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The Elves of Bethmoora

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"Hellboy is trying to get me transferred to Antarctica," John said as he walked into the library.

Abe glanced up at John. "Really?" He didn't look at all surprised.

John frowned. He had been expecting more of a reaction from Abe. He'd been with the BPRD long enough to be pretty good at reading Abe's facial expressions and there was definitely something Abe knew that he didn't. "You knew?"

Abe waved a hand and spun around in his tank. "He may have mentioned the idea. But it was just an idea. I don't think he'll actually try to go through with it."

"May have?" Before, he'd thought the transfer was just a joke Hellboy was trying to play but if Abe knew, then it was more than a joke. It wasn't going to happen. Manning would make sure of that, if nothing more than just to piss Hellboy off by keeping John here, but the fact that Hellboy wanted him gone kind of stung. He'd thought they were becoming friends. "Is this about Liz again? Because I told him there's nothing there. Liz knows there's nothing there."

"How's your arm?"

John could recognize a change of topic ploy when he saw one. For a moment, he was tempted to press the issue, to find out what Abe may have gleaned from Hellboy's thoughts, but they'd been round and round that particular issue for months. He let it drop. Better not to dwell in self-doubt.

He shrugged with his left shoulder, trying hard not to jostle his right. "I'm starting to really hate trolls." At the time, he'd wondered if Hellboy had purposely let the troll throw him into the wall. It had been too clear of a shot and Hellboy could have blocked it if he'd tried. John was lucky his arm was the only thing broken. Now he was starting to think it hadn't been much of an accident at all.

How far was Hellboy willing to go to get rid of him based on his irrational jealousy?

Abe swam forward and pressed his hands against the glass. John knew that look. Abe had his 'make everything better' expression on and John didn't think he was going to like the result. There was no way to make things better with Hellboy. He'd tried. He doubted Hellboy would believe him, even if John found some way for Hellboy to walk in on John being fucked by a guy.

"How long are you off active duty?" Abe asked.

"Eight weeks, minimum." His arm itched beneath the cast. Liz had drawn flowers all over it. He hadn't let Hellboy near it.

Abe nodded, as if he'd decided something. "You should come with me to Bethmoora. Think of it like a vacation."

John frowned. "Bethmoora?" He was ninety percent certain that wasn't a place on any map he'd studied in school. With the BPRD, maps were irrelevant.

Abe grinned. "Ah, yes. I forget how new you are sometimes. Bethmoora, the great city of the elves."

A mix of curiosity and trepidation filled him. The curiosity was winning. "Elves? Are these like shoemaker elves or Lord of the Rings elves?"

"Hmm. Neither, but I suppose the Lord of the Rings elves are a closer analogy. We have an understanding with them, you see. The BPRD and our counterparts around the globe help keep elves away from public scrutiny."

John raised an eyebrow. "And what do we get in return?"

Abe grinned wider. "They don't kill us all with their giant, indestructible, mechanical army."

Strangely, John was impressed. Now he really wanted to meet the elves, at the very least to find out what kind of creatures would choose hiding over ruling the world.

It was better than Antarctica.

*****

They took a boat to Ireland and from there it was a long drive over bumpy country roads to a military base in the middle of nowhere. Their driver flashed his credentials at the gate – it was a pretty impressive gate – and they were waved through without a word. Instead of parking outside the base, they drove into a long, flat building and then down a wide ramp that spiraled deep underground. They passed a number of thick, steel doors – open for now but John could imagine the kind of force it would take to break through them if they were shut. He wondered if they were there to keep people out or trap whatever they were driving towards in.

The Jeep finally rolled to a stop at the edge of a massive cavern. John stared. There was a city underground, a whole city gleaming with cold and silver with towers rising to the top of the cavern. It was breathtakingly beautiful. He wanted to take a picture of it, to have an image of its beauty with him forever, but that kind of defeated the point of having a top-secret, heavily guarded underground city. How long had it been there? More importantly, why wasn't this on the BPRD brochure? The city looked amazing.

"End of the road," the driver said. He parked next to a line of other vehicles in what John now realized was a tiny parking lot. A wide bridge stretched across the cavern to the city. As he stepped out of the Jeep, he caught a glance of the gaping void below the bridge and stuck closer to the vehicle. The cave went a long, long way down. He'd spent enough time delving into underground caves to know better than to go anywhere near the edge.

