“The secret to marinades,” said Fen’Din, licking a spoon, “is honey.”
Cormac shoved the baking dish into the oven with a grunt. Fen’Din had made the sauce, but ovens and an elf who couldn’t feel pain were a bad combination. “I really doubt that much honey is going to turn out well. Some honey, yes, but that’s half a beehive.”
“Not nearly half,” said Fen’Din, with his best approximation of an amused smile. “I should know. It’s my beehives.”
“I mean, I’ll eat it. Can’t be worse than some of the things my brother’s made, over the years. Still, if an entire half-pint of honey mixed with mustard is a good idea…”
“You didn’t even taste it,” laughed Fen’Din. “I have the other half of it inside, for a dip.”
“Two silver says the cats have got at it and it’s smeared all over the house.” Cormac cared much less about the state of his house than would Artie, but honey was sticky.
The cats had not “got at it,” though Meowedith was sniffing at the edge of the bowl where Fen’Din had poured the honey-mustard sauce over the manager’s-special deepstalker drumsticks, nose crinkled up in disgust. Fen’Din held out his hand.
“It’s sniffing at it. That partly counts.”
Fen’Din continued to hold out his hand, and Cormac paid up, rummaging around in his pockets. At least the cat agreed with him about the sauce.
“You really should taste it,” said Fen’Din, distracting the cat. Cormac apprehensively swiped a finger across the edge of the bowl.
“That’s…sweeter than I like, but I can see why you would.” What kind of dipping-thing was supposed to go with this? Fresh green beans, maybe. Carrots would be too sweet, and bread was just wrong.
“It’s less sweet when it’s baked,” reminded Fen’Din.
It would be, Cormac realized. Anytime you baked meat with a sauce in a covered dish, it was. Still, that was a lot of honey. Plenty of salt in it, too, but it was all very concentrated. Fen’Din seemed to have invented the sauce himself, and it was that, mostly, that concerned Cormac. The elf had odd priorities when it came to food.
Anders poked his head into the kitchen. “Are you two done with the food prep, for now?”
“Meat’s in the oven,” said Cormac, “and the salad’s in the icebox where the cats can’t get it. We’ve got almost a whole candle.”
“I thought I’d do a study on your scars, today,” said Fen’Din. “That other week, when Kinnon and Candles were here and you both were glowing—I noticed you get something out of them, that I don’t. Also, there are so many more of them since the last time I drew them. They’re in the pictures, here and there, but I want the detail.”
“Works for me,” said Cormac. “They’re not my scars, though.”
“Well, I’ve had my shirt off in front of the both of you lately, so if either of you were going to start screaming and calling me a maleficar, it would already have happened.” It wasn’t vanity he hid the scars for. “Justice thinks you should make woodcuts of them, to print in the next edition of the Manifesto. I think it’s stupid to give all the Templars in the world such a detailed portrayal of all my identifying marks. You’re probably not showing these books to Peryn, though, so this should be safe.”
“‘What kind of a name is ‘Anders,’’” sing-songed Cormac, making air quotes.
“It’s not a name,” said Fen’Din automatically.
“Warden stamina says more naked, less names, if we want a hot and unburned dinner?”
The ridiculous Tevinter bed creaked as Cormac and Anders piled onto it. Fen’Din headed for his usual perch, but Anders motioned him towards the bed.
“You need to be close, if you really want to see the scars.”
“Don’t expect me to get naked, Roundear,” teased Fen’Din.
“We’ll try not to splash anything on you,” promised Cormac.
“So, the obvious one to start with is the one on my chest,” said Anders. The big scar. It covered up half the rest of them.
“It’s less scar-y than it was a few months ago,” said Fen’Din, frowning (he was pretty sure he’d done it right). “I wish you’d let me draw it, then.”
“Blame the magical bear, he was in the way.”
“Not a magical bear. He’s right, though. I’ve noticed for a while, I just didn’t say anything because I was usually too busy screaming. You’ve been healing it?”
