go shopping after work today to find you suitable clothes.”

 

“Ok, dad, and can I borrow the keys to the station wagon and practice driving on the way?”

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

“You certainly should, but I doubt you are.”

 

“Why would the second-born of house Findarion choose to dress as a homeless waif?”

 

“I don't have a shopping cart. Maybe I'll add one in. Hard to fit in the Ferrari though. Guess I'll have to walk.”

 

“These clothes reflect poorly on..”

 

“Stop it. Seriously. Just stop.”

 

“your house and now mine. We will go shopping after work..”

 

She sat and pulled on her boots. Those hideous hideous boots.

 

“...and buy you clothes fitting to your station and beauty.”

 

Stomped into the living room, looked around and found her phone. Ignoring him, she tapped on the screen, then nodded.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“I'm called a Lyft. You're being a dick. Maybe this dick storm will be over by lunch and we can eat together, maybe not. Your call.”

 

“Your dress is a reflection on me..”

 

“Oooo...looks like a storm front of entitlement is moving in over the mountains. I think this dick storm just got worse. Possibility of lunch is fading fast.”

 

He stopped, rubbed his forehead, and said, “Is there no way I could convince you to consider adjusting even a little?”

 

“You could try asking as opposed to insulting me and then lecturing me like you're my dad. Frankly, Findal is way better at it anyway.” She looked at her phone. “My rides here. Peace out, dad.”

 

And with that she grabbed her fundamentally ugly bag and headed for the door.

 

“We will ride together.”

 

And opened it and left. Unless he wanted to chase her, he had no choice but to watch it shut in her wake.

 

 

Chapter Text

Now she was in a car jammed with three other people. It was morning and she typically took the least expensive option. While she had access to the vast wealth of Findarion, she just preferred to make her own way. LA was expensive, and while her salary was good it was not the same as accessing the wealth of her house. She could, any time she pleased. She had before in emergencies and did use it to buy all her jewelry supplies, but she just liked being independent.

 

Still, now she understood better their possessiveness was an actual need and expression of love, it seemed a bit mean not to use the money for luxuries. Findal and Mara would be utterly pleased to see her buying things for herself because it was a sign she was theirs. Ok, so she would indulge. There was this antique sapphire and diamond necklace and earrings set she'd been coveting for months. Now she was with Kandomere she supposed she would have more reason to wear things like that.

 

She was irritated with him, but also amused. He was clearly very used to being obeyed, and used to commanding others as opposed to asking. Frankly, she had found it simultaneously sexy and amusing, with just a dash of being insufferable. Had he just asked, she would have deferred to his need to possess her and dress her in clothes he purchased. Well, she would have likely negotiated clothes they could both tolerate. Some of the stuff she saw the city elves wear were ridiculous. Kandomere's clothes were thankfully tasteful, but sometimes his use of color was more than she would prefer.

 

But instead of asking, he was insulting and domineering. That was a no go at least in part because if she gave in it set a pattern that she had zero intention of following. And it was pretty fun to thwart him, as it had been fun to tease Findal. She knew her clothes were ordinary, but she worked in a lab. It seemed an enormous waste to dress up when she was simply going to cover them with a lab coat. Comfort was far more important for the sort of work she did. Still, if he asked nicely at lunch she'd probably go shopping with him.

 

The car slowly moved through LA traffic and it occurred to her that she had punished herself more than him. This was dumb. The Lamborghini with him would have been far more pleasurable. Well, if he didn't nag her the whole way there. Maybe the Lyft was better after all.

 

Through the window she saw the courtyard of the MTF, nearly there. Was that Kandomere? He had spotted her, stepped up to the car and opened her door. Once she exited, he handed her a coffee drink—mmm, her favorite.

 

She smiled at his still somewhat annoyed expression, “Did you have a good drive in?”

 

“It could have been better.”

 

“How is the weather? Any improvement?”

 

She thought she detected just a hint of amusement.

 

“The storm has passed.”

 

“You really could have just asked, “'Do you want to go shopping?' That would have worked just fine.”

 

“Do you want to go shopping today after work?”

 

“I would be willing to do that.”

 

She put her arm around his waist as they walked to the doors. At his raised eyebrows she said, “I don't want anyone mistaking that you are now very much taken.”

 

At his nod and pleased smile she felt like she might be getting the hang of this possessiveness thing. She didn't really feel that possessive, but if it made him happy, fair enough she could bend.

 

“Meet Montehugh and I in conference room B in thirty minutes.” He paused then added, “Please.”

 

That was so much better she decided to simultaneously reward and torment him. Considering some of the fantasies she'd seen though the bond, she had just the ticket. As she stepped into the elevator, she paused to whisper in his ear, “I know how important shopping is to you, but maybe there will still be time for you take off your tie, restrain me, and teach my some proper respect. Sir.”

 

She watched the doors close on his hungry expression with a smirk. That should cut their shopping trip to a reasonable length.

 


 

Fuck shopping, was his first thought. Then he considered. His little human was definitely playing games with him, as if he had not had far more years to perfect such games. He contacted his concierge and verified the vacancy of the building's ballroom. Perfect. He then requested the most recent lines of his favorite fifteen designers be set up in the ballroom with appropriate accessories gathered and curated for his consideration. He gave the shoe size of the wretched hell boots, but explained it could be a range above or below that size. He required lingerie from Agent Provocateur, Carine Gilson, La Perla, and gave the number for a local artist with an imaginative use of leather and latex. Fitters and tailors were to be on site. Sir, indeed, he thought.

 

He pulled up the images of the crime scene and focused on work. So far, no more sites had been found. It wasn't the sort of the thing that could be hidden for long, especially in the city, so he would guess the Inferni were acquiring victims and possibly rethinking their spell. They'd stay out of the woods, at least for a good long while, as Findal was aware of their renewed activity and had put countermeasures and alarms in place. He would say this for his in-laws, they were implacable and effective in their dealings with the Inferni. A good part of the reason the Dark Lord had not been able to return was due to the actions of the the Wood Elves.

 

His house was the main other part of the that equation. They hunted Inferni, and any the Inferni could use to resurrect or return the Dark Lord. It was no accident the MTF was dominated by his house as they were effectively the MTF before the MTF existed. Kandomere was frankly thankful for the existence of the MTF. Some in his house had simply eliminated any Bright of significant power on the theory that they could be either used to create a wand or turned to the dark and actively participate in bringing back the Dark Lord.

 

Given that his mate had some strange form of possibly powerful magic, he was glad that he would not have to defend her from his own house. He knew she was light, had felt the light in her with utter clarity. Whatever this power, he did not believe her to be dark. Also, the wood elves would not tolerate such a one and definitely would not honor them. This was a puzzle, but one he felt he would enjoy unraveling.

 

He was not happy about her keeping secrets, but he far better understood it. When she showed him a glimpse of her unbearable childhood, he felt her fear that he would reject her. She did not distrust him exactly, she feared being tied to one who disdained her, rejected her. She feared being confined with another like her parents. He was her mate, and he would not let her go—he had realized she understood that far better than he thought. In her mind, to be tied to him and have him hate her and reject her would be more than she could bear. So she hid the things she thought were to her disadvantage.

 

This was understandable, and he seriously doubted his human had done anything all that bad, and even then it would have been for her own survival or of her beloved family. He doubted he would be able to find it in him to condemn that. She was hardly a necromancer or a resurrectionist, or some dark sorcerer creating a semblance of life with soulless golems, or a member of the Inferni or any of the dark ilk of the world—he would be able to both scent and sense such evil.

 

He would be patient with her, at the same time he would try to discover the source and type of her magic. He felt certain her secret related to it. It fascinated him and he wanted to to be able to tell her he already knew her secret, and accepted and cared for her regardless, when she finally decide to show him via their bond or tell him. He thought it likely to relate to her knowledge of runes, but what he felt was more than that. It was so interesting.

 

Well, when they considered the runes of this case together he should be able to glean some information from that, as well as hopefully get some perception into the case. Her work on the cellular level had been deeply insightful and the rune masters had considered her theory valid enough they were sending down one of their own to meet with them.

 

He texted Montehugh, “Conference room B, ten minutes.”

 

“Sure thing, Boss.”

 

He was there first, and saw the rune master enter. A centaur, interesting. He wasn't familiar with this particular centaur, but as a race they were erudite and civilized, but also lustful, especially toward human women, and none too subtle about it. If any race kept the human resources departments of the world busy, it was centaurs. He was rather glad his mate was so poorly dressed today.

 

“Greetings, I am Kandomere.”

 

The centaur male inclined his head and said, “I am Chythyn, head runemaster. Where is the biologist with a hobby of analyzing runes? I am very intrigued to meet her.”

 

Kandomere would not be pleased with this level of interest from any male, and was even less with it from a centaur, an admittedly handsome centaur. It was entirely too early in the morning for a killing, and the paperwork would be an enormous burden. As her mate, he was within his legal rights to defend her and the law acknowledged the intrinsic difficulty of mated elves' instinct to slaughter those who paid amorous attention to their mates. It was part of the reason for the elven districts and why mates virtually never chose to work together outside the district.

 

He could warn the centaur, but frankly he disliked the reason for doing so. Before he had a chance to say anything, she walked in with Montehugh at her heels. The centaur looked her up and down, seemed as off-put by the clothes as he was, and he could better see her reason for them—they were effective for her purpose. Somewhat. The centaur then seemed to react much like he did—curious as to what exactly was under all that ugly given that what he could see was quite attractive.

 

She smiled at him and then greeted Chythyn, “Hello, I am Khirad.”

 

“It is a sincere pleasure to meet you, Khirad. I am Chythyn, head rune master.”

 

The centaur reached out a hand to touch her, but Montehugh intercepted and shook his hand, “Montehugh.”

 

Chythyn looked from Montehugh and Khirad, and seemed to draw an inaccurate conclusion, but as it was likely one that would allow him to keep living, Kandomere would accept it.

 

Chythyn opened a laptop and images of the runes began to appear on the smartboard. On one side, the crime scene as a whole, the altar and bodies. On the other, a diagram of all the runes found sans the bodies.

 

“Your insights are interesting, Khirad. I would like you to look at the scene and give me your impressions, anything that stands out to you.”

 

Khirad stood and examined the scene. All she'd seen were closeups of the individual runes and the altar, but they'd spared her the full scene as it seemed unnecessary. Her face paled, and she appeared nauseated, completely horrified. Then, she closed her eyes and composed herself.

 

“Could you bring up a close-up of the altar?” Her voice was shaky, and Kandomere wished he could spare her this. This was not part of her job, and he was concerned about the effects of seeing such a scene on her.

 

She added, “All four sides, please, and the ground around the altar.” She looked, and Kandomere could see she was looking for something and not finding it. He had a strangest sensation this was not the first time she had encountered this sort of magic. Findal's library? His house had aggressively erased any magic connected to resurrection or necromancy, but if it were anywhere, it would be the library of the Woodland King. His house had never been able to infiltrate that house at a sufficiently high level to have access to their library. He had an opportunity to rectify that lack.

 

But if she knew the magic, what then? It was not the old days, and he felt convinced of her intrinsic light. And her knowledge was likely incomplete. She herself had claimed it was merely a hobby.

 

“If they are trying to open the gate, it looks like they aren't asking but are trying to force it. I'm not sure though, I could be wrong about this whole thing.”

 

Her voice sounded uncertain. Uncertain was good from his point of view. Uncertain meant that she had probably read a description of the spell or maybe seen some fragment of the ritual in a book.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“The altar holds no signs of any invocation to any god. They are attempting to open it with nothing but blood, death, and pain. This is like trying to open a can of food by running over it with a car. It might work, but it will take a lot more effort than just using a can opener. And it very likely will render the contents unusable. ”

 

Chythyn walked closer and looked at the altar, “Is a god needed? Which would answer?”

 

“I don't know. Not Baron Samedi, though he could do it if Papa Legba were willing to open the door. He would refuse though, he is no friend to the Dark Lord. They would need a dark god, and that comes with it's own host of problems. I'm not interested in the dark gods so I haven't read much about them.”

 

This certainly seemed to be a lot more than a hobby.

 

But Chythyn didn't seem disturbed by her knowledge, more pleased and interested, even amused.“Human magic? Vaudun is more myth than reality from my study—though I am sure it makes for amusing reading. Good for little else but love charms and such foolishness. I am surprised the Wood King would have such in his library. Do you notice anything else about the altar?”

 

Kandomere positively relaxed. She really was likely just a reader then, at least in regards to this area of magic. And human magic. The MTF hardly bothered with it, and his house had completely ignored it before the creation of the MTF. Humans used magic for such petty things, love, personal revenge, money. Not the sort of threat they were concerned with at all. Elvish magic was far more powerful, and ambitious. Perhaps this wrong she felt she had done was relatively minor then. He would find out.

 

Khirad gave him the side eye, seemed amused herself, and then went on, “The altar looks new, unused prior to this. And it looks like they just randomly placed it—no effort was made to place it on ley lines or in another locus of power. I actually wonder if they planned for it to work or if this was done for some other reason. But that makes no sense.” She looked up and Chythyn. “Right, you see it too?”

 

“Yes, I do. We think the practitioner is new and using incomplete knowledge to attempt this.”

 

She walked over to the diagram of the runes themselves. “This is really strange. They just seem to be randomly inscribing all the runes that have to do with resurrection but, if I am seeing this correctly, the runes for the wand creation seem logically ordered. I'm not sure they are new to using runes in general.”

 

She paused and looked up at the centaur, “But I have only seen parts of the wand ceremony as part of my private research on magical illnesses that specifically target elves, so I, my knowledge is not complete.”

 

“My sister was joined to an elf. She died in war. I would be happy to aid you in your work.” Chythyn inclined his head in respect.

 

A centaur for a mate? Incredible.

 

“My adoptive father died of mate sickness. It is a horror.”

 

“Yes, my sister was adopted as well—human.”

 

Oh, thank the gods. A centaur for a mate? Gods above and below, no.

 

Chythyn glanced at Montehugh and she said, “He knows, he is an elf-friend.”

 

“Of course. My mistake. I meant no insult to your mate.”

 

Khirad laughed, “Montehugh? He's not my mate.”

 

That look of interest was back in Chythyn's eyes, an intense interest. He could scent the centaur's attraction to his mate as well, “Then you are free?”

 

“She is not.” Kandomere would tolerate this no longer. “And even if she were, this is inappropriate.”

 

Chythyn quickly composed his features into respectful neutrality. “I did not know she was your mate, the human..”

 

“Let us finish looking at the crime scene.” He had no desire to discuss his private life with this centaur.

 

Chythyn cleared his throat and stepped back from Khirad. Centaurs' reputation for wisdom was correct, Kandomere observed with angry amusement.

 

Khirad continued, “Would you explain to me why you think the caster is a novice?”

 

“Not a novice at creating wands, though not greatly skilled either—there are far easier arrangements requiring less power—but, as you said, the runes connected to resurrection are utterly random.”

 

She cocked her head and thought, “Could they be failing on purpose?”

 

“With all the time and expense of this? The creation of a wand is an act of will, strong clear directed will. It can not be forced as any ambivalence on the part of the caster will ensure the spell's failure. The Inferni know this, it would be a caster of their own. Why would...”

 

He looked at her in surprise, “A change of heart? A potential defection?”

 

“I don't know, but something just, with that much death and preparation they got nothing for it. It seems strange.” She shrugged and stepped back, “I am not at all an expert, but I do very much suspect they are trying to open the door, or at least pretending to try.”

 

“Thank you, Khirad, you have given me much to consider. Please feel free to email me any questions you have concerning runes or any further insights you may have, it would be a pleasure to correspond via email.”

 

Kandomere smirked at the repeated emphasis on email. It would spread that she was his mate, which would necessitate a trip to HR for both of them, but he did not regret it. She could now dress as she liked, or hopefully as he liked. Only a suicidal male would approach her at work now.

 

“I'll just drop by your office if I have any insights.” What?

 

“No, email would be better. I am quite busy.”

 

He caught that look in her eye, the one she'd had when arguing with him about clothes. What was she doing? Trying to inspire him to jealousy? He could scent she had no interest in the centaur at all.

 

“The room for runic studies is quite close to the lab. It's not a problem.”

 

“Really, email would be far preferred.” Kandomere could see the centaur beginning to actually sweat, and look nervously at him.

 

“I hate writing emails for complicated things. I'll just stop by.”

 

The centaur had backed completely to the door, opened it and said, “Email, only, can you not see the killing look on your mate's face?” Then he fled.

 

Khirad immediately burst into peals of laughter, “Oh, that was so satisfying. I usually have to run from them bothering me. This is going to be awesome!” She laughed so hard actual tears ran down her face, along with Montehugh who also seemed to find it vastly amusing.

 

It dawned on Kandomere that his mate had a dark sense of humor and while she had not enjoyed his badgering her, had very much enjoyed taunting him about having a dick storm. Wicked, wicked little human. He would look forward to a delicious punishment of her crimes tonight.

 

Chapter Text

Khirad had thoroughly enjoyed teasing the centaur, but that hadn't distracted her from the fact Kandomere was very interested indeed in her knowledge about runes. But when he'd heard her mention vaudun, he'd suddenly become far more relaxed. He, like most of the other races, assumed human magic, especially vaudun, was weak. They were wrong. The loa were very powerful but all the loa agreed, including the darker loa, that the Dark Lord was a raging asshole. They just didn't like him, and so they were pleased to thwart his plans. Since his elf followers disdained the loa as weak, it was that much more enjoyable to fuck with him. The loa were quite happy to have him on the other side of the gate and Khirad would lay bets that Papa Legba had held the door shut on more than one occasion over the last 2,000 years.



It would take a massive burst of power to overcome him, like three powerful wands with three powerful trained Brights as their prophecy predicted. Even then, she suspected that Papa Legba would not be forced, but she wasn't sure. The loa were powerful, but nothing, no one, was all powerful. Still, right now the Inferni had no wands and probably only one powerful Bright. The MTF had some time before the return of the Dark Lord became a real threat, but far better to snuff out that fire before it grew. And this caster worried her. She had no interest in the Dark gods, but there certainly were dark gods who would be willing to help for a price. She didn't know much about them as knowledge of the truly Dark gods, and their ways, seemed to turn the one who studied them dark.



She'd read a little, and felt the slight shift inside herself—a little meaner, a little less forgiving, a little more selfish, and more angry. That was after a week of study. Findal had not forbidden her, but he had asked her if she liked the way it made her feel and told her he saw a single thin thread of darkness in her where all had been light. He did warn her that she could not remain with them if that thread became a tapestry and that was that. In a choice between her family and literally anything else, it would be family. Their love was difficult, but more important to her than anything else, even her own life.



She'd given the centaur enough that he should be able to figure out the rest for himself. The only part she'd left out was that the circle of bodies was not just to hold the power in but to hold in anything unexpected that would seek to leave the gate if it opened. Just opening the gate did not mean you got out of it what you wanted, or only what you wanted. Opening the gate was a complicated desperate piece of magic, but at least they seemed to be taking steps to ensure the world of the living was not flooded with dark creatures and the dead. Bodies definitely weren't the only way to accomplish that—she'd never read of using bodies like that, which meant it was probably the Dark way. There didn't seem a way for her to discuss that with the MTF without compromising her promise to Findal and Mara. It didn't seem a crucial piece of information, and the centaur likely knew the purpose anyway.



She absolutely did not believe the caster was inexperienced—the wand spell was tight. Had they have purely focused on making the wand, they would have a wand now. Perhaps they were still figuring out the resurrection spell, but she doubted it.



Could they have done it as a challenge to Findal? But what would be the point of that? She was deeply puzzled and concerned—that was so much wasted life, and such young life. She'd do everything she could to help without exposing herself. She'd like to level with Kandomere, just get it out of the way, but she promised Findal and Mara no one under any circumstances. So, she'd talk to them first.



She finished up documenting her premises on the scene and hit send to everyone at the meeting. Montehugh had left, but Kandomere had lingered in the conference room typing up his own impressions.



“What time do you want to meet up for lunch?”



“I prefer 12:30PM, does that work for you?”



“Sure, where do you want to meet?”



“My office. I am having lunch brought in for us from Greenwood.”



Oh, yum, that place specialized in wood elf cuisine. What a treat!



She smiled and said, “Thank you, that sounds perfect.”



He nodded, then smiled at her. “I thought you would enjoy them.”



She stuck her laptop in her backpack, and then stood and walked over to him. Opening the bond, she let him feel how pleased she was at his thoughtfulness and then bent over and kissed his cheek.



He grabbed her and pulled her onto his lap and kissed her gently, then sighed and said, “Khirad, I would ask that you not take action to incite me to jealousy, even as a joke.” He paused and looked uncomfortable, “It is a safety issue, not for you, but for others. The centaur ran and I could scent no attraction from you, but..”



“You wanted to hurt him?”



“Yes, I still do.”



“I will definitely not play around like that ever again. I wasn't trying to make you jealous, I was just enjoying making him uncomfortable. Frankly, if word gets around that you're my mate, it would make work easier, especially with the centaurs ”



“I think it will. The centaur will tell his fellows and it will spread.”



“Good.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him, “You're the only one I want.”



He held her close, nuzzling into the shoulder he'd marked.



“Ok, I have work to do. See you at 12:30,” she said as she slid off his lap then headed to the door.




 

 

Kandomere found it easy to focus for the first time in weeks. In fact, he seemed to be more focused, more energized, just more than he had been before. He wondered if it was his link to his mate. It was not lost on him that he had vastly benefited from his mate's decision to accept him, and that it had been a choice and a leap of faith. He would make it worth it for her, remove any nostalgia for a human life with a human mate.



Lunch was but a small part of that, and he'd reconsidered his original fashion choices and called back to his concierge.



“Remove anything that is not reasonably comfortable, any fabrics that do not feel soft. I want high fashion that is pleasurable to wear.”



“Heels?”



“Yes, I will let her make her on judgment on them.” He had heard a wide variety of opinions regarding the comfort of heels and was not willing to exclude them as an option. Perhaps she would find a pair or two that were comfortable for her.



“May I source from anywhere?”



“Yes, of course.” Money was no concern.



He though for a moment, jewelry, yes, she loved jewelry.



“I want a selection of jewelers there as well. Antique, handmade, nothing ordinary.”



“Yes, I will have it so. When may we expect you?”



“We will be there at 6.” Hopefully, assuming there were no surprises for either of them.



Kandomere closed out the screen he was using to analyze the Inferni. They'd gone to ground, even the kidnappings had stopped unless they were targeting a group besides homeless kids. The streets were silent, and that was not good. The Inferni were always busy, a clash with Shield of Light here, some piece of magic for profit there. Silence usually meant they were about to do something big and were being very careful indeed to ensure it was not discovered.



They were probably ready to attempt another wand. He could happily go his whole life and never see another scene like that again. He had seen some shit as Montehugh would say, but that last one was by far the worst. Kids, fuck, kids are hard for anyone to stomach, even without the knowledge that the children would likely enter the next world soul damaged and angry at never having had the chance to live. He'd see that caster dead just for that. They could do nothing but wait and listen, hope that the Inferni made a mistake. He sighed, then opened his pet project on Khirad.



So, runes, a service performed that involved Misterial, and strong undetectable inhuman magic. He'd started by reviewing Khirad's background. There was very limited information on her childhood and teen years, but after that the records were equivalent to any other citizen. While she had graduated with her undergraduate from Harvard, she'd first attended Columbia in New York. Misterial attended with her and they shared a room in the dorms. Both dropped out mid-way through their second semester, but the withdrawal code was not the same. Misterial dropped out due to health and Khirad dropped out due to mental health. It wasn't hard to read between the lines and know that Misterial had been sick or injured and that Khirad had been too upset to focus on academics. Since the service involved Misterial, this seemed as good a place to start as any.



He cross referenced the six weeks before they dropped out and the six weeks after to see if any significant events had occurred around that time period.



A tornado had opened up out of a clear blue sky and killed 127 people, all adults, two weeks before the sisters dropped out. It was flagged as a magical event partly because it opened up quite literally out of nowhere and also because every person killed was some flavor of definite evil. Inferni, a child pornographer, a man keeping a woman in a cage in his basement, a serial killer, parents who had been selling their pre-teen son for sex, a few child abusers, a circle of sex traffickers, a terrorist cell, a couple of rapists, a group of murderously corrupt law enforcement officials, a few hitmen, a group that hunted young female elves--the list went on but they were all dark and evil. And in each case they were hidden with little chance of their actions coming to light. One of the Inferni had even been a university provost, another a prominent banker, proof positive that they were not all outcasts and social misfits as some elves preferred to believe. And at the scene of each death was an array of evidence and the sigil of Dorthu the Revealer, the Judge, the Avenger.



This was an orcish deity that only the truly desperate would invoke. The first person Dorthu judged was the invoker, and he was never happy about being invoked. The invoker would see themselves as they truly were, stripped of all illusions, and have their sins revealed to all. A fair number went mad, or Dorthu killed them in fittingly ironic ways depending on their crimes. The MTF had found the leftovers from such invocations over the years and it was rare that an invocation to Dorthu went well. He was also a loud showy violent god favoring natural disasters so there would be little possibility of hiding the fact you invoked him. If you survived Dorthu, the MTF would certainly find you.



But he was decidedly not evil, in fact if anything he was rigidly good and had no tolerance for wickedness of any kind. He revered loyalty and self-sacrifice, as well as valor in honorable combat for a just cause. If he judged the invoker as worthy, he would grant a boon in exchange for judging the surrounding area. He was unpredictable, and immensely powerful, so if he did judge the invoker as worthy he could, and would, do much to help them. He might even take them as an avatar if he found them especially worthy and lodge a piece of his power inside them.



His inhuman power. Kandomere began to rub his forehead. Khirad's power didn't feel orcish though, it was smoother, more earthy. Just because it occurred around the same time did not mean it was connected. He pulled up Misterial's medical records and found them missing. That was odd. He went to Khirad's and found hers. The day after the tornado she'd been treated for minor scratches, abrasions, and a concussion. That was a relief—Dorthu would have healed her of all injury if he'd taken her as an avatar. And the MTF agent in charge had arrested the local leader of Shield of Light. The woman had admitted involvement, but refused to reveal the invocation site. Everyone accepted this as the most likely version of events, with one dissenting voice—a junior agent who suspected a cover-up. Since it was a human with little but gut instinct for proof, no one had paid him any attention. Case closed, move on, thank you for eliminating the local Inferni, here's your prison cell had basically been the attitude.



Still, it was quite the coincidence. He was curious about the humans who had been hunting elves, the ones who took ears as trophies. Fraternity members, wealthy. So, that sort of human then. The local police had found a case of three pairs of ear tips and matched it via DNA to two local missing person's cases, both female students at the university. One had gone missing two years ago, the next a year later—it was clear they were killing one a year on some date that had meaning to them. The third pair were bloody, fresh, and had been removed the night of the tornado. That victim was never identified.



The fraternity house had been virtually obliterated in the tornado, with the exception of a portion of the basement. It was the structure to suffer the most damage by far, and any attempts to rebuild it had met with disaster as if the place itself were cursed. They finally sold the land to a development company that had absolutely no difficulty putting up a lovely structure. So, probably not the site then.



Kandomere looked—yes, in the last seven years the fraternity had certainly diminished. Scandal after scandal, missing money, just one humiliating event after another. This seemed like a very elvish revenge—slow, quiet, implacable, and utterly without mercy, though thankfully bloodless. Most likely the families of the slain females were expressing their grief in this way. Understandable.



Misterial had her ears, so it did not seem she was the third victim. And she was quite alive as well. But somehow he felt that this was the place, the source of Khirad's guilt and her rise in Findarion. It was deeply troubling to him. He very much did not want a mate with magic, let alone one with powerful unknown magic. But she had very much not wanted an elf and took the leap to accept him. He was compelled to join with her, but realistically she could have chosen to ignore him, fled to Findarion, and left him to die.



She'd found him attractive from the beginning, but he knew from the bond she had opened herself to him because it was the right thing to do. In a choice between letting him die and sacrificing the life she'd wanted, she'd chosen to give him a real chance at the cost of her human life. It would be vastly hypocritical of him to not accept the mate he'd been given regardless of whatever difficulties that included. He'd sworn as much to Findal and Mara before he'd known she even had magic. He would make the same decision today. He felt certain her guilt was due to some defensive magic done in service to Misterial, some act of self-sacrifice. It troubled him that he simply could not imagine what magic could merit such a rise.



He wished she would be honest with him and simply tell him about her magic as opposed to this game of pretend. But, realistically, it was too soon to expect her to fully trust him especially with something as private as magic. He would wait.



A knock came at his door.



“Enter.”



Montehugh came in and and sprawled on the couch, “Too fucking quiet, boss. Makes me nervous.”



“I as well.”



“No word at all, nothing. Even the seers say it's a blank. That's some powerful magic if it can block the seers.”



“Or perhaps there is nothing to see.”



“Bullshit.”



Kandomere sighed, “We will simply have to wait.”



His phone rang.



“Yes?”



“Food delivery, sir.”



“Send it up.”



Kandomere did not want to share lunch with Montehugh, but it would be rude to exclude the man. “I had Greenwood deliver, would you care to join Khirad and I?”



Montehugh smirked at him, then said, “Boss, I'm not an idiot. I'll make myself scarce.”



A knock, then the office runner brought in bags and boxes of food, enough for a small army.



Montehugh looked at Kandomere, then grinned, “Not sure what she liked so you ordered the whole menu, huh?”



Kandomere felt his ears twitch in embarrassment, “Perhaps.”



“I'll come by later for leftovers. I'm sure there will be plenty.” He laughed and left right as Khirad entered.



She looked at all the choices and said, “Wow, that's a lot of food. Is that just for us?”



“I was not sure of your preference, so I ordered one of everything.”



She began to pick through the bags, “Oh, that looks delicious. This is my favorite restaurant in the District.” She smiled at him, “Thank you.”



After they both made a plate, they sat next to each other on the couch in companionable silence. She finished and leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed, “That was perfect.” He could feel the thrum of genuine happiness and contentment via the bond and was well pleased with himself. Pulling her onto his lap, he smiled and said, “So, you wish me to restrain you with my tie and teach you some respect?”



She flushed beet red and said, “Mostly I wanted to cut short the shopping and that seemed like a good way to do it.”



He was curious where she got the idea—had she seen his fantasies involving her? Some of them were perhaps a little...advanced for his naive little mate.



“Is this a fantasy of yours, then?” He stroked her hair, enjoying the liberty to just touch her when he wished. She liked being touched too, leaned into his hand like a cat. Her magic did not seem too high of a price to pay at all.



“Not really, well, it wasn't until I saw it from you, how intensely you felt about it.”



“Is that all you saw?”



“No, I saw a lot.” Her voice sounded amused, not repulsed, which boded well for him.



She continued, “I'd like to try some of those things, but if I don't like them...”



“I will stop. Immediately.”



“You want to bite me again. And have me bite you.”



“Yes.” He could tell from her tone of voice that she felt some trepidation about that. Depending on the fantasy she saw, he could certainly understand. There was at least one where he bit her literally all over to her extreme pleasure. The reality, he knew would be far different—she was not an elf and her pain threshold and perception of pleasure were very different. She was so innocent compared to him.



“You want to taste my blood, but in your fantasies I always enjoy it very much. Do people actually enjoy that?”Ridiculously innocent. Was he ever so innocent? He must have been but it was so long ago he could hardly remember.



“Yes, I have had many lovers beg me to bite them and draw blood.” He stroked her face and looked directly in her eyes, “As I told you before, I have always refused.”



“Why? You like it, right?”



“It creates a bond. The only one I've ever wanted to bind myself to is you. I want to bite you because each time I taste you I am bound to you more closely.”



“Oh.” She seemed to consider this, and then nodded. “Do you want to bite me now? Maybe I will like it if I know what to expect. I'm willing to try it again.”



He smiled and pulled her close, “We have twenty minutes left for lunch. That will not be enough time.”



She cocked an eyebrow, “For biting?”



“I wouldn't be able to stop there.” But he would certainly enjoy tonight, and make sure she enjoyed herself as well.



He held her, and just enjoyed the pleasure of her compliant in his arms and the feel of the bond pulsing between them. He had never felt so content, so happy.






She rode home with him in the Ferrari and it was so very much better than a stupid Lyft. He'd sent her a text at 5:30 asking if she was ready to leave and thankfully today had been an easy day. She'd expected him to take her shopping in the district, a prospect she full-on dreaded, but he'd driven them home. Had he decided to skip shopping? She'd be all for that but she doubted he would.



He handed the keys to the valet and then walked around to open her door. She took his hand and followed him into the building. Instead of going to the elevator, he headed back to the ballroom. With a flourish, and a definite smirk, he opened the door and gestured for her to go inside.



The room was full, absolutely full of selections of beautiful clothes, accessories, and jewelry. Oh, there was the jeweler who had that sapphire set she loved.



He smiled, “Anything you want from this room is yours, my gift to you.”



“And if I choose nothing but jewelry?”



“Then I suppose I will grow used to seeing you naked in my home but for jewelry,” he purred.



“That sounds cold.”



“Then you should pick some clothes. I instructed the concierge to select things that were comfortable and felt soft.”



That was a surprise. Well, she could certainly look. After she looked at the jewelry.



That sapphire set was ridiculously expensive. She wasn't sure if she felt comfortable taking such an expensive gift from him. As if he read her mind, he leaned over and said, “If you do not choose what you like, I will buy it all for you.” Then, with a smirk, he added, “I want to tie you up and fuck you wearing nothing but the jewels I bought you. Would you so cruelly deny me that pleasure?”



She felt her face flame with embarrassment, and heard his pleased laugh. Fine. Two could play at that game. She'd seen the lingerie section and there would be revenge.



She selected the sapphire set to his pleased murmur, “My house colors, yes, I approve. It will go well with your ring.”



Oh, perhaps he would give her back the ring he gave her. She hadn't said anything about it, but it had been difficult to leave behind—it was so beautiful.



She browsed and found an antique platinum and diamond set in the Art Deco style, beautiful. He indicated that was to be added. He was getting quite good at reading her reactions. And then she saw a gorgeous single emerald half the size of an egg set in a simple engraved platinum setting on a platinum chain. It was breathtaking. And likely insanely expensive based on the size and quality of the stone.



“And that one, yes.” He was too good at reading her reactions. Though she was excited at her purchases, this was quite enough. She made to leave the jewelry section and he slipped his arms around her waist and steered her back. “There is more to consider, and I wish to purchase you a traditional human engagement ring.”



Oh, that was surprising. She'd been disappointed that she'd missed out on that ritual of human courtship. She smiled at him and decided he was quite considerate. First lunch, now this, he was carefully trying to make her happy. It was working.



They looked though the rest of the selections and with a flick of his hand he had a yellow gold yellow diamond set by Tiffany selected, a white gold moonstone set, and some others—it went so quickly she didn't see all he selected. It seemed as if her gaze lingered on it for more than a second, he indicated he wanted it. It was all rather overwhelming, but pleasantly so.



They reached the section for engagement rings and she saw immediately the one she wanted, a clear medium blue oval sapphire surrounded by rose cut diamonds in a platinum setting. It was beautiful, but it sat flat to her finger so she could snap gloves on over it at work. It was clearly a beautiful costly ring, but not ostentatious. It was perfect.



“Your taste in jewelry truly is exquisite.” He murmured next to her ear.



Next were clothes. At first she was less than excited, but once she began to look she found that the selections actually were comfortable and soft. Wearing such expensive clothing to work in a lab seemed ridiculous, but she could not fault the comfort of most of the clothes. There were so many things to buy, and here she let him guide her much as she would Misterial.



As they selected the clothes, accessories and shoes were presented that coordinated. He selected based on fashion, and she agreed or disagreed based on comfort. She even found a brand of heels that were actually comfortable, some red soled brand that he preferred. Whatever.



Finally, they came to the area for lingerie and underwear. Their were some eyebrow raising garments in this section that appeared to be made out of some kind of plastic. She dismissed the entire section of them with a, “Nope, no way that is comfortable.”



He laughed and said, “You wouldn't be wearing them for long. Would you allow me to make the selections for you?”



“If I won't be wearing it long, yes. But for daily wear I want to pick. I hate thongs, they are not comfortable regardless of what they are made of and I'm not wearing them.”



This declaration seemed to amuse him a great deal, and he said with a smirk, “You currently wear white cotton briefs at least one size too large that I feel certain come in plastic packs of ten. It can only improve from there.”



“They come in packs of five, thank you. And they are hella comfortable!”



“I'm sure they are, but perhaps you can find options that are equally comfortable and still aesthetically pleasing.”



“I'll try.” And she would, it seemed fair, plus they were really pretty. If she could find ones that were comfortable too, that would be fine.



Apparently, she liked silk rather a lot. It made sense, it was a natural fabric. She steadfastly refused to think about the huge cost likely attached to these tiny pieces of fabric and focused on how much pleasure he would have in removing them from her. And, to be honest, the pleasure she'd have in wearing them—they were beautiful and they did feel lovely.



Here, it was her pleasure to notice the items his eyes lingered on and select them with a meaningful look to try on. Most of what he liked was comfortable or reasonably comfortable and so she would be willing to wear them as daily wear. Some of the other items he selected she had serious doubts about, a series of ridiculous corsets in a variety of materials, a pair of insanely high heeled boots, a couple of dresses made of some kind of shiny plastic, and other items she didn't even see. Maybe after a 159 years you had to get exotic to keep sex fresh? She'd give it a try, mainly because everything he did made her toes curl and she really liked the hungry look on his face when he'd look at her and clearly was picturing her in one of those ridiculous outfits.



That was a look worth a little temporary discomfort.



Finally, they were finished. It had gone relatively fast actually, so she still had time to cook a meal as agreed on earlier. Oh, and for him to restrain her. She felt sure that this one-stop shopping had been motivated by the desire to carve out more time for that.



“What do you want me to cook tonight?”



“Cook?” He said, surprised.



“I said I'd cook tonight.”



“I'm taking you out. I thought you might enjoy to wear one of your new ensembles. I thought I'd leave you here with a stylist and meet you back downstairs in 30 minutes.”



That sounded great, actually. She was a little tired from the shopping and work. “I would like that.”



He pulled her in for a quick kiss and headed upstairs.



She started with the underwear. A blue mesh pair picked out in small silver flowers had been a particular favorite of his. He definitely had a thing for dressing her in his house colors. After that, she let the stylist, Cybelle, guide her with only the request to, “Make him lose his damned mind,” to guide the quietly amused elf.



A deceptively simple pale blue silk slip dress with an open back and a dusting of silver embroidery around the deep bodice, straps, and down the back. So, no bra then. That was a little embarrassing, but it would likely contribute to her goal. Simple sandal heels in silver, but quite tall—not ones she had selected then.



“He will enjoy very much to watch you walk in those, and will assist you if needed.”



It would definitely be needed. Those were ridiculous. Not exactly uncomfortable, but the height was awkward.



“Won't I be taller than him in these?”



Cybelle smirked, “Not for long.”



Well, then. Ok.



The sapphire set she loved, of course, then hair and makeup. They went with a simple updo exposing her entire neck. She noticed the stylist's eyes lingering on her mark and blushed.



“He is quite fortunate in his mate.” She looked at Cybelle in surprise. Fortunate? She assumed most elves would pity him for not having an elf as a mate.



Cybelle said no more, and she didn't feel comfortable asking, so she allowed herself to be made up. Mostly the makeup was light, with a dramatic smoky eye and deep red lipstick as contrast.



“Would you care to see how lucky your mate is?”



Cybelle led her to a mirror and it was her, but not her. This semi-stranger looked back at her with more sophistication than she felt on the inside. No one would mistake her for a pet as opposed to Kandomere's mate.



“Beautiful, thank you. You are so skilled.”



“It is simply you. The you he sees every day. But the frame for your beauty is quite a bit nicer, I think.”



She had to agree. In these clothes she felt more adult, more sophisticated, one step further removed from her childhood. Kandomere might have been motivated by his own love for beauty, but he'd been right—these were better choices. And with him as her mate, she no longer had reason or need to hide.



She turned to her, “Are you just being polite?”



Cybelle looked surprised, “About?”



“When you say he is lucky.”



“No. Not at all. It is obvious from your mark that he is quite lucky.”



She blushed deeply, but felt like she wasn't quite understanding the elf. Still, it was good to know that other elves did not pity Kandomere for having a human for a mate.



“You are blushing, it seems this is a subject of some sensitivity for humans? I apologize for any offense..”



“No, no, thank you. You have been lovely.”



Cybelle inclined her head, “It would be my pleasure to assist you again.”



That was an honor. Cybelle was an accomplished, even famous stylist and had come at Kandomere's request, but she now offered her services directly. It would require a large retainer, but well worth it in social capital. Kandomere would absolutely want her to accept. Findarion would as well.



“I would be utterly grateful to have your kind advice and generous assistance,” she said with genuine gratitude.



Cybelle laughed, “Very lucky, indeed. Come let me present you to your mate.”



Khirad was still mystified by Cybelle's reaction, but just accepted it as the oddness of elves.



All the reward she needed was to see him look absolutely stunned when she emerged. His jaw actually literally dropped, and she heard Cybelle's pleased laugh behind her.



“The heels are a little high so I may wobble a bit. I'm just not used to them.”



He composed himself, looking absolutely perfect in a men's black formal suit from Kiton with a red silk paisley tie. He was always dressed well, so it was less shocking, but he looked positively gorgeous.



If now exactly the same height as her. That was mildly amusing to her for some reason and she wondered if that were part of the appeal of heels.



“Perfection.” He breathed, “You look like something out of a dream.” Since she knew exactly what sort of dreams he was referring to, she felt herself blush yet again.



He stepped up, put his arm around her waist, and said, “We will not be walking far.” He looked over her shoulder and nodded to Cybelle.



“Send the selections up to my apartment and have them placed in the new closet. Thank you.”



“Of course.”



New closet? She could look at it later but apparently he'd been very busy today. He led her to the Ferrari and helped her in, then sat and started the engine.



“I had a contractor open a door between my room and one of the guest rooms. I then turned it into a customized closet and a potential workspace for your jewelry making. I was unsure of what tools and supplies to purchase for you, but I had them use the side of the bedroom away from the windows for the closet leaving your work space with plenty of natural light. Instead of paint, I had them cover the new wall in your workspace with oak. The custom closet is also of the same warm oak. The designer suggested it as way to soften the spaces and contrast them with the concrete floors. If you do not like it, we can make other arrangements. I wish this to feel like your home.”



She hardly knew what to say. That was so thoughtful and a little scary. It felt so fast, really just a few weeks, and now she was all but married to a stranger. More than married. She could feel the thrum of his desire, his need for her, his peaceful satisfaction at being joined to her, and his genuine desire to care for her. He wasn't a exactly a stranger though, she realized. With the bond she felt knew him better than their time together would normally allow.



“I'm sure I'll love it, and there was definitely no way we'd have been able to fit all that in your already packed closets.”



“My closets are completely moderate for an elf of my position and responsibility. Even a bit Spartan.”



“I feel certain the Spartans would have something to say about that.”



“Perhaps. If they were not dead. Killed by exceedingly well-dressed elves, as I'm assure you remember from history class.”



“Elves, yes, but I don't remember the well-dressed part.”



“Elves are always well-dressed.”



“Even for war?” Though she remembered the few times she had seem Findal and Mara in full battle dress, and thought, that would look ridiculous on a human but on them it looks absolutely terrifying.



Especially for war,” he humphed and nodded.



“Ok, you win. We'll go clothes shopping for you next.” And, just in case, she'd need to get started on a wedding band for him, something in platinum and set with sapphires for his house colors, but what design? He wore pins but she hadn't seen a ring yet. Did he like them?



She added, “And jewelry shopping. I noticed you are fond of pins. Do you like other sorts of men's jewelry?”



“There is one ring in particular I want, I am certain of that.”



“Oh, which one?” Perhaps it would give her an idea of his preferred design style.



“The one you choose to give me.” He took her hand and smiled, “It's the only one I want.”



“Oh.” There really wasn't much she could say to that, which thankfully seemed to amuse him.



They pulled up to the valet and before he opened the door he turned to her. “Would you be willing to wear this again? It would please me if you did.” He held out his first gift to her.



“I would love to. I'll never take it off again.” She leaned in and kissed him.



“You will, soon, but only for a more permanent replacement.”



Again she didn't know what to say. His confident dominance was certainly sexy though, that little half smile with a hint of teeth. It figured that mating would not be enough for him. Perhaps after he married her he would find some other way to bind them. There was the matter of his life force, though spending the next 200 years with him was increasing in appeal more and more. It had been a good gamble to complete the mating. It would be a different life than the one she wanted, but maybe an even better one. Maybe.



He helped her out of the car and led her into the restaurant. It felt like all eyes were on her, and she caught more than one elf taking a lingering look at her neck. It was a look comprised of a mix of jealousy and pure desire, and it came from both males and females. She was worried at Kandomere's reaction, but he seemed completely, even smugly, pleased at the attention being paid her. It was utterly confusing given his little speech earlier about not inspiring him to jealousy.



“Do you want me to put my hair down?” she asked quietly when they were seated.



“Why would I want that?” he asked incredulously.



“To hide my mark. Don't you see how they are looking at it?”



“Of course. Does it bother you?”



“No, but you asked me not to do things that would make you jealous and..”



“Ah, I understand. This is quite different from that.”



Khirad cocked her head and really didn't see the difference at all, “It is?”



“They want what I have, but they can not have it.”



“I still don't really understand.”



He sighed, “How I wish you would have paid attention in mating class.”



“You and me both, though had I have done so I doubt I would have let you mark me so soon so perhaps you should be glad for my ignorance.” It was a little sharp, but she hated being condescended to.



His eyebrows raised, then he considered and said, “Yes, I suppose it has largely been to my advantage despite the necessity of explaining things to you. This,” he indicated the mark, “is an image of how lost I was for you on our first time. More than that, it indicates the extreme intensity of pleasure I felt from you. If you could see the marks in this room, you would understand yours is extensive and utterly savage. You stripped away all my control and reduced me to nothing but animal instinct. That is not a badge of my dominance over you, but of yours over me. There is nothing I would not do to keep you, and that makes it abundantly clear to all who see it.”



“Oh.”



He laughed, “That is all you have to say?”



“Well, couldn't they fake a mark like mine? I mean, if they wanted?”



He laughed again, “No, it's partly magic—it can not be faked. I will give you other marks, if you allow me to, but the first night mark is a true picture of the commitment the mates feel to the relationship.”



“I didn't mark you until the second time.”



“True, but you certainly made the wait worth it.”



“I did?” She hoped so. She'd felt committed and determined to go all in, to do this thing right. She'd hate for him to have to go through life with a half-assed mark when she apparently had a fucking gold medal tacked to her shoulder.



“You can't see it, but yes. If I were to remove my shirt, you would see the same jealous passionate gazes fixed on me as well. When next we run, I'll run shirtless if you like and you can see for yourself.”



“Promises..” she said with a laugh. That would certainly make running more enjoyable though she was surprised he would be willing to so indulge her.



He fixed her with an intense gaze, “The mark has almost entirely healed to your eyes. I want you to mark me again tonight, I will insist on it as part of our game if you allow this.”



That made her heart flutter at his desire, “Yes, if that is what you want from me.”



He smirked, “Shall we begin then? You want me to dominate you, yes?”



She smirked back, “I think we both want that.”



“True, but I am asking for your consent to begin this game. Do I have it?”



“Yes.”



“Then, what shall be our safe word?”



“Safe word?”



He sighed, and looked at her as if she were an utter innocent, “It is a word you use to bring things to a halt.”



“Couldn't I just say stop or no? Those seem to work pretty well.”



“You may want to say those words to me and know that I will not stop.”



Oh, oh, that was frankly filthy hot. To have him refuse to stop, to be out of control but not really, well, she could see the appeal of that for sure. Heat flushed her body at the idea of begging him to stop and his refusing, pursuing her, catching her. When had his fantasies begun to become hers?



He breathed in deeply, “I can scent how much you like that idea.” The elves at the next table directed a heated gaze at her, “As can they. They can scent how much we want each other.”



“But, isn't it always like that for mates?”



“Safe word.”



“Fine, rhodium.”



“Rhodium?”



“Yes. I hate rhodium plating—it's just a cheap cover up of perfectly good metals--and I can't imagine it ever coming up during sex. Seems a good way to bring things to a screeching halt. If I'm thinking of rhodium, something has gone badly wrong.”



“Very well, rhodium it is. It's certainly not a safe word I've ever heard before.”



“You've done this before then?”



He fixed her with his gaze and allowed his years to fill it. Through the bond she felt a long life that had held many experiences but still had somehow felt unfulfilled until her. His age compared to hers was honestly daunting, she felt like a child compared to him, but he didn't see it that way, not exactly. Each new thing she experienced was new to him too. Having her for a mate was a way to be new, to see the world though fresh and vastly different eyes. He really did consider himself lucky.



