“You coming to the celebration tonight?”
“No, I’m minding the store front so my sisters can go,” Jensen replied distractedly, checking the apple in his hands to make sure it was good before handing over the coin for it. The markets had been busy lately with preparations so the lady across the counter waved him off without trying to chatter his ear off like she usually did. Jensen was admittedly glad for that, at least there were a few good factors in this whole debacle.
“It’s the biggest thing to happen around here, of course Jensen isn’t going,” Chris teased and Jensen forced a smile. It was a thing for his friends to get all hung up because he wasn’t social enough for their tastes and the discussion could end in an argument so he just smiled and bared it.
The trio walked along the common road of the village and watched other people bustle to prepare for the event.
“You have to at least watch the fire works, I’ve never seen them before,” Danneel gushed but Jensen just shrugged. He’d seen them plenty when he made the annual trip to the capital with his father. They were beautiful but loud and jarring with thick smoke and the stink of gunpowder following their wake.
“I’ll be able to see them from the shop, if they shoot them high enough,” he said when she didn’t move the conversation on, waiting for an answer.
“I’ll bet they’ll be awesome, they say he sets them off every year and they’re amazing!” Chris gossiped with Danneel who nodded her head along.
“It’ll be different having a dragon lord who isn’t ancient like lord Jimth,” she mused and Jensen shrugged, pausing as they passed down the road to his father’s shop. He’d always liked lord Jimth just fine.
“I should go help,” he announced as he motioned to the shop and Chris sighed but nodded. “Me too, my parent’s place is probably swamped.”
“Think about coming tonight anyway, we’re meeting at the bridge at sundown,” Danneel said in parting with a wave and a smile before her and Chris walked off.
Jensen watched them go, knowing without a doubt he wasn’t setting foot outside the shop tonight. He felt a little bad, but he didn’t want his mood to ruin the event for anyone else.
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to in some ways, but village wide celebrations were always over crowded. People spilled into the streets and crammed into every nook and cranny. With so many in one place you’d have to yell to be heard and that’s what everyone did. Surrounded by so many, with such noise, Jensen felt like he was being swallowed and drowned in the sea of the crowd. So he just figured it was better to avoid the ruckus. Let others have their fun; he’d just bring them down if he tagged along.
Besides, there was always an upside.
“Jensen, have you swept the floors yet?” His mama asked him and Jensen smirked.
“Sarah’s doing it, she’s doing my chores for the next week so I’ll watch the shop tonight,” he explained with a smile and took a bite of his apple. His mama rolled her eyes but went off to find his sibling as Jensen continued through their house and up to the front where the shop was.
“Jensen! Come watch the front,” his sister Emily hissed at him hurriedly, waving him to the desk.
“I don’t have to until sunset,” he reminded and Emily huffed out.
“I promise I’ll get you some sweets at the celebration tonight, please just a few extra hours,” she offered and Jensen grinned. He’d come home to find some work and not only had he found it but he was getting sweets for doing it.
The shop was pretty dead.
People were hurrying by outside but no one was ducking into the little book shop. Jensen wasn’t worried though; he doubted any shops were getting much attention today. Most weren’t even open late tonight but Jensen wasn’t the only one who didn’t care much for celebrations. There would be people out looking for something to distract them and having one of the few shops open would bring in business.
Jensen busied himself with tidying things up, making sure the books were all in proper order and sweeping up the shop idly just to do something. He could hear his family out back and upstairs, rushing around to get ready for tonight.
“You should come tonight,” his father said in lieu of a greeting as he leaned against the doorway to the back. Jensen looked up from his sweeping and shrugged.
“It won’t be fun for me, I like the quiet not the chaos,” he replied honestly and his father nodded but didn’t wander off.
“It’s just…” the older man trailed off and Jensen set the broom away, going back to the desk and peering at his father curiously.
“You should be thinking about what you want to do with yourself now Jensen, you’re at that age when young men start courting seriously and…” you’re not. Jensen finished silently with a wince. He looked down at the smooth desk, worn from the years it had been there.
“I’ll take over the shop once you no longer want to run it, like you did from grandpa, I’ve learned the trade well from you, I know where to buy from, what to buy, how to sell,” Jensen explained but his father’s features remained wary.
“Your mother worries. Now that your friend Chris is courting Danneel,” he explained and Jensen nodded.
“I know, I understand but I just…would it be so bad if I just… if I just didn’t? I’ll always be here for the shop and the girls with have plenty of grandbabies, I’m just not all that interested in those things.”
For years Jensen’s family had fondly called him a late bloomer, saying he just needed time but now there were worried looks and quiet words. Even know he felt that heavy discontent directed at him, made so much worse because it was his father.
“Marriage will come with time, you’re still a young man,” his father finally allowed, giving Jensen a way out from the conversation now but also an expectation for the future.
“I just haven’t met her yet,” he assured weakly.
“…Richard’s daughter has been looking, she’s trying to get rid of those rumors some cruel soul started about her…I just. I worry Jensen, and I want what’s best for you,” Jensen’s father said in parting as he went back into the house and left Jensen pale faced in the storefront.
Richard’s daughter had been caught with another girl.
Jensen knew what his father was saying, asking him to do. In all honesty it made sense, it was the only real option for him. To find someone who wanted a marriage for something other than love or lust. He didn’t know Richard’s daughter very well, had only met her in passing before. Her name was Annabelle he thought, trying to picture her and recalling a mousy girl. With her recent scandal it would make sense, they could be friends and both would understand one another. The village would be appeased and even if the rumors started up, the fact that they were married would protect Annabelle. It would protect him.