“I’ve finally been eating enough to spare for it,” Anders admitted. Magic could only work with the resources a body already had. “You did a decent job of keeping me fed in Kirkwall, but it helps when I like the food well enough to eat thirds. Plus, I think I’ve finally convinced Justice that eating that much supports the local economy.”
“I hope you like what I put in the oven, then,” said Fen’Din, eyes fixed on Anders’ chest as he kept sketching.
“That much honey, it won’t matter whether or not he takes thirds, or even seconds,” remarked Cormac, lazily pressing fingers along the scar on Anders’ thigh. He hit a particularly good spot, and felt a muscle jerk underneath. The flagpole thickened, just a bit.
“What did he do with the honey?” asked Anders, angling his other leg for Cormac’s benefit.
“You know that dip I used to make with honey and mustard, back in the Circle? It makes a pretty good sauce for meat, I’ve discovered.”
“Oh, that should be good,” said Anders—a little more dramatically than the food probably deserved, but that was entirely Cormac’s fault.
“I still have my doubts, but I think I’m outvoted.”
“It’s not a voting matter, it’s an eating matter,” Anders pointed out.
“Which means you’ll find out in about half a candle. I’ve drawn this scar by itself, now. I want to see you do the Fade thing to it.”
Cormac regretfully stopped rubbing against Anders’ leg, so he could more than just barely reach said scar. “How do you want me for this, pretty thing? I was thinking of getting the first one with you fucking my thighs, but Fen’Din won’t be able to see the scar if we do that, certainly not in any position where I could actually reach it.” Thighs were good foreplay, Cormac had found, and even more so now that he’d put on a few pounds.
“I could draw the other half of the scar that way,” suggested Fen’Din.
“At this rate I won’t be glowing until after dinner.” Cormac rolled off of Anders and grabbed the spare blanket, folding it until it was a thick as a pillow (but infinitely more washable). He climbed onto hands and knees, the latter on the folded blanket. Otherwise, Anders would be much too tall for this. “Sorry for mooning you,” he added to Fen’Din.
“He’s not. It’s a very nice set of moons,” said Anders.
“I’ve drawn his ass a dozen times before, anyway,” pointed out Fen’Din.
“My ass, incoming,” said Anders. “And the scar. In case you’d forgotten what you were drawing.”
Anders cast grease; not very much of it, for this. He slicked himself with it, and pushed into the softness that was Cormac’s thighs, the head of his knob rubbing against Cormac’s balls. He suspected that part hurt Cormac, and was at least half the appeal for him. With the grease that was still on his hand, he started to work Cormac open—three fingers, to start with. Cormac never needed much prep.
Cormac lost track of time, reveling in the slick pressure against his thighs and the fingers stretching his insides. Most men would have stroked themselves; Cormac bit his wrist. Occasionally one of Anders’ thrusts would hit a testicle, and the slightly sickening twist the pain sent through his stomach just spiked his arousal higher. To a degree. This was just a warm-up, really. So was nearly anything that couldn’t get him arrested for blood magic. (At least, if the Templar in question was extremely paranoid.) One joked about sex acts being illegal in Ansburg, but half the things in Fen’Din’s latest sketchbook were functionally illegal for mages even in Tevinter. Cormac switched wrists, concentrating on the contrast between sharp pain and dull, and squeezed his thighs more tightly together. Anders’ next thrust rewarded him with a hit to the ballsack that forced a gasp out of him around his arm.
“I should have given thought to how I can’t see your face from this angle, Cormac,” responded Fen’Din. “I can reproduce the sound, but I don’t have a face with it for Anders to talk about.”
“That noise means it hurt, and he wasn’t entirely expecting it, and he liked it,” said Anders, who was something of an expert on Cormac’s “yodeling.”