“Yes. I have done many many things before, and I will show you all of them if you allow me.”



“I think I would enjoy that very much.”



“Then one last explanation and we shall begin. Yes?”



“Yes.”



“No, not all mates feel the degree of passion we do. Often, it starts quite tamely and intensifies. Ours will intensify as well—elves do not lose desire for their mates as humans tend to do.” He smirked here, “And I will give my human no reason to lose her desire for me either.”



As if that were possible, she thought.



He positively grinned,showing his full set of sharp white teeth—he'd caught that thought through the bond. She thought to close it, but they were having such a good time, he was so happy, she just left it open.



He continued, “For ours to begin with such intensity, well, it is a rare thing. We are considered lucky indeed. Elves prize passion such as ours very much.”



The looks honestly creeped her out a little, but if she were with him she would deal. On her own, she'd keep it covered. Elves were just weird sometimes.



“Shall we begin?”



“Yes.”



He drew himself up into what she called agent mode, but it was definitely more than that. He exuded a cold cruel predatory disdain that should not be hot but somehow completely was, blisteringly so. It made her want to please him, to break through that facade and crumble him into breathless pleasure.



“You will speak when I address you, but not before. You will answer me with sir, please, or yes as part of every answer and keep your speech to the minimum. You will follow everything I say without question. Do you understand?”



“Yes, sir, please.” This seemed like a fun game.



“Don't get cocky. It won't go well for you,” he sneered.



She'd bet he was wrong on that. “Yes, sir.”




 

 

From the moment they entered the restaurant, he'd sensed the jealous lustful eyes on what was assuredly his mate. They all knew it, that even if they had been lucky enough to touch her before him, they had not satisfied her as he had, had not been as lost for her as him. And now she was utterly his alone, they would never have a chance to know the bliss he did. She was his, completely.



It made it that much sweeter that unlike an elven female she was innocent of much of this, had no desire to wield the power every elf in this room knew she had over him. Even when he carefully bluntly explained to her just how much power she had, she seemed disinterested in using it. She could rule him, but instead she was nice to him. Allowed him to dress her as he liked, wore those shoes he knew she likely hated, she was trying to please him.



He was ridiculously lucky. An elven female would begun manipulating him almost immediately for power and benefit to her house and herself. It was expected, and not seen as a negative. Still, it was tiresome and he found it refreshing that his little human simply said what she meant. She had little interest in power, control, or dominance.



Instead, she seemed to want a partnership of equals, like her grandparents Findal and Mara. She seemed to take it that this was the norm with no idea that their relationship truly was atypical and considered a great romance. Mates were always happy together, this is true, but it was often the happiness of companionship as opposed to a blazing passion and partnership. Usually, one clearly dominated the other as was typical in most elven relationships—they were hierarchical beings. How lucky for him Findal and Mara were her example and expectation. She was right—he was lucky she hadn't paid attention in class.



Of Findal and Mara, he rather thought Mara was the more dominant, but he was not sure. Findal took the lead, but Mara often seemed to set the limits. It was deeply interesting. And his little mate had her human instincts telling her to find common cause with him, to compromise and seek for both to benefit. Each hour he spent with her willing increased his pleasure in this mating.



Ah, the waiter had arrived. Excellent.



“We will begin with a bottle of Ithil Red, 1990 and the chef's tasting menu, my steak rare and hers,”



He glanced coolly at Khirad, and was pleased to see her shiver, “Medium rare, please.”



Tricky, she'd added just a hint of plaintive desire to that please, reminding him of other times, other situations he'd heard it from her. Of course she'd be a fast learner.



“At the end of the meal, an array of desserts with Elorean chocolates as the motif.”



The wine and the chocolate all but shouted his intentions to the room. He was shameless. The waiter did not so much as blink, simply said, “Thank you, sir.”



He eyed her lazily, enjoying himself as she grew increasingly uncomfortable. The silk hid nothing, he owed Cybelle a large tip for that choice. He could see her nipples harden under his gaze, watch her breathing speed and a slight flush bloom across her pale skin. And of course he could scent how much she wanted him. It was a pleasure to see how nothing but his gaze affected her so deeply.



He would fill the room with her desire. It was already affecting the tables closest to them. His own desire was likely part of that heady brew as well, though it was difficult fully to judge the intensity of one's own scent. It was not exactly rude to do what he was doing, but it was certainly a display of his sexual dominance. He doubted his mate would approve, but as she so cleverly pointed out to him, her innocence gave him a rather wide latitude compared to an elven female.



He would enjoy it while it lasted.



In a cold voice he commanded, “Go to the bathroom and remove your undergarments. Bring them to me.” Her eyes widened, and her pulse raced at such a simple thing. It was amusing seeing how these very beginning games affected her. It made what had become boring quite exciting, that and her unpredictability—what would she do? How far could he push her before she would end this game?



“Yes, sir.”



She stood and strutted unsteadily to the bathroom. My gods, that walk. It set off every elf in here, their prey drive shouting, prey, weak prey, prey easy to catch, take her. His little mate had been smart to dress so poorly and avoid the district when not with her trollhund, he decided. But she had no need to worry with him as her mate. He bared his teeth in a cruel smile and smirked to hear an elf at the table next to him forget himself enough to hiss at him in blatant jealousy.



So satisfying.



She was gone for some time. Enough that the wine came. Right as he began to be concerned, she returned to the table looking flushed and, my gods, positively reeked of satisfied lust. She handed him her decidedly wet panties and sat down looking smug.



She'd gone into the bathroom and masturbated herself to orgasm with them. He and every elf in her could scent it. That was evil. He was impressed, even though he doubted she fully understood the effect she was having on the room as well as him. Perhaps he should tell her?



“You do realize that everyone, from the chefs to the sommelier, all of them can scent exactly what you were up to in that room, you filthy girl?”



“Yes, sir. I think I could have had help, if I'd wanted it.” She sounded defiant, but he saw her blush bright red. She'd done it to affect him, and had not thought about the room. Amusing.



“It's all over you, the flush on your chest and cheeks, your scent, this soaking wet scrap you've brought me,” he lifted his hand to his nose and inhaled, his eyes going half lidded with pleasure at her scent, “all a testament to your incredible impatience. You will not orgasm again until I give you permission, do you understand me?”



A grin, an actual grin, “I think I'll be good for a little while, sir.



This was remarkably fun. He didn't know what he'd anticipated from her, but it wasn't this. She was definitely not a submissive, that was clear. A pleasurable challenge—he would see if he could have her begging by the end of the night. The wine and the chocolate would help with that. He'd largely abstain and ensure she had the majority of it. He rather doubted she'd experienced elven aphrodisiacs. As she brought the glass to her lips, he watched avidly. She was fairly uninhibited without aphrodisiacs, what would she be like with them?



Their meal came and he refilled her glass, enjoying the simple companionship of her presence. There was a flush to her cheeks from the wine. He would order a second bottle for them—she was not driving and clearly had more than enough tolerance, and he was an elf.



She looked up and smiled at him, just a genuine smile of happiness, and he could not help but return it.



“You are so beautiful,” he caught himself just in time. He'd nearly added, my love. Was that true? It was too soon for her, he was certain of that. But could he love her already? It was not impossible.



“Yes, sir, it pleases me you think so.” All three words, with a challenging twinkle in her eye.



“You are building up quite the debt for later,” he said with a warning snarl.



“Yes, sir, I am terrified at the thought.”



“You're not, not yet.” He pretended anger, and at that he scented the first delicious hint of fear as well as a return of her arousal which had dipped during the meal.



They finished the meal, and the waiter brought out the desserts. Well done, indeed, they looked delicious. He fed her the first bite.



“Oh..” she stopped herself before she said more, and he so appreciated the expression of pleasure on her face he simply gave her a hard look to remind her to be silent.



There was a bit of chocolate on her bottom lip. He leaned in and bit her bottom lip and ran his tongue across it. Chocolate with a slight hint of her sweet blood, “Delicious.”



Her eyes were lust blown, pupils huge. Her desire more intense that ever. She was definitely feeling the effects of the wine. They should finish the desserts in a reasonable time and forgo coffee lest she set off a riot in here. The tables nearest them had emptied and not been refilled. He would need to leave a very large tip for this performance. As this establishment had enjoyed his patronage for nearly a hundred years, they could overlook a single night of indiscretion. He was hardly the first elf to display his extreme good fortune in mating, and had felt the bitter sting of jealousy himself.



It was lovely to finally be able to administer that sting. He'd thought he might be one of the rare few elves who never found their mate.



“Try this one,” he offered her a bite of the cake she had not tried on his finger.



Gods above and below, she sucked his finger and rolled her tongue around it like a goddess. It occurred to him he'd never felt the full extent of her oral skills, a lack he planned to demand she rectify tonight.



He scooped up another bite, “Suck,” he growled, holding it out to her.



Her eyes fixed on him, she did exactly that. He'd leave this restaurant rock hard. He could not care less—at least the jacket would hide the physical evidence as if his scent did not make it all too clear.



Picking up another bite, he presented it to her. This time she opened her mouth and waited for him to feed her—gods, he'd fuck her and feed her chocolates, alternate between the two forever. He'd fill his apartment with nothing but Ithil wine and Elorean chocolates.



She looked directly in his eyes then bit his finger, not hard, but enough to remind him how much he wanted her bite.



“We are leaving now,” he snarled, and stood taking her arm. The restaurant knew his account, they would bill him and he would add a huge tip just for the chocolates.



By the time they arrived at the door, the car was already there. He helped her into the car and then sat to drive. She was beautifully tipsy, probably even drunk by now, and smiled at him but followed his rules and didn't speak.



It was a ten minute drive home, he was doing so well until she began to run her hands all over herself and moan.



Why, are you doing that?” He was not feigning the irritation in his voice, or the lust. It was impossible to watch the road with that display next to him.



“I don't know. I ache all other, not hurt ache, but I want so badly to be touched, please.” That was the Elorean chocolates. Apparently his mate was highly responsive to their effects.



“Control yourself or I will control you.”



“I don't think I can.



That came out as a breathless moan. Minus the any of the words. He pulled over, grabbed her by the chin, “What do you say to me?”



Please, sir.”



He sat back and undid his tie. This is what she wanted, and gods he wanted it too. “Sit up, and put your hands behind your back.” He wanted to fuck her right in the middle of Elftown. Gods.



He tied her tightly enough he'd likely have to cut it off when they arrived at home. If he draped his jacket over her and took her in through the garage and up the back elevator, it was unlikely they would encounter anyone, but she would not know that.



He belted her back in and said, “You will be still for the remainder of this drive. If you are not, I will not touch you. Do you understand?” An empty threat if ever there was one. He hoped she didn't call him on it.



“Yes, sir.”



And, miraculously, she was still. He pulled into the parking garage—it was quite empty as most were still out enjoying dinner. He parked and helped her out of the car.



As soon as they got in the elevator, he pulled her to him and snarled down at her, “Who do you belong to?”



“You. Only you, sir,” she murmured. Gods, game or not, he loved to hear her say that.



Kissing her neck, he whispered in her ear. “Anyone will be able to see you bound in the hall, scent how badly you want me, how dripping wet you are for me. Is this what you want?”



“Yes.”



“And if I paraded you down the street like this, for every elf in the District to know who you belonged to, whose property you were, could you stop me?” He gripped her wrists and and let her feel his strength. Not enough to hurt her, but enough.



“No, sir.” It was a soft whisper, but he could scent how much she was enjoying this. He inhaled deeply, my gods she smelled so good.



He ran his hands up her dress and cupped her breasts, stroking the hard nipples though the smooth silk, kissing along her exposed neck to bite her neck almost hard enough to break the skin. She writhed and gasped against him, little wanton.



“Tonight, you are my helpless obedient toy.” Gods, if he paraded her anywhere he'd be right next to her with a rock hard erection. He did not care who saw how badly he wanted her, let them see.



The elevator sounded for their floor and he placed his arm around her and led her to the door. He scented a bit of fear, saw the pink of embarrassment in her cheeks, and stepped in front of her to shield her in the unlikely case there actually was anyone on his floor. He owned all of it, but there was always the possibility of meeting the concierge or another worker. No one there. Excellent.



He stepped back behind her and snapped, “Walk.”



My gods, those heels. Her unsteady gait, clear difficulty in walking in them positively screamed to the hunter part of him. Heels must have been invented by elves, he was sure of it.



He opened the door and led her in, turned her and backed her against the wall running his hands up her sides to box her in.



“You want me to touch you?”



“Yes, so much.” A breathless half-lidded whisper



“Beg me.”



She slowly sank to her knees, tied and helpless, looked up at him and said, “Please.



It was enough. He pulled her to her feet and ripped the dress off her, shredded it until she was naked except for her heels and the jewels. He carried her to their bedroom and laid her on the bed so she could watch his preparations for her. He wanted her standing, but slightly bent over, legs helplessly spread for him to touch, taste, fuck as he pleased, arms above her so he had access to anything he wanted and she could do nothing to stop him. Utterly helpless.



He had prepared discreet well anchored places to screw in sturdy loops for amusements such as this. He let her watch as he removed padded cuffs, chain, loops, and quick release carabiners. He scented a slight whiff of fear and smirked to himself. Of course she was nervous her first time, but he would make sure she enjoyed herself as much or more than he.



He screwed in the loops then curtly said, “Come here.”



He watched her struggle to get out of the bed, then strut to him and thought this might be his most perfect night. He knelt and removed each shoe, tossing them to the side. He cut off the tie and rubbed her wrists gently, made sure she wasn't bruised, then said coldly, “Spread your legs for me.”



She spread them, but not far enough for his taste—did she think to tease him? That time was over. He grabbed her and spread her legs until she was wide open to him, wet and spread for him to enjoy as he pleased. He placed a cuff around each ankle and secured the chains to the bolts he had screwed in the floor. Next, he secured her arms similarly.



He scented her deeply at the juncture of her legs, then bit her lightly on the inner thigh. He looked up to see her watching him, her gazed heated. She'd liked that. Perhaps he could bite her all over after all, just not as aggressively. He would find the limit. He bit the other thigh a little harder, then up to take a long lick across her wetness, and she was so very wet for him. He knelt before her and tasted her at his leisure.



“Please, please don't stop, please,” he enjoyed her breathless begging, her writhing on his tongue. But she spoke first. A punishment was due.



He stood, walked leisurely to the chair by the window, and seated himself. Watched her. He was in control of her and she was, completely, out of control. He wondered how long she would last before she began to beg again. He liked her like this, so compliant, hungry, needy. Aching for him as he had for her for so long, this was sweet.






He sat there, in the pale moonlight, still entirely dressed and she had never felt so exposed or so incredibly aroused. Watching her, his eyes pale luminous silver in the dim light, he sat relaxed with one leg crossed over the other and completely at his ease. While she was desperate for him. She'd never felt such an intensity of desire for anyone, it felt delicious, so good, freeing.



Not entirely natural though, and it had started with the wine and vastly intensified with the chocolates. Aphrodisiacs? She had asked him to dominate her and both of them knew this night would end in sex, so fuck it. But she was giving them to him next time.



That might be a bad idea. Normally he was the one struggling with control and tonight it had been her the entire evening. Of course, they were bonded now and he had more control in general. So this was what Kandomere was normally like with his lovers?



She liked it, a lot.



He'd lost control only once tonight that she was certain of—their quick exit after dessert. Her bite still gave her something of an edge.



Elves had a thing for biting, what would he do if she bit herself? She looked at him and writhed, rattled her chains prettily. Her chains. That was hot as fuck. But he'd left some slack in them—he wasn't a sadist, just had a definite thing for controlling and dominating her. Fucking elves.



He sat back further, a smirk on his face—he clearly considered himself well able to wait her out. She moaned and shifted her hips in hunger, saw him lean forward slightly. Not immovable then. Perhaps it was a veneer of control, maybe a thin one.



She moaned and bit her upper arm, looking him in the eye as she did it. His mouth opened in a gasp of pure desire and she saw his eyes pale out to silver fire as he leaned forward.



Stop that.” His voice sounded more like a plea, than a command.



She bit the other arm and let him see her pull back the skin a little.



He growled, and launched off the chair to smack her hard on the ass.



Oh! That smarted, but in the strangest sort of good way.



A series of hard smacks, his face feral, hungry, savage, teeth bared. He longer appeared at all in control, they were in wild uncharted water and it was frightening and exciting and intensely erotic.



He stepped behind her. She could hear him breathing hard, then he was on her, his lips against her ear, “Only you make me lose control like this. In all my years, only a ridiculously young human girl can break my control with a simple bite.” He kissed open mouthed down her neck, half kissing half biting her and it was so good she moaned and begged for more, more.



“Do you want me like this, a savage?” He bit her shoulder hard enough to slightly break the skin and she wanted more, wanted him to bite harder.



“Yes, yes, please.”



He kissed and bit down her back, a line of pleasure and pain, then undid the restraints around her ankles. He stepped around her, breathing hard and unzipped his pants. He was going to fuck her while fully dressed with her naked in chains, holy shit, yes.



Stepping forward, he stroked her clit and then slid in two fingers to stretch her a little for him.



Moaning, she begged him shamelessly, “Please, please Kandomere, yes, please.



“Who owns you?” He picked her up like she weighed nothing, and slid inside her on the word owns.



“You.”



Tell me!” He snarled against her ear, “Who do you belong to?”



“Kandomere, I belong to Kandomere.” How was this so hot? The idea of being possessed normally creeped her out, but possessed by him? She welcomed it. Maybe this was her fucked up version of falling in love? Whatever it was, it was fucking great.



He was fucking her hard, grunting against her neck, mine, mine, mine, with each thrust. She couldn't think, it was so good, and then she came for the first time, incandescent pleasure.



“I want to bite you, fucking mark you. Let me.”



“Yes, do it.” Fuck it.



He kissed her as he brought her closer and closer to her second orgasm, then pulled back to look at her face and cup her cheek. It was strangely tender considering he was fucking her in chains.



“Not like this.” He slid out of her, and she whined at the loss of him, “please, please, don't stop.”



He undid her restraints and carried her to their bed. “My beautiful mate,” he purred as he slowly stripped, making her wait. Finally, he was naked. He crawled over her, scented her as he did, breathing her in with obvious satisfaction and hunger and she was reminded of the first time he did that, and how afraid she was then.



His hair brushed against her face as he propped himself above her to look into her eyes, stroking her hair back from her face. “Are you sure?” he asked gently, carefully, no pressure. She knew what would happen now if she gave consent, what she was consenting to. He was obviously concerned that she was not thinking clearly and would later regret it.



She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him in to kiss him lovingly. She put all the feelings she wasn't comfortable saying into that kiss and then kissed along his jawline to whisper, “Yes, please, I want you to mark me.” Then, she bit him as hard as she could at the soft join of his shoulder and neck.



His reaction was instant. His whole body stiffened as every muscle tensed with anticipation, and he pinned her hands above her head and growled down at her. She knew he was lost for her again. He parted her legs and pushed inside her with a grunt of pleasure as he glared at her, daring her to try to stop him. With each thrust, she felt herself draw closer to orgasm, the moment she knew he would strike, and the anticipation and fear heightened her pleasure this time.



Perhaps it would hurt less as a surprise. She didn't know but was along for one hell of a ride all the same. Panting, both of them, she was getting close and she thought he was too. He began kissing her neck, then nipping at it, biting it harder, a good hurt, and then he knocked on the bond, asking her to open it completely for this and she did.



Then he bit her and it felt like the most glorious pain, perfect, and she could taste herself in his mouth, the rich wine of her power and understood why he'd instantly dismissed her claims to have no magic. Now she knew what to look for, she could taste the thread of his own weak magic, felt his native ability and savored it. She felt his skin in her teeth and knew she had bitten him back, savagely, and that this was what the mating night was supposed to be like—a joining of magic, body, and soul. The bond between them positively sung with power and she knew, for better or worse, she'd have no secrets after this night.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Kandomere gradually came back to himself, felt her soft body in his arms, his teeth buried deep in her, her sweet rich power in his mouth, red and pure light. He lapped at her blood, wove threads of attachment between them, his own magic strengthening with each taste of her. Perfect, regardless of what his family might think of their magic. This was their true mating night, her completely open to him, enjoying his bite and his taste as he enjoyed hers—he felt nothing but pleasure from her. He'd come so hard at the end he'd thought he'd blacked out for a second, and then he felt her inside him and could feel her pleasure and her trust in him. Enough to drop all her walls—he could finally know her completely.

 

He pulled back a little to look at her, her mouth smeared red with his blood, my gods, what that did to him to see her sweet face rendered savage with lust for him. He did this to her, no one else, he made her want to mark him and be marked by him. His mate marked and in his bed with his blood in her mouth, his seed inside her, the bond complete and open. He felt triumphant—he had won her. She licked her lips clean and looked up at him, pupils huge and didn't seem to fully see him.

 

She was still lost inside their bond, his long life laid out before her. When he'd felt her open the bond completely he met her there with joy—there would be no secrets between them now. There was no hurry, he could look at his leisure but for now he wanted to taste her, enjoy this before he felt her begin to withdraw from the bond and it became necessary to heal her—her torn shoulder would surely hurt once she came back to herself. She'd wanted him savage, wanted him as he truly was and he had not been able to resist her. He'd torn her with his teeth, taken her with his full strength, held nothing back from her and because of their bond she'd enjoyed it immensely—his pleasure was her pleasure and vice versa. But he would heal her before she felt the effects on her tender human body, so fragile and perfect. She was marked so thoroughly, so beautifully. He committed it to memory, her pale skin mottled by the intensity of their desire. Perhaps he would leave one mark and and see her reaction? No, he did not want her to hurt. Not at all.

 

He slipped into their bond to check on her and saw himself though her eyes, beautiful, powerful, savage, kind, careful, and intensely attractive. He felt the beginning of love and was surprised at how different it was from what he thought of as love. She cared for him, wanted the best for him, and still pitied him that he did not have an elven mate. Ridiculous—as if he would prefer another to her. How could she still not comprehend how satisfied he was to have her?

 

No, it was that her love—and it was the beginning of love--was fundamentally light, giving, not possessive or selfish. Even though she now wanted him, wanted him badly he was satisfied to discover, she would let him go if he wished to leave her and thought it to his benefit to do so. She wanted him to have the best partner for him, the best life, wanted him to be happy even if it were without her. She saw him as separate from herself, even though they were mated. How utterly bizarre. Was this then human love? This weakness? This detachment?

 

He did not like it at all. He wanted to feel wrapped in the certainty of her desire to own him, the security that she would fight to keep him, that she would fight to make herself the best choice. He wanted to know she would no more allow him to leave her or be taken from her than she would allow another to take her hand or her heart or any other part of her. Yes, she should need him, he was a part of her, they were joined—who would allow another to take their life without a fight?

 

It did not lack in intensity, this feeling, though it was still very new. She wanted him to be happy with her—that was much like him. But she wanted him to be happy even if he were not with her—that was very different. She still regarded him as separate from her and respected his freedom—that was part of her love too. It was frankly disturbing, this idea of them being joined but not joined. How could a pot be both hot and cold? How could she love him and not own him, not be part of a whole? This was incomprehensible, even with the bond. He did not like this.

 

At least it was light—there was certainly none of the darkness that often attended elven matings. She had no desire to control, use, and manipulate him for her own benefit or the benefit of her house because that was not part of human love. It wasn't because she did not realize her power and influence over him, but because she would consider it wrong to take advantage of him. What a strange notion--as if he could not advocate for his own interests. He realized he was free in a way no mated elf would ever want to be. It was unnerving. He felt like he did not quite understand, that it was like a detailed painting in a very dark room, music too quiet to hear clearly.

 

Human love was strange. Perhaps it was only like this in the beginning? He had observed plenty of appropriate jealousy and possessive behavior among humans, seen them fight over and for the one they

loved. He had seen them pursue another properly and with passion. But he had also seen them allow another to leave and then grieve the loss. He had assumed they lost passion for the other and were grieving the death of passion. Now, he realized that they had lost one they loved, still loved and felt joined to, and allowed the other to go out of this love. That when a human truly loved another they would respect their choices out of that love. If he wished to leave her, she would grieve but allow him to go. She would not hurt him or the one he chose instead of her, she would respect his freedom.

 

Bizarre. How could she allow such a thing? How could she feel joined to him and let him go? That would be like allowing your hand to pull itself free of your body and go join to another body. It was your hand. It did not belong on that other body, it belonged with you. He did not think he was any more capable of letting her go than he would be capable of passively allowing his hand to pull free from him. He would make his own body the best, the only option, and convince the hand to stay. He would chase off the other body, kill it if he had to. It would never occur to him to ask if the other body might be better, that his hand might be happier there, or that his hand even had a choice. Once joined, once mated, they were each other's.

 

This then was human love? Did she expect this of him? No, he knew she understood his nature, that she had feared it. He better understood why—what he felt as safety she felt as being trapped. It was difficult to understand. He understood humans a bit better now though. Some of Montehugh's conflicts with Hosato made more sense. They were two who chose to walk together, not one permanently joined being. Sort of. It was confusing.

 

Would that wretched human he'd scented have been better for her? An unsettling thought, as was the realization that he did not care who was better for her—she was his. He had not thought of himself as a selfish male, rather the opposite. But he had been undeniably selfish in his pursuit of her. It was a deeply uncomfortable realization. He did not at all like this human love, this idea of letting her go if it were better for her.

 

He was best for her, he would make himself best for her. He was her mate. There could be no better. He turned from these disturbing human considerations and realized that he was certain via magic and instinct that he was best for her. These thoughts were foolish. He would know her and please her, he already had pleased her well and she was in his arms by choice. Nothing else mattered.

 

Once she fell to sleep, he would begin to look at her short young life and come to know her fully in the next few weeks. He would learn how best to please her, to understand her needs and meet them. She was his, utterly. He would not lose her now. He felt her happiness in his arms, her feeling of safety. A sense of satisfaction and thankfulness washed over him at realizing that he could please her and please her well, that she liked him and cared for him, was beginning to love him in her strange human way. Yes, he felt her warmth towards him. More than the simple spark of attraction of the first night he marked her. She would cleave to him.

 

He felt a savage satisfaction at her choosing him as her mate. That part was better than elven mating. He had won her. Granted, there had been an element of trickery at first, but he continued to win her to stay with him based on his own merits. None had ever brought her such pleasure, of that he was certain. She chose him above all others, and he would continue to ensure he was by far the best choice. The challenge of keeping her was thrilling, the satisfaction intense at having a willing mate who could leave him. Each time he had her was fresh, a continual challenge to prove himself the best most dominant male.

 

He felt completely alive. The challenge yes, but her blood and her power moved in him. He'd bit her deeply, the wound welled again with fresh blood and he bent his head to taste her power again. He should fear this, should hate the taste of such strong magic, but he could not, not with her. He considered the possibility he was becoming addicted to her, and knew with utter certainty he would never let her go now. Her magic, even her wishes would likely not deter him—he was tied to her too deeply to ever let her go now.

 

Her magic, thankfully it was light and thankfully it seemed to be detectable only via blood—his family had no need to ever know of his mate's magic. She could be depended on to keep it secret, and he would explain his family's guilt and history to her in time. He would be certain of her love before he told her, and her loyalty. It was not a story that would recommend joining his house, not at all. Mates had been known to weep once they knew the fullness of the reality of house Aiderion. It was a great house only because no one but Aiderion knew they had birthed the Dark Lord in the far past. Their greatest secret and the driving force behind their opposition to any powerful magic.

 

Long before the MTF existed, he'd hunted Brights and the Inferni to fulfill his family's oath that there would never be another like the Dark Lord, and that the Dark Lord would never return. In that time, those hunts had ended only one way. He felt guilt over some of those deaths, but as a young elf he had followed his father's way. His father, and his father before him, back for 2,000 years, their entire line carried the guilt of the Dark Lord and the responsibility to ensure that he or another like him never held power again. It had motivated them to err on the side of eliminating any powerful Bright regardless of how light or dark they were, a policy he now recognized as wrong.

 

With the creation of the MTF came the scientific study of magic, wands, Brights and the development of humane ways to contain them. Over time, it became clear that many Brights were perfectly safe and devoted to light. Many of them chose to work in helping fields such as medicine or law enforcement long before they became aware they had any power. They were the doctor with the patients who recovered quicker than normal, the police officer who survived a shooting that should have killed them, the teacher whose kids just seemed to learn faster and with ease. The MTF ensured they received training to hide and properly channel their powers and kept tabs on them in case the Inferni or Shield of Light discovered them and targeted them. Sometimes they joined the service and worked to use their powers to fight the Inferni.

 

Those that were dark typically gravitated toward the Inferni as darkness and a thirst for power seemed to go together. If the MTF managed to capture them alive, they were usually contained using a similar technology used to contain wands but even now there were sometimes no other options but to kill powerful dark practitioners. In all his life he had never seen a truly dark practitioner turn to the light. Tikka had turned, but she had just begun her training. Those that were naturally light often rejected the dark, until the training consumed them. There seemed to be a tipping point when the darkness ate the light and some essential spark of who they were as people.

 

He deeply regretted the non-dark Brights he had killed in his youth. They would have made the world a better lighter place, and he had extinguished them out of fear and blind tradition. His house had been wrong to consider them a risk equal to the dark. The light did not turn dark unless violently forced, the light was worth protecting from the darkness and it fought the darkness. Kandomere suspected his house had made things worse, that the light practitioners were easier to kill and so the dark had flourished culminating in WWII and the disasters at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The MTF was now staffed with light practitioners and unlike in the times his house simply killed them all, there had been no more city-ending disasters. Now, the light fought the dark, as they were meant to do—it had been an orc Bright who followed the light that defeated the Dark Lord.

 

His house still had their doubts, and he had to admit that powerful magic of any type still felt wrong to him and made him uneasy, even his mate's as much as he enjoyed the taste of her. Still, the Dark Lord had never been light. Even in his youth there had been signs of the darkness in him. According to the records of his house, he had been the sixth son of his mother and a gifted Bright. When he was seventeen, his parents offered him as an apprentice to Sargon despite their concerns. Magic was acceptable, even considered a blessing in those days, but it seemed that those who crossed their son met with poor fortune tailored to the source of the displeasure.

 

A teacher who scolded him as a child was struck dumb, a beautiful elf girl who rejected him as a youth was hideously disfigured by a bear, an elf who bested him in an archery contest was shot through the heart with an arrow in a hunting accident, all of these misfortunes could have been coincidences but it was a disturbing pattern. Their son appeared kind, was helpful, and they could not clearly sense darkness in him. But the pattern remained.

 

They assumed that Sargon would be powerful enough to know the truth of their son's heart and wanted him to have the best chance possible. So they said nothing of these coincidences, hoping they were just that. At first, he thrived and Sargon was pleased with him. But the darkness in him grew and eventually even he could not hide it. Sargon cast him out, laughed at the Dark Lord's promise to return and kill him. And so the love of his parents and the pride of Sargon resulted in the eventual death of millions. His house considered both acts of mercy to be the deepest folly.

 

When the Dark Lord returned 107 years later, he claimed no affinity to any house. He had no name, was no one, and was utterly unrecognizable as anything but power made flesh. Swathed from head to toe in darkness, as a living shadow he walked the land. His parents had considered him long dead, lost to them, and grieved his loss. But when he challenged Aiderion, he parted the shadows and revealed himself to them, laughed at their horror. And then he slew them all, his parents, his brothers, his sisters, the servants, the soldiers--he exterminated any and all he could find.

 

The other houses honored Aiderion for their sacrifice, as if they had not created the very bane that nearly ended them. They thought Aiderion had hurt the Dark Lord, that they represented some threat to him. No. He hated them because they were him. The same reason Aiderion hated him in return. There was nothing they would not do to oppose him. No price was too high to expunge their guilt.

 

His house warned against emotional attachment for this very reason—it blinded you to darkness in another that could result in destruction. Still, even his house regarded mating as sacrosanct. Fate would provide the mate best suited. A child or a friend might turn dark, but a mate would match one's own orientation. One could know a mate's heart clearly, see it through the bond—they were the one person you could truly know and trust. Kandomere was not happy about Khirad's magic, but he no longer felt worried about it either. Perhaps he should be, but he simply was not. He knew himself to be light, and had sensed the light in her. He would protect her from the darkness.

 

He looked down at his perfect little mate, her dark hair fanned out around her in a tangled silken mass. Taking her back in his arms, he licked her shoulder clean and began the healing magic to close her wound. This one would not scar, it would be simply gone. He sat up and gazed at her exposed body. He'd held nothing back and she was well marked, beautiful. Still, he would not have her hurt. He healed the bruises, the bites, enjoying the way she moaned and arched to his touch. His own magic was considerably stronger, the bond between them tighter and wound with more threads of his magic. Good. He would wrap her in his love and magic, he would keep her for himself.

 

 


 

 

Baal regarded the wand with satisfaction—it was perfect and strong. He had chosen to focus entirely on forming it and had found it quite easy with the power of the Invocation and the ritual deaths. Lirael had gathered a mixed group of young humans, half-elves, and even a skinwalker. The last had been an especially powerful death which had contributed to the strength of the wand. They were 1/3 of the way there, and far stronger with this wand now. It would make forming the next two easier as well by serving as a focal point for power.

 

They had one more Bright to use, but they would hopefully find others before too long. Patience was not an Inferni trait, especially not in coven leaders, and it was a source of foolish mistakes. Lirael was less impatient than her predecessor but still driven somewhat mad by the whispers of the Dark Lord. Baal was thankful that his dual nature gave him a degree of distance from those murmurings. The coven thought him to be nothing but an elf and a Bright, a loyal Inferni member. He was, somewhat, but most of all he wanted power.

 

Service to the Dark Lord provided a degree of protection, access to knowledge, and power in these magic restricted times. Shield of Light would not take him as a practitioner of dark magic and no djinn settlement of any kind would accept him until he had acquired equivalent innate power to a full blood adult. Half-breeds took much longer to mature into their power, but if they survived long enough they were equivalent to any full blood. He was close, but he had perhaps another hundred years until he could challenge a full blood and earn his place. He could also join his people if he convinced a fertile female of his species to accept him, but that was extremely unlikely. Half-breeds like him were rare, and female half-breeds rarest of all—nearly all djinn half-breeds were male. And full blood females were nearly all mated to males far more powerful than him—he could not simply take one.

 

First marriages were arranged, full blood to full blood, but after a female had four full blood djinn children she was free to do as she pleased if her mate died. His own mother had been a widow and had chosen an elf for a mate, taking the form of an elf female to do so. Shapechanging was a full blood trait though a half-breed of sufficient age and power could do it as well. He was years from that though. Patience, it was necessary if he were to survive to full power. That, and a certain emotional detachment.

 

His mother had forgotten that and loved his father far too deeply. She had lived a very long life prior to meeting his father, perhaps she had grown weary of it? When his father had died of old age, she had accompanied him into the Darklands by choice—the djinn were very difficult to kill and lived such long lives as to be near immortal, even half-breeds such as him once they reached maturity. She could have linked her life force to his father's and they would still be here, though she would have had to admit her deception and reveal her true nature. Baal did not know her reasons as she had never shared them. It was one of his questions for her—why and was it worth it?

 

Her choice was foolishly sentimental from his point of view, but his mother had been far lighter than him. He missed her, and wished she had studied darkness with him as opposed to trying to dissuade him from it—she would still be alive. Once he reached sufficient power he could open the Gate and see her again. It was just a matter of time.

 

His mother opposed his studies, though as the product of two of the most vicious and powerful species on the planet, how could he be other than dark and survive them both? And the darkness gave power fairly quickly, power he needed to endure and make a place for himself. His father's people had been a newer house of comparatively little power though a fair amount of wealth until they were conquered in war and he became one of the Unnamed, those with no house. Baal had survived their defeat by Aiderion but his hatred for that house burned just as brightly 452 years later.

 

The only advantage to being one of the Unnamed was that it was easier to disappear and reappear as a new elf so his long life attracted no attention. He was 724 years old, an age that few but the wood elves reached. It was good he would soon reach full power—this modern age made it far more difficult to disappear. This current self was a mere 95 years old, so he had another 400-500 years before he need concern himself with shedding it. By that time it should no longer matter.

 

The Inferni were his only current option, though he longed for the day he was sufficiently powerful to leave them and join the djinn. He did not care for their wasteful and rather obvious methods and his loyalty towards the Dark Lord was purely practical. He doubted the Inferni could bring him back even with three wands, but he admitted to some curiosity. He wondered, too, what precisely they would bring back. The creature that murmured to him did not seem to have ever been a living being. It was pure darkness in a way that no living creature could be, even a formerly living creature. It hungered only for power and death. Over the last fifty years he had begun to question the wisdom of ushering in such a creature.

 

It mattered little. The djinn had not been affected by the Dark Lord last time and if he had reached full power by the time the Dark Lord returned he would join them. If not, he would serve until he could join his people. The Dark Lord was his current best option to expand his own power and survive, and he would not be distracted from his own goals by foolish sentiment.

 

Lirael and the others had begun to come back from the ritual dreaming. Good.

 

He presented the wand to Lirael and she took it with a smile, barehanded. It would bond to her and increase her power and, probably, her madness as well. Between the instability of the Inferni and the increasing effectiveness of MTF it really seemed unlikely he need worry about the Dark Lord's return. His own survival and acquisition of power were enough.

 

“Well done, Baal, well done indeed.” Lirael murmured.

 

He bowed and said, “I can form another with the remaining Bright if you are able to source similarly powerful deaths. The skinwalker was especially useful.”

 

“Excellent indeed. We will begin to collect what you need.” Lirael motioned to the others, “Leave the mess. Let the MTF find it and know that this time we were successful.”

 

Baal sighed inwardly. It would be better to clean up and let the MTF imagine them powerless, but the Inferni loved to antagonize their opponents. It was foolish. Still, it did not interfere with his own plans. If the MTF captured this wand he would make another and another and so on and thus retain his usefulness to the Inferni. Still, it was stupid.

 

They left the desert ritual site. It was possible the MTF would not find it in the deep desert but unlikely. The spot would ache with dark magic and someone would eventually sense it or come upon the bodies.

 

He motioned for Galdor to accompany him and walked to his vehicle.

 

“What have you learned?” He asked as he started the Land Rover and began the drive back to the highway and the city.

 

“Much.” Galdor seemed pensive, not his normal self at all. Baal waited.

 

Galdor continued, “Findal's pet is alive. He has made her the second-born of Findarion. I have not been able to discover what action she took to merit such a rise, especially in that house, but it seems likely to me that she is the source of this magic. But other than her rise there seems no indication of magical ability, and I have looked hard. She works for the MTF as a biologist and has recently been mated to an MTF agent, Kandomere, first born of house Aiderion. I have heard that she is a reluctant mate.”

 

Baal was surprised, a human with such magic power was rare indeed. Not impossible, but he had assumed it was an elf. That she was a mate to Aiderion was amusing—he could take her and know that the first born of Aiderion would fall to mate sickness. That was an added bonus to this. Even if she was not the source of the power, he would likely be able to learn the source from her and at a minimum he would enjoy the fall of Aiderion's first born.

 

“Capture her. I would prefer her unharmed. Be discreet—it would be best if it appeared that she left as opposed to being captured.” Human/elf matings were notoriously unstable and if she were reluctant then it was likely she would flee on her own. With luck, Kandomere would assume she fled him as opposed to being captured. He would look to Findarion to have her. Baal smiled. With luck, he could start a war between those two houses. While he bore Findarion no ill will, it would be a great pleasure to see the wood elves decimate Aiderion. This might work out to perfection, with luck.

 

Galdor nodded, and seemed unusually thoughtful.

 

“I want her alive, regardless of your feelings for her.”

 

“Of course.” Galdor nodded, “My loyalty is to you.”

 


 

 

Khirad woke wrapped in Kandomere's arms, sighed and snuggled deeper into him. There was no light filtering in through the windows yet, what time was it? She unwound herself from him and padded quietly to the bathroom. Flicking on the light, she looked at herself in the mirror—not a single mark. He'd healed her completely. She rather thought she might ask him to make one mark, just one, for her to see. Maybe.

 

Ten had followed her into the bathroom and butted up against her legs as she looked at her cellphone—4:30 AM. Still time to snuggle—her alarm was set for 5:30 AM. She was glad it was Friday, they could sleep in together tomorrow with luck. Petting Ten, she thought back on their evening, on his unexpected tenderness at the end. He was such an interesting blend of savage and gentle, and he genuinely tried to consider her humanity as best he could.

 

She washed her face, brushed her teeth, and cleaned up a bit before heading back to him. He was curled around her pillow, his hair fanning out over his sleeping face in the moonlight. She climbed into bed with him and slipped under the covers, tried to take the pillow away from him so she could replace it. He growled at her, then opened his eyes to angry slits. “Mine.”

 

She smiled when he realized he was clutching a pillow and not her, then laughed when he tossed the pillow aside and grabbed her instead. He was so warm, felt good in the cool room. Elves ran a bit hotter than humans and liked their quarters rather cold. Thankfully, he was like a toasty heater, as was Ten at her feet. He wrapped her in his arms and buried his head in her hair, inhaling deeply and sighing in happiness. She could feel his contentment and joy through the bond, and let him feel her own happiness. It was different from the life she planned, but it was good.

 

Snuggling in to him, she assumed she would just lie there but she felt so warm, so safe, so loved that she fell into a peaceful sleep along with him.

 

Coffee, oh, that smelled so good. Her warm elf was gone and likely the source of that delicious smell. She slipped on a robe and headed into the kitchen to see.

 

“Good morning,” and oh, it was. He was wearing nothing but a pair of pajama bottoms, his lean chest with a dusting of hair leading down flexing as he made pancakes. She loved pancakes.

 

He turned to her and smiled, “There's coffee, and soon blueberry pancakes.” He looked so young, so open, happy. It made her happy. She came up behind him, wrapped her arms around him and kissed his back.

 

“Coffee, pancakes, and a gorgeous elf—what did I do to deserve this?”

 

He smiled, “I'll take it out in trade in the shower later.”

 

Laughing, she poured her coffee and said, “Deal.”

 

They ate quickly in companionable silence, both wanting to maximize shower time. They washed each other, cleaning and arousing each other and then he picked her up and propped her against the wall, brought them both to a quick and pleasurable completion. Her hands were in his hair, and she looked into his beautiful eyes, then kissed him, put all her feelings into the kiss. It was fast, but it was lovemaking. He genuinely cared for her.

 

When he set her on her feet, she pulled her hair away from the shoulder where he'd marked her.

 

“I want you to mark me visibly. I want to see your mark.” She looked up at him, “Not too hard, just enough I can see it and know I'm yours.”

 

He stroked her neck and shoulder, “I don't want to hurt you.”

 

“I'll tell you to stop if it hurts too much. Promise. I want this. Do you..”

 

“Yes. I love marking you. I'd mark you all over and leave them all if I didn't know you'd hurt.” His voice sounded hungry and his eyes had paled to silver—he wanted this quite badly.

 

“It seems fair,” she stroked his shoulder where she had bitten him. The bites had already healed over and were more bruises that anything else—he healed so fast.

 

“I am an elf. This,” he stroked his shoulder, “feels good to me. It does not hurt like it would for a human. Our perception of pain is very different.”

 

“I enjoyed your bite very much last night.”

 

He considered her, then bent his head to kiss her neck, licked her skin, then nipped her with his teeth. When she did nothing more than press his head into her neck he bit her lightly, sucked her neck, then bit harder, and finally she said, “Stop.”

 

He did, immediately, and licked the spot like a cat cleaning it's fellow. It stung, but it felt good too. They rinsed, and on exiting the shower she looked and there at the base of her neck was a purple mark rimmed by small cuts on the top where his sharp teeth had slightly pierced her.

 

“It's perfect.” She smiled up at him, “Thank you.”

 

He smiled, ran his fingers over the place, and said with an arched brow, “My pleasure, truly.”

 

She cleaned up from breakfast while he, with her permission, selected her clothes and undergarments. “So I can picture all day what I will tear off later,” he said hungrily as he watched her dress.

 

“These are too expensive to just tear off and throw away!”

 

“I'll buy more.”

 

“Kandomere.”

 

He looked at her inquiringly as if this was a completely reasonable plan and she just gave up. Not worth the battle. Besides, the idea of him tearing them off her was frankly hot. With his teeth.

 

Work was peaceful, no surprises though there was an air of waiting for the other shoe to drop—the Inferni had been too quiet for too long. After work, they drove home together and spent most of the weekend making love. Sunday, she went back to her apartment and picked up a few more things, loaded up the Land Rover with most of her jewelry making gear. Kandomere was quietly happy, but said not one word about them moving in together. Smart elf.

 

And so, for the next two weeks, life was peaceful and easy for both of them. They fell into a rhythm of life that worked for them and were happy. Each time they made love, she saw more of his life and assumed he saw hers as well—she was fully open to him. She'd begun with his childhood and it seemed to progress chronologically. Not everything, but memories he considered important or that were particularly painful or joyous seemed to be the pattern.

 

She felt sympathy for him. Though his childhood was not as bad as hers, it had not been easy. His father seemed almost suspicious of him and was both demanding and detached, cold, even cruel. His mother was warmer but was definitely not the dominant partner in the mating. They did not seem what she would consider happy, she better understood that her examples among the wood elves had been unusual. But his whole house just seemed so much grimmer than either Findarion or even Belarion. The wood elves were vicious warriors but only in war. The rest of the time they were to one degree or another merry.

 

Aiderion seemed in a perpetual state of cold detached wariness, as if attack could come at any time from any quarter including one's own family. It seemed awful and she was absolutely determined that no child of hers would be raised in such a place. She was resolutely planned to have happy children, loved children, and raise them as she had been raised among the wood elves. Even when angry the wood elves were at least passionate. This cold detachment, it felt awful.

 

How he had managed to retain so much passion was a surprise. She saw his father's repeated disapproval of him for it, and that he blamed it on Kandomere's mother. There was no physical abuse, but the overall environment was unhealthily cold in her opinion. She could see where he acquired his agent persona, a face she never saw from him anymore unless they happened to be in the same meeting together. Even then, his eyes softened and warmed when he looked at her.

 

He loved her, at least she thought he did. He hadn't said it, but his actions, the way he looked at her, she thought he did. She was pretty sure she was in love with him too, more than halfway. Until she worked up the nerve to talk to him about her magic she could not bring herself to not hold back. If he were seeing her life like she was seeing his, he would see everything soon, at least the part she still worried about. She thought it would be easier to talk to him about it after he saw for himself.

 

She could tell he had begun in her childhood as well from how careful, how patient, and how gentle he was with her. He no longer raised his voice, was careful to not intimidate her unless they were role playing, and she'd had to ask him to be rougher on more than one occasion and explain that she enjoyed it, that it was not abuse, and that she loved what he did with her, she loved when he lost control. He seemed to relax and she supposed that he was seeing her time with the wood elves now, or he just decided to believe her.

 

Another Friday, dinner, lovemaking, and this time when she fell asleep it was different. She'd seen pieces of Kandomere's brutal training along with all the other elves of his house. But this night he was hunting with his father, his first hunt. They were in a city though—what were they hunting? He felt exhilarated to finally be an adult, a recognized warrior, and this kill would cement his place. He could not fail.

 

He swung silently into an open bedroom window. A human woman slept peacefully, her pale blonde streaming across her pillow. He hesitated, she looked so peaceful, no threat, could his father be wrong? No. He would not allow his foolish emotions to sway him. This one had used magic to heal and protect herself and others. She was a Bright. The Inferni could use her, she could turn dark, this was necessary. He stepped up to the woman and cut her throat, felt the flare of her magic as she died. No, his father had been right.

 

After that one, a reel of deaths. Most were innocent light magic users. Gods. When Findal had referred to him as a magic hunter she had thought he meant the MTF. Kandomere would kill her for sure once he saw what she had done, he had spent his entire youth exterminating Brights, gods, was he still a killing them? She looked ahead and it was so much death, one after another it seemed. She tried to look and see if he had had some change of heart but she felt panicked, afraid. He sensed it through the bond and his sleeping mind came to her, reassuring her and then her mind went to the one place she was afraid he would see and she felt his horror.

 


 

He loved her, the past two weeks had shown him the mating instinct was right. At first he'd wanted her but now he loved her based on her own merits. She was kind to him, he felt her regret over his childhood and was at first amused and then deeply touched by her determination to show him, “All the affection and warmth you could ever want.”

 

She would slip up behind him while he was working in the evening and bring him a cup of his favorite tea, kiss him and tell him, “You are perfect.” He wasn't, he certainly knew that, but it still felt really good. She allowed him so much control claiming, “There just aren't that many things I care that much about. Since you feel so strongly about them, I'll just let you lead. If I want something, I'll ask.” And she did just that. He still hated the human BBQ place she had insisted they try, though the meat had been delicious the table manners were abominable. They had agreed on delivery next time.