Since Jensen was ten, his father had taken him along when he traveled to the larger villages and capitals to buy and trade books for the shop. It was an annual trip they made and four winters ago his father had caught him with another boy. They’d never talked about it but after that day Jensen’s father had always been a little distant from him. Which was understandable, something like that wasn’t allowed, it wasn’t right.
“Are you open?” A curious voice called and Jensen started, jerking upright and plastering on a customer smile.
“We are! Sorry about that, just thinking too hard,” he joked to the man who nodded and stepped into the shop, the bells on the door chiming as he pushed it open wider.
“Are you looking for anything specific?” Jensen asked and the man shook his head, looking around the shop with new eyes. He wasn’t someone Jensen could place either but the village was big enough for that.
“I’ve just moved here and I’m trying to figure out where all the shops are,” the stranger said easily, running a hand along the spine of a book. He was tall and broad looking but wore a light expression. Jensen felt his face flush a touch as he noted the man was handsome. His sisters would regret not being at the desk to ogle the new face.
“We’re the main book shop here, there’s one in the north and a small one down in the south but ours in the best,” he offered and the other man smirked ever so slightly.
“Funny, the other two both said they were the best as well,” he teased and Jensen shrugged.
“They can say what they want, everyone knows which one really is the better shop,” he shot back. “The dragon lord only comes to one bookstore, ours. Or at least he did, the old one, I mean.”
“Lord Jimth right?”
“Yeah. He always liked our books, said we found the most interesting ones.”
“And the new lord? The shop in the north boasted that he’s already been there and liked it,” the man explained with a strange smirk on his face.
“I wouldn’t know, haven’t seen him yet.” Jensen said honestly. “Everyone’s talking about how young he is though so I’m not sure if he’ll have much interest in reading.”
“Don’t worry about that, every dragon loves a good story,” the man reassured as he pulled a book and flipped through it absently.
“Are you a dragon expert then? We’ve had a few new faces in the village now because of our new lord. Although we did have one before, I’m just saying. Jimth was a fine lord and I’m sure he was an excellent dragon as well,” Jensen mused, a little annoyed on behalf of his previous dragon lord.
“You seem fond of him,” the man noted, keeping the book and looking through more on the shelf. As long as he kept doing that Jensen was more than happy to chatter at him, the more he bought the better.
“I grew up here, Jimth was the lord when I was born and I’m sad to see him go. He really did come into the shop and he had the best stories, the kinds that weren’t written in books he used to say.”
“He told you stories?” For some reason that seemed surprising to the man and he looked from the books to Jensen for the first time, pinning him with an intent gaze.
“He told lots of kids, people figure it was because he didn’t have his own children but Jimth was always very fond of kids,” Jensen explained, straightening up a little and looking away, suddenly wishing the man would go back to the books.
“Oh. That makes sense, he always was a quirky old goat,” that came with a chuckle and Jensen frowned.
“Actually he was a dragon and still is. He’s also still in the village for a few more days too,” Jensen replied with a brisk tone, eyes narrowed at the man. Jensen had always looked up to the dragon lord and he’d never liked people slighting him.
“No harm meant,” the man said with an easy smile that somehow seemed teasing. “I know him and have great respect for him. It’s just unusual that he’d tell stories, most dragons are pretty stingy with knowledge.”
“Not all, I guess,” Jensen said with a shrug and offered out his hand. After a pause the man gave up the books he had and Jensen quickly rang them up.
“I really didn’t mean any insult,” he offered but Jensen didn’t reply. The guy was pretty much laughing at him, eyes twinkling.
“Have a good day,” Jensen said once the exchange was done, clearly dismissing the stranger.
“And you too, try to be less cold with your next customer or you’ll never sell any books,” this time he was laughing outright, completely amused with Jensen and he wanted to the throw a book at the bastard. But Jensen had more self-control than that so he just gave a nod and turned his focus completely onto the ledger. After a pause of silence, the man left finally.
Figures someone that handsome would be a jerk.
The shop didn’t get any more customers and Jensen’s family left just before dusk as the main streets got busy. He stood in the stoop of the door once night had fallen and watched the fireworks. They really were a marvel, a lot more than anything he’d seen before and they pushed away the sour mood the rude man had left him in. By the time his family got home he was smiling easily and happy to accept his promised sweets. By his sister’s telling the new dragon lord was handsome, charming and a complete wonder. Jensen was more interested in hearing about Jimth giving up his lands to him in the ceremony. It had been short and to the point but the younger lord had been absolutely respectful, which Jensen was happy to hear. Dragons where long lived but they did eventually get old. When they couldn’t defend their land anymore a younger one would take over. In these days most dragons arranged for an heir of sorts and picked whom would inherit and then give it up willingly. In the old stories dragons fought to the death over it but Jensen hadn’t heard of that happening in ages. But anyways, when a younger dragon took over sometimes they could be cocky and arrogant so Jensen was glad that Jimth had left power in a dignified manner. Other than that Jensen wasn’t all that interested in the gossip about the new lord, time would show what kind of dragon he was more than the whispers flying.
Besides as it turned out he had his own gossip to deal with.
“Jensen! Come down already,” Sarah called for the sixth time and Jensen burrowed deeper into his pillow. He didn’t have any chores to do and it wasn’t his turn to watch the shop this morning, so why had she been calling all bloody morning. He figured it out quickly when he got downstairs and there was a bright pot of flowers on the table addressed to him.
“Who sends flowers to a man,” he grumbled red-faced as his sisters laughed.
“She must know she’ll have to do the courting,” Emily snickered and Jensen gave her a dirty look as he peered at the tiny flowers, blue petals with white tips.
“…Who sent them?” He finally asked and his mother shrugged.
“Roul said it was anonymous,” she explained and Jensen frowned. “You couldn’t get it out of him?”
