Kevin steadied himself on the ladder, drilling holes into the top side of the building in order to install a new awning for the bar. When he lifted up a hand to block the sun's glare from his eyes, he caught sight of Ambrosius Vallin across the street; arms crossed in a leather jacket and leaning against his car. While not quite as blinding as the sun, the older man still had an unyielding brilliance of his own.
A deep sense of anticipation stirred through Ambrosius when the young blond returned his smile. He had hoped to make an impression and now he was sure that he had. How could he not when perched against his red Jaguar? Just like the car ad promised, he was guaranteed to be a vision of undeniable power and indisputable sophistication.
It was at that moment that Ambrosius realized that his naturally born charms could work just as well as magic to win his prize. While he still had Kevin's attention, he purposefully tilted his head to call the boy over to him.
Kevin lightly jogged across the street to catch up to Bro. He was dabbing a cloth along his neck to sop up the sweat. It was an action that reminded Ambrosius of the secret nights they spent together in the intense heat while shrouded under Tresum's influence. They may have been memories that Kevin will never recovered, but Bro was nonetheless pleased to see how swiftly the boy neglected his chores just for the opportunity to speak to him.
"Hey, Bro, what's up?" Kevin panted as he continued to wipe the sweat from his brow.
"I hear a clang," Bro announced innocently and then gestured towards his Jag. "I suspect I might have a broken suspension spring, but I require an opinion from an expert first."
"Oh, yeah? Let me check that out for ya." Kevin dropped to his knees and started to inspect the car.
"I presume it would be safe to drive short distances," Bro murmured on, "but you're aware of my fondness for speed. I have every intention to rule that road whenever I slip behind that wheel."
Bro frowned as Kevin was suddenly standing again. He replayed his last sentence in his head, trying to pinpoint what he said that was wrong. He had rehearsed his lines excessively so there would be no room for flaw. Yet, Kevin still looked at him in that peculiar way.
However, Bro felt his sense of control swiftly returning when the blond's odd expression turned into a smile.
"You know, Bro…" Kevin cleared his throat and the warlock swore he saw the boy blush. "You don't have to break things in order to talk to me."
Ambrosius's eyes dropped; his greatest impression of embarrassment that he could master. Then he looked up at Kevin and met his smile. "I don't?"
Back at the bar, Toby watched the entire conversation. He angrily wiped down glasses and slammed them back onto the counter as he watched his boyfriend fall closer and closer into the warlock's clutches.
"Check out Kevin," Adam gloated in Toby's ear. "Rub Bro the right way and he's guaranteed to give you something more than three wishes."
"Shut up, Adam," Toby warned and slammed down another glass.
"I'm just saying… Bro's a very generous guy if you keep him happy. He's got the whole damn world at his freakin' fingertips." Adam paused to watch Toby silently watching Kevin. He could tell that his friend was struggling with the idea of feeling powerless. "Aren't you gonna go over there and put a stop to it?"
Toby shrugged his straining shoulders. "There's nothing to put a stop to, Adam. Kevin can talk to whoever he wants."
"To hell with that. Just go over there and put your foot down. Show him who wears the pants in your little boy on boy romance."
Toby shook his head and continued on with his angry scrubbing. "You got to be high if you think that's how relationships work."
"Fine," Adam surrendered. "Wuss out on me. But if you don't put a stop to it right now, Marco will beat you to it."
Toby glanced over his shoulder and saw his boss seething. Marco was always a strict businessman and was no doubt grappling over the sight of an employee abandoning his work. Feeling overly possessive himself at the moment, Toby knew that Marco was showing great restraint.
"I just can't believe Kevin!" Toby continued to complain as he turned back towards Adam. "Leaving in the middle of a job just to talk to some idiot in a leather jacket?! He's practically throwing his career away. Where's his sense of priority?"
Adam smirked. "Hey, there's always good reason to chat up a hottie. Especially one that's loaded."
Luckily, Toby was too distracted to notice the other man's jokes. "I bet this is exactly what Ambrosius wants: Kevin loses his job and then becomes completely dependent on him."
"And where do you fit in?" Adam asked.
"Precisely." Toby slammed the last glass down onto the counter.
Adam nodded slowly. Then he added with caution, "If Kevin can't appreciate all he's got, I say you should drop him."
"Not an option," Toby said definitively as he snatched up another glass and began rhythmically washing the same set all over again. Right now, the repetitive, mundane action was all he could do to distract his mind.
Adam looked his friend over. Toby had obviously been suffering over the situation for quite some time. "How can you do this to yourself, man?"
Toby sighed. "Look, it's not Kevin's fault, okay? Not entirely anyway. Ambrosius has some sort of power over him. I know it's hard to understand, but Ambrosius is a very influential man on this island. He won't be denied anything without a fight. It's just some sick, cosmic joke that Kevin got caught in the middle of it. It could of been anyone. It doesn't mean a thing!"
Toby quickly held his breath as he realized he was trying too hard to convince himself. Fortunately, he at least had enough sense left to tiptoe around the subject of magic. Adam had been his best friend since they were kids, so he felt a strong obligation to protect him, too. He knew that the less Adam knew about warlocks, the better. He was already way too susceptible to other evils of the Cove.
"Bro's a pretty easy guy to read actually," Adam observed quietly as he watched Kevin and Ambrosius across the street. "You'll always know when he's caught off guard or pissed off because he falls back into that English accent of his. He must be feeling pretty cozy 'round Kevin 'cause he hasn't slipped up once."
Toby froze and the glass in his hand slid from his grip. "Adam, how did you know that?"
Adam smirked proudly. "Who do you think told him to drop the stuffy ol' accent in the first place?"
Toby looked momentarily stunned. "You gave him advice? Goddammit, Adam!"
Adam continued to grin, although not maliciously. "Damn good advice, too, I should say. You should of seen the clothes he used to wear! He looked like one of those historical reenactment assholes."
Toby rolled his eyes. "Oh, believe me, I know."
Toby knew it was no coincidence that Ambrosius connected with Adam. It was painfully clear that the warlock intended to infiltrate his way into every life that mattered to him. Ambrosius's influence was inescapable and it made Toby fume. He couldn't stand the thought that none of his loved ones were safe.
Toby grabbed another glass, but this time filled it with water. He tossed several ice cubes inside and placed a slice of lemon on the rim. Then he slammed it onto the counter alongside the other glasses. He hastily left the bar and headed in Kevin's direction.