 

Compromise. His little mate was determined for them both to win and get something that would make them both happy. It was very different from what he had expected from his parent's mating, better. He mostly led, which he certainly preferred to do. But she would speak up and set limits, voice her wishes when it was important to her and he deferred to her in those moments. He realized that their mating was falling into the same pattern as Findal's and Mara's and felt a deep satisfaction—that pairing was a happy one indeed.

 

And Khirad was flourishing, as was he. He wondered when she might consider children, if she had already done so. He wanted to ask her to marry him, but Montehugh had warned him to, “Take it slow boss, don't scare her off.” He desperately wanted to tell her he loved her. Perhaps it was not too soon for that at least. He felt the deepening of her feelings as well and thought that she was coming close to loving him back.

 

Something was holding her back, but he wasn't sure what it was—some fear, something. He would give her “space.” It was not at all natural for him but he had had a long discussion with Montehugh about not digging and pushing and just allowing things to unfold, being a boyfriend and not an agent, and so he had allowed the bond to show him what he needed to know as opposed to looking for himself. It was tiresome.

 

He realized he might have a bit of a control problem. Maybe.

 

It began in her childhood though oddly there was nothing before she was around six or seven—he guessed based on the size of clothes he saw her put on and her image in the mirror. From that time until the wood elves took her in, she was at best neglected and often physically and emotionally abused. It was difficult to see, painful to experience the depth of her loneliness and fear, her desire for them to love her and her powerlessness to make them see her as anything more than a problem.

 

Her parents looked nothing like her as well, absolutely nothing at all. They were both blonde, blue eyed, Nordic appearing humans. He questioned whether these were actually her parents at all. They certainly did not behave as parents did. It was a puzzle. And that empty space at the beginning, those missing years—there was a whiff of magic about that.

 

“Don't be an agent with her. Nothing pisses off Hosato more than when I bring home my work self to him. Just let her be, at least for a few months, boss,” he remembered Montehugh saying. So, he'd let it go for now. They had plenty of time to unravel that thread, especially if she let him link her to his life force. Pushing would make that less likely, so he'd be smart and not push.

 

Her time with the wood elves spanned out before him much as Findal had described it, and he was surprised by how warm and loving they were with each other, how caring they had been to Khirad. It was quite a contrast to his house and he again felt that somewhere his house had lost their way, that what they had become was not at all what they were supposed to be.

 

Thursday night he saw her near death at the hands of Galdor and swore again to kill him slowly if chance presented itself, and then he saw her obsession with runes, her wasting away in their study. She knew a lot, far far more than she had revealed. He saw Findal's action to restore her and wondered if that was the source of her power. He saw her study of human magic and the loa with some amusement, and then with a degree of nervousness when he felt those alien intelligences answer. Perhaps this was the source of her reluctance? He felt it was part of it, but not all.

 

Friday came and after their lovemaking he fell asleep with her in his arms. She was in college now, partying with Misterial who was less than studious. Khirad worked hard, and did apply herself, and so she missed a fair number of the parties. He approved. His mate was not frivolous, not now and not then. He was so damned lucky.

 

Unlike other nights, he didn't feel her anger at his family's cold treatment of him, or her compassion for him, but instead he felt horror, disgust, fear, fear for herself, she was afraid of him, so afraid. He knew where she was in his mind now—his youth spent in hunting Brights. My gods, she thought he would do the same to her! He should have expected this. He tried to reassure her through the bond but she was terrified. How many had she seen? He saw himself through her eyes, a quiet relentless killer, cold, emotionless, merciless, and felt horrified. He was not that male anymore, he had changed even the color of his hair to separate himself from the pale haired brutal creature he had been. He hadn't known better, had been a creation of his house until the MTF.

 

And then the scene shifted and he saw what he felt she feared he would see. First a text from Misterial, “Help me, find me, something is wrong,” and then he saw Khirad armed herself with the traditional curved knives of Findarion and painted herself in her own blood with runes of finding and seeking, then ran, Ten trailing behind her.

 

Pitch black, rain, no one about, late, it was very late and she was terrified. She'd been trained but never been to war, hoped that Misterial was wrong.

 

It was that house, he saw the fraternity symbol and remembered it was the one that had the circle of members who were hunting elves. Cutting off their ears.

 

She opened the door, no knock, and yelled, “Where is my sister? Where is Misterial?” Ten wound around her and simply attacked. It was a breathtaking display of raw savagery, the trollhund ripped one boy's throat out in seconds, her back claws raked another from neck to navel and left him clutching his intestines. She was selective—most she allowed to escape but not all. Seven were dead in seconds. Then, she pawed at a door that looked to lead to the basement, threw herself against it.

 

Khirad, he could feel her fear and horror, both from the past and her fear and horror at him and his reaction to her once he saw this. He felt horror himself that she had endured this, and that now was the time she felt compelled to show him her darkest secret. He tried to send her reassurance, that he loved her, but she seemed incapable of hearing him.

 

The basement, Khirad opened the door and he felt like he was in a horror movie, trapped. Ten went down first, followed by Khirad and this time he felt her revulsion as she made her first kill, her training taking over. She cut one boy's throat who ran at her, his warm blood splashing her face, then gutted another who tried to grab her. Ten was moving silently through the room, absolute grim furred death. He'd heard, but until you saw you could not comprehend the deadly grace of a trollhund in war.

 

Misterial, bloody, her ears cut to resemble human ears, slung across the couch like so much garbage. The only mercy that she had all her clothes—not a rape, at least she was spared that. Still, far too still, he didn't see her breathing. He felt Khirad check for a pulse and then her overwhelming grief, a wail like nothing he hoped to ever hear from her again, Ten joining her to howl in grief.

 

He felt her refusal, saw in her mind the pieces come together of what she had studied and had a strong suspicion what service she had rendered to Findarion. How had she done such dark magic? How was his mate light and a what, a necromancer? A resurrectionist? How had she powered such a dark spell and come out light?

 

She stood, looked around, saw the boy she'd gutted crawling across the floor and considered him. Kandomere felt her reject the temptation and sighed in relief. Instead, she cut long lines of runes down her own arms, stripped Misterial to mark her face, each hand, over her heart, across her belly, then the front and back of her feet with her blood. He saw Misterial's wounds disappear as Khirad's hair began to silver, her face to develop crow's feet—she was using her own life force to heal her.

 

Still dead though—what was she doing now? She began to draw runes with her blood, pausing, thinking, obviously making it up as she went, and gradually forming the shape of a door using the bloody runes.

 

Old, old runes, a few Kandomere had never seen began to form a magical work potentially of immense power. The runes were all ones of opening, breaking, traveling, bridges, doors, windows, and birth. It would require power to begin, a great deal, and once begun would take it's own form within the pattern set for it and possibly out. Major works were rather like trained animals—the result a marriage between the skill of the trainer and the disposition of the animal. No two were entirely alike, and an invocation that worked well for one magic user could result in the death of another. Magic was an unpredictable potentially disastrous art. Which is why it was, and should be—at least for works like what she was doing—illegal. He was chilled to see his mate involved in magic of such power and mystified how it could possibly be anything but dark.

 

She kept drawing. The second set were not elvish, they were in Vukht, the ancient script of the orcs. He recognized that—it was an invocation to Dorthu. His sigil was set as the central piece of this work. She had been the cause of those 127 deaths, my gods. He could certainly see why she felt guilty, though he could hardly judge her on the removal of evildoers—at least all hers had been evil. He had killed the innocent out of blind family loyalty.

 

After the invocation to Dorthu, she wrote a third layer of runes. This a genealogy of Misterial, a request for help from her ancestors, and what he thought might be a locator spell of sorts. He was rapt, this was new work, and he was uncertain what she was creating or how all the disparate parts would combine. Completely fascinating and dangerous, how had he missed power of this degree in his soft little mate, his little trickster human? He was torn between anger at the deception and admiration at how effectively and completely she had hidden herself.

 

She paused, seemed to consider. He had no idea how she planned to power such a complex spell. She moved Misterial on the coach so her head hung limply off the side of one of the arms, throat bare to the room. Then she moved the couch to fit under the gate—it could be nothing but a gate he thought—and adjusted it until Misterial's head was propped up against the wall in such a way that if—when?--the gate opened her head would flop through.

 

He could not see how these all fit together, what she was trying to do with all of this. She ran upstairs and he saw her run outside and cut several branches from a oak tree, then head to the kitchen for a bag of cornmeal, a bottle of rum, candy, a pack of cigarettes, a candle, peanuts, a jar of jalapenos, salt, a container of Italian seasonings then look around and grab the iron tools by the fireplace then run back downstairs. What the fuck?

 

She arranged the limbs in front of the gate, then placed the iron tools end to end, then a line of the herbs topped with a thick line of salt—a barrier for something he guessed. She lit the candle and arranged the various items around it then used the cornmeal to make the veve for first Papa Legba and then Baron Samedi. He recognized those from previous investigations, though he was not terribly conversant with their powers.

 

Finally, she cut her arm deeply and traced a line of her own blood across the gate and then around Misterial's body. When the circle sealed, he felt a rush of power and saw the runes begin to illuminate but sputter out.

 

“Papa Legba, your servant asks you to open the door. I offer you these Papa Legba, open the gate for me! Open the gate for me Papa, so that I may pass. When I return I will thank you!

She then poured rum on the ground three times, and cried, "Baron Samedi, Lord of the Cemetery! Mighty Judge and Healer! Please come and accept these offerings!"

 

He felt rather than heard an answer, “What else will you give me? I know what you want of me, what will you give?

 

Khirad glanced at the nearly dead boy, then down at Ten, then climbed the back of the couch facing the gate and cut her own throat, slapped her hand in her blood and hit the sigil of Dorthu then bodily stepped through the open and brilliantly shining gate. Ten jumped up, followed her and Misterial's head flopped through into the Darklands.

 

A sacrifice of herself, my gods, that was worthy. But how was she alive? He saw what she saw and it was difficult to comprehend, a flat open space, a man in a top hat and tails with a huge bulging erection holding a star in his hand, “You earned this, now go. I don' want you yet.” A voice that was not a voice, like a bell not rung, it was impossible to comprehend this place. She placed the star in Misterial's mouth and he saw Misterial gasp and pull across the border into life.

 

Khirad turned to look at the man, bowed deeply said, “Thank you, Baron Samedi.” She looked to an elderly man, bowed deeply again and said, “Thank you, Papa Legba.

 

When she stepped across, blood poured down her neck, she was dying. Dorthu waited. An enormous orc clad in iron armor, he picked her up by the throat with two fingers, examined her, then weighed her in the palm of his hand and laughed. With a voice like thunder and regret he said, “A bold trickster warrior, willing to sacrifice to save her adopted sister but hoping I will help her cheat death of his prize. Loyal.” He saw Ten, who bared her teeth and growled at him. “With a hero's companion.” He considered her, then said, “Interesting, and worthy, so I will give you what you want, and some of what you may not want, then I will judge this town. I sense many here who are hidden and evil.”

 

He cupped her in both hands, light shining around the ball he made around her, then set her down whole next to Misterial who clutched her sister to her chest. He eyed Misterial, then said, “You earned the loyalty of one such as her. You too are worthy.”

 

Then, the building peeled in the wind apart except for the spot the sisters were huddled-- all the evidence gone. Rain poured over them both as they made their way to an overhang. Misterial called a car and the memory ended.

 

Kandomere came to in an empty bed. She'd fled him in terror. He could feel the pulse of her fear through the bond—she was close. He pulled on his pajama pants, and ran down the stairs to the garage. Her Land Rover was gone. Fuck.

 

Chapter Text

She'd felt his horror as he saw what she had done, and that combined with all the kills she'd seen him make over magic far less powerful than hers, and magic absolutely light, had made her fight toward consciousness. He was the one who usually woke first from the bond, but she was hoping that he would be too interested in what he was seeing to wake before she struggled free. Almost there, she could feel his arms around her, the bed under her, and his attempts to reassure her.

 

As if. He'd been a pale agent of death, terrifying. She'd feared him the way she feared all male elves but not like this. He could kill with a cool detachment incomprehensible to her, and he enjoyed the hunt. Not the kill usually, but the hunt always.

 

He'd been leaner in those days, his frame pared down and more like that of a gymnast than a weightlifter. Easier to slide through windows and scale up walls, slip through the shadows and kill with such quiet ease. His long pale blond hair was tied back into a single waist length braid and his clothes were tactical in most of what she saw, suited to a hunter that mostly stalked the cities. He was not averse to subterfuge and had played the seducer to get at his target before, how could she trust his increasingly urgent reassurances?

 

She had no idea how to deal with this—it was time to go home, get help. Come on, wake up, she thought struggling to free herself. Then she awoke, struggled out of his grasping arms to land gasping on the floor. Dazed, she stared at his sleeping face, felt his fear and his horror—that wasn't good, not at all. How could this elf be that other one? Her elf was kind, patient, that elf lived for hunting and killing. Maybe he had changed? Or maybe he had hidden his nature like she had hidden hers, just he was a lot better at it than her? Her mind was full of all those deaths for such light magic. Powerful, but light. He'd have killed her then for sure. His pushing to know about her magic took on a more sinister light—what would he do know he knew it all?

 

Run. All her instincts screamed run. She jumped up, threw on her robe, grabbed her keys and her purse and ran, Ten following after her. He'd be after her in minutes, maybe seconds, she flew down the stairs and to the Land Rover. Cranked the engine, thank the gods it was full, and then backed out and took the direct route home. There was no point in playing coy, this would be about speed. He might even call in the MTF to apprehend her, or assassins from his house—she had no idea what he would do. She called home.

 

“Well met, Khirad.” Findal, thank the gods he answered so late—he must be reading again.

 

“I'm in Elftown, driving to the Angeles Forest halls. I am in danger. Please send an escort.”

 

“They will meet you.” Findal hung up immediately to marshal the resources of the house.

 

She drove fast, but not so fast she would be pulled over. At 4AM the traffic was blessedly light and she kept glancing at the rear view mirror to see if Kandomere or anyone else was following her. She'd considered ditching the Land Rover but it had a system that allowed her house to locate her with ease. Of course he did too, via their bond. She had shut it tight, but she could feel him on his end, first his fear and horror and then, when he'd woken, his anger and panic. He was no more than fifteen minutes behind her and given that he was a field agent, she knew use his authority to speed to catch her.

 

Using exercises from the academy, she calmed herself, tried to think unemotionally. It wasn't her strong point, never had been—she wasn't at all cut out to be a field agent. But she felt calm enough, finally, to think. It had been illogical to assume he would kill her—it would mean his madness and death too after all, but his response had certainly not been positive. Would he attempt to imprison her? Or would his cold house consider his death a worthwhile sacrifice to end what they would no doubt see as a threat? Maybe she should open the bond and talk to him, see what he had to say?

 

No, it was time to engage the assistance of her house and not be a soft fool. She understood better how it worked from her reading and would have Findal and Mara negotiate with him to ensure her safety. He was a killer, that was not up for dispute, and he had killed many Brights and magic users like her. If she had overreacted, well, better a live fool than a dead hero. He should be able to understand her concern. Did he seriously think it was fine to skip mentioning his past as a fucking assassin of magic users like her?

 

He was pounding on the bond, not knocking, but trying to batter down her door. It was making her head pound too. She tightened the bond against him and felt his frustration leaking through, his determination to reach her. No way. Not until she had talked to Findal and Mara. She didn't think he could use the bond to do more than locate her, but she wasn't sure. She felt him yank on the threads tying them and felt a hunger to go to him, felt the loss of him like a physical pain. That was not good. How had she allowed herself to be tied so tightly to one she knew so little? Stupid soft Khirad, so trusting and so foolish—would she ever learn? Would she survive to learn?

 

Breathing deeply, she began the centering exercises she used to begin her magic work. It was not easy to do this and concentrate on the road, but he wasn't giving her a lot of choice. She opened the place within herself where her magic lived. How long had it been since she had taken the time to do this, had the time alone to do this? She looked within herself and saw her magic, a warm orange color shot though with veins of red gently glowing at her center. But now it was threaded with pale blue strands linking her to him, there must be at least forty of them—one for each time he tasted her blood. Some were thicker, woven of blue and orange and she would guess those were ones she wove with him when she chose to taste his blood. She reached out—could they be snapped? What would happen if she broke one?

 

As much from curiosity as anything else, she reached out to the thinnest strand and broke it off where it was joined with her. The reaction was instantaneous. It snapped back to him and with a pulse of pure rage he was through the bond and with her. She could see the road through his eyes, and knew he could see where she was too. He was driving to Findarion in his pajama bottoms. That should be funny but it wasn't.

 

I will not let you go. I do not care about your magic. She could feel him in her head, furious, determined, and horrified at the idea of losing her. It wasn't so much telepathy as she understood what he was trying to communicate to her, like talking to herself and having it answer back. She hated it and tried to push him out.

 

Stop, listen to me. I am not the elf I was, I was wrong, deluded by my family. Do not judge me by my past deeds.

 

Maybe, how could she be sure? She had been such a fool so many times that this time she would ask Findal and Mara instead of going it alone. Last time she did that it had nearly resulted in war.

 

I would never hurt you. I swore a blood oath to accept you.

 

Yes, but he had oaths to his family too, surely. Those would come first.

 

I do not. Only my oath to you. Search me, look at my heart, I am open to anything you wish to see.

 

She didn't really know how to search him, just wished he would let her talk to her grandparents and get their guidance. She felt him begin to calm as he realized her intention. She began to marshal her strength to shut the bond again.

 

I will meet you there.

 

That was a terrible idea given that she'd told Findal she was in fear for her life.

 

I will meet you there.

 

God above and below he was stubborn. Fine, she would call Findal and Mara and ask them not to kill him. She felt some slight amusement via the bond.

 

That would be best. Thank you. He paused, I love you.

 

At love, she felt and saw the entirety of what he saw in her, wanted from her, the full depth of his feelings. It was more than she had realized and overwhelming. She tried to pull away but he caught her, filled her with what he truly felt. Could that be a lie? It didn't feel like a lie.

 

I am not lying. Mates can not lie through the bond. She felt his utter exasperation with her ignorance.

 

She just wanted to rest a bit, just needed to call Findal and Mara and then have some space, time to think.

 

Fine. But you will not break anymore of our bonds. Understood?

 

She would make that agreement for now, but they disturbed her. A forest of ties where before it had just been her. She wasn't sure at all how she felt about that. What did they even do? She'd felt their pull when he'd yanked on them and not liked that at all.

 

We will talk with Findal and Mara and work this out.

 

Maybe. She'd try. An assassin, gods, that was really a lot to process. It made her feel sick. He should have given her some warning, something.

 

We will. I am not that elf, not anymore.

 

She slammed the bond shut, used her magic to reinforce it, felt his anger at her shutting him out. He was getting closer, she could feel him. She stepped on the gas.

 

A few minutes later she saw a motorcade ahead of her and then saw the flags indicating Findarion. Thank all the god above and below, she was safe. A fleet of identical limousines surrounded by a whirl of armed and armored elves on motorcycles pulled over to the far two lanes and the shoulder and gave the signal Findal had texted her. She pulled over, and was immediately surrounded by the royal guard—she recognized some of them. They ushered her to the central limousine, outfitted with security equivalent to or better than the president's, and once inside she felt safe. She grabbed a blanket from the console and wrapped herself in it, cuddling Ten as she began to cry.

 

Her phone rang after a moment—Findal.

 

“Hello, grandfather. I am ok.”

 

“Good. What has happened to so terrify you child?”

 

She poured out what she had seen from Kandomere and what he had seen from her, as well as what she perceived from his reactions and his conversation with her via the bond. There was silence, then Findal answered, “Kandomere is not a fool. He would not come to our house alone to speak to you if he planned to harm you. He is placing himself entirely at our disposal should we care to eliminate him. I understand your fear, child, it is hard to see such a long life and one so different from yours.”

 

“Findal, I don't know how to deal with this. I saw him kill so many innocent people without any remorse. But it was worse, it was like I was doing it. I could smell the blood, their fear. And he enjoyed the hunt, not the moment of killing, but the hunt and defeating them thrilled him. I don't know how to deal with that. I don't want to feel like that.”

 

Findal was silent, then said, “I do not know how to help you with this. All elves are hunters and killers, to some degree—it is our nature. It does seem he did this out of obligation to his house. I have heard rumors that his house hunted powerful magic users long before the MTF and this ridiculous ban on magic. It was never more than rumor, but it was why we required a blood oath from him that he would accept you with your magic.”

 

“What if he has an oath to his house?”

 

“If he swore an oath that would contradict the one we asked of him, he would have been unable to make his oath to us—the previous oath would have forbid it. Mara and I witnessed his oath—the blood sacrifice was accepted. The oath is real and binding.”

 

“He knows what I did, that I convinced the loa to give me Misterial's soul. That I invoked Dorthu.”

 

“Yes, we knew that would happen eventually via your bond, hence the oath. I think you should speak with him at the house, with Mara and I. We will evaluate his responses and his honesty. But, Khirad,” Findal paused thinking, “you are not obligated to go with him. We are concerned that you are sacrificing your happiness for the good of the house.”

 

“I'm not, at least I wasn't,” she paused, “I think I could love him.”

 

“And he loves you?”

 

“He says he does. I don't know.”

 

“We will help you. It may be clearer to us than to you. Will you accept our guidance in this?”

 

“Yes, please. I feel, I miss him but it isn't like human missing. It feels strange, like there is a pull to him.”

 

Findal was quiet, then said, “Mara will help you to understand the bond between you. And I will discuss with Kandomere his use of blood magic and his intentions.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Let us talk first in person.”

 

“Findal, what do you mean?”

 

Findal sighed, “The bond between you is made of blood and magic. It allows you to know where each other are, sense each others feelings, communicate without speaking, to be one person.”

 

“I know all this, from the reading. But when I left it felt like part of me was pulled back to him, like I was compelled to be with him. But I could resist it, and the bonds themselves are not hard to break.”

 

“Bonds?”

 

“Inside me, where my magic lives, there used to just be my magic but now it is like many thin strands joining him to me.”

 

“Ah, that is just a factor of, ah, your, ah,”

 

“I know. Our intimacy.”

 

“As you say. That is normal. To grow closer.”

 

“Then why do I hear concern in your voice?”

 

“You say you felt compelled. This concerns me.”

 

“More like pulled, like he yanked on the bonds between us to bring me back to him.”

 

“Ah, but you could still leave?”

 

“Yes. It just felt almost painful.”

 

“You are mated, the bond has been made, of course.”

 

“Findal, it's just not..”

 

“Human? No, child, it isn't.”

 

“But it was good, for a while. I mean, I felt safe with him until, until tonight.”

 

“We will talk, child. It will be alright. He is right behind your motorcade.”

 

“Ok, I love you grandfather.”

 

“And I love you, child.”

 


 

Galdor had hesitated to take her in the city with her trollhund. He did not doubt the hound would immediately attack him and he doubted his ability to take the hound and ensure that she did not escape. There were so many places to hide, so many scents, and too many people in the city. He planned to drive her off the road on the way to the halls, hopefully disorient her and the trollhund and make it an easier kill and capture. If she ran into the forest, it would not be hard to find her.

 

And then the motorcade appeared, the chance lost. Another would present itself—this mating was unstable, she would flee again. The trollhund was the main obstacle, that and her mate. Though the mate was a typical soft city elf—not much of a challenge there despite any training he may have received as a federal agent. He'd fought the MTF before—they were easy prey. And he wanted to kill this male too, very much, for enjoying what was his. As soon as he'd realized she was alive he'd understood why he could never seem to form a bond with any other, why she haunted his dreams seven years later. He'd thought it guilt, but it was his magic letting him know she was alive.

 

Baal intended to train her if she were the source of the magic, that was good. They would need to break her first and he would help with that. If she had no magic, she would simply be his. In either case, she would not leave him again. No other would touch her again. Perhaps his master, but no other. He could bear his master as they were joined and it would be part of the breaking they did together. But no other, and definitely not this blue haired fool.

 

He could kill him now, the fool. He was alone. Better to wait. Yes, her first and then he would come back for him. Toy with him a bit. Make sure he knew how much he had enjoyed his mate. Maybe he would simply enjoy watching him fall to mate sickness with want of her. That seemed just. He had ached for her for seven years, let this fool ache. Though his ache would kill him, drive him mad. He was her mate, and Galdor hated him for it.

 


 

Kandomere paced his quarters, the same he had been given last time, and waited for suitable clothing to be brought to him. He'd washed, aware that they could scent he and Khirad's intimacy on him. Never had he appeared to such disadvantage in public, but he could not resist the urge to chase after her as quickly as possible. He'd felt the bond compel him to pursue her as she attempted to separate from him, the urgency of it breathtaking. He'd felt her pull on it, trying to pull away from him. He would not allow that, he could not.

 

The door opened and a servant brought him formal robes and boots, in his house colors.

 

“It would be my pleasure to assist you my lord, should you wish it.”

 

Kandomere accepted the help in the interest of time, and then followed the servant to the library. It seemed that this was Findal's preferred family meeting place, and he supposed he felt comforted at some level to still be considered family. He entered and saw her dressed in robes that combined the colors of his house and hers, and saw she still had his ring on her hand—that helped settle him. No one was trying to separate them and she was acknowledging his claim on her.

 

“Please be seated, Lord Kandomere.” Findal indicated a seat next to Khirad on the settee. He sat, and took her hand. Could not resist touching her, he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it.

 

“My love.” It felt good to finally say it out loud. She looked at him and he felt her hesitation, her fear of him, her doubt. He knew what she had seen and felt, he had lived those years, but it was different seeing it though her eyes. He felt a fresh wave of guilt and shame for his actions. He was not that elf, had not been that elf for many years. He would never be that elf with her.

 

“Kandomere.” She seemed at a loss for words.

 

“Khirad, what you saw, yes, in my youth I did those things because I was convinced they were necessary. I was..”

 

“How could that be necessary?” She looked at him, her dark eyes searching.

 

“It wasn't, but I thought it was. My family taught me that any powerful magic user was a threat, that it could lead to the return of the Dark Lord. But eventually I had questions and then I realized they were wrong, even before the founding of the MTF. I am not that elf, my love, I swear it. Part of what I do for the MTF is to make amends for those days.”

 

“If we have children they will not be raised in that house. None of them.”

 

“Agreed. And as soon as I am head of house I plan to change things.”

 

“Your family, do they still hunt people like me?”

 

“They know my point of view, they know the law, but I suspect that some of them do but it is only a suspicion. I have found no evidence, no bodies, but you know...”

 

“Yes, I know how efficient you are. I saw it many times.” She shuddered, “I felt it, I felt what you felt. You enjoyed the hunt.”

 

Kandomere looked away, he always enjoyed the hunt. Every elf did.

 

Mara spoke, “You can not blame him for that, any more than you can blame him for his pointed ears. I have hunted and killed, as has my love,” Findal nodded, “and you have been with us on many hunts in the woods. You know this part of our nature well.”

 

She looked thoughtful, then said, “It's different to experience it as if I were one of you, and to see it happen over and over to someone like me, I was terrified and horrified, and trapped and yet part of me felt nothing more than a cold detachment and satisfaction at a job well done.”

 

“I eventually dreamed Findal hunting and killing those of my house. I felt his joy at killing my brother and his pleasure at feeding his body to his dogs. I woke in a killing rage. I would have killed him had he been next to me.” Mara glared at Findal, obviously still angry at the memory.

 

Findal explained, “When the dreams moved into the time our houses were at war, we slept in separate chambers for a time. It was a difficult time.”

 

Mara sighed, “Yes, it was. And a confusing one. I loved him, I hated him, I felt drawn to him in a way I felt for no other and yet I was repulsed by what I dreamed. It was a month before it was over, and I was not sure if I could forgive him what I saw.” She paused, “Though I had done the same to his house, I knew that. If he were guilty, certainly so was I.”

 

“I never wanted to kill her, but I was cold, sneering, I made it worse. I loved her and wanted her, but I did not accept her. I judged her as if my own hands were clean.”

 

Khirad said, “How did you survive it? I am horrified at his past and I felt his horror at my magic—I know that can't have been easy for you with the way you were raised.” she looked at him here with compassion and he felt surprise at her concern for him.

 

Kandomere replied gently, “I did not want a mate with powerful magic, but your magic is part of you and I want you. I love you. Somehow, you are still light. I don't know how you managed to use light magic to raise the dead, but you did. That makes it easier for me. And I regret my past, that you experienced it.”

 

“I didn't raise the dead. I asked the loa for help, for the gate to be opened and then I asked the Baron for her soul. He would not have given her back if it would have disrupted the pattern of the world.” She paused, looked guilty, “Invoking Dorthu was wrong though, I, I am sorry about all those deaths. I am not innocent.”

 

Kandomere had read the files on each of those deaths and found it hard to condemn her for them, especially given his own past. “They were all evil, genuinely evil Khirad. I do not blame you for their deaths. I am hardly in a position to judge you.”

 

“Will you report me to the MTF?”

 

“You work for the MTF. If they knew you had magic, they would move you to a new division, yes. But you would receive training and would be with others like you.” Like that fucking centaur. He was less than pleased with that idea. “I will not report you, but you should consider the potential benefits of the training.” He would leave it up to her.

 

“I'd hoped it was gone. When the MTF tested me and I came back human and non-magical, I hoped it was gone. I still thanked the loa, and I kept studying runes, but I hoped I had lost the power, that I had used it all up.”

 

That was some powerful denial, her blood sung with power. But he did find her denial and discomfort more palatable as opposed to her deliberately deceiving him. She had deceived herself as well as everyone else. He looked at Findal and Mara's faces--well, nearly everyone else. They saw her clearly and loved her. It was clear on their faces. The wood elves had no tolerance for darkness, they readily exiled any of their own that showed a tendency to it. His mate could not be dark. Powerful he could live with.

 

He moved closer to her, wrapped her in his arms and she let him, “I knew you had powerful magic the moment I tasted you. But you are light. I love you, Khirad, all of you. I will protect you against the dark or any that would harm or use you. I swore it. I will swear it again if you wish.”

 

“He speaks the truth, Khirad. And to answer your earlier question, I survived it because I wanted him more than I despised him. I knew I was as guilty as he and so that made it easier. And I had begun to love him. Plus, peace was a benefit to both our peoples, and they were glad of it.”

 

Findal added, “I knew I wanted her, and I learned to accept her as she was. It was not easy. We had many many fights. I learned I was just as guilty as her, though I had thought my own hands clean. Your own mating seems less difficult, to be honest. Do you have any more secrets from each other? It would be wise to simply reveal them and be done with it.”

 

He had one, and he would not reveal it in front of Mara and Findal. But he would do so tonight, with her alone.

 

Khirad spoke, “No, the magic is the only secret I had.” She looked at him expectantly.

 

“There is one thing, but I would speak with you privately if you would allow it.”

 

She turned to him, nodded, then took his other hand in hers. Findal and Mara stood, and Mara said, “We would be glad to have you here this weekend, if you please. We will see you for dinner.” Findal nodded, then they both left.

 

She looked at him expectantly and he was not sure how to begin, felt afraid of her reaction. Just get it over with.

 

“The Dark Lord came from my house, Aiderion.” He ducked his head, expecting her rejection, horror, tears.

 

She looked interested, but not judgmental, “Ok, but it's been two thousand years. And are you sure? I mean no one really knows if he was even an elf despite the graffiti.”

 

“I am quite certain. Our house records are detailed and accurate.”

 

“I read Aiderion opposed him, aggressively, more so that any other house. Literally no elf of Aiderion ever served him or the Inferni.”

 

“That is true, but he was born of our house. We bear his guilt.”

 

“Two thousand years of guilt? That seems extreme. He made his own choice to do evil, I don't see why your whole house is to blame for one person's actions.”

 

What an odd perspective? Did she really not see that their blood was tainted by the Dark Lord's evil? “Would you open to me, so I can see how you truly feel?” It was unbelievable to him that she was not horrified by this when she had been so horrified by the other. Humans were such odd beings.

 

She tentatively opened the bond, then opened it fully. He felt her puzzlement at the idea of judging him for the actions of such a far flung ancestor, especially since his house had so steadfastly opposed him. She really didn't seem to see it as any refection on him at all, as if the Dark Lord were not still a part of their house, part of their blood.

 

“No, I don't get it. Do you blame Findal for Galdor's attempt to murder me? Galdor is no longer part of the house, he was exiled. The Dark Lord is no longer part of your house. Even if you didn't exile him, he attacked and killed the members of his own house—he is not of the house, he declared it himself. This is basic law.”

 

“Yes, but his dark blood is still in me. He was a royal son.”

 

“That's not how genetics works, even with magic. Magic is sometimes passed down, but light or dark is a choice. I had a choice, and chose my family over that knowledge. I could feel it's pull but I chose the light because I didn't like the way reading about the dark made me feel and Findal made it clear I would be exiled if I continued to study it. I chose the light.”

 

Kandomere remembered that memory from the time she had been obsessed with protecting herself and acquiring the power to do so. Even then, she had chosen the light. It was a choice. He had always suspected it was, but feeling it from her made it clear that, at least for humans, they chose.

“My house taught me that all powerful magic was untrustworthy, that it could turn dark, and that dark magic users could use the death of light users to power their spells and creations. I thought I was fighting the dark, and the return of the Dark Lord. But I now know that the light is easier to kill, not weaker but not focused on killing and hurting and so easier to kill.” He looked up at her, “I think we made it easier for the dark to flourish without the light. I stopped killing light magic users thirty years before the MTF was founded and started hiding them from my house. They formed part of the foundation of the MTF and were the group that fought the dark at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

 

He paused, and forced himself to continue. This next part was shameful to him, “My house exiled me when they found out what I did, but rescinded it when it became obvious that my actions prevented the rebirth of the Dark Lord.” He looked at her, her face showed nothing but compassion, “The two cities were destroyed by wands as they invoked the Dark Lord, using all those deaths to power the spell to resurrect him. Had we not have been able to overcome at the third city, he would have been reborn. Three wands, three powerful dark Brights, that is all it would take. My house grudgingly honored me, but I am still regarded with suspicion by some.”

 

She wrapped him in her arms and he laid his head on her shoulder, thankful for her compassion. He no longer felt her fear, just her anger at his house and her empathy for him. She stroked his hair gently, and he heard her say, “I love you, Kandomere.”

 

Chapter Text

Khirad's heart broke for him. His family had abused him horribly, treated him like a tool for their use in some stupid attempt to get rid of some imaginary fucking guilt and even his mother had been too weak to do anything more than make it slightly less awful. It was a miracle he was this kind, gentle, moral male. In that moment, she knew she loved him. He was like her, had hurt like her, he understood. His had been worse—at least she had Findal and Mara and Misterial, who loved her unconditionally. He had his mother, but she was so under the thumb of his father and his father was a cold cruel elf, more concerned with family honor and some stupid crusade than his amazing son.

 

She would love him, she loved him, despite his past, or even because of it—he had made the choice to turn from the darkness of his house to the light. He was good, and he'd chosen to be good. How had he learned to be anything other than cold, detached, and vicious in that awful house? He was so strong. Wrapping her arms around him she stroked his hair, “I love you, Kandomere.” It was a promise, a commitment. She loved him like she did Misterial, like Findal, like Mara. Something clicked into place in her, like a key in a lock, and she felt a rush of power at accepting him completely. He was hers.

 

He leaned back to look at her, then cupped her cheek and kissed her gently, carefully, as if she were something easily broken and fragile. Breaking the kiss, he pulled her close and murmured, “I love you, only you, I love you, little mate.”

 

Khirad wrapped her arms around him and said, “I love you too. I was so afraid of you and then I realized I was afraid of you hating me, of you seeing me like you saw those others. I couldn't bear it if you felt nothing for me or hated me for my magic. I'm sorry I ran. I'm, I just didn't know what to do and...it's what I do when I am overwhelmed or afraid.” She stroked his face, “I'm not as brave as you, I'd never make a field agent.”

 

He smiled and said, “We will have to agree to disagree on your bravery. I would not have the courage to set foot in the Darklands, that is certain. And you didn't run, you went to your trusted elders for advice, good advice I think. I would never keep you from your family.” He looked away as if ashamed, then steeled himself and looked back at her, “I did not tell you of my past or the history of my house because I feared losing you. I hoped to convince you to love me, to see me as I am now before you saw me as I was.” He ran his fingers through her hair, “You are so precious to me that I think I would do anything to have you with me willingly.”

 

“I love you, truly. I only held back because I feared what you would do when you saw my magic. Findal and Mara told me to tell no one, so I didn't know if I could tell you. I thought I should, but then I wasn't sure and things were so happy I didn't want to ruin it. I just ignored it and hoped it would be ok.”

 

Kandomere pulled her onto his lap and held her, “I don't care about your magic, only that you can control it and that you will not be hurt by it. Since you made it through the academy and have worked for the MTF for two years completely undetected, it seems likely that you have developed your own ways to manage and remain unseen. I am curious as to how, and deeply curious about what I saw concerning the loa, but that is a discussion for another day.”

 

Khirad laughed, and turned to look at him, “Are you going to interrogate me regarding my unauthorized use of magic, agent?”

 

He looked back at her seriously, “No, not like that. Never. But I would like you to consider sharing what you know with me. I can relay it as an anonymous tip or the result of my own study to our runemasters. You opened the Gate, and you did it as light magic. I do not comprehend how such a thing was possible as light or dark magic given the immense power needed to open the Gate. Your sacrifice should not have been enough.”

 

“You really aren't angry about my magic, are you?”

 

“No. I, it is uncomfortable, but I am more curious than anything else,” he sounded surprised, “I could feel your intentions, and the quality of the magic, it was like I was doing it myself. I know it was light and done out of desperate love and grief.”

 

Khirad smiled. It would be really nice to have someone she could talk magic with that understood something about it. “Ok, it takes a ton of power to force the Gate—that's what every dark practitioner tries. Papa Legba will hold the door against them, in part because he dislikes the Inferni, really almost all elves, for their disdain and treatment of humans and all the loa hate the Dark Lord—they say he is a dick, that he is no fun at all. So they deliberately work against him and oppose him and his followers out of spite. But Papa Legba can open the gate to the spirit world any time he pleases. He does it often for his worshipers, it's really not a big deal.”

 

“It's not a big deal to open the Gate to the Darklands?” Kandomere's voice dripped with amused sarcasm. And the idea of the Dark Lord being trapped in the Darklands by human gods because he was unpopular was hilarious, but simply impossible to believe.

 

“It's not like that, not exactly. Papa Legba opens the gate to the spirit world but Baron Samedi is the lord of the dead. He controls the Gate to the Darklands, or is one of the gods who controls the Darklands. I refuse to read about the dark gods because knowledge of them, the little I read began to turn me dark. No thanks, I don't need that. But the Baron is light and he is a loa of humans and I am human so I called on him as my help.” She paused, “It's hard to explain, it's like I could feel what to do in that moment, how to find the way if I were bold and brave and desperate enough. I will write it down for you and try to explain as best I can. But I didn't open the Gate, I just asked and they were willing. It doesn't take much power to ask.”

 

He snorted in amusement, “I think you are downplaying your own power, or you don't yet realize it, but I would appreciate your insight nonetheless.”

 

“I don't want it. All I've ever wanted was to be was human, to have an ordinary human life.”

 

He bent his head and kissed her neck, “Is this life so bad, my love?”

 

She felt his love and concern for her through their bond, her own love for him, and said, “No, no it isn't.” She turned her head to look at him and said with feeling, “Honestly, it's been pretty fucking great.”

 

He laughed, then said seductively, “At least the fucking part?”

 

Khirad felt herself blush and said seriously, “Yes, but not just that.” She traced his eyebrow, “You are gentle,” then the outline of his lips, “careful with me,” the edge of his jaw, “you consider what I want, are respectful,” the bridge of his nose, “it's all of you, all of you is great.” She kissed his lips and tangled her hands in his hair as she moved to straddle him.

 

He set his hands on her hips and said, “I do not wish to outrage your house by taking you in their library.”

 

She arched a brow and said, “Are you so sure I mean to have you?”

 

Breathing in her scent, he smirked and said, “Yes.”

 

“That's cheating. An unfair advantage!”

 

With a laugh he shifted her into his arms and stood. “I am an unfair unprincipled elf where you are concerned. I will use all of my many tricks to have you.” He paused and leaned in to kiss her neck, “Repeatedly.”

 

“And I suppose you think I will just let you bridal carry me to my room? Is that it?”

 

“I don't see how you can stop me. I am far stronger than you.” He paused and kissed her aggressively, one arm under her knees, the other pulling her up to him, “I'm not giving you a choice, I'm taking you in your bed tonight, over and over. If you're very very good I might let you out for dinner.”

 

Oh, god, that was hot. She was surprised and how much she enjoyed his strength, his dominance. But also the play of it—it was fun.

 

“Would you let me out for a run?” She put her arms around his neck and licked the edge of his ear, enjoyed feeling him shiver, “You could try to catch me. Hunt me. Take me in my own woods.”

 

He sounded breathless, “Yes, a run. A short one. I will catch you easily, little mate.”

 

She laughed, “I know these woods like the back of my hand. You really won't. But I bet you'll enjoy trying.” She kissed him, “I'll take mercy, eventually.”

 

He snorted. “I think you underestimate my experience and motivation. It will be a short run, and I will be the one to show mercy, eventually.”

 

“We'll see.”

 

“Indeed we will.”

 

They reached her suite and he set her down and opened the door only to sweep her back up and carry her through and up the stairs laughing.

 

He laid her on the bed and then laid next to her, ran his fingers through her hair and just looked at her. She felt strangely shy, as if this were their wedding night or the first time they had been in bed together. In a way, it was new. It would be the first time she knew she could truly trust him, that she knew she loved him. The bond was completely open between them and she felt his happiness mingling with her own.

 

She wanted him, wanted to make love to him, to please him. Sitting up, she pulled her robe over her head and then slid off the bed to fold it and place it over a chair. He watched her, removed his own robe and underwear, placed his robe with hers over the same chair. Naked, already beautifully hard, he unhooked her bra and removed it then slid her underwear down her hips for her to step out of them. His eyes had paled to silver fire, the pupils huge, he looked reverent and starving for her, so sexy she could hardly bear it as he ran his hands up her body as he stood.

 

Placing her arms around his neck, she kissed him. His hard cock rubbed against her belly, and she shivered in pleasure. “I love you, Kandomere.”

 

He picked her up and gently laid her on the bed then settled himself between her knees, kissed up her inner thigh, nipped at her. She wanted him like that, but not yet. Sitting up, she pushed him onto his back and smirked down at him, “Me first.”

 

His eyebrows raised and he laid back, put his arms behind his head and smirked up at her, “Yes, mate.”

 

She gently scratched her nails down his chest, enjoyed watching the muscles contract as she went lower, “Obedient. I like it.”

 

“Hardly. But certainly willing.” He replied with a smile.

 

She stroked the skin around where he lay against his belly, hard and clearly aching for her, “You don't plan to obey? What a shame.”

 

He moved so fast, was on her with her arms held above her head, smirking down at her, “No, I don't plan to obey. What do you plan to do about it?”

 

She smiled back up. “Nothing, I'll do nothing. But I could do so much.”

 

“Could you?” His voice sounded hungry, intrigued.

 

“Yes. I've been reading up.”

 

“I do love a well-read female.”

 

She relaxed back against the pillows, “Obey and I'll show you what I've learned, maybe teach you a few new tricks.”

 

“You seriously think you can surprise me?”

 

“With our bond? Oh, yes. I can feel what you feel, exactly what you want and how you want it. I can give it to you, or withhold it, as I please. But I'll be in complete control of your pleasure like no one else has ever been. If you obey.”

 


 

Kandomere considered her extremely tempting offer, tightened his hands around her wrists and growled down at her baring his teeth, “I can simply take what I want.” Of course he was playing, but she knew that—he scented not even a wisp of fear.

 

She laughed delightedly, and wriggled under him, “If you want.”

 

He smiled back, then flipped over letting her be on top. “Fine. I will obey.” He sneered obey to indicate his challenge to her dominance. She grabbed his wrists, pinned his arms over his head and looked down at him, her dark fragrant hair falling around his face. Smiling, she said, “You'll beg before I'm over.” Then she bent and bit his bottom lip, sucked on it and sat back to swivel her hips on him as she stroked herself with one hand and stroked the head of his cock with the other, her wetness on his shaft.

 

“Fuck!” That was so hot, so good, he could hardly think. He probably would beg, fuck it.

 

She cupped one of breasts, pushed it up then angled her head and bit the top curve of it, gripped him hard right as she did it, looked him in the eyes. He started panting, my god, he would not move a muscle to stop this show.

 

God, she'd sucked a red mark on to it, he could see where she'd marked herself. That was so fucking hot, his innocent little human, his filthy little human.

 

“The other one, bite the other one. Do it.” He'd almost said please.

 

She leaned over him, placed her hands on either side of his head so her breasts were right fucking there, perfect. “How badly do you want me to do that?” Bent her head down, licked the edge of his ear then sucked on the sensitive tip, nipped it with her blunt little teeth.

 

“Badly, so much.”

 

“Say please.” A soft breath against his ear, then a nip at his ear lobe.

 

“No.”

 

She laughed and sat back, cupped her other breast and licked the top curve, kissed it and smirked. “Are you sure you don't want to see that?”

 

Fuck yes, he wanted to see that. “I do.”

 

“You know what you need to do.”

 

It was impossible to think with her wet and rubbing on him, he was hard as a rock but it was just enough to keep him at the edge and not nearly enough to take him over. Gods, this was so good.

 

“I will buy you whatever you want, anything.”

 

She laughed again, and guided him inside her. Fuck, she was tight. Normally he loosened her a little first for her comfort but she just pushed down on him and moaned, “Oh, that is such a good hurt. Mnnn...I like that. I don't want anything else but this—to hear you beg me.”

 

He threw his head back and moaned, couldn't stop himself. So wet, hot, tight but slow, slow and he wanted her to go faster. He gripped her hips and began thrusting inside her and she wagged her finger at him, “Naughty elf, it's not your turn.” Then she dragged her nails down his chest and said, “Stop or I'll stop.” Lines of beautiful pain down his chest, he arched into her.

 

“Fuck me! You are cruel, little mate.” So perfectly cruel, gods. He stopped, but so did she, just sitting on his cock waiting.

 

“What?”

 

“Say. It.”

 

He just looked at her with his eyebrows raised. What would she do?

 

She began to move on him, swivel her hips as she looked down at him, went at the speed he wanted until he began to get close, then she stopped, waited, and then started again. Brought him right to the ragged edge, smirked and slid completely off him and grasped him tightly at the base and licked around the head of his cock, torture. He watched as she sucked the head, swallowed him, and back up, her pretty red mouth stretched around him.

 

It was an extra level of erotic to see himself in her mouth, to feel those blunt teeth lightly brush him. Elves used a special plastic appliance to engage in this pleasure, but with her, oh, it was all her. She covered her teeth with her lips and began suck him perfectly, her hand holding him at just the right pressure, hitting every perfect spot and he realized she could feel what he felt through their bond. She was pleasuring him and herself at the same time. He groaned at that idea, suddenly so close, and she stopped again, smirked at him and raised her eyebrows.

 

“Gods, please! I have said it!”

 

Lightly stroking him, she purred, “Say it again.”

 

“Please, please, my love.

 

Laughing, she straddled him and began riding him, panting as she got closer herself. He felt what she felt, how he stretched her, the bump of himself inside her and her so tight and wet, she was right, he'd never had anything like this, anything so good. This was well worth a little begging.

 

He sat up, gripping her hips and driving into her, she moaned and said, “Yes, yes, please, please,” then angled her neck for him to bite her. She was begging for his bite, he realized, and he lost control like she wanted him to, clasped her to his chest and bit her neck, felt her bite his shoulder.

 

They came, and he felt both their orgasms, her magic, her taste, himself in her mouth—it was utterly overwhelming. So much pleasure and acceptance. She knew him, knew him, and thought him an honorable man, trusted him, loved him. He would never never let her go, never give her reason to leave.

 

The bond was wide open, and perhaps because neither fought it, or because they had begun to grow more accustomed to it, they were both still aware of each other physically this time. It was no less pleasurable, but he was not lost to her memories this time and she did not seem to be either.

 

She was kissing his shoulder now, running her fingers through his hair and holding him. He licked her neck, sucked at the wound and felt her pleasure at the minor pain. It was a small wound, he hadn't torn her, more just a bite. Deeper than he preferred to leave, but beautiful against her pale neck. He placed his hand over it and healed it a little but left the bruised outline. He noticed his other mark, the one she requested, had already faded completely—that was odd. She was an amazingly fast healer for a human.

 

Good. He was often rougher with her than he had been with other humans, but she seemed to love it and he was incapable of holding back when she took such pleasure in breaking his control. He never wanted to hurt her, but he was far stronger than any human and he worried every time he came back to himself that this would be the time he really hurt her.

 

Certainly this time had been fine. He felt the aftershocks of her orgasm still rolling through her as she looked up at him, her eyes half-lidded and so obviously satisfied. He smiled at her, stroked her back, and then laid them down facing each other. She snuggled into him and said, “It's morning, but how about we nap for a while? I just want to hold you, my love.”