“He was very insistent. Maybe it was Annabelle, her father and yours seemed to talk all night,” his mother mused and Jensen carefully didn’t react to that news. Glancing down the hall to where his father was at the storefront.
“…Could be,” he agreed, eyeing the flowers again. “She’s a nice girl,” he added after a pause and his mother gave him a pleasantly surprised smile that made Jensen feel horrid.
“She is, I’ve never believed what people say about her. That’s just poison talk,” she said and Jensen nodded.
“Maybe you can send something back to her? More flowers or a book perhaps?” The hopeful question only made Jensen feel worse but he nodded. Picking a flower from the bunch. It was a pot of them rather than a cut bouquet so they’d live for as long as someone looked after them.
“They really are very nice,” Emily added, the tone in the room going softer as his sister’s peered at him. Sarah and his mother had never seemed aware but Emily had looked at Jensen before, her gaze knowing in a way that made him want to duck out of the room.
“Cold frost flowers are hard to find too,” she mentioned and Jensen blinked at her.
“Yeah, that’s what they’re called because they’re blue and the tips look like frost.”
“Oh,” Jensen mumbled, staring at the flowers again and trying to banish the man from yesterday and his comments about Jensen being cold.
“Is it true someone sent you flowers?” Chris asked straight away and Jensen ducked his head, glaring at his friend as he grinned. “It is true!”
“Go away,” Jensen snapped, turning back to the potatoes and looking for more good ones to fill the basket.
“Were they pretty? Did you swoon a little?”
Jensen ignored his friend and paid for his goods before walking off cursing when Chris followed.
“Come on, this is hilarious! Even you have to admit it,” Chris laughed and Jensen gave him another dark look.
“Is it true?” Danneel asked straight away as she joined them and Chris confirmed with a nod.
“You two best get out there and confirm it to the rest of the village,” Jensen growled but the two kept following him and he knew exactly why.
“I want to see them, I never get flowers,” Danneel said with an affronted tone and Jensen smirked at Chris balked.
“I didn’t- I mean do you even like flowers?” He questioned and Jensen laughed then because Danneel looked pissed. She slid her arm into Jensen’s free one like a couple would and pointedly ignored Chris now.
“Come on Jensen, let’s go look at your flowers. You’re lucky to have someone so kind and thoughtful really. I like the idea of it too, the woman actually participating in the courting beyond just getting stuff, you know?”
“I do too, very modern I think,” Jensen replied with a chuckle and Danneel laughed with him when Chris apologized again.
“They actually suit you,” Danneel remarked when she actually saw them, her hands carefully tracing a petal. Jensen glanced at the flowers and then went back to putting the food away in the cupboard. “If you say so.”
“No really, they’re not overly feminine, more leaves the flowers and the color blue is masculine,” she insisted and Chris wisely kept his mouth shut on the matter, trying now to get back into Danneel’s good graces. Jensen knew Chris wasn’t the only one courting her but he was the only one she actually liked so he didn’t worry about them seriously.
“The flowers are small and simple but they’re unique, the white is almost like freckles,” Danneel added and Jensen gave Chris a pointed look, silently telling him to find her some flowers and some good ones fast if she was this impressed.
“Yes, their very nice, clearly whoever sent them knows my soul,” he said with a roll of eyes and both his friends blinked up.
“I thought Annabella Samson sent them?” Chris said and Jensen scratched his neck awkwardly before turning away.
“There was no name or anything but it probably was her,” he explained quickly. Chris accepted it but Danneel’s look only deepened.
Jensen expected it when she cornered him a few days later without Chris in tow.
“So who do you really think sent you those flowers?” She questioned him, her voice easy rather than accusing. Danneel always knew how to get him to open up. With a sigh, Jensen steered them towards the village’s common gardens where there was little chance of someone overhearing them.
“A customer came in the day before and they called me cold. The next day I get flowers called Cold Frosts?”
“Why haven’t you said anything?”
Jensen hesitated, looking at her and then out over the gardens. It was scenic spot meant for people to admire more than a garden for growing food.
“My parents like Annabelle,” he finally said, feeling his courage drop away.
He’d never heard Danneel or Chris talk about homosexuals and he had no desire to. There was just far too much of an expectation that it wouldn’t be kind words. There were no true laws against it and in the larger cities there were areas where it was common even. But in their smaller village, any small village really, being different was frowned upon. If people found out they’d ostracize Jensen and his family would have to as well to keep customers coming to the shop. It was the reason Jensen never had dared to even really look at another man in the village. He’d kept his few indiscretions far away in other places where no one knew him and there was no way for the shame of it to follow him home.
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with have more than one woman interested, it makes you feel good. If you really like Annabelle you should invite her along sometime when we all go out.”
Danneel never looked at Jensen like his sister did, never as knowing, but there was a quiet suspicion in her gaze. A silent reminder to Jensen that the longer he waited the more people would question.
A group of girls drifted by and Danneel took a step towards them.
“I’m going to go see what I can find out about Annabelle beyond those stupid rumors, I’ll see you later,” she explained with a quick smile and then left Jensen. He beat a quick retreat from the girls giggling; they were still all amused by his flowers and would be for months no doubt.
The gardens had been around since Jensen was a small boy and he knew every hiding place there was. It wasn’t that he was anti-social but sometimes he just wanted a little peace and quiet. The old oak tree had thick leaves that provided cover and the branches were thick enough to offer a comfortable spot to settle into and nap or read. Jensen lay back against a branch and peered up at the sunlight flickering on the leaves as his mind turned over thoughts of marriage.
“You might give that poor tree frostbite if you glare any harder.”
Jensen wasn’t startled, just caught off guard a little as he jerked upright and looked around until he caught sight of the man from the shop leaning against the base of the tree. The stranger tilted his head and offered a smile as Jensen gave him a dirty look and lay back.