Pain and pleasure: opposites, except when they weren’t. Fen’Din had asked, once, and Anders had compared it to sucking on a lemon. Cormac and Anders and Karl and all the rest got something from it, something they liked so much they were obsessed with it. Fen’Din himself could not fathom it, and so he was obsessed with trying to understand it. Maybe if he’d been allowed to grow up before the Templars killed him, he’d have understood. He probably would never have learned to draw, though, and in the end he was glad he had. The ability to record faces and sights was almost as dangerous and useful as any magic. Dangerous kept away some demons. Drawing, itself, was a way to change a realm secretly, without the greater demons usually knowing.
Cormac craned his head to look back at Fen’Din. “Is this better?”
“No, now it’s all the effort from twisting up like that. I wanted to see what your face looked like when you were surprised. I’m still learning it.”
Cormac bit his wrist again, chasing pain. He made noises like purring around it, brief catches on the vocal cords, but there really wasn’t enough yet between Anders and the biting to really get him screaming. Less pleasure, more display. Anders kept silent, except for the occasional sharp exhale from his nose. The edge of his beard stuck out at an angle that Fen’Din had learned meant his jaw was clenched. Anders always locked his jaw closed or open when he was close, one or the other. Control, it meant. Fen’Din had finished drawing the scar; now he waited to catch the moment when Anders would spurt and drip. Instead of blinking, he shut and opened one eye and then the other.
There. Fen’Din’s charcoal scratched in the angle of Anders’ hips at that brief moment, then the drip down Cormac’s closed thighs, a blank area among the shading.
“If he rides me,” said Anders, coming down from that first one enough to speak, “he’ll be able to get the Fade-fingers in the front half of the scar. For the back half, it will work better the other way around, which means it really would make sense to do that first, but he’s going to be annoyed if he doesn’t have anything inside him for more than a few seconds, after that.”
“Yes, I would be,” agreed Cormac, canting his hips back in a way that drove himself against Anders’ fingers and made Anders’ spine stiffen and his eyes fall shut. (Even with Warden stamina, Anders was usually more sensitive on the second one, and Cormac knew it. The third one, too. After that, the “people weren’t meant to do this” factor sort of evened it out.)
“More lube, so you don’t skin me,” muttered Anders, casting, while he still had a hand inside Cormac—not that he even needed to be touching him, to do it, but it made it easier.
Cormac’s eyes squinched up.
“Sorry. Don’t want to have to heal anything, yet.” Every time Anders had heard of someone breaking their knob, other than that time Cormac had become completely immaterial while horrifyingly drunk (not exactly a situation you’d have with most people), it was while doing exactly what he was about to be doing in the next few seconds. Cormac was about to sit on his knob, and more lube increased the chances that said knob would go in his ass and not get stuck or bent to the side of it. Casting now was also much easier than casting during. (If pressed, he would have admitted that half his concern was actually Justice’s; the spirit had started paying attention with the promise of Fade-fingers, and he also very much remembered that incident at a certain dockside bar and was even less inclined than Anders to chance repeating it.) Anders lay back, and Cormac eased himself onto his knob, fortunately without incident, other than a lot of gasping and almost reverent expletives. Cormac gave Anders time to find a rhythm, and then he started to glow.
Just his hand, at first. It was best to start small. Fading it out (and trying not to think of how there had to be a gradient of material to immaterial Cormac-stuff, how did that even work), he eased two fingers through the skin and into the scar. Blue cracks spread out from his fingers—really, from the center of the scar, where Justice was most tightly bound up with the living mage. Always the same places, when he glowed.
Fen’Din saw more of Justice than Cormac—the Veil had always resembled mosquito netting more than curtains to him, in a manner of speaking. It was as if two people occupied the same space, the spirit face occasionally a shadow over the other or sometimes just sense-able behind the flesh one, an alternately colorless or Fade-blue nimbus around him, with streaks of something inherently spirit-y and not analogous to a mortal body winding through Anders’ flesh as if stitching it together. The streaks were invisible to Cormac and almost everyone else, except when Justice was active and glowing, but as visible to Fen’Din as if they were some sort of contrasting inlay. (And again, not unless they were glowing, they had no color, exactly. Every time he had tried to draw them, it hadn’t come out right. Cormac had seen one of the attempts and asked why he had made Anders stripy, and after that, Fen’Din had given up.)