 

Please, my love.” He said wryly.

 

She laughed and kissed him, “I like this obedient elf.”

 

“Later, I will chase and catch you. I will be far from obedient.”

 

“Promises, promises. As if you could catch me.”

 

He growled and pulled her close, “I will catch you and fuck you on your own lands, fuck you against a tree like a savage.”

 

She smiled, kissed him and said, “That would be great. If you can catch me.”

 

He kissed her back, “It will be great. And I will.”

 

Chapter Text


She woke before him, felt the warmth of his breath against her shoulder and his arms around her. Ten was at her feet, sprawled out and peaceful. Their happy little family. With a sigh, she tried to slide out from his arms but he tightened them around her with a sleepily growled, “Mine, my love,” in Ovusi. Even his sleepy endearments were possessive.

“I'm hungry, Kandomere.”

He kissed her neck and nipped at her shoulder, cupped her breasts. “As am I, Khirad.”

“No, you have to catch me first.”

A snort. “I already have you in my arms now. You think I will let you go so easily?”

“Dinner, then, assuming you can catch me, you can have anything you want.”

A pause. He turned her on her back to look down at her, his pale eyes hungry and his smile almost shark-like, predatory. “Anything? Be careful, my love—anything can be so very many things.”

She smiled up at him, and palmed him, stroking him up and down languidly. “Anything, anything at all.”

He laughed and scooped her up, and headed down the stairs. They went into the bathing room and he stepped into the water and grasped her to him. “Do you really want to wait?”

Hard and ready, he pressed against her back. No, she didn't. Not really. But the idea of him starting the race frustrated and hungry certainly appealed. She turned and faced him, smirked up at him and said, “I do. Dinner, then a run. I want to talk to Misterial before dinner and there won't be time for both.” She kissed him and took him in hand to stroke him, “Plus, I like the idea of you chasing me hungry and frustrated, of you taking anything you want like a savage.”

He growled and pulled her to him, “I want to take you like a savage now. And later. I want you all the time, I'm always hungry for you. Always.” Kissing down her neck he stroked her clit and bit her shoulder just hard enough to make her gasp. Heat pooled in her belly and she whimpered for him. “Yes, say yes and I'll fuck you fast and hard, I'll make it quick and so very good.” He turned her around so she faced the wall of the pool, cupping her breasts and kissing the nape of her neck.

“Yes.”

With a moan he slid inside her and set a hard rough pace, stroking her clit in rhythm—he could feel exactly what she needed through their bond and in minutes she was panting through her first orgasm, moaning, “Yes, yes, please, please, please, please,” in time to his strokes.

He turned her and looked into her eyes, pushed back inside her with a dark hungry smile as he held her in his arms. Rough, he was fucking her hard toward her second orgasm and pulled her to him to kiss her savagely. He was getting close himself, and then they came together and he bit her low on her shoulder. Hard enough to mark, but not to break the skin, and in an area a shirt would hide. Perfect.

After, he kissed her lovingly, gently, and whispered, “My love, my perfect love, I'll never stop wanting you, and tonight you will give me anything, everything.”

She kissed him back and then whispered in his ear, “If you catch me, my beloved mate.”

Laughing, he grabbed the shampoo and started bathing her, and she the same for him. It was probably best they not arrive for dinner reeking of desire for each other and definitely better they not arrive reeking of sex.

They bathed quickly and she dressed for dinner casually, a simple dress in the colors of his house. A pair of dark slacks and a sweater in his house colors were provided him—this house had truly perfect hospitality.

“I'll let the steward know we will need running apparel for tonight,” she said with a smirk.

He smiled back, then pulled her in for a kiss. She loved how happy he looked, and how easy and peaceful they felt together.

“I hope you and Misterial find peace between you.”

Khirad kissed him, then said, “We will—this sure isn't our first fight and probably won't be the last.”

With that, she left to go find Mist.

“Where are you?” she texted.

“Library.”

“K. See you in a bit.”

“K.”

She walked to the library and felt nervous of the conversation. Mist had been right about Kandomere, but it had been so damned manipulative. Still, she better understood why she did what she did after bonding with Kandomere, and that Mist really thought she was doing what was in Khirad's best interest. She'd been so angry and now she just wasn't. She missed Mist, and wanted to tell her all the kinds of details about Kandomere she would only tell Mist, wanted to share her happiness with her sister.

Opening the door, she saw Misterial standing, looking nervous, and then they were both hugging and apologizing at the same time.

“You were right. He really is the best...”

“I should have let you make your own decision...”

“I missed you so much!”

“Me too, I love you.”

“I love you too!”

They hugged and then it was somehow fine, just like when they were kids and they had a knock down drag out fight and then, a little later, they were playing together again as if nothing happened. For the next hour, they gossiped about mated life and Misterial's latest conquests and then it was time for dinner.

This was a simple family dinner, not a formal affair, and it went better than she expected honestly. Everyone smiled to see her and Mist come in together and the talk was happy and free. She even saw Kandomere and Findal talking willingly and they occasionally smiled—that was a vast improvement. Her family seemed to like and accept him, and she had hope they would grow to love him as she did. It would be good for him to experience being loved and accepted as part of a family, though it would take time of course for like to become love.

She genuinely dreaded meeting his family, though she was sure she would have to at some point. His mother was ok, but it was hard for her to respect a female that allowed her son to be so abused. Though maybe her own house had been a cold and brutal place as well. Findarion and Belarion were both merry within the house, brutal only to outsiders, but maybe they were the exception and Kandomere's house was more the norm? She had just assumed that her house was like other houses and had not known they varied so much until her bond with Kandomere.

She frankly disliked his father, but would attempt to be cordial. Try hard, as long as he was not abusive to Kandomere. She would not allow her mate to be mistreated in front of her, no way. They would have to talk before he took her to that awful place, and if he never did that would suit her just fine. They would especially have to set ground rules for any visits that would involve their future children—she would not risk leaving them in that house overnight in the off chance they had magic and it manifested there.

That was a trouble for another day—today was perfect and she would not spoil it with what ifs. Dinner was winding down, the sun setting and anticipation pooled low in her abdomen. She saw Kandomere glance at her and knew he was thinking the same. She leaned over to Mist and said, “Hey, would you keep Ten for tonight? Kandomere and I are going for a run in the woods.”

Misterial rolled her eyes and said, “Is that what you call it?”

“I'm going to run. If he can catch me maybe it will be more than running, but that's a big if,” she said with a smirk.

“You'll let him catch you.”

“Eventually.”

Misterial laughed and said, “Sure, I'll keep her out of the way. She probably wouldn't misinterpret his hunting you but better safe than Kandomere with a missing arm.”

“Your bite wasn't that bad and you were banging my head on the ground. It hardly even broke the skin. I just don't want him bitten at all.”

“It was just a warning bite. She knew who I was and just wanted me to back off. She's not as familiar with him.”

“True. Thanks for watching her.”

“Anytime.”

Findal and Mara excused themselves and retired for the evening, as did Misterial taking Ten with her. It was just her and Kandomere, and with a smirk she said, “Ready for a run?”

“Always,” he replied with a smirk of his own.

They returned to their rooms, changed into running clothes, his in the colors of his house and hers in the colors of Findarion this time—a clear indication this was a competition and a challenge to his dominance.

“I'll strip you of those and drag you back naked,” he growled.

“Have to catch me first, old man.”

“I am neither old nor a man. Naked and marked.”

“We'll see who comes back naked and marked.”

He laughed and tried to grab her but she danced out of his reach and headed for the door, “Nope. You have to win this prize. No freebies.”

“I doubt it will be much challenge.” His voice indicated that he really did doubt it would be a challenge. Oh, pride, how useful a weapon you are, Khirad thought.

“Really? Then give me a 20 minute head start.”

“Why would I do that?”

“You said it was no challenge and you like a challenge, you like the hunt. A head start might make it more of a challenge, a hunt, and thus more pleasurable for you.”

He considered, then nodded. “20 minutes, and then you'll be mine in the next 20, if that.”

She smiled, then said, “I'm sure I will.”

He nodded, they were at the front doors and as they headed down the front steps he said, “Starting now.”

She shut the bond hard, truly snapping it shut as tight as she could get it. She felt him do the same and was suddenly a little sad at being separated from him. Temporary, just for this game. She took off into the woods, fast, all out. Kandomere would regret the head start he gave her. He was underestimating both her own cunning, and the cunning of the wood-elves—did he think they didn't have methods to mask their scent from other elves' keen senses? She set a hard pace and after ten minutes she swung into one of her hidey holes and grabbed the unguent she kept hidden there. It was distilled essence of the local plant life and imbued with magic as well—her scent would disappear to blend in with the scent of the forest. Basically, she would disappear to an outsider and even another wood-elf would have to work quite hard to find her. She'd had plenty of experience dodging Findal's guards in her youth, Kandomere should be a piece of cake.

Oh, she'd eventually let him catch her, but she'd make sure he knew she was allowing him to catch her. Wait until he was frustrated and a little angry—that sounded frankly exciting. She smirked to herself and swung out of her hiding place and stood for a second. She thought she heard something. Kandomere already? No, probably just a squirrel.

A large hand closed over her mouth and nose while an arm gripped her from behind, and large body pressed to hers. She reflexively breathed in deeply in surprise, a chemical scent, and then she was just gone.

 



After an hour, he was annoyed but impressed. If she was in the wood, he could not discern her or her passage at all. He'd followed her trail to a tree and found some fucking cream that clearly masked her scent. Even then, he should have been able to track her based on small tells of her passage but it was as if she'd just disappeared from that spot. After another thirty minutes, he cautiously opened the bond but she still had it locked tight—he felt nothing from her, literally not one hint of her as if she were gone. Another thirty minutes and he was angry, too angry to yield but angry enough to plot intricate revenge involving hours of bringing her to the brink of orgasm then backing off at the last second. Fucking days of it. After another hour he realized something had to be wrong, this was not like her. Tease, yes, but never mean. He called out for her and when she did not answer panic filled him. He called Findarion as he raced through the forest, calling her name.

“Yes?” Findal's voice answered.

“Khirad is missing. We were running in the woods...”

He heard Findal sigh. “You have offended her again? Truly, Kandomere, your reputation would indicate more skill with females than I have observed so far.”

“I did not. We were playing a game, her fleeing and my chasing and it has been three hours. Something is wrong.”

There was a pause, “Perhaps. We will search.”

Kandomere ran towards the house, calling her name the entire time. No answer. He met Findal, Mara, and Misterial and a group of rangers on horseback, Ten and a pack of hounds. The trollhund greeted him with joy then seemed to sense his mood and noticed the absence of her mistress.

“Kandomere, your horse.” Findal gave him the reins and Kandomere swung up into the saddle.

Ten scented the air and took off, followed by the hounds and they followed after as well. She reached the tree where Kandomere had lost her and growled viciously, the hackles on her back raising. An enemy, one she recognized by scent--that would narrow the field considerably. She slowed and slipped through a thin gap too narrow for horses. They dismounted and followed, tracking the path of the hounds. The path, if path it was, wound through the woods and ended at a shallow stream. There they saw the tracks of an ATV leading away through a field.

Findal pulled out a satellite phone and contacted the house. Kandomere pulled out his own satphone and contacted Montehugh—he would marshal the resources of the MTF as well.

“Hey, Kandomere, how's mated life treating...”

“She has been taken. I know not by whom. From this location not more than,” he looked at his phone, “four hours and 42 minutes ago, likely less than that.” Montehugh could get his location from the satellite.

“The forest? Does Findal know?”

“Yes, yes. All resources, Montehugh.”

“Got it, boss. On it. Want me to send a chopper out for you?”

“No, I will coordinate with the house on the ground.”

Findal's rangers had spread out and began a search pattern looking for any clues to who might have taken her. If he had thought Findal looked murderous before, that was because he had not seen this face, though doubtless his own face reflected Findal's. He could still sense nothing from her through the bond. A horror arose in him—could she be dead? Even sleeping he sensed something from her normally. Would he know if she were dead? Surely he would. Mara saw his face and he saw fear fill her eyes.

“It can not be so, it can not!” She cried.

Findal turned at her cry and he saw him pale as well, “Is she dead, do you sense her death?”

“No, I feel nothing from her. It is like there is no one there but the bond is open fully.”

Both Mara and Findal visibly relaxed—Misterial had accompanied the rangers.

“Thank the gods. She is either unconscious or they have fitted her with a device to repress magic. The bond is magic, so it would repress it too. If she were dead, you would feel the tearing within yourself, a pain like nothing you have ever felt.” Mara said.

“No, there is no pain, there is nothing.”

“In this case, nothing is good.” Findal placed his hand on Kandomere's shoulder and looked grieved, “We will get her back, alive, and we will kill those who took her, those who planned it, any who had a part in this.”

“Slowly,” added Mara with a snarl.

Kandomere realized to his surprise that neither blamed him for her loss, that he was family now. He nodded, deeply touched, and said, “I have marshaled the resources of the MTF as well.”

“Well done.” Findal said, and Kandomere felt such relief. He blamed himself, he should have protected her, have...

“You are not to blame, Kandomere. Our lands are well guarded, our people well trained. The rangers have found the bodies of five guards killed before they could give alarm. This was a person or persons highly skilled and intimately familiar with our land. Most likely an exiled ranger led them and there are few of those. We will begin there.” Mara's voice was calm but underneath she was furious.

“Galdor.” Kandomere spat his name, remembering his past actions and Ten's reaction to the scent.

“He is dead. The one I sent for him...” Findal trailed off, eyes narrowing.

“Who, who did you send mate?”

“Luthienal”

“His former lover? None hated him more.”

“I thought as well but now...”

Findal picked up the phone and Kandomere heard him call and have this Luthienal restrained.

“Let us repair to the halls.” He looked to Kandomere, “You may use our halls as a base for the MTF, it is your home now as much as hers. We ask only you overlook our magic.”

“Thank you, I am honored and will instruct all to see no magic.”

They headed back to the house, riding fast. He heard the sound of helicopters and knew that if she were anywhere in the woods, she would be found.

 



Galdor heard the helicopters in the distance and growled in frustration. He had hoped to have some time just with her before he delivered her to Baal. She was assuredly the source of the magic—he had tasted her and as soon her her blood hit his tongue he knew—powerful, powerful magic--how had he never sensed it before?--and something more, some strangeness that was also somehow familiar. He licked his lips, enjoying the lingering taste of her sweet blood, sweeter than he had even imagined. The mating mark on her shoulder had so offended him he'd not been able to restrain himself and he had bit her savagely, deliciously, doing what he should have done so long ago—marked her as his pet. Instead, he had stupidly allowed his temper to get the best of him instead of planning how he would have her.

Once he realized she was alive, it was only a matter of time and opportunity. Now, he had her tied to the rear seat, unconscious and his. The portal was mere minutes away, this was all but done, all but certain. He gunned the ATV and closed the distance, heard a helicopter closing and saw the portal shimmer in the distance. Close, so close, and a straight shot across a meadow to it. He cast a cloaking spell, and smirked as the helicopter roared over them and saw nothing. He glanced up, the MTF. Fools. Another sorcerer would have seen the faint shimmer of the portal and sensed his spell.

He pulled up and slung her into his arms, set his mouth on the leaking wound of her shoulder and sucked again, enjoying the idea of her waking with his mouth on her and his cock in her, fucking her hard like he had dreamt of for so many years, calling her name as he spent his seed in others. Perhaps he might even share her with Baal, his little pet awakening to begin her breaking immediately. No doubt it would be the little prude's first time to be shared, and he found the idea of her sweet mouth wrapped around Baal's thrusting cock, her choking and struggling to escape them both as he fucked her hard from behind deeply pleasing. They had enjoyed a woman together more than once in the beginning of his training, though Baal preferred his games to have at least the pretense of being consensual, though given the sheer amount of mind games he played with his pets that was dubious. He was not so picky in the ways he harvested his pain, especially if they reminded him of Khirad.

He stepped through the portal feeling a thrill of anticipation at all the games they would play, the games he would see her participate in, until she was docile and obedient. He hoped her breaking took a long long time. Perhaps he would not share her, or even take her at all this eve. Perhaps he would take his time and span out his pleasure, satisfy himself with only his teeth in her tonight, his bites covering her as she pleaded. Oh, the fantasies he'd had, years of them, and now she was finally his.

Chapter Text

After riding back to the house, Kandomere followed Mara and Findal through the halls and down into the dungeons. Actual honest to goodness dungeons, though clean, lighted, and spacious with good air. If a dungeon could ever be said to be nice, these were nice. All but one of the ten cells were empty. The last held a sitting female elf and she was faced by three other elves on the other side of the bars. The elves stood as they approached, including the female, and she appeared confused and deeply troubled. If she were acting, she was quite good at it.

 

Findal spoke, “Galdor is alive.”

 

“My lord, he is not. I killed him myself. I swear it.” Luthienal's voice had the sound of truth.

 

“My lord, she thinks she speaks the truth.” One of the elves, a seer, they were all seers he realized as he looked more closely—they all had the strange eyes associated with their particular magic.

 

“Thinks? Explain and be quick and clear.” Findal snapped. Kandomere could understand the frustration. Seers were often difficult to understand, but this should be easier as it involved the truth about the past with a live witness they could look into.

 

“She killed him, but only in the world he created in her mind. Galdor lives, and he is a power of his own though he is servant not master.”

 

“A Bright? Fucked by orcs! Who does he serve?”

 

“He serves the one who spoiled our lands.”

 

Kandomere felt suddenly cold, frozen with fear. The Inferni had her. They needed Brights to create wands, and power. Powerful deaths. She was powerful.

 

“Spoiled them how? Be clear.” Findal was smart to press them. Perhaps it was not the Inferni. Perhaps Galdor's master had committed some other actions to spoil their lands than the recent attempted wand.

 

“The one who seeks to open the Gate. He who defiled this very forest in the near time.”

 

Inferni. She was taken by the Inferni. This was almost certainly the result of her connection to him. It seemed too coincidental for her to be taken right after their mating. The Inferni could not know of her magic so their only purpose in capturing her would be to punish him. This was his fault, he had done this by all but labeling her his mate with a bright flashing fluorescent sign. He prayed to all the gods that they did not discover her power, then thought it might be better if they did as it might give him time to find her.

 

Findal stalked the chambers, “We knew he had some small power, perhaps a bit more than the average ranger but nothing out of the ordinary. He is a Bright, and had enough training to deceive a ranger. One wonders where he got this training.”

 

“He left asleep. His master woke him. Luthienal found him awake.”

 

Findal looked to Luthienal and said, “Had I known he was a Bright, I would have given you protection and sent trained Brights with you. You are not to blame.” He turned to the guards in the shadows, “Release her, and escort her to the medical wing. She is to be closely monitored and supported.”

 

Findal and Mara approached Luthienal and laid their hands on her. Mara spoke, “We regret this invasion of your mind, both his and ours, and will see you well. You are faultless in this.”

 

Luthienal's eyes filled with tears, “I do not deserve to live. He was my responsibility. I have failed the house, myself, my fellow rangers. Five died because of me. The second-born is taken because of me. I deserve the right to pay with my blood.”

 

Findal's sharp voice rang out, “You would waste the blood of Findarion? No. Spend it on our enemies, we will need you in the coming days.”

 

She stood straighter, and said, “Yes, my king. I will serve.”

 

The guards escorted her out of the dungeons and Findal and Mara turned back to the seers.

 

“Do you see her?”

 

“We see many hers, the future is thousands involving her, she is so many we can not tell you which she will be.”

 

With a sigh, Findal rephrased, “Can you see where she is, any physical details about her or her whereabouts?”

 

“She is not here. When she was here, he bit her bloody and deep. He is broken glass and seeks to patch himself with her blood. We can not see her—the master hides them.”

 

Kandomere felt rage, as if he had been dipped in gas and ignited. This Galdor had marked her, his mate had been marked by another. He would peel him like a grape and wear his skin. He did not care what the law said, he would take his time. Findal looked to him and they had a moment of perfect understanding, perfect agreement.

 

A second seer spoke up, one who had been silent until now, “There is a bed. White sheets, he chose them to better see her blood. The bed is black iron, ornate. Tied, she is tied, unmoving. Now moving. Screams. A window. Not in the room but up up up and through the cold and into the room of people not dancing now but later. Through the window a sign. Red, flashing, open.”

 

The seer paused, struggled, gasping for breath. The others laid their hands on her and Findal and Mara did as well. Kandomere felt odd, but added his and felt at that moment a dark heavy presence weighing on them, blocking the seer. Trying to. She was strong, Kandomere felt it, and saw in her mind that she knew Khirad and loved her, had followed her and watched over her from her chambers as a seer. Khirad didn't know her, but she knew Khirad blood and bone. A guardian, this seer had seen some importance, a wisp of a future involving Khirad, and in watching came to feel this was her child too.

 

The seer, Gandariel, pushed and Kandomere saw it—Little Saigon was the name of the restaurant. He felt the fury, the hatred of this Bright, felt it roar through him and then he felt nothing at all.

 


WARNING--SOME GRUESOME SHIT ENSUES HERE . The gruesome shit stops when you see the next notice of this sort.

 

Khirad's first thought when she began to wake was she had been in a car crash. She hurt, her head absolutely pounded, her mouth dry, her shoulder throbbed with pain, her legs ached in places, and she felt awful, nauseous, and it was freezing in here. She took stock as she emerged from the haze, this was not like waking up, not at all, more like, like nothing she had ever experienced.

 

A sudden sharp pain in her bicep, then the intensifying of it, like a bite, something, someone was biting her. Was Kandomere biting her? But he didn't bite her like this, this fucking hurt. Why couldn't she open her eyes and move? Was this some fucked up dream? Sucking, licking, sounds of pleasure, Kandomere cupped her breast and ran his thumb over her nipple through the lace of her bra but it did not feel good, no, it made her feel repelled because the bite was so rough, painful, this seemed to be about hurting her. She struggled toward consciousness. Something was wrong.

 

She opened her eyes and looked up to see a ceiling fan turning lazy circles above her head. Blinking she looked and saw a fall of pale silvery blond hair and felt the edge of her bra pulled down and then teeth as he—it had to be a he based on the size of him—bit into her with a groan of pleasure. Frozen, she was too shocked and then the pain hit and she gasped. He licked her breast, over the bite, then over her nipple, and back to suck at the wound. He turned to face her, his mouth bloody, his teeth tipped in red as he smiled in delight, his pale gold eyes shining with pleasure and it was Galdor.

 

Khirad screamed, over and over, as some distant part of herself stepped back and observed. She struggled to get away, but she was tied to the bed, a huge black iron bed, white sheets flecked with her blood, and she looked down at herself, still in underwear, thankful for that, but bites, everywhere, so many, she was covered in them, her skin more red than white.

 

He laughed in joy, “Ah, it is good to have you in my bed again, Khirad, my love. The games we will play.”

 

She vomited, the nausea uncontrollable, and as she was tied on her back she began to choke on it as she tried to turn her head, great spasms in her stomach as she said the word, “No,” over and over between heaves.

 

“Such a mess.” His voice sounded disapproving, but patient, as if she were a difficult but promising pupil. He reached above her and pulled a long knife out of a sheath and cut one hand loose, then went for the other. He was naked, she saw a long muscular stretch of pale skin and then his hard cock—he was going to rape her after he finished torturing her. He was enjoying torturing her, this was foreplay to him. Her mind whited out with fear and she felt like she would faint with it.

 

She tried to punch him, still heaving, and he caught her wrist. “Now, be nice. Be a good girl.” He leaned in and smiled, “Or I'll leave you tied here in your vomit and excrement. You've soiled yourself as well, poor little Khirad, my beautiful girl.”

 

A flush of embarrassment, she had, and then she realized this was terror. You read about it, and you think you're afraid, but no, this, the body uncontrollably doing it's all to drive away the intruder, to drive off the predator, and you're along for the ride—this was terror. She was terrified. In that moment she realized she might have been afraid of Kandomere but on some level she knew he would not hurt her.

 

She knew, with absolute certainty, Galdor would and that he would take pleasure in it, was taking his pleasure from her fear and pain already. She screamed her head off, she couldn't help herself.

 

THE REALLY BAD SHIT STOPS HERE.


 

Baal had been dreaming when Galdor returned with the woman. He waved him away and allowed him the time he requested with Khirad. He felt ill at ease with the prospect of what Galdor would possibly do with his time, but the woman was nothing to him. He hadn't even bothered himself with inspecting her. Lost in the dreaming, he had told Galdor not to bother him with petty concerns. Settle her, amuse himself, but do not rape her, seriously injure her, or break her mind. Those limitations should keep Galdor in check somewhat. His tastes had grown progressively more sadistic until Baal seriously wondered if he were stable enough to still be of use to him. According to the Miami coven leader, Galdor had killed his last bedmate there slowly, horribly, imaginatively enough that it troubled and nauseated an Inferni coven leader—that was quite the feat. He suspected that Galdor had killed since he had come to LA though he was unsure—Galdor would hide certain of his habits from him. And while Baal was no stranger to bloodshed and pain, it was always for a purpose. Galdor was doing this for amusement, for pleasure. That was quite different. And it seemed to be a growing compulsion. That would eventually bring the wrong sort of attention. But he was the strongest and most skilled of his acolytes. He sighed. Perhaps this woman would serve to replace him, at least for a time. The dark burned them up, or perhaps they fell in love with it, or always loved it. Baal had no love for the dark—it was simply what was necessary for him to survive long enough to gain power. It was a method, not an end. It seemed to be an end for Galdor.

 

They knew. He felt Findal's seers looking, their inner eyes searching for the woman. He scoffed. They would find nothing. This place was shielded heavily and he was in the dream and fully powered. Two were strong and the third weak, a mere thread of a mind—why would Findal keep such? He ignored the third and focused his power on the other two. He amused himself with projecting a multitude of futures at them, letting them see something only to flip it and ensure they knew it was nothing, an imagination. He quite enjoyed this game.

 

The third, he realize almost too late, was a different sort of power. A thin strand slips in where the battering ram fails. A thin sharp blade in the dark, she almost had the place and then he pressed on her, stopped her, and then she was joined, her the focus of too much power to resist and so he allowed them to see and struck back, striking down as many as he could. Hopefully dead, but certainly unconscious—he felt them fall. But on awaking, they would know the location of this coven safe house. They must cleanse this place and move.

 

He left the dreaming pool and slung on a robe, headed toward the woman—she was the most important asset at this place. In the hall, he encountered a minor warrior.

 

“The MTF are on their way here, no more than 30 minutes, if that. Pack and cleanse. Notify the others. I have other responsibilities.”

 

“Yes, sir.” The warrior nodded, Mikeath was his name, a dependable sort. Good.

 

Baal headed towards Galdor's suite. As soon as he walked up the steps to the floor for personal quarters he heard the screaming, pitiful, hopeless, utterly terrified. Galdor would break her mind, the fool. He sped his step, feeling afraid for her, worried, angry, it was an intense reaction. Certainly he had heard plenty of screams before, but these struck some note in him, something that made these unbearable. Arriving at Galdor's door, he stepped in and the second he scented her blood he knew. She was djinn, like him, some branch, a fertile female and no half-breed like him. Full blood, what the fuck? Why would she endure such treatment? What the fuck was she doing with Findarion? Was this some game such as his mother played?

 

Screaming from the bathroom, a word, “No,” over and over between screams, Galdor laughing in joy, unbearable. Horrifying. He ran for the bathroom and saw them naked, Galdor had her by the neck and appeared to be rinsing her with the shower hose and blood and shit and vomit sluiced off her. As she dry heaved and cried, there was Galdor erect and naked, enjoying her suffering and humilation. A wave of pure fury roared through him and and he knew it would be Galdor's death for daring to touch one of his kin in such a fashion, knowing or unknowing.

 

Without thought, Baal moved and drew his blade at the same time, sliding it neatly between the vertebrae in Galdor's neck to sever the spinal cord with a minimum of blood. He pulled him off the female, then removed his robe and wrapped her in it as he whispered to her a spell to calm her and send her into a healing sleep. He carefully lifted her into his arms, a limp bloody stinking mess. Turned, pulled power from Galdor's death and used it to form a portal to his personal refuge and stepped through quickly. The MTF and Findarion were no doubt on the way and this female was seriously injured, he felt her weakness as if it were his own.

 


 

Kandomere came to with a pounding headache, tasted blood in his mouth and felt it wet on his face. He touched and realized he'd had a bloody nose, a bad one, blood down his face and the front of his shirt, what the fuck? Then he sat up and looked around, saw the others also waking, at least some of them. Findal was leaning over Mara, she was on her side facing him, eyes wide and staring, a pool of blood from her nose, everyone had bloody noses, what happened?

 

Khirad. Khirad was taken. The seers, the one seer found her. He shook his head, then wished he hadn't, as he tried to remember the place he'd seen. He looked for the seer who had found her, Gandariel, and saw her on her face, turned her over and saw her wide staring eyes, checked her pulse, dead. Mara, he thought with horror, started to his feet and saw her in Findal's arms.

 

“Findal, is she...”

 

“She lives.” Findal's voice was filled with rage and grief at the injury of his mate, blood on his own face but not much, a bit just under his nose. He seemed to have weathered this attack fairly well, “I sense her mind, she is intact. She will heal.”

 

Kandomere hoped this was not just the wish of a mate and the truth. At least she lived. “Did you see the place, I can remember some. It was a restaurant, open, Little something.”

 

“Saigon. The second word was Saigon. I have been there.” One of the guards.

 

Findal looked up to him, “Misterial will marshal the resources of the house and coordinate with you. All of Findarion is at your disposal.”

 

Kandomere nodded, then again wished he hadn't moved his head. He felt dizzy, nauseous, but he had to get to Khirad, had to get up the stairs and notify his people and call for the house healers. The dungeons were too deep underground to allow for cell service. He started toward the stairs, the guards who were conscious and able to move following him. He saw one go to an intercom and heard him call for assistance. Of course there would be a house communication system, what was wrong with him? One stair, two, these stairs were ridiculous. Why had Findal made them so tall, so difficult? He looked up as he saw a wave of guards, healers, and, thank all the gods above and below, Montehugh clattering down the stairs.

 

“Boss, you look, hey, how about we just get out of the way over here and let the docs have a look at you.”

 

“Little Saigon. The place she's at is next to restaurant called Little Saigon. People dance there and she's in a basement, something below the dance club, downstairs through the walk-in or some other cold storage, it's a hidden coven safe house. Khirad is there and she being tortured. We have to go, go get her Montehugh.”

 

He struggled to take that fourth step. Fuck Findal for these fucking stairs. Why would he put in such stupidly difficult stairs? He leaned against the wall and panted, as the doctors raced past him with Mara on a stretcher, followed by a deeply worried Findal. Slid to the floor as the doctors came to him and said, “Find her, Ulysses, please, please.”

 

“I will, Boss. I promise.” He headed back up the stairs, and already calling to the rest of the MTF to, “Move out, we got a location, let's go.”

 

He leaned his head against the cold stone and felt the doctors check him and he could hear them saying something from a long way away and then nothing at all.

 

 

Chapter Text

Baal carried the girl into his sanctuary and straight to the bathing pool—he would clean her and heal her at the same time—she positively reeked. This place was so fortified by both magic and the latest technology that even the gods could not find it. Fucking Galdor, it had brought him a surprising satisfaction to kill that sadistic bastard. He'd grown to dislike him more than he realized to have such an emotional response to his demise. Like the Inferni in general, he was stupid and wasteful, unable to rein in the darkness and use it to his benefit as opposed by being ruled by it. He felt the same pull himself as part of his elvish nature, but his ifrit side gave him the ability ride the dark as opposed to being ridden by it. Certainly it had changed him, he was not blind and his mother had felt the growing darkness in him, his amusement at the pain of those who caused pain, tit for tat, and his willingness to apply pain even to innocents if it were necessary.

 

He was dark, certainly, but he was no Galdor, no stupid showy Leilah shooting up the city in an obvious path to her objective, all but providing the MTF a sign saying, “The Inferni are HERE!” Dark maddened fools, and maddened by the whispers of the thing that was the Dark Lord. He was thankful for his ifrit nature and now he had a female of his own race. Entering the bathing chamber he carried her into the pool. Long ago he had found these caves at a concentration of ley lines, a nexus of power useful for very many things. He'd masked it so no other would find this font of power, then over the centuries turned it into a fortress of sorts, even including a treasury. The pool was fed by a natural spring and constantly circulated fresh water through it. By simply adding a layer of runes he warmed the water and had a natural bath, or hot spring should he wish to warm the water that much. It was perfect, the stone smooth and surrounded by wood ferns and mosses supported by further runes generating the magical equivalent to natural light. He sighed as he felt his usual peace at the place then turned his attention to his companion.

 

He carefully unwrapped her from the robe, brought her to the side of the pool, and slung the befouled robe over it. He pumped some wash into his hand and began to very carefully clean and heal her, so skillfully there were no marks even to an elf's eyes. The idea of Galdor marking her in any way offended him deeply. She sighed in her sleep at his touch, her nipples hardening and hips rising rhythmically. Responsive little female, he smiled slightly as she moaned at his touch. She would make a pleasurable mate once he separated her from the elf, and was undeniable lovely. Why was she shaped changed into a human? He saw hints of her true form in her features, the dark hair, but her skin should be dusky not this pale white. Though he rather liked the white, she would mark easily and he would enjoy seeing his ownership on her. She would be his early pass into the djinn community, with the added bonus of rendering Aiderion's first born dead of mate sickness. Some dark god smiled on him this day.

 

Reaching her shoulder he grimaced first at the gaping torn wound Galdor made, then as he healed that, at the mating mark. When he'd healed Galdor's wound, she'd reached her first orgasm, moaning and convulsing in her sleep and he'd felt himself harden uncontrollably, inappropriately—this was simply a response to nerve stimulation on her part, not a response to him. Still, she was a female of his kind, beautiful, and he could scent her fertility and youth. He wanted her very much, but he would prefer her willing. Near eternity is a long time to be tied to a female that despised you, and he did not know her clan. How had they allowed such a young female, one who could not have the age to have born the required four children or to be a widow, to have left? None of the ifrit clans would allow such, they would have found her and forced her to return. Perhaps she was not ifrit? She could be one of the other branches of djinn—the shape change would require a deeper look, one he would need to be dreaming to conduct. He had time.

 

First, this mating mark. It offended him even more than Galdor's mark because he suspected this had been a mark she desired, at least to some extent. He had paid little attention to Galdor's report but he recalled the mating was turbulent and unstable. Perhaps she would be glad to be rid of the elf, but if so why did she not dispose of him herself? She was powerful, incredibly powerful, he could feel it thrum in her below the masking that was woven into the shape change. Without the scent of her blood, he might have missed it, the masking was a master work. An interesting puzzle, one he suspected he might enjoy unraveling. But for this mark, well, he would remove the visible portion of it. The deeper joining she would need to remove, but the skin mark he could unravel with effort.

 

He placed his hand over the mark and began to slowly remove it. Line by line, the magic and the physical scar, slowly carefully. This time she gasped but it was in pain. So, she wanted this mark? He did not care. He would not look at the mark of Kandomere's ownership on the skin of the one he would take as wife, who would bear his children. He added magic to sooth her and she subsided, only whimpering occasionally. His arousal ended with her pain—he enjoyed his games but not the suffering of one so clearly innocent and light. He could not sense a single strand of genuine darkness in her. She would be the light to his dark, his balance.

 

Once the mark was gone, he carefully bathed her and ensured there were no other injuries, washed her hair and then carried her out of the bath to his chambers. He dressed her in a pair of his drawstring pajama bottoms, ridiculously huge as they were on her, and a large soft tshirt. Partly this was for his own satisfaction at seeing some mark of himself on her, but he knew she would feel safer in clothes, especially clothes that were decidedly unsexy. As if anything could mask how lovely she was. He hoped to gain her trust and lure her to separate willingly from the elf. Nothing could be sweeter than to have her choose him as opposed to his merely breaking her to his will. He would attempt a seduction first, and part of that would be to seem as if it were no seduction. Hence the rather ugly clothes.

 

He could style himself as her deliverer, her kinsman who sensed the pain of a fellow djinn and rushed to her aid. If she were somehow ignorant of who she was, even what she was, that might be his entrance to separate her from the elf. He could even justify his choice to keep her here out of a desire to see her safe while he located her family. After all, if the elf could keep her save, surely he would have? The Inferni or some other must be after her, he just wanted to take care of her, surely she saw that? He could see how he could play it best when she awoke, gauge her responses and her power and knowledge. She was incredibly young, that much was clear, and that alone gave him an advantage. He would review the files Galdor had given him and look for the weaknesses, the places he could seem to give her what she wanted and needed. Her family, her real family would likely be a good place to start.

 

Once she woke, he would ask her what she wanted and fetch it for her. Begin with simple physical needs, show her cared for her comfort and only sought to protect her. He had no typical female clothes for her here, she was the only person who had ever seen this place besides him. After all, the only way to keep a secret was to keep it to yourself and this was his secret safe place. His mother's best piece of advice to him—always have an escape, always. He conjured nothing in and out of this place—such lines could be traced. Even opening a portal was a risk, though a small one as he had added layer upon layer of magic to mask the one entrance and exit he could not avoid. Here he would keep her safe, here he would show her who she truly was and woo her. There was much he could teach her, he would begin there and allow desire to hopefully build. 

 


 

Montehugh glanced over at the grim female elf next to him on the chopper. Khirad's sister, Misterial, didn't ask to come along she simply got on the chopper and no one had the nerve to tell her to get off. She looked like your personal beautiful furious death, cold, controlled, but just barely so. That was a nope to saying a fucking thing to her, she could do her thing and the upper level elves could sort that shit out. For all he knew, she'd just kill them all and fly the chopper out herself. Only a fool got between a heavily armed and armored elf and their objective, and Ulysses was not a fucking fool. Besides, she had the same objective and he was more than fine with a little extralegal bloodshed on this mission after seeing Kandomere bloody and leaning against the wall. She'd also increase the chance of them coming home to their spouses and lovers, so he'd take that and shut the fuck up about the rules.

 

She was stern but beautiful, her pale blond hair streaming over her custom bulletproof vest, M16 rifle in her lap, knives strapped to her thighs. Probably other weapons he couldn't see as well. She looked over at him and smiled grimly, seemed to recognize him. It would be hard to talk over the noise of the chopper, but he'd bet she'd heard of him from Khirad and based on her expression it had been good things. He hated to think of gentle little Khirad in the hands of the Inferni. Kandomere had terrified her, and while he hadn't approve of his partner's actions at multiple times, he'd never thought she was at risk of her life. Or her sanity—there were hardened street cops who'd come away broken from wandering into an Inferni site before the MTF cleared it. They especially enjoyed to set magic traps that could wound a person psychically, the damage not showing up for weeks or months until some cop loses it and guns down a bunch of his fellows or his family or strangers at the mall.

 

Montehugh fucking hated the Inferni, his one weakness his emotion about them. Kandomere was his cold balance, but looking over at the elf accompanying him, well, this time he'd have no balance at all. It would be a bloodbath, and he was just fine with that if it got them Khirad alive and them out of there in one piece physical and mentally. He spotted the Little Saigon and felt the chopper drop. The MTF with help from the LAPD had already blocked the streets leading from this area, so there was some chance they'd catch them, though since they'd struck back at the seers, they likely knew they were coming and had left. Maybe they'd get lucky.

 

The chopper landed and they piled out, warrior mages in the front, agents in the back. Misterial stayed close to him, surprising, and followed with him into the building—Dance Fever, some retro disco joint. He and Hosato had come here a few years ago on date night. It made him sick to think of his Hosato close to the Inferni. They were everywhere, like rats, and just as hard to fully eliminate.

 

They followed the mages into the back where they tried to find the entrance in the walk-in, the only cold place. A window faced Little Saigon, the open sign pulsing like a bleeding wound, this was the place the seer's had seen. Montehugh was about to just say, fuck it, let's just start blowing holes in the fucking place until we find our way down, when the mages linked arms and boosted the power of whatever they were doing. One cut their hand and flung the blood at what looked like a shelf of produce. But once the blood hit it, the shelf, produce, and wall melted down into a stinking pool of some foul liquid that slowly drained into the floor.

 

 

Stairs leading down, silence. Didn't mean it was safe, didn't mean they were gone. One of the mages cast a light down the stairs and held up his hand to indicate it wasn't safe. Traps. Fucking Inferni. The five of them huddled together and cut their hands and poured the blood over some rune covered ball. Then, with a joined chant they cast it down the stairs and stepped out of the walk-in and shut the door. A few muffled booms, and after a moment they opened the door again. This time they inched down the stairs, pausing periodically to sense what was down there, until they turned to Montehugh,

 

“We don't sense any living people. There is one dead on this level, none on the bottom level. We think we have deactivated all the traps, but one of us should go with each of the search teams you field just in case.”

 

Montehugh felt his blood run cold. One dead body. Who else could it be? Misterial looked equally stricken.

 

“Take us to the body first. The rest of you split up, two to a team.” He turned to his people, “One team for each level, go.” He hardly needed to give them instructions—these were his best people, they more than knew what to do. He pulled a bag of crime scene booties out and covered his shoes, handed the box around until everyone including Misterial was properly booted up. No survivors, this was a crime scene now.

 

He followed the mage into a suite, torn bloody clothes and great drops of blood leading into another room.

 

“Those are Khirad's clothes,” Misterial's voice was soft with horror.

 

Shit, that wasn't good but he'd known who the body likely was as soon as he hear there was a body. They stepped into the next room. A bed, like the seer described, covered with blood stains, but also vomit, and shit. The smell was intense even to his human nose. Montehugh felt nauseated and looked away to see Misterial cover her face with her hands. Maybe he should be the one to follow the path of blood, shit, and vomit into the other room—she didn't need to see her sister like that. It was clear it would be a bad death, and for the Inferni that could be amazingly bad. Miami had a woman who had been the lover of one of the Inferni and just the pictures had been enough to give him nightmares for weeks, picturing Hosato like that. He didn't want to see Khirad like that, but he really didn't want Misterial to live her long life with those as her last images of her sister.

 

“Misterial.” She looked at him and he saw that she was just as young as Khirad in that moment, for all she was a badass, “Let me go first. Maybe stay here.” He didn't wait for her to answer, just headed toward the next room avoiding the trail of filth as best he could. He stepped into the next room and it was some big blond bastard dead on the floor. Where was Khirad?

 

“Misterial, it's not Khirad. It's some big blond elf. Come here, you know this son of a bitch?”

 

The agents stepped back and Misterial joined Montehugh in the bathroom.

 

“Galdor,” Montehugh heard the implacable hatred in her voice, and her satisfaction at his death. He didn't blame her, he just wished he'd had time to kill the bastard himself. He'd died easy from the looks of it, and that just wasn't fair.

 

“She was here, this is her blood, her scent, but it ends here. I didn't scent her at all until we arrived in this area, she didn't come down the stairs they must have portaled her in. Someone looks to have portaled her out as well, after killing Galdor.”

 

“It wasn't us or Findarion, so who the fuck was it?”

 

She scented, looked at the prints on the floor, “There was a third here. Elf, I think.”

 

The mage behind him spoke up, “There's traces of a portal here. We might be able to trace it.”

 

“Do it.”

 

Montehugh exited the bathroom, Misterial followed. They stood to the side, both glanced at the bed. Whatever else happened she'd been hurt bad by Galdor, and based on his nudity probably raped, but it looked like she had left this place alive. No reason to take a body--they'd know she had been here from the blood. And any Bright powerful enough to singlehandedly open a gate was easily powerful enough to heal her, so almost certainly still alive. Was Galdor a rogue Inferni? Had the Inferni punished Galdor with death for kidnapping Khirad? They usually chose to give the wood elves a wide berth as they considered them to be both incredibly dangerous and to be more like the past the Inferni wished to return to. Stupid. The wood elves were magic using separatists, and their only loyalty was to their king and each other. They'd never served the Dark Lord and never would. Hell, that was obvious to him and he was fucking human. The wood elves were wild and dangerous, like tigers in the wild, but not evil. The Inferni were fucking evil.

 

Maybe Galdor took her and this other, the coven leader maybe, was trying to figure out how to clean up his mess and make peace with Findarion. Findal would rid the world of Inferni looking for Khirad, literally just fucking burn the whole thing down, fucking eradicate them especially since they had hurt his mate Mara. And if Mara died? Montehugh didn't like to think about the sheer power of Findarion. It was a very good thing that Findal was largely a peaceful patient king as his resources were vast and deep, both physical and magical. The MTF might find itself in the place of having to answer the question of whether the wood elves could be brought to heel if Findarion truly went on the move and into the cities. Montehugh was frankly betting on no. Fucking Inferni. He hated them, fucking shit stirring fucks.

 

But then who had struck at the seers? Galdor? If Galdor was that powerful he'd have been a coven leader himself, not a soldier. But why kill Galdor if they sent him for her? For raping her and hurting her? The Inferni wouldn't bat an eye at that—humans were animals and tools. They'd be disgusted at his raping her maybe, consider it perversion, but not disgusted enough to kill him for it. Besides, if they wanted peace with Findarion it would be better to hand him over alive for vengeance. This made no sense.

 

He watched the mages, sweat on their foreheads, struggling obviously. This was the best coven of mages they had, with the tightest link, the most powerful, the most skilled. All elves, not surprising. Finally, they stopped. A couple fell to their knees, the others bending to help them up.

 

“We can't tell where he took her, it's like he portaled to nowhere. This is really powerful magic layered over centuries to create a sanctuary. It will be small, no more than the size of a large human house, maybe 6-8 rooms, 4,000 square feet at most and likely much smaller. Probably underground, but not necessarily.”

 

“How do we find her?” Misterial asked.

 

“You can't. Almost certainly, you can't. You could try seers, but it's tightly hidden. Whoever took her has rigorously reinforced this place and been incredibly disciplined about using magic that would create lines to and from the place. He's portaled there rarely, kept it as an option of last resort. It will be nearly impossible to find and is beyond our abilities, which are considerable.”

 

“You say he? And my sister was alive?”

 

“Yes, he. A powerful Bright, we could sense that, and your sister was alive but wounded badly.”

 

“Anything else?”

 

“He worried for her. There was a feel of anger and worry until we reached the nothing. We felt nothing from your sister but that she was alive.”

 

Montehugh broke in, “He was alone, just the one?”

 

“Yes, just him and your sister.”

 

Misterial looked at Montehugh, “Could I bring our seers and a coven of mages here to see if we can find her?”

 

“Of course.” Hearing that note of pleading in her otherwise imperious voice hurt Montehugh's heart. He knew elves enough to know that Misterial was deeply wounded and hurting, needed to get out of this room where her sister had been tortured. “How about we go upstairs and I'll get you a coffee while you call them in.”

 

“I hate coffee. Earl Grey, and a honey, please.”

 

 

Montehugh knew there was a wealth of meaning to that please, and her willingness to accompany him upstairs. He liked Khirad's sister, which of course made this that much worse. He sighed and listened to her make the call for her version of backup and watched as the techs began to take the scene apart. He walked over to one of the LAPD, “Anywhere I can get a decent coffee and tea around here close?”

 

“Right across the street,” he motioned to a little coffee shop, the owner no fool and open for the massive number of cops blanketing the street.

 

“Thanks.”

 

They were done with the first round of coffee, tea, and sandwiches by the time Findarion flew in on their own choppers. Latest tech, stamped with the house arms. Findal might follow the old ways but Montehugh suspected that when it came to war the king was more than up to date. Not exactly a comforting thought right now. He followed the team downstairs, watched and listened, but the seers and mages of Findarion had no more to say than the MTF. Barring some evidence the techs found, they'd have to wait until the Inferni contacted them or they managed to roust them out of another hole.

 

Findal would begin to apply pressure, there was no doubt of that, and he was far less picky that the MTF about the methods he used. Only thing he could do was go check on Kandomere and wait and see what happened. At least she was alive and with someone who had been worried for her. That was honestly more than he thought they'd have after he heard the seer's words. If she stayed alive, maybe she'd eventually be ok.

 

 

Chapter Text

Kandomere woke slowly. Quiet, it was very quiet in his room. Khirad didn't exactly snore, but the sound of her breathing was a soothing purr at times. This quiet meant gone—where was she? Perhaps she was in the bathroom. He opened his eyes and saw the white walls and was disoriented until he remembered the attack, Khirad gone, Montehugh gone to get her. He felt no pain, felt a surprising amount of nothing to be honest, like his emotions and thoughts were wrapped in cotton. Was she here? Was she alive? He felt along their bond and it was still white noise on her end. Pushed harder, pushed so hard he felt the nothing begin to fade and pain blossomed at the front of his head and began to spread backward. Still no Khirad, but not the feel the Findal described of loss—an unquenchable fire of pain. Rather this was an empty cup waiting to be filled. Alive then, but probably not conscious.