“Go away, this tree is taken,” he shot back and thought that the end of it, until the man chuckled.
“Why are you so cruel? You’d give a lesser soul a complex being so mean.”
“I’m not being mean and you’re clearly not some wilting flower. Just some crazy man who probably looks like he’s talking to the tree.”
Despite himself Jensen felt his mouth twitch as the man laughed outright.
“I’m sure that laughing like that is helping you paint a sane picture,” he added.
“At least they’ll have something to gossip about,” the man replied lightly, seeming genuinely unbothered by the idea of it.
“No one wants talk about themselves, it never ends well.”
“Oh? What’s wrong with a few silly rumors?”
“Are you kidding? Rumors can end people, if someone talks bad about you it gets around, people believe it and then no one wants to be near you. You lose everything then, your friends and family turn away and where are you then? Alone. All because of a few silly rumors,” Jensen said with heat, his own worries clearly pouring into the spontaneous lecture.
“Huh. You worry a lot about this sort of thing huh?”
Jensen glared at the leaves above him, knowing he did but not without good reason. Jensen always erred on the side of caution and he had no regrets about it.
“I don’t want to lose anyone I care about, you shouldn’t either,” he finally said with a faint warning.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“If you’re the one who sent those flowers to me you should know that sort of thing isn’t taken well around here. People don’t like things that are too different from their normal.”
“You know,” Jensen shot back, not doubting that the man knew full well what he was talking about.
“…Have you ever read any Greek classics? They’ve always been open about love, never seen it as anything less then something bright.”
“Then you should move to Greece,” Jensen said with a huff but no real heat. It wasn’t like he had anyone to talk to about this sort of thing with. Even simple words like this felt dangerous, like taunting fate.
“What about you? No plans for relocation?”
“This is my home. My family is here and I’ll take over my father’s shop one day. I’ll even marry some girl too.”
That got a reaction, an unhappy sound and Jensen sat up so he could see the man down below, frowning up at him.
“You’d marry someone you didn’t desire?”
“Why not, not like there’s a choice. Look at poor Annabelle, since someone saw her kissing another girl she’s been treated like crap. Now that people think we might be courting, everyone’s happy with her, rushing to shove us together and see us married,” he explained, looking down at the man as he listened intently. Jensen expected a reply of some sort but what he got was a tight frown and curt nod before the man just walked away. It took Jensen a moment to realize how badly this could end, he didn’t know this man at all and if he repeated what Jensen had just said to anyone it would explode in Jensen face.
To say he was a little paranoid would be a massive understatement. Jensen feared every little whisper was about him in the few days after his second meeting with the man. Of all the things he expected to happen- from absolutely nothing to Jensen being thrown out of the village- what actually happened never once occurred to him.
Annabelle was getting married.
To her female lover.
The new dragon lord had paid each of their families a visit and shortly after it was announced.
Jensen didn’t make a habit of attending every little gathering or hearing so he wasn’t present for it. But Chris had heard most of it and according to the dragon lord it was commonplace for same sex marriages to happen and even encouraged in places with over population.
It might seem over dramatic but Jensen expected people shouting in the streets after the announcement. He expected groups of people against the very idea of it, the village in a uproar.
What he got was a hot bed of gossip and not a lot else.
Don’t get him wrong, everyone was talking about it for certain, but the talk just wasn’t what he expected. There was less damnation and more interest in why the lord had made the decree. A young man had caught his eye seemed to be the general consensus.
“I for one, am glad he did it. There is nothing wrong with it and I don’t see why anyone should care. Annabelle’s only crime was letting someone under her skirts. It’s only right they get married to make it right,” Emily stated with a firm tone.
Jensen’s family was gathered around the dinner table as the evening meal was served up. While his sister spoke, he did everything he could not to look over at his father, eyes locked on his plate. Even if it wasn’t about him, all the talk about it in general was enough to make his heart ache. He’d been avoiding Chris and Danneel in order to never hear their opinions on it and he wanted dearly to do the same with his family.
“I’m more interested how the village took it, it’s a big decree to make when he’s only been the lord for a short time. I wonder what it says about him as a leader,” Jensen offered up, trying to steer the conversation and ignoring Emily’s sympathetic look.
“I’m not sure what the big fuss is all about, but I suppose it was strong of him. He saw something he wanted to change and he did so. Although I don’t think there was any actual laws against such things,” his mama mused, passing around the potatoes and only seeming mildly interested in the conversation.
“It is a shame about Annabelle though, I thought you two might have something,” she added with a sad smile to Jensen.
“Actually, she didn’t send those flowers, I asked her when I saw her at the market,” Sarah suddenly piped up. “She said she barely knows Jensen and would never have done something so forward.”
“Who did then?” Jensen’s mama asked with renewed interest, suddenly more focused on the talk and Jensen himself.
“I…I’m not sure, I never really asked anyone about it. Just thought it was Annabelle…” he offered up weakly, the sharp gaze of his sisters and mother piercing through him. None of them bought such a meek reply.
“I was thinking,” Jensen’s father started and all the attention fell to him.
“The Jordhoy’s have decided to close up shop and they’ve made a fair offer for it. I was thinking about buying it up, expanding the store,” he announced and immediately all the conversation fell to that and stayed there for the rest of the evening.
Jensen hoped that the business plans would dominate talk in his household from now on but of course the next morning when he went downstairs there was a package for him.
“Does it say who it’s from?” His mama asked, peering over his shoulder while Jensen pulled the string undone and then peeled back the brown butcher’s paper.
“Their is no note or anything,” Jensen mumbled, red faced when he was presented with an old leather book. It was worn down but taken care of, the leather pressed with designs. It was the kind of book their shop charged top price for.