Abe climbed out of the covered back of the Jeep as John came around to collect their luggage. "They don't allow our vehicles in the city. Too much... pollution." That was not the word Abe meant to use. What was it about the vehicles they didn't like? Technology? Iron? Some myths said faerie were vulnerable to iron so maybe elves were too?

Abe led the way across the bridge. John glanced back towards the mouth of the cavern as their driver turned the Jeep around and drove away. He felt trapped for a fleeting moment, and then he turned around to face the gleaming city and it didn't seem so bad.

*****

"Allow me to introduce Princess Nuala."

John bowed. They'd passed several elves – and a wide mix of other non-humans – on their way into the city. None of them had given Abe so much as a second look, which suggested he'd been here numerous times before. A few had sent glares John's way, which was odd. He wondered if they didn't like humans or if it was just him. Maybe they didn't like strangers.

Still, he couldn't help but be utterly fascinated. Every runway model he'd ever seen paled in comparison to even the plainest of elves. He was starting to think that there was no such thing as an ugly elf, and Nuala seemed to be proving that rule. She was beautiful, in an ethereal sort of way that made her seem unreal, like something from a dream made flesh. Then she smiled at him and her beauty increased tenfold.

She stepped down from the palace steps where she'd been awaiting their arrival and took Abe by the hand. A glance passed between the two of them, something more than familiar and John grinned. He was definitely going to have to pick on Abe for not telling him he had a girlfriend.

"It's wonderful to meet you," Nuala said. Her voice was like chimes in the wind, soft and musical. It fit her perfectly. "Abe has told me so much about you."

He blushed and rubbed the back of his head with his uninjured hand. "It's nice to meet you too." He didn't add that Abe had told him nothing about Nuala, but there was a lot that John didn't know about Abe's life. Liz or Hellboy's either. He hated being the outsider.

Abe squeezed Nuala's hand. "Nuala and I are betrothed. We are to be wed in three months and I was hoping, since you are off of active duty for the time being, that you would be willing to help with the wedding preparations."

John could feel his eyebrows trying to crawl into his hair line. Abe hadn't mentioned any of that, and he wasn't sure why. It seemed strange for him to be asking John, out of all the other people in the BPRD but at the same time he was incredibly honored. He had a bit of a soft spot for weddings. He grinned. "I'd love to help in any way I can."

Abe reached out and squeezed John's shoulder. A sense of calm washed over him and followed by gratitude. "Your assistance is much appreciated."

Nuala smiled at both of them. She opened her mouth to say something and then turned at the exact same time as the door at the top of the stairs opened. Another elf emerged from the palace, beautiful and yet obviously deadly, with pale skin and silver-gold hair the same as Nuala's. The elf was a born warrior if John had ever seen one and he carried himself with an almost arrogant regal bearing. John would bet good money that this stranger was related to Nuala.

Nuala smiled at the newcomer. "There you are, brother. Abe has arrived with his dear friend John." She turned to John. "Allow me to introduce my twin brother, Prince Nuada."

John was in love. Well, as in love as he could be with a man he'd just met. He felt an instant connection between them, sharp and hot like a knife piercing in his gut and he desperately wanted to know more about Nuada. He should say something, a greeting or at least a simple hello, but his mouth was stuck.

Nuada glared at him and turned back up the stairs. "The human is not welcome here."

John stared as the door slammed shut behind Nuada.

Nuala offered him a tentative smile. "He takes a while to warm up to newcomers. He's really quite nice. You'll see."

John highly doubted that.

*****

Abe's definition of helping with wedding preparations seemed to consist of being the tie-breaker when he and Nuala couldn't decide between decorations or linens or food. John didn't mind, though it made him feel a bit awkward making decisions about someone else's wedding. It should be Hellboy or Liz here. They'd known Abe longer.

No. No, that was a bad idea. Letting Hellboy loose in Bethmoora seemed like a disaster waiting to happen and he had no clue about weddings, probably wouldn't be in help at all. Liz would be a good choice, but where Liz went, Hellboy wasn't far behind.

He found himself with a lot of downtime. He wasn't really needed here, not really, but it was nice that Abe had included him. There was a balcony not far from the rooms they'd been given in the palace for the duration of their stay. It was quiet and out of the way, which made it the perfect place to hide away. It also had a great view of the city. He could see people moving far below but he was mostly hidden from sight. It was probably best that he stayed out of the way.

There were two distinct camps of elves that he'd met so far. There were those, like Nuala, who either found humanity fascinating or were completely indifferent to his existence. Then there were those, like Nuada, who hated humans and glared at him whenever he was in sight. At least Nuada's camp seemed to be smaller, at least inside the palace. He'd yet to venture out of the palace, though Abe kept promising a tour when he was less busy with wedding planning. Staying inside the palace seemed better though. He didn't want to cause a problem with the elves – and probably other races – that didn't like humans, though he had no idea why they didn't like him.

"Wonderful view, isn't it?"

John turned and blinked in surprise. The man wasn't familiar to him, but the giant crown on his head gave his identity away. He'd yet to be introduced to King Balor. He was an old elf with long silver-gray hair. His left arm hung limp at his side, ending in a clawed silver hand.

John quickly bowed. "Your majesty."

Balor waved his right hand and stepped up to the edge of the balcony. "No need for such formalities. You are our guest here."

John was suddenly afraid to move lest he do or say the wrong thing. Balor glanced sideways at him and grinned slightly. "Do you like our city?"

"It's amazing. I've never seen anything like it."

Balor chuckled. It was a wheezing sort of laugh but with a deep strength to it still. "I doubt you would. It took the goblins twelve years to construct it, hewing the city from the very rock around us. The magic of the elves is intertwined in the city. It is as much a part of us as we are it."

John stared out at the city. He could just imagine the amount of work it had taken to build the city. He wondered how much of the cavern had been there before and how much they'd carved out. There were other tunnels leading into the city on the opposite side of the cavern from the one they'd come through. Where did those lead? Likely not to another human base, given the elves dislike of humans. Maybe that was where the goblins and trolls and other creatures he saw on the streets below had come from. Were there more cities hidden underground?

"Do you know why some of my people dislike your race?"

John started. He'd almost forgotten the king was there. He shook his head.

Balor stared out over the city, his gaze distance as if he were staring out into time rather than the city. "A long time ago, we were at war. Your people and mine. Mankind wanted control of the forests, our realm since days long gone. Nuada led our people in battle as they were slaughtered by men. In desperation, we had the goblins build us a great Golden Army. I realized the mistake only after the army had been unleashed. They had no mercy. They slaughtered all that got in their path, man, woman, and child. Whole settlements were wiped out and we were poised to win. But it was not an honorable victory. Nuada and I fought bitterly, but in the end the army was sealed away, deep in the caves below us, and we called a truce with men. We would keep to our forests and undercities, and they would bother us no more."

John swallowed. How had the history books not recorded that? Surely there should at least be a myth somewhere about a great golden army, but there was nothing. He'd read enough to know.

Balor turned to John, his gaze piercing. "We could have ruled the world, but I chose not to, not at the cost of so many lives. Nuada has never forgiven me for it, and I have never forgotten his bloodlust. But there is still hope. The years have dulled his anger, though it lingers still. Peace chafes him, as does hiding away. I think, if he saw the good in the world, his mind could change."

Balor smiled once at him and then left without another word. John stared after the king long after the king disappeared from view. His mind turned over the story and he wondered, what would change Nuada's mind?

*****

John looked up as the door to the library opened. Nuada paused with his hand still on the handle. Disgust washed over his face and he turned to leave.

"I'm sorry," John blurted.

Nuada paused. John took that as a good sign.

"I know I can't do anything about what my race did to you a long time ago, but for what it matters, I'm sorry."

The door clicked shut behind Nuada. At least it hadn't slammed.

*****

He could feel Nuada watching him. It was becoming a familiar feeling, ever since their chance meeting in the library. Nuada didn't talk to him but he didn't hide away when the king invited them all to dine together and he was more of a presence in the halls of the castle.

"Do you have twos?" Nuala asked him. He awkwardly passed her his twos while still holding his cards in his good hand.

Abe and John were teaching Nuala to play cards. She's mastered Old Maid and they'd moved on to Go Fish. John was tempted to turn around and invite Nuada to play but he it was more likely that acknowledging Nuada's presence would just make him leave. Nuala had to know Nuada was there, but she didn't so much as glance in his direction. John was more than willing to follow her lead.

He wondered why Nuada had taken a sudden interest in him. Was he waiting for John to make a wrong move, maybe give him cause to kill John in revenge for all the wars long before John was born? Or, like Balor had suggested, was Nuada looking for good in John? Abe had insisted months ago that John was pure of heart. He doubted that, but if it kept Nuada from killing him or waging war against the whole human race, he was willing to play along.