 

Might she be here? He made to pull back the covers and found he was ridiculously weak, unsteady, the room seemed to shift like he was on the ocean in a storm. The pain became a pounding in his skull, like his entire head was contracting and trying hard to expand with each thump of his heart. He couldn't think clearly, even his sight was blurry. Fuck.

 

A burly nurse bustled through the door followed by a worried looking Montehugh. “Boss, you gotta rest. You can't push right now. You gotta let your mind heal.” The nurse pushed him back down onto the bed and glared at him—clearly he'd not been the easiest patient. Once the man thought he'd be still, he turned and began preparing a tray for him.

 

“Where is she?” Kandomere glared warning at the nurse with his insistent cup of meds. Kandomere's head was a tightening knot pain and disorientation, but he'd at least know this part before they put him back to whatever state they'd kept him in. “How long have I been out?”

 

“Three days.” Montehugh rubbed his beard, a nervous tic that let Kandomere know it wasn't great news but it wasn't catastrophic either. If Montehugh had stood stock still and smiled consolingly, he'd have known he was fucked. He felt slightly relieved but still worried.

 

“Tell me.”

 

“Take the meds and I'll tell you anything you want to know.”

 

“How long before they knock me out? How long before I can get back in the field?”

 

“30 minutes. Depends on how fast you heal and if you keep doing stupid shit like what you just did.”

 

Kandomere's eyebrows raised at Montehugh's tone. “If I comply?”

 

“Two days to a week. You're lucky you haven't sustained brain damage. Four people died, two have brain damage that may be permanent, you are fucking lucky. Don't push it. I've got this. So does Findal and Misterial.”

 

“Fuck,” he motioned with a hand and took the proffered meds. The nurse stood back to watch and monitor him.

 

“She's alive and while we don't know who took her we think it isn't the Inferni, maybe someone who was aligned with them or who does work for them, we don't know. The seers sensed it was a male and that he was worried for her well being. Definitely a strong Bright. Findal and Misterial have been busy collecting and interrogating all the Inferni they can find worldwide—it's been a lot, their intelligence branch has been busy and it's an extensive network. I knew the wood elves were efficient and powerful but you have no idea Kandomere—we're lucky they are happy with the forests, let's just say that. So the fucking Inferni themselves are now looking for her in hopes of getting Findarion to stop slaughtering them, but whoever took her removed all memory of himself from the minds of those he interacted with, or was just that forgettable. Guy's a fucking ghost. As far as the Inferni know, and they seem to be trying hard to track down any trace of the guy, he just opened a portal in, killed Galdor, and then ported out.”

 

“What the fuck? Seriously? Who the fuck has the power to portal into an Inferni stronghold? How did he even know it was there? Or know her?” Kandomere thought of her magic, her powerful inhuman magic, and felt a shiver of something, some intuition.

 

“No shit. Findal doesn't buy it either. Something is hinky about the whole thing. But she's alive and not with the Inferni. We'll find her boss. No one can hide forever.”

 

Kandomere felt the drugs beginning to take effect. Again he felt himself begin to recede, as if he were being pulled down into a warm comforting embrace. Montehugh was talking to him but he just looked at the big man and thought he was lucky to have him as a friend as well as a partner. Must be the drugs, he thought wryly, and then thought nothing at all.

 


 

Khirad would begin to awaken, then a cool hand would stroke her forehead and she would fall into beautiful dreams. She was small and a dark haired woman sang songs to her in a strange language that she still somehow understood. Safe. The primary feeling was of a safety she couldn't imagine ever having felt, a sense of nothing bad ever happening, could happen, had happened—this her had never known anything but being loved and well fed. Definitely a fantasy then, but at least a good one. She'd roll with it.

 

Many of the dreams were of a vast intricate garden in the center of a huge stone palace. She was tiny, that was clear from the size of the plants in proportion to her. The analytical part of her mind thought it odd that she was dreaming of herself as a child, and that these dreams seemed to come with some effort, but not her own effort. An outside mind seemed to be supporting her, carefully, gently, like she was a tiny creature cupped in the hands of another who was desperately trying not to hurt it. That was odd, and this mind was odd too. It was strangely familiar but also not at all familiar, like meeting someone who reminded her of someone else she had known and loved a very long time ago.

 

The mind liked her, and she found it interesting though much of it was walled off. It was a twisty sort of mind, not exactly evil but not exactly good either—she couldn't really get the flavor of it though it's beneficial intent towards her was clear as a bell. That was good—it was powerful, incredibly powerful, and that was fascinating too. It could teach her so much, but first it would help her to see things. Ok, that was fine. She'd watch. It was better than what she was not thinking about. She would have to think it eventually but for now she was not thinking it and the mind was helping her with that too.

 

There was a fountain in the center of the dream and it was huge and filled with bright fish that she fed bits of her bread to when her mother was not looking. How this beautiful kind dark haired woman could be her mother she did not know, but in the dream she was. And they were rich, she was something like a princess and her mother like a queen—definitely a fantasy. Well, at least it was a good one. Everything was brightly colored, realistically beautiful, and it was blindingly hot. She liked the heat in her dream and the feel of it on her nut brown skin. How did she have brown skin? Her dream mother had skin the color of pale caramel so maybe some dream father then? Though mother went swathed in silks and avoided direct sun, so maybe it was just Khirad's love for the outside and the sun on her skin. Yes. Her mother had given up on it for now and just let her enjoy the freedom of childhood.

 

Her adult mind understood what that meant, some bullshit about female beauty and it's standard and importance, but her child mind just liked the freedom of the sun. Sun it was, she'd think about the not thinking later. So many days blurred together, learning numbers, how to form letters in a strange language, the beginning of learning to manipulate her magic and use it. Her mother was powerful, she could feel it, and feel her pleasure that Khirad was powerful, would be powerful as well. She would get to choose when the time came. Khirad wasn't sure what time she spoke of, but she was glad her mother was proud of her.

 

Her father came and went, often tired, sometimes wounded, but happy. Often he would be home for months, but then he might be gone for months too. He was proud of her too, fiercely proud and glad, so glad to see her every time. Handsome, her adult mind noted, and her parents were deeply in love. It was obvious from every look, the way they continually touched one another, their happy laughter and affection. Her parents were good people who loved her and loved each other. They were a happy little family. That was definitely a fantasy, but again a good one. She'd take it.

 

The last part of the dream was dark, she was not sure if she'd rather see this or think about the not thinking. The mind held her and assured her that she needed to remember. She was amused by this and thought the mind was rather silly—these were not memories. Ok, the mind agreed, then why not look at them if they were not real? See the end of the story like any story since it was just a story. That made sense. Sometimes she cried when a book ended badly, the characters losing their battle with whatever demon they faced, real or figurative. It was good to know the end even if it was a bad one. Ok, she would watch.

 

Smoke rising over the walls and she and her mother sat by the fountain when the grim faced men came in to the garden. Her mother simply waited until they came to her and then, with a flick of her hand, stopped them in their tracks. They froze like living statues, alive but at her mercy. Today, she had none. They fell.

 

A man stepped through the entrance to the garden and picked his way around the fallen men. "Kamilah, my love, that was unnecessary. You do nothing to change your fate with such an act." He clicked his tongue condescendingly as he came to face her and her mother. The man stared down at her, glared with such hatred at her it made her press her body against her mother's in fear. "So this is his child. It looks much like him, dark and ugly." 

 

"She is my child, my perfect child born of my chosen love." Her mother's voice was defiant, firm, free of any fear.

 

"Your dead love."

 

"Death is nothing to fear. I will see my love again."

 

"Do you think I will ever allow you to die?"

 

Her mother laughed, and it was alive and free and fearless, "Allow? You're so stupid, shaitan. All of you are, so it's no surprise. You think you have me and you have nothing. "

 

He motioned to Khirad with a lazy disdainful gesture, "As long as that exists, you will obey."

 

In a flash, her mother slit her own throat and slung the blood at him in a looping motion. Khirad felt the spell unspool, a complicated piece of magic that linked his life to her mother's to power the spell. It took advantage of his plan to forcefully bind her mother to him and offered him a joining, one he thoughtlessly, instinctively took in his hunger for her, and then turned him into nothing but a battery. He screamed, a high pitched wail of hopeless surprise and his body almost seemed to begin to collapse in itself as if he were imploding with great age. At the same time, she felt her physicality change, her power became less like a warm coat and more like a hidden place inside her, then a secret even from herself, she forgot it and forgot that she even forgot. Just gone. A gate opened and her mother shoved her though. Clinging to her, crying, she begged her mother to come with her, tried to drag her through as the front of her mother's gown turned crimson with blood. The portal snapped shut as the last light died from her mother's eyes and she was left holding her mother's hands as the portal bisected her body.

 

Screamed, she screamed and cried and yet, inside her, she had a knowledge that here in this forest would be a safe place for her. People would love her here. Strange people, like she had never seen before. If felt fuzzy and unclear, but her mother's magic had chosen this forest in particular. Long she sat by her mother's corpse, until she forgot even that. Then it was just some woman in a forest and she stood up and started walking. Finally, she came to an ugly metal box of sorts but it smelled of food. And dirt, it was very dirty. A woman, and ugly pale woman with strange pale watery eyes and straw colored hair saw her and froze. A man started yelling and joined the woman. He stared too. Inside her, parents. Mother. Father. She recognized them, they recognized her. And now that was her family.

 

They began abusing her almost immediately, but this part of the story she knew was no fantasy. Such a strange dream. The mind continued to observe though her childhood and on into her adulthood, noting with interest her use of runes, her use of magic in general. Certain areas the mind seemed to help her skip, such as why she began to study runes in the first place—this she knew was related to the thing she would no think about just yet. The mind concurred. Rest. Heal. You are safe. It said and she really thought it might be telling the truth. It felt like truth. It followed her though to meeting Kandomere and she felt it's deep disapproval of the sacrifice she made, of the life she wanted being lost. It seemed to focus on the pressure she felt from Lucath's death and from Kandomere himself, and consider it unfair she had surrendered her life.

 

It admired her, but pitied her too. The mind thought her noble, but under that it thought her to be naive, to be allowing another to take advantage of her. Rather like Findal asking if she were sacrificing her own happiness for her house, saying he and Mara thought she might be doing that. No, not really. No. And then it came close to the not thinking time and the mind diverted her and showed her memories of it's own life. It had lived a long time. She saw the mind travel the world, so many interesting places and things. It was fascinating, this mind, and complex. Much of it was hidden, and she knew that was not just to protect her from the thing to not think about. The mind had many secrets, but given that she hardly knew it that did not seem strange. It meant no harm to her though, and was committed to protecting her. It was angry that those meant to protect her had been so stupid and so foolish.

 

She wished to defend them, but that would mean looking at what she would not. So she let the mind think what it wanted. The mind was amused at that, it often seemed amused by her as if she were a child. She supposed that compared to it she was, though she was mature enough she reminded it. It laughed, then sent warm soothing thoughts her way. She knew this meant she would sleep without dreams for a time and yawned and accepted the mind's wisdom. It had saved her, she knew that, from the thing she would not think about. She could trust it.

 


 

Baal woke from the dreaming and carefully lifted Khirad from the pool. The roots of the mallorn tree had spent millenia seeking this pool, finding it, and then enriching it with so much life and magic one could forgo food and water if one dreamt daily. He and Khirad had done so for the last two weeks and he felt he truly knew her, definitely well enough to manipulate her and possibly well enough to control her. Kandomere had certainly done his fair share of manipulating, which made him feel that it would be a fair fight for her. She would not have chosen Kandomere had it not been for the pressure of mate sickness, he felt certain of it. Even her adoptive parents were uncertain of this mating and worried she was sacrificing her own happiness. That made his task easier.

 

He knew what she was now—she was of the marid. Their females chose their own mates and bowed to no one—they were too powerful to control. He recognized the clan of the stupid shaitan who thought to force Khirad's mother—he was of the Iblis clan. They were proud, powerful, hungry, and utterly dark and evil, given to it and exulting in it for it's own sake. And, they were driven mad by it, given to the kind of destructive impulsive stupidity he'd just witnessed. He thought Khirad's mother had made the right decision in taking her life and hiding Khirad—life with the shaitan would be unbearable for any who were not utterly evil. If Khirad had survived, which was doubtful given the way the shaitan had looked at her, she would have grieved her mother's heart with her evil. She would have become a source of great evil as well—a fallen marid.

 

He'd been right—the spell had been a complicated master work. Probably she had been meant to meet the wood elves immediately and not those wretched humans, but eventually it had brought her to the right place. Her mother had hidden her incredibly effectively from any who might seek her. He wondered why she did not send the girl to her own clan, or that of her mate's, but then considered the shaitan might have cast a net to intercept them if they had attempted a directed port, especially a port to an anticipated target. Her mother had cast a spell to take her daughter to the place that she would be the most safe, the most loved, and where she would be happy—no certain destination to detect and block or capture. Then the spell had given her a form that would blend in and hidden her magic and her past. Amazing work, really, and powered by a mother's desperate love. It was a pity that the selfish stupidity of a shaitan had removed such power and beauty from the world.

 

He did not recognize her mother's clan, or that of her father. But he remembered the clan symbols from the dream and would inquire. Somewhere, Khirad would have family, blood family, that would very happy to see her. His mother had ensured he was well educated regarding the ifrit, and any of the djinn who might prove a threat to him, but had spent little time instructing him regarding the marid, likely because he was too dark to join them. The marid preferred the company of their own kind mostly, though sometimes they intermarried with ifrit who practiced light magic. Their cities were open to any and all who had sufficient magic to see them and a light enough heart to gain entrance. He had no illusions that his own heart would pass muster. Hers definitely would, that was obvious to him.

 

He carried her to the bathing pool and stepped in with her, cleansing them both of the dreaming pool's waters. After they washed, he dried her and dressed her—he was getting quite good at it after two weeks—and then laid her in the bed and covered her. He rather thought he would allow her to wake this evening. He'd cook later and let the scent of the food draw her out, hopefully. Via the dreams he knew her favorite foods, colors, exactly how to please her. He'd bought her some clothing, going with the theme of unsexy so briefs and sports bras, flannel pajamas, a few hoodies and giant sweaters, jeans and tshirts. All soft natural fabrics, the finest available but the sort of thing to make her feel safe, hidden. Her room had the sorts of things he knew she would love—cotton sheets, wood, natural fabics and plants. He had done what he could for her comfort.

 

Galdor's torture and sexual assault of her had definitely traumatized her, but it might prove to his advantage as her savior. Granted, he had put her in danger in the first place but she would not know that—he had zero intention of giving her his blood, at least not until she loved him or he decided to attempt to bind her by force. With a little skill, he could even point the blame for her capture and abuse at Kandomere. It was certainly plausible that the Inferni had sought her out as repayment for Leilah's death and the loss of her wand. So much this elf has cost you, your life before was peaceful and easy. Galdor would never have found you had this Kandomere not attracted his attention. Yes. Small wedges between them, then send her back to the elf with his mark removed and rely on his nature to be savage with a traumatized girl. It had been two weeks, a few more and Kandomere should be ready to show Khirad his true nature.

 

Baal would welcome her back with open arms and ask nothing of her, be her friend. In time, she would willingly give him everything he wanted. He had given her back her childhood and would help her to find her family, would be there for her as a fellow djinn. All her questions, fears, concerns, he would help her. He didn't need to draw her to him—she would be drawn to him irresistibly as the only source of knowledge about her true self and her family. With luck, Findarion might even kill Kandomere, assuming he hurt her, and so he would have her without ever lifting a finger himself. It was a good plan. If it failed, he could always resort to force. As long as she did not link the elf to her life force, he could simply kill him and take her. She was powerful, but utterly untrained—no match for him at all.

 

 

Chapter Text

Kandomere glared at the Elven District spreading out under his window like an expanse of glittering stars. Then he turned back to his empty bed and glared at it. He glared at the shower and the water in it. Glared at the clothes in his closet. At the concierge who came to fetch Ten for her walk—the trollhund had insisted on accompanying him and was the only creature or thing he did not feel like glaring at. Two weeks. Two fucking weeks and still nothing, no word and no feeling of her at all. Not dead, Findal and the MTF doctors all assured him that her death would not feel like an increasingly annoying numbness but like the worst pain he could imagine—he would know if she were dead. But he felt their bond was somehow less, something, he didn't know how to explain it.

 

Traffic, fucking traffic. He glared at the traffic and considered simply ramming the car in front of him. He could pay for it, and the satisfaction would be considerable. Today was his first day back at work, though he had worked in the hospital a little each day as he improved. As soon as he could be awake for a reasonable period of time, Findal's house physicians had explained the course his mate sickness should take and prescribed him antidepressants. He took them—he wasn't an idiot and he wanted desperately to be back in the field. But his last blood test, right before he left the hospital had indicated that, lucky him, his mate sickness was progressing faster than expected. They had added a testosterone blocker and medicine to reduce the stress hormones he produced as well as an anti-anxiety drug. He felt frankly awful but aside from intense irritation could function. At least the homicidal rage was gone.

 

The MTF doctors would probably recommend him to stay home, but lacked the courage to make those recommendations an order. Findal had already told him he could join Findarion's search if the MTF became problematic. He was not concerned over the mate sickness and felt that it might be easier for Kandomere to weather it solely among elves. Probably right, but Kandomere knew his resources at the MTF and it's systems. Here he could coordinate and control the search himself. He definitely preferred that, though he would coordinate with Findal daily.

 

Mara was still recovering. She would be fine, though it would take longer for her to fully heal. At first, it had looked like she might have permanent brain damage. Findal's rage had been an awesome thing to witness. Cold, detached, a winter fire that would burn the whole world down in vengeance. He would come to the hospital ward covered in blood from interrogating the Inferni and whisper to Mara, “Here is the blood of your enemies, my love, and see how they suffer.”

 

She would smile a feral smile half smile and nod. One of the effects of the brain damage at first was partial paralysis. She slurred her speech and could only give a lopsided smile. Walking was challenging. Findal was kind, loving, patient with her and visited often. But his rage at her injury was palpable even after the damage was markedly decreased. It seemed likely she would make a full recovery now. It didn't matter. When, not if, Findal found the being responsible his vengeance would be an awesome thing. And Kandomere would be happy to assist.

 

So far, they had found nothing about the person who had attacked them magically or the person who took Khirad. The one who attacked them was Galdor's master and the one who had set up the altars in Findal's lands, so Inferni and fairly high up in the Inferni's ranks. It seemed unlikely the master would kill the apprentice and save Khirad. Follow the advantage, and there was none for a high ranking Inferni member in saving her. Had the master known what she was, he would have used her for a powerful sacrifice to create a wand after Galdor finished with her, not killed Galdor to save her. What would be the point when he planned to kill her himself? While he had recovered, they had found an Inferni wand creation site. Kandomere had seen the crime scene pics and the reports and it was just as horrific as the first. Apparently the master had focused simply on making a wand this time and had been successful. Another fucking complication—the LA Inferni with a fucking wand.

 

But the Inferni either had no knowledge of the master or he was so high ranking and so hidden that the soldiers Findal had been wholesale eliminating would never have heard of him. Only one had any information at all, that the one creating wands was relatively young for an elf, male, and incredibly powerful. No description, no name, nothing but a young powerful male elf. Useless. It wasn't surprising that the Inferni would keep a powerful high ranking member under wraps, especially one skilled as a wand maker. Especially valuable members often had wand created amulets that caused lower ranking members to forget them unless there were in their presence—can't betray what you can't remember. If they could catch one of the coven leaders they could likely gain knowledge about the master, but all the leaders had gone deeply to ground on a near worldwide basis because of Findarion's sweeps.

 

If the master were not a wand maker, the Inferni would turn him over for Findal's revenge. But wand makers were incredibly rare, a combination of power, skill, control, and darkness that was very difficult to find in one person. The control was probably the biggest sticking point. It took hundreds of years for most wand makers to acquire enough control to channel the spell properly. Most died before that point, or went mad. Findal would not back down from his revenge and so the Inferni were under a truly pleasing amount of stress. And Findarion was a house with an exceedingly long memory so even after Findal passed the reins to the next head of house this war would continue. If the Inferni found Khirad first they could likely bargain for a truce with her, but unless they surrendered the master ill will would long abide. And if the master recognized her power he would be loath to release Khirad—she would provide much of the power to fuel the creation of a new wand.

 

That was the terror he felt—if the Inferni found her first, the master would realize what he had. The Inferni would then do the math and decide that two wands and a wand maker would be a better deal that one wand and no wand maker and peace with Findal. With two wands they could likely hold their own against Findal. Three, and they could bring back the Dark Lord. They would not give up the wand maker and he had to find Khirad first.

 

Which brought him back to this unknown savior of hers. He did not think them Inferni, but possibly one who occasionally did business with the Inferni? He had no idea, nothing made sense about it. What civilian would risk the anger of an Inferni coven over a stranger? Without a motive he simply had nothing to go on. And after two weeks she was simply gone, as if she had never existed. The bond silent and numb, which the doctors at the MTF and Findal's healers had reassured him meant she was likely unconscious. After a few days, this had ceased to be reassuring. She had to be severely injured to still be unconscious. Or the person who took her was keeping her unconscious for their own reasons. Or a magic blocker—the MTF certainly had those and used them when necessary.

 

The uncertainty ate at him. He wished with all his heart he had never agreed to that foolish run. The soldiers that Findal caught had known the name of Kandomere and relayed that the Inferni definitely wished for revenge on him. They did not know Khirad was connected to him, but they were just soldiers. Kandomere could not shake the feeling that this was his fault, that she suffered because of him. No one else blamed him, not even Misterial. But he blamed himself. Had she had a human mate the thought began, she would not have suffered this. Sometimes it was simply one thought, Before you, she was happy. He could not disagree or fight back as he knew the thoughts to be true.

 

He entered his office and laid his head on the desk, simply resting his forehead on the cool surface. How he missed her, everything about her, and it was your fault she is gone. Pointless to wallow in guilt, he would get to work looking for her. He probably had two to three more weeks of time to work with the MTF and then he would need to join Findal as the mate sickness would make him dangerous for the other races. He would take a medical leave, the MTF would make allowance for him. So with the time he had he would work around the clock to use the MTF's resources to the fullest.

 

He heard the door and lifted his head. Montehugh stood there with a coffee and an herbal tea for him—Kandomere was no longer to drink coffee or any caffeine containing beverage as it would heighten the anxiety. Fucking tea. Fuck the tea and the cup it sat in. He'd drink the fucking stuff, at least it was hot.

 

“Hey boss, good to see you back.”

 

Kandomere nodded, took the tea and said, “News?”

 

Montehugh shook his head, “No. The seers say she's alive but they can't see the place she is at—it's just a blank spot. No news via any of our informants, nothing. Sorry, Boss.”

 

“Save your apologies, I expect results. Two weeks, two fucking weeks and nothing? This is entirely unacceptable! You disappoint me.”

 

Montehugh nodded sadly, then said, “I understand.”

 

“Understand? You understand nothing!!!” He stood and stalked around the desk, got in Montehugh's face, “How could you understand?”

 

“I don't, boss.” Montehugh's voice was soft, restrained and compassionate.

 

Kandomere realized he was panting with rage and stepped back. This was irrational. “Ulysses, I,”

 

“No, don't apologize. I'm your friend. I don't need it.” Montehugh looked up and Kandomere thought he'd never seen the man look sadder. “I don't understand, but I'll be there.”

 

Kandomere nodded, then sat down, “Let's get to work.”

 

“Sure, boss, whatever you say.”

 


 

At first he thought she was in another dream. There had been so many of them and they had all been so real. She woke slowly in a wonderfully soft bed with crisp cotton sheets. It smelled like her bed, the one in her apartment, and was layered in multiple blankets. A pale diffuse light filled the room, rather like early morning or right before twilight. Comfortable, clean, she felt amazingly well like she had slept away the weekend and gotten plenty of rest. With a yawn she turned over and felt for her cellphone on her night stand but there was no night stand. WTF? Oh, she was at Kandomere's, but where was Kandomere and why couldn't she sense him?

 

Some of the fog of sleep began to recede and she sat up in bed. When she did, the light increased in the room and she realized she had never seen this place before. The chamber was large, smooth and solid rock, flat on the bottom with slightly rounded walls curving up to a curved ceiling approximately fifteen feet above. No windows, unless they were behind the gorgeous antique tapestries on the walls. The chamber was beautiful, the walls a pale cream stone, the bed and other furniture beautifully carved wood accented by a variety of natural fabrics and muted colors. Plants were also part of the decoration, the room somehow palatial and welcoming. It was perfect, just what she liked. Peaceful.

 

But not hers. Another dream? This seemed real but she felt dazed, out of it, so maybe it was still a dream. If it was a dream then she could not be hurt. That was good. Something she refused to think about had hurt her quite recently. At least a dream would be safe. Food, someone was cooking steak. Oh, that smelled delicious. Could she eat in a dream? She was hungry in a dream so there was no reason she couldn't eat. Fair enough. Let's see what this dream had to offer.

 

She slid to the edge of the bed and stepped off. Comfy pjs. Again, not ones she remembered but certainly exactly what she liked. That argued for dream again, that weird combo of familiar and alien that dreams seemed to inhabit. She walked to the door, looked at the gorgeous sitting room and then walked to the closed door that likely led to the bathroom. Yep, rooms had the same set up as her rooms at Findarion. Dream. This bathing chamber was certainly lovely, the bath large and surrounded by ferns. Again, no windows. Seemed like she was deep in one of the halls, or a dream version of one of the halls. She pulled off her pjs and underwear and stepped into the bath.

 

Warm, it was perfectly warm and to the side was her favorite hair and body wash. Everything she could want was here. She'd bet it was Kandomere cooking in the other room, likely him naked or wearing her favorite suit, something perfect. Too perfect to be anything but a dream. Might as well enjoy it, at least it was a good dream. Something bad waited for her out there in the waking world, so this seemed a good thing indeed, dream or not.

 

After she bathed, she dried her hair and decided to wear it up. Kandomere loved when he could see her neck. After her hair was done, she walked to the wardrobe and opened it. Hmmm..all the clothes were casual for an updo but no matter. She found a pair of her favorite jeans, paired it with a scoop necked tee and then followed the smell of food out of her bedroom. The kitchen was close, this was like a mini version of the halls apparently. As she rounded the corner to the kitchen she caught sight of a male elf she had never seen cooking. Handsome, very handsome was her first thought. She felt guilty then decided that since he was just a figment of her imagination it was fine to ogle him as he cooked.

 

He didn't seem to notice her, which also argued for dream—no way an elf would not notice her, their senses were too keen. Long pale silver hair fell to below his waist, beautiful and shining with health. His full brows and long lashes were dark, the contrast striking, and his eyes a pale luminescent green like a very early leaf in bright sun. Classically handsome features, bladed cheekbones and full lips, tall, lean, muscular, and broad shouldered. He wore faded jeans, a pale heather blue tshirt and padded around the kitchen barefoot. He, too, had to be a dream. He was impossibly perfectly handsome. Even his ears were the ideal shape for a male elf. And he was basically enacting the beginning to one one of her favorite fantasies of waking to a man cooking for her then fucking her into the kitchen counter. Even the clothes were the sort of casually sexy clothes she loved on a man. Ridiculous. Dream.

 

“The food is done. Would you care to join me in eating?” He had noticed her, this dream man. Why not.

 

“Yes, it smells delicious.”

 

He looked up and smiled at her. White sharp teeth, a nice predator's smile. Something about it reminded her of something but she pushed it away. Not yet. Can't handle that yet. Besides, this was good dream.

 

“Would you care for wine?”

 

“Yes, that would be lovely.”

 

He pulled out her chair and she sat. Then he served her and poured the wine. They ate quietly and she studied him as the dinner progressed. The food, like everything else in this odd dream, was perfect. The wine a pale summer variety she frankly loved, one of her favorites. After a bit, she refilled her glass and he stood and removed a cherry pie from the oven. Her favorite, of course. He plated it and served it with espresso for both of them.

 

As they lingered over dessert, he watched her and seemed to be waiting for her to speak. Sure, though what she had to ask a dream man was beyond her. Maybe she could start with that. Maybe she would just kiss him. It wasn't cheating if you kissed a figment of your imagination after all and he had ridiculously kissable lips. Or she could slap him. It rather annoyed her, this dream. She wasn't sure why. No, not the dream. Something she didn't want to remember and the feeling was rage and terror. No. She would not think on that.

 

Kiss him. Good distraction. She stood and joined him in the kitchen, grasped his hand and turned him to face her. He looked inquiringly down at her and then she leaned up to kiss him but he stopped her.

 

“You don't really want to do that.”

 

What? Yes, she did. “I do.”

 

“And what of your mate?”

 

“This is a dream. It doesn't count.”

 

“A dream? Really?” He sounded amused and she saw his eyes begin to pale out—he wanted her.

 

“Yes. Everything is too perfect, including you.”

 

At that he laughed, “I am far from perfect.”

 

She pressed her body to his and looped her hands around his neck, “Perfect for me.”

 

His eyes paled out further and he leaned down to scent her, “Such temptation. You should not toy with one such as me,” his voice a deep breathy growl, seductive.

 

“It's a dream. Nothing bad can happen in a dream.”

 

“This is not a dream. You are here with me.” His voice was firm, but compassionate with an undercurrent of desire that made her shiver.

 

Khirad faltered, then decided that she didn't want to think about that and pulled him down to kiss him again. This time he allowed it, simply standing and letting her press her mouth to his, but when she slipped her tongue into his mouth and lightly grazed it against his teeth, a faint hint of copper adding to the delicious taste of his mouth, his entire body tensed. He crushed her to him and kissed her back savagely, hungrily, it was overwhelming in intensity. More intense even than Kandomere, more savage, less giving, utterly forceful and dominant. Gripping the back of her head, a hand at the small of her back holding her in place as he ground his growing erection against her, taking his pleasure from her as much as giving pleasure to her. There was nothing gentle about it at all.

 

Then he picked her up, set her on the counter, and stepped back raking his hand through his hair and sighing in clear frustration, “Not a dream, beautiful one, and I will not take advantage of your belief it is, much as I would gladly take what you are offering and far far more.”

 

Her head began to hurt and she began to cry. Why was she crying? This was becoming a bad dream, she didn't like it. “I think I'll go back to bed now then.”

 

“As you wish. I will accompany you.”

 

“Ok,” something was at the edge of her consciousness, some horrible leviathan moving under the surface of her mind. She wanted to go back to sleep as quickly as possible if this wasn't a dream. But who was he if he wasn't a dream? If she remembered him she'd have to remember the other. No. She didn't know him but somehow she knew she was safe with him and that he had helped her.

 

She crawled into bed and he tucked her in like a child, then sat next to her and smoothed her hair.

 

“I can give you sleep, but eventually you will have to truly wake, Khirad.”

 

“How do you know my name?”

 

“I have been in your dreams. I helped you remember your childhood.”

 

“That was real?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I don't believe you. I'm going to go to sleep and this will be gone. I will be home again.”

 

He sighed and looked worried, then said, “As you wish, I will give you the sleep you desire.”

 

“What is your name?”

 

“Baal.”

 

“That's a pretty name. What does it mean?”

 

“Lord or ruler.”

 

“Baal. I think you are a pretty dream. Would you stay with me while I sleep? Maybe if you are still here when I wake I will believe you that you are real.”

 

He nodded, “Yes, I will stay.”

 

She patted the bed, “I want you to hold me.”

 

“That, I doubt my self control is up to the task, beautiful one.”

 

He was a remarkably difficult dream. She sighed, “It's just a dream. You're being incredibly silly.”

 

At that he laughed loudly, a bark of surprised laughter, “Silly? It has been a very very long time indeed since anyone has accused me of that fault.”

 

“Yes, very silly.”

 

“Pray tell why?”

 

“Even if anything did happen, you're not real so it isn't cheating.”

 

“I assure you I am all too real,” he seemed amused to be debating his existence. “Tell me, should you realize I am real, how would you feel?”

 

Interesting thought. If he were real, “Guilty, embarrassed, foolish.”

 

“And should we do more?”

 

“Oh, I'd feel terribly guilty. I'm not a cheater—that is dishonorable.”

 

“Yes, yes it is. I do not want you to feel guilty when you realize I am quite real.”

 

She looked at him, then thought that he was a nice dream, a good dream, “Well, I still think you are not real but I will respect your limits.”

 

At that he laughed again, “I assure you, it is not my limits I am concerned for but rather yours. I would happily accept your offer if you knew you were actually making it to me and I was real. These 'limits' are purely for your own benefit.”

 

“But you'll still stay? Would you, would you hold my hand at least?” She felt afraid to be alone for some reason.

 

A flash of what seemed to be remorse flickered across his face and was gone, “Yes, for as many nights as you need me to, I will do that.” He clasped her hand in both of his and settled into the chair next to the bed.

 

“Ok. I think I want to sleep now.”

 

“Good night, beautiful one. I will give you sweet dreams.”

 

“Good night, Baal.”

 

He laid a cool hand on her brow and she realized that was the same action the presence in her dreams took. And then she fell into a deep dreamless sleep, safe, warm, and full.

 

Chapter Text

Baal watched her while she slept, held her hand and made certain she was peacefully asleep. His elven instincts clawed at him to take her invitation and join her in the bed. It appealed, certainly, but it was stupid. He wanted her trust and he wanted her especially to trust his judgment. While he had not anticipated her kissing him, it would hurt nothing to have her know he found her attractive and that he would deny himself for her benefit. She knew elves saw nothing wrong with taking an advantage if one were offered. By refusing her and caring for her he had likely built a plank of trust in the bridge between them, the one he hoped would lead her willingly from Kandomere. It would be sweeter and far more effective to turn her willingly than to take and bind her. That small taste of her blood had given him a better picture of her potential power and it was considerable. She would likely be a danger to him if he bound her unwillingly, though the binding process would give him a portion of her power.

 

No binding was unbreakable though, and there was her family to consider. If he could position himself as a survivor forced to resort to the dark because of the abandonment of his mother, a story that was not entirely untrue, and do so with her willing support then her family would likely accept him as the darkness gradually faded from his soul. They might even welcome him as the member of the family willing to do anything to protect their daughter. Khirad's mother had known at least one dark spell, and not hesitated to use it. That spell she used to power Khirad's transformation and escape had been rendered pitch black by using the life force of another to power it. Didn't matter that the other had killed her mate, threatened her and her child, and was evil themselves, magic powered by death was automatically dark and magic powered by a slow torturous draining of another's life force one of the worst. Just learning the spell would have threaded darkness through her soul. So, the marid, at least Khirad's clan, would use dark magic under duress. That gave him a little room to maneuver with them.

 

And it was likely they would prefer almost any djinn to an elf. Probably not a shaitan, but any other would likely be far preferred. He doubted very much that her family would see Kandomere's actions as any else but a manipulation to gain power and near immortality and to save his own pitiful skin from death. Baal was pleased that he did not seem to have that compulsion of elves. He had known rather a lot of beings over his long life, even fell in love a couple of times in his early years, but he had yet to feel the compulsion of mating. He hoped he never did. It horrified him, the idea of being forced to mate with another against his will.

 

If the mating instinct struck him, there were a couple of magical options he could try to develop more fully. Currently, they were rather rudimentary and more an outgrowth of other more useful spells—there was little little reason for the djinn to research magic of benefit to elves, and elves for all their prideful vaunting didn't live long enough to weave the truly complicated spells necessary to defeat the combination of magic and instinct that formed the mating instinct. Khirad's fondness and compassion for the elf would probably eventually require Baal to offer these resources to her as well—she was too traumatized by the death of her step-father to be willing to allow anyone to die from mate sickness, had made it a centerpiece of her career as a biologist. Now that he thought of it, that would likely help his case with her as well. If she felt she had options other than the elf's death then she could decide for herself what she wanted.

 

He would still have his revenge on Aiderion. Only the most difficult of the options removed the desire for one's mate, and elves only received one. Kandomere would have tasted perfection only to lose it to another. He would live his life alone. These were not inconsiderable. While it was possible that at least one of the options could give him back the life he had before Khirad, including the ability to desire others, he would still remember the bliss of being mated to her and know he would never have that again, know Baal had her. Such a dominant elf would be filled with self-loathing and regret. Yes, that was acceptable.

 

One spell required the mate to surrender a small portion of blood, bone, hair, flesh, and soul. These elements were carefully formed into an amulet for the elf to wear against the skin. The first four elements were easy, but the ability to safely split a soul took thousands of years to develop. It was a skill used by both dark and light. The light used it to gift a child or a beloved with a protection amulet that would allow the receiver access to the giver's power. It was an incredible act of trust and had gone quite badly in a few instances. The dark used it to bind another to them, to use the one so gifted as a battery—but the bond once made went both ways and occasionally the dark sorcerer had found themselves the one drained. There were other uses for a split soul, mostly dark, but there were two recorded instances of a djinn using the split soul spell to make a form of the protection amulet for an elven mate.

 

Of course the djinn who did so were light—the dark would have amused themselves and then left the elf to die. Apparently, these light practitioners pitied the elves for recognizing them as a mate but did not wish to bind themselves to them. In one case, the djinn loved the elf but was obligated to serve another who refused to allow the relationship. In the second, the djinn was already happily married. They formed an amulet of the five elements that served to replace the mate. It allowed the elf to live, though in each case the elf considered it a sort of half life and continued to pine for their mate emotionally, much as the other races grieved the loss of a true love.

 

The second method was deeply interesting. Again, it was an offshoot of magic intended for other purposes. Some djinn could not just shape shift themselves but could shift others. Khirad's mother had possibly been one such, though it was questionable if it were innate ability or the spell. She may have used the spell to boost her own abilities or it may have been only the spell. In Khirad, the changes were purely cosmetic and subterfuge. She was not human, but the spell made others perceive her as human. It even applied to the MTF testing, both biological and magical. Frankly an amazing piece of work to be that powerful but undetectable to any who did not taste Khirad's blood and have magic themselves.. But it was also possible to shift another down to the smallest bit of DNA, a total transformation. Or to shift a portion of them.

 

In order to shift another, the djinn is typically well past full maturity, at least two millenia in age. With consent, less power is needed and less age, but no case he read had the djinn below 2,000 unless some additional power were tapped, always some form of death magic. Without consent, the amount of power and age needed depended on the age and power of the target. In the cases he read about, an ancient djinn met an elf maid who recognized him for her mate. The djinn took pity on her and transformed her into a part djinn, giving her a tiny portion of his own self and taking a tiny portion of her into him. The mating instinct was satisfied by this and they parted ways. No record existed of what happened to the elf, but the djinn suffered no ill effects. In a second case, the djinn transformed the elf into another elf and the mating instinct no longer recognized her as the elf's mate after the transformation. In that case, the elf was reportedly quite angry but that was likely more because the djinn decided to switch the elf from male to female as well. Apparently the djinn thought it would be funny as the elf had been a notorious womanizer and had approached her with a degree of insolence.

 

All the permanent methods would require the assistance of a more powerful djinn than him. He knew a dark djinn who could split souls, but he would never take Khirad to him. Far too dangerous. Still, her family would likely have resources. It gave her the option to consider a life free of the elf that did not include his death. And there was one temporary option that he could do himself. He could create a fetish with her blood as well as hair, nail clippings, skin, tears, sweat, or mucus. The only required ingredient was her blood and the rest simply made the fetish last longer. The elf could wear it against his skin and it would keep the mate sickness at bay for 1-6 weeks depending on the power of the person creating the fetish. His would likely be good for 2-4, possibly longer. Fetish making likely would not aid her in her research as it required living blood from the mate in order to work and the effects faded quite quickly, but it was something he could offer to give her a way to leave the elf if she desired. And it would create an appearance of good will toward the elf which would make it easier for him to point out all the ways this arrangement was not to her advantage.

 

Baal continued to hold her hand and stroke her hair. This chair was not particularly comfortable for a nap, not at all, and he found his earlier reaction to her disconcertingly impulsive. He had last visited his pet, Cybelle, a few days before Galdor captured Khirad. He rarely went so long without sex, and the desire he felt for Khirad had grown over the last two weeks. He was likely simply hungry for sex, and would be wise to take the edge off before dealing with Khirad again. His elven side was untrustworthy, a thoughtless savage driven by instinct—he would be a fool to leave it starved with such an appealing target in sight and within its power. Cybelle had sent him increasingly angry texts at his silence, and he had been amused by her rather obvious attempts to provoke him into showing up to punish her for her words. Perhaps he should give her what she wanted?

 

He sent Khirad into a deeper sleep, the rune he drew on her forehead sure to keep her there and dreamless for a few hours. What he wanted with Cybelle would not take nearly that long. Considering the time, he realized she was at work. How often she had urged him to surprise her at her office, to bend her over her desk and fuck her. It had seemed such a mundane fantasy he hadn't bothered, but he rather thought he could add some interest to it. Yes. A visit. Her abused interns would likely enjoy it as well—Cybelle, like all his lovers of late, was a very petty sort of darkness. Cruel, power hungry, selfish, jealous of her dominance in the utterly pointless cosmetics industry, and pathetically manipulative but exquisitely lovely and exquisitely easy to mark with pale perfect skin. He'd enjoyed breaking her down and making her dependent on his approval, and would likely find her both despairing at his refusal to answer and furious at him for it. Good. It would add some spice to his dominance of her if she had some fight similar as to the beginning of the time she agreed to be his pet.

 

The idea of humiliating her at work certainly added some spice to it for him. His lips curled into a cruel smile as he dressed in a tailored day suit, Italian of course, selected a couple of useful items and drew a portal to take him to one of the apartments he owned for this purpose, the one closest to her offices. He had many spread throughout the city—never use the same path repeatedly to portal, never, as it would create a line of magic. Alternating them meant that the magic faded quickly as opposed to becoming like a grooved line in wood, traceable and obvious if you knew what to look for.

 

He arrived at the apartment, then exited and took the elevator down and walked to the curb to step into the limo he had called. Definitely hungry—normally he was quite picky but many of the females he saw appealed to him very much. It was unlikely the entire female population of LA had dramatically increased in attractiveness over a matter of weeks. He sauntered into her office and gave his name to the receptionist who instantly waved him inside. How amusing. She must have given the woman his name and image hoping for a surprise visit long before this. He didn't knock, stepped into her office and was pleased to see her intake of surprised breath, the flush of her cheeks at his arrival, and the faint hint of fear in a rush of desire. There was a subordinate in a chair who was obviously upset—Cybelle had no doubt been subjecting the woman to a cruel dressing down.

 

“Get out,” she barked, and the girl scurried for the door.

 

“I meant you too, Nergal.” Of course he did not give her his real name.

 

He smiled, walked to the door and turned the lock. Then he said softly, menacingly, “Bend over your desk. Now.”

 

Anger began to war with desire, and desire won out. She felt safe in her little dominion, safe enough she put a swagger in her step, the red soles of her high high heels clicking against the floor as she walked around to the front of her desk and bent over it, arching her back as she had learned he liked. He drew his knife and stalked towards her. With a growl, he cut off first the belt, then the skirt, blouse, bra, and finally the panties until she was bare for him except for her thigh high stockings and heels. He kicked her feet farther apart then stroked his fingers down her back and stepped away. Desire filled the room, both hers and his, and the fear was less. Foolish. He took black silk rope out of his pocket and tied her spreadeagled to the desk. So far, he was following the text of her fantasy to perfection. That would change.

 

Taking the knife he lightly traced patterns across her flesh with it, taking his time and amusing himself at leisure, a threat of future pain should he simply press, “Your texts. I did not favor them.” With that he stabbed the knife into the desk and undid his belt.

 

“I, I missed you so much and..”

 

“That is immaterial. At the beginning I explained the terms of our agreement. You are solely mine for as long as I want you, when and if I want you, and in the way I want you. You chose to set no limits and have no safe word, preferring to be surprised as you put it. I agreed to inform you when our liaison was finished. I did not, hence the agreement stood.”

 

He pulled back his arm and brought the belt down on her ass with a satisfying crack as she cried out in pain, then walked forward to stroke the rising welt. “If you have broken our agreement your punishment will be severe.” He bent and scented deeply at the junction of her legs, then up her torso and finally to her neck. Some faint hint of male was there, but only at the neck.

 

“Mmmm, not completely unfaithful but considering it. Foolish, indeed.”

 

“I, I thought you were gone. It was just a kiss. Please, I'm sorry.”

 

He laughed as he whipped her with his belt, the welts rising over her buttocks and back. His elven nature sung with pleasure as he punished her for allowing another to touch what was his. She was continuing to beg forgiveness, but was nearly as aroused as she was fearful. He wanted her more fearful, desperately afraid and humiliated like that girl that just left the office. Petty tyrants, how he disliked them. As the darkness in him grew, he selected them for bedmates so his darker sexual impulses had a somewhat justifiable outlet.

 

With a snarl, he grabbed his knife from the desk and leaned over her to pull back her head by the hair and place the sharp edge just at her throat and press but a little, just enough to slightly break the skin. She gasped with fear as he leaned over and whispered, “You imagine yourself safe here. This is false. Do you think your weak human guards could stop me if I wanted to truly hurt you? To leave you here bleeding or worse?”

 

“No, no, I, please.

 

“Silence.” So much delicious fear, he felt drunk on it. He stroked the edge of the knife along her cheek, “Who owns you?” A soft menacing whisper.

 

“You.”

 

“Yes, I do. And as my thing you will wait patiently.”

 

“Yes, yes I will.”

 

“I will take my pleasure from you now and you are not permitted to cum. Do you understand me? If you cum, I will cut you. This will not be a playful cut—I will hurt you. This is your punishment for your presumption and betrayal.”

 

She shivered under him, fear and arousal warring for dominance, then nodded.

 

He slid into her and set a rough pace, deliberately hitting the spots she liked to torment her. Panting and grunting like an animal—there was no way the entire office did not know exactly what he was doing to her in here and exactly how out of control she was with all that noise. He would leave her humiliated and in rags, tied and dripping with his cum. Perfect. She struggled for control, but somehow held on as he fucked her. Cupping her breasts, he flicked and pinched, pulled her nipples as she liked and he felt the slightest of tremors as she begged him, “Please let me cum, please, please.” She was trying so desperately hard to hold back as he used her to please himself, no longer concerned for her pleasure at all and simply focusing on his alone.

 

“Louder. Shout it.”

 

“PLEASE, PLEASE, LET ME CUM.”

 

“Tell me what you are, shout it.”

 

“YOUR FILTHY HUMAN PET.”

 

With that he pulled out and came over her beautifully welted ass, hard, so hard, it had been too long, his orgasm went on forever and he felt wrung out and euphoric from it. All that pent up tension for Khirad out in one beautiful moment. He rather thought it was the best he'd had in years. He eyed Cybelle coldly--his pleasure was no more due to this one than a sex toy. He had told her she would be solely a thing for his use, but she did not believe him. He didn't kiss her, bite her, showed her little affection and still she seemed certain he would become enamored of her in time. He wondered if she believed him now. Doubtful, with her incredible pride and narcissistic myopia.

 

She lay gasping on the desk, likely expecting him to recover and fuck her some more. He often did, but not this time. He reached over, took the scraps of her silk blouse and wiped himself then zipped himself up and straightened his clothes and hair. Walked to the door, he paused and said, “You will wait for me every night from 7PM until 9PM at Boutery in Elftown in case I have use for you. You will not order, you will simply sit there and wait in silence. I will notify your receptionist you are in need of assistance.” With that, he exited and smiled a wide full toothed smile to the humans who looked up as the door opened, then shut it to frustrate their curiosity more than to preserve her dignity. They scurried away quickly at sight of him anyway, all but the receptionist who seemed to have some backbone. He nodded at her then said, “Attend to her,” inclining his head toward Cybelle's office.

 

He stalked to the door and felt a combination of satisfaction and a strange disgust. He thought back on the kiss with Khirad and how good it had felt, not just the pleasure of it but to give pleasure to a being he actually liked. He scoffed. Sentiment. It had led to his mother's death. He would not be so foolish. If he was disgusted with Cybelle, he would find another. It would not be hard. Yes, or perhaps he would simply avail himself of escorts. But he would not make the mistake of leaving himself hungry around Khirad again. Intimacy with her would be too dangerous for him. He needed to keep his distance from her lest he become too fond of her to do what was necessary, a lesson he learned from his mother's demise.

 

He portaled back to his hideaway from a different apartment. Each had been spelled to have enough residual stored power to for 5-10 jumps. Stalking back to the bathing chamber, he paused to removed and hang his suit. Grabbed his jeans and tshirt and headed in to take a bath—he felt filthy. After he washed and dressed, he walked back in and moved a more comfortable chair close to the bed. Taking Khirad's hand again he settled into take a nap, if he could possibly sleep. He reflected on his encounter with Cybelle and again felt a mild disgust. At himself, he realized with surprise, at his actions. What the hell? Why would he feel that? She was awful, he had no pity for her and she deserved none. He sought within himself for the source of this weakness and felt it, a thin bright strand of light in a sea of gray and black.