“That’s beautiful, did you order this for the shop from somewhere?” Emily asked as his sister took a look at it, the children of a book keeper could always appreciate a good book after all.
“I don’t think so, I don’t remember. Are you sure it was for me and not dad?”
“Positive, your name is right here on the paper,” Sarah said, pointing to the wrapping paper Jensen had taken off. His name was scrawled in a neat handwriting.
“Greek classics,” his sister muttered softly, tracing the title written on the first page and missing the way her brother started.
“It must be for the shop,” Jensen dismissed red faced as he gathered the book. “I’m sure father will remember it from some order we made,” he added and then conveniently forgot to mention it to his father.
“You’re going to get me into trouble,” Jensen accused the second the man walked into the shop a few days later.
“The good kind of trouble or the bad kind?” was the cheeky reply and Jensen glared, crossing his arms over his chest.
“The only kind. I don’t know how you have the ear of the new dragon lord and I can’t say anything bad about the latest announcement but the book was just plain snark.”
“I thought it was poetic myself,” the stranger said with a smile, not even pretending that the books were his interest as he came up to the counter.
“I suppose I can’t fault you either since we never made introductions and I’ve heard you don’t attend most gatherings.”
“I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean and how do you know what I do and don’t do. How did you even know my name?”
“I simply asked around is all. Nothing nefarious. As to who I am, my name is Jared,” he said with a flourish of a bow.
“Am I supposed to swoon here?”
“A little would be nice,” Jared replied and Jensen fought a smile, trying to remain passive. It would only encourage him if Jensen showed that he even mildly enjoyed the man’s presence.
“Sorry to disappoint but I don’t swoon that easily.”
“I’ll have to try harder then,” he replied with another cheeky grin.
“Buy something or get out,” Jensen huffed, feeling his face warm up.
“Have you read it?” Jared asked, stepping away from the desk thankfully and inspecting the books now.
“Tragedies are a poor way to win someone over you know, something romantic would be more to the point.”
“So you did read it.”
“Good to know, something more romantic next time you say? Shakespeare maybe? Do you know Taming of the Shrew?”
“Don’t make my jump over this counter and punch you.”
Jared laughed then, bright and open in a way the made Jensen want to join in. The man was handsome and the smile only made it worse. Jared kept browsing through the books, picking and choosing while Jensen tried not to openly watch him. He felt stupid for being suckered in by a laugh and few token gifts. He was supposed to be outraged about being treated like a girl or something. But still.
“Thank you, by the way, or good job, maybe.”
“Hmm?” Jared glanced over at Jensen for a moment before getting distracted by a book.
“For whatever you did, said, to the dragon lord that made him put out that decree. I’m glad that Annabelle gets to be happy.”
“You don’t know Annabelle, she said she’d never met you before.”
“I don’t need to know her to be happy for her, any way you went out of your way to go and ask her?”
“I wanted to know how serious the courting thing was, rumors I hear can be very powerful but I find going right to the truth of the matter is usually the best idea.”
“Har, har. You could have just asked me. Did you go with the dragon lord? I heard he visited her as well.”
“For all you know, I could very well be the dragon lord.”
Jensen made a rude noise.
“Please, I’ve seen a dragon lord and you are not one.”
“What?! How can you- of course I could be.” Jared said with indignation, looking kind of adorably upset as he brought his books to Jensen.
“You’re not even remotely dragon-looking, lord Jimth had great huge horns and scales.”
“Maybe I’m just better at transforming, magic can be tricky but I’ve gotten it down better than he did. Human all over with no dragon parts poking through is all,” he explained, looking a little proud in a way that just forced a smile from Jensen.
“Good for you, dragon lord, Jared. We’re all very impressed.”
“…You really don’t believe me.”
“Not even a little.”
Jared looked bemused more than anything but he paid for his purchases and Jensen even gave him a wave as he left.
Seeing Jared became commonplace for Jensen after that. Whenever he had a moment to himself the man was always popping up. They’d insult each other in good nature, teasing and bickering in a way Jensen wasn’t used to. He found people sometimes thought he was being serious or took insult to something meant to be silly. But Jared was on the same page as he was, talked back just as quick and had a wit that forced a laugh from Jensen time and time again.
He also kept sending things. More books mainly but also a strange affair of things, a lot of which Jensen had no clue as to what they actually were.
“So my sister’s think this is some sort of dish. Cause the face in middle looks like he’s ready to eat or something,” Jensen mused as he stretched out in the grass and lazed in the warmth of the sun. It was a beautiful day and Jensen had bribed his sister to watch the storefront so he could go to the edge of the village and sunbathe along some of the old stones along the stream. It was something he’d done from childhood and never lost interest in. It should have been embarrassing to be caught but Jared had stretched out beside him before he could be.
“It’s a Mayan calendar. The symbols represent numbers,” Jared explained and Jensen made a face, trying to make sense of the little plaque into a calendar.
“Like a sundial?” He finally asked, thinking about the one in the center of the village.
“Close, a sundial is used for more short time keeping while a calendar is used for longer in most cases. The same thing just a short and long version I suppose.”
“Sounds very nice. Thank you for the calendar, another completely pointless gift.”
“You love each and every one. I imagine you spent hours trying to ponder what each one is.”
“I do, it’s becoming an obsession, my family worries,” Jensen replied smoothly and Jared grinned. The other man turned onto his side to face Jensen better and he spared him a look as he mirrored the position. He didn’t worry about sitting so close, Jensen was certain there was no one to see them. Every time they’d met it had been Jared finding Jensen, always when he was alone and no one had ever stumbled upon them, Jared always heard them first.
“My friends think you’re made up you know.”
“I may have mentioned you, a weird newcomer who I run into on occasion.”