"Hey, babe," Toby managed to say sweetly as he slipped his arms around Kevin's waist.
Kevin grinned as he was pulled a step closer to Toby. He eagerly laced his fingers with his boyfriend's and returned the endless kisses. He never noticed the silent scowl on Ambrosius's face.
"There's a glass of ice water sitting at the bar for you," Toby informed as he nuzzled his nose against Kevin's. "With a slice of lemon – just how you like it. I can't have my baby getting all dehydrated in this weather."
"Aww, you take such good care of me," Kevin observed somewhat teasingly as he placed several quick kisses along Toby's lips. "My mouth is a little dry. I've definitely been out in this sun too long. Some water is just what I need to hit the spot." He managed to kiss Toby one last time before he was briskly shooed away.
Once Kevin was headed in the right direction, Toby turned towards Ambrosius with steel eyes.
"Well played, Toby," Bro praised in his customary flat tone. "Ever the gentleman."
Toby ignored the condescending approval and studied the warlock before him. "Nice jacket," he sneered. "Aren't you worried about overheating in that thing?"
Ambrosius stifled a laugh. "Oh, Toby... Sun warlocks are surprisingly resilient to heat. You needn't ever worry that pretty little head over me."
Toby refused to let the jab get to him. "There's no need to harass Kevin at work," he insisted. "He actually takes pride in his job. At least, he would if you weren't constantly around to distract him. He's building a great life for himself. He's finally worked hard to accomplish something. If you care for him as much as you say, you won't destroy this for him. Let him live his life the way he wants."
Bro's lips tightened into a narrow line. "I was in need of assistance and Kevin was eager to give it. Nothing more. Nevertheless, Kevin has aspirations that exceed far beyond slaving away at some cheap tourist trap alongside of penniless beachcombers like yourself. I give him purpose."
"Purpose?" Toby snorted. "Do you really think this damsel in distress bit will win Kevin's heart? What type of future can you possibly hope to have with a man who doesn't even use your real name?"
"You don't like the name Bro?" Ambrosius pretended to be wounded. "It was bestowed upon me by your other boyfriend – Adam. I liked the way it fit his tongue."
Toby groaned. "Two hundred years chained in a basement and you can think of nothing better to do than to torture me?"
"It's not about you, Toby. I just happen to be in a fortunate position right now. Kevin needs me in ways you will never understand. You should be grateful that he has someone like me in his life that he can turn to when he has no one else."
Toby spoke very slowly so that his words would be clear. "I was there for Kevin when he needed it most. Not you. He followed me to Dante's Cove. Not you."
Ambrosius remained unimpressed by the other man's tone. "You're just a minor hurdle in an otherwise seamless path," the warlock corrected darkly. "You fail to see the inner turmoil that troubles Kevin. You prefer to live in an illusion of a happy ending instead of enduring the hardship that will actually get you there. It is your overwhelming expectations that will chase Kevin to me. I've waited 200 years for the boy and I can wait even longer. Tresum has already promised him to me. Attempt to banish me from H2Eau if it pleases you. It makes no difference."
Toby took a step back at the resoluteness in the warlock's voice. He eventually tore his gaze away from Ambrosius and glanced back towards Kevin. He saw that his boyfriend was in the middle of a heated discussion with Marco.
"No," Toby whispered to Ambrosius decidedly. He continued to watch Kevin and could see that he was only receiving the lecture he deserved. It involved no magic, no damnation, and no blackmail. It was simply… ordinary. More importantly, it was safe.
"Kevin needs to move on with his life," Toby explained further. "A normal life, with all the ups and downs a human being is supposed to face. He's had enough wealthy people trying to control the way he lives and breathes. It's time he made his own choices, even if that means facing his own consequences. He doesn't need someone's money hanging over his head like a sword of Damocles. He's done being treated like a possession and he's done pretending to be someone he's not just to please people who never really cared for him to begin with."
"And who's to say he's not pretending with you?"
Toby made the horrible mistake to still at Ambrosius's words. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the warlock's mouth curl upward in delight. Now irritated by his own sense of uncertainty, Toby decided to simply walk away from the conversation before he could give Ambrosius anymore satisfaction.
When Toby got close enough to the bar, he quickly took Kevin aside by the elbow.
"Are you crazy?" he quietly admonished in his boyfriend's ear. "You're gonna lose your job if you keep acting this way."
Unfortunately, Kevin was not in the mood to be lectured by his boyfriend after being chewed out by Marco. "Technically, I work for Kai," he clarified bitterly. "Marco should be thankful that I was even here at all."
With a jerk of his elbow, Kevin freed himself from Toby's grasp. He flung his rag down onto the counter then turned to walk away.
Toby crinkled his brow. "And where do you think you're going?"
"What can I say? You were right as usual!" Kevin called back pathetically. "I'm not fit to work at H2Eau. I was fired. Fired! So, now I'm checking in with Kai to see where he sends me next. With any luck, it will be someplace where I'm actually wanted."
"No, no, Toby, it's actually a good thing," Kevin assured with an awkward laugh. He turned to face Toby, but continued to walk backwards out of the club. "This frees up my afternoon and I have better plans anyways."
Toby dashed before Kevin and stopped him in his tracks. "Plans?" Just the word made his stomach lurch. "With who? Ambrosius?!"
"Toby, chill out." Kevin knew where this conversation was headed and was exhausted already. "I just gotta fix his car so he doesn't end up hurting himself or somebody else."
"I can't believe you're hanging out with him!" Toby could hear the familiar frustration creeping into his voice and he resented himself for it. "Did you forget what he tried to do to you at the beach?!"
Kevin dismissed that with a roll of his eyes. "Toby, I told you already. He just thought I was an old boyfriend. It was a simple mistake that could of happened to anybody."
"A simple mistake?!" Toby couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Kevin, you do not want to hang out with a guy who treats his ex-boyfriends like that!"
"I also don't want to be scorched by the hellfires of a wicked witch," Kevin smirked. "Better not let me outta the house either because I might come across a black cat! Can't be too careful, ya know. I'm still atoning for that mirror I broke in high school. I have at least 3 more years of bad luck coming my way."
"Kevin! I mean it! This is serious!" Toby fought back the urge to stomp his foot.