 

Her blood, that small taste and there was the thinnest of strands tying her to him. She gave it to him willingly, and so it pulsed there with life and light illuminating the darkness and pushing it back. A conscience. Ties to her would bring back the agony of the early days when he first began to study the darkness in earnest. He had been quite peaceably dark for a long time and did not relish a return to such internal conflict. And yet, it was beautiful to him, this slender shining strand. He could remove it with ease at any time, but it was undeniably a first step toward the light. Hmmm, well, Cybelle had begun to bore him anyway. He sent her a goodbye and notified her their liaison was at an end—she was quite free—then blocked her. If he needed release, and he felt sure he would, he would pay professionals.

 

He should remove the strand. It would be easier to plot with no foolish conscience to trouble him. But that willing tie, no, at least not yet. He laid his head down on the bed next to their clasped hands and gradually fell asleep to the sound of her breathing.

 


 

Khirad woke to the same dream, and a part of it slept next to her holding her hand. He was real then. As impossible as it seemed, he was real and this was real. She had kissed him and he was real. Shame filled her at the thought of her betrayal and she reached out to Kandomere. There was a wall there, something blocked her and she pushed at it.

 

“It isn't safe for you. This place is utterly hidden and therefore utterly safe. Your mate is alive.”

 

She looked up and the dream, Baal she remembered, looked at her calmly.

 

“Why isn't it safe?”

 

“Are you ready to remember?” His voice was gentle, careful.

 

The leviathan, the bad thing. She knew she would have to remember it eventually but, “Do I have to remember it today?”

 

“No. But you will need to before you fully understand why you are not safe.”

 

“Can I understand partly?”

 

He sighed, then said, “Possibly. I am not sure what will bring the memory back. Would you like me to try explaining around it?”

 

“Yes.” It seemed a reasonable risk.

 

“Your mate was responsible for the LA Inferni losing a wand and two Brights, one a coven leader. They wish to punish him. As you are the most important thing to him, they have focused their energies on you.”

 

“Oh. But why am I here?”

 

“I took you from the Inferni. Your life was in danger.”

 

That was very close to the bad thing and alarm bells went off. She would not think about it, not yet. Looking at the male in front of her, she knew she'd never seen him before—she'd have definitely remembered him. “Why did you do that?”

 

“You are a fellow djinn.”

 

“Those dreams of my childhood?”

 

“Not dreams. Real.”

 

“I think I'd know it if I wasn't human.”

 

He laughed, “You still cling to that illusion? After everything? You know you aren't. I unraveled your mother's spell, at least the part blocking your memory, and you know that your magic is far from human.”

 

“The loa answer me. They are human gods.”

 

“They are gods the humans worship, not human gods. You worship them. They are your gods too.”

 

That actually made sense. “If I'm a djinn, why does using runes drain me so much.” The djinn were incredibly powerful beings. They lived separately from the other races and hid their cites from all but Brights. As soon as the Magic Ban went into effect, they simply melted from existence as far as those without powerful magic were concerned. If you could somehow locate one of their cities, they were a refuge for any persecuted Bright, dark or light, though the marid were dependably light while the shaitan dependably dark and the ifrit varied. There were other djinn, but they were weaker and far stranger with little compatibility with the other races.

 

“Youth. Djinn grow in power with age. Do they drain you now?”

 

Huh. No, not even close to when she was younger and each year it was less. She thought she had simply gotten more practiced. “No.” Honestly, this felt true. And it did make sense. Those had been memories and it had always seemed off to her she had no early memories, none. Trauma, she had racked it up to trauma, some awful thing she was not allowing herself to remember. Which in a way it was, but not exactly the way she thought. It occurred to her she had a biological family somewhere that were actually decent people. Her mother and father had been good people, so probably they came from at least some good people.

 

“Could you help me find my biological family?”

 

“Yes, though your branch of the djinn is not mine and so it will be harder for me to find them. They are marid, you are marid, I am an ifrit.”

 

“Do ifrit look like elves? My mother looked a lot like a human except for her pointed ears.”

 

“I am half-elven, so I appear to be an elf. But it is a complicated question. Full djinn are shapechangers. Once they reach a certain span of years, typically between 100-200 years old, they can change their appearance at will. Some can even change the appearance of others. Often they keep the appearance of their youth with family, but they have the option to change. That is why you will rarely see an ugly djinn. If the are ugly, they are young or have grown bored with beauty due to great age or a philosophical dislike for it.”

 

Huh. This was all a lot to process, and then there was the bad thing itself. “So, the Inferni had me.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And you saved me because you recognized me as a fellow djinn?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Are you Inferni?”

 

“No. I sensed you and then heard you.”

 

That made sense. She felt a link to him too, like he was part of her or familiar, something. “I can't leave because I am in danger from the Inferni?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Because of Kandomere?”

 

“Yes, but your nature and lack of training creates another layer of risk.”

 

“Why?”

 

He thought, clearly considering how to explain it to her. “I can explain, but I fear you will not fully understand or I may lead you to remember what you would not.”

 

“Try me.”

 

He smirked at her intellectual cockiness and said, “The Inferni did not know what you were until they took you. They would have used you to make a wand or even to attempt to open the gate to the Darklands. The Inferni they would consider it a particularly poetic revenge that the mate of their hated enemy should provide the power for a new wand or to usher in the Dark Lord.” He paused and looked directly at her, “It is not safe for you until everyone who might have recognized what you were is dead.”

 

Very close to the bad thing, her head started hurting and an image of bloody bites, someone dead on a bathroom floor, and then she felt his cool hand on her forehead and looked up at him. He was close, his silver hair falling over his shoulder and his pale green eyes compassionate.

 

“Khirad, you do not have to remember yet. Be at peace.”

 

At the word peace, she felt a rush of power push back the memory. Better. She thought on Kandomere. “How long have I been gone?”

 

“15 days.” Ok, so he was likely fine. The bond was well formed and mates could be parted from each other for two weeks with no ill effects at all. After that, he would start becoming irritable but should be fine for at least a month.

 

Baal stood and said, “Would you care to have coffee with me? We can discuss this more over an afternoon snack.”

 

“I am always on board for snacks.”

 

He laughed and walked back to the kitchen, treating her to a view of his frankly gorgeous ass. He still looked like a dream, but then maybe he was old enough to shape change. Didn't matter how he got so gorgeous, he was breathtaking. But she missed Kandomere intensely, his touch and smell. His laugh. And she was angry about the bad thing, angry at the Inferni and...she would not think about it.

 

She sat at the finely carved antique oak table and watched as he made coffee and pulled an obviously homemade chocolate layer cake out of the refrigerator. He set the cake on the table and went back for plates and forks and then the coffee. Jazz, Coltrane in fact, played in the background. Sitting next to her he cut her an absolute slab of the cake and then one for himself, sipped his coffee and was obviously waiting for her to try a bite of the cake. Did he make it? She took a bite and it was quite simply the best chocolate cake she had ever eaten. Insanely good, perfect.

 

“Oh my sweet gods, did you make this?”

 

He positively grinned, “Yes.”

 

“You must be a baker. This is, oh my gods, I don't have words. A very rich baker—Elftown would pay loads for cakes like these.”

 

He threw back his head and laughed, “A baker? No, I am not a baker. Perhaps I should consider that occupation now. Peaceful, and apparently I have an aptitude for it.”

 

“Damned if you don't. I could live on this cake.”

 

Smiling, he inclined his head in gratitude.

 

“So, how long before I can leave?”

 

His face became serious. “Khirad, it is not safe for you...”

 

“My family and Kandomere can keep me safe.”

 

He looked at her with such compassion, such pity, but also as if she were being incredibly naive. “No, they can't.”

 

“Do you know who my adoptive family is?”

 

“I do.”

 

“Then you know I am perfectly safe with them.”

 

“Khirad, if I explain further you will remember what you would not..”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

He looked up at that and a flash of anger showed in his eyes, “As you wish. You were taken from your family estate outside Los Angeles. Kandomere was no more than a 100 yards from you when you were taken. You are not safe. They did not take the precautions necessary to protect you. I suspect your family did not know to take them.”

 

Her head hurt and she saw a flash of someone, saw the woods, but dismissed it. “Not possible. Findal's guards are well trained, we have the latest tech.”

 

“I assure you, it is true. Your mate gave no warning of the threat he presented to you. Had he done so, Findal would have increased security though that may not have been enough to prevent your kidnapping even then.”

 

On kidnapping, she knew he spoke the truth. She remembered a foul smelling cloth and then, no, not yet. Her head pounded.

 

“Khirad, I seek only to ensure your safety and health and will return you to your mate and your people as soon as I am assured of both. I would prefer to find and return you to your djinn family, but will respect your wishes.” He paused, then said with a note of intense anger in his voice, “Your mate did you a deep disservice by not warning you and your house that he was a high priority Inferni target. Frankly, you are lucky to be alive and sane. I will not send you back to the ones who so poorly protected you until I have taught you better how to protect yourself as a djinn and you have at least somewhat recovered from your ordeal.”

 

That, that was infuriating but to have the ability to actually protect herself appealed a lot. And it's not like Kandomere deliberately risked her, it was, what, an oversight that he didn't tell her? Why didn't he tell her? Khirad thought back to her early feelings and fears. Did he hide it from her because he thought she'd be more likely to run? It certainly seemed like important information to share, that she needed to be careful since he had the Inferni after him. Granted, all MTF agents were the enemy of the Inferni but an extra special vendetta seemed like something to tell. Assuming it was even true. But, then, why would the Inferni take her? She was a lab rat, of no use or threat to them that they would perceive. They wouldn't even know her name. Was it a strike at Findal? No, the Inferni usually gave him a wide berth. Fuck, she was Kandomere's mate. They must genuinely hate Kandomere to risk war with Findal.

 

“Why are the Inferni especially mad at Kandomere?”

 

“They blame him for the loss of a wand and two Brights, one the LA coven leader.”

 

“Oh.” Fuck, he should have told her and Findal if he had that much attention from the Inferni. What the fuck? Of course they wanted revenge and of course they would target his mate. And he'd fucking paraded her through Elftown with a giant mating mark on her neck? He might as well have drawn a target on her. What the fuck? Why the fuck would he keep it a secret?

 

“Khirad.”

 

She looked up at him, he looked concerned for her and deeply uncomfortable.

 

“In order to restore your childhood memories and assist you with the trauma you endured, I saw much if not all of your memory. I regret this intrusion deeply; it was done to preserve your sanity. I am not that skilled in the area of memory, a more skilled djinn would have been able to preserve your privacy.” He bowed his head to her and she was touched deeply by his consideration.

 

“Baal, look, I would be dead if it wasn't for you. Seriously, stop it. I owe you more than I can ever repay.”

 

“All djinn, excepting perhaps the shaitan, will assist another djinn in need. I did no more than any other,” he smiled and held up a hand at her beginning protest, “but I thank you all the same.”

 

Fair enough. “You can teach me to defend myself? How?”

 

“Magic, of course. You are young, very young for a djinn but you are strong. It will take a very long time to fully master the skills I will teach you, but they should be of increasing use to you, and it will not take long before you can defend yourself against ordinary Inferni. A Bright, especially a Bright with a wand, will take more time.”

 

“Light magic?”

 

“Some. I can limit it to the light if you prefer.”

 

She looked at him curiously, “You know both?”

 

“Yes, some of each.”

 

“Doesn't, don't you...”

 

“I do what I must to survive. My house was exterminated in war.”

 

Oh, oh my gods—he was one of the Unnamed. The last extermination was hundreds of years ago—how old was he? And what of his djinn family? Surely he had them to rely on? “I, Baal, I,”

 

“It is an old pain. No matter. And to answer a few of your politely unspoken questions, I am 742 years old and as a half-breed in ifrit society I am not welcome until I reach their definition of adulthood—I must defeat another adult ifrit male in battle or marry a female djinn. Our society, djinn society in general, is not tolerant of any sort of weakness and half-breeds are thus not at all favored. I will reach equivalent power to a full blood ifrit in approximately another 100 years, but I must continue to survive to do that and join my people. I will do what I must.”

 

Khirad imagined what her life would have been like if Findal had not taken her in. Could she honestly say she would not have turned to the dark to survive? No. She was in no position to judge the male that saved her from a likely horrible death. “Whatever you've done, it's made you strong enough to fight the Inferni and win. I'm willing to learn as much as you're willing to teach me.”

 


 

Kandomere ran with through the woods with Ten, trying to burn off enough of the excess adrenaline to be able to sleep tonight. Three weeks and a day since he'd lost Khirad, and he was not well at all. He had arrived at Findarion this afternoon and Findal had welcomed him with open arms then promptly assigned six of his largest strongest guards to stay with Kandomere day and night. Kandomere was not permitted a weapon and neither were his guards—Kandomere might overcome one of them and take a weapon to use on himself or another. So it was more accurate to say he ran through the woods with Ten followed by a pack of well meaning compassionate wood elves determined to prevent him from injuring himself or others. He hated this, but then he hated nearly everything these days.

 

Yesterday, his final day at the MTF, had been as pointless a waste of time as any other in the week since he returned to work. At the morning meeting he had stalked and ranted until finally he

flung the conference table over the heads of multiple terrified agents, up and with enough speed and force to go through the plate glass window to crash halfway across the courtyard below. He was on medical leave, and very lucky he had not injured anyone. Montehugh would keep him and Findal informed on the case as he was the only non-elf that did not inspire homicidal rage in Kandomere.

 

That fucking centaur had taken a leave of absence when he heard that Kandomere was returning to work and had lost his mate. Wise. He desperately wanted to kill him, find all Khirad's ex-boyfriends and kill them, kill anyone who had ever so much as looked at her with any degree of interest at all. His instinct pounded at him, taking your mate, danger danger, but there was no target to focus on eliminating. This especially was not normal. The doctors thought it might be a result of her fate being unknown but admitted they had no idea.

 

They might have to start sedating him soon, and if they found Khirad he would insist they bind him, chain him, before he saw her. He was absolutely not safe for her. Savage, his dreams were increasingly savage and desperate, begging her to return to him, he woke with tears on his face. Everyone treated him with such compassion and dignity, even at the MTF the humans tried. It was better here, with the elves. He knew they understood and felt his terror at losing her. He could go to his own house, but this felt more a home to him than his. And if she returned, when she returned, it would be to here.

 

Still, there was nothing from the bond. He began to believe that the doctors were wrong and she had died. His mate sickness was certainly progressing as fast as an elf whose mate had died, far faster than one whose mate had left for a time. Except he didn't feel she was dead, more that she was separated from him and that their bond was being blocked and had been changed, tampered with in some way. Rage filled him and an insane jealousy that had no target and he snarled. If he could reach this being who took her he would rip them limb from limb. Already his body prepared for combat. He was leaner, more muscular, far stronger that ever in his life. Driven to compulsively hunt for her, he could barely sleep. Ten was his constant companion, a comfort to him, his only comfort. She seemed to feel the same compulsion to obsessively search the woods for Khirad as he did.

 

Three weeks. What would he be in four?

 

Chapter Text

Despite working for the MTF, Montehugh really didn't know shit about magic. Oh, he recognized some patterns—he was a cop and that was all about patterns—but this fucking magic shit, well, frankly he hated it. Pointless, since it was part of the world. But he fucking hated mosquitoes and and strangers who came uninvited to the door and they weren't going anywhere either. Kandomere normally handled the magical aspect of things and he did the rest, but now he had to do it all because after four weeks of Khirad gone Kandomere was an aggressive pared down version of himself that was frankly terrifying. Guy had lost a good twenty lbs but must have put on ten of muscle. He was lean, fucking ripped, and looked predatory in a way that was unnerving, his eyes flicking from side to side and attentive to the slightest sound. That trollhund at his heels, also looking edgy as fuck, both of them ready to kill if only they knew who to blame for their loss.

 

It fucking broke his heart. So he worked 24/7 trying to find something, some clue, anything to find Khirad. Now he was following a lead to an abandoned warehouse to supposedly meet with an illegal seer to see if maybe, just maybe, he could get the location for Khirad. Assuming this was not a fucking scam. If it was, it was a good one. The seer had seen his number, knew personal details about the situation, and offered to help him retrieve Khirad—called her by name—if the MTF released her grandson. The MTF had picked up the seer's grandson, a 15yro orc Bright. Kid had been doing B&E without the B&E by seeing into houses and then levitating the goods out the pet doors. Pretty fucking smart except that a couple of the houses had surveillance systems. Local police had turned it over to the MTF for illegal use of magic and that was that.

 

Kid was pretty harmless, hadn't even taken anything all that expensive, mostly gaming stuff. No fighting, good grades in school, really seemed to be a good kid aside from the petty theft. Montehugh thought it was likely the kid would benefit from the MTF's training program, but neither the kid or the family were interested. If they had the information they claimed to have, and a way to Khirad, he'd make that deal and let the kid go. Fuck protocol. Without training, kid'd be back in custody soon anyway, though the family supposedly planned to move to a new city if they released him. Power that strong needed training, though supposedly the grandmother would handle that and was angry like a scalded bear about the stealing.

 

The idea of going to this orc seer gave him the fucking creeps. Orcs with magic were rare. But when they had magic it was usually strong but especially fucked up, all organic and emotional in ways that other magic just wasn't. Orc brights were usually shamans, all bones and feathers and blood and frankly scary as fuck. Maybe scarier than elves, though honestly it was a tossup there. Elf brights didn't go in for the ceremonial garb that orc brights usually did, but sometimes that was worse. He remembered one young elf bright in particular. Pretty little girl, maybe 14, blond pigtails and a pretty floral summer dress, and she turned her grabby boyfriend inside out accidentally when he kept trying to cop a feel. Yeah. Maybe the orc brights were less scary—at least with that shaman getup you knew that some crazy shit was about to go down.

 

Montehugh knew it was dumb, the choice he was making to go to this meet alone, but that had been the specifications in the phone call. He didn't tell Hosato, who he knew would first yell then lapse into a sullen silence that could, at times, last for weeks. He didn't tell Kandomere who was in no place to hear anything, or Findal who frankly made him nervous as fuck or Misterial who was only slightly less terrifying, or even his own office. He was, quite literally, risking the chance of disappearing without a trace much like Khirad did. The parallel did not escape him. But that gravelly voice over the line had convinced him, probably with magic, that this was a good idea. He hoped it was. He'd learned to trust his gut, and so far it had got him through an amazing array of shit shows including magical ones and so he'd do what he'd always done--trust it. 

 

He pulled into the parking lot and spotted the rusted green metal door with the numbers, "3649," on it and parked. This was the place, that was the door, and he was the idiot here to go through it to the other side.

 


 

Khirad was ready to leave. Honestly, ungratefully, more than ready--this cave system felt claustrophobic to her despite all she'd learned here and despite how safe it was from the Inferni and everything else. Plus, by now she knew Kandomere would be starting to feel her absence. He'd be fine, worried of course, but the anxiety would just be starting to be uncomfortable. Soon though she would need to leave and she was concerned her benefactor was more than a little overprotective and maybe possessive to boot. She worried he wouldn't let her go, and that something was happening to her, something probably related to trauma and his role as her savior, to make him more attractive to her than he should be. It seemed this tension between them grew more with each passing day, and she felt distant from herself or something, she couldn't quite explain it.

 

It was her fault, she knew it, by kissing him when she thought he was a dream. She kicked herself daily for that. Elves being elves, she'd attracted his attention and created a possibility in his mind that wasn't fair. But that didn't mean he'd let it go. He had her life, he'd earned it by saving it by elvish ideas of obligation. She wasn't sure how djinn males dealt with those sorts of things, but elven males tended to keep what they felt they had won. She found him attractive, which was really uncomfortable. Especially since it had been a full month of no intimacy with anyone. He'd made it clear that he found her attractive too and hadn't overstepped her limits (at least until until this morning), but he certainly had done nothing to make it easier for her to stick to them either. He would get close enough for her to smell him, and he smelled very very good. His long hair would brush her occasionally and it was so insanely soft. He sparred with her and pulled his shirt off to wipe his face, giving her a regular look at his lean muscular torso, pale perfect skin with a sheen of sweat, a line of silvery hair leading down to the edge of his low slung pants.

 

Fuck, he was gorgeous and hers for the taking if she wanted him, he made that daily clear to her in a multitude of small ways even prior to this mornings encounter. And the the way he looked at her sometimes. It was clear he had tight control over his elf side because he seemed to want her very much. He was never creepy about it, not ever. But occasionally she would catch him looking at her in a way that was more than friendly and then see his jaw set and him turn away. His self control and stubborn determination to rein himself in for her sake was admirable. He was really a good guy.

 

It didn't matter--she wanted Kandomere, missed him desperately and needed to talk to him, to confide in him, but she couldn't. The magic that made this place utterly safe blocked her from being able to contact him. If Baal were to drop the wards to allow her to contact Kandomere then the Inferni could find her. Supposedly. She felt guilty doubting him, he'd saved her life, been nothing but kind and respectful, but she wondered. Wards did work like that though, but, fuck, he was probably telling the truth but she just found it frustrating. The thing she didn't want to remember warped everything, pounded inside her, and she just didn't want to remember it until she was with Kandomere and her family. It would be bad, she knew it, and she needed to feel safe.

 

That was what clued her in that for some reason she didn't exactly feel safe here. Baal didn't push her to remember, but he also would not let her leave until she did. He claimed that as a fellow djinn and magic user it was so he could help her to work through her trauma, that as a fellow djinn he needed to know she was safe, and that might be true. But she didn't know him, not really. Still, he'd given her back her memory of her family, saved her life, treated her kindly, respectfully, and was teaching her how to use her powers and protect herself. He was definitely good to her, unquestionably good to her. And he had very valid points about how Kandomere had risked her safety already, and she was uncomfortably aware that he was right that Kandomere definitely had manipulated her to get what he wanted.

 

When Baal asked her if she'd wanted this sort of life, she'd had to reply no. Then, she'd replied that it wasn't his fault, that he was compelled by instinct and he'd said, “But what about what you want? Do you see how you always put others before yourself? I'm concerned about you.

 

Gods, he was probably one of the nicest most caring males she'd ever met. Kandomere and her family were constantly doing things for her but rarely just leaving her the fuck alone to figure out what she wanted. In a way, these weeks had given her a little space to think. She was furious with Kandomere for keeping it to himself that he was a target of the Inferni, absolutely furious. She was angry with him and her family and the mating instinct for boxing her into something she would have preferred to allow to develop over time. But she still loved them very much, that was just as true as her anger, and she missed them terribly. How could you love someone so much and want to punch them in the fucking mouth at the same time? She didn't know, and maybe she was all kinds of fucked up, but she knew that was where she was with them.

 

The not-remembering made it hard to think sometimes, or something did. Felt like she wasn't real, or nothing was real, and sometimes that nothing mattered. She wasn't well, she knew that, and she wasn't getting better. Baal needed to let her go if he wanted her to heal. He could come with her. Her family would be uncomfortable with him as a gray practitioner but since he saved her life they would tolerate him. Kandomere would be a problem, possibly a big problem depending on how attracted Baal was to her, but they could avoid each other—the halls were huge. But Baal would not consider it. He doubted that he would be welcome and was correct that Findarion had no tolerance for anyone who used any dark magic. And he was quite possibly right that Kandomere would attack him on sight. He didn't fear Kandomere, it was annoyingly obvious how certain he felt of beating him, but he was concerned that injuring Kandomere might hurt her. He really was a good guy.

 

He should just let her go to Findarion and set a time and place for them to meet later. She definitely wanted to continue her training and she wanted his help in finding her family, frankly needed both. It's not like she'd disappear on him. She didn't get why he was so worried for her safety at Findarion either. Findal and Kandomere made a mistake once, they wouldn't make it again. She'd likely have more security that she would ever want for far longer than she would ever want it. Baal claimed that it just wasn't safe, that he was hunting down the Inferni that knew about her and was close to eradicating those who posed a threat to her. He said she didn't understand, that she wasn't thinking straight. He was right about the last part, that was certainly true. Sometimes she couldn't remember the day and he often reminded her to eat—it all blended together now.

 

She thought he could tell she wanted to leave. This morning, right before he left, he'd pointed out that as long as she was a target of the Inferni and lacked the ability to protect herself that she was a risk for Kandomere as well—if she died, he would too. Both thoughts filled her with terror and the not-remembering pushed at her mind until Baal touched her forehead and pushed it back again with a concerned look. “You're not ready, you have to know that?”

 

“I guess so,” she'd replied, and she supposed she did know that.

 

“When I restored your memory, I weakened the spell your mother wove to conceal your true nature. It was unavoidable. But now you are only partially hidden. It would take very little power to see you exactly as you are, and you would be a prize for many others besides the Inferni. So much power but so little ability to protect yourself—it is a bad combination.”

 

“But you are teaching me. You could teach me anywhere.”

 

“Outside these caverns, even with your adoptive family, I can not be certain of your safety. I would strongly prefer to find and restore you to your djinn family. Within their walls you could learn and be safe. But it will take time to find them, and time to eliminate the last Inferni who knows of your existence. I know exactly where he is, but he will be very very difficult to remove. He is quite old, powerful, and canny.”

 

“How long? My mate will be suffering very soon. I will need to go to him.”

 

“Your mate that risked you to begin with? I have little concern for this elf.”

 

“Baal, please.”

 

He sighed, then said, “Very well. There is a spell I can do with your assistance. I can create a fetish with your blood that will trick the mating instinct into thinking you are present and have it sent by courier to him. He will suffer no mate sickness and no ill effects aside from missing you. You may send him a letter as well and let him know you are safe etc. I will provide him the option to write you as well and bring you his letters. If you wish, we can create this tonight on my return and I will send it to him tomorrow. Once you are sufficiently trained, you will be reunited.”

 

“Not even a short visit? I swear I will return.”

 

“Khirad. The thing you will not remember? If you remembered it you would not ask. I can not bear the thought of your loss and will not face your family knowing I risked your life unnecessarily.”

 

Then, before she could say anything he had embraced her, pulling her against him roughly and kissing along her neck to whisper in her ear, “I could not live with myself if you were hurt. I will restore you to your mate, I know you love him. But if I could, I would win you for myself.” Then he had tipped her chin up and kissed her breathless, kissed her with a savage hunger that made her clench with a desire that shamed her and left her hungry and confused.

 

He'd barely broken the kiss to look down at her, his eyes lust blown and incandescent green with desire, “Tell me to go. I will not be able to stop if you do not tell me to.”

 

To her shame, she'd hesitated. With a snarl, he'd kissed her again, one hand moving to cup her breast roughly and flick his finger across the hard nipple just as she liked as she flooded with need, so hungry. He pressed her against the wall and lifted her so he was aligned against her core, hard and ready for her. Grinding against her clitoris, he could make her cum just like this and it had been so long, so long, and she was so hungry.

 

He whispered against her ear, “I'll make you feel things you can't imagine. Tell me to go, tell me to stop.”

 

“Please, please, please stop.” How she had managed to get that stop out she didn't know, some part of her not lust crazed had added it.

 

He stepped away instantly, not far, but away, and leaned in to scent her, his eyes dropping closed at it. “So beautiful, so perfect,” his voice hardened, “you are wasted on that elf who risked you. But I will respect your wishes.”

 

With that he had turned and stalked to the locked chamber where he did his magic and was gone.

 

After she felt him leave, the magic rising to a crescendo then falling, she had fallen to the floor in that spot and repeatedly masturbated herself to completion but found it only partially satisfying, something about it leaving her feeling sickened. Baal kept intruding on her thoughts as she attempted to focus on Kandomere, remembering their prior intimacies. It seemed so long ago she was with him, and his memory seemed more faded even than earlier in the day. And her desire seemed stronger than before. She didn't think she was ok at all.

 


 

Baal had left Khirad hungry and unsatisfied, and immediately taken his desire to the escort he liked best of the ones he was currently using. She looked somewhat like Khirad, and was perfectly submissive and exquisitely sensitive. He did all the many things he wished to do with Khirad with her, saw the expressions he wished to see on Khirad's face on hers, and then he allowed himself to do things to her he knew would reveal just how dark he truly was, things he thought it likely Khirad would not enjoy and not allow and that he hungered to do anyway, that he hungered to see her pain and discomfort, to use her for his pleasure as he used this one currently moaning beneath him right now in a mix of pleasure and pain.

 

He was close again himself, and it had been hours he'd worn himself out and relieved his lust repeatedly. His first orgasm had been strong enough to arch his back and make his eyes roll back in his head, he'd fucked her from behind so he could pretend it was Khirad and whispered Khirad's name over and over until he'd cum shouting. Her body was littered with bites, welts, and bruises much as he wished to leave Khirad's. She was tied much as he wished to tie Khirad, and whimpered in a way he'd sell his soul to hear Khirad whimper. So good, it was so good, and he knew this was but a taste of how it would be with Khirad—this one had none of her magic, her innocence, her purity waiting to be spoiled by him. He was so close to simply taking her and damn the consequences, simply be done with the pretext. Break her, bind her, and turn her to the dark. Enough with this foolishness with the light—as if he could go back to it. As if her Marid family would ever accept him. As if he even wanted to be light. That one strand of light she'd given him was a constant torment, he longed to snap it. Longed to bite that pale unmarked neck of hers and begin her turn to the dark with the shock of his betrayal. But his ifrit side urged caution, urged that he control himself, urged that he could lure her to him and that it would be the more pleasurable for the wait. That given her power it was better to seduce her to darkness as opposed to forcing it on her. It was right—she had nearly given in today. But a little more magic and time and he would have her. So he needed that light filled link for the magic part—if he revealed himself she would snap it herself. Surely as ignorant as she was she at least knew how to do that.

 

He'd cast a spell to use the thin link between them to channel his lust and desire into her. Skillfully, he opened the channel a bit more each day mimicking the way desire would normally grow between two people. Her fixation on the elf had made such a ploy necessary. Once she was convinced of his reality, her desire for him hadn't grown beyond the normal appreciation one might have for any attractive stranger when one was not with one's mate. Certainly nowhere near enough to lead her to stray. And despite a drop of poison here and there resulting in her definite fury at the elf and her family, she remained loyal and clearly loved them both. She wasn't broken or weak enough for him to so easily turn her. Her assault should have made her more pliable, and he supposed it had, but not enough. Given the chance, she would go back to the elf. Even with the inducement of finding her real family, she would leave. It was infuriating.

 

He'd planned to allow her to return when the elf was far gone into mate sickness, to rely on him savaging her to turn her to himself. Now he suspected she would take precautions and not allow herself to be savaged, and would assist her mate in his need and not judge him for it. Baal thought that she might actually love this Kandomere. It defied belief that she could actually love a mere elf so quickly, so easily, and so stubbornly when she could have himself. He was a fitter mate by far—stronger, longer lived, magical, wiser and better educated, and certainly Kandomere's equal in looks—the elf was a bit short and stocky compared to his 6' 3” swimmer's build. He knew Khirad saw the advantages he offered and yet she still cleaved to the elf. This mating was not unstable, not at all. Volatile certainly, but not unstable.

 

Killing him had certainly crossed his mind, more than once. He could easily use the Inferni to do it and appear blameless himself. But he doubted that would solve the problem. She was tied to her adoptive family, ties that went far deeper than mere blood. While she was intrigued by the idea of finding her biological family, she thought of Findarion as her house and her true family. There was no, “Who am I really?” instability for him to play on, nothing like that. She seemed to think of herself as pretty much that same as before, just with some extra unknown relatives she wanted to find and a new label—djinn. It was bizarre how little her sense of self was altered, or perhaps the trauma of Galdor's assault left no room for anything else. He didn't understand it, but he was clear that Findarion would be an ongoing part of her life if she had a choice about it, and Findarion would not accept him.

 

It kept coming back to that—he would have to force her. Once she turned dark, Findarion would reject her. The marid would likely reject her. He could use Kandomere's life and safety to motivate her to serve him until enough of the dark rooted in her that she began to do so willingly. Again, as always, his little conscience twisted in agony at the idea of such cruelty. He could not wait to snap the stupid thing. At first it had been an amusement, and he'd thought to let it grow along with the love he'd been certain she would develop for him. A stupid fantasy it turned out—two weeks and she longed to leave him already. She would return, but for his use to her as a teacher and guide. He was her kind, superior, she should want him. Perfect, he had played to perfection what he'd seen in her many fantasies as he looked through her memories, given her exactly what she wanted. It had been a very long time indeed since he had expended such effort to seduce a woman and still she told him stop. It had been even longer since he had felt the bitterness of wanting a woman to care for him—utter stupidity that, but galling to see her care wasted on one so far beneath him.

 

With a snarl, he bit the one beneath him again, finishing inside her as he tasted her blood and felt her clench on him in a paroxysm of intense pleasure, heard her sweet cry of completion. Better. He felt more in control and properly drained of aggression and lust. Gripping her ankle, he sent a rush of magic through her to heal her of any marks—she wasn't his, merely rented after all. He then snapped any bonds between them created by her blood and padded to the shower to refresh himself. Perhaps he could continue this farce a little longer, but perhaps he would simply dispense with the pretense. Regardless, his patience wore thin. He felt compelled to claim her by both sides of his nature. Even once he joined the djinn it would be centuries before he would be powerful enough to be considered a worthy choice of mate for any female, first married or widow alike. He should simply take this one and make her into what he wanted. If only she wasn't so powerful he would have long dispensed with this foolishness. And, some weak part of him wanted her to be glad of him, to choose him over the elf. Perhaps she still would, given time. He would wait a bit longer, but not much.

 

Chapter Text

 

It was dark in this warehouse, at least to human eyes, and so probably perfect for orcs. Magic and darkness, add in fucking mosquitoes, dub step, Hosato's terrible terrible spaghetti casserole, and a team of door to door singing evangelists and you'd have everything he hated in one place. Oh, and the Inferni, he definitely hated them most of all. And that was probably exactly who was waiting for him in this fucking cave of a place.

 

An orc materialized out of the darkness, well dressed in slacks and a sweater, like this was a date. He even had on cologne. What the fuck?

 

"Hello, Montehugh, please come this way." The orc's voice was cultured, elegant, a fucking country club accent if orcs had country clubs. He indicated to follow him, turned and walked toward a door. Montehugh could see it from the light streaming out from under it and was that some weird kind of techno heavy metal fusion music playing? The what the fucks just kept coming.

 

The orc paused, opened the door and if he'd thought he'd seen weird before, well, it was nothing compared to what he saw before him now. It appeared to be an orc shaman rave. There must have been fifty or more of them in full ceremonial dress and a positive forest of those weird lighted trees they used in their magic. At the center was a great pit with what was probably the head seer standing on a raised stone platform that edged out over the pit as the others circled it in some fucked up dance. The air smelled of blood and felt thick with magic. And that fucking pit seemed to be breathing, or maybe it was just steam rising, but it looked like nothing so much as a great jagged mouth in the ground. As he watched, an orc led a cow wreathed with flowers up a ramp to the seer. She—it was definitely she and probably the grandmother based on the withered wrinkled bared breasts-- slit the cow's throat in one quick cut and toppled the body into the pit. The shamans cut their right hands and slung blood in after. Next the seer slaughtered a goat, the shamans slung in more blood, and on it went for a time as the magic built until Montehugh thought he would bolt in sheer terror.

 

The seer called out to him where he stood watching this shit show, pointed at him with a trembling bloodstained finger, "Montehugh. You are brave, a soldier for the Light. But just how badly do you want to help your friends?"

 

Fucking grandstanding bullshit. He just did his job, he was no fucking hero. He stepped up and didn't answer, just walked to where the seer indicated he should be. Whatever she was going to ask him to do, he knew it would be bad. He felt his hands begin to shake, his body flooding him with the compulsion to run from danger, or fight it, not walk calmly toward the most dangerous fucking part of this dangerous fucking bullshit. He'd add magical fucking death pits to his list of things he hated.

 

He walked up the ramp, past orcs wear masks of various animals, horns, feathers, skins, just a shit-ton of dead animal parts. Only the head seer's face was bare, the whole top half of her body was bare. It probably meant something but he had no idea what. He was frankly too scared to think.

 

The music intensified, the dancers moving faster and the magic tightening until a pinpoint of light began in the center of the pit.

 

"Once it fully opens, you will have minutes to retrieve your friend. We will hold the portal as long as we can, but your enemy is strong and dark." The seer grasped his hand, "You must retrieve her. He can not be allowed to turn her dark."

 

Montehugh had literally no fucking idea what any of this meant and would definitely prefer to do absolutely anything instead of jumping into a magical death pit that appeared to have no bottom and now had a small glowing window into some other place hovering in midair. Apparently he was supposed to jump through that. Fuck that. He'd say it, but currently he was literally speechless with fear.

 

"Now, jump now."

 

He couldn't, he was frozen with fear. He didn't mess with this magic shit, not now, not ever. The portal clarified and he saw Khirad curled up on a kitchen floor, she looked bad, really thin, skin even paler than usual, dark circles under her eyes, bad.

 

And so he jumped.

 


 

Baal felt the disruption like a dark chord inside him--someone, somehow had breached his sanctum. Had Khirad opened a portal? She had the power but not the knowledge, or so he thought. Had she learned it from him somehow, picked it up via the blood bond? Had he fed her more than his lust and not realized it? He was ten minutes from the closest established portal, far too long. He'd need to improvise something. Well, he had the raw material here for a quick basic portal, though it would burn a line right to his hiding place. Didn't matter, his sanctum was useless to him now that is was no longer secret. He'd get Khirad, bind her tonight, and journey with her to the ifrit. With the binding in place, he would gain a share of her power, enough that he would be able to win a place among his people. In order to enforce their own rules regarding first marriages and the required four children, his people would likely help him control and keep his wife. Eventually she would learn to accept her new status, and the children would be a good distraction as well. He would not be the first ifrit with a reluctant bride, especially among the darker clans such as his own.

 

Stepping into the bed room he slit the escort's throat with his knife. It saddened him to lose this one--he had enjoyed her a great deal. Not nearly enough power though. These deaths would be weak, not one with more than a trace of magic and all human, so he'd have to make up for the lack of individual power with quantity. He stepped out the door, slew the security guard, the receptionist, then room by room clients and escorts, one by one, until all were dead. Such a waste. If it were Khirad attempting to flee, he'd punish her severely. If another breached his walls, he'd follow them back and kill them, if not now then later. Quickly he cast the spell and focused for the jump.

 


 

Khirad knew she should get up off the floor now but she was really quite tired. She probably needed to eat, Baal had told her to eat but she just didn't feel like it. Last night he'd tempted her into eating some of the cake he made—it really was delicious—but even that she wasn't all that interested in eating. It probably wasn't that big of a deal, Baal didn't seemed worried about it but her clothes were looser and she felt light, like she would float away. Still, she had energy to spar and energy to practice magic, at least when he was here. She was fine. When Baal came home she'd be fine, he'd know what to do and she'd do what he said this time, at least about the eating.

 

She wished Kandomere were here, or her family, or both. She was so tired of being underground and longed for the sun and fresh air, the woods at night. Ten snuggling against her by the fire, her lab, anything from her old life. It felt so far away now. Probably she should just let it go and accept this new life, but she was filled with such sadness she couldn't. He'd said he'd let her go but she was pretty he wouldn't. This cave would be her life. Her worst nightmare, the captive of a possessive elf she didn't love, no matter how nice.

 

Pfft. She was overreacting. Baal was not like that. He was a good guy, he'd let her go when it was safe and tonight they would make a fetish to help Kandomere and she'd write him a letter. It would be fine. She'd just rest a little until he came home, just a little more, she was really tired.

 

She felt a surge of magic and heard a hush then a roar. Huh. Why would Baal portal into the kitchen? And so that's what a portal looked like? That was cool, she could see the magic of it. So that's how it worked. Huh. Good to know. But, wait, Montehugh? Montehugh had no magic. Ok, she was hallucinating. That was bad. Something had to be bad wrong. She struggled up to her hands and knees and looked up as she heard her hallucination shout, “Khirad!”

 

He ran to her, picked her up and carried her toward the portal. It looked pretty unstable, the edges seeming to push and fight against the wards of Baal's caves. She wanted the fuck out, and hallucination or not she'd do what she could to help just in case this was legit and not a dream. Opening the place inside her where her magic lived she linked it to the portal and felt it strengthen as they neared it. Two more feet. One.

 

KHIRAD!!!!”

 

A scream of absolute fury, Baal emerged blood stained from his inner sanctum right as Montehugh stepped through the portal. Shit, was he hurt? She should stay to help him. Too late, the portal was unstable and would shut and kill them both any second. With a wave, Baal tried to catch them but they were through and the portal snapped closed in his snarling face. Khirad felt a wave of utter weariness and looked around her at an empty warehouse, nothing but walls and bare dusty concrete floor. What an odd choice of a place to portal to.

 

“What the mother FUCK,” Montehugh swore colorfully, then tried to explain to her something about orcs and dancing and a pit but she couldn't follow what he was saying. He was talking to her as he called someone, then

 

“Findal, I have her. Yes. Ok. Here's the coordinates. I don't know. I saw him, but he didn't match anyone I'd ever seen before. Yes. She's, she's alive. I don't know.”

 

This one-sided conversation went on for a bit so she decided she'd take a little nap, just a short one while they figured out what they had to figure out. This was probably a hallucination or a dream anyway.

 


 

Montehugh picked Khirad up and took her outside to wait. It just felt better, safer, out in the direct sunlight. She was always thin, but under those baggy clothes she now felt like a sack of hard edges. He walked her to his car and set her in the seat, got in himself and started the engine just in case. He gave her a quick look over-- no bruises or cuts, she didn't seem to have been tortured, but she definitely hadn't been eating much. It seemed odd that she could lose this much weight in such a short time—some magic maybe? She looked bad, cheeks nearly hollow, dark circles under her eyes, paper white skin. Hadn't been sleeping, or hadn't been sleeping well. And that big whited haired elf had been absolutely terrifying, bloody handed, blood splashed pants, and his murderous pale green eyes all but glowing with power. Montehugh had seen his death in that moment, knew he'd made an enemy who would never forget and never forgive.

 

Fuck it, wouldn't be the first, wouldn't be the last. Part of the fucking job, though today had been about his maximum. He'd be moving himself and Hosato into hiding. Findal had offered to let them stay at his halls “for convenience as you are so often here now and your mate must miss you sorely.” He hadn't considered it then, but he was seriously considering it now. Hosato would love the idea and enjoy both the “cultural experience,” as he would put it and the bragging rights. It would be a once in a lifetime experience from Hosato's point of view as an interior designer. And it was probably the best opportunity he had to keep Hosato safe. Findal would even do the packing, moving, and arranging under Hosato's watchful eye.

 

He could coordinate with the MTF from there just fine and he wasn't a fool—whoever the fuck that silver-haired bastard had been he was no one to fuck with, and Montehugh hadn't just kicked the ant pile but done a fucking polka through it in steel-toed boots and a frilly fucking dress. Yep, moving time.

 

Called Findal first and with a quick, “Yes, of course, I will send people immediately,” the ball was rolling. Time to call Hosato.

 

“Hello, sweetie. Good day?” Nothing filled him with more happiness than the sound of Hosato's voice.

 

“Nope. Awful. Absolute shit storm.”

 

“I'm making spaghetti casserole for you.”

 

Fuck my life, this day could get worse. “Aw, babe, that sounds delicious. Hey, I know you just finished a big job for a client, right?”

 

“Yes, any chance of you getting time off?”

 

“Not exactly, but I do have a surprise I think you'll like. You know how I've been going out to Lord Findal's halls as part of work? Well Lord Findal has invited us to stay in a suite of rooms to make my coordination with him and Kandomere more convenient. He will even handle the packing, moving, and all expenses related as well as ensure the security of our house while we are gone. What do you think?”

 

There was a silence. “Tonight you'll tell me the real story.”

 

Fuck. “Yes, I will.”

 

“All of it that isn't classified.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And I take anything, as much as I want?”

 

“Yes, anything.”

 

“Very well. And at the end of our stay, Findal allows me to do a piece on his interior design, a full spread of photos.”

 

“Babe.” He looked up as he heard a helicopter approaching. Thank god.

 

“I will speak to him.”

 

“Babe...”

 

“I will speak to him.”

 

It was pointless to argue. “Ok, babe. They should be there soon.”

 

“They just showed up. My, that is a lot of vans and elves.”

 

“Got to go, babe. Love you.”

 

“Love you too, sweetie.”

 

Montehugh walked toward the helicopter with Khirad in his arms and saw Findal emerge and run towards him. He took Khirad from him, clutched her to him with tears in his eyes, and headed quickly toward the helicopter. Looked over his shoulder at Montehugh and said, “Come. I will have a guard drive your car back to the halls. I am in your utter debt, house Findarion is in your utter debt, elf-friend. How did you find and retrieve her?”

 

Montehugh handed his keys off to the guard Findal indicated and belted himself into the seat. It would be hard to talk over the chopper as it was a military craft, but he'd try his best.

 

“An orc seer contacted me.” Montehugh relayed the contact, the ceremony, the trip through the portal, the empty warehouse, the elf he saw, all of it to Findal on the ride there. It broke his heart to see Findal look so openly vulnerable and grieved as opposed to sneering and cold—he'd far prefer to see him back to his old imperious self or even his terrifying self of the last month.

 

Findal nodded, stroking Khirad's hair reflexively, “I am not familiar with this elf, but perhaps others are.” He looked directly at Montehugh, “Thank you.”

 

Montehugh nodded, not sure what to say back, and then Findal nodded too and they both lapsed into silence.

 


 

Kandomere was running through the woods, running, trying to escape himself when the bond suddenly came alive. It dropped him to his knees, to feel her after so long, to know she was alive for certain. He reached out to her and realized she was unconscious, hurt, and something more. There was something more there, something dark, some tie to another and their bond somehow weakened. A wave of pure hatred and fury washed over him and he sought to locate her. Moving toward him, toward the halls, he could feel her approach. He stood and ran back towards the halls, Ten loping at his heels and his guards following. Getting closer, he could feel her, and a few minutes later a helicopter sounded in the distance. She was on it. He would have her soon. The guards would not stop him, no one would stop him, she was his, his alone.

 

He broke through the trees, breathing hard, to see the helicopter landing. His. She was there. She was alive. A sharp sting in his neck, and another, then a third. He slapped at them and felt a trank dart fall. With a roar he turned and saw his guards with fucking manacles moving towards him cautiously. Dart in his hand, he was woozy, fell to his knees,

 

“I'll fucking kill you all! I'll..”

 

And with that he slumped over face first on the lawn.

 


 

Montehugh followed Findal out of the chopper and saw the guards pick up Kandomere and begin to carry him toward the house. They must have knocked him out somehow. And was he wearing manacles? Not that he blamed them for restraining him—Kandomere was not himself and Khirad was obviously fragile. But it was hard to see his partner like that. Both should get better now they were together, at least he really hoped so.

 

Down into the deeper parts of the house to the hospital wing they walked until Findal laid her down on a waiting gurney. The doctors whisked her away followed by Findal, Misterial, and Mara—the two females had been waiting. Montehugh stayed with Kandomere and watched as the guard laid him carefully on a gurney then secured him to the reinforced steel frame at multiple points. It absolutely looked like overkill, and then Montehugh remembered the insane boost in strength elves got when separated from their mates too long, and the look of the conference table hurtling though the courtyard. Maybe not enough restraints. Then he noticed the nurse walking up with a bag of some fluid—they were going to keep him sedated until he calmed a bit apparently. Good idea.

 

Once they got Kandomere set up and the IV going, the guards pushed him along the hall toward the room they had placed Khirad in and then wheeled him in too. She was in a large hospital bed, looked twice as big as a normal bed. That was weird. Then he saw them unstrap Kandomere and shift him into the bed with her. Oh, that was genius. Keep him knocked out so he's no danger to her but let him have the contact he needed with her to get well. It would probably help Khirad too, at least he hoped so. She was on an IV too and frankly they both looked fucking terrible, a matched pair.

 

As he watched, Kandomere's nostril's flared and he shifted in his sleep toward her. The guard stood, ready to intervene, but all he did was curl around her and sigh in relief. She shifted toward him as well and her expression seemed calmer, less fearful. Maybe it would all be ok.

 

 

Chapter Text

With the bond open, for the first time in a month Kandomere could experience what she experienced, see what she saw, and feel as she felt. The memory of what the Inferni did to her prior to Baal was as hidden from him as it was from her, but everything else he experienced. He watched in first surprise, then in incandescent fury as his mate kissed another. The first time she thought this Baal was a dream, but even so the idea she could dream about another and be so...casual about it was infuriating. But the last time, that time she had come close to, so very close to accepting another into her bed. Had ached for him, wanted him badly. Even after her denial, this other had entered her thoughts as she pleasured herself. He would kill him, it was simply a matter of time and opportunity. And he was furious with her, filled with rage, jealousy, and hurt.