“A handsome dragon lord who sends you amazing gifts and seduces you with his wit?”
“Sure. That’s the exact description I gave.”
“As long as my legacy is well stated,” Jared muttered, tone dropping as he pressed a touch closer. Jensen felt his face flush but he didn’t back away.
“I’ve got a new one for you,” Jensen said quietly, reaching into his pocket.
When Jared had refused to stop sending things, Jensen had taken to collecting things to give Jared in return; he refused to be the lady in this scenario. But he didn’t have a lot of money and couldn’t carry cumbersome things around him at all times in hopes of seeing Jared. He’d never gotten an address he could send them to out of the other man either.
It might sound weird, but Jensen had taken to collecting rocks for Jared. Weird shapes or colors, some with patterns and a few that had shine to them. It all started from Jared himself, always pausing to pick one up and give it a closer inspection.
“What? I just like them.” He’d said with a shrug and sheepish smile, trying not to let Jensen see that he’d pocketed the stone.
Jensen had noticed a unique one while walking one day and thought Jared would have liked it, so he grabbed it and handed it over the next time he’d seen him. It was a little surprising how touched Jared had seemed; taking it like it was valuable.
So Jensen collected rocks.
“Oh, I like it, nice coloration,” Jared enthused complete serious as he eyed up the common stone. Jensen watched him with a bemused smile.
“You’re all kinds of weird, you know?”
“You still like me,” Jared shot back and turned his attention back to Jensen, smirking as he edged closer and leaned in for a kiss.
They’d done this before too, heated touches where no one could see them. Jared had been patient with Jensen about it, not pushing or getting mad when Jensen shied away. Not that he was shy. Damn it.
“You look adorable when you blush like that,” Jared teased, his mouth still close enough to brush against Jensen’s lip.
With a smirk Jared kissed him again, pressing in closer, touching their thighs as one of his hands slid over Jensen’s middle and tugged them tighter.
Jared gave up on the kiss in order to go after Jensen’s neck, his mouth warm and wet as he kissed and nipped. It felt silly to take so much from something as simple as necking. But Jensen’s sexual encounters had always been brief, rushed, and to the point. So if he liked going slow and have attention poured on him he saw no reason to complain, Jared certainly liked taking his time.
“No marks, my family wonders enough with your gifts,” Jensen muttered distantly, fingers curling in Jared’s hair and tugging him lower on his neck, down to the junction where his shirt would hide love bites.
Jared made a rumble of noise that was almost a growl; he made the strangest sounds when they did this. His hands slid up and down Jensen’s thighs, twisting them until Jensen was on his back and Jared was over top.
Jensen felt the heat of lust rising and lifted his hips, Jared pushing back eagerly as they grinded.
“M’not gonna give up my virtue to you, no one will marry me if I do.”
“Mhhh, I like that. You a blushing bride,” Jared teased, fingers tugging at Jensen’s belt as he chuckled.
“Trying to get there,” Jared agreed, one hand reaching around to cup Jensen’s backside and pull him into another sloppy thrusting motion.
Jensen’s comeback was swallowed by another kiss, tongue sliding into his mouth, wet and messy as they fumbled around like youths. Jared had his hand in Jensen’s pants, sliding down when he suddenly paused. Jensen blinked as Jared pulled away, tilting his head to the side with a frown.
“I thought I heard…” Jared trailed off again, looking up to the sky and Jensen gave him a strange look but followed his gaze.
“What is it?”
“…I don’t know. I have to go though,” Jared announced with a hurried tone, pulling away and getting to his feet before Jensen could even sit up.
“Sorry!” He called over his shoulder at Jensen, tone distracted as he rushed off into the trees towards the village.
Jensen didn’t have a lot of time to ponder what had happened because shortly after he arrived back at home there was a dragon fight.
Dragon’s were greedy beasts. They hoarded and wanted everything all their own. The younger ones were more ambitious while the older dragons had the wisdom and strength to keep their land without much strife.
Having a dragon lord meant that the village was safe from other dragons. It meant security and protection because they had sworn to their dragon. He considered them his subjects, something that was his and therefore not up for grabs to other dragons. Jensen had heard of a village far west that lived without a dragon lord. Preferring to try and fight off all the dragons rather them live under one. It seemed stupid since having a dragon lord wasn’t all the bad, sure the dragon owned the land and technically owned them but they weren’t brutal. If anything they were fine lords, having a bunch of underfed sickly humans looked bad on their part so the villages where usually healthy and well fed. All in all Jensen had never minded having a dragon lord. But Jimth had been in his prime, strong enough that no dragons came around to challenge him. It seemed their new lord wasn’t as lucky. A great roar rang out and Jensen flinched huddled tightly with his family in their basement shelter. Most families had one and there were bigger ones for people without. They were meant for this, to hide while the dragons battled above ground. But Jensen had never had to actually use it before, nor had his parents. Jimith had been long lived so this was terrifyingly new and Jensen suddenly understood why some people weren’t keen on having a dragon lord.
The ground shook and there was more roaring and crashing, buildings could be falling over around them. Their shop could be gone for all they knew but Jensen just held on to his sisters and parents, everyone clinging and huddled together. At least they had all been at home when it started; they knew where their family was. Jensen dearly hoped everyone else he knew was safe, even the cranky old widower on the end of the street. Most of all he prayed Jared was safe as well, tucked away somewhere and far from the fighting.
Jensen had played with the idea that Jared might actually be the dragon lord. He was well traveled; far beyond normal with all the exotic gifts he gave Jensen. The way he’d reacted earlier, taking off and then this attack. What if Jared was the dragon lord and currently outside, turned into a massive beast and trying to fight off another one.
Jensen clutched at his sister tighter and Emily squeezed back.