Kevin softened his smile at his boyfriend's outburst and placed a hand on his shoulder. He gave him a comforting squeeze. Then he leaned in and landed a calming kiss on his overexcited cheek. Toby looked back at him hopefully, but then Kevin opened his mouth to speak,
"I actually think it's kinda cute," the blond said as he cupped Toby's face with one hand. He looked like he was struggling to hold back a laugh. "Jealousy has clouded your mind."
"Kevin…!" Toby groaned and finally had to admit that his constant pestering only made him look overemotional and desperate. It was time to let cooler heads prevail, so he took a quick breath to settle his nerves.
"We built a relationship based on trust," Toby reminded steadily as he removed Kevin's hand from his cheek and held it between his palms. "I know it doesn't make much sense to you now, but I'm begging you to trust me."
Toby slowly brought his eyes up to meet Kevin's. His boyfriend's gaze always had a way of making him feel secluded from the darkness, but still enveloped in the warmth of the island. He was glad to find themselves standing in the glow of afternoon sun because, for some reason, that was the time of day in which the golden flecks of Kevin's brown eyes glistened most. Toby fondly remembered catching himself gazing at them for longer than he should have back at Laguna, where no dark magic could ever tear them apart.
"It's important to me," Toby whispered softly as he continued to squeeze Kevin's hand. He searched Kevin's eyes and could see that his boyfriend's expression was starting to soften.
However, as Toby continued to stare into Kevin's eyes, he began to see a tinge of sadness appear. While the sorrow did not distract from the natural beauty of his eyes, Toby still wondered how long he had been hiding behind this façade.
Toby tried to pull the blond closer to him. "Kevin, what's wrong?"
Kevin blinked and suddenly Toby couldn't catch his eyes again. Kevin shrewdly kept his gaze away.
"It's important to you," Kevin repeated. He opened his mouth to say something more, but he quickly amended his choice of words once he finally spoke them aloud. "That means it's important to me."
Toby raised an eyebrow. "Really? I mean… really?"
"Yeah." Kevin cleared his throat and dropped Toby's hand. "I'll just tell Bro to take his car into a garage from now on. He can afford the expense anyway, and I can get my hands-on experience somewhere else."
"Thank you, Kevin, this means so much to me," Toby breathed and wrapped his arms tightly around Kevin's neck. "To us," he corrected and continued to cling to Kevin in eternal gratitude. "I love you, I love you so much," he whispered endlessly into his ear.
Kevin laughed as his boyfriend's breath tickled his cheek. "I love you, too," he smiled and then tried to untangle Toby's arms from around his neck. "I still gotta tell Kai what happened though."
"Oh, right," Toby laughed. He was relieved that Kevin didn't seem too upset about losing an opportunity at H2Eau. "Good luck with that."
Kevin winked and then began his journey back to the hotel. Toby watched him as he left until he felt the weight of Marco's hand on his shoulder – a gentle reminder to get back to work.
"Well, that takes care of one delinquent." Marco slanted his head towards Adam.
Toby followed Marco's gaze and saw Adam at the bar stealing leftover drinks.
Toby groaned. "You know, he only does that because you refuse to serve him."
Unfortunately, Marco didn't appreciate Toby's little attempt at a joke. So, Toby offered Marco an unapologetic nod and then proceeded to make H2Eau a place worthy of the clientele he aspired to attract.
Later that day, Toby was all too ready to say goodbye to his shift. While he loved his boyfriend and his friends, they had the unfortunate habit of wreaking havoc on his work life. Marco especially wasn't pleased to see Toby socializing with both Kevin and Adam on company time, but Toby was able to compensate by loosening another button on his uniform.
Toby longed to kick back with a cold beer on some hot sand. The communal kitchen of the Hotel Dante was an unexpected mix of colors, textures, and eclectic styles, but it was nonetheless a comforting sight that he grew to think of as home. Each new resident of the hotel would add their own bohemian twist; creating a patchwork of solidarity and friendship.
However, the kitchen was surprisingly empty for such a crowded hotel. As Toby rummaged through the cabinets and pantries, he understood why. The refrigerator was expectedly bare. The only soul left lingering at the hotel was Adam and he held the last beer in his hand. His feet were casually propped up on the table.
"Long live the working man," Adam praised as he took another swig. "I thought your shift would never end."
"It certainly felt like it," Toby agreed as he looked around the room. He could only assume that Adam had been waiting for him since he kicked him out of the club. "I thought Kevin would be home by now?"
"Kevin? Nah. He took off some time ago."
Toby paused for a moment. "Did he say where he was going?"
"No, but he sure was in a hurry to get there fast. I'm not gonna lie, bro – he looked pretty upset."
Toby's face fell. "Upset? About what?"
Adam only shrugged.
Swiftly losing patience, Toby kicked Adam's legs off the kitchen table. "Adam!"
"Shit!" Adam grumbled as he spilled some of his beer. "Fuck, I don't know! I know nothing about the strife of being a young gay male trapped on an exotic paradise! You know him better than I do!"
Toby fought back the anxious energy that threatened him. Instead, he calmly asked, "Just how upset did he look?"
Adam hesitated as he searched for the words. "He looked like he was fighting back tears." Then he thought about it and added, "he didn't look like he was very good at it either."
Toby instantly remembered his conversation with Ambrosius. His stomach twisted inside just at the thought that the warlock knew something about Kevin that he didn't – something that he could only use as ammunition.
"Hey, look, just give him some space," Adam advised as he saw his friend's expression. "Kevin probably just wants to be alone. I know that's all I want when I'm sorting out my shit."
"Do you really think so?" Toby asked, even though he already knew the answer. Kevin became drawn to Ambrosius more and more each day and was undoubtedly snatched in the warlock's clutches by now. Toby could feel his control slipping away, but he nevertheless looked up eagerly when he heard the front doors creak open.
"Goddammit, Van," Toby groaned disappointedly at the sight of his friend.
"Geesh," Van said as she rolled her eyes. "It's like every man on this island hates the sight of women."
She only needed to take one look at Toby to know something was wrong.
"Where's Kevin?" Van asked as she set down her bags from the market.
"Nowhere," Toby answered sullenly as he felt his stomach pinch. "He's just off with Ambrosius somewhere."
Van looked at him doubtfully. "Ambrosius?" she laughed. "Now what would make you think a thing like that?"
Toby resentfully shook his head at her laugh. It was almost as if no one took him seriously at the Cove anymore. He compulsively replayed the scene between him and Kevin in his head as he finally admitted,
"Because he lied to me!" Toby nearly stomped his foot again. "He couldn't even look me in the eye, Van. He said he would never see Ambrosius again and I should have known he was lying!"
Van strained at what to say that could comfort him, but she just didn't have the words. So, she turned to Adam. "Well, what do you know?"
Adam set his beer down and considered the question very seriously. "I know…" he dragged on to create suspense, "I know it feels like a tequila kind of day."
Toby groaned as he watched Adam walk away from the table. Avoiding conflict was what Adam did best.
"I don't want you surfing if you've been drinking," Toby warned before the other man could make it out the door.
"You got it," Adam promised with indifference.
"I'm serious!" Toby insisted more firmly. It had been a long day already and he wasn't in the mood to deal with any of Adam's nonsense. "I don't want to see you even near water unless you're drinking it from a glass, do you hear me? Adam?"
"Right, right, right…" Adam assured with a wave of his hand as he continued on his way.
Van smiled softly at Toby. "Forget him," she ordered. "We can only tackle one problem at a time. Now, are you positive Kevin's with Ambrosius?"
Toby mumbled something miserably to himself and looked to the floor. "Who else would he be with? Anyone else he knows on the island is at the Dante."
Van offered a brief, but consoling nod before she grabbed Toby's chin and tilted his head upward.
"Don't worry," she insisted effortlessly as she stared back into his eyes. "Ambrosius can't get very far without his magic. With that repel spell I placed on Kevin, no warlock will be able to manipulate his behavior."
Toby promptly tore his face away from the woman's hand. "But that's just it!" he carried on. "Ambrosius doesn't need magic to confuse Kevin. He just got out of the hospital, for crying out loud. I know Kevin tries to act tough, but he's still emotionally fragile right now. He should be in bed getting some rest, not out slaving away in the heat and getting himself mixed up with warlocks. He needs time to heal, but everyone refuses to listen to a thing I say!"
Van was determined to remain positive. "I'm sure the stress placed on Kevin went away as soon as we dispelled Ambrosius's magic. He barely recalls his stay at the hospital. He wouldn't even know he died if we didn't tell him. I think it's safe to say that he doesn't remember feeling sick either."
Toby didn't let the words sink in before he started to grumble. "So what if he forgot?" he quickly dismissed. "It still had to be physically draining. His mind or his body can't take any more stress even if he doesn't realize it. The damage is already there, Van, whether or not he remembers it. A person just cannot survive that sort of trauma without any scratches."
Van slowly thought it over. "… you think that because Ambrosius remembers everything, he can use that against Kevin? Even without magic?"
"I know he will!"
"Ambrosius knows everything about Kevin, and Kevin remembers nothing..." she continued to brainstorm aloud. "I guess that ultimately means it's your responsibility to keep him safe."
"Don't you think I've tried?!"
"Not nearly hard enough," Van accused even though she hated that look on Toby's face. "Look," she began in a softer tone, "Kevin has never been on his own before. He was living with his mom up until a couple of weeks ago. I doubt he even did his own laundry. When you tore him away from his family, you offered him a new home and a new life. You accepted responsibility for him."
"Hey, it was his choice, too!" Toby insisted.
Van glared at him for a moment. "That doesn't sound like a man accepting responsibility, now does it?"
Toby sighed. "I know you're right. I just… I don't know what to do! Kevin thinks I'm overreacting and I'm tired of being the drama queen in the relationship. He doesn't believe me when I say Ambrosius is a warlock and I can't blame him for it. I hear the words coming out of my mouth and even I don't believe it."
"What matters more, huh? That Kevin believes you, or that he's safe?"
Toby anxiously began to rub his neck. "I want Kevin safe," he said definitively.
"Well, there you go," Van smiled. "He may not understand, he may not even like it… but at least he's safe. It's your responsibility to see to that."
Toby knew that there was truth to her words, but he huffed anyway. "What exactly do you propose I do? Pleading with him got me nowhere. Spewing stories about sorcery didn't get me much farther!"
"I don't know," Van shrugged, but thought the situation over nonetheless. At a last desperate attempt, she asked, "What would your papou do if he caught you in a lie that could endanger your life?"
The corners of Toby's mouth jerked at the thought. "I suppose I wouldn't be sitting very comfortably right now, that much I can tell you."
Van giggled and tried to cover her blush. "Well, that's something to consider…"
Toby quickly rolled his eyes. "In case you haven't realized it, Van, I'm not exactly good at issuing orders, and I'm sure any authority I ever had went out the window the moment I mentioned warlocks and voodoo cults."
"I don't know about that," she reassured with a warm smile. "I've seen the way you are with Adam. You're like a big brother to him."
"But Adam doesn't listen to me. No one listens to me. You certainly don't listen to me."
"I will forever be a free spirit," Van winked, "but you definitely have an effect on Adam, that much I'm certain. He looks up to you and I know Kevin does, too. You just need to have more faith in your ability to take charge. Kevin wants to feel safe as much as you want to keep him safe."
Van moved forward and began arranging Toby's hair in a nurturing manner. "It's actually really sweet the way you watch out for Adam," she admired as her fingers combed his hair. "But now Kevin is in your care. He has been since the day you brought him here. It's your obligation to keep him safe by any means necessary. He is your number one priority."
Toby pulled his face away from Van and ran a hand through his hair to return it to its original state.
"Adam almost said the exact same thing," he grumbled quietly. "The guy who's completely oblivious to warlocks, magic, and anyone who isn't him still thinks I should 'put my foot down' when it comes to Ambrosius and Kevin!"
After saying it aloud, Toby carefully measured the situation. His friends could clearly see something he was unwilling to admit. Toby then sighed and rubbed his eyes.
"Kevin'll hate me for it…" he murmured softly.
"That's one of the downfalls of being an adult," Van answered back. "Sometimes you have to make tough decisions in order to protect the ones you love, even if you end up looking like the bad guy sometimes."
Toby tried not to sniff.
"Hey," Van said consolingly as she wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "No one's ever come to the Cove to grow up before. If you ever hope to have a future with Kevin, you're gonna have to be the first."
Toby almost succeeded in stifling his laugh. "A career and a committed relationship?" he quipped. "On an island haunted with ghosts and witches, who would of ever thought I would be the strangest thing here?"
Van brushed back his hair to kiss his forehead. "Well, it's about time the mortals here kicked some supernatural butt. Just don't go chasing away all the baddies. We need a few ghosties around to keep the rent low."
Collecting his resolve, Toby trudged through the harsh sand fields of the Cove on foot just to reach the house at the edge of Sunset Point. He stood before Ambrosius's doors, his hands already tightened into fists at his sides.
With his jaw firmly clenched, Toby pounded on the warlock's door. He was always poised for a fight whenever he saw Ambrosius, but god help the warlock if he ever truly hurt his Kevin…
Ambrosius leisurely answered the door, slowing pulling it open to hear its loud creak. He clearly took offense when the door erupted and the impatient mortal pushed his way inside.
"Where is he?" Toby demanded as his sandaled feet stormed into the beach house.
"Your precious Kevin isn't here," the warlock rasped out irritably and followed after the boy. "I suggest you search the other end of the island. Far, far, far away from here."
Toby barely heard him. His eyes frantically searched every inch of his surroundings; the coastal décor of sands and aquas only infuriating him further. He could spot no sign that Kevin had been there.
"I strongly encourage you to look elsewhere," Ambrosius maintained.
There was a brief, brittle pause before Toby could collect his thoughts. "I was so close," he confessed to the warlock. His voice was low and tired. "I thought all I had to do was get Kevin away from his father. There couldn't possibly be anyone as monstrous as him?" Toby then looked at Ambrosius with a dangerous glint to his eye. "Little did I know that you were lurking beneath the Cove, plotting to take the bastard's place. Just hoping to fill that void with even more hurt and hate—"
Fully aware of Kevin's tragic past, Ambrosius rose to his full height to tower over the mortal. "I am nothing like his father!" he argued. "But you would be correct in assuming that Kevin and I share a common misfortune. I always warned you that Kevin and I were connected, but as usual, you kept your eyes and your ears closed. When you dragged Kevin to this island, you stirred something hidden inside him."
"And what would that be?" Toby asked bitterly.
Toby winced at the word as it knocked him back a step.
Ambrosius smirked at the reaction. "Kevin always belonged to me," he assured. "Luckily, it was you who tore him away from his family. It would be you all along that brought him to me. I kept my hands clean of that. Tresum is a very lonely path. Only those with no loved ones to leave behind can walk in its mysteries. That is why the bond between an avatar and his devoted aspirant is so sacred. We can never be separated, Toby. You'll simply be the next warm body jettisoned – the price you pay for imposing yourself on a student of Tresum."
Toby tried to tune out Ambrosius's words, a habit of his that had been increasing lately, but just as he felt a chill reach the pit of his stomach, he heard Kevin's voice.
Toby looked up and saw Ambrosius flash him an evil grin. "You will never dissuade me from my goal," the warlock promised.
Once Toby heard Kevin call out for the second time, he knew it could no longer be a delusion. He ran towards a locked bedroom and brought his hand to the door.
"Kevin?" Toby panted back.
The bedroom door soon unlocked and Kevin emerged looking apologetic and unsure. A brief, awkward moment passed between the two before Toby welcomed the weight that was swiftly flung into his arms.
"God, I love you," Toby breathed into Kevin's hair. The words were instinctive. He clung to the blond that was shaking in his grip. Unfortunately, he could still feel Ambrosius's shadow looming over them.
"You know I love you more than anyone," Kevin promised back. There was a level of relief to his voice. He looked up long enough to catch Ambrosius's eye. "Thank you for calling him," he whispered to the warlock.
Toby flinched at the mistaken gratitude. He found it much harder to breath. He shivered knowing that Kevin foolishly felt he could trust a Tresum master to ever be so selfless. Then he wondered what other lies the warlock had fed him.
After soaking up as much comfort from the embrace as he needed, Toby held Kevin at arm's length to study him. His boyfriend's eyes were a little red, his body a little shaky, but he couldn't see much more beyond that because whenever he tried to keep his eyes fixed on Kevin, Toby could always see the smug expression on the warlock's face from over Kevin's shoulder.
Toby's teeth tightened.
"You asshole!" Toby exclaimed as he charged towards Ambrosius. He drew his fist back, but Kevin quickly stepped between the two, shoving Toby away.
"Stop it!" Kevin warned as he struggled to keep Toby's clenched fists down. "Nothing happened! You're only embarrassing yourself!"
"I'm embarrassing myself?!" Toby breathed in disbelief, his eyes wild. He finally stopped charging at Ambrosius, but he continued to study the warlock even as he fumed. He saw Ambrosius reveling in the spectacle he had set before him. Toby's hands twisted into fists at his sides all over again. However, he was not yet so consumed by anger that he couldn't feel the squeeze of Kevin's hand on his shoulder.
Toby grudgingly settled in Kevin's grip. Nothing he said or did now would convince his boyfriend a warlock was in the room. Ambrosius had gained too much of his trust for that.
"I think we should go home," Toby instructed as he considered the depths of his boyfriend's naiveté. "Now."
Kevin sighed as if a huge weight had been lifted. "I'm so glad to hear you say that."
Toby's expression brightened for a moment when he saw Kevin smile. Unfortunately, Kevin's smile faded as he reflected over the events.
"Are you sure you even wanna look at me?" he asked in a voice that was threatening to break. "I behaved like such an idiot today."
"Yes, you did," Toby agreed firmly. Then he cupped his boyfriend's face and took comfort in the sight that he was safe and unharmed. "But there is nothing I would rather more than to bring this idiot back home."
Kevin rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on, man. You can't call me an idiot. Only I can do that."
"It's gonna be stamped on your forehead," Toby joked further and directed Kevin towards the door.
"Wait," Ambroisus called after Kevin and grinned as the young blond stopped to turn. "Call me when you get home so I know you got there safely."
Kevin politely nodded and for a moment Toby felt his heart stop. However, he refused to let this interfere with the task at hand. Once he freed Kevin from the warlock's looming presence, he was sure he could talk some sense into him. So, with determination, he led Kevin out of the beach house and into the night.
Toby wrapped his arm around Kevin and held him close enough that he could nuzzle his nose against his cheek. He closed his eyes as he nestled against the blond and simply tried to let the sound of the ocean waves calm him. His boyfriend smelled of sunscreen and beachy cocktails. He perfectly captured the scent of the bustling island town. It was almost as if he always belonged on the Cove.
Of course, if Dante's Cove was Kevin's destiny all along, Toby had to wonder if that destiny included him — or Ambrosius.
Dwelling on it made Toby nauseous.
"So, you gonna tell me how you ended up locked in Ambrosius's bedroom?" Toby asked softly as they walked along the quiet beach. The moonlight made the ripples in the ocean glisten.
"Well, I know 'nothing' happened," Toby agreed less than patiently. "If something did, there would have been a volcanic explosion, a landslide, a tsunami, or something equally momentous by the way Ambrosius talks about it."
"God, Toby, he does not."
Toby cast a worried glance at the blond. "But something did happen if you felt the need to lock yourself in a room and Ambrosius out."
Kevin watched the waves crash for a moment. "I don't even know…"He kicked up sand for a few moments longer. "I was embarrassed, I know that much! I just suddenly found myself alone in his house about to tell him intimate details about my life and I just… I just freaked, Toby."
"It didn't feel right, ya know?" Kevin briefly listened to the seagulls before he continued. "You have always been the one person that I trust with my feelings. I've told you things I don't want anyone else to ever know. I mean, I'm okay talking to Bro about chess and all, but something suddenly didn't seem right. It's like I suddenly woke up."
Toby hated that description. "Something was wrong."
"I guess so," Kevin continued. The breeze from the cool night made him shiver. "It went from feeling really right to feeling really, really wrong. I can't even describe why it felt wrong! I just had an urge to tell him all my secrets when I knew I shouldn't. I know that sort of trust takes time to build and I know you're the only person who I ever want to trust with that part of my life."
A small smile sparkled on Toby's face at that confession. "That's what I like to hear."
"But I just couldn't hold back. I felt like I was talking to you, but I was clearly talking to Bro. I didn't know what to do or what was happening, so I locked myself in a bedroom. I wasn't even thinking, I just did it." Kevin mentally recalled the events and cringed. "God, I'm such a jackass!"
Toby pulled him back into his arms and squeezed him tighter. "You're not a jackass, Kevin."
"He thinks I'm an idiot!"
"Who cares what he thinks?"
Toby groaned to himself, shoved his hands in his pockets, and proceeded to walk tensely beside his boyfriend. "The young blond of his dreams locks himself in his bedroom and refuses to leave. Oh, I bet he was creaming himself!"
"Bro's not like that at all," Kevin defended. "He's a man of indisputable sophistication."
Toby shook his head. "You don't talk like that. Those words got to be his."
"Hey!" Kevin instantly put a stop to their walk. "What do you know what I talk like anyhow? I have my own mind and my own opinions. You just never give me the opportunity to speak. You're constantly judging me."
Toby felt his neck tighten at the allegation. "Well, it's rather sudden how all your 'own opinions' just happen to be exactly what Ambrosius wants," he observed. He then decided he couldn't hold something back any longer. "He never called me, you know."
Kevin blinked. "What?"
"You heard me," Toby spoke firmly. "Ambrosius. He never called! My phone didn't ring once. I only came because I was worried. I knew he was up to something and I had to get you out of there. It's not safe."
Kevin's voice was quiet, but accusing. "You don't trust me."
"I trust you!" Toby insisted.
"You're jealous because Bro has everything you don't."
Toby shook his head at that statement. "You couldn't be more wrong. " He knew he was literally in possession of the only thing the warlock couldn't own – Kevin's love.
"Then you're jealous that I finally got a friend of my own," Kevin argued. "Ever since I came to this island, it's always been about what you want to do, who you want to hang out with, or where you want to go… Now I can do something other than wait for you back at the Dante and it's driving you crazy. You're so pathetic."
Toby's mouth jerked to one side for a moment. "God, Kevin, do you even hear yourself? Sometimes you can sound like such a child."
"I sound like a child?" Kevin stepped away from Toby's side. "You're the one making up fairy tales about warlocks and haunted jewelry. You're an adult scared of goddamn children's stories!"
Toby stilled alongside Kevin. He slowly turned to face him, his eyes narrowing as the blond met him with his own challenging glare. Kevin stood firmly in place with his arms crossed against his chest. Toby realized he was no longer annoyed with Kevin's stubbornness. He was now terrified for his safety.
Toby reached out and took his boyfriend by the arm. He brought him forcibly around so that he was once again required to walk with him. Kevin now had no choice but to march a little faster just to keep up with his angry partner.
"What is this?" Kevin scoffed at the grip around his arm. "You afraid I'm gonna run off now?"
"I'm just getting us where we need to go," Toby promised coolly. "That's all I ever wanted."
Toby's hand flexed in silent warning around Kevin's upper arm until they finally reached the Hotel Dante. However, it wasn't until he steered Kevin back to their bedroom that he loosened his grip.
Kevin was once again face to face with Toby. His boyfriend didn't look as angry as he had been moments ago, but his eyebrows were still pulled tensely together. Kevin was only flustered by it for a moment.
"Now what?" Kevin finally asked, spitting the words out like a dare. He assumed that Toby dragged him back to their room for a reason, but it appeared like they reached the end of his plan.
Toby's response was a resigned shake of his head. He had come to a decision and now he would just have to follow it through. There would be no more struggles for authority. Not over this.
"Now, I'm going to remind you that there are two people in this relationship," Toby spoke with a certain stern composure that caused Kevin to tilt his head. "If you ever ignore my feelings, my warnings, our relationship, or your own safety ever again, I promise you – we will be right back here."
Kevin was unfamiliar with the strict edge in Toby's voice, but he found himself responding to it nonetheless. He uncrossed his arms and listened to what the other man had to say.
Toby took another breath. "Take off your pants."
This time, Kevin did not fail to notice the hard set of Toby's jaw. His boyfriend had been in a lot more pain than he was letting on. Although he did not look very threatening, Kevin could tell that Toby was in a no-nonsense mood. His intent was dreadfully clear and Kevin could not ignore the uneasy, shivery sensations deep in his stomach.
"Kevin, did you hear me?"
"I heard you," the blond answered much too softly.
Kevin felt a confusing wave of nervous energy shake him. He and Toby had their share of fights, but this was the first time somebody made him truly feel chastened for his actions – somebody that he actually cared about. He never had anyone in his life to hold him accountable for anything before. He always had the option to just run away. In fact, that had been encouraged.
Toby watched Kevin's reaction. The blond was not so much ignoring his order as much as he was waiting for somebody, anybody, to tell him that everything was going to be okay.
"Hey, Kevin," Toby whispered. His steps were cautious as he approached his boyfriend. "It's okay. You trust me, right?"
Kevin eventually nodded. "I do."
"Okay," Toby breathed. "Just keep your hands at your sides, Kevin. Can you do that for me?"
Toby pushed back Kevin's shirt and began to unfasten his jeans. His hands rested on Kevin's hips for a moment, just simply holding him and taking comfort in his familiar shape, until they slip beneath the denim. Soon, Toby slid the pants down onto the floor, his eyes fixed on Kevin's face to gauge his reaction. All the while, the blond's hands never flinched. They remained at his sides, just as Toby had asked, never once daring to keep his jeans in place.
Toby watched silently as Kevin stared off into the distance. He could feel his own nerves pushing their way to the surface. He licked his lips and then took Kevin's face into his hands. His thumbs caressed the blond's cheeks as he spoke.
"Kevin, look at me," he ordered softly.
Kevin blinked and he was suddenly staring back at Toby again. His eyes were a little red and Toby felt his own eyes start to water.
"Kevin, I love you," Toby reminded, his voice only a little shaky from his emotions. "But I'm going to spank you now."
Toby waited, his hands still firmly holding onto Kevin's face. He searched the brown eyes to see what objections they would hold, but Kevin gave only a tiny sniff. The golden flecks of his eyes didn't seem any less brilliant than before. So, Toby snuffled back, pulled Kevin's face closer to him, and kissed his forehead longingly.
Toby's fingertips followed the muscled line of Kevin's arm until he reached his hand. He laced their fingers together and slowly walked backwards until the back of his legs hit the bed. He then sat down and carefully guided his young boyfriend over his lap.
Toby pushed Kevin a little further over his knees, bending his body so that his backside was more prominent. His boxer briefs stretched tighter over his rear and accentuated the curvy target even further. Toby considered his next move.
"To-BY!" Kevin suddenly squeaked at the shock of the first swat.
Toby flinched as well, not expecting to have such an effect so soon. However, he knew the reality of the spanking must have broken through whatever emotional barrier Kevin had been trying to hide behind and he was glad to hear his boyfriend's voice again. So, Toby rubbed the quivering bottom over his knees, regretting that he let it get this far.
"Let's get this out of the way so we can snuggle for the rest of the night, okay?" Toby made tiny circles with the pads of his fingers across the cotton-covered cheeks.
Kevin didn't answer, but tensed as he readied himself for the next blow. Toby nodded and then lifted his hand to continue the punishment.
"Ahhh!" Kevin hissed at the next loud smack. It didn't take long for two matching blows to land on his other cheek, furthering the burn. Soon, Toby built up a nice, warm rhythm. Kevin gritted his teeth and clenched his cheeks as the spanking gradually built up to a terrible sting.
"Toby, st-OP!" Kevin gulped as he wiggled beneath Toby's hand.
"I'm afraid I won't be stopping for a while, Kevin," Toby answered back regrettably and winced as Kevin cried his protest. Toby licked his lips, firmed his resolve, and continued to warm the fidgety bottom over his lap. When Kevin increasingly twisted beneath his hand, a silent plea for this combination of pain and shame to end, Toby started to spank lower.
"C'mon, Toby, en-UFF!" Kevin choked out.
Toby's swats were now heavy and loud. Kevin's eyes snapped shut at the sound. His boyfriend's hand now landed below the fabric of his underwear, turning the skin pink and increasing the warmth around the already sore area. The sound of Toby's hand smacking against bare skin was frightful in Kevin's ear.
Kevin's voice was hitched with tears. "L-look, Toby, I'm SO-rrry. I swear! It's just that — you lo-OVE me! I'm sorry!"
Toby's hand faltered for a moment. It was high in the air and ready to land another swat, but then it quickly settled on the redness of Kevin's backside. Kevin's plea almost sounded like he was apologizing for being loved, but as Toby considered the bottom pitifully shaking before him, he understood that Kevin was simply admitting that he didn't know how to act when somebody loves him. The blond never had to consider anyone else's feelings before and Toby was exceedingly grateful that he was the first one Kevin allowed to break through that tough exterior.
Now Kevin just had to learn what sort of behavior would be tolerated in a committed relationship.
As Toby reflected on that, his hand gently ran up and down the length of Kevin's body. He fondly rubbed the muscular curves that quivered on top of his knees. Even the gentle strokes had a way of making Kevin's sore bottom jump and shiver. Toby breathed a little heavier at the odd appreciation he felt whenever the young blond reacted to his touches.
"I do love you," Toby agreed. His fingers continued to trace the curve of Kevin's chastised bottom, playing at the fabric of his underwear and lifting it slightly to check the color. "That will never change."
Kevin bit his lower lip as Toby's fingertips went below his boxer briefs and reached a sore spot on the crease between his cheek and upper thigh. He wondered at how Toby's now subtle touches could send chills down his spine. It felt both strangely loving and foreboding at the same time.
"But you lied to me," Toby continued.
The truth in that statement was weighted in steel and Kevin felt his face go hot with shame. He soon realized that it wasn't the sting from the hand spanking that made him react. He was trembling underneath the flood of disgrace.
"To-by," Kevin hiccupped when he felt the other man lift his hand. "I d-don't want to hurt you…"
Toby's hand stalled in the air once again. "I know that, Kevin."
Toby blinked with wet lashes. "I know that, too," he smiled briefly. Then he added, "W-we're addressing that now."
Kevin sniffled as he felt Toby's knee shift beneath him. His head dipped a little lower and his bottom was propped up a little higher. This shameful position made him all too aware of his own breathing. His breath sounded hitched and halty, and he couldn't stop his backside from shuddering as he felt more vulnerable than ever.
"These last few will be on the bare, okay?" Toby warned gently as his arm wrapped around Kevin's waist, lifting his backside even higher over his knees. Kevin cringed as the position continued to add to his shame. Then he felt Toby tug his underwear down.
Toby's hand fell a mere second later. Kevin's pathetic, small yelp of surprise and sorrow would have likely woken up the whole hotel if everyone had not had a habit of spending their nights at the clubs already. He clutched at Toby's leg as the aching, the shaming, and the chastising sensation swelled up inside him. He could still feel Toby's arm on back, holding him firmly and sending him deeper and deeper into his remorse. This new experience of disgrace, accountability, punishment, and forgiveness sent Kevin's emotions soaring. He soon found himself slumped against his boyfriend's knee; his quiet sobs drowned out by the strikingly loud sound of Toby's hand continuing its onslaught of swats on his upturn bottom.
Kevin was now a wilted, repentant figure across his boyfriend's lap. His soundly spanked backside still shuddered from the relentless sting even after the punishment ended. Toby patted his bottom warmly, captivated at how Kevin's skin was still hot and sensitive beneath his presently tender hand. It made his throat go dry.
"It's over," Toby announced hoarsely. His hand followed the curve of Kevin's bottom until he reached his back, where he continued to rub consolingly. "Right?"
With tears now streaming steadily, Kevin answered back, "W-what if it's not?"
Toby's reaction was instantaneous. "I'll do this as long as I have to. You know that, right?"
Toby smiled shyly as Kevin seemed to melt into the promise. A part of him suspected that he had to prove to Kevin that he could be that dependable force that could keep him from running away. Knowing he succeeded left him shaken and honored. He would not let Kevin down if he ever needed this again.
Toby rubbed the blond's back until his muscles relaxed beneath his attention. Then he drew Kevin into his arms and nestled him beside him on the bed.
Kevin's nose scrunched up as his backside hit the mattress.
"Sorry," Toby flinched as he flashed him a sympathetic smile.
"No, no, I deserve it all," Kevin said meekly. His voice was still a shuddering whisper.
Toby noted that statement was probably the most mature thing Kevin had ever said. He reached out and brushed back the blond, sweaty hair as he watched Kevin try and fail to find a comfortable position on the bed. Kevin's lower lip now stuck out a little farther, he now fidgeted a bit too much on his sore bottom, but ultimately Toby was proud at the way his boyfriend accepted his spanking.
Before Kevin could sniffle any further, Toby leaned in and placed a soothing kiss on the side of his mouth. Kevin responded instantly, tilting his head to burrow into the other man's neck and feel the coarse stubble of his face. Toby smelled like the beach after a thunderstorm – a mixture of aquatic florals, sweet melon, and sheer musk. The scent of his skin, the scratch of his beard, and his hand tipping Kevin's chin upward made the blond feel protected and cherished. He nuzzled in a little closer.
"Why did you leave the hotel in such a state?" Toby asked, voice still hoarse, between the kisses. "Adam said you ran off in tears. I was so scared."
Kevin slanted his head away, but Toby still managed to comfort him with a trail of kisses along the line of his jaw.
"Toby…" Kevin warned softly. His boyfriend's name was a choked plea on his lips.
"Don't shut me out," Toby pleaded back. He pressed his forehead up against Kevin's and shut his eyes. He concentrated on his breathing. "Why didn't you just come to me? Why not talk to me? Please, Kevin, just talk to me."
Kevin squirmed beside Toby. The plush mattress did nothing to alleviate the sting of his recent spanking and Toby's questions made his face flush with shame all over again.
"The hospital called," Kevin said far too calmly. He licked his lips before he continued. "You see, my mother is still listed as my emergency contact. I died. I died, Toby, and she didn't even care. She didn't even make arrangements to retrieve my body. I'm not worth mourning, I'm not worth saying goodbye to, and I'm not worth seeing one last time."
The pain of that announcement left Toby breathless. He embraced Kevin tightly, locking his arms around his neck and allowing the blond to cling to him as long as necessary. The blond's muscular frame now seemed fragile in Toby's arms.
Eventually, Kevin eased back onto the mattress, using the back of his hand to wipe away the tears.
Toby bit his lip and carefully asked his next question. "What does this have to do with Ambrosius?"
He frowned when Kevin looked away.
"No, no, no, no," Toby instantly begged and placed his fingertips back on Kevin's chin, urging him to meet his eyes. "You're not shutting me out now, Kevin. Not after all this."
Kevin blinked at Toby through wet and heavy lashes. The expression the other man flashed him was a mixture of urgency, desperation, and hurt. Kevin felt ashamed to be the cause of that look. He squeezed his eyes shut and refused to look at it as he answered.
"You have a family who loves and accepts you," Kevin announced quietly. His tears were partially strangled in his throat.
Toby furrowed his brows. "I still don't understand what that has to do with Ambrosius?"
"You don't know what it's like to be rejected by the people who are supposed to love you."
Toby winced as an icy chill trembled through his body. "I'm starting to learn," he whispered breathlessly.
Toby's eyes sunk to the floor. The antiquated architecture of the hotel reminded him of the Historical Society and what he and Van had uncovered about Ambrosius's past. The warlock had been right. He and Kevin did share a familiar tragedy of rejection and loneliness, and it left an unpleasant ache in the pit of Toby's stomach.
With Kevin's family gone, he was now aligned with the prophecies Ambrosius talked about. Toby was now convinced more than ever that he had to be the loved one who would fight for him against the dark forces of Tresum. Kevin was not alone just yet.
Toby turned to Kevin and took his face in his hands. "You escaped your family so we could come to Dante's Cove and live our lives together," he reminded firmly. "If your parents think you're dead, then this is our fresh start. A completely clean slate. You are now free to do whatever you want. No one can stop you. No one can stop us! We can be whoever we want!"
Kevin attempted a smile. But before he could say anything, there was a loud ring. He tore his eyes away from Toby and went to retrieve the phone from his crumpled up pants on the floor.
"It's Bro, dammit," Kevin whispered as he pulled up his briefs and sat back down on the bed. "I totally forgot I was supposed to call him when we got back."
Toby stilled. It only took one brief moment for an excruciating feeling to snake through him and steal away his breath and his hope.
Kevin tilted the phone towards Toby so he could see the screen. Toby couldn't believe his eyes when he saw his boyfriend not only reject the call, but also delete Ambrosius from his contacts.
A flicker of hope returned to Toby's face. His eyes shined up at Kevin.
"A clean slate, huh?" Kevin merely smiled.
"And a fresh start," Toby answered back.
He wasted no time as he threw his arms around Kevin's neck. He pulled him into a tight hug and felt all his anxieties fade away as he listened to the blond's soft laughter against his ear. The cell phone, now forgotten, fell to the floor.
Toby thought he couldn't possibly stand a chance against warlocks, witches, or any other dark legends of the island. But after living on Dante's Cove for so long, he finally learned that nothing was impossible.