 

He had felt such utter madness and had struggled toward her, to hold her and keep her. She smelled of this other and her desire for him, unbearable, he would wipe that scent off the face of the earth, off her first. But he been thrust back into a deeper sleep before he could do so. When next he rose from oblivion, he could not sense her presence and had panicked and again been sent down. The third time he arose he sensed her close, close enough he could scent her and all she smelled of was herself, her family, and him. This was acceptable. And so he dreamed. They were not dreams he wanted, and he was so angry he ached with it.

 

That she liked this Ball, and that he was her kind, and was markedly attractive and clearly competent made it worse. He had saved her and given her back her knowledge of who she truly was—Kandomere could feel the truth of the memories, they were real. And he was right, Kandomere had manipulated her and to hear her baldly state that this was not the life she had wanted, well, it was no easy thing. But she was his and he would not let her go. And she had missed him, had longed for him, that was true also. He thought this Baal had done a fair amount of manipulating himself and he was certain that he was the source of their weakened bond. When he awoke, he would renew it and break these ties to this other. Something about her desire for this other felt off too, dark and wrong. He suspected dark magic, especially since his mate had gotten worse and not better in this male's care.

 

This memory she hid from, how bad was it? What horror had the Inferni inflicted on her? She was not a fearful person so it must be shattering. He felt scored by guilt as much as anger. This Baal was right—he had taken poor care of his mate by not warning her and her house. He had thought it obvious that as a senior field agent the Inferni would consider him a target, had simply accepted the risk. It didn't occur to him that she would not realize the danger of being his mate as she worked for the MTF herself. It just seemed so obvious. Yet it had not been obvious to her as shown by her rage at him. She was furious with him, that was clear. What form this rage would take he felt unsure of, but it was there and real and worst of all probably justified. He had failed to protect his mate, had placed her at risk, and had failed to rescue her. This other male had gotten a chance to steal his mate because he had failed in his duty. He hated this other male, hated him completely.

 

As angry as he was, he did not blame her for being swayed, not entirely at least. Her mind had been damaged, had come close to breaking. She had not been, was not even now, truly herself. Two weeks this other had pieced her back together, and for another two weeks he had began to teach her the basics of how to protect herself. He had sought her djinn family, had been kind to her. Were it not for the sickness he felt in her, he would think this male had cared for her well. Though perhaps it was not his fault for her worsening condition, perhaps it was this memory she would not face. Kandomere did not care, he would almost certainly kill him. This male was determined to steal his mate, this was clear, and any debt he owed him for preserving her life and sanity was superseded by his desire to keep his mate.

 

Baal was her only connection to her people, the djinn being notoriously difficult to find since the magic ban. Khirad would likely not forgive him if he cut off the only chance she had to find her family and to be trained as a djinn. This would be difficult. The irony of one of his house being mated to one of the most powerful magical beings did not escape him. His father's face, how he looked forward to the amusement it would bring to tell him that his grandchildren would be half-djinn. Not that he would so indulge himself—he would no longer invite risk into their lives via foolish pride. She was certainly right that parading her into Elftown with a giant mating mark on her neck was foolish, though he had thought that the security of his entire floor, Findals' halls, and the MTF headquarters would be enough. He had thought she would be safe with him, or with Findal, or at headquarters. He had been a fool. No more.

 

Again he felt the desire to sequester her, perhaps Findal would agree to keep her here at the halls for a time. At least until he caught the master who orchestrated this capture. He detested Baal, but he did owe him something for saving her. Had it not been for his intervention, she would be dead by now, used to make a wand. He should let him live, if he could resist the urge to kill him for touching his mate. It would be a challenge, that was certain. Perhaps he might ask Findal to meet this male, when he eventually emerged. It was a certainty he would return, that was obvious from his behavior with Khirad. He knew little about djinn males, but he knew precisely the sort of drives male elves had and recognized the other male's interest quite clearly--Baal considered Khirad his, he would not easily relinquish his claim.

 

Why could nothing be simple for him? A selfish thought, given all she had gone through, but he longed for the simplicity of them alone and happy with one another in a world free of threats. A foolish and selfish thought, he would be better served focusing on helping his mate to heal. Though his anger seemed to grow day by day, and she seemed worse as well, detached from him in a way that increased his fury. He felt her connection to this other and it maddened him---if she truly wanted this other he would kill him in front of her and he would take her and sequester her. Soon even the drugs would not keep him from her. Each day he grew worse, his mind less rational.

 


 

Khirad questioned if it was really necessary to keep Kandomere sedated, but Misterial assured her it definitely was--until his hormone levels returned to something close to normal he was a danger to her. Three days of sleeping in a bed next to his and then holding him when he was fully sedated and it seemed like he was worse. She'd dreamed what he experienced and realized he was never going to be able to be away from her for more than a few weeks. The first thing she'd get Baal to teach her when next she, somehow, saw him would be to make those charms he spoke of, the ones that tricked the instinct into thinking the mate was present. She knew she should hate that Kandomere suffered, but in all honesty she had little energy left to help him and largely felt nothing for him.

 

Well, she felt fear of him. There was that. Maybe it was a reasonable fear too. She could sense that Kandomere was furious at her infidelity and that was fair. She knew she should feel guilty about it, but she just didn't. That was weird. And it occurred to her increasingly that Kandomere was a threat to her, that he would hunt her down and hurt her, that she should run. It might even be true—she could feel the rage building in him. But she thought she'd like to talk to him first even if that seemed frankly stupid.

 

She was utterly exhausted and had little desire to eat. The lust that had tormented her was replaced with a dull lifeless sense of meaninglessness. She tried to fake caring, but she just wanted to do nothing and sleep, to hide inside herself. Nothing mattered, and her memory pressed on her. Soon, she would remember what happened, she would not have Baal to hold it back anymore. Her family and Kandomere hadn't made it better, and if they could not then nothing could. So this was what hopeless felt like?

 

Findal was taking her to see an elderly elf healer in Chile that specialized in magical maladies. She stroked Kandomere's hair and even sedated, he snuggled closer and pressed his body to hers. She felt only a sick fear at this—the only time she felt anything good was when she thought of Baal. Then she felt hope, and a sweet longing for him that surprised her. Even Ten she cared nothing for, Mara, Findal, Misterial, nothing.

 

She wasn't stupid. And she was no slave to her feelings. Baal wanted her and he was far more advanced at magic. She knew nothing about djinn males but she knew elves and there were very few things they would hesitate to do to get what they wanted from a member of another house. And as one of the Unhoused, he had literally nothing to lose. He had no house to dishonor, no house to retaliate against, none of the normal restraints. It was likely this was a spell of some kind meant to drive her back to him. That was some bullshit. She could not feel angry, but she knew that normally she would. She didn't feel like herself, but she hadn't suddenly become an idiot. Logically, this was not like her. So it must be something else.

 

If she'd felt nothing for him too, she'd have racked it up to trauma. But he was the only one she felt anything positive for which was just suspicious. Also, each time she slept she dreamed he was being tortured by the Inferni, captured and abused since his hideout was revealed. Last she saw him, he had been covered with blood but he hadn't been hurt, at least he hadn't been hurt badly. No one moved that fast and that well if they were seriously hurt and he would not have been able to concentrate well enough to open a portal either. The dreams did not feel prescient, they felt like something else. But she wasn't sure. But this draw she felt, and the repeated dreams urging her to save him, well, it just seemed suspicious as fuck. And she had learned a little about not jumping to conclusions and being stupid from the clusterfuck involving Kandomere. So she talked with Findal about some of it. It was exhausting, but she'd learned to be less of an idiot so she made herself.

 

Findal distrusted this male, but then Findal distrusted everyone not of the house. Still, when she'd said she felt increasingly compelled to seek him out, Findal had looked disturbed and insisted on this day trip. Khirad had shrugged, and agreed with a yawn—it didn't matter much to her. She hadn't even bothered telling her family everything that had happened or even that she was not human—talking just seemed an exhausting bother. They asked questions and she answered with the minimum. She could tell they were worried, but again she just didn't care. It was awful, but she felt so numb she would shrug at most of what they said. But she told Findal about this draw, that she somehow forced out. Be smart, she told herself, you need to do this. It had royally sucked, each word more difficult than the last. That had worried Findal too, but she was just tired, so tired.

 

Kandomere's hair was soft, and she knew she used to really like to pet it. She missed feeling for him, and missed him or something like missing the ability to miss him. Nothing felt real, like she was marking time until she returned to Baal. That pissed her off intellectually but she could not feel the anger, only a longing. She was pretty sure that he had tied her somehow, and this time she felt excited about it. Maybe that was why she noticed it, or noticed it felt false. She resented the normal healthy ties between her and Kandomere and her family, and she was completely ok, even eager about this tie? No. That just wasn't her. For better or worse, she hated feeling tied to anyone, she never welcomed it. So this had to be bullshit even if it felt more real than anything else right now.

 

She hated being tricked and especially hated being treated like she was stupid. Baal was an elf, and elves saw nothing wrong with trickery especially if they thought it justified. He might be the good guy she thought him and consider her safer with him and that might be driving this trick. Or maybe he was simply selfishly trying to force her return. Or maybe this was not him at all. There was another who had struck at her house. Baal warned her that she was an appealing target and now a visible one, maybe this enemy of her house was attacking her in some magical way she could neither understand or repel. Maybe this other was using Baal to draw her and it was not Baal she would find at this place she felt. It was very confusing, especially given how tired she was. But tired or not, she was never going to bow to any tie, not now, not ever. She was of Belarion, Findarion, and bowed to no one.

 

“It is time, Khirad.” Findal entered the room and smiled gently.

 

She pulled away from Kandomere who grumbled and clung, but not with any strength. Leaning over, she whispered to him, “I love you, Kandomere. I'm going to find a way to fix us both.” Then she stood and said, “Let's do this,” and followed it up with a huge yawn.

 

They went down into the deep bowels of the halls to the great stone gates that joined this hall to the others throughout the world. Powered by a congruence of ley lines, the life of the forest itself, and the accumulation of thousands of years of Invocations, the gates were a permanent fixture of Findarion. They looked rather like a series of mossy stone arches leading to blank stone walls, like a decorative effect, until they were opened. Findal gestured and the one to to the hall in the deep woods of Chile opened in a spread of first light then sound and smell. They saw the Chilean wood elves bow and walked through to a formal welcome. Khirad immediately sat down in the closest chair, utterly exhausted by the short trip. After a moment, she felt Findal pick her up and carry her. To the healer, she assumed, though she could not be bothered to open her eyes—she'd seen these halls before and she was so tired. As they drew closer to the healer, she began to feel agitated, like this place was dangerous to her. That was stupid—she knew she was safe here—and again really suspicious.

 

“Findal, I'm feeling more and more fearful, like something is telling me to run. I think something is wrong and I might be a danger.”

 

Findal looked at her gravely, then paused. “I can sedate you if you wish. The healers at our North American halls said something like this might happen.”

 

“I'd prefer to be restrained but awake. Is that possible?”

 

“Yes, but I must gag you as well.”

 

“Spells, of course,” she held out her hands and he bound her hand, foot, and mouth.

 

As they drew closer, the compulsion to fight grew stronger. She was no one's slave and fought it, determined to not give in. Her heart pounded and the compulsion to leave, to return to Baal rose to a shrieking pitch and she began to stubbornly recite the royal motto of Belarion to herself mentally, “No other shall rule me.” Somehow, she forced herself to be still though sweat dripped down from her brow and she felt agitated and exhausted all at the same time.

 

They entered a room and a tall female elf with ankle length pale gold hair and silver eyes smiled then frowned when she saw Khirad. She gestured to a pallet with a pillow set in a large open circle made of branches, salt, earth, iron, and blood, “Place her inside and on the pallet via the opening.”

 

Once she was laid inside, escape hammering in her head as she forced herself to lie still, the elf closed the circle first with more branches. The compulsion lessened though it felt more desperate. Then salt. Less. Earth. Much less. Iron filings closed and she sighed in relief and then with blood she finally felt alone. Herself for the first time in what felt like forever, she curled up on the little bed and actually fell into a real true sleep.

 


 

Baal snarled in fury as he felt the circle of protection close. Another few days and he would have had her, stubborn girl. Or he would have pushed Kandomere to do something unforgivable. His tie to her, and through her to Kandomere would be removed now—he'd sensed this other and she was old and powerful for an elf. Fuck. She would teach Khirad how to purify and defend herself. Khirad would be harder to catch and harder to keep now.

 

His sanctum rendered useless, he had gone back to his apartments. Jumping from apartment to apartment was tiresome, but offered the protection of unpredictability until he could find and fortify a new sanctum. Had Khirad left the protection of the house, he would have been able to snatch her up. Findal's house wards made it suicide to attempt to portal into any of his halls, but the grounds were more lightly warded. Dangerous, but a reasonable risk for one of his power. Now he would have to locate Khirad—the bond made her easy to find—and could no longer depend on either her ignorance or her goodwill.

 

He should cut the thread before she cut it or turned it against him. She would know he was manipulating her, though given her ambivalence about that elven trait she might not hold it against him. He considered. He could return to the Inferni. As a wandmaker they would certainly accept him back and as the other higher ranked Inferni went to ground his disappearance would be unremarkable. Hmm...he could convince Lirael to torture him easily—simply tell her it would assist him in building power to form another wand, that it was necessary and he craved vengeance for Galdor enough to do anything. That would work. If he left the thread open she would feel his pain and know it was real, believe that the dreams were not actually fake. Given Lirael's skill, he would definitely be crying out for deliverance, and Khirad would feel compelled to attempt to save him.

 

Though doubtless she would not come alone. Risky, very risky, and he did not like that at all. There were others in play as well, whoever opened the portal remained a powerful unknown. No, he rather thought he would snap this tie and wait for the opportunity to simply take her. Snapping it would be a frank relief to be rid of his conscience and make it easier to plan without the stupid thing twisting and annoying him. This elf might give her some training, but it was unlikely to be enough to beat him in battle, especially with his focus restored. He would definitely turn her dark before he bound himself to her again, and he had the very inkling of a plan on how to do it. He would need to return to the Inferni, and their resources would be useful as always. With a grimace he snapped the thin strand of light in himself and sighed in relief at the silence. He ignored the pang of pain he felt—stupid, just like missing her. It would be easier to accomplish his goals if he focused on strategy. When next they met, he would be his full true self.

 

Chapter Text

 

Kandomere woke and saw Montehugh and Findal standing over him. He sat up in bed, swung his legs to the side, and was surprised to see them both step back. He scented Montehugh's fear and it pleased him. “Are you going to fucking sedate me again?” he snarled angrily.

 

Montehugh shifted uncomfortably and Findal lazily held up his hand to hold back the approaching guards, “Do you plan to give me reason to do so?”

 

He glared at Findal, then bit out, “Where is she?” He was marginally less furious as he could no longer sense a connection from her to Baal. That didn't mean she felt no connection, but at least he no longer felt it. He'd closed the bond a couple of days ago, tired of being tormented by his inability to do anything about her growing detachment and longing for this other, but he wasn't sure which was worse, wondering about it or being forced to sense her longing for another and detachment toward him. Now he sensed no longing for this other. Instead he felt her sorrow, guilt and fear, such fear, her mind full of thoughts of what he would do to her when he saw her again. Good. He could again feel her love for him, but it was hard to forget her infidelity and the feelings he knew she had felt for this other male. Each time he remembered her kissing him, him touching her, a fresh wave of fury rushed through him.

 

“She is with a healer. I will take you to her if you are able to control yourself. The doctors say your hormone levels have dropped significantly, enough that you should be rational,” Findal's voice indicated a degree of skepticism regarding this.

 

“I will not hurt her,” though he would renew their bond and bind her closer to him. He would keep her, he would. He might punish her. That was between them, not Findal.

 

Findal sighed, and looked at him, “It is a risk we must take. She will not eat, does not seem to be getting better. Two days she has been with the healer and while the connection between her and the one who was tormenting her is gone, she is not well.” He paused and seemed to be trying to compose himself, “She has stopped speaking, the healer is uncertain what to do to assist her or even what the problem might be. There is no longer any magical or spiritual attack, it seems to be some injury of the mind.”

 

How bad could she be? He saw her memories of being fed cake, petted and cosseted. On the last day she had been tired and mentioned needing to eat, but her memories indicated no ill treatment. This was likely an overreaction on the part of Findal. But he would see his unfaithful mate for himself.

 

“I will speak with her. She will answer me.”

 

“I hope you are correct, Kandomere. Come.”

 

“I will bathe and require fresh clothes,” after seeing her reaction to this other elf, her admiration of him, he would not appear before her filthy and disheveled.

 

Anger flashed though Findal's eyes, then he sighed and said, “Very well. Quickly.”

 

Kandomere stood and was pleased to find he remained lithe and fit despite having been bed bound and sedated for the better part of a week. A nurse led him to the shower area and left him alone. As he washed, he looked at himself and found he was leaner and more muscular, perhaps she would find that to her liking in him as she had found it so appealing in the other. He rested his forehead against the shower wall and wished he could forget what he had seen, could release his anger. No matter, he would make himself the best choice, and remove this rival, defeat him. He toweled off and dressed quickly—the house had provided him a fine suit by Kiton in his house colors and appropriate shirt, tie, shoes, and undergarments. He felt more himself than he had in quite some time and was pleased.

 

As he stepped from the bathroom, Findal gestured to follow and he and Montehugh led the way. It was clear that an easy camaraderie stood between Findal and Montehugh—when had that happened? The regal elf was positively warm towards Montehugh. There was a story behind that, and likely one involving Khirad. He must owe the retrieval of his mate to Montehugh. One more reason to be thankful for him.

 

Down they went into the depths of the halls to a tall vaulted stone hall with decorative stone gates lining the walls of the enormous chamber. The air felt thick with magic, old elemental magic, earthy and powerful. Findal led them to a section of the empty hall and with a flick of his wrist one of the gates became more than decorative. The stone seemed to fade until it was simply an archway like the many archways one saw in Findal's halls and they walked through. Based on the number of doorways, Findarion could move instantly between many many places, though given the haste Findal urged through the gate it would not necessarily be useful for troop movements. But a small party? Yes, certainly. It certainly explained Findarion's reputation as particularly skilled assassins. Again, Kandomere was thankful that Findarion was largely peaceful unless provoked, and definitely glad the MTF had not decided to attempt to fully enforce the magic ban with them.

 

He could scent her, slightly, in these halls. He wanted to break from Findal and Montehugh and find her, mark her, punish her, make her see him, see that he was the better choice—a whirlwind of powerful conflicting emotions filled him with rage the underlying force driving it. But he must control himself at least until he reached her or they would sedate him again. He felt a hint of worry, she felt weaker than when he had last opened the bond, and he scented something different about her scent, more than the fear and anxiety that pleased him, something wrong. Not sickness, but something like it. Ridiculous. She had been here five days and he had her memories of training with Baal, being fed cake, treated like a princess, how bad could she had gotten in five days? No, he would not let her go but he would not treat her infidelity lightly, regardless of her sadness over his well deserved anger.

 

His conscience pricked at him, she was tortured by the Inferni and it is, at least partly, your fault. That did not excuse her turning to another in mere weeks. Though this other, had he used magic to influence her? She felt different now that the other was gone, no longer detached but hopeless, certain he hated her. Pain, such pain and guilt, and it made him glad.

 

Closer, her scent was stronger. Findal paused and led him to another room, “You should speak with the healer before you see her...”

 

“I will see her now.

 

“Kandomere, another has...”

 

He snarled, “I know of her infidelity, I need not hear of it from another.”

 

Findal looked horrified, and he realized this was not what the other elf had meant to tell him. He would try to stop him from seeing her now. Good luck with that. Kandomere kicked out and slammed Findal into the wall, turned and knocked Montehugh's gun from his hand, the man shouting in pain as his wrist snapped back, and then he ran towards her scent. Nothing, no one, would keep him from her.

 

Down the hall the scent grew stronger and stronger, up a flight of stairs and through a pack of guards that attempted to restrain him but failed utterly until finally he emerged onto a stone balcony that faced the setting sun. He saw Ten lift her head from where she lay next to Khirad on the carved wooden daybed, his mate partially obscured by the mosquito netting around the bed. She looked strangely small under the covers, and the scent of sickness was stronger. Fear, he felt fear for the first time and rushed to pull back the netting and see her.

 

She was asleep, her head thrown back and he could see every cord of muscle in her neck, the too sharp outline of her jaw, cheeks sunken, dark circles under her eyes. He looked down her body, horrified, frightened at what he saw, she was wasting away, had wasted away to next to nothing. The cords in her hands and the bones of her wrist and forearm stood out as they lay on top of the sheet covering her. She was severely ill, hurting, and he had shut her out. Hadn't known, hadn't know how sick she was, from her point of view she had simply missed a few meals and was tired.

 

He would exterminate the Inferni, all of them, and this Baal, kill them all. She turned her head and he saw the place where his mark had been—gone. Blind utter fury, this Baal, someone, had removed his mark, hurt his mate, he would kill them. Mark her, mark her, but she was too weak—his instincts were in conflict within him. He stood at the foot of her bed breathing hard as Findal and a pack of guards burst onto the balcony.

 

“Move away from her!” Findal shouted and he looked over to see a great many guns trained on him. They would kill him, not even attempt to restrain him any longer.

 

Before he could say a word, a thin voice said, “No. I want him here.”

 

“Khirad, he is a danger. He means to hurt you.”

 

She looked up at him and he felt her hopeless resignation. She just wanted this done, over. “I don't care. I want him here. Ten doesn't mind him. Leave.” She closed her eyes.

 

“I will not hurt her, I give you my word.” Any desire he had to hurt her was overwhelmed by his fear of losing her to whatever this was, this illness. He didn't smell an illness, more like the effects of one. Ketones from starvation, sweat, fear, anxiety, she would die if this continued.

 

Findal hesitated, then waved back the guards and followed them out. Kandomere drew the curtains around them, moved to the front of the bed and sat. Took her hand and was troubled by how cold it felt. He could warm her if she would allow. Softly he asked, “Would you like me to hold you?”

 

She nodded, so he slid under the covers and held her in his arms. All bones, angles, so thin he could not believe how fast she had declined. She must not have eaten at all, and there surely must have been some other factor, some magic weakening her, either Baal or another leaching her life force away and poisoning her, maybe still doing so as she grew worse.

 

And maybe his anger and closing the bond had contributed to her decline as well. His anger at her was gone, replaced by fear and sorrow for her. She had suffered, this had been no pleasurable thing, it could not have been regardless of these memories she had. It was obvious to look at her that she had suffered greatly. Again he felt hatred and suspicion of this Baal, this one who had supposedly helped her. But for now he put that far away and opened the bond between them fully, as fully as he could with it impaired and let her feel his sorrow and love for her.

 

She began to cry, turned to him and sobbed on his shoulder as he held her so carefully. Ten lay on her other side and between them they tried to comfort her.

 

“Why won't you open the bond completely? It's pointless to try to hide—I know your intentions. I know you hate me--I felt your fury and desire to hurt me before you cut me off, and just now I felt it again. Just be done with it and kill me, just get it over with.”

 

“I do not hate you, would never hurt you. Someone removed my mark, our bond is fractured—that is what you feel.”

 

She was quiet and he felt her disbelief at his words. “Ask Findal to look at your shoulder, ask if he sees my mark,” He turned his head and called Findal, “Lord Findal, please come here,” then sat up with her in his arms.

 

Findal came in and said, “Yes?”

 

Khirad reached up with a spindly arm and pulled her pajamas aside to the shoulder, “Do you see Kandomere's mark?”

 

Findal parted the netting and looked, his expression disturbed, “No, child, there is nothing there.”

 

Her expression was shocked, horrified, she hadn't known or agreed to it, another violation. “Fucking Galdor,” she muttered and then she screamed, an utterly hopeless sound of total terror and he knew she was remembering what had been done to her, and that it had been done by Galdor, the elf she feared the most. She curled into a ball and sobbed into Ten's fur something about being naked and bloody teeth, how he had bitten her all over, enjoyed it, laughed as he did it, and she could, “never get away from him, he'll come back, he will find me.” Kandomere stroked her back, leaned into hold her from behind, anything to comfort her.

 

Findal sat next to her and she climbed over Ten and into his arms, trembled, utterly terrified and hopeless. It broke him to see her like this, and to know that she thought that she could not turn to him, her mate, for comfort.

 

“Galdor is dead, my child.”

 

“He's not, he'll come back for me, he will.”

 

“No. Never again. I saw his body with my own eyes. He's dead.”

 

“I want to see it. I don't believe you.”

 

“We burned him, but there are crime scene pictures. I promise you, he is utterly gone.”

 

“Who killed him, who?”

 

“I do not know, but it was likely the one who took you from the Inferni.”

 

“Baal. Baal saved me from Galdor.”

 

It was a hard thing to hear Baal's name on her lips, and even harder to know that he was the one who saved her from her worst nightmare. It should have been him, but instead he had brought her to the attention of the Inferni and thus Galdor, had brought this nightmare to her. Kandomere listened to her weep and hung his head, wished she would let him comfort her, wished he knew how to heal her. Ten butted his hand with her head and he petted her and began to weep himself, over his injured mate, over his failure to protect her and the loss of her trust in him.

 

“I will get the pictures for you so you can see for yourself he is dead,” Kandomere said. At least he could bring her that peace.

 

“No. I, I want you here. If you...” her voice sounded tentative, as if she believed he could not wait to be gone from her.

 

“Yes, yes, there is nowhere I would rather be than with you.”

 

“Riora,” Findal called.

 

“Yes, my lord?”

 

“Bring me pictures of Galdor dead. Montehugh will have them.”

 

“Yes, my lord.”

 

Kandomere stood, walked to the other side of the bed and stood before her and Findal. Findal watched him warily, clearly unsure as to his intentions.

 

“Khirad.”

 

She opened her eyes to look at him.

 

“I regret my, I regret so much, I should have protected you, warned you, I will do anything to...”

 

He couldn't get the rest out because she spoke over him, “It's not your fault. I deserve your anger. The healer says Baal or another was magically manipulating me, and I feel none of that now, but...”

 

So Baal had used dark magic on her? Why would another create desire in her for Baal? It must be him. And she had resisted, despite the intensity, her trauma, this Baal attractiveness, his claim by elven tradition as the savior of her life, his use of powerful magic, she had cleaved to her mate and he had been angry over a few kisses, was still angry though he would turn it toward a deserving source--Baal.

 

“Khirad, nothing is your fault, nothing.”

 

“You're so angry, I can feel it.”

 

He hung his head, “Yes, but I love you, I, it is, Khirad, I love you. I do not blame you and would never hurt you, never.

 

She leaned against Findal and then nodded, “Would you hold me?”

 

“Yes, gladly.” He sat next to Findal and she crawled into his arms. Findal gave him a warning glance and then left.

 

He held her and whispered, “I love you, please forgive me, my love, please.” She was so tiny, frail, he was so afraid for her, somehow he would get her to eat and stop this decline, somehow.

 

Findal stepped back onto the balcony, “Khirad, are you sure you want to see these now?”

 

“Yes, I want to know he's dead.”

 

She sat up in his lap and held out her hand. Findal handed her the pictures. The first was of him dead on an autopsy table. A huge elf, topping 6 and a half feet easily, and rippling with muscle. This creature had terrorized his mate, and from the look of it had an exceedingly easy death. He snarled at him involuntarily, wishing he could inflict pain on the dead.

 

She looked through the pictures, saw the stab to the back of the neck that ended him and seemed to relax, finally believing him to truly be dead. And then she got to the crime scene photos and saw the one of him sprawled naked on a shit and bloodstained floor, his eyes open and staring at the camera.

 

“He dragged me to the shower to clean me up. I was so terrified I, I lost control of myself, vomited, everything, just everything. He'd tied me, bitten me everywhere, and he laughed about it, seemed to think this was fun, he enjoyed terrorizing and humiliating me and, and, it was like sex to him, he was aroused by my weeping and my fear, by my pain and how powerless I was. I couldn't concentrate to call my magic, I was so afraid I just wanted to go away, anywhere, just escape. I wanted to disappear, to die, anything to get away.” Her voice dropped at the end and Kandomere suspected this was why she wasn't eating—she longed to disappear into death. He would not allow that, would not. He held her close and stroked her hair.

 

“You probably hate me even more now, find me disgusting,” her voice was hopeless, resigned, “you got the worst mate ever. I wish I knew how to set you free from me.”

 

He drew in breath, it was so wrong it left him speechless. He pulled her close, kissed her neck and said, “Not at all, I love you, want no one else but you, would kill to keep you. My hatred is for those who have hurt and manipulated you, those who injured you. You are still just as perfect, as light, as much mine as always. None of this was your fault, none of it.”

 

He felt her doubt, cried, “Khirad, look in my heart via the bond, can you not see?”

 

She closed her eyes, and he felt her tentatively look inside him, opened himself as wide as he could, let her see everything. She found his boiling hatred and jealousy of Baal, found his horror at what had happened to her, his thwarted desire to destroy Galdor, then found herself though his eyes, his love, his fear of losing her, his devotion, jealousy, anger, hurt, his admiration of her strength and beauty, she saw everything and the theme was he would not let her go because he could not bear to live without her. Even if she could free him, he would not want to be free. He loved her, not because they were mates, but for herself.

 

“Oh, oh that's not what I thought, I'm sorry, I”

 

“You have nothing to apologize for, my love, nothing. This was my fault, all of it. I brought this on you.”

 

Khirad sat up and turned to look at him, “No you didn't. I work for the MTF. I know the risk, so does Findal. Stop it.”

 

“I felt your anger at me, saw your blame. You are right, I should have told you. I risked you.”

 

“There is nowhere safer for me than Findal's grounds. And once I started dating you, Findal beefed up security on me anyway.”

 

He looked to Findal who nodded.

 

“I refuse to live constantly shadowed by a troop of bodyguards, and even if I did there are no guarantees. Someone hurt you and Mara inside the halls, something that should not be possible. This isn't your fault, we just have a particularly strong enemy to find and kill.” She threaded her thin hand into his, “I feel safe with you. I love you.”

 

At that he wept into her hair, held her and they both cried. He heard Findal leave and pulled back the covers and slid into the bed with her, Ten leaping up to press against her other side and together they warmed her. He felt her hands in his hair, her love, and her weakness. Perhaps, after a while, he might tempt her to eat. They lay like that for a while, eventually drifting to sleep together and he saw what had happened to her with Galdor, felt her watching him as he saw, felt her surprise that he was not disgusted at her but thankful, so thankful she survived, proud of her strength, wished to punish any who hurt her, and felt an angry jealous hate filled gratitude toward Baal for delivering her.

 

She showed him she wanted only him, and he saw it was true, that she knew Baal had manipulated her and was angry about it but also thought it was frankly typical of elves. He couldn't disagree, but he still hated him. She seemed to find that somewhat amusing and somewhat concerning, but assured him again he was the only one she wanted and that she was learning how to block the influence of another, that it was easier when you knew what to look for and that it was happening.

 

He still hated him, but he had her, she was with him and wanted to be with him, forgave him, and he felt himself relax into her love, and her into his. It would be ok.


 

 

Khirad glared at Kandomere glaring at her and then glared at the absolutely enormous meal he expected her to eat. She ate most of breakfast, well half. Had some protein shake that was actually really good, ate the soup from lunch and choked down some cake while he glared at her through that, had another protein shake, and now here was dinner. It was five o'clock, and she was done with this. Felt unbelievably stuffed.

 

“I can't eat that.”

 

“You will,” his voice was an insistent growl.

 

“You're not hearing me, I literally can't.

 

He huffed and yanked on his waistcoat, “Bullshit. I've seen you eat this much and then polish off a couple of pieces of cake and half a bottle of wine.”

 

“Let's go for a walk.” Maybe that would help her appetite. It was getting better, she was getting better with therapy, training with the healer and Findal, exercise, Kandomere, Mara, Findal, Montehugh, Misterial, fucking everyone helping and monitoring and nagging her. Kandomere was, of course, the heavy. When she would get rebellious, it went first Mara and Mist to urge her, then Findal to guilt trip her, then Montehugh to talk about how important she was, then finally Kandomere to glare and threaten and then to comfort her when she finally gave in. Some days, especially with food, they just skipped to Kandomere. It had been a couple of weeks of this and frankly she'd be glad when she put on enough weight to get them off her back. Six pounds, she'd put on six pounds and that seemed pretty good for two weeks. She was trying, really trying, but her stomach just wouldn't hold as much as before, she just didn't want it.

 

He glared at her suspiciously, then sighed, “I will have a fresh meal prepared on our return.” “He set the plate on the ground for Ten who was more than happy at the surprise steak dinner, then offered her his hand. She took it, and together they walked into the gardens and on into the forest. Her strength was returning, and she could walk for quite some time, each day more. Soon she hoped to be able to go for a good run, and hoped he would stop treating her like she was made of glass. That, more than anything, motivated her to eat as much as possible. He would very gently kiss her and then say they should wait until she was stronger. He wanted her, she could sense that clearly, but he was terrified of hurting her and of losing control with her.

 

It was incredibly tiresome. Yes, what happened to her was awful. But she really thought she was dealing with it well. Everyone but Kandomere thought she was doing well, for the most part. He was like a combination of a nursemaid, a mom, a boss, a coach, absolutely anything but a lover. He wouldn't even shower with her because, “The temptation is too great, my love, and you are too fragile.” So, she ate and she walked, and she'd even started a little training with Findal under Kandomere's grumpy disapproving eye. Once Findal knocked her against the wall and Kandomere nearly attacked him, snarling until she stood and said, “Stop it, I'm fine.” Then took position and her and Findal sparred some more.

 

After, in their rooms, he'd insisted on examining her and she had stripped to her underwear. He'd carefully healed every mark, developing bruise, and she'd cried out at the pleasure of his touch, arching to his hand and moaning, please, please, until with a growl he'd pulled her into his arms and kissed her roughly, tasting her mouth and pressing his erection against her as she panted into his mouth, begging him. But then he'd backed off, crawled off the bed, and left her saying he would, “not be selfish with you, will wait until you are fully well, fully yourself again. I could lose control, hurt you, I will not take the chance.” She'd flopped back on the bed and felt annoyed and disappointed, then ordered another fucking shake.

 

Yes, she was thin, really thin. At 5' 9” she weighed 110lbs now but there were celebrities that thin who certainly had sex—she looked it up. At 104 she could count her ribs easily, see her sternum, and that was terrifying, but now they were less prominent. She was getting her strength back and gaining weight, it wasn't like she couldn't climb a flight of stairs. He was being ridiculous. Today, she felt good, really good, and set a faster pace. He glanced at her, raising his eyebrows, and then seemed to relax and smile. After a bit, she began to run and he growled, “Khirad,” as he followed her and caught up to pace her.

 

“What, you want me to eat more, right? Well, I'll need to exercise. I feel good, really good. I'll stop before I get too tired.”

 

“Well before.”

 

“Sure, but I need to exercise otherwise all I'll build is fat. I need muscle to be healthy, and that takes training and exercise.”

 

“You need more fat, much more fat.”

 

She laughed, and said, “Be careful, you might regret those words,”

 

“I doubt it. I like you round and soft.”

 

“Oh my gods, an elf chubby chaser. No wonder you liked humans,” few things brought her more joy than teasing him a little. She knew he would be outraged at the idea that he had pursued humans for their typically larger frames.

 

“What? I beg your pardon? My tastes have been diverse, I assure you.”

 

She ran through the underbrush, setting a faster pace, deliberately provoking him. She knew this hit instinctual drives, the sight of her running before him, her ponytail waving like a flag.

 

“So I guess I am too bony for you now then?”

 

“What? No, that is not the point, stop, stop running!”

 

“Make me,” she put on a burst of speed as if she were trying to escape him and felt strong arms grab her, pull her to him as he panted against her neck, “If you knew what I wanted, what I thought to do to you, you would not provoke me so.”

 

“Tell me,” she writhed against him, pressed her ass against him where he was hard and ready for her.

 

“I want to bite you, mark you, so badly, so much,” he kissed her neck down to where he had marked her before, nipped her then backed off with a growl to breath into her ear, “I won't be able to hold back if I am with you and then I will be just like him. I can't, I won't hurt you.”

 

Oh, oh, well, no, she wasn't sure about how she would react to that at all. She hadn't thought about his need to mark her again, it must be a constant torment to him, their fractured bond.

 

“Kandomere, is it like before, when I had not yet marked you?” She stroked his arms where he held her from behind and kissed her neck.

 

“No, not as bad. I am with you, I know you love me, no, it is not as bad.”

 

“But...”

 

“But?”

 

“It would be easier on you if you marked me.”

 

“Yes,” his voice sounded hungry, but reluctant, “but I would not stop there.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Oh, indeed, my love.”

 

“What else would you do?”

 

He sighed, “Must I tell you? Surely you know my jealous nature?”

 

“You would bite me repeatedly?”

 

“Possibly. I would try to restrain myself.”

 

“Would you stop if I told you to?”

 

He paused, thought deeply, and said, “Almost certainly, but...”

 

“You fear you would not.”

 

“Yes. The temptation is great,” he tightened his grip and breathed in her scent, “And you are not making it easy for me to resist. It would be better for us to wait.”

 

“Until it gets so bad you are completely out of control? Are you serious?”

 

She felt him pause, thinking, then, “It does not seem to be getting worse.”

 

“What about yesterday when you tossed the dinner plate at the wall and screamed because I didn't eat my roll. That was new.”

 

He sighed, he did a lot of sighing these days, then turned her to face him, “I do not know what to do. Yes, it grows worse. But you are too weak. I hope that waiting will be better but I am not sure.”

 

“I have an idea. How about I chain you to the bed so I am in control? I'll let you mark me when I am ready and where I want to be marked.”

 

His eyes shown with appreciation for that idea, then he shook his head and said, “I doubt there are chains made that would be able to hold me once I tasted your blood. You don't understand how much stronger I am right now. I could hurt you easily, accidentally.”

 

“That sounds like an argument to try now before it gets worse. Those manacles of Findal's seemed to do the trick just fine. I'm not afraid of you.”

 

“You should be.”

 

“I know what to expect, I won't break.”

 

He let her go and stalked away from her down the trail towards the halls, obviously furious. She went after him and grabbed his shoulder. In a second, less than a second, he had her down on the ground in the ferns, snarled down at her, “You don't know what to expect, I don't know what to expect, I am tormented by the idea of another touching you and wish to,” he bent his head and pressed it against her chest, then looked up, feral, hungry, barely controlled, “bite you everywhere he bit you, replace him with myself. Do you understand now? I can not, will not, do that to you. I will not let my instinct drive me to hurt you.”

 

She wrapped her arms around him, kissed his neck and said, “I know, I trust you. You will not hurt me. I know you. I know you.”

 

He stood and brought her with him, kissed her tenderly, stroked his hands through her hair, “You want this?”

 

“Yes, very much. I want your bond restored, your mark on me. Yes.”

 

“Then we will find the best chains and lay them on thick.”

 

“Kinky, I like it. Do I have to dress in leather too?”

 

He laughed and said, “Temptress.”

 

“And proud of it. Come on, I'll eat all of dinner. Even the roll.”

 

“You better—you'll need your strength.”

 

Chapter Text

The only kindness their fractured bond granted was the ability to hide certain things from her even when he slept. He knew every place another had touched her, the location of every kiss, lick, and bite was seared into his brain as was the need to erase those others with himself. The compulsion to mark her as his own warred with the drive to keep her safe and well, mentally as well as physically. But the things he wanted to do to her, he was glad she could not see them. He knew it would frighten her, that it already frightened her.

 

Still, it was far easier without her deliberately tempting him. That stopped after they met with the head healer and Khirad brought up the question of intimacy.

 

“Lady Khirad, I would strongly advise you to wait until you are fully recovered.”

 

“I see no reason to wait. I...”

 

The healer held up her hand and said, “My lady, may I speak with utter frankness?”

 

“Yes, of course.”

 

“Your mating mark was removed by magic by a male who displayed interest in you and you were attacked by another male. Your mate knows these events were not your choice and does not blame you, but his instinct is to replace himself with these others, mark for mark.” The healer paused, took a deep breath and continued, “Biting is a normal part of elven sex play, rough bites most humans would not enjoy. My guess is your mate has somewhat restrained himself with you.”

 

Khirad had looked to him and so he had nodded. Except for the moments he completely lost himself in her, yes, of course—she was fragile compared to him. And he had suspected she would not enjoy the aftermath of the times he did lose himself and so he always, always, carefully healed her.

 

“Kandomere, she needs to hear it.”

 

“Khirad, I have restrained myself with you except for the moments when I no longer could. I always carefully healed you before you fully returned to yourself so you would not hurt.”

 

“I know that. I trust you to do the same this time as well.” She reached over and took his hand, “You won't hurt me.”

 

The healer sighed, “But it is not the same this time. He does not just need to mark you as his own, but also to replace these others. It will make it far more difficult for him to restrain himself at a time you are frankly too weak for any sort of vigorous sex.”

 

She still did not seem to fully understand the threat and he could not bring himself to admit how intensely he wished to both dominate her and to sequester her away from everyone. Again he found himself passionately wishing she had paid at least some attention during the class on mating and sexual relations instead of sleeping. He had no desire whatsoever to explain desires to her he suspected she might regard as frightening or perverse and abusive.

 

Finally the healer sighed and said, “Have you spoken of this with your grandmother?”

 

Khirad blushed and said, “No, of course not!”

 

The healer raised her eyebrows at this and said firmly, “You should. I will speak with her myself.”

 

Khirad attempted to dissuade the healer but later that evening, after dinner, Mara took Khirad to speak with her. Kandomere was left with a grimly disapproving Findal who sat and glared at him before finally snarling, “You will restrain your urges or I will keep you sedated.”

 

Kandomere was instantly furious—his anger rose so easily these days. But he simply nodded and said nothing.

 

“You know the risk you present to her.”

 

It was clear Findal was winding up into an epic lecture, but Kandomere did know and sought to wait. Khirad was making it difficult, incredibly difficult, for him.

 

“I do. She does not.”

 

A look of comprehension crossed Findal's face, and he subsided. “Ah. Mara will explain.” He reached over and refilled Kandomere's glass, “This will pass.”

 

Kandomere nodded, “That is my hope. I worry for her, that I might make it worse. It is difficult to know what to do.”

 

Findal nodded and sighed, “It was much the same for her parents at first, and for Mara and eventually myself as well.” Findal smiled, “At first I was uninterested in this dirty scrap of humanity haunting my halls, but quickly it became a pretense of disinterest, one I once caught her perfectly imitating to the delight of a band of my guards. She had every gesture, even the exact phrasing and accent of my Ovusi down. Later, Mara and I both laughed over it, and at the horror of my guards being caught laughing at me, but I feigned fury with her.” He shook his head at the memory, “She scampered away, climbed up and wriggled through some crack in the masonry leading to a small wild cave. It looked as if she simply disappeared until I ordered for lights to be brought. Instead of coming out, she wriggled deeper into the cave to escape the light. I saw her and yelled at her to halt only to see her wriggle though the tiniest of gaps into darkness. In her desperation to evade me, she stained the jagged rocks with her blood. I was utterly furious at her actions and assumed she would come out when she grew hungry enough. She did not. Once my anger cooled, I grew worried—what if she were lost in a larger sequence of caves? Her behavior mystified me-had she no sense at all?”

 

Findal shook his head. Kandomere would have heartily sympathized with him prior to forming a bond with Khirad. Her behavior was often inexplicable to him before, and now the bond was fractured it was certainly far more of a challenge to truly understand her.

 

Findal continued, “After two days, I ordered her found. They tore the wall out, carefully dug out this tiny passage and found her wedged between two rocks, scratched and bruised but very much alive.” He looked up at Kandomere, “Do you know what she said when she saw me?”

 

Kandomere shook his head.

 

“'You were going to kick me out so I thought you would leave me stuck there. I can't believe you came for me.' Then she threw her arms around me and cried.” Findal shook his head, “I saw in her face she meant it. Lost in the dark, she assumed no one would help her, no one would come, that she was alone and would die alone in the dark in some forgotten place.” He sighed and shook his head again, “No one, especially a child, should feel such. I did the worst possible thing I could do by shouting at her and then I did the best thing I could do by coming for her. She forgave me the first for the sake of the last, as she has my many other missteps.” Findal reached over and clasped his shoulder, “She loves you—she will forgive you your missteps too.”

 

Mara and a much chastened Khirad chose that moment to return. She sat next to him and took his hand, leaned her head on his shoulder. But after that she was different, carefully modest, more compliant and stubbornly determined to speed the healing process as much as she could. She ate like it was a job, worked out twice daily, and fell into bed exhausted each night. And she was careful to be affectionate with him multiple times a day but kept it as nonsexual as possible. It helped him to control himself but he missed their easy camaraderie as much as the sex.

 

For his part, he distracted himself with work. While he was not approved for fieldwork, he was allowed to work remotely and coordinate with Montehugh. An Inferni site had been found in the desert and this one indicated a wand was successfully formed. The site dated to before the attack on Khirad and Findal's halls but it was clearly the same dark practitioner—same bodies, same torture, same set up. Their enemy could successfully make wands. Fuck. Wandmakers were rare, thankfully, but the havoc they created when they arose was considerable. Two more wands and they could attempt to bring back the Dark Lord. It was imperative he return to full duty as quickly as possible, but until he marked his mate he would test as unfit for duty. The MTF might not know the cause of his elevated hormone levels, but they knew they weren't normal. After his encounter with the conference room table, well, he could understand their caution.

 

Plus, Findal's healer would not sign off on his return to duty. She was quite clear that the only thing staving off the mate sickness was regular contact with Khirad and his certainty that she was safe. The healer doubted he would be able to leave her for more than a short time. Based on how he felt when she left to exercise or for therapy or literally any reason, he agreed. He was fine for an hour, but after that he felt increasingly compelled to find her and be certain she had not been taken or fled him.

 

Yesterday, he could not find her for two hours and she would not answer her phone. Finally he found her in the library, asleep. After calming himself, he picked her up and carried her to their bed, curled around her and held her to him as he thanked the gods that she was safe and with him. Without the mark he could not easily locate her and he lacked the ability to communicate with her from a distance. He was terrified of losing her and furious at any risks she took. They argued repeatedly about her need to be by herself sometimes, especially her need to run alone outside. He utterly hated it, though Findal assured him that Khirad only imagined she was alone and was well monitored.

 

“I can not spend my entire life ten feet from you, Kandomere. It isn't healthy, and it isn't possible. I plan to return to work and live my life. I will take more precautions, including carrying a sidearm, but I will return to a normal life.”

 

He'd simply kept his mouth shut, certain that anything he said would make it worse. He had zero desire for her to return to work, for her to do anything but be in the safety of Findal's halls or his apartment. Yes, that was ridiculous. But it didn't change the fact that all his instincts screamed at him to guard his mate, that another sought to take her.

 

He paused and set aside the document he was reading. She would return from practice soon. All that exercise and healthy eating was working, certainly. She'd gained another fifteen lbs in the last two weeks and at 125 looked far better, what little he could see of her in her baggy clothes. He'd prefer her to gain more--she was just barely within the range for normal. But her stamina was better and she truly seemed close to her old self. It helped with the worry, though the hunger for her was worse, the compulsion to mark her stronger as her health obviously improved. A cold shower, that would help. He would avail himself of one before she returned.

 

He padded into the bathroom and divested himself of his clothes. The laundry smelled like her, all that sweat from working out reminding him of her scent during more pleasurable exercises. Perhaps a warm shower before the cold one, simply take the edge off his hunger for her. The few times he'd gone this long without sex he'd been on a case, occupied with chasing the Inferni. Not spending his nights holding a woman he desperately wanted in his arms, at war with his own nature. He loved her, he would endure this and far more for her comfort. He would not be like the worst of his kin or their savage past.

 

He stepped into the shower, leaned against the wall and pictured her sweet mouth on him as he stroked himself, her looking up at him as she took him all the way down, just the way he liked it. Soft lips and blunt teeth, something so erotic about that for him, no need for her to cover her teeth, just her. He stroked himself and pictured her sucking him in the shower, water sluicing over her naked body. Compliant, obedient, he had her hands cuffed behind her back and he could see his mark on her, bites over her body as she pleased him, so focused on pleasing him alone. He pulled her up and uncuffed her, entered her from behind as she begged him, fuck me, fuck me, please, please. He bit her hard right as he came, the thought of her blood sweet in his mouth as he wrung his cock out and came hard, propping himself against the wall as he panted.

 

Slowly he came back to himself, slightly more relaxed. It was better than nothing but not truly satisfying. He opened his eyes and turned to grab the shampoo when he saw her leaning against the wall watching him avidly, hungrily, and knew she'd watched him masturbate and seen him come. She'd liked watching him too, he could see it in the flush on her cheeks, smell hints of it through the water. Such temptation.

 

“Leave. I don't trust myself not to hurt you.” It took everything he had to say that.