Leaving the shelter felt surreal.
Jensen’s father went first and Jensen was right behind him, his sisters and mother waiting behind. The heavy doors to the small shelter opened without trouble; there was no heavy debris on top trapping them. The house was fine, a few pots had fallen and shattered but the house was still around them. Jensen followed his father into the shop and they found it still there. Breathlessly, Jensen peered through the glass of the front and then cautiously looked out the door, peering down the street. Nothing seemed on fire or in ruin so they stepped out onto the street. There were a few others, looking around as well but everything seemed fine.
They went back into the shop and tthrough the back of house to get his mother and sisters. Jensen noticed a strange shadow on the back door though and he detoured to check, pushing the door open and feeling the air rush from his lungs. Behind their house was an alley way for carts and then across from them was a long spiraling row of houses and shops like their own.
Or there had been.
It was gone now, just a pit of smoldering stone and fire still burning what it could.
Jensen felt numb as he took in the damage; he’d never seen anything like it before and just stared mindlessly, eyes jumping around it all over and over. Finally his stupor lifted enough when he saw one of the doors to a shelter, a burning board over top it.
He sprinted across the stone street and used another board to push the burning one off, calling for his father as he yanked the doors open. Voices called to him and Jensen fumbled down the steps and rushed the family out.
The rest of the night was spent like that, going from house to house, putting out the fires and digging out the shelter doors. There was old magic on the little rooms; charms that kept the places from crumbling and burning so even if the house collapsed the people could be safe.
Doing that, helping people was distracting Jensen but as time wore on his worries started clawing at him. When there were enough people that he wasn’t needed Jensen went into town and checked Chris and Danneel’s homes. Chris’ family lodging was damaged, half the place was gone but no one was hurt. Danneel’s family had gotten out unscathed like Jensen’s had. But there were still fires burning and Jensen could see bodies being covered up, people wailing and endless injured.
He didn’t know where Jared actually lived.
Up among the wealthier people, he knew that much. Jared wore finer clothing then most, not outlandish but better made and carefully dyed. Jared had talked about a garden up near his house once and Jensen knew there was only one up there. Knowing he should be helping, doing something useful he started up the stone street. He couldn’t work anymore, couldn’t distract himself when he didn’t know where Jared was, if the dragon lord had even won or if some other dragon had taken over. If Jared was even alive.
Jensen had delivered a few books from time to time so he had a rough idea of the layout. The streets were in worse condition up there which made his heart plummet to his stomach. The streets curved but went higher so Jensen could look over his shoulder at points and see the village spread out. The worst of it seemed to be in the higher districts, some where he lived and little elsewhere which was a good sign over all. Still the more he saw the fine house crumbled and burning the higher his fears jumped.
“I’m looking for Jared,” he asked a woman, sitting beside a crumbled fountain and looking stunned. “Do you know a man named Jared, tall and broad with brown hair?” She shook her head and Jensen moved on.
Not long into his search the air felt…strange. Before he could question it, fog spilled down the streets from the highest point, the dragon lord’s home. As it settled the sky rumbled and rain started falling. It came in heavy waves and the fires died out under the downpour. It came too swiftly to be natural and maybe it was a good sign. Magic like that only came from dragons so perhaps their lord had won the fight.
Jensen looked up to the grand house and wondered, biting his lip and reflecting that Jared really had known a lot about dragons.
The house was completely intimidating, huge pillars and a grand stone staircase to the huge oak doors big enough to fit a full sized dragon within them. Traditionally dragons had kept lairs on the highest point of a village but now a day a fancy house was just more sensible, they could show off far more with hand carved staircases and banisters, rare stones and woods for walls, etc. The main doors were thrown open and it meant the dragon would welcome visitors but Jensen still hesitated, standing in the door way and looking down the long dark hall nervously.
Surely there were servants or something, somebody that could help Jensen.
What he got was one of the dark walls moving, slithering and glinting until Jensen clued in that it was a dragon, in its true form. Before he could do anything sensible, like turn and run away, the beast turned and two glowing eyes peered at him from the shadows.
“Who are you?” A rumbling voice asked, not necessarily mean but certainly not welcoming.
“I’m sorry to disturb you honorable lord,” Jensen threw in a low bow as well. “I may be just being completely foolish but I’m seeking out someone, by the name of Jared and-”
“Jared? Hmmm, you must be Jensen then?” The dragon said with a sudden interesting shifting and slithering closer. There were no torches or lanterns lit in the house so Jensen could barely see the dragon as it cocked its head and peered down at him.
Jensen was pretty sure his nerves couldn’t take much more today.
“That’s me sir, I’m looking for Jared, I just want to know he’s ok is all. I don’t want to bother anyone-”
“Jared’s room is that way, he’ll be happy to see you, it’ll lighten his aches.”
“Aches… is he alright?” Jensen asked before he could stop himself, peering at a human sized door off to the side just into the house.
“Go see for yourself, I’m tired now and I’d like to rest ,” the pointed tone made Jensen wince and nod his head, stumbling to the door.
“Of course my lord, sorry to have disturbed you, very sorry,” he said, feeling stupid at the word vomit but unable to stop it. Jimith had worn horns and scales in his human form but he’d been mostly human and never changed into an actual dragon in anyone’s presence. Jensen had never seen an actual dragon before and the sheer size of him was staggering. Also the feeling that he was a tiny little mouse being watched by a very large predator was hard to ignore.
Once he passed through the door and was out of the dragon’s sight he fell against the wall and willed his feet not to fail him. After a while he got his courage back up and started down the corridor. It was lit thankfully and the doors along the one wall were opened up, showing mundane things like sitting rooms and libraries.
“J-Jared? Where are you?”