Glyph chalk. That was it, Fen’Din thought. The way colors could be approximated with shades of black and white, or different kinds of cross-hatchings in books of heraldry, the colors of Justice and the Fade Cormac had wrapped himself in could be shaded with glyph chalk. Or maybe it would be glyph charcoal, instead, to keep the light/dark contrast right, so long as it had lyrium in it. But—no, then it wouldn’t be safe to use around anyone naked, not to mention he would need to wear gloves while using it, and it would need wax or something to hold it together and then it wouldn’t blend the same way; not to mention the cost and suspicion incurred to get it. Probably Cormac wouldn’t be able to see the difference, anyway. (Karl would have, just a little—enough to squint at the glyph chalk even if he weren’t expecting it, enough to probably think that the spirit-colored parts of Anders were some kind of odd scar like from lightning, catching the light just a bit differently from the rest of his equally pale skin. Fen’Din wondered, not for the first time, if Karl was really destroyed entirely or still maimed but cast into some other kingdom.)
Justice flared, his nimbus completely encompassing Cormac, though it looked a bit squished around where his arm had phased out, as if Cormac had pressed his hand into hair or soft flesh. Unfamiliar with Anders’ restraint, he squalled and bucked into Cormac, fucking a stream of encouragement and dirty talk out of him.
“Fuck, yes, Justice”—and Cormac still was not over the oddness of calling out to “Justice” during sex, that wasn’t even one of the virtues people got named after, at least not in this language—“fuck me harder, fuck me until the grease burns off and”—shit, Justice might take that literally—“actually, please expressly don’t set anything on fire, it’s a metaphor”—Cormac was reasonably sure Justice knew what that was, from writing the Manifesto—“fuck me until I bleed in spite of this stupid amount of grease. I want to feel it in my throat. If I could suck you while getting fucked by you, I’d do it.”
“IT IS NOT THAT LONG,” boomed Justice.
Fen’Din’s shoulders shook so much he had to stop drawing for a moment, while he completely forgot to do anything with his face.
“Imagine if it was, though,” panted Cormac, mind stretched thin between the flagpole in his ass, the rather difficult spell he had to control, and trying to keep up a relatively coherent conversation. “Imagine, if we were all the way in the Fade and you could do whatever you want, and you made it really that long. Which would actually be kind of gross, considering what it would have to go through to get to my mouth, I mean Artie would die of horror at the thought, but I’m not going to think about that part, just the idea of it being theoretically possible. The flagpole is as close to that as I’m ever going to get, and as close seconds go, it’s a really close second.”
In the back of his mind, Justice could feel Anders laughing, and decided he’d ask later what was so funny. It just seemed vaguely appalling, really. But not unjust, per se, and Cormac seemed to be enjoying it, nor was it the first time Justice had ever completely missed the point of something mortals said. Maybe it was a metaphor, though goodness only knew for what.
Cormac had run his caravan of thought completely off its road and into a metaphorical plunging ravine full of bandits, so he abandoned it and the talking and tried to increase the spell to envelop all the insides and outside of him, while still keeping only his hand phased out. ‘I might as well literally stab you with my knob,” Anders had said once about the safety of getting jizz stuck in someone’s abdominal cavity. And of course that mental image would have made Cormac’s knees go weak if he hadn’t already been sprawled on the bed at the time—even now, it made his knob twitch and a shiver run up the inside of his ribs and latch on like a miniature lamprey—but he’d conceded that he’d rather not get peritonitis, later, when he didn’t have a boner.
Justice felt the Fade wrap around his knob and exhaled a sound that almost could have been made by a human larynx, just…less resonantly. Cormac rocked forward and dug four fingers and half the side of his hand into Anders’/Justice’s chest, more than half the thickness of his body, while his solid hand had a death grip on their hipbone. If he really focused…yes, he could. Cormac unleashed a cautious burst of electricity into the body underneath him, right along the inside of that scar, praying that Justice would be enough to keep Anders alive if this were even less wise than he thought.
Justice screamed, even as he felt Anders clattering against what was left of his thoughts. He had a knob, and he was using it to fuck an extremely tight and slick part of the Fade, while more Fade dug into the core of his being and unleashed lightning. Spirits weren’t supposed to experience this. That, he reflected, must be some sort of injustice. Something filtered through his mind, from Anders’ memories, about how demons came from spirits who resented the Maker. Well, Justice wasn’t going to actually do anything at the Maker. No one knew where the Maker was, anyway. It just seemed unfair that other spirits didn’t get to experience this rightness and perfection. The real reason demons existed, Justice replied to Anders mentally, was that mortals and spirits weren’t getting laid enough. As the Fadestorm inside him evened out, Justice showed Anders a flash of That One Time in the Vimmark Mountains, and then suggested a similar approach to abominations.
Cormac had had the sense to get his hand out of Anders’/Justice’s chest when the screaming and shaking started, lest he accidentally intersect a spine or something. Besides, he needed that hand for himself. Justice was terrible at remembering to give him a reacharound. Cormac was pretty sure his mouth was doing something, but he had a spirit’s giant knob inside him and his own fingernails scoring lines on his own knob and digging into the frenulum, so he could apologize for the probably deafening noise level later. Actually, he was pretty sure that, right now, Justice was louder than he was. And then he had to drop the spell, because he wasn’t sure he could hold onto it while coming without phasing through Anders’ hips and possibly the bed, and he collapsed forward onto Anders or Justice (he was a bit too distracted to tell which one was fronting, at the moment), at an angle, crushing his still-spurting knob against what he thought might be a rib.
Cormac’s rather dazed awareness eventually parsed what he was looking at as Anders’ shoulder—actually Anders’, it wasn’t glowing—and that absolutely delightful sensation in his ass as Anders laughing. “What’s funny?” he asked, expecting he’d just said something completely ridiculous, a minute ago.
“Justice thinks we should try to reform demons by having sex with them. You have officially fucked a spirit stupid. And now he’s annoyed me for calling him stupid. No, Justice, ‘fucked stupid’ means something slightly different than just ‘stupid.’”
“Justice, you forgot the part where demons are generally trying to kill all of us,” said Cormac.
“If you try it, I’ll draw it,” offered Fen’Din.
In the space between Fen’Din closing his mouth and Anders opening his to say that he was not going to be fucking any demons, thank you very much, Justice, how would he like it if Anders suggested fellating a Hurlock, not that Anders would ever want to do that but didn’t he get the point, they all heard the pin drop out of the candle.
“Shit, already?” complained Cormac. No liquid Warden, for him, until after dinner, but he was already half-hard again, and it was completely Anders’ fault. Walking with his robe brushing over that was going to be absolutely maddening, and he was not pulling things out of the oven naked.
“It should be done by now,” said Fen’Din, closing his sketchbook, putting the charcoal in its pouch, and dusting off his fingers. “The baking time doesn’t have to be exact, but it will probably get tough if you make it wait long enough for another round.”
“I’ll get it out of the oven. You get the noodle salad out of the cold box. We’ll just bring plates in here.” Cormac pulled his robe over his head, not bothering to straighten it.
He reappeared a few minutes later, carrying a platter of honey-mustard deepstalker and swarmed by cats. Anders and Fen’Din were sitting on the bed, eating noodle salad out of the serving bowl. Anders held up a third spoon.
“This is actually good,” said Cormac, around a mouthful of deepstalker. “The cats seem to think so, too.” He swallowed. “Had to put the pan in a cupboard so they wouldn’t get it. It’s still blazing hot, too. Remind me to get it out of there before it goes bad and I forget where the smell is coming from. It can go in the cold box in a couple hours.”
“Told you you’d like it,” said Fen’Din, remembering to smile and reaching for the platter of deepstalker.