 

She hesitated then said, “I want you. I don't care,” then stepped forward and peeled off her shirt and sport's bra in one move. He watched, riveted, as she kicked off her shoes, pulled down her leggings, underwear, and socks and moved toward him naked, perfect, strong muscles well defined under her skin. Still far too thin, but healthy enough, strong enough, his instinct shouted at him.

 

No. He would not risk her.

 

He turned from her, “Get the fuck out. Fucking leave,” the last was a plea as much as a command. Pressing his head against the wall he turned off the hot water and let the cold blast him.

 

He felt the water turn warm again as she combed shampoo into his hair, washing his hair like they did to each other every day before everything turned to shit. He froze under her hands, forced himself to be still as she massaged his scalp. He felt the brush of her body against his as she silently washed his hair, then rinsed it saying, “Your roots are showing, my love. I rather like the blond actually, though the blue suits your eyes. We should go into the city or have a stylist come here. Do it pink so I can see the look on Findal's face.” She laughed throatily and he could not help but laugh too picturing Findal's look of disgust and attempt at being polite.

 

“I trust you, Kandomere. I want you as you are. I'm not human, I won't break like a human. I don't know all I am yet, but I know I will be fine with you. Trust me.”

 

She kissed his neck and down his spine until he could stand it no longer, turned and pinned her to the wall and kissed her, she felt so good in his arms, pressed up against him. She kissed him back, deliberately nicking her tongue against his teeth so her taste filled his mouth. He felt the bond open between them fully, as fully as possible and felt her welcome him. Home, she felt like the safe accepting home he'd never had and he relaxed into her arms and held her, gentling the kiss. She was his, chose him, came to him willingly and unafraid. Some part of him unwound and the terrible fear and need in him loosened it's grip enough that he felt somewhat safe with her, safe enough to not injure her anyway.

 

He looked down at her, “You are sure? I will try to...”

 

“I'm sure. Can't you scent how badly I want you to fuck me?” On fuck she took him in hand and stroked him.

 

He gasped, leaned his head against the wall as his brain whited out, “Fuck, Khirad,” he grabbed her hands and held them above her head as he pressed her against the wall and snarled down at her, “You're mine, say it.”

 

“I'm yours, only yours, Kandomere. I love only you.

 

She smiled up at him and he let her hands go, let her circle her arms around him again. He felt the truth of her words, but fear. “I'll bite you...”

 

“I know. I'm not afraid.”

 

That was a lie. He could scent her fear at the idea of his biting her, as well as feel it. “I will hurt you.”

 

She paused, “I liked it when you spanked me. That was a good hurt. Perhaps it will be similar.”

 

“Once I start, I won't be able to stop, I'll lose control, I...”

 

“Could you stop now?”

 

He had her pressed against the wall, was kissing her neck and licking her, had her wrapped tightly in his arms. “No,” he reached down and felt how wet she was, slid a finger into her, then another to prepare her, “I can't.” He nipped her neck and heard her suck in her breath as he scented fear and arousal mixed, “but I fear you will wish I could before this night is over.”

 

“I'll fucking take my chances,” she snarled then bit the side of his neck savagely. 

 

And he was utterly lost. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

With a growl he pushed inside her and fucked her gracelessly against the wall, more savage and selfish than she'd ever seen him, pinning her hands over her head and taking her roughly, snarling one word, mine, over and over in Ovusi. So hot, his taste in her mouth, him grunting against her, it was insanely hot to be able to break his control like no other ever had. He would have taken her like this that first night before the Invocation had he been less self controlled, spent less time around humans. Probably taken her even before that—he'd spoken of how fascinated he'd been with her for weeks, how he'd fought the compulsion to seek her out.

 

She'd broken him, and it was a cruel and fearful triumph she felt as well as relief and love and anger. He'd broken her too and together they would make something new and better. Their bond would come back stronger. It had to. So she'd see him as he really was this night, see him as the savage elf he kept hidden. She felt fear—would he hurt her like Galdor? Would he like hurting her? He leaned in to scent her neck, growled and kissed her throat, kissed her as he angled himself to send a jolt of pleasure through her and scraped his teeth up her neck, a tease more than anything. He kissed along the sting then licked the edge of her ear, nipped the lobe, then back up. Instinct, he was riding on instinct and had she been an elf that slow tease of her ears would have her all but insane. It was hot as a djinn, him whispering in her ear filthy things, fucking her roughly against the wall, that slow tease with his teeth and wondering when he would strike, knowing she was at his mercy, trapped under his hard muscular body. He bit into her neck slowly, just breaking the skin enough to taste her blood a little, lapped at her neck and moaned. The bond almost fully opened and she felt his pleasure combined with her own and came for the first time as he bit harder, deeper, sucked against her neck. It hurt, but it felt good too, like she had missed him biting her. Which was just weird. Then he bit deep, tore into her with a savage growl, ripping and snarling, his head twisting from side to side viciously and the bond bloomed open and she felt it from his point of view, his absolute joy, her magic joining with his and the pain and shock faded to a feeling like being whole, like home. And then she was lost to him and the bond, couldn't think anymore at all, it was just feeling and instinct for them both.

 

 


 

 

Baal sources came through, well compensated as they were, to paint a picture of if not opportunity at least revenge. Khirad's clan was powerful, and her mother a deeply loved first and only female child that long scorned marriage as a fool's trap for females. The family despaired of her ever choosing to marry and have children, so perhaps that explained their consent to her eventual poor choice. Her father was ordinary as Marids went, which is to say not ordinary at all compared to most beings, and his clan was common. His only exceptional attribute was his skill in battle and military strategy, useful certainly, but hardly the match for the mother's magical skill. She was the source of Khirad's ability and beauty, though there was a look of her father about her too and possibly he was the source of her exceptional intelligence and foolishly kind heart.

 

He had been a good male, willing to show mercy, and Khirad's mother chose him for his kindness. Supposedly. The information regarding her motives was scant and so it was still a mystery why she selected such a candidate, one so weak in magic and so very common, scarred and sun-darkened. A scandal at the time, and only her status as favored first child and her family's concern she might never marry had convinced them to endure the match and not murder him. Certainly marid females chose their own mates, but only a fool ignored potential in-laws clearly opposed and far exceeding their own power.

 

Her disgrace probably led to the couple's decision to move outside the city walls and live in seclusion for a time. Again, stories varied. Some had them exiled, some had them leaving in shame, and some had them leaving in anger. What was clear was the guilt her parents still felt over her death and the death of their grandchild. As marid families followed the matrilineal line, this was the death of this branch of their clan unless Khirad's grandmother produce another female child. It was possible, but unlikely at this point in time. While the djinn were long lived, their fertility was not unlimited. Females and males were born with a certain creative essence and once that was spent it became exceedingly difficult to conceive or father a child. The essence varied from person to person, some with less and others more, and was a combination of the two partners. A widow would choose a young male who had fathered no children if she wished to bear more young and could easily do so, though likely half the number she could if she were young herself. But the children of such second marriages were ranked below the first marriage children, including the first marriage children of any siblings. In order to keep the line of their branch straight, she would need to conceive a child with her first husband else her hated sister would inherit the clan.

 

Word from multiple sources indicated she tried both magic and even human and elven science to conceive and so far achieved nothing. So, guilt, despair, and hatred—he could work with that, certainly. He did not love Khirad. He wanted to fuck her, oh, very much indeed, but opportunity might still present itself for that. Dominate her, hurt her, yes, very much—she had cost him much and left him without concern—that burned bitterly, that abandonment. But he could have his revenge by separating her from her vile beloved and presenting her to her clan. Her grandmother would pay anything, do anything to have her. There were ways to transfer power, certainly, and his price would be high. Marid females were given the right to choose, but he felt certain the grandmother would murder Kandomere before she allowed that match. With a little skill he could have the power to join his people, perhaps sufficient even to win a willing bride, and plenty of wealth to begin a house of his own. Perhaps he would even be happy.

 

Khirad might become his enemy, but her grandmother would owe him a debt—that should balance it out. Over time Khirad might even come to thank him. His own mother would still be alive if not for his elf father. Khirad was very young, ignorant and foolish. Taking her back to her family offered a rare chance to exact revenge on her while quite likely acting in her best interests, an amusing irony that would allow him to continue to play the hero if he wished. Of course it would be to the destruction of Kandomere, and a vicious blow to his wretched house. And watching her mate wither from mate sickness, or see him killed, yes, this would provide a fair revenge on Khirad as well as the elf.

 

If her family lacked the knowledge, or the will to help, he might be willing to provide her the charm to keep Kandomere's mate sickness at bay in exchange for her favors. That would be amusing, her betraying her love to save him. Though he would need to approach such an arrangement with care if he wished to maintain his facade of seeking her best interests. He could likely have everything he wanted if he approached this plan with caution and patience. His interest in Khirad was pressing him to act, but he would control it. Time, he had so much time and he would have her eventually, or this interest would fade. A careful thoughtful plan was first, and then he would act. For now he would return to the Inferni and assist them is their usual foolishness. There were a useful source of information on the movements of the MTF and the Houses. He almost had a plan, had the beginnings of one almost clear. Once it was a clear path he would act.

 


 

When next she could feel herself separate, he was lapping against her throbbing neck languorously, holding her tightly in his arms as the warm water rushed over them both. With a rush of magic and pleasure she felt him seal the mark into place. But he wasn't done, not at all. He reached for the soap and washed all of her, lavished his attention on her, all but worshiped her...but in his mind she caught that this was another way of claiming her, washing away any trace of another that touched her and leaving his mark on every inch of her skin. Jealousy burned in him like a white-hot phosphorus fire, that possessive streak all elves had incandescently furious that any had touched what was most precious to him. It would be absolutely terrifying if he wasn't exactly who she wanted to be with, where she wanted to be—he would stop at literally nothing to have her to himself.

 

“True,” he murmured against her hip as he knelt to wash up her other leg, “there is nothing I would not do to keep you, to have you.” His movements were meticulous, inch by slow inch, all of her. He stood slowly, embraced her from behind and kissed her neck, “You are mine, my mate.”

 

“I love you, Kandomere,” she did, she wanted his happiness more than anything.

 

He reached up and began to wash her hair, massaging her scalp, “So different from me. My love is dark, possessive, I would own you, devour you.”

 

Khirad shivered. It was true, and part of her recoiled from it while another part, a larger part, felt comforted that here was someone who would never leave. She could depend on his darkness to make him her home forever. And it wasn't even fair to call it darkness, it was just elves and how they were made to show love, instinctual. Inhuman. He was light inside, she could feel it, and he wanted to be good, do good. He loved her and wanted her happiness nearly as much as he wanted her. But not more, certainly not more. Her unhappiness would make him unhappy, but he would prefer to be unhappy with her because he could not be happy without her. He saw her as a literal part of him. It was strange.

 

He rinsed her hair, turned her to face him and kissed her deeply, satisfied he'd touched her everywhere but still so hungry for her. “It is no stranger than your need to be separate,” he growled against her ear. “This alone time, these runs you take, this urge to be free of everyone and everything, it is incomprehensible, disturbing, infuriating. Far more strange to me that being part of my mate.” He guided her out of the shower, tied a towel around his lean hips and began drying her hair as she donned a robe. “Each time you left me I wanted to chase you down, wanted to drag you back and show you who you should obey.” His voice was an angry growl, “Who you should never flee, who you belonged to.” He swung her up into his arms and carried her from the bathroom, kissing her before she could answer then slinging her onto the bed, “I will show you now.”

 

Chapter Text

When next she could feel herself separate, he was lapping against her throbbing neck languorously, holding her tightly in his arms as the warm water rushed over them both. With a rush of magic and pleasure she felt him seal the mark into place. But he wasn't done, not at all. He reached for the soap and washed all of her, lavished his attention on her, all but worshiped her...but in his mind she caught that this was another way of claiming her, washing away any trace of another that touched her and leaving his mark on every inch of her skin. Jealousy burned in him like a white-hot phosphorus fire, that possessive streak all elves had incandescently furious that any had touched what was most precious to him. It would be absolutely terrifying if he wasn't exactly who she wanted to be with, where she wanted to be—he would stop at literally nothing to have her to himself.

 

“True,” he murmured against her hip as he knelt to wash up her other leg, “there is nothing I would not do to keep you, to have you.” His movements were meticulous, inch by slow inch, all of her. He stood slowly, embraced her from behind and kissed her neck, “You are mine, my mate.”

 

“I love you, Kandomere,” she did, she wanted his happiness more than anything.

 

He reached up and began to wash her hair, massaging her scalp, “So different from me. I would own you, devour you.”

 

Khirad shivered. It was true, and part of her recoiled from it while another part, a larger part, felt comforted that here was someone who would never leave. She could depend on his darkness to make him her home forever. And it wasn't even fair to call it darkness, it was just elves and how they were made to show love, instinctual. Inhuman. He was light inside, she could feel it, and he wanted to be good, do good. He loved her and wanted her happiness nearly as much as he wanted her. But not more, certainly not more. Her unhappiness would make him unhappy, but he would prefer to be unhappy with her because he could not be happy without her. He saw her as a literal part of him. It was still so strange.

 

He rinsed her hair, turned her to face him and kissed her deeply, satisfied he'd touched her everywhere but still so hungry for her. “It is no stranger than your need to be separate,” he growled against her ear. “This alone time, these runs you take, this urge to be free of everyone and everything, it is incomprehensible, disturbing, infuriating. Far more strange to me that being part of my mate.” He guided her out of the shower, tied a towel around his lean hips and began drying her hair as she donned a robe. “Each time you left me I wanted to chase you down, wanted to drag you back and show you who you should obey.” His voice was an angry growl, “Who you should never flee, who you belonged to.” He swung her up into his arms and carried her from the bathroom, kissing her before she could answer then slinging her onto the bed, “I will show you now.”

 

He was panting, snarling, and she realized he was still being ridden by his jealousy and the compulsion to make her his. Still mate-sickened. His eyes shone pure silver fire and he bared his teeth as he scented her and growled. Lean, muscular, that was no longer any softness to him at all. Purely a predator, and she was trapped with him. Excitement and fear pulsed through her and she moved to scoot up the bed away from him.

 

“No,” he snapped, grabbing her ankles. He held her in place and then slid both hands up to her thighs and parted them. “I will taste you now.”

 

He knelt on the bed and then bent to run his sharp teeth up her inner thigh in a slow threatening tease. Would he bite her? Her heart hammered in fear and desire and he raised his head and scented her again, his eyes falling shut in pleasure, “My love, my prey, how good you smell to me. You are right to fear me like this.”

 

Before she could reply he he locked his arms around her and bent his head, licked her center and carefully sucked her just as she liked, just as he could feel though their bond she ached for. Quickly he brought her to the edge and then backed off, then back to the edge, and then he backed off until she was thrashing and begging him, please, please, please, over and over again. Finally, he leaned back to smirk down at her.

 

“Beg me harder, convince me you deserve to come and I may allow you.”

 

“Please Kandomere, please,” that and more, she could not even keep track of what came out of her mouth. She felt desperate for him.

 

He smiled, crawled up her until their faces were inches apart, and stroked her as he looked down at her, cruelly bringing her back to the very edge and then stopping again, repeatedly, enjoying her desperation and frustration. She clawed at his back and he grabbed her wrists in one hand and held them above her, pinned her and teased her for what felt like forever until she was nearly crying from frustration, begging, utterly out of control.

 

He paused, closed the space to kiss her gently, a brief closed mouth kiss. Whispered against her ear, “I am not convinced. You will need to earn your release from me. Show me how badly you want to come. More than mere words,” He let her go and sat back on the bed, his hard cock jutting forward, “Now. Please me now. Perhaps I will allow you the release you want so badly.”

 

Khirad raised a brow and reached to finish herself but he grabbed her wrist and pulled her to him roughly, “No. Find a way to convince me.”

 

Bastard. She dug the nails of her loose hand into his back and he gasped but it wasn't in pain, “Yes.

 

Fine, she would make him lose control. There was one thing that always worked—her bite. She bit his neck savagely, as hard as she could repeatedly, and tasted his blood on her tongue, heard his cries. He released her hand to hold her to him, one hand in her hair and the other at the base of her spine. She drew her nails down his back and still he restrained himself, remained in control of himself and her. Through the bond she felt his amusement at her frustration and the intensity of his pleasure at her bite, her savagery, and his unbroken dominance over her despite how close she'd taken him.

 

She snapped the bond shut and glared at him, pushed at his chest in frustration. It was like pushing at a brick wall, and then he laughed at her.

 

“Fuck you, let me go,”

 

His eyebrows raised but he released her, sat back and looked at her. First amused and then puzzled, he pushed at the bond to try to see if she really was upset. She slid off the bed, grabbed her robe and then took off shutting the door behind her with a wave and reinforcing it with a spell. It would give in 15 minutes—enough time for her to have a head start and pull on her running clothes. She'd planned to spring this surprise at a later date but if the only way he'd let her come was to make him lose control, well, this should do that. And that cocky laugh, that had frankly pissed her off. These halls were old and an absolute warren of hiding places. She opened the bond briefly and sent one thought--Catch me if you can. Doors open in 15 minutes. Good luck, you'll need it. Then snapped it shut in the face of his surprise and frustration. Ha, so she wasn't the only one who was now aching for release—served him right.

 

She covered her scent with the balm, tied up her hair, donned her clothes and shoes and took off. The balm was better than nothing but it wasn't really made for this environment. Still, she wasn't planning on evading him long, just long enough to break his control. She headed down to the bowels of the halls—the somewhat musty smell of them would help hide her scent and provide ample options for escape. He could hunt her as he'd so often fantasized about in a place that was utterly safe and private—she knew quite well about Findal's “hidden” guards on her runs and had zero desire for their games to be seen. These parts of the halls were unused, left over from the time when Findarion would bring in the entirety of the surrounding population when under siege. Since the creation of the Gates there was little need for these storerooms and quarters, though they were spelled to remain free of pests and clean. She knew them like the back of her hand too, spent long hours down here with the other youth playing hide and seek. She was curious to see how long it would take him to find her, just how good he was. Misterial could find her maybe 50% of the time, the other elves less—she was good at hiding for a human. Though she wasn't really human so maybe she was actually about normal for a djinn.

 

Perfect. She'd made it to the deep halls without him catching up to her, it was on now. The ancient lanterns sputtered to life giving off more of a glow than full light, and some didn't come on at all. She cast the next spell she'd learned just for this—nightsight and padded down the halls and into a particularly twisty warren of rooms running through them partly based on memory.

 

KHIRAD!!!!

 

His voice was muffled but he'd clearly found his way down and sounded far less amused.

 

“I will catch you, and when I do you'll regret running. I'LL KEEP YOU CHAINED TO THE FUCKING BED!!!

 

She hightailed it further into the warren, into a section that was utterly unlighted and to her favorite hidey hole--a stone outcropping that backed up to a ventilation shaft. The shaft carried her scent away and the outcropping blended into the wall so perfectly from below that it looked like there was no ledge just rough hewn wall. No one had ever found her here, no one, and she rather enjoyed his roars of frustration. Oh, he was not happy. With a smirk she opened the bond for a split second, just long enough for him to sense her smug satisfied amusement at him and flash him the sound of his own laughter.

 

A roar of anger, closer and probably in this sequence of rooms. Then he went eerily silent, the only sound the air flowing through the shaft behind her, cool and moist. Hunting, he was hunting her now and the first frisson of delicious fear shivered through her. She felt him probe at the bond, then withdraw and shut it himself.

 


 

All his senses were alive for her, his stubborn wayward mate that refused to submit, to stay, to obey him. Perfect. She was perfect. This chase deliciously surprising and utterly frustrating but thrilling, and oh what he would do to her when he caught her.

 

Bite her, own her, listen to her beg in that sweet voice as he moved inside her. Have her on her knees first, him in her mouth, those full lips around him as she looked up at him. Against the wall, rutting into her as an animal. Her on top, but her hands tied behind her and her under his control as he drove up into her. His mind reeled though scenario after scenario as he sensed her passage, caught whiffs of her muted scent, her fear and lust.

 

The corridor was easy, no challenge at all, but down here it was far more difficult. He felt her open the bond and sensed her amusement, saw his own laughing face and knew this was her revenge and she was enjoying his frustration.

 

Not for long. He focused his attention as if he were hunting, as he hunted in his youth. None evaded him and she would not either. He'd caught a hint of her location and headed into that area. Dark here, nigh unto pitch black but he was no human. Caught a whiff of her fear—she was close, holed up like the prey she was, and he would find her.

 

“Khirad,” his voice was a soft velvety snarl, the one he used to intimidate, “I know you are close.”

 

He lifted his head and scented. Nothing, though he felt the movement of air through the corridor. Perhaps he had passed her? He silently doubled back, felt her presence but saw nothing.

 

“Come out,” he whispered, “you will not like the result if I must make you.”

 

Nothing again, though he felt the flow of air that should bring her scent to him and he knew she was close, somehow he just knew. He scanned the walls for any opening, crack, anything. There was a ventilation shaft 10-15 feet down the hall, but that narrow slit was not enough for her to hide in.

He stood still, utterly silent, and waited. He was good at waiting, more so than others of his kind. Beginning the meditative trance he used, he simply stood and listened, scented. She would give herself away, eventually.

 

It felt interminable, his utter need for her thrumming in him, making it impossible for him to meditate. He slammed his fist against the wall and shouted, “Gods above and below, come out RIGHT NOW!!! I KNOW YOU ARE THERE!!!”

 

Amused laughter, seeming to come from the rock itself and she swung herself down out of what looked like nowhere and took off, darting into another section of rooms. He ran after her, this time he would have her, and entered a room with eight fucking options. He could hear her now, her heart pounding but getting farther away. That one, the movement of air indicated it was not a room. He ran after her into the dark, this corridor truly pitch black. Closer, he could scent her, and then he found himself back in the main storeroom and she was feet ahead of him, her hair bouncing and taunting him as she put on a burst of speed and made for the door.

 

No. He'd have her. He must. He must. Gods she was fast, but he was faster. He grabbed her, swung her around to face him and kissed her. She bit his lip and he snarled, pushed her against the door and whispered against her ear, “I owe you for that.”

 

“You shouldn't have teased me so cruelly.”

 

He pulled her shirt over her head, then the bra, then sneered and said coldly, “Turn around. Hands on the wall.”

 

“Are you arresting me, agent?” She said flippantly, but complied.

 

He pulled off her shorts and under wear, paused to scent her—he loved the sent of her wet and aroused for him. “No. Spread your legs.”

 

She did so as sensuously as possible, sliding down the wall to arch her back and look at him over her shoulder.

 

“I'm going to punish you,” at that he smacked her ass hard, saw her eyes open in surprise. He rather thought she'd enjoy this punishment, and after a moment he scented her arousal and saw her arch toward him for more. Not yet. He pulled off his sleep pants and shirt, stepped close to her and pressed the length of his body against hers, his hard cock sliding against her ass as he reached around to stroke her clit. She sighed in pleasure at the feel of him and it was all he could do to stop himself from losing control and fucking her. Not yet.

 

Closer, closer, then he slid inside her and brought her closer yet, then slid out and began to spank her in earnest, her cheeks reddening under his hand as she cried out in pleasure and pain. He was rougher than the last time they played this game, but she seemed to be enjoying herself. Gripping her hips he slid back inside her and pulled her against him, felt her contract on him and very nearly come. She was begging again, pleading with him to let her come, and it pleased him to dominate her this way. None other had ever ruled her this way, she was his mate. Only he could do this for her.

 

“You're mine, say it.”

 

“Yes, yes, yours, I'm yours Kandomere.”

 

“No one can make you feel like this but me. No one can rule you like this,” he growled this against her ear as he moved slowly in her, reached up to cup her breasts, nipped and sucked at her neck keeping her at the brink. He would not be able to resist her much longer, but this dominance over her was what he needed, he needed this so much.

 

Incoherent begging now, pleading, promising to do anything, anything you want.

 

But he was an elf and he was cruel. He stepped back and spanked her again, enjoyed seeing his marks on her, her utterly submissive to him, begging him to fuck her like a savage. He stepped forward, turned her and entered her again, brushed her hair back from her face and kissed her as he hit the spot she needed, felt her come almost immediately, crying out into his mouth. Through the bond he could feel her pleasure and that it was so good, the best of her life, gods, so good, and it went on forever. As he'd held her on the brink he held her in pleasure until she was limp in his arms, and finally he allowed himself to lose control, to come with a shout of pleasure as they lost themselves in each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Baal tromped through the woods towards his goal. These lands were close to Findal's, but not so aggressively patrolled by him. Human lands, or perhaps the buffer between his and human lands, and thus not as dangerous despite Findarion remaining on alert.

 

Four months he had waited and remained hidden while Findal wreaked vengeance on the Inferni seeking him. If he waited much longer, Khirad might think to seek her mother's bones and deprive him of the proof he needed. Then he would have only the exceedingly risky option of kidnapping her. Far harder to do so now, and he would need to do it himself. No, the bones would give him the proof he needed and he could allow her marid family to do much of the work for him, assuming things went his way.

 

A gamble, oh, certainly. But one he thought would be worth the prize. At a minimum, he would augment his power and have something of an ally of sorts in Khirad's grandmother. If not a true ally, assuredly she would owe him for delivering up a way to ensure her hated sister did not inherit. If he were lucky, he might walk away powerful enough to finally be accepted among his people, to take a willing wife and have children. But at a minimum he would gain some power and, almost as importantly, bring ruin on Kandomere and pain to Khirad for her willful abandonment of him.

 

Power, the faintest flicker of it. He knelt and dug his hands into the earth and closed his eyes to concentrate. There. He looked and saw a clearing dappled with small white flowers, the sun shining brightly over it. The place felt wholesome, clean, and he instantly detested it. Khirad's mother had loved her. Oh, he knew it from her memories but here he felt it, the certainty of it. This mother gave her life for her child, she did not, would not, willingly leave her child alone to face an uncertain world, to walk alone as his left him.

 

He hated Khirad all the more for her mother's love.

 

The circle resisted him, fiercely, blindly, but the power was old and thus weak. He stood in the center with a blinding headache but he could bear it, the spell winding around him but of no real effect. He dug, the bones coming forth clean but reluctantly, burning his hands through the gloves as he touched them. Finally he had gathered them all, and lifting the sack he heard inside himself, “Fool,” but then the voice of Khirad's mother faded, the dead having little power over the living unless the dead be practitioners of dark magics.

 

He left the circle whistling, his plan finally in motion and the last piece gathered.

 


 

 

“It's really quite amazing,” said Misterial.

 

Khirad nodded and watched with amusement as Hosato, Montehugh's diminutive and volatile husband, ordered around the King of the Woodland elves and Findal went along with it without a murmur of protest. Hosato was unfailingly polite with the queen, and extremely considerate of her preferences and stamina as she was still, four months later, suffering some lingering effects from the unknown magus' magical attack. But Findal he bossed around relentlessly, and both Findal and Mara seemed to find it hugely amusing to have this tiny human do so.

 

“Honestly, Mist, I think they'd keep him as a pet if Montehugh wasn't married to him,” Khirad replied bemusedly. “I've never seen them act like this with anyone. It's like people who love their tiny but vicious cat.”

 

Misterial sniffed, “Findarion does not now, nor has it ever, had human pets. And the human has an eye, a true artistic appreciation for color and design. Elves respect that, especially in one so young.”

 

“Hosato's nearly forty,” Khirad replied dryly.

 

“Yes, and that's nothing for an elf. Findal and Mara respect his artistry. The rooms he has designed are exquisite. He will be quite wealthy after this article goes to print of the renovations he has done for Findarion. The Houses will bid for his time aggressively, each one wanting to be the next to have his artistry to themselves.”

 

Khirad smiled, “I think he'll like the work, and the exclusivity, more than the money.”

 

“Unlimited money to bring his visions to life?”

 

“No, I'm sure he loves that. The pay, I doubt he cares about that.”

 

“Of course not,” sniffed Misterial, “he is a true artist. So rare to find among humans.”

 

“Almost as rare as a human Bright,” a deep voice agreed.

 

“Kandomere!” Khirad cried and ran to embrace him.

 

He'd been gone a few days arranging for his return to the MTF. Khirad was going back too, though her situation was somewhat more complicated than a blood test and a health check—she'd come clean about not being human and the MTF was trying to figure out exactly what protocol fitted a marid memory wiped and hidden by a master spell to appear human that suddenly realized they were a marid. It also made it interesting that she often showed up on all their tests as plain old human and sometimes she showed as nothing human at all. Sometimes the spell glitched mid-test, her results suddenly shifting to something else after first appearing as human. Probably the glitches mid-tests provided the best support for her frankly unlikely story, or maybe Findal and Mara's statement, or Kandomere's, or her years working diligently for the MTF, or all of it but the MTF believed her and her security status remained the same and she was welcome, more than welcome, to return.

 

Frankly, she thought the MTF would like to study her as much as train her, and she wasn't at all sure how she felt about that idea. Currently she was negotiating a half day in her lab and a half day in training. Certainly she was eager to go back to work, to have some kind of normalcy to her life, but it was likely she would be required to begin the MTF training program for Brights, though she wasn't a Bright exactly. Marid were closer to magical beings than beings with magic, a small but important distinction. All marid were magic users, like all humans breathed air—it was simply a part of what they were. Hence their disappearance with the magic ban.

 

The MTF saw the difference, but considered it irrelevant. She had strong magic, she needed to be trained. Period. It was a safety protocol, or some bullshit like that. Khirad was currently receiving training from Fileal, the elderly Chilean wood elf Bright who freed her from Baal's blood magic, but the MTF insisted that she take their training course. Didn't matter what she said, that she argued that she had a trainer, thank you, and was quite happy being a lab rat, MTF protocol was firm.

 

They wanted her full time in training, but she was pretty sure they'd take half-time. She'd threatened to quit and set up her own lab, focus on her research only, if they weren't willing to allow her time to pursue it with them. Polite, but firm, she explained that she had a love for lab work and while she was willing to undergo training, she did not have any desire to work as a field magus or any kind of magus at all. Essentially, she was willing to humor their curiosity half-time, but no more.

 

Kandomere was openly supporting her setting up her own lab, as was Findal. Both strenuously opposed her leaving the grounds of Findarion for pretty much any reason, though neither took any physical action to stop her. Kandomere at first insisted on accompanying her everywhere when she left, but after an epic fight that ended with her slamming the bond shut and disappearing for a day (she simply went to Belarion with Mara), he seemed to accept that she needed to feel independent from him sometimes, that sometimes she needed to be alone.

 

He didn't like it. No, he hated her need for independence with an intensity that disturbed her and made her feel trapped at times. It seemed to be driven by his fear of losing her to another, and while completing the mark had reduced that fear, it still thrummed in the background. Probably it would diminish as time passed, at least she hoped so.

 

For now all he felt was pleasure at seeing her, and desire for her. Best to enjoy it while it lasted. He bent his head and kissed her, then said, “How good it is to see you, my sweet Khirad.”

 

“When do you get to go back?”

 

He smiled, and she felt his satisfaction through the bond, “Next week, Monday. Though it is quieter than it has been in many decades due to Findal's purge of the Inferni.”

 

“Good. You'll have more time to spend with me,” she smiled up at him and took his hand.

 

His expression darkened and she felt a swirl of anger and tension through the bond, “Do you remain firm in your...”

 

She cut him off, “Yes. I'm going back.”

 

He said nothing, but she felt the pulse of his angry disapproval through the bond. Maybe he'd finally accepted her decision after months of badgering her about it?

 

After a moment, he sighed, “Why must you...”

 

“Kandomere, I want to feel normal, to return to my normal life, the life I picked for myself. I keep saying this over and over. Why can't you hear me?”

 

“Why can't I hear you? Why can't you hear me!” he raised his voice and Mist looked over at them, eyebrows raised.

 

“Stop it. Look, I don't want to argue. This is what I'm going to do. I'm going back to work, just like you are going back to work.”

 

He folded his arms over his chest and glared down at her, “It is not the same. I am..”

 

“Not in danger? Really?” she said incredulously. What a load of shit.

 

Again he sighed, but he lapsed into silence and simply looked at her searchingly. “Khirad, could you not...”

 

“No,” she turned back to watch the photo shoot, said wearily, “I'm tired of you asking me to give up what I love. You plan to go back to what you love, to risk your life in the field, and all I plan to do is go back to my fucking lab. No, Kandomere, I won't listen to this bullshit any longer so stop asking.”

 

“You could do your work here. I can only do what I am best at in the field,”

 

“No one here shares my interests, not really. It's not the same.”

 

“You could hire those with similar interests. You could hire anyone you like.”

 

“I know. I don't want to. I want to go back.”

 

Out of the corner of her eye she saw him pull on his waistcoat and then he said quietly, angrily, “It is my hope they refuse your bargain.”

 

She looked at him and suddenly it occurred to her that they might have taken action to encourage the MTF to refuse her bargain. Instantly furious, she said, “You better hope they don't, because I'm going back regardless. If they reject my return to lab work, and I find out that you had a part in them rejecting it, I'll do full-time Bright training and choose to live at the training center for the entire six month course. You can visit me there for just enough contact to keep you sane.”

 

They faced each other, both furious, and before he could reply Mist said, “Khirad, Mara is waving at you to come and help her with her clothing change for the next scene.”

 

Sure enough, Mara was gesturing to her. Thank all the gods. She positively motored away from Kandomere, all her excitement at his return swallowed up in anger and a sick certainty he had acted behind the scenes to prevent her return to the MTF—she saw it in his eyes and felt his anger mixed with guilt through the bond. She sent him a stab of pure fury then snapped the bond shut. It closed off completely, and she felt both lonely and relieved to no longer feel the pressure of his anger and disapproval. Why couldn't he understand this was what she needed?

 


 

Why couldn't she understand that he needed to be certain she was safe, that none other could take her from him? It wasn't as if he wished to keep her from her work, she could do her work here just as well as at the MTF. He'd even suggested that the MTF would consider hiring her as a consultant on cases and that she could do her research and assist in cases from the safety of Findal's halls.

 

No. All she would do was stubbornly insist this was something she needed to do, and while he could feel her certainty, it made no logical sense to him. Findal, Mara, and even Misterial felt the same, but they accepted Khirad's choice with resignation and encouraged Kandomere to do the same.

 

“I do not understand her need to be what she calls free, but I know she needs this. It would be easier if you could accept it, but I can not say it was easy for Mara and I to do so,” Findal said with a shake of his regal head, “I know not what she would do with you, but with us if she felt trapped, she fled for a time. She is quite good at it, Kandomere. If she desires to do so, you will not be able to stop her.”

 

“If you chase after her, you'll make it worse too,” Misterial said with a sigh. “One time, a few months after our father died, she somehow made it all the way to the city and hid there for a month. She wanted to go to the city library to begin research on mate sickness after she'd finished learning everything our library had to offer, which wasn't much. When Findal refused to allow it, she somehow disappeared there and it took the rangers forever to find her.”

 

Mara laughed at the memory, “They found her exactly where she said she'd be—the library. She was living in it. They only found her because there began to be rumors that the place was haunted and it was not hard to determine just who was the ghost based on the description.”

 

“Furious, she was absolutely furious when the rangers brought her back. And they were bitten and scratched as if they'd brought back a wildcat instead of one small human,” Findal paused in thought, “Perhaps we should have know she was not human, as she did many things that did not match what we expected of a human, but we had no experience with human children and thought perhaps she was simply an exceptional human.”

 

“Do you remember her yelling the motto of Belarion at us, 'No other shall rule me,' at the top of her lungs as the rangers brought her in?” Mara said fondly.

 

“How could I forget?” Findal replied dryly. “It was all she would say for a week, until I finally decided to simply allow her obsession to run it's course. None had found a cure for mate sickness, but what harm to allow her to pursue human science? I struck a bargain with her—she might research as she chose if she were discreet, planned ahead, notified myself and House security, and allowed security to accompany her as they deemed necessary.”

 

Here he looked at Kandomere, “Perhaps you might strike your own bargain with her?”

 

“No. I will not. She will remain here,” he'd said with utter certainty that she would, eventually, comply. Usually she was willing to do as he wished and nearly always allowed him to take the lead. He'd gotten rather confident that he was to be the more dominant of their pairing and simply assumed she would eventually see reason.

 

No, not at all. He'd gradually realized over the last few months that she was quite happy to defer to him in every way except for the few things she genuinely cared about, and in those areas she would simply not compromise at all, not at all. He raked his hand through his hair and sighed in annoyance. How was he supposed to keep her safe if she insisted on returning to the MTF? She would not agree to guards, not even a driver on the days he could not escort her to work. While he'd subtly beefed up security on his apartment, and Findal assured him that she would be well guarded by Findarion, it was not as safe as Findal's Halls, physically or magically.

 

Certainly the MTF was secure, as was his apartment building, but the transfer to and from the buildings offered a wealth of opportunities to take her. And she would not at all agree to limit her days to work and his apartment. She would go for coffee, take Ten for a run, planned to go back to life as if there were not another interested elf waiting for his chance. An elf Bright at that, and one she might have found attractive even before he used blood magic to manipulate her.

 

She said nothing about him, but he felt her hope that her friend was alive and well. Friend. There was no desire or love for this Baal, none, and he had looked and looked for it in her when she was lost in their bond. Only a sense of gratitude and an ambivalence about his manipulation of her. Wary, there was definitely wariness and some anger, but also a bit of admiration and a great deal of curiosity about the djinn. She saw him as her only source of information regarding her heritage.

 

Kandomere had searched, the MTF had long searched, and there was nothing, nada, no leads on where to find any of the djinn. Not even any rumors, literally nothing. If Baal contacted her, Kandomere knew her curiosity would outweigh her common sense like he knew the sun would rise every morning. And he knew as well that Baal would contact her—his interest and pride would drive him to it.

 

Disaster, and one so obviously predictable he simply could not understand how she did not perceive it. She maintained that, yes, if he showed up she would talk to him but that she'd bring guards, she would be fine, quit worrying. I get it, he's interested in me—I'll be careful.

 

She did not get it, of that he was certain. If she did, she would stay in Findarion.

 

 

Chapter Text

Khirad smiled with satisfaction over the bargain she had struck; it gave her what she wanted and nearly everyone else enough of that they wanted that they were leaving her alone, mostly. Half-time in training, the other half in the lab, and full time accompanied by Ten as an “emotional support animal.” Misterial had come up with that brilliant idea, and the MTF had reluctantly agreed as Khirad had all the required paperwork and documentation, falsified certainly, but falsified by Findarion which is to say an absolutely rock solid falsification right down to a human trainer who would testify to Ten's easy going, biddable, and completely non-violent temperament, demonstrated over multiple years of training. He made her sound like a cross between a yellow lab and a human saint.

 

Which was frankly hilarious. The only one who didn't see the humor in it was Kandomere, who was clearly annoyed he hadn't had as much influence as he thought. He'd genuinely believed he'd be able to trap her here in Findarion and seemed unable to understand she really would have left for the training school had he forced her to choose. It felt rather like the early days with him, when he would not recognize that she needed breathing space, needed to feel normal, and she really wished he'd go to therapy, something, and get a grip on himself.

 

This morning they'd had another fight after she got the call that the MTF took her deal. She was elated, and instead of joining her in her joy, he launched into another lecture about the danger, and foolish risks. She'd really had enough.

 

“Look, I'm going to carry a sidearm and have Ten with me at all times,”

 

He'd crossed his arms over his chest and frowned, then said, “Ten will be of no use against magic.”

 

“Actually, Trollhunds are highly resistant to magic; that's why they will hunt literally anything. And I think you're forgetting that I have magic and have learned quite a bit about using it, and I'm armed.”

 

“You are, at best, a mediocre shot and your magic is limited by your knowledge...”

 

“I know a lot more than you think. It's more a matter of learning the quick battle magics as opposed to the slower but more powerful runes I know well, but I've learned a lot of the common ones and how to counter them. I can portal now too, which means I no longer need to drive into work once the MTF adds me and our apartment to the approved portal list.”

 

“You could portal in from...”

 

“Findarion? No, I can't. There's no way Findal would allow the MTF to put a gate on his lands, like zero. You have to know that.”

 

“If you asked him, if you at least tried...”

 

Finally, she'd just pulled on her running clothes and left, went out for this run so she could calm down and approach this rationally. She loved him, and she knew he was still dealing with the trauma of losing his mate, but she had her own issues too.

 

She desperately wanted life to go back to something normal, just have a routine, and some of the freedom she had before. Get up in the morning, have breakfast, go for a run, go to the lab, come home, relax, sleep, rinse and repeat for a while. She'd already compromised so much for him, so much, and it felt like she was losing herself, but he just kept pushing for more.

 

Exactly the kind of elf she'd dreaded being tied to—one who would try to control her, take her to his family's keep and hide her away. Well, her family and not his, but the principle was the same—away from the outside world while he came and went as he pleased. No, just no.

 

It was time she had a real sit down with him, either with an elf therapist or with Findal and Mara. Maybe they could make him understand that if he kept pushing she'd eventually have to push back hard to get some room to breathe. And if that didn't work, she'd leave, she wouldn't be able to stop herself. Not forever, but she would have to go away for a while so she could feel where the edges of herself began again. Which would probably make his compulsion to possess her worse.

 

Well, she'd known this would be complicated, or at least had the potential to be complicated, when she decided to go all in. It was really good for a while, and she was determined to believe it could go back to that again with time and some work. She turned to begin running back towards the house.

 

Once she arrived, she quickly showered and then went to the library hoping to find Findal. He was there, along with Mara and Kandomere—looked like they were offering him advice already. That ought to make this easier, maybe. She sat down in one of the deep armchairs and said, “Somebody call a family meeting?”

 

Findal and Mara glanced at each other and she was now absolutely certain she'd been the topic of conversation. Before they could speak, Kandomere snapped, “I sought their advice regarding your intransigent determination to return to the MTF despite the risk.”

 

“What did they tell you?” she asked curiously. She knew what they'd probably said, but she wanted to hear him say it.

 

His mouth thinned and he said, “You know what they said, else you would not ask me.”

 

“They told you that you were being ridiculous and that if you didn't cut it out I'd take a break because I had to feel free.”

 

“We did not call your mate, or his fears, ridiculous...” Findal began.

 

Kandomere interrupted him, “I sought their help in persuading you, but they assured me that it is impossible to do so. They refused to allow you to be sequestered.”

 

Khirad stilled, “Would you? Would you sequester me? Would you try to anyway?”

 

Kandomere looked at her intently, then sighed and said, “No, for if I did you would grow to hate me. I know this.”

 

It was all kinds of fucked up that he even wanted to, but she knew he didn't entirely have control over those feelings. Actions, yeah, those he could control. “Let me get this straight, you asked them to sequester me?”

 

“No, they simply repeated their stance that they would not allow you to be sequestered, that there would be war if I attempted it,” Kandomere said with some frustration, “I would not ask such a thing.”

 

Khirad relaxed somewhat and shot a look of thanks to Findal and Mara. Kandomere bristled and snapped, “I did not consider doing such a thing, you have no reason to look at them as if they saved you from me!”

 

At that Findal raised his hands for peace and said, “Kandomere, you came to us for our advice. Khirad, I suspect you are here for the same.”

 

They both nodded.

 

“Good. Then I would ask that you each put aside your preconceived ideas, open the bond fully,” here Findal shot a look at her, “and genuinely consider the other's point of view and whether there is a way for both to be satisfied,” here he looked hard at Kandomere.

 

“Fine,” she said.

 

“I will,” Kandomere said with a sigh.

 

Khirad opened the bond completely for the first time in probably a week. His emotions were just so loud right now, and so pushy, just pushing pushing her until she felt like she was being invaded. As soon as she opened it, she again felt the overwhelming weight of his disapproval, anger, and fear.

 

It was too much. “Look, could you please stop pushing me? Every time I open the bond it's like you are everywhere all the time constantly on me, just pushing and pushing, angry and disapproving. I can't feel your love, just you trying to force me to do what you want. I hate it,” she said with a sigh and then sat back to rub the sides of her forehead.

 

“I can not help how I feel,” he snapped.

 

“That is false,” Mara said softly, “You know what you are doing, Kandomere, though she does not.”

 

“Indeed,” Findal said disapprovingly, “you can hardly blame her for shutting the bond if you are using it to manipulate her in such a way. To withdraw love and project your anger and disapproval...” Findal shook his head, “who did you learn such from?”

 

Kandomere looked stricken, then Khirad felt a sudden surge of guilt and self-loathing from him. He said nothing, but he clearly had realized something. Quickly, he shut the bond between them and his face settled into the cold detached look he sometimes got when he wasn't sure how best to deal with something.

 

Like his father. She'd seen him in Kandomere's memories. A cold detached man, or one who did a solid imitation of one. And a domineering controlling husband. Oh, fuck no.

 

“Your dad. That's who taught you that. And that's who you look like right now. No fucking way am I turning into your mom, no way. What the fuck, Kandomere?” Furious, she was suddenly so angry that he had been doing it on purpose, on purpose to try to, what, force her to comply? Fuck that.

 

“Khirad, be still. Can you not see he did not realize what he was doing?” Mara snapped.

 

“He knew. I can feel his guilt,” she shot back, just so angry at being manipulated.

 

“I did not realize I was treating you as my father treated my mother,” Kandomere said quietly.

 

“Then why do you feel so guilty?” she said angrily.

 

He looked up and she saw the sorrow in his face, “I swore I would never be like him, and now I find I am and did not know I was. Of course I am guilty.”

 

She had nothing to say to that, so she lapsed into silence, unsure of exactly how to feel.

 

Findal frowned and said, “It is hard, in the beginning, when two are so different. Even if you were both elves, it would be hard.” He looked to her, “Khirad, do you return to the MTF, then?”

 

“Yes, that's what set this off. Half days of each, I am armed and I take Ten, and once the MTF approves it I can portal to and from work. That's safe, I mean I think it is, and he insisted I could just as well portal in from Findarion...”

 

“You can not. I will not tolerate a gate here from the MTF...”

 

“I told him that but...”

 

“I insisted she ask you,” Kandomere admitted, “I simply wish her to be safe.

 

“As do we,” Mara said gently, “as we have always wanted her to be safe but she needs different things than an elf. Kandomere, as long as we have known her, she hates to feel confined or controlled. Tighten your hand around her and she will slip away like water.”

 

Findal added, “It is her nature. She can not help it. Long have we puzzled over her need to be free, but surely you too have felt it through your bond?”

 

“Yes.” One word, bitten out grimly.

 

Mara looked thoughtful, then said, “There is little known of the marid. Some of the less powerful djinn are somewhat better known, but none are known well. Perhaps this independence is an aspect of them, something inborn and unchangeable.”

 

“It matters not the origin, my love, only he must accept...”

 

“He still thinks of her as human, as do we, but she is not human.” Mara spoke firmly, “To treat her as human would be as foolish as to treat an elf so.”

 

Oh. Khirad sat back and realized that, truthfully, she also still thought of herself as human. Kinda. Like she thought her needs were probably about the same as a human but, really, when she looked at the patterns of her life, she'd always been a weird sort of human. Other humans racked it up to her growing up with elves, and elves racked it up to being human, but there were definitely things she didn't have in common with either species. Things she tried to tamp down because she thought them odd, like her need to be separate and alone, her need to be free and independent. Sure, elves and humans needed that too, but it was just more for her.

 

Maybe she didn't really know what she needed. Suddenly, inexplicably, her eyes filled with tears and she felt a sense of deep loss, sorrow, and as if some part of her was missing, or just now waking after so long a sleep. She looked at her family, her mate, and they all loved her but they sure didn't understand her. No one did. But maybe, if she could find them, there was a people out there just like her. She'd been curious before but now a sort of yearning filled her for this family she might have. Not love, she had no need for their love, but she needed something she struggled to define. Something like understanding, or to be understood, or to see in herself that she was not alone in her needs, that they were normal for her kind.

 

Kandomere rose and knelt next to her chair, “Khirad, my love, I am sorry...”

 

“I'm not broken or a wierdo. I'm just not human, ok? I can't help it.”

 

They all started talking at once, all assuring her of their love and devotion, that she was fine, no, wonderful, that they thought she was perfect as she was and she knew they meant it but the realization that she really wasn't human, not at all, it had just finally sunk in. She didn't know why she was crying, but she was and she didn't seem able to stop. It was embarrassing.

 

Kandomere held her hand, but she wanted him to hold her. Safety. She needed him to be her safety like Findarion was her safety. Roam, then return. Not far, not long, and return to safety. Free to leave, always to return, but always free to leave. Yes.

 

She looked up at Kandomere and pressed on him to open the bond. Instantly he did, and he felt her realization, and her need. Sorrow, fear, then acceptance, curiosity, and an attempt to understand, a true attempt. He stood, led her to the couch where he had been sitting, then sat and pulled her gently down to cradle her in his arms, “I understand, a little. I will be your safety, and I will try to trust in your return.”

 

“I will always return to you. Even from the Darklands.”

 

He chuffed a laugh and said, “I believe you have the power to do so, and the stubbornness.

 

Better. She could feel his acceptance. Fear, yes, but acceptance. They would work it out. It would be ok.