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A Man's Fortune

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It was cold on the side of the mountain. Epically, nastily cold. The wind was spitting a mixture of snow and rain, yet it wasn’t the actual temperature that made the outdoors unbearable so much as the wind. Well, that and the fact that Jensen’s wool tunic was soaked through.

Angrily, Jensen cursed his friends and their hurtful words. They accused him of being as genteel as his looks. They said he hadn’t the courage of a man, and he had sworn to them that he would prove each and every one of them wrong. They insisted that the only proof they would take was if he stole into the lair of the dragon and stole a piece of his treasure.

Fighting was all well and good, they told him, but true determination would only be proven by a daring act.

He hated himself for being so weak as to capitulate to the taunts of his friends. He knew better. If his father and mother ever found out where he’d gone there would be hides tanned that had nothing to do with his father’s leather working business.

It was ridiculous because Jensen as of exactly one month ago was a man -a man who had no prospects other than joining the army or working for his father, but still a man. He should be able to have a bit of fun with his friends without worrying about his father’s censure.

Jensen snorted to himself at the idea. His father had every right to censure him because he was being an idiot. Actually, his father had every right to slap him silly because he’d broken into his mother’s baubles and stolen something that he could pass off as dragon treasure. The earring was gold and had a dull emerald set in its center. There was no matching ring for it, the mate long ago lost.

His mother was only holding on to it for sentimental reasons, so there was no need to worry about her looking for it before he could return it to its normal storage spot. Still the fact remained that she had kept hold of the lone jewel instead of hawking it to one of the many travelling traders that came through their town. It wasn’t something that he should be messing around with.

But there were only so many times that a man could stand being mocked for his beauty. Intellectually he knew that the majority of the sons in their village were going to follow into their father’s businesses. He wasn’t an exception because of his supposed frailty.

He just… needed to find better friends.

And he was going to start on that the instant that he crawled back down off the hillside and proved to them that he had bigger balls than them or, at least, a more devious mind.

It was not like the sheep brained morons would know the difference.

When the rain in the snow mix turned to icy needles instead of cold drops, Jensen decided to move. There wasn’t a chance in heaven that he was going to go up the mountain to the actual dragon’s lair, but there was a little hollow nearby that he used to play in as a child long before the dragon moved in and started snacking on wayward livestock.

If the dragon had any smarts, he wouldn’t be trotting his hide out into the abysmal weather. The steam clouds would easily give away his location, and there were still many knights hanging about the village tavern waiting for the chance to slay the creature.

Jensen had heard that dragons were very clever, so he figured himself safe enough. Although, admitting that being out in the cold was a bad idea and then actually being out in the cold sort of seemed to prove that he wasn’t the sharpest scraper in the tanning shed.

Half frozen, he stumbled into the small alcove only to fall back onto his ass in a freezing puddle of mud.

There was a man in his childhood hiding spot - a very large, very smiling man with a booming laugh who plucked Jensen out of the puddle and dragged him back into the stone hideaway as if he weighed nothing at all.

“What brings you out on such a day, hmmm?” The stranger asked, his eyes almost sparking in the dimly lit area.

“I…” Jensen stared like the ill mannered dolt that his aunt sometimes accused him of being.

“You don’t know? Well, I suppose that’s fair enough. Who really knows why they do what they do? Why there are where they are or even who they are?”

“I’m Jensen, the leatherworker’s son.” It wasn’t a smart rejoinder. Jensen was not good with the small talk after almost freezing his balls off.

“Hmm, a name is not who we are, I don’t think. Nevertheless, you may call me Jared as you have so graciously shared your name with me.”

“Jared? That’s an odd name.” Jensen said as politely as he could manage. The right spin on words could make something a witty question instead of an insult, and he was normally gifted in that area.

“I’m an odd person.” Jared told him.

“Yes, quite. I mean…” Jensen flushed and cursed his tongue. It appeared that this was not his day to do anything right.

Jared’s eyebrow quirked in what appeared to be amusement as he raked his eyes over Jensen’s shivering form. The gaze made Jensen feel uncomfortable and shy even as he felt pinned by it.

“Tell me, leatherworker’s son, why do you not have a leather coat to go with those finely made boots? Does your father not care about protecting anything but your toes?”

The outrage that simmered into his mind at the insult to his father burned away by the care that seemed to color the other man’s tone, so Jensen tried his best to answer neutrally, “I’ve grown out of my leather coat, and there’s been a shortage of materials. The farmers have been losing cattle to the dragon and are hesitant to slaughter until their herds are replenished. What leather we have, we need for trade. Boots are more important than coverings.”

“Have you now?”

Jensen frowned in confusion. “Have I what?”

“Grown.”

“That’s what I just said, is it not?”

The other man shrugged and smiled at him. Jensen glared back, but it only seemed to encourage the other man to smile wider.

“What brings you here?” Jensen asked, wondering what sort of man he’d trapped himself with.

“To this alcove or the general area?”

Jensen scowled his most fearsome scowl at the stranger. He did not appear to be impressed. “The area. I can see with my own two eyes what brought you to this particular sanctuary.”

“Oh, I think you are very much mistaken in that assumption, but to answer your question I suppose that you could say that I came here to hunt.”

Distaste colored Jensen’s features. Another dragon hunter to drunkenly muck about and frighten the young women was the last thing his village needed.

“Well, I might advise you to move on then. The dragon is much too wily for your kind. Honored knights have come and run away like scared little children. I very much doubt that you have anything to offer us, and our tavern runs short of ale.”

Jared outright grinned at his response. “You think the dragon wily, eh? Tell me, what does your father think of such thoughts, little Jensen?”

“I’m not little!”

Jared’s eyes swept downwards to the crotch of Jensen’s breeches. “That, I must admit, I cannot speak on. Cold can cause a good deal of shrinkage.”

Jensen had the sinking feeling that the ensuing slap hurt his hand more than it did Jared’s face. The large man rubbed his long fingers over his impossibly high cheekbones with a sort of surprise. Jensen, on the other hand, felt a good deal of mortification. A real man would have hit harder and used his fist. Instead he defended his honor like one of the fair maidens whose virtue he was forever defending from the drunken letches trying to get under their skirts.

“You are very feisty.” Jared’s eyes seemed to glitter, and Jensen felt his heart start to pound against his ribs. He had nothing but a small knife and his mother’s earring on him. He was not a small man, but his muscles had not yet completely filled out, and the breadth of his shoulders and chest was unimpressive compared to the other men his age.

His mother called him a late bloomer. All the men in his father’s family were known for it, but the knowledge that he would someday cut a dashing figure was not a comforting one when it looked like he wasn’t going to reach someday.

“I’m armed.” Jensen warned the other man anyway. A small knife was technically still a weapon.

Jared’s laugh boomed in the small area, echoing off the stone walls and out into the countryside that was quickly starting to be covered with heavy, spring snow.

“I dwarf you boy, and that pathetic little knife couldn’t kill a barn cat let alone seriously injure me.”

Jensen bit his lip and glanced at the exit. Jared had dropped him into a corner when he had first arrived, and while the gesture had seemed one of kindness at the time, he wasn’t so sure about that now. It appeared that Jared was one of the more unbalanced hunters, and Jensen very much regretted verbally jousting with him. If the man had taken the time to note the small knife hidden at Jensen’s hip, he surely had already observed Jensen himself and taken stock of any weak points.

Actually, to be more accurate, he had probably already taken note of all of Jensen’s strong points. They were much fewer to count.

There was no use in wishing for the past to come undone though, so Jensen summoned up what courage he had to ask in a trembling voice, “Why would I want to kill a barn cat?”

“I wouldn’t know. I rather like mine. I detest chasing mice, and they thrive on it. Plus, they’re very warm to cuddle with. Tell me, very large and manly Jensen, do you like cats?”

“I… quit toying with me!” Jensen spat as he pulled his knife from its sheath and pointed it at Jared.

Jared tilted his head to the side, his eyes never leaving Jensen’s face. “I’m afraid I cannot do that. It’s in my nature, you see.” His head righted itself, and his oddly colored eyes quit glittering as they focused on the blade in Jensen’s hand. “Didn’t I tell you how ineffective that weapon is?”

“It won’t be if I get to your eyes.” Jensen spat, then inwardly cursed at himself for giving away his plan for escape.

“My eyes? Now what do you know of them?”

“That I’ll gouge them out with my bare hands if I have to,” Jensen spat as he started to inch towards his freedom.

Jared’s large bulk slid instantly to the side, blocking his progress. “Many a man have tried and failed, but I like you, so I’ll share a secret.”

Jensen truly did not like the sound of that, but he found himself nodding anyway. It wasn’t like his situation could get much worse with a little more information.

Jared grinned again at the nod, and reached a large hand out to cup around the back of Jensen’s head forcing Jensen to stare directly into his eyes.

“Tell me, what color to you see?”

“What?” Jensen tried to jerk his head out of Jared’s grasp, but the other man held fast with a power that felt almost unnatural even for as large of a person as he was.

“Yours are like a peridot, a deep spring green like the very valley that you live in. More brilliant than that stone you carry with you, and far more valuable. What do you see in mine?”

Jensen swallowed as his heartbeat went from scared to downright terrified. He closed his eyes tightly and refused to look. Jared was obviously crazed, insane even. His neck was about to get snapped and the last thing that he wanted was to see insanity before he met his end. His friends might call him a coward for it, but at the moment, he didn’t much care what his friends would think.

“You’re trembling.” Jared’s voice dropped to a whisper, and Jensen could feel the large man’s breath whisper across his cheek as he spoke.

Tightening his grasp on the hilt of his knife, Jensen swung the blade up at Jared only to have the man’s other large hand wrap around his own. Jared’s thumb pressed harshly into Jensen’s wrist, and the pulse of agony that followed caused him to drop the blade. A second later, he heard it skitter across the stone floor, most likely the work of Jared’s boot kicking at it.

“Jensen,” Jared crooned, “I have no desire to harm you.”

“Then let me go.” He grit out ignoring the way that Jared’s other hand had come up to stroke gentle fingertips over his face.

“I cannot do that.” Jared sounded almost regretful. “I have been waiting for you for far too long.”

“You’re crazy.” Jensen spat out even as he went from trembling to out and out shaking.

“No, I’m just not human.” Jared told him as the hands on Jensen’s face went from cool to warm.

Jensen’s eyes finally flew open, nearly crossing themselves as he tried to focus on the face hovering in front of his own. Jared’s eyes were no longer glittering, they were sparkling. All different colors, one moment they were brown, the next blue, then green and all the shades between.

“Ah, that’s much better. Though I admit that I wish you weren’t so frightened.” Jared’s mouth was still smiling, although it was small and oddly tender in its twist.

“Dragon,” Jensen hissed, though it was more because of lack of air in his lungs than any real venom towards the creature holding him.

“Mmmm, I know, I know. I’m evil. I reek. I’m sure to eat small babies and capture virgins and torture them with my tail.” Jared’s mouth went back to grinning as he talked, apparently amused by his own words.

“You’re a, a man?” Jensen asked confused as to how such a creature could cloak itself to look human.

“Well, I’m not up in my lair laying eggs if that’s what you mean.”

“But, you’re supposed to have scales.” Jensen blurted out, though why the scales were important, he hadn’t a clue. He’d caught a glimpse of the dragon once while he was flying, and he was much more massive than the giant of a man holding his head in place. Really, Jensen should be focusing on the size differential if he was going to mention the impossibility factor.

“And I do. Would you like to see them? I imagine that a leatherworker’s son would be able to appreciate their beauty far more than anyone else I might show them to.” Jared seemed oddly enthusiastic at the idea.

“I, uh, no. I’d, umm, very much like to go home?”

“Oh. I’m afraid I can’t do that, sorry. Virgin trap and all.” Jared shrugged and didn’t look contrite in the least.

“I’m not a virgin!”

Jared laughed again, and Jensen sorely regretted going for a blind stab instead of opening his eyes and aiming for the man’s, dragon’s neck.

“Jensen, please. A little groping and coming with the pretty girls in the village does not a deflowering make. I’ve no doubt that you’re very talented with your fingers if the jealousy of the local boys is any indication, but you have most certainly not lost your innocence.”

“I have too!” Jensen growled in his deepest voice. Damned dragon, he knew how everything worked just fine. Just because he didn’t want to be bringing home illegitimate children and be forced into a marriage didn’t mean that he didn’t know what was what.

“Have not. Trust me on this, if there were unicorns around, they’d be pissed at me right now. Prissy little buggers, they’re damned hypocrites. Horniest things on four legs, but they just wander around with their shiny white coats like they don’t know where all the baby unicorns keep coming from. You know where they come from? Coming! That’s where. Their pious little stallions get all excited and…”

“STOP! I beg you, just… I don’t want to know, okay?”

Jared shrugged again, “Sure. Not like I want to talk about them. I’d rather talk about you.”

“Right, well, uh. Look, I don’t want to die.”

“Good, I don’t want you to die either.”

“Okay, well how about I just don’t mention this to anyone? The turning into a man thing is pretty weird, so the townsfolk wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

Jared looked insulted. “I can’t part with my treasure like that!”

“No, no! I don’t want your treasure! I’ll give you the earring free and clear. You can put it, uh, in the junk pile? I don’t think it’s worth a whole lot.”

“Jensen, Jensen. Beautiful, wonderful, very stupid man,” Jared started purring as his eyes started twinkling again.

“Jared?”

“I’m not down here hunting your family jewels, boy. Not the kind made of stone anyway.”