Having Nuada around was just a pleasant side effect.

*****

The wedding was a success. John may have had to hide a few tears at the ceremony and he definitely spent the entire thing grinning like a loon. Nuala and Abe looked so happy together, and he was glad for them. He wasn't sure what marriage meant for Abe's future with the BPRD, but he was starting to suspect retirement was in Abe's future. Why leave the beauty of Bethmoora behind, where he could be himself and not have to hide?

John was pleasantly buzzed. Elven wine was delicious, like muscato with a subtle kick. He sipped his current goblet as he made his way through the crowd. He probably shouldn't be drinking, not when he was still on painkillers for his arm but it was a low dose, only taken when he needed it which wasn't very often at the moment. He'd gotten caught up in a pleasant conversation with a centaur about Greek history, which had then turned into a conversation about internet memes with a pair of goblins, and then about the best food in New York City with a walking, talking tree. He couldn't stop grinning. Alcohol burned inside of him, but it was nothing compared to the heat of Nuada's gaze.

He eventually made his way outside. The glass doors shut out the noise of the party, leaving him in blissful quiet. There was music playing somewhere in the city, the faint strains of it carried to the balcony like a whisper. The cool air felt amazing on his overheated skin. He leaned against the balcony railing and set his goblet next to him. He should go back in but for the moment he was happy to have a moment alone.

The door opened behind him. John turned and stared as Nuada walked out onto the balcony with him. He blushed and quickly turned back to stare out at the city. He expected Nuada to leave but he didn't. John was keenly aware of Nuada's presence behind him.

"Human."

He swallowed and debated ignoring Nuada, but he knew he couldn't do that. He took a large swig of alcohol and turned. "My name's John."

Nuada kept staring at him. He looked angry, but that seemed to be Nuada's default expression. "Your kind is full of greed."

John blinked. He felt like he'd just missed a large portion of the conversation, but he knew he hadn't blacked out. No, Nuada just wasn't making any sense. He went with it. "Some are. Some aren't."

Nuada took a step closer. The hard stone of the balcony railing pressed into John's back. "I can feel your greed."

John opened his mouth to disagree but the only word that came out was a surprised gasp as Nuada's body was suddenly pressed hard against him, trapping John's cast between them. Nuada's mouth covered John's, hard and firm, without a hint of kindness. There were fingers in his hair, long cold fingers twisting in his hair and he liked it, liked it so much. He had intended to protest his greed to Nuada but then Nuada had proved it. He was greedy. He wanted Nuada, wanted him so much. He gripped the edge of the balcony hard to keep from reaching for Nuada.

Nuada's leg pushed between John's legs. He spread his legs for Nuada, giving Nuada room to press in tight. Nuada's free hand gripped John's ass, bruising tight, and lifted him. John felt himself getting hard just from that simple show of strength. His elbow hit his goblet. It fell but John didn't care, not when Nuada was kissing him like he was trying to devour John.

John's ass settled on the balcony and the hand in his hair pulled, arching him backwards and pulling his mouth away from Nuada's. He gasped and shivered. The air was too cold without Nuada's heat. His legs hooked around Nuada's waist. Nuada's free hand was a hard weight against the small of John's back.

Then he glanced to the side and realized just how far down the ground was. Fear welled up and he turned back to Nuada's grinning face. The only thing keeping him from tumbling off the balcony was Nuada's hand on his back.

"Greed," Nuada said, like he was savoring the word. "It will ever be your kind's downfall."

John's face flushed with embarrassment and anger. He should have known better. He really should have. He pushed Nuada's chest hard with his good hand. It wasn't a very hard shove. Nuada took a step back, slow and purposeful, showing off how little control John had over him. John slid off the balcony and yanked his hair out of Nuada's grip. If he still had his drink, he would have thrown it in Nuada's face.

"You're an asshole."

He paused with his hand on the door. He'd never felt more embarrassed in his life and yet something stopped him from storming away. He turned back.

Nuada grinned at him, smug and cocky. He reminded John of every bully he'd ever let push him around. He reminded John of Hellboy.

"You think you know so much about us, holed away down here away from the real world. But you don't know anything because you don't want to know, you just want to be right. There is good in the world. I know I'm not the best example of humanity. You're right. I am greedy. I want people to like me and I want to like people, no matter how badly they might hurt me in return." He glanced down at his cast. "You probably see that as a fault but I don't." He looked over at Nuada. There was a faint crack in his smirk. "When you close yourself off to good you lose something in yourself. How much have you lost?"