Jensen knew he was ok at least, the dragon lord didn’t seem too concerned so maybe Jensen could turn back and slink home. He knew Jared was ok and that was what he set out to do. Still he was already there and Jensen wanted to make sure Jared really was ok, that these ‘aches’ were minor.
“Jared,” ducking into a dark room Jensen blinked as his eyes adjusted. It was a bedroom and the bed was currently occupied.
“Jared? Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m alright, just dead tired,” came the muffled reply. Jared’s voice sounded distant and half aware prompting Jensen to slink closer to the bed.
“Another dragon, trying to steal the village, my uncle straightened him out though.”
“Yeah, ‘been trying to find a time to tell you. Was worried though. Thought you might get weird if you knew,” Jared garbled his voice carrying the same slur as someone drunk or more likely medicated. As Jensen eyes started seeing in the shadows he caught sight of something moving over the blankets, something slithering.
“So a dragon’s your uncle,” he fumbled watching Jared’s shoulder shift and seeing shapes that didn’t add up properly, didn’t accumulate into human.
“Mhhh,” Jared slurred, the blanket shifting as a hand reached out and curled around Jensen’s wrist. It wasn’t skin, soft and silky smooth, a little rough but defiantly not human. “Please don’t be scared, don’t hate me.”
The fearful tone overpowered Jensen’s discomfort and he clutched at the hand, putting a knee on the bed to get closer to Jared.
“I wouldn’t do that. Do I look like an asshole?”
“You look shocked, afraid, like you’re gonna be afraid of me.”
“You can’t expect me to take something like this just like that. You know you can’t but come on, I know better than to judge a book but its cover.”
That got a groan from Jared and then a weak chuckle.
“Book puns, that’s just tragic,” he muttered and his hand tugged, pulled Jensen into the bed with him. It was ridiculously comfy and soft, probably stuffed with feathers and the blankets were smooth and fluffy. Jensen meant to talk more, to say something but the minute he was laying down the day’s events took their toll.
“We can talk tomorrow,” Jared muttered as if knowing Jensen was already drifting off. When he pressed in closer, Jensen let him, adjusting so they fit together before drifting off.
Jensen woke up first.
Jared was still passed out, completely unaware as Jensen took the time to wake up and then just stare. There were tall fancy windows along one wall and the sunlight let Jensen see everything he hadn’t the night before.
So Jared was a dragon.
Or part dragon maybe, half dragon on his uncle’s side.
Either way he was still human sized, a little bigger than his already ridiculous size, and a touch broader all around. There were bronze scales along his shoulders and neck, his face still looked mostly human, just sharper angles, high cheekbones. But still human even if his skin looked a tad rougher and their were tiny scales starting along his jaw and the sides of his face, his floppy hair hiding most of them. In his hair were a pair of horns, long curved horns. From where he lay, Jensen could see over Jared’s shoulder, the other man/dragon was kind of cuddled into Jensen nearly tucked under his chin really. Jensen couldn’t be surprised that Jared was a cuddler. Not really.
Anyway, Jensen could see the extra appendage he’d spotted last night.
Jared had wings.
That was probably a tail too, currently coiled around Jensen’s ankle.
All in all, he was glad Jared was still asleep because Jensen highly doubted the look on his face was remotely accepting. More likely it looked like he was silently freaking the fuck out.
Because he was.
“He’s very fond of you,” a voice rumbled and Jensen started, looking to see a man draped against the doorway. Everything about him screamed predator in a way Jimth had as well, but he was far more intimidating than the older dragon, far more intense.
“He goes on and on about you, all worried about how you’ll take it. Not many people in the old village took kindly to him. It’s part of why we moved on. Jimth assured me this would be a good place for us, for him.”
Jensen just sort of blinked. Staring at the dragon inhuman form as the dragon stared right back at him.
“I’m fond of my nephew, I want him to be happy. He seems to think you have something to do with that.”
The dragon lord stared at Jensen some more.
“…I don’t know what to even say. I’m not sure if you’re threatening me or if you’re just always this intimidating. I feel like you could just always be this intimidating.”
At least that seemed to amuse him, a smile pulling on his face and even that looked terrifying.
“I hope to see you around enough for you to find out.”
“Please stop, you’re not helping me at all.” Jared said, not opening his eyes or moving from his spot curled around Jensen.
The dragon lord, Jared’s uncle, laughed deeply and he pushed away from the doorway and walked off, casual as you please.
“Your heart is pounding like a rabbits.”
“Your uncle is terrifying.”
“You said you knew Jimth.”
“Jimth was old and laid back and doting. Your uncle is none of those things.”
“He is really, aside from the old. You’ll see with time once he gets used to you… If you want to, I mean.” Jared lifted his head then, a question in his gaze as Jensen felt the air turn serious.
“Y-yeah. I mean I do wanna, be around, I mean. I’m still pretty shocked here but I’m not planning on running for it. I doubt I’d even get far.”
“Nope,” Jared agreed with a smirk, eyes still a little unsure as he leaned up and pressed a kiss to Jensen’s cheek. His lips were rougher than usual but the touch didn’t repel Jensen or anything. It might have been shocking to learn outside yesterday’s events but at this point Jensen was still relieved Jared was ok.
“I thought you might actually be the dragon lord you know, I kept wondering if maybe it was you out there fighting,” Jensen admitted, not letting the scales daunt him as he pressed their foreheads together.
“I thought you might be dead last night. So this is a surprise but it’s far better than what I was afraid of.”
Jared grinned slowly, his gaze starting to look less unsure.
“I told you I could be the dragon lord.”
“But you aren’t!” Jensen shot back, his voice rising and the serious atmosphere depleting as Jared grinned.
“But you thought, maybe.”
“It was a tiny, what if, maybe, chance thing.”
“You still thought it!”