Jensen swallowed with a dry click. “You’re not?”

“My favorite color is green, and I’ve longed for a strong rider to carry with me.”

“No.”

“No? You don’t mean that.”

“I do. I emphatically do.”

“Let me clarify, riders never mean that, not truly. The bitch and moan and might try to kill us, but they never, ever not feel a pull to the dragon that owns them. They are our most prized possessions, and a dragon is not parted easily from its treasure.”

Jensen stared at him for a moment before lunging towards the side. He half expected Jared’s hands to tighten and snap his neck, but they let go, and he stumbled around the dragon as he ran towards his freedom.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jensen woke up in a humongous four poster canopy bed with a cat curled up on his chest.

It was clear that it wasn’t his room because he didn’t own a four poster bed. He owned a cot with a grey down comforter that was white when he was given it on his sixteenth birthday. His father had deemed some of his apprentice work good enough to take to market in one of the larger cities and had bartered them for the warm covering that would chase off the winter chill.

If Jensen wasn’t very much mistaken, he was actually sleeping on silk sheets. He couldn’t be completely certain having only ever touched the material on rare occasions that bolts of the stuff arrived with peddlers. They always had weaving or dying flaws in them that made them practically useless for any large projects, but the well made parts of them had always proved to be a treat to his fingertips.

“You are a very fast runner.” Jared’s voice was lazy and content sounding.

“How did I get here?” Jensen asked, steadfastly staring at the fabric of the canopy and not in Jared’s direction.

“Why do you keep asking stupid questions when you are not a stupid man? I brought you here, of course.”

“I got away from you.”

Jared snorted and a gust of warm air blew over Jensen ruffling the free bits of the drawn back curtains around the bed.

Jensen sat upright and turned to look.

Jared’s bulk was curled up next to the bed, his snout resting on what looked like a footstool. His scales ran from a bright blue through greens to a dark brown as they ran from the line of his spine to the sides.

“What are you doing?” Jensen squeaked.

“Looking at my treasure, what else am I supposed to be doing?” Jared sounded like he was speaking, though there was no echo in the room, and his giant snout didn’t move at all.

“You’re in my head!” Jensen said as he felt blood drain from his face and horror take its place.

“Don’t be silly. I’m talking in your head. I’m not a mind reader. If I was, I’d figure out a way to console you into your new station.”

“I liked my old station just fine.”

“Which is why you were taking a walk on my mountain in the middle of a snow storm,” Jared’s mind voice conveyed his sarcasm very clearly.

“It’s the village’s mountain. You stole it just like you steal our cattle! Just like you stole me!”

“My mountain, my cattle, my rider. It’s not my fault that humans can’t ever be decent neighbors. If they want their livestock so badly, they should keep their fences and pens in better condition.”

“I’m not yours.” Jensen growled.

Jared’s wings unfurled a bit at his pronouncement before they curled back next to his body.

“You have a lovely voice.”

“I have a… You’re crazy! I’m trapped with a crazy dragon.” Jensen muttered as he slipped out from under the covers of the bed. He was relieved to see that he was covered, even though he was fairly certain he didn’t own anything near as fine as the sheer, ivory dressing shirt he was in.

A heavily gilded mirror reflected his image back at him. He could see the shadow of his nipples where the material pulled at his chest, and his manhood stood in stark contrast to the darker color of his pubic hair. He wondered that the dragon had bothered to dress him in anything at all.

“You’re very beautiful.” Jared told him, admiration plain in his tone.

“Do the lady dragons know that you’ve got a thing for a whole other species?” Jensen said with as much disgust as he could manage.

The dragon’s massive shoulders raised then lowered themselves, shaking gently as puffs of warm arm disturbed the room. “Females lay eggs, we fertilize them. It is a transaction. Riders are for more pleasurable pursuits. I very much doubt any female or male would care to share their bed with me. We don’t like others in our treasure.”

“Great, wonderful. Not only do you have a thing for humans, but you’re a terrible father giving no more thought to the dragons you spawn than a baker thinks of his bread.”

“No worse than your own, leaving my rider to shiver alone on the countryside without proper covering!”

“Okay, enough! I. Am. Not. Riding. Anything. Of. Yours.” Jensen snapped out, stalking towards Jared angrily, so caught up in his ire that he forgot that there wasn’t actually anything he could do to harm the beast.

“Don’t be absurd. You’re my rider. It is your purpose to ride. Then, when you have ridden enough, we will bring home an egg, and you will care for it until it can find its own mountainside.”

“Great a whore and a nanny, just what I always aspired to be.”

“You’ll not speak of yourself that way! My rider, my treasure. There is no tarnish on you.”

“I’ve got a whole town that disagrees with you on all of your points. You’ll forgive me if I don’t take the word of a dragon over my own people.”

“Stupid humans with little minds and littler weapons,” Jared snorted dismissively. “They think that they can send their knights up to stab me in the heart and slay me. Their opinion of you only shows me how dull their brains are. Filled with garbage and not even caring to research how to kill their prey.”

“And how would one kill you if not by your heart?”

“You think me foolish enough to tell you when you’re angry with me? No, little one. I’ll tell you when it is time and not before.”

Jensen kicked him for that. It hurt his foot.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The lair itself wasn’t actually that bad. It was covered in fascinating objects and had a good deal more textiles than what Jensen ever expected a dragon to have. People always said that dragons stole gold and virgins, but there was quite a bit more loot than just gold, and the only virgin that Jensen had seen in his months of captivity was himself.

Not that he was a virgin, because he wasn’t.

Jared brought him a pair of dogs to keep him company, then promptly stole their affections by feeding them all manner of choice cuts of meat instead of table scraps like any self-respecting human would give.

The dogs liked to chase the cats, which amused Jensen somewhat as Jared was very fond of his mice-catching cats. Apparently dragon ears couldn’t stand the sound of rodents messing about in their treasure and couldn’t change their form into something small enough to give proper chase.

Jensen spent two weeks reading all of the magic books in the lair trying to find a way to turn himself into a mouse before he declared the idea useless.

The series of caves that made up the lair had several scenic overlooks that he used to survey the countryside. From some he could see the village, from others the great forest the bordered it and from yet others the sea that the city sat against.

Jared often flew around his lair, grumbling and trumpeting his presence to the village below, taunting the men into giving him chase. He would preen afterwards looking at Jensen as he expected such displays to bring favor or amusement.

Of course, taunting the villagers just spread rumors of the dragon which attracted more men seeking fame for slaying the monster. When the spring snows melted away and summer started to take its place, Jensen saw more than one knight travel up the hillside and run back down again, blackened and screaming in terror.

Sometimes Jared let them ride their horse back to town, sometimes he brought the horse to Jensen.

There was, it turned out, an entire stable and farmyard carved out in a small plateau off one of the cave openings. Jared didn’t like horse meat, and had a large collection of steeds and not a few pigs, goats and sheep.

“I can’t always be counting on lazy farmers, you know.” He had told Jensen with a self satisfied grin when Jensen discovered the spot.

The small farm that Jared meticulously tended gave them food, but the dragon would sometimes fly off in the morning and return by the evening with different fruits and meats from far off places that Jensen assumed he on occasion terrorized for their treats. The candies Jared brought back were always fresh, and he would pick through them carefully, choosing one, then a different one before finally giving his selection to Jensen.

He would watch until Jensen tried at least one, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth the whole time. If Jensen declared it good, Jared would positively beam at him before scooping up the remaining candies with his enormous hand and digging into his own stash. If Jensen were to say it was bad, which he did only once and only because he didn’t want Jared to be pleased, Jared would bite at his lips some more and very slowly select another candy from his own pile to give.

Jensen didn’t lie about the candy quality after that. It wasn’t as if he ever had the chance to have such sweets in his village, and it wasn’t worth seeing the dragon agonize over how to part with his obviously coveted food.

The clothing that Jared gave him was all meticulously sized to fit Jensen’s frame. There were all manner of silks and wools and colors. Each article was soft to the skin and tailored to highlight something of his features. After Jensen walked around with a sheet wrapped around him for two whole days, Jared relented on not giving him sheer things to wear, thought the dragon protested mightily about it.

“You should not be ashamed of being such a beauty. Hiding such fineness away is a crime.” He would mutter.

Jensen would spit and sputter in fury at such comments, but Jared always seemed amused more than offended. He stood firm in his belief that Jensen should parade around naked on occasion to show off what a well proportioned man he was. The caves were perfectly warmed by some magic of Jared’s, so by his dragon reasoning, there was certainly no chance that Jensen should catch a chill.

All the jewels that Jared tried to give him were thrown viciously and emphatically back until the creature quit trying to adorn him with his trappings.

Jared wore Jensen’s mother’s earring in his left ear. He called it a sign of his fidelity. Jensen told him he was a filthy, vile creature, but when Jared went to take it out, Jensen stayed his hand. He figured that the dragon may as well keep it as not.

On the days that Jared would fly away, Jensen would run through the lair, searching out possible exits from the caverns. Escape would be difficult for it was a long way down the mountainside, and Jared never shared how long it was that he planned on being gone. A day trip would give Jensen a good lead. One of Jared’s shorter ‘hunting’ trips, as he called scouring the hillsides for wayward livestock, would be much shorter. Jensen was sure to be caught.

He never once thought of trying to leave while Jared fought with a knight. When the hunters used to come back defeated, Jensen would sometimes wonder about their claims of being close to conquering the evil lizard that had ensconced itself on the hillside. Now that he lived near the fights, he knew that they only got as close as Jared wanted them to get. If he were to run, Jared would cut the fight short and give chase, and truly Jensen would hate to interrupt a good schooling.

A love of the dragon hunters had never grown in Jensen’s heart. They were all too obsessed about the dragon and not of the people for Jensen’s tastes.

Jared was oddly more lenient in his opinion of the men who sought to end his life. He would weigh each one’s merits, beat them soundly, and then recount the entire fight to Jensen that night over food, wine and a completely unnecessary fire.

A knight’s “success” depended on how bored Jared was when they came to fight and how long he found them amusing for.

The ones with sharp tongues always received the worst beatings. Jared went easy on the fools who fancied themselves saving society and fair maidens. Those that snarled about Jared’s treasure or how evil he was would be the ones running away terrified of the fire breathing creature, jibbering like insane men about two heads and eyes dripping green oil.

What they saw was dragon magic. It had to be for Jensen had seen Jared in both his forms, and far too often naked in the human one, for him to not know what the creature looked like. If Jensen were to hazard a guess, the power had to come from the eyes, for there were no words chanted or herbs being burned.

Sometimes Jared would stare at him with those changing dragon eyes, and Jensen would feel almost entranced, he’d weave and waver and his cock would sometimes swell up big and firm against his breeches.

Oddly enough, Jared would always look proud when Jensen shook off the feeling. It was an enchantment, that Jensen was sure of, he just didn’t know why Jared would want him to get out of it. After all, the dragon made no secret of what exactly he wanted Jensen to start riding.

One day, near the beginning of autumn, Jensen found the exit. Five days later there was a thunderstorm.

Jensen spent the first hour of it putting away the animals and tightening down the doors that Jared had put up in the lair. The place was his home even if it wasn’t his by choice, and he had no desire to live in it while it moldered.

Jared had gone out flying before the storm started, and Jensen waited by his preferred landing for him so that he could finish securing the lair. Jared was coming down out of the sky when a bolt of lightning hit his left wing. He screamed out in pain, and crashed down on the rocks just outside the window.

He wasn’t dead, that much Jensen could tell. Jared had come back from wrangling with the knights with much worse damage than what he had now, but Jared wing was injured. It would take him a while to twist around to his feet and crawl back into his lair.

Once he was back inside, he wasn’t going to be flying anywhere for a long while.

The horses were stamping and nervous. They’d grown soft only being ridden on proven trails and never in inclement weather. They would be no good as a steed in such a situation. Even if they were to behave, it was doubtful if they were surefooted enough to give chase to anything.

All Jared would have was the ability to run, and even that movement would be hindered by the pain of his injury.

Jensen didn’t think too long about it. He slammed the door shut and bolted it. He ran to his room and slid his feet into the boots his father had made for him. He struggled into his old tunic and breeches even though the seams protested at the extra muscle that he had put on over the months that he’d been with Jared.

The only thing of Jared’s that he took was a light leather cloak. He figured it was good enough payment for the earring that Jared took.

The trip down the mountainside was treacherous. Water running fast over loose soil and rock made footholds slippery, and a lack of trail meant that Jensen could plunge to his death at any moment, but he kept going.

A wailing scream rent through the air that had nothing to do with the weather, and Jensen knew that Jared had finally made it into his lair and confirmed Jensen’s absence from it. It was a pitiful sound, heartbroken and lonely.

Something inside of Jensen twisted at the knowledge, but he forced his feet forward. He’d not be swayed by the sound of a creature like that. He couldn’t be. If he took one step back, he’d be flying back up the mountain to Jared’s side, and what would that make him?

His legs were aching by the time that he arrived in the village. The houses were shut up tight against the storm, but from what he could see, it appeared that little had changed over the months.

Numbly, he stumbled to his parent’s house, pounding on the door though it had to be far past the time that polite company would come knocking.

His father looked ten years older when he answered the door, angry with sleep crusted eyes.

“Jensen?”

“Father,” Jensen whispered.

“My boy! My boy,” Jensen’s father wrapped his arms around him, clasping him to his chest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Being the town hero was decidedly not as exciting an experience as tale tellers told it to be. It actually was rather tedious. There were only so many ways that Jensen could avoid the truth and still tell people that Jared had in fact not used him for fire breathing target practice.