He turned then and slipped back into the party. His good cheer was gone but he forced himself to smile. It hurt. Everything hurt and he didn't think it would stop.

*****

John didn't say a word the entire trip back to the BPRD. Liz kept trying to pull John into conversation, to get him to share stories about his stay in Bethmoora but he couldn't bring himself to talk about it. His mind was still stuck on Nuada and the fierce burn of Nuada's lips on his. He stared out the window. His silence only seemed to make Hellboy happier the longer it went on.

*****

John could feel the cold deep in his arm. The cast was finally off, though he hadn't recovered full use of his arm yet. Good enough to get back on active duty. Good enough for his transfer to Antarctica to go through, despite Manning and Liz's protest. He'd sent Abe a letter. There wasn't much detail in it. He didn't want to ruin Abe's honeymoon and, even more so, he didn't want to write it down, to make the hurt real with solid words on paper.

He expected Antarctica to be cold. It was. Incredibly cold, so cold that John wondered if he'd ever feel warm again. It was also more dangerous than he'd ever thought possible. Penguins and sea lions weren't the only things living in the ice. There were old things, dangerous things, hungry things. It was the BPRD's job to track those things through the snow and the ice and get them before they got to the scientists.

John hated the scientists. They muddled around in blissful ignorance while John and a team of three others searched through the night for the creature that one of the scientists swear he saw. The scientists called it snow madness but they couldn't afford to ignore any rumor of danger. Even if it was two in the morning and seventy below.

A howl sounded further in the ice cave and John swore. Guns cocked all around him. John fumbled with his. His arm hurt like hell but he forced his hand to grip the trigger as he raised his rifle. The howling came closer. One of the agents screamed. Blood splashed against the ice and the rest of the agents pulled back.

John exhaled slowly, waiting. He hated this part. A shadow spilled over the cave. The creature howled again and then stepped out into the light. It looked like a cross between a mammoth and a tarantula. Its eight long, spindly legs were covered in thick fur and its tusks gleamed red with spilled blood. They opened fire the minute it was in sight. The creature howled and lashed out, crushing one agent against the side of the wall.

Their bullets only seemed to make it mad. With each agent that fell, the light grew dimmer. Flashlights were knocked aside and went out. One agent ran screaming out of the cave and then there was only John, his flashlight, and his wavering gun.

The creature hunched low to the ground and stared at John. It was going to pounce. He kept his flashlight on the creature and slowly inched towards the mouth of the cave. It hissed. A shiver went through its body and it launched itself forward. John pulled the trigger. Something hard knocked into his back, sending him falling to the cave floor. The flashlight spun out of his hand. There was a flash of silver. The creature screamed. John grabbed for the light and scrambled to the side of the cave.

When he pointed his flashlight back at the creature, it was dead. John frowned. He knew he hadn't done that. There were gouges in its side, long deep slashes that definitely weren't caused by his gun. Two feet stepped into view at the edge of the light. John's eyes widened as he moved the light over to find Prince Nuada standing there, a long silver lance at his side dripping with blood.

John's mouth fell open but he had no idea what to say. Nuada held his hand out to John.

"What are you doing here?"

Nuada's lance detracted into a knife that he sheathed on his back. His hand didn't waver. "I thought you could show me what I had lost."

John took Nuada's bare hand in his gloved hand and let Nuada pull him to his feet.

*****

The base camp was alive with activity by the time they made it back. John waved a hand as they approached. "It's fine. The thing's dead."

A couple of the agents gave Nuada curious glances. The word 'elf' was said in hushed whispers. John ignored them and made his way to his room. The heat inside the building was bliss after being out in the cold for so long but it didn't do much for the chill inside of him. He hated Antarctica.

Nuada followed him all the way to his room like a silent shadow. As soon as the door shut behind them, sealing them off from the rest of the world, Nuada moved, fast and graceful, to press John back against the door. It reminded him of the night on the balcony, but there was no ledge beneath him, no long drop waiting for him save for the one his heart was about to feel.

There were too many layers between them. John shoved off his hat. Nuada's fingers slipped under John's scarf, peeling the fabric away. John tossed his goggles to the ground seconds before Nuada's mouth closed on his. It was warm and wet and hungry. John loved it. He never wanted to stop kissing Nuada, wanted to feel like this always. He could feel Nuada's heat seeping into him, growing warmer with each piece of clothing that was stripped away.

Nuada's hands lifted him, holding his ass tight as he wrapped his legs around Nuada's waist. He could feel Nuada's erection through their pants. It pressed against his ass and he shifted, trying to get closer. Then Nuada's hand twisted in his hair and he nearly came just from that.

"You are greedy." Nuada's breath tickled John's skin.

"Only for you." He rolled his hips, grinding down against Nuada's erection.

Nuada smirked, and for once it didn't make John want to punch him. Nuada stepped away from the door, turning them and then lowering John down onto the bed. John wrapped his arms around Nuada's bare shoulders. Nuada was a pleasant weight on top of him, not too heavy but John knew that Nuada could pin him easily if he wanted to. The thought of Nuada holding him down went straight to his groin and he spread his legs, open and inviting. Nuada pressed his hips down into the hollow of John's thighs.

All that was left between them was their pants but that was still too much. John writhed against Nuada, twisting so that he could unzip his pants and push them down. He couldn't move very far, but Nuada took care of that, pushing John's pants the rest of the way off before stripping off his own. John groped off the side of his bed for his bag. It was hard to concentrate with Nuada's thick length rubbing against John's chest. Their erections were trapped between their chests. The friction was delicious but it wasn't enough.

John fumbled in his bag. It took him a moment to find the bottle he was looking for and he groaned with relief as he pulled the lotion out. He fumbled with the bottle behind Nuada's back. More lotion than he really wanted spilled into his palm but he didn't care. He let the bottle fall off the side of the bed and slid his hand between their bodies to wrap his palm around Nuada's length. It was hot and thick in his hand and he wanted it.

He was greedy. This was his greed right here, in the heat of Nuada's body and the powerful slide of Nuada's muscles against John's skin. Nuada thrust into John's palm. The lotion slid over his skin, making his erection slick in John's hand. He shifted on the mattress, sliding up until Nuada's thrusts pushed against John's ass. He guided Nuada with his hand and wrapped his legs around Nuada's waist. His hips rose and then Nuada was thrusting inside John's body.

He gasped and arched back against the bed. Nuada was inside of him and it felt good, so good. He needed this. More than life, more than breathing, he needed to feel Nuada thrust inside of him. There was power in everything he did, power in the roll of his hips and in his arms as he held himself up off of John. He could feel that power inside of him, heating him and chasing away the cold. John wrapped himself in Nuada, pulling Nuada tight against him. His hand brushed over Nuada's back. There were scars there, raised lines in his skin that were like magnets to John's fingers.

Nuada's nose brushed over John's cheek and then their mouths connected. John wanted to crawl into Nuada, to melt their bodies together and become one. This was as close as he could come and it would have to be good enough. He was greedy for more. He wanted more heat, more friction, more of Nuada.

He hoped that Nuada wanted more of John too. The very fact that he was here, on the opposite end of the world from Bethmoora, was a positive sign. The fact that he was in bed with John, fucking him like the world was about to end. Maybe it was. Maybe Nuada had released his Golden Army and the world was dying while they twisted together on the mattress, bodies moving against each other, building up enough heat to melt the ice for miles around their building.

John didn't care. He was done saving the world. He'd saved it enough for now. It could wait.

He shivered. Nuada's arms tightened around him, holding John close as he came. Nuada kept moving, forcing a gasp out of John with each thrust. He clung to Nuada as Nuada sat back. His legs spread on the mattress. It was hard to move from this new position but he didn't need to worry about it because Nuada's hands clenched on John's thighs, lifting him up and down on Nuada's cock.

It ended too soon. Nuada stilled and then slid out. John regretted the loss of Nuada inside of him instantly. His hands were gripping Nuada's shoulders tight. He stared at them – his pale skin against Nuada's even paler skin. It was a strange contrast and yet utterly fitting.

"Has your greed been fulfilled?" Nuada asked, his voice uncharacteristically soft.

John looked up into eyes that were too bright to be human set in an inhuman face. He'd never seen anything more beautiful.

He shook his head. "I don't think it ever will be."

Nuada's eyes seemed to pierce straight through him, cutting like a hot knife, the same as when they'd first met. "That kind of greed will consume you."

John stared, his eyes roving Nuada's face, searching for some trace of emotion hidden beneath his smug smile. "I want to be consumed."

He wasn't certain, but he was pretty sure that Nuada was smiling.