He’d die before he told anybody that Jared had wanted him for conjugal purposes.

Still, he had to tell them something, so he spun a yarn about soothing the savage beast with his voice. It wasn’t a complete lie, Jared had often waxed lyrical about Jensen’s voice and often begged him to sing for him.

That Jared often tried to steal kisses after songs was best left unsaid. After all, how would a dragon steal kisses with a snout like that?

The leather working trade was easy enough to get back into. More and more hunters came looking to add Jared to their list of kills, and they needed new leather goods to go with whatever it was that the blacksmith provided to them.

Jared had often given Jensen new leathers to work his craft upon, so he was hardly out of practice even if he was a bit more decorative than what his father’s shop usually made. Jared had liked pretty things and would withhold new materials until whatever Jensen made him was pretty enough to be determined treasure in the dragon’s eyes.

Jensen had made him a fair amount of leather nooses to begin with hoping that the dragon would get the hint to go hang himself.

On foggy days, Jared would fly over the city wailing and the townsfolk would shiver as the sound echoed on the cobblestone streets.

Jared never flew when it was sunny.

Fall turned into winter, and Jensen made himself a new cape, dying it green despite the bleaching and the cost of the dye he had to use to get it to the right shade of emerald. That it matched the stone that Jared still had was pure coincidence as far as Jensen was concerned. He liked green. He wouldn’t give it up just because it was Jared’s favored color as well.

Jensen’s friends tried to apologize to him, but he waved them off with a smile. It truly wasn’t their fault. If Jared was to be believed, he would’ve gone after and caught Jensen eventually anyway.

In the dead of winter only the most dedicated of knights came to town to plot their dragon hunts. The others would somehow lose their valor when the winter winds picked up and the sun no longer shone for long periods of time.

The orders of the town became easy to craft in the short daylight hours, so often he and his father closed the shop early. One such day, they walked through the snow to have a pint at the tavern and share the fireplace with some of the knights who stayed around aggrandizing their adventures.

The tavern was suspiciously busy when they entered, the room abuzz with the sounds of bartering and laughter. Jensen’s mother and two of the neighbor’s wives were over in a corner, and Jensen could practically see the moment that his father decided to order a glass instead of a pint.

“I’ll be making something fancy for the peddler man no doubt. Best to not indulge too heavily, or I’ll be carving skulls into my tool work come the morning, wishing myself dead from the headache.”

Jensen clapped his father on the back consolingly. “You never know. Maybe the peddler likes skulls; then you could have as many pints as you wish.”

“Son, peddler men never like skulls. Trust me on that one.” His father said as he made his way towards his wife.

Jensen made to follow so he could see what mother was haggling over when a rough hacking noise caught his attention. It wasn’t uncommon to hear during the time of year that it was. It was doubly normal in the tavern where old drunkards congregated and travelers tried to chase away the chill of the road.

Still, he changed his stride and moved towards the corner where the noise emanated from. For as crowded as the room was, there was only one figure in the corner.

Familiar glittering eyes looked back at him from the shadows.

He was tempted to back away, to shout, to run, but he kept moving forward when the wet, rough noise most definitely came from Jared.

“What are you doing here?” Jensen hissed quietly.

“Trading,” Jared said with a dismissive wave of his hand.

Jensen looked pointedly around them. “I doubt that.”

Jared hacked in response.

“You sound horrible.” Jensen said after a few moments of silence.

“Look worse.” Jared coughed out with his customary shrug.

“You should…”

“I should what? See a physician? Your sense of humor has not improved, little rider.”

Jensen ignored the name and leaned forward, trying to get a better view of the dragon huddled in the corner. “You shouldn’t be here. You should be at your lair, resting.”

“What do you care of Jared? Of your prison keeper? Hmm? I need to trade.”

“For what? How? Why?”

“For treasure, it is how humans get it, is it not? Trade treasure for treasure. It is the human way, so I use the human way.”

“You’re not trading. You’re coughing a lung up in a shady corner. Those people over there are trading. What are you going to do, mug them on their way out for their trinkets? Demand tribute in exchange for not spitting pieces of your lungs at them?”

“My lungs are fine.”

Jensen didn’t resist the urge to rolls his eyes. “They sound it. How did you even get down here?”

“Took a wagon and two horses like any good peddler would,” Jared stated matter of factly.

“You hitched a ride with the peddler?”

“I borrowed the peddler. No human would trade with me even if I were hale and hearty. Too big, too imposing. They might hire me to kill me, but that’s a losing proposition. I have no desire to give up my mountain, and I can’t get a reward without faking my death.”

“So you threatened the peddler? He’s your new rider?” Jensen cast a glance over at the crowd, trying to spy the man that Jared had brought with him.

“Jealous?” Jared asked, his voice actually perking up at the question.

Jensen’s ears burned with a blush at the question. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Jared huffed out a breath that turned into another cough. “Doesn’t matter,” he croaked. “He is a rider, yes. My sister’s.”

“And you needed him to trade?”

“It was his profession before. He is good at it, and he enjoys it. He is not burdened.”

“That wasn’t what I asked.”

“I already told you what you asked. I explained. I cannot help that you choose to not hear me.” Jared grumbled.

“I’m having trouble with the concept of you trading your treasure instead of just… taking it?”

“Do I look like I can just fly in and take, little Jensen?”

“I wouldn’t know. I can’t see you because you’re hiding in a corner.”

“As it should be. You don’t need to see me. You didn’t care to look before.”

“You are very aggravating.”

“Then you don’t need to speak with me any longer. Go and leave me with what little treasure I have left.”

Jensen opened his mouth to retort when his father came up.

“Jensen, what are you doing over here? Lands, you found seats in this madhouse? I should’ve let you become woodsman like you wanted when you were younger. You’ve certainly got the knack for finding things.”

Jared hissed, but it came out garbled and pathetic.

Jensen’s father froze, and Jensen hurried to speak, “The gentleman in the corner is having a bout of illness. The weather, you know.”

His father unfrozen and shook himself. “Well, no need to be unsociable. Buy the man something strong, Jensen. I’ve battled off my share of illness, and I’ll not leave a poor man alone without something to warm his bones at least. Go now. Get yourself another ale while you’re up there too. I’ll just keep yours company while you go.”

Jensen stalled, but his father none too gently shoved him in the direction of the barkeeper. Jared’s rusty chuckle followed him.

When he returned, his father had pulled out chairs from the table. Jared had sunken farther back into the darkness, but that hadn’t stopped his father from being a sociable gadfly talking all about leather prices and the lack of civilization in these parts that was causing him to lose his touch with book bindings.

Jensen sat his pint down on the table, but reached a hand out towards Jared with the heated grog that he’d had the bar keeper make. The hands that reached out of the shadows to grasp at the mug were pale and almost skeletal.

Thin though they were, Jared’s hands were still huge, and they wrapped around both the mug and Jensen’s hand as they took possession of the drink. His fingertips slid over Jensen’s skin as Jared slowly pulled the mug to himself, and Jensen wasn’t under any delusion that Jared was making the contact last as long as possible.

“So what are you here for?” Jensen’s father asked Jared.

“He’s here to trade. The peddler works for him.” Jensen cut in quickly.

“Ah, so he’s here to make me a poor man. I don’t suppose that I could entice you to leave quickly? I warn you that I haven’t much to offer.” Jensen’s father joked with good mirth.

Jensen held his breath at the question. There was something of his father’s that Jared would very much like.

“We all have our treasures. Some are undervalued to those who possess them. They do not realize what it is they hold in their hands.” Jared rasped softly.

“A philosopher as well as a business man, well now there is a welcome change from the riffraff that come through this town, wouldn’t you say, Jensen? Dragon hunters out to get scales, bah, the lot of them are as worthless as a milk farmer raising steers. I’ve lost count of the number of them trying to put down payments on my tanning services for when they catch that beast on the mountain. He’s too crafty for them, and I tell them so, but they never listen.”

“Yes, your son said as much.”

Jensen’s father beamed at the words. “Really? Jensen’s a smart boy. Spent some time with the dragon himself, you know. Got lost in the old beast’s lair and it took him months to get away. He tells those who’ll listen to leave the creature alone, but they pay him no heed. They’re all terrified of the dragon, but truth be told, if Jensen hadn’t been the fool that listened to his friends, he’d never have been taken in the first place.”

“FATHER!” Jensen protested loudly to cover the hiss that he knew Jared would make. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t have objected to his father talking about him that to a stranger anyway, but whatever his feelings on the subject, Jared’s were bound to be worse and more irrational.

Unfortunately, Jared’s hissing set off another coughing fit. When it didn’t stop, Jensen leaned into the shadows to help before his father could. Jared jerked away from him, but there was only so far that he could move.

Helplessly, Jensen patted Jared’s back and prayed that excessive coughing didn’t cause dragons to change forms.

“You need me to fetch the physician? He’s got some good salves that’ll ease your lungs.” Jensen’s father offered.

“No. It’s not, not my lungs.” Jared wheezed.

“You sure about that?”

“It’s my heart.” Jared answered him softly.

Jensen looked at his father even as his hand continued to rub at Jared’s back. He saw the ease and concern die out of his father’s eyes to be replaced with pity. “You sure about that, son?”

Jared nodded. “Yes.”

“I guess I shouldn’t be such a cheap bastard then,” was all Jensen’s father said in response.

“Treasure is treasure. I’ll not be around much longer to enjoy yours.”

“Mores the pity, I like a man I can debate with.”

“Your wife is looking for you. You should go see what of mine she wants. Go, see to her. Your son will keep me company.” Jared said ignoring his father’s sympathy.

“She can wait.”

“Go, I’m only a stranger. She is your wife. I’ll live for you to say your farewells, probably quite a few days beyond that.”

Jensen watched his father leave before speaking, “Jared…”

“Don’t feel pity, little rider. I couldn’t bear it.”

“Who got to you? I heard of no hunter boasting of even making a dent in your scales.”

“As if they could,” Jared wheezed. “My scales are the pride of my family. There have been none like mine for generations.”

“Poison?”

“Don’t worry yourself about it. I’ll be dead soon, gone and no longer bothering you. You feel bad for the dying animal, it is fine. Makes you a good man, not sick and crazy.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Why must you be so frustrating to me? You do not want me. You tell me that you are not mine, not my treasure to hoard and hold dear. You will not touch me where it will feel good. You call me bad and evil, yet you do not wish me to die.”

“I don’t wish anybody to die.”

“Is that who I am to you? Just anybody? You are not anybody to me. I do not trade like a human for anybody. I do not seek my treasure out night after night in this little town and then leave without him because you are just anybody. I do not leave tasty cattle alone on my mountain so that just anybody’s father can have leather for trading.”

“You wouldn’t eat those cattle anyway. I’ve seen your barns.”

“I might have.” Jared said with a frown. “They are very tasty. I am very hungry, and I have no rider to sing me songs anymore.”

“And what does singing have to do with your belly?”

“I am hungry when I am bored. It is the same with humans, is it not?”

“Oh, you poor dear,” Jensen’s mother cooed as she hurried over to the table interrupting what was sure to be a very awkward moment. “You and your cousin must stay at our house tonight. The rooms here are drafty and no place for an ailing man.”

“Mother, I’m certain that Jared would be…”

“Delighted by your offer, but I must insist on trading you something for the hospitality. I have the most beautiful glass necklace that you could break apart and use for your beadwork.” Jared said smoothly, his eyes starting to glitter again.

“Oh, I’m certain I couldn’t take that sort of payment.” Her eyes darted to Jensen’s face when she talked.

“It is fine. I would prefer to keep my coins, and you have need of pretty things. All women do.”

“Jensen, tell him he doesn’t need to pay.”

“Let him have his pride, Mother.” Jensen ground out through his teeth.

His mother threw her hands up in the air and glared daggers at her son. “You’re impossible.”

Confused, Jensen watched her stalk away. Jared started laughing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The peddler hated Jensen’s entrails. His accusing eyes followed Jensen everywhere, and whenever Jensen caught his gaze the man would either glare, or if Jared was nearby, he would look pointedly in the dragon’s direction.

Jensen’s mother wasn’t much better, and his only consolation was that his father looked just as confused as Jensen felt.

He at least understood why Jared’s brother-in-law seemed to hate him. He had no idea what his mother was mad at him about.

She was angry enough to give Jared his room though.

Not that Jensen minded that so much. The dragon might have abducted him, but his skin was barely two shades darker than the snow that blanketed the ground. He’d lost weight, and his slanted eyes were sunken back into his head.

His coughing sometimes produced blood, and if Jensen hadn’t known that Jared was a dragon, he would’ve bet that the man would be a corpse by morning.

Once the household was settled for the night, Jensen crept into his room. Jared was twisted up in the covers, mouthing gently at Jensen’s pillow most definitely not asleep.

“I didn’t know you liked goose feathers all that much.” Jensen commented.

“I can taste you on it.”

“Great. Jared you need to not be a crazy dragon in my bedroom.”

“Smells like you,” Jared mumbled as he twisted in the bed again.

“Are you listening to me?”

“Of course, I always listen to my rider. He’s got a beautiful voice. A treasure to hold and hoard.”

“Are you delirious? Do you need me to go get, uh, peddler guy?” Jensen felt vaguely bad for not asking the man’s name earlier.

“No, stay. Stay with me like before, please?”

“Jared…”

“Please? Just for tonight? I’ll even get on the floor, and you can have the bed.”

Jensen placed a hand on Jared’s forehead. He seemed warm, but he was a dragon. How could Jensen tell if it was because of illness?

Jared pushed into his touch, his eyes glossy when he opened them to stare at Jensen.

“You’re sick.”

“I know. I tried so hard to not be for you. I left you alone in the village, but you didn’t come back to see me, not even when I called and called for you. You took my treasure from me. Why?”

“No. Jared, you’re ill. You’ve got a fever.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Dragons don’t get fevers. Stay with me. Make me feel better.”

“You need a doctor, possibly a horse doctor.” Jensen argued.

“I need my heart back.” Jared snapped tiredly.

“What?”

“Nothing, forget it. It’s the ramblings of a crazy dragon.”

“No, Jared, you tell me.”

“It doesn’t matter. I am not what you want, and I cannot make you want me. Not anymore. At first, I could have. I should have. Then I would have my rider astride me. He would care for me, and I could share my bounty with him and shower him in trinkets, but I was greedy. Greedy and selfish, and it is the downfall of dragons to reach for too much.”

Jensen did his best to ignore Jared’s sadness, instead focusing on the immediate problem. “Tell me how to fix you.”

“No.”

“That’s it, just no?”

“That is it. It is done. No more dragon on the mountain, no more dragon hunters to bother your town. You should be happy.”

“You told me that you’d tell me a secret.” Jensen blurted out.

“What?”

“When we first met, you said that you’d tell me a secret, but you never did.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I did no such thing. I was busy keeping you from hurting yourself before I could get you back to my lair.” Jared denied dismissively.

“You did so. I threatened to gouge your eyes out, and you said that you’d tell me a secret, but you never did. So I want to hear it. It’d be the decent thing to do before you expire on my bed.”

“And you think me a decent sort of dragon all of a sudden?”

Jared had Jensen there because while he didn’t actually think of Jared as that great of a human, he had the feeling that he was maybe a better sort of dragon, but he didn’t exactly have a frame of reference to judge his opinion on. There were not that many dragons that he had been given the opportunity to meet.

Still, Jensen was in a trade, he knew how to barter. “I’ll give you a treasure for it.”

“More of your mother’s jewelry?” Jared scoffed.

“A kiss.”

That gained Jared’s attention. “A kiss?”

“A kiss.” Jensen confirmed.

“Where?”

“What?”

“Where would the kiss go?” Jared clarified.

“Where would any kiss go?”

Jared frowned and crossed his arms. “Human mothers kiss their children on the forehead. Human suitors kiss their sweetheart’s hands. Flirty human girls kiss each other on the cheeks.”

“Well, flirty human boys kiss on the lips, so I imagine that’s where flirty boy dragons would like their kisses to be as well?”

“Kisses?”

“Jared, one kiss.”

“Fine.” Jared said quickly motioning Jensen closer.

“And you’ll tell me the secret?” Jensen asked as he sat on the edge of his own bed to lean over the dragon.

“Yes, yes. Dragon secrets all out for display. My kiss, little rider.” Jared demanded.

Jensen swallowed and closed his eyes. He’d kissed the village girls before, and not just on their hands either, but Jared was much larger. Jared had seen him naked. Jared had stared openly at him with lustful intent.

He didn’t have to go through with the kiss. Not knowing the secret wasn’t going to kill him, but he couldn’t not go through with the bargain. His twice damn stubborn pride wouldn’t let him.

He brushed his lips against Jared’s gently, sweetly even. It was the dragon’s large hand that slid up to cup the back of his head and hold it still. It was Jared’s tongue that slid into Jensen’s mouth to stroke gently at his tongue, and it was Jared’s teeth that nipped at his bottom lip as their mouths parted company.

“I like your kisses.” Jared whispered. “They are very good, if brief.”

“Yeah,” Jensen exhaled a little dazedly.

Jared leaned up to snatch another kiss, but Jensen pulled away quickly.

“One kiss was the deal.” He reminded him.

“What if I have more secrets I want to tell?”

“Then we’ll renegotiate.”

“I do not like human business.” Jared groused.

“My secret, giant dragon.” Jensen said firmly.

“Mmm, not much of a secret. I have dragon eyes as all dragons do. The only one who can learn to withstand them is a rider, so the only one who can take them away is a rider. You see them glitter, other humans would not. They look at my eyes, and they see what I want them to, feel what I want them to feel. For a short while anyway, but it is usually long enough.”

“You could have hypnotized me, in the beginning.”

“I did hypnotize you in the beginning. I didn’t want to hurt you getting you back to the lair. My mistake was not making you love me.”

“You can do that?”

“Could do that, yes. You’d only feel it for a small time period, but humans have a tendency to foster feelings. It’s likely you would never have known that you didn’t actually fall in love with me. I should have done it. You and I both would have been very happy.”

Jensen frowned. “Why didn’t you?”

“Because it’s better for the rider to choose to be the dragon’s treasure, they are more settled. They have troubles sometimes bonding with the dragonlings if their love is not their own. And you were so beautiful, so perfect for me that I couldn’t imagine you not wanting to be mine. I supposed that I wished you to love me for me and not because of me.”

“You were greedy for love?”

“It is a fault of mine. I could tell you more for another kiss?”

“Weren’t you just talking about greed being your downfall?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know why your mother is angry with you?”

“You know why?”

“Mmmm, for two kisses I’ll tell you a story about it.”

“One kiss.”

“One kiss and you lay beside me while I tell the story.”

“Fine.” Jensen said before swooping in and mashing their lips together. The kiss was brief and furious, but Jensen pulled away before Jared could take it deeper.

“Talk,” he commanded as he settled down next to the dragon, keeping his body carefully on top of the covers.

“Once upon a time…”

“Jared.”

The dragon glared at him. “As I was saying, once upon a time there was a beautiful woman engaged to be married to the most wondrous of men. It had been arranged in their cradles. The man was a wealthy textile trader, and the woman the daughter of a meat merchant. One spring day, the man traveled into the mountains to purchase wool from a sheep farmer who was said to have the finest of lambswool.”

“There was a storm and the merchant hid out in a cave. It was the lair of a beautiful dragoness whose scales were yellow as the sunshine and orange as burning fires.”

Jensen snorted in amusement.

“Don’t interrupt,” Jared admonished him. “She was very, very pretty. A sight to behold and the merchant became smitten with her, commenting on her outstanding scales and bounty of silk cloth in her lair.”

“He rode her very l…”

“I’m sure I don’t need to hear about their carnal bliss.” Jensen interrupted with a stern face even though he was forcing down a smirk.

“Anyway, the merchant had to go back to the city to make things well for his family. There was much fighting and crying as he said his farewells and gave away his business, save for a few things for his lady love.”

“To add to her vastly pretty treasure no doubt,” Jensen commented.

Jared shoved at him gently in response. “Hush. It was a very nice treasure, and you should be so lucky as to ever see such loot.”

“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind. Now continue the story.”

“Despite being madly, and not hypnotically madly either, in love with his dragon, the merchant still had tender feelings towards his former betrothed, so he brought her a pair of earrings to ease the pain. They looked like cheap emeralds, but they were really dragon stones from his own beloved’s store of goods. His former fiancée had always been so nice to him that his dragon wanted her to have something special.”

“The lady was beset by anger and feelings of betrayal, but when she heard that the earrings were from the dragoness, she knew that they were truly a thank you gift for keeping such good care of the man’s heart before he came to his beloved. The lady wanted to send something back to show that she understood, but she had nothing but bacon being a poor meat merchant’s daughter.”

“Bacon that the most beautiful dragoness in all the land would surely have devoured and enjoyed,” Jensen pointed out.

“Yes, well, we don’t get cured meat products very often. They’re so time consuming to make. Where was I? Oh, yes. So the lady gave one of the earrings back and kept the other with her always as a reminder that true love really does exist and that arrangements are not always the best method of marriage. Which is why her son did not have a wife to tell him that he shouldn’t be hiding out on cold mountains that belong to fearsome dragons.”

Jensen blinked a few times at the end of Jared’s story before opening his mouth. “So you’re telling me that my Mother’s fiancée ran off with a dragon, and now she’s mad at me for some reason? That makes no sense.”

“Well, technically your mother’s betrothed ran off with my mother, and she’s eternally grateful for that because it enabled her to fall in love with and marry your father.”

“And she’s mad at me because?”

Jared looked up at the ceiling.

“Jared?”

The dragon ignored him.

“I paid for this story.”

“Exactly, you paid for the story, and you got it.”

“But you still haven’t told me why my mother is angry with me, and that was part of the bargain.”

“Give me your hand.”

“No, Jared. No more bargains until you fulfill this one.”

“I’m not asking for a bargain; I’m asking for your hand.”

Jensen swallowed and put his hand in Jared’s grasp. The dragon curled his long fingers around it and tugged against his chest. Pressing down, he held Jensen’s palm against his heart. That he could feel anything at all was disturbing, but the rhythm was all wrong, sick little pulses that would at times slam and then taper off for far longer than was possibly healthy.

“Is that normal?”

“I’m still a living being, Jensen. Does that feel normal?”

“I don’t understand.”

“We need different things than other beings to keep us healthy. We’re mystical and magnificent, but in the end we’re still subject to mortality. Dragons need our lairs and our bounty. We need our caves and mountains and glittering things to make us happy. I have a wonderful mountain and aside from my very annoying neighbors, it is almost ideal.”

“But?”

“But no dragon’s treasure is complete without its rider. They’re usually amongst the strongest of the humans. We need them to be that way so that we can, copulate with them often. Strong humans tend to be warriors so we… kidnap virgins. It’s hard to explain, really. It’s just very, very easy to lure them in, and they’re usually so very entertaining to dress up and give presents to.”

“So it’s just a great big party for the traumatized virgin?”

“Well, no. But it’s not like we rape them or anything. We don’t have much of an interest in the aside from attracting warriors to us, and most times it’s a last resort. Dragon hunters have an annoying habit of showing up even when you’re not doing anything. Virgin stealing is reserved for those dragons who need to attract hunters from farther away.”

“You were setting things on fire and chomping down on livestock. That isn’t doing ‘nothing.’”

“Again, not my fault on the livestock, and I needed to clear some trees off my land. What was I supposed to do? Chop them down by hand? Bite at the trunks? Do you know how painful splinters are when they’re in your mouth?”

Jensen sighed. “Okay fine, virgin abduction is no longer on your to-do list. What about the warriors?”

“Well, they show up, we scare them off with hypnotic visions of terror and a good dose of real flames. Sometimes we let them save the virgin if they appear to be the good sort of human that could use a grateful audience when they get back to the village.”

Jared shifted a bit, edging subtly closer to Jensen. “But sometimes a rider will come. All beautiful and shiny like new gold and jewels. We can’t help but love them, so perfect and wonderful, ours to keep and adore. Of course, they’re usually bent on killing us, so care should be the order of the day. But we’re greedy, and we give our hearts away too quickly in the pursuit of our riders. You do that to a warrior bent on your destruction and, well,” Jared pulled his tunic down and exposed his chest. It was a horrible mixture of purples and blues and greens all mixed with the color of dried blood just below the surface of his skin.

“But I didn’t… I’m not trying to kill you.”

“As evidenced by the fact that I’m not actually dead, but you can’t take away my most important possession and expect my heart not to feel the consequences.”

“I’m not your possession.”

“But you are. You are my rider, and I need you. I need you to sit astride me while I fly, and I need you to wrap your legs around me while I pleasure us.”

Jensen shook his head in denial. “That’s not possible.”

“No? Then tell me I don’t look better now than when you entered this room. Tell me that your kisses haven’t soothed my pain.”

“You’re not human.”

“Please, Jensen. I’ll keep out of the skies. I’ll, I’ll give my treasure away to orphans and let farmers ruin my landscaping with their wayward goats. I’ll stay just like this and open a, a trading post. You won’t ever even know I’ve got scales.”

“That’s not the…”

Jared’s mouth clamped over Jensen’s, cutting off his words. Jensen allowed the kiss for a few seconds before shoving the larger man off.

“Stop.”

“Don’t make your dragon beg.” Jared pleaded.

“I’m fairly certain that you just did, and that is not the point.”

“You’re heartless. Heartless and cruel, tempting me with kisses, what was I supposed to think?”

“I wanted to know what was going on, and you weren’t telling me.”

“And now you can agree that I was right in hiding it from you. “

“If I don’t say yes, then I’ll have killed you.”

Jared glowered. “A fine ending for strong, powerful Jensen then. Slaying the beast of the mountain. You’ll have your pick of fair maidens to finally lose your virtue to.”

“I told you that I’m not a virgin.” Jensen snarled back.

“I can smell it on you, still as intact as the day you left our lair. Make no mistake that I crave it for my own, and if you don’t kill me first, I’ll make life hell for the one who steals my rider’s affection from me.”

“You’re disgusting.” Jensen told him, though it was hard to put any heat behind the words.

“Then I suppose that you’ll have to decide if my being a dragon and craving natural things for me is enough to sign my death warrant. I may not want your pity, Jensen, but I will take it if that is all you offer to me. I will take it and cherish it like the prize that it is.”

“Listen to yourself, that isn’t healthy.”

“I’m a dragon! Quit asking me to be human, I can only go so far. I cannot stop craving you. I cannot quit loving you and desiring your body to be close to mine. I’m yours. Why do you not see this?”

Jensen shook his head and rolled off the bed. “I, I need to think.” He mumbled into the darkness.

Jared said nothing as he fled.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jensen spent a restless night trying to sleep in the pile of blankets that made up his temporary bed. When it was finally light enough to rise, he stumbled from his nest to the small cooking area where his mother would always have them break the fast.

She was waiting for him, no happier than he had left her the night before.

“I do not understand why you left him.” She said without preamble.

Jensen was decidedly not well rested enough to have the conversation she was heading towards, but he didn’t have much choice in the matter. “If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t know it was going to kill him.”

“You know now.”

“Mother, he’s a dragon. He’s not even human!”

“And that makes his life not worth sparing?”

“He abducted me, took me against my will to his lair. He brought this on himself.” Jensen argued.

His mother’s face was sad as she nodded. “I know. It is in Jared’s nature to be impulsive. It is in all their natures if I’m to believe what I’ve been told.”

“Impulsive is one word for it.”

“But that does not mean he doesn’t love you, odd as his love for you may be. And I’m not entirely convinced that you have any great desire to truly be parted from him either.”

“That isn’t true!”

His mother shook her head and kneaded at the dough on her counter. “You haven’t pursued any young ladies since you came back. At first, you said it was the trauma of being gone. Then you gave no excuse, simply settling into your father’s shadow and staring at the mountains.”

“I’ve been busy.”

“My pretty son, too busy to court damsels that have been hanging off his every word since he learned to speak? The boy who was the envy of every man child in the village because they all knew you could steal their sweethearts from them? Don’t speak nonsense to me, Jensen. I’m your mother.”

“He’s not right in the head.”

To Jensen’s surprise, his mother laughed. “No, of that I have no doubt. Dragons are terribly vain and jealous creatures. His mother certainly was besotted enough by her own reflection. Not that I blamed her.”

“Jared didn’t mention that you actually saw his mother.”

“Well, I did. When your father chose to move here, away from our families to a place where he could make his own way instead of being employed to make his uncle’s goods, we did not have much support in the decision. Jared’s mother lived in the caves surrounding our old village, and I took a walk to them one day to get away from all the arguing.”

“Jared said she had, has beautiful scales.”

“I wouldn’t know about that. She kept to herself, chasing wild prey and lighting up the hillsides with fires in her caves. She wasn’t one to be caught out in the sun. You’d only hear her fly when there were clouds or no light to see her by.”

“She was in human form then? When you saw her?”

His mother nodded. “She was, and she had a very squirmy dragon on her lap. Jared was a handful even then. Loud and full of nervous energy – I fear he may have caused some of his mother’s famous yellow scales to turn white with the strain of keeping up with him.”

“You knew who he was when he first came here.” Jensen realized out loud.

“Knew who he was? I sent a letter to let him know where the caves were. It was the agreement I made with his mother. She needed a safe spot for her son to set up a lair when he came of age, and I needed money to help my husband move. I was with child. While your father and I could suffer along with what we had saved, a child would have surely died from the strain and travel. We both wanted our children to live comfortably.”

“You didn’t say anything, not even when I came back.” Jensen tried to keep the accusation out of his tone, but he wasn’t quite successful.

His mother looked at him reproachfully. “You stole my earring and wandered off on your own to see the dragon. Your father and I were worried sick about you. Jared may not have killed you, but when you didn’t come home I was certain that you had broken your fool neck. Then you came home, and told stories that made enough sense for what I knew of dragons. You never mentioned that you were his rider. I saw no reason to share his secrets beyond what you knew.”

“I’m not his anything. He abducted me!”

“Jensen, I love you and would do anything to protect you, but even the town dullard knows better than to go poking around in a dragon’s lair. It’s not entirely his fault you were trapped there.”

“No, Mother, I mean to say that he took me there. I never went up there willingly. I embellished the story a bit.”

His mother sighed and dropped the dough down onto her baking stone. “And you came back home like any good son would, but you want to go back with him.”

“No!”

“Don’t lie to me or yourself. I could not be prouder of you than I am, and you’ve exceeded your father’s expectations, but you didn’t run away from Jared in the tavern. You didn’t call the hunters and betray the dragon in their midst. You talked to him, helped him and touched him. These are not the actions of a man who wishes to be away from another.”

“Why are you arguing with me about this? He isn’t even human. You should be…”

“I should be what? Making this harder on myself? Keeping you from him until he dies, and you live to start regretting your decision? Do you know what happens to riders who slay their dragons Jensen? Nothing. At least not for a while, then they can’t stop thinking about them. They get obsessive and cure their aching with drink.”

“You aren’t seriously suggesting that I take off with him.”

“I’m telling you that a dragon’s treasure doesn’t leave them and they don’t leave it. I want you to be happy, and sooner or later you’ll not be. Not without that dragon that’s laid claim to you.” His mother paused and shook her head. “I am not suggesting. I’m telling you that you’re going to go back with him before it destroys the both of you.”

“But…”

“Jensen, enough. The sun is rising, and you have chores to do.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jared’s health did not improve, though it got no worse. He and his brother-in-law, or cousin as Jensen’s parent knew him, stayed ensconced in Jensen’s family home. Jared barely left Jensen’s bed, and the peddler only left to trade then brought back trinkets and coins from his successful ventures to show the ailing dragon.

Jensen spent most of his time at his father’s shop. The rest of it he spent avoiding Jared, confused as to what he did feel and what he should feel.

Eventually, the Jared announced that he was going to take his leave. Their trading in the city had come to an end. They needed to move on to better areas.

Jensen, of course, knew that meant that they were headed back up the mountain so that Jared could squirrel away his new coins and stare at his shiny new trinkets.

He wondered that Jared even bothered to make the pronouncement at all. Jensen’s father was the only one amongst them that did not know the truth, and he was not a man to pry into another’s business. The story Jared wove was longer than necessary to fool just one man, but then again, Jared seemed to enjoy listening to himself speak.

“At least your cough has gotten better, traveler. I would hate to see you journey in such weather as this with your health being what it was when I first met you,” was Jensen’s father’s remark.

Jensen tried to ignore the three pairs of eyes that focused directly on him when his father finished speaking. He for the most part succeeded. He’d improved at denial it seemed.

He had every intention of letting Jared go back to his mountain alone. He was a creature, a male one at that. His mind was a tangled mess of ideas that just weren’t so.

It wasn’t that Jensen did not believe his mother when she spoke to him about riders and dragons. He just had troubles believing that all she knew was true. The information had most likely come from her former betrothed or the lady dragon that stole him away. People who fancied themselves in love were rarely the best sources of information on anything, and parents would lie through their teeth for their children’s sake.

Jared would at least meet his end comfortably, not hunter picking at his skin or taunting him. Jensen reasoned that being surrounded by his loot and bounty with his cats and dogs curled about him would be as comfortable an end as any man-dragon could ask for. Humans wanted their family about, but Jensen doubted that ever happened for a dragon. Towns were bound to notice a congregation of the creatures no matter how lowly the education level of their people.

The night before Jared was to leave, Jensen stayed late in his father’s shop. His own projects strewn tidily about his workspace and not beyond. Their odd colors and fanciful tooling stood out in contrast to the items that his father wrought.

His father made strong, sturdy things that workmen praised and women rolled their eyes over. Jensen’s own work used to be an exact replica, but it differed greatly now. There was nothing plain in his workings. All of it was made exactingly, and decorated the same way. Different hues and shadings, studs and worthless stones, carvings and burnings making patterns across the most mundane of objects: all of Jensen’s work was made to be kept and valued.

Everything was made as if it had a place in Jared’s lair where it would be oiled when needed and dusted off instead of sitting. Every tiny sparkle of the dragon’s treasure was considered precious and treated as such.

Jensen didn’t belong in his father’s shop any longer.

He couldn’t say what made him do it, but he packed up his workings and carried them back to his parent’s home, slipping them into the back of the ornate wagon that Jared and the peddler were traveling in. Just because he did not belong in this town, that did not mean that he would not belong in another one. He could wait out the winter and grow his inventory of wares. He could set-out to find his own way with humans, but he wasn’t doing that.

The first sound that greeted his ears upon entering the house was Jared’s cough, horrible and strained. There was a quiet fight going on in the kitchen. Jensen’s father insisting he stay another night, Jared saying otherwise. Lying through his dragon snout about going someplace warmer that would ease what time he had left.

Jensen hesitated for a second or two before turning away and avoiding the conversation. Instead he went to his room to pack his things without having to have Jared watch him. There wasn’t much that he wanted to take with him. His family was not poor and needy, but they were never rich either. He had things of sentimental value that he cherished but not so many that he could not carry them all with him.

There were things in his room that he would like but would have to leave behind, but he didn’t think too deeply on that. He wasn’t actually moving all that far away, and if Jared knew what was good for him, he would allow Jensen to contact his mother to arrange for their retrieval.

After all, Jared was well versed on the importance of one’s treasures.

Voices outside the entryway to his room caused Jensen to pause in his packing.

“You’re getting worse,” his mother said. It didn’t take a wise man to know that she was speaking to Jared.

“A few days more, a few days less, it matters not. His room begins to not even smell like him anymore, and I… I wish to not die away from my home. Do not blame him, you must not. I chose so poorly. I thought he was mine, but his heart says otherwise. It is the way with humans and dragons. They think we are not what we are. They think us bad for craving to touch those not of our species.”

“I feel terrible about this.”

“Please do not. I am humbled that you would allow me such honor of having him should he wish to come, I…”

Jensen purposely dropped a book, creating a loud bang. He swore quietly, and scooped the book back up praying that he hadn’t actually damaged the binding.

“Mother, Jared, I thought you were in the kitchen.” He feigned surprise as he came out of his room.

“Jensen, I didn’t hear you come home.” His mother eyed him suspiciously as she probably should.

Jared just stared at Jensen, eyes flicking back and forth as if trying to memorize every freckle and eyelash.

“I came in late; I wanted some reading.” The excuse was pathetic to Jensen’s ears, but he didn’t know if he could handle telling them the truth. If he didn’t say it, he wasn’t committed. Come the morning he could easily walk away from the work that he had in the wagon. Treat it as a parting gift to the dying dragon.

“I see.” His mother said in a tone that she did nothing of the sort.

Jensen moved away quickly to avoid their gazes. He didn’t understand what he was doing. He wasn’t going to try to explain it to them, not if he didn’t have to.

“Jensen.” It was his father’s voice that called to him as he hurried out the door.

“Father.”

“I would hope that you are not planning on running away from home without telling me. Once was enough, my boy.”

“The first time wasn’t exactly planned as such.”

“And this time?”

“I don’t know. I just, I don’t belong here anymore.” Jensen said. Even if he didn’t climb in the wagon and go with Jared come the morning, he will have to leave sometime.

“You are lucky that Jared seems to have an unnatural fondness for you. I don’t believe that his cousin has such warmth. In truth, I find Jared’s attachment hard to believe for how little you talk to him.”

“He is a very different sort or person I think.” Jensen paused and asked, “How did you know I was planning on going with them?”

“I know you, and I saw the wanderlust in your eyes when you came back to us. When you saw Jared in the tavern I knew that I had lost you. If not now, it would be later. At least if you leave with them I’ll know that you’re in a good sort of company.”

Jensen felt a pang of guilt for not correcting some of his father’s assumptions, but there wasn’t anything he could correct without worrying the man. His father might admire the wily dragon that lived in the mountain, but he most likely would not want his son to take up living with him, particularly in the type of relationship that Jared was looking to have.

Jensen swallowed and tried not to think too deeply about what exactly it was that Jared wanted from him. Jared wasn’t human and wasn’t female, yet Jensen’s own body had ached for him in the past. It was something easily ignored when he was focused on getting away, but now that he was a step away from the insanity of going back, he was going to have to face that fact.

“There’s still time.” He told his father, thought he wasn’t sure which of them he was trying to assure.

His father’s incredulous face spoke his thoughts before he opened his mouth to say, “And grass is suddenly going to start growing pink.”

“I haven’t committed. Jared doesn’t even… I’m not certain the invitation is even still open.” Jensen tried not to wince at the outright lie he just spoken.

“Mmmm. You’ll forgive an old man if he says his goodbyes anyway. I’ve no doubt that I’ll have to be stoic for your mother on the morrow. I am proud of you, my son. There are other more hearty travelling companions that you could be going with. There are other ways that a man of such age and promise could go, but it is best to have true companions in life. Men often think themselves better than they are, stronger.”

Jensen’s father hugged him quickly and walked away - most likely to hide the tears that Jensen could see gathering in the corners of his eyes.

It left him with more guilt than anything else. He was lying to his father and following some unknown instinct that had him tied to the dragon of the mountain. It was lunacy of the finest kind. Perhaps it came from his mother for he had no other explanation for why she would encourage him in such aberrant behavior or why he should perform it when he knew it to be madness.

He did not sleep well that night. Twisting and turning and talking the situation through in his mind. Trying to find a way out of the choice was no hard feat. There were reasons a plenty to avoid being near Jared, but his own heart began to ache each time that he contemplated it. To not go would be to sign the dragon’s death sentence, yet sympathy alone should not cause such great distress in him.

Truly the village would be no better or worse for losing their dragon. What Jared stole in livestock, for it was stealing despite Jared’s protests otherwise, was more than made up for in the sale of ale and other goods to the hunters that stalked him. It was not the most reputable of incomes, but it was more lucrative to certain peoples.

Not going with would save Jared from his own desires. Though the dragon seemed quite insistent that craving pleasure from another male not even of his species was normal and right, Jensen worried that perhaps there was just something not right with his mind on the matter. Perhaps they shared lunacy. Perhaps that was why Jared hadn’t razed the town down with fire and demanded tribute like the tales of other dragons that Jensen had heard.

Jared may very well be soft in the head. He could snap at any moment like the crazed beggar that used to roam the streets near the baker’s place. One day he threw himself in front of an oncoming carriage, declaring himself to be a fuzzy duckling that had lost its puddle.

What did Jensen truly know of dragons and their thoughts? What did his mother for that matter? Jared’s lunacy may well be an inherited trait from his mother. Perhaps other dragons were not so addle brained and were more apt to be intimate with their own kind.

Jensen nodded to himself at the point then shook his head. It mattered not whether Jared was typical for a dragon. If he wasn’t then he was a fair match for Jensen as he was most definitely not thinking normal human thoughts.

When his mother rose to start the morning bread, Jensen rolled out of his nest of blankets and crept to his bedroom. Jared was passed out in it, his chest shallowly rising and falling, dark rings under his bewitching eyes.

It felt odd to watch another man’s slumber, but Jensen held no guilt over it. Jared had spent more than his fair share of time watching Jensen without apology, staring at him as if it was a right rather than a liberty.

Quietly, Jensen sneaked the rest of the way into his own room and grabbed the satchel that he had filled the night before. Hefting it over his shoulder, he grabbed a book off the small shelf on the wall. He would need something to read on the trip after all.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jensen sometimes wondered if maybe he hadn’t been born to be a minstrel or perhaps a playwright. He had no other explanation for why he didn’t actually speak to Jared about his plan or even the unwelcoming peddler man. He knew he would be welcome, at least by Jared, but that wasn’t truly the point.

The point was that it was bad manners and at the very least presumptive to just throw your things in the back of another person’s wagon and climb in for the journey. Then again, Jensen reasoned that it was very poor manners to mesmerize a young man barely into his adulthood and abscond with him up to your very ornate lair as well.

It was a sign of his mental state that he was now using Jared’s own brand of twisted logic.

Still, it was amusing at least to see the peddler man haul Jared into the wagon while he glared not only daggers but also all manner of swords and maces at Jensen while he did it. Jared’s sister’s rider, Jensen hoped that there was some sort of shortening of the title that could be done, clearly thought of Jensen as lower than boot scum.

Jensen’s father watched the scene, but didn’t comment beyond a wry smile and a chin point towards the peddler. He clapped Jensen once on the shoulder as a farewell. His father didn’t believe in long goodbyes, prone as he was to tears of unmanly nature.

Jensen turned and gave his father’s shoulder a squeeze in return before turning to his mother and kissing her on the cheek. She looked at him in confusion, but he only smiled back reassuringly before turning and launching himself at the tail of the wagon and hauling himself into its confines.

“Jensen?” Jared croaked as the peddler turned around from the driver’s seat to peer inside the covered space to see what the commotion was.

“It seems you have my things.” Jensen said as he pulled out the book that he had placed inside earlier.

Jared looked panicked for a moment, his eyes flicking to meet the peddler’s clearly asking him a question.

The peddler shook his head ‘no,’ but for the briefest of seconds, he looked amused before turning around and giving the horses the signal to go.

“Wait! Charles!” Jared broke off into a cough, and Jensen patted him gently on the back. “You must stop!” The dragon wheezed out the words, and Jensen very much doubted that Jared could spew smoke let alone fire in his current state.

Charles, as Jensen assumed the peddler’s name was, ignored him and gave the horses another slap of the reins to make them move faster.

Jared looked perturbed and reached out a hand to Jensen, pulling it back before it made contact. “I do not know how that came to be in here. I swear. Perhaps your mother… Or I could have been delusional. Yes, please, Jensen I am sure I did not mean to take your things. It is just our instinct to carry precious things with us.”

“And this book is precious? Jared, the cover is all but worn off and the pages begin to curl.”

“It is yours.” Jared spoke quietly, his eyes turned sad and soft, no glittering in them at all. Jensen did not think that he had enough magic left to sway a flea.

“It is mine.” Jensen agreed easily as he shifted around to sit next to Jared instead of trying to maintain his balance while crouching inside a moving vehicle.

“I do not… You are not upset?”

“Why would I be? I put it here, and I cannot call myself a thief for taking my own possessions. Although, one could call me a trespasser, I suppose.”

Jared’s smile did not surprise Jensen. His hug did. Huge arms wrapped their way around his still growing frame, and were Jared more mobile, Jensen had the feeling that his legs would have tried to wend their way around as well.

“My rider,” Jared cooed in Jensen’s ear as he nuzzled along his neck.

It felt odd, so Jensen pushed him back gently. “Sit. You are ill and this wagon is not the most stable of contraptions.”

It took two more pushes before Jared obeyed him, but eventually he shifted back to his seated position, stealing Jensen’s hand to hold between his own instead.

Jensen dare not look at him. He could feel the dragon’s smile without having to see it.

“You came to me.” Jared whispered after a few moments, rubbing long fingers over Jensen’s still captured hand.

“I could not let you die. It would be cruel.” Jensen responded. It was as close to the truth as he could get as he did not fully understand his own motivations. It would have to do for Jared.

The dragon tensed a bit beside him pausing his strokes for a moment before lifting the captured hand and giving it a soft kiss.

“I told you that I would take anything you would give me and treasure it, and so I shall.”

“You will be disappointed in me in the long run.”

“I have never yet been disappointed in anything that is mine. I appreciate my beauties for what they are, not what they can be. No dragon should take something because they think they can make it better.”

Jensen didn’t respond to that. He simply flipped open his book with his one free hand and held it flat against his lap while Jared traced over the other hand with meticulous strokes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

That Jared was obsessive and overly possessive was an understatement. That his sister was the same was a mind boggling thought, but Jensen was forced to cede the fact that she may possibly be worse than Jared.

The instant that Charles was in her sight, the dragoness lumbered over and demanded to be stroked and cooed over. Her rider acquiesced to her demands, and she actually licked him in return, large dragon tongue flicking out over his face. Her brown scales glittered with tones of gold and bronze in the dim winter sunlight, but she had nowhere near the beauty that Jared possessed in his dragon form.

“Jared, come out of there.” She ordered softly as she lumbered over to the opening of the wagon.

Jensen ducked back out of sight, heart pounding in fear as it used to whenever he caught the barest glimpse of Jared’s latest destruction on the mountainside.

“Help me?” Jared asked pitifully, his eyes glued on Jensen.

It was a ploy, pure and simple. Jared could lever himself upright easily enough. He only needed help to climb down out of the wagon, yet his hand was stretched out as if he was completely infirmed.

Jensen rolled his eyes, but grasped Jared’s hand regardless, pulling him up onto his feet. He wasn’t surprised when Jared didn’t let go, instead dragging him to the wagon’s gate and forcing them both out into the cold.

The dragoness crouched by the wagon raked her eyes over Jensen as soon as he appeared. Her eyes glittered dangerously, and he fought the urge to hide behind Jared’s ailing yet still impressive bulk.

Jared, of course, felt no fear towards the creature and yanked Jensen close to him to wrap an arm about his shoulders.

“My rider,” Jared introduced him. The tint of pride in his voice was unmistakable.

His sister peered at them for minutes, Charles stroking soothingly over her hide. Jensen half expected her to bite him or make rude, demeaning comments for being such a lousy human being that almost killed her brother.

Instead she finally took in a deep breath and sent it back out again, warming the air around them so that the snow actually steamed in the fading light.

“He is very beautiful.” She commented with something close to admiration in her tone.

Jared nodded three or four times, very pleased with the announcement. Jensen sent a cautious look over at Charles. The peddler man hadn’t liked him very much before, and he doubted that he would appreciate his dragon or lover or whatever she was to him appreciating another man’s physique.

Charles shook his head and gave Jensen a pitying look clearly indicating that he thought Jensen’s good attributes were all in his appearance and not in his head.

“Your treasure is secure. You need to shine your silver more, it begins to dull.” Jared’s sister admonished him.

“Too much polishing wears down the metal. Letting the tarnish build a bit more makes for a softer pantina. I like the glow.” Jared scoffed in response.

“You would,” she said as she peeked around them into the wagon. “What did you bring me? I demand to be recompensed for being without my rider for days.”

“I let you watch over all my bounty, for the use of your rider’s trading skills, and you demand more?” Jared’s tone was teasing.

“Eclectic and useless junk,” she said as she stuck her snout into the wagon.

“Useless! You’re just jealous because I’ve more pretty things than you do.” Jared wheezed, apparently incensed at her dismissal of his collection.

She ignored him, shifting into her human form to better look at the goods, giving Jensen a view of her backside in the process.

He closed his eyes harshly and turned away, unintentionally burying his face in Jared’s chest.

“I do not understand humans,” Jared mumbled as he took the opportunity to tug Jensen closer.

“She’s naked.” Jensen protested.

“Yes.”

“And she’s your sister.”

“Why should that matter? It isn’t as if she intends to steal you from me. Unless you wish to be stolen away by her, we may have a problem then. I have no desire to indulge you in your stupid desire for the female form.”

Jensen tried not to think about that too deeply.

“Besides that, I’m far more attractive than she is. Hardly a hint of color on her besides brown,” Jared said, though there was a distinct flavor of uncertainty in his voice.

“You’re a very, very vain dragon.” Jensen told him.

“And?”

“And I’m not lusting after your sister that would be… much too disquieting for my mind. Aside from the fact that I doubt Charles would like it.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“You are supposed to assure me how pretty my scales are. I would do the same for you.”

“The most beautiful in all the land,” Jensen intoned solemnly.

Jared’s face twisted in hurt at the sarcasm, but he didn’t say anything else as his sister emerged from the wagon with an assortment of things and a leather satchel that Jensen had been working on.

“I need something to carry my share back to my lair, and it’s only right that I get to take something of your beloved’s back with me when I so graciously loaned you my own.” She told Jared when he eyed the bag jealously.

Jensen squirmed, uncomfortable with the way that she talked about him. He’d much rather go back to thinking she was about to kill him than think about being Jared’s lover.

“Jensen?” Jared asked him softly, his eyes flicking to the bag and back, indicating that the choice was his.

“Yes, of course. Take it.” Anything to get her and her rider as far away as possible would be a blessing at the moment.

She smiled and kissed him on his cheek, earning a hiss from Jared who wiped the spot over quickly with his thumb.

Without another word, she shoved her choices into the satchel and tossed it at Charles. Transforming back into her dragon form, she butted her head up against the peddler man, and he climbed upon her back. They rose quickly into the skies and were gone from view within moments.

“We should get the horses stabled and the bounty put away.” Jared said, as he leaned against Jensen.

“You should go lie down. I know well enough how to groom and care for a horse, and your loot can wait in a wagon just as well as it can in one of your rooms.” Jensen told him sternly.

“But I…”

“No, Jared. I did not just leave my home so that you could kill yourself on the same day. Go. Rest.”

Jared’s eyes glinted at him in irritation, but they still held none of their draconic sparkle, only human feeling.

“I do not need rest. I need to be with my rider.”

“You need to not exert yourself.” Jensen contradicted him.

“I need you to soothe me.” Jared insisted stubbornly.

“Look, I’ll come see you as soon as I finish.” Jensen promised.

Jared frowned and peered at him suspiciously. “You will come to our room and lie with me?”

“I’ll come and see you.” Jensen repeated.

Jared glowered back.

“If you’re good, I’ll give you a kiss.”

“Two kisses. One to tide me over until you reach me, the other when you return.”

“Jared…”

“Please, little Jensen?”

Jensen sighed and leaned up to peck at Jared’s lips, pulling away and out of Jared’s embrace doubly quick.

“That was not a kiss!” Jared wheezed as he swayed to regain his balance once Jensen’s bulk was no longer beside him.

“If you want longer kisses, don’t call me little! Now go rest.” Jensen chided him as he went to grab the horses and lead them to the stable.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There were several bedrooms in the lair. Why that was Jensen wasn’t quite sure. Dragons weren’t known to be sociable creatures, and he had a hard time imagining Jared’s sister coming to spend the night with them.

“Them,” Jensen murmured to himself. Whether he liked it or not, he was now directly involved with Jared, and it was a choice that he had made. There was no abduction this time save for his own common sense.

Pushing the thought from his head, Jensen walked past the many rooms filled with different splendors. Jared would not be in the blue room with the blankets of finest wool nor would he be in the golden yellow one with sheets of golden flax. No, Jared would be in the room where he had first taken Jensen and where he had spent his bout of captivity.

Jared called it theirs, and Jensen had the feeling the dragon had always thought of it that way. It had never been Jensen’s nor Jensen’s prison cell to the creature. It had been a place of cohabitation.

Jared was sitting on the edge of the bed staring intently at his feet when Jensen came through the door. He was dressed in nothing save for a pair of soft, white undergarments. His chest on display was far worse than what glimpse of it Jensen had seen in the shadowed dimness of his childhood bedroom.

Gone were the sculpted muscles and almost bronze hue that the dragon’s human form boasted. In their place was a sickly looking form, white and pasty. Loose skin hung where muscle used to hold it up, and Jensen was uncomfortably reminded of one of the local huntsmen who had been trapped in a mudslide. He’d been a portly fellow, but after days of not being able to eat and surviving only on the water that pooled around him, he had been sallow and sickly, his flesh hanging where it once filled with life.

The bruising where Jared’s heart must be was still a nasty mess of purples, blues and greens highlighted by the death color that surrounded it.

“I thought I told you to lie down.” He forced himself to say lest he gasp at the mess that Jared’s body was.

Jared’s eyes snapped up, their happiness not overtaking the look of circles beneath them, but lessening the somber threat of them at least.

“You were taking too long. I thought, perhaps, you had left me again.”

Jensen bit back his defensive retort and moved towards the bed. “I cannot always be within your sight, Jared.”

“I see no reason why not.”

“Because a man has need to be alone sometimes.”

“Well a dragon does not.” Jared growled.

Jensen was struck with the childishness of the argument and shook his head. “We’ll discuss it when you are feeling better.”

“Why not now?” Suspicion covered Jared’s face as he peered intently at Jensen’s eyes.

“You wanted a kiss, did you not? I don’t share kisses with people who I am fighting with.”

Jared’s suspicion melted into a scowl. “I hate that you kiss other people at all.”

“Well, there isn’t much of a chance I’ll do it up here, now is there?”

“It does not matter if you wish to be sharing your kisses with others. You could be pretending me to be someone else. Some female with breasts and soft, wet spaces between her thighs.”

“Jared!” Jensen barked out in alarm. Truly one did not speak of such things.

“It is true.”

“It is not spoken of in polite company.”

“Have you ever known me to be polite? Human rules are so infuriating. Why cannot I say what I need to say to my rider? It is just between us.”

“You are dangerously close to not getting your kiss.” Jensen warned him.

“You treat me like a child. I am not a child, Jensen. I am not a man either. I am trying very hard to understand what I can do to…”

Jensen cut him off with a kiss. It felt odd to kiss with only Jensen’s clothing between them. It wasn’t Jared’s near nakedness per se, but more the fact that all of Jensen’s other kisses had always been hurried affairs with maidens who yearned for his touch, yet feared being caught out. What touching had been done had been performed by shoving articles aside rather than removing them.

Though the kiss was nowhere near as heated as his other ones had been, indeed he had even kissed Jared with more intent, it felt more intimate for the soft skin beneath his fingertips.

Jared did not chase after his lips when he broke off from their engagement, instead the dragon curled his hands around Jensen’s wrists and fell backwards onto the bed, pulling Jensen into a fall alongside him.

“Sleep with me.” Jared half ordered, half requested before Jensen could regain his breath to complain.

“Jared, I don’t think…”

“You needn’t worry about me stealing your virtue from you in the night. I can barely stand on my feet, let alone stand other things.” Jared emphasized his point by grasping at the impressive bulge at his crotch. “See? It doesn’t even twitch, not even with you so close and the taste of you still on my tongue.”

Jensen felt the blush steal over his features. He wanted to be outraged, but truly, he felt sympathy. A male, dragon or human, shouldn’t have such problems at such a young age.

“I wish you would quit talking about my supposed virtue.” Jensen grumbled as he climbed off the bed to undo the laces on his boots.

Jared seemed pleased with the action as he clambered underneath the covers, leaving the edge of the blankets flipped back.

“I could speak of my own instead, if it would please you. But I lost it long ago to a virgin who fell into one of my first traps. She was betrothed to a rather nasty man who insisted on a pure bride. I removed her of her curse; she cried a story of woe and ended up rather happily ensconced in a nunnery.”

Jensen frowned at the story, but climbed under the blankets anyway. “If she was so willing, why did you not take her to be your rider? Or cannot a woman be one?”

Jared snorted and pulled Jensen closer. “A woman can ride as easily as a man. Easier when coupling with a male, but she was not my rider. I valued her and her attributes, but she was not mine to possess. I did not have to have her, nor did I feel compelled to take in her beauty and comfort her until she shone as a jewel amongst my collection.”

“Yet you feel this way with me?” Jensen didn’t know where he found the strength for his skepticism when he was so clearly being wrapped up in a warm blanket of Jared, but he did.

“I feel a great deal more with you. I saw you that day, and I had to have you for my own. There was no choice in it. I was born to carry you and only you on my back to fly as one in the skies, and to soar just as high in our bed together. Now, sleep. The more I rest, the sooner I can take to the skies, and there are many a shepherd who are gazing at the southern part of my mountain with lust for their flocks.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jared did not improve quickly. His body took time to regain its muscle, though his breathing eased considerably. He trailed after Jensen almost constantly, begging for songs or not saying anything at all, content to simply stare.

Were Jensen to close his eyes, he could imagine Jared was nothing more than one of the dogs or cats that wandered the caverns. He certainly acted like one sometimes. His eyes would beg for affection, and he would be happy for hours if Jensen so much as smiled at him or touched his arm, and kisses were far more effective than touches.

Still, the lack of conversation while Jared observed him was a bit unnerving.

Not that he often wished for Jared to speak his mind as the dragon would more than gladly share it should Jensen even hint of asking. Jared’s knowledge on subjects was deep despite his rather solitary existence. What didn’t come from the vast collection of books probably came from the virgins he captured or the dragon slayers that he deigned to talk to before sending them packing with visions of a horrible, three head dragon who spewed fire with one snout, ice with the other and spoke magical curses with the third.

Jared was amazingly inventive with what he put into the minds of the men that came to destroy him.

Unless Jared was directly engaged on a specific topic, his mind would generally wander to Jensen and his beauty and Jared’s desire to defile his virginity. On the rare occasions that Jared was not thinking of Jensen, his mind was muddled with thoughts of the upkeep of his lair and the state of his treasure.

Snarling at the rodents that tried to make their way in and considering fetching a male cat so that his female hunters could have kittens, Jared would weigh the idea of holding adorable little bundles of fur against the knowledge that he would have to ‘fix’ them so that they wouldn’t breed incessantly and become feral. It was a surgery that Jared was not fond of performing, and Jensen flat out refused to be the one to do it for him.

Whatever Jared chose to do with his cats, it was far better that he contemplate that than allow himself to ponder the current state of his life. He was used to being active and flying and was quite perturbed that having his rider with him had not automatically fixed his heart and health.

On bad days, when Jared would deem that he had not gotten enough kisses and Jensen would not sing to him a sufficient number songs, the dragon would lament about not having any new gold pieces to add to his collections. He would rearrange his things about him, and stare forlornly at his food declaring that he craved something from a far away village and could go there if only he had the ability to take to the skies.

Jensen hated bad days, but he had a feeling that Jared hated them more. The dragon was a bit paranoid that Jensen was going to take off and leave him again, and seemed to think that being sad would be what sent Jensen running back to the village.

Jared’s body temperature was steadily rising, which he assured Jensen was a good sign as he insisted on his nightly cuddling. The warmer Jared become, the fewer coverings they used on the bed and the fewer coverings that Jared suggested Jensen wear to bed.

It wasn’t subtle, but Jared did keep clothing his body during the day and still wore undergarments at night, so Jensen didn’t fight with him about it. In truth, it was unnervingly easy to fall into slumber next to the dragon. That Jensen often woke with his head pillowed on Jared’s bruised chest or Jared’s soft manhood pressed against his buttocks when he lay on his side was not the issue that he would have thought it to be. It was oddly comforting to share his bed with another even though all of Jared’s unconscious movements were possessive in nature.

Never did Jensen wake to find Jared on the other side of the bed. On the days that Jared woke before him, the dragon would watch him until he too parted with his dreams. Jensen wasn’t so certain that Jared had not only mapped all of the freckles on his face, but had also given them cherished names and scribbled words of love about them in one of his journals.

As winter gave way to spring, the bruise on Jared’s chest faded, and his skin tone grew darker even though it hadn’t seen the sun. It was a jarring reminder that he was not human, that Jensen was letting a creature into his bedchamber every night, but he found himself not caring as much as he probably should.

One day, Jensen woke to an empty bed. His instinct was to panic, but he shoved away the thought ruthlessly. Even dragons had need of the chamber pot, and Jared’s timing could not always be controlled.

The subsequent screaming took away all of Jensen’s reasoned calm.

Barefoot and clad only in his undergarments, Jensen ran through the lair, barking dogs on his heels, frightened cats dashing out of the way.

Jared was at his favorite landing, lying on the stone floor, naked and shivering in the cold spring air.

“Jared, what happened?” Jensen asked as he crouched beside him.

“I thought I could shift. It hurt.” Jared whimpered as he stared at Jensen with glassy eyes.

“Okay, we need to get you back inside and into bed.” Jensen said as he moved to pull Jared to his feet.

“No.” Jared said as he shook loose of Jensen’s grip.

“Yes. This is madness. You are not well. You need rest.”

“I am a dragon! I belong in the skies.” Jared told him, his eyes alight with fear now that the pain had subsided.

“All of which was true yesterday, yet I did not see you trying to harm yourself then.”

“I am not trying to harm myself.” Jared snapped as he struggled to his feet.

Jensen sighed and grabbed hold of the dragon’s wrist. “Jared, for my sake do not attempt it again.”

“It is for your sake that I do this!”

“I recall expressing no such interest in you trying to kill yourself. In point of fact, I do recall giving up my home for the express purpose of you not dying.” Jensen told him, refusing to let go of Jared’s wrist when the dragon tugged at it.

“You do not understand.”

“Then tell me.”

“They’re coming. As certain as the seasons change, so do the hunters come. My treasure is unprotected. You are unprotected. What do you think that your humans will do to you if they find you in my keeping? Find you in my bed? You cannot even accept it, and you are mine. They will kill you if they find you, torture you if they realize that I am not just another man, but the dragon as well.”

Jared placed his free hand around Jensen’s and loosened his grip. “I will not allow that to happen. I will keep you to myself and let no other’s touch molest your skin.”

“Double the reason then for you to come inside.” Jensen argued, but Jared did not listen.

For hours he screamed as his body tried to change, His bones growing and snapping, his skin contorting only to snap back into his human form with a sickening crunch. The dogs howled and the cats hissed. Farther away, the horses whinnied in response to the screams, but Jared would not yield.

Finally, when the sun was disappearing behind the horizon, Jared fell into a heap on the landing. He weakly swatted at Jensen’s tugs, but lacked both coordination and strength behind the movement. It was torture on Jensen’s own muscles as he hauled the heavy dragon back to their bedroom, but he didn’t complain. Whatever pain he was feeling had to be nothing compared to what Jared was experiencing.

Silently, Jensen cursed the dragon’s stubbornness as he went to fill a bowl with water. Not caring that it was cold, he returned to the room to wipe away the worst of the dirt and sweat from Jared’s hide.

“What if I’m stuck like this?” Jared whispered as Jensen wiped at his trembling thighs.

“You’re not stuck, just incredibly stupid. Like all dragons I suppose. It’s a miracle for your species that you aren’t extinct.” Jensen snapped at him.

Jared was quiet, making no responding quip or superior rejoinder.

“Jensen?” he asked when Jensen finally put away the cleaning supplies.

“Yes?” Jensen said shortly.

“Can I have a… actually, never mind. Would you care very much letting the cats sleep with us tonight?

Jensen rubbed at his forehead trying to ease the ache there. “No, Jared tell me what it is you really want. You’ll be miserable if you don’t, and I haven’t the stomach for any more misery from you tonight.”

Jared flushed and bit his lip. Bashful looked alarmingly cute on his features, and Jensen wondered if maybe he just wasn’t imagining the entire day. It’s not right for a powerful dragon to be shy or coy.

“A kiss?” Jared asked looking for all the world like he knew that he shouldn’t even think of requesting one.

Jensen sighed. He shouldn’t give in to Jared. Not when the dragon had set himself back so far in his recovery. But he still remembered being the foolish youngster who played too long in the hot sun and became ill despite his mother’s warnings. She had taken care of him and listened to him when he cried even though he had brought it upon himself.

It's not the same situation, not hardly, but Jensen knew compassion even if the concept was somewhat forced in Jared’s mind.

Gently he brushed his lips against Jared’s. The dragon inhaled sharply, apparently surprised at getting his request filled.

“I do not regret it. I would do anything to keep my rider hoarded away safely.” He said.

Jensen nodded and told him, “I know.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The first knight came but two days later, and Jared could barely roll himself out of bed. He crumpled down onto the floor and could barely crawl halfway to the door let alone get out of the lair.

Jared could not fight as the dragon, that much was obvious.

It would take a while for the man to reach them, but not long enough for Jared to recover.

Jensen thought of going to the man, pleading capture again, and leading the hunter away be promising him honor as a rescuer. Many had seen Jared in the village and known him as a tradesman come to sell wares. They had to know that Jensen had gone off with him, and would easily believe that their tiny wagon had been taken by the dragon as additions to his treasure. He could even use the knight to help carry Jared back to the village as a wounded captive, but to what end could he spin such a yarn?

Jared would not fare well without his lair. As much as he claimed to only truly want or need Jensen as his own, his things were important to him. He was not human, and it was against his nature to not hoard. If rumor got out that the dragon had left, looters would overrun Jared’s home. It would kill the dragon to see his things taken and tossed about by careless touch.

Even should he bear the indignity of having his things taken from him, enough time spent in a human city would end in both their deaths. Jared would never be able to keep away from him, and Jensen wondered about his own ability to tell Jared ‘no’ any longer.

Jared had armor enough in his collections, but Jensen was not trained in combat. Donning plate and a sword would not enable him to defeat a seasoned warrior or even a freshly knighted idiot.

Instead he took to the magic books that he had combed through on his first stay. He knew well enough that there was no spell that could transform any being into another, be it dragon or mouse, in them, but what they did contain were spells of nightmares.

Using one of the spells was a tricky proposition. One that Jared would not approve of should he know of it, but Jensen did not intend to tell him.

The caster of the spell would be dragged into its snare along with the target. Jensen had no desire to live through any of the horrors his mind could make up, but he had no other choice than to let some man invade his home.

He collected the herbs and made the potion. As he crept out to meet the trespasser on the side of the mountain, he prayed that the other man would be so obsessed with the thought of dragons that his nightmares would be filled with them as well. If not, then he might tell tales in the city that could bring even more troubles down upon their heads.

Still, if Jensen wanted to protect his new home, there wasn’t another option that was possible. Should Jared be able to somehow contact his sister, her arrival would be much too late to be helpful and would most likely cause greater speculation as her appearance was much different from her brother’s.

Jensen waited in a hidden alcove of rock patiently until the knight’s armor reflected the sun into his eyes. Deeming the man sufficiently close, Jensen cast the spell with a clumsy tongue and shaking hands.

When Jensen awoke from the spell, the knight was long gone. His sword and shield left behind. Jensen’s voice was raw from screaming, and he did not want to think about what he had seen in his own vision:

Jared’s dragon form, splayed out on its back, split open stem to stern along his belly. Jensen himself pulling the hide from his carcass and tanning it into leather armor for other dragon hunters.

He had feared a dream where his body burned alive, instead he dreamed of himself if his soul was burned away.

When he returned to their room, Jared looked at him steadily. “You reek of magic.”

“I imagine I do.”

“It is not good to dabble in such things. They’ll drive anyone mad, but a human doubly quick.” Jared cautioned.

“Then why do you keep the books?”

“There are other things in them besides potions and spells. Poultices, for example, are very handy on damaged dragon hide. It is difficult to wrap bandages around us, and changing to human form when injured is a poor prospect.”

Jensen shrugged and joined Jared on the bed, passing out before his head even touched the pillow.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As spring made way into summer Jared’s health finally regained its footing. The day that he shifted back into his true form, he spent hours doing spins and loops in the air. He chased away entire flocks of sheep, but brought back the prettiest spotted lamb for his collection.

“They will not care for her properly anyway. They only want the white ones.” He defended himself when he first placed her down in front of Jensen’s glaring eyes.

Then, to make certain she wasn’t lonely, he fetched her mother from the flock as well.

It was sweet in a criminal sort of way.

Jared’s mood only dimmed when Jensen refused to get astride him and take flight.

“I’ll not drop you.” He argued as he curled around Jensen trying to cajole him up on his withers.

Still, Jensen refused, and Jared eventually took to the skies again to fly out his disappointment.

If Jensen had assumed that they would go back to the nights where Jared curled his large body up next to the bed in Jensen’s room and simply rested in his dragon form, he was much mistaken.

Jensen had long since snuffed the candle for the night when he felt the bed dip behind him.

“Jared?”

“Sleep my little one.” Jared said as his slid closer, his eyes glittering in the darkness.

“Did you just try to mesmerize me?”

“Sleep,” Jared insisted as he placed a hand over Jensen’s mouth to quiet him.

Jensen turned away in a huff, but Jared didn’t seem to mind as he fitted his body behind and held them together.

Jensen woke, locked in the same position as he had gone to sleep in with one notable exception. The hard line pressing against his ass was unfamiliar to him. It was not that his mind could not recognize it for what it was, but it was not something he had felt before regardless of how often he woke with Jared pressed up against him. It was unnerving.

Jared’s hips pushed forward gently, a soft moan escaping his lips.

“Jared?”

“Jensen,” Jared purred in return, his hand sliding down to cup at Jensen’s own morning erection.

“I do not think…”

“You mean that you think too much. It is far past time that we did this.”

Jared’s hand squeezed and rubbed against Jensen’s mound, encouraging his penis to grow harder and lengthen.

“It has been too long since I’ve experienced pleasure. Let me share it with my most prized possession. Let me teach you how a rider should be with his dragon.”

Jensen fought back the urge to roll his hips forward into Jared’s grasp. “This is rather sudden.”

Jared laughed and kissed the back of his neck. “Only you would call months of laying together sudden. I’ve spent many nights cursing my own softness while you rested beside me, virile and healthy. Jailed to only kisses for intimacy while my body refused to harden, I wept for the day when I could be inside of you.”

“Jared,” Jensen whispered again, though he wasn’t certain if he meant the words as censure or something else. His groin ached, and Jared’s body offered comfort in its warmth. It had been ages since he’d last shared kisses with any sweet maiden, and far longer since he’d been touched by a hand other than his own.

He would be speaking falsehood if he swore that he did not find Jared’s touch arousing. The large hands stroking over his skin felt different from the delicate ones that belonged to a woman, but better somehow in their familiarity. He did not know if it was simple knowledge of a male body or Jared’s observation of him that gave such understanding, but his manhood appreciated the effort.

“Yes,” Jared encouraged as he slipped his hand underneath Jensen’s undergarment.

Jensen jerked at the touch of the warm fingers curling around his pride. They stroked his length gently before sliding down further to touch at his sack. Jared’s hand was warmer than even Jensen’s skin was, making the sensation different from anything that he had felt down there before.

“I’ve never seen you hardened.” Jared noted as he shifted on the bed, putting Jensen flat on his back as he moved to straddle him.

Jensen blushed and looked to the side. His body thrummed with foreign lust, but speaking of such private things aloud only seemed to increase his want instead of dissipate it with disgust. He was embarrassed by his feelings and wanted to hide from them, but there was nowhere to go.

The blankets rustled, and the feel of cool air against his skin let him know that Jared had removed the coverings from them. When Jared’s hands tugged at the fastenings to Jensen’s nightclothes, he did not stop the dragon. Instead he lifted his hips and twisted to allow the clothing to be removed.

When his erection sprang free from its confines, it slapped up against Jensen’s belly. Jared did not immediately touch it, but Jensen didn’t need to look to know that the dragon’s gaze was fixed upon it. Just knowing that made him lengthen even more even while a part of his mind wondered what sort of depravity he had fallen into that he was roused by such an act.

“Beautiful and all mine.” Jared spoke, breaking the silence that had permeated the room.

His large hands cradled Jensen’s face, turning it back. “Look at me, my little rider. Take your pleasure in my form for I find yours quite pleasing and wish to share with you.”

Jensen swallowed at the words, and blushed heartily, but forced his eyes open even though he only managed slits. He was no maiden that should be scared of a coupling, and this was the path he had chosen.

Jared smiled at him and leaned forward to take another kiss. As his lips pushed against Jensen’s, he settled his body down against Jensen’s, snuggling his hips in against Jensen’s, pressing their groins tantalizingly close together.

Bucking up against the contact, Jensen pulled away from the kiss to let out a little moan. Jared’s warmth was like the rays of a summer sun against his skin, yet soft like the blankets used to swaddle a baby. Jensen’s cock pulsed with want where it was trapped between their bellies, and his instinctive movement only increased the ache.

Experimentally, he rolled his hips up against Jared’s bulk and was rewarded with sparks of pleasure as his manhood rubbed against the dragon. Jared pressed down in response, and Jensen’s stomach clenched when he felt Jared’s hardness against his own skin. It was dangerously close to his own, and his heart pounded with the thought of them meeting, stroking against each other.

The idea burned in his mind, and he found himself pushing harder against Jared, rocking his hips sideways to increase the drag of their skin and tease himself with the possibility of their cocks touching each other.

Jared let out another groan and bit at Jensen’s collarbone, soothing the nip with his tongue before sucking on it again. Rearing back a bit, Jared wrapped one hand beneath each of Jensen’s thighs and hitched his legs around his waist before leaning back in to plunder Jensen’s mouth again.

Jensen let another moan slip into Jared’s mouth as they kissed. His hands slid over Jared’s body almost of their own volition as they first petted at the dragon’s chest, then slid over his shoulder, finally tangling his hair to improved the angle of his kisses.

They rocked together, sweat building between them allowing them to glide their flesh together more quickly. Jared shifted the barest hint of an inch, and their erections finally started to touch each other.

“Jared,” Jensen gasped as his body simultaneously tried to press closer and jerk away. The sensations chasing up his spine were like the worst sort of tickle. One that felt good and wrong and impossible to scratch.

“Mine,” Jared growled back, one hand sliding around Jensen’s hip to trail fingers into his crevice.

The impulse to jerk finally won the battle, but it only sent Jensen’s front closer to Jared.

“What?” Jensen growled incoherently.

The amusement in Jared’s eyes said that he understood the question even without Jensen’s advanced verbal skills. Deliberate fingers pressed against the small hole they’d briefly traveled over.

It felt strangely good, but Jensen shook his head in denial. He’d heard stories of such things of course, men that took their wives in such a way to keep from having unwanted children or young men who were trying to preserve the maiden’s virginity so that they were not forced into marriage. Jensen had shied away from such an undertaking. The men who followed such paths were often selfish. He had held more than one crying lady who had talked of pain and no pleasure at all.

“No. Jared. No.” Jensen struggled out from under the dragon, his body protesting the loss of heat and friction, but his mind screaming to get away. He sat up on the bed, curling his knees up to his chest to provide some modesty.

When he dared look over his shoulder, Jared looked hurt and confused. His large muscles were tensed with fight even as his erection still stood proudly up from his groin.

“I do not understand. We need to couple together. Surely you understood how it would happen?” Jared asked, his voice gentle.

In truth, Jensen had spent a great deal of time specifically not thinking about it. He’d had a vague notion that eventually Jared would want him to touch his penis, perhaps stroke it or even put it in his mouth as he’d had offered to him on occasion from the more adventuresome girls in town.

“You said that you did not wish to hurt me.” Jensen finally answered.

“I do not. I wish to see you feel good. I wish to see you undone with passion while you ride me.”

“And yet this is what you ask of me?”

“It felt pleasurable to you just now, did it not? It doesn’t hurt. Less than a woman’s pain at being taken and gone quickly.”

Jensen looked down at Jared’s member. “I doubt your ability to fit that anywhere without rupturing me, and I have heard stories of men who ask it of their women.”

Jared crawled closer to Jensen and placed a gentle kiss on his shoulder. “They were foolish men who knew nothing of taking care of precious things. I promise that it will feel good, that you will take great satisfaction from taking me into your body.”

“I would not lie to my rider about such important things, would I? Have you known me to willfully damage anything that I value? Do I not,” Jared leaned close to Jensen’s ear, “value you above all else that is mine?”

Jensen flushed as the words caressed over the shell of his ear by way of Jared’s lips. His body responded positively to the renewed touching, his withered erection blooming full again. Part of him absolutely yearned to be as close to Jared as possible, and his body displayed that desire eagerly.

“You’ll stop if I ask it of you?” Jensen barely whispered.

“I will.” Jared promised simply, no flowery words to sway his case.

Jensen bit his lip, and tried to think. It was nearly impossible with Jared’s warm bulk so close behind him, its mere presence a promise of returning to the slick pleasure that he’d been engaging in only moments before.

Squeezing his eyes tight, Jensen turned and pressed against Jared. His body trembled with a mixture of fear and lust, but he kissed a determined trail of kisses up Jared’s neck and to his mouth, using nothing but his lips and his fingertips to guide the way. He feared that if he so much as opened his eyes, he would lose his nerve. He had not one ounce of want to be trapped in his state of unrest for any longer, and to stop now would only draw it out.

Jared’s hands slid over Jensen’s body with long, slow strokes. Jensen supposed that they were meant to be soothing and calming, but they only inflamed him.

Biting at Jared’s mouth more than kissing it, Jensen ground his body against Jared’s to the point of almost pain.

Jared growled and flipped Jensen over onto his stomach. He kissed a path down Jensen’s spine placing little nips of his own at random freckles on his back. When he reached the end, he sucked on the flesh until he left a bruise right above the beginning of Jensen’s cleft.

“Hold still,” he hissed as he leaned to grab an ornate bottle from the top of the nightstand. It had been sitting there for months, but Jensen had never opened it. Jared collected all manner of things, and different scented oils and waxes and dry incenses were as plentiful in the lair as jewels.

The stopper let loose with a pop and slick oil started drizzling into Jensen’s crevice seconds later.

“Shh,” Jared whispered as he leaned to put the bottle back on the table, “relax. Let me touch you.”

His large fingers pressed in and began to rub the oil into hidden skin, tracing around the pucker with ever increasing circles of firmness.

Jensen’s breath caught in his chest, and he twitched with the urge to move. Just when the urge started to become unbearable, Jared pushed a finger inside.

“Jared,” Jensen whimpered. It felt so strange, dirty and exhilarating all at once.

“Feels good?” Jared asked, and even though Jensen couldn’t see his face, he knew that the dragon was smirking.

“More.” He demanded just to shut Jared up.

It didn’t work if Jared’s chuckle was any indication, but the dragon could follow orders well enough when it suited his purposes, because a second finger joined the first.

Jensen gasped at the burning feel, but the feeling of Jared’s fingers twisting inside of him chased the sensation away as he pushed more oil inside. Soon enough, Jared was pushing a third finger in, reaching for a spot that Jensen hadn’t known existed inside his body.

“Uhhhn,” came out of Jensen’s mouth when he tried to open it to say something, anything coherent.

“I told you that it would pleasure you.” Jared said, but there was no smug tone to his words. They sounded distracted instead.

Jensen turned to glance over his shoulder only to see Jared’s gaze fixed on the place where his fingers were disappearing into Jensen’s body. The dragon’s other hand was out of sight, but from the movement of his arm, it looked as though he was touching himself with light, teasing strokes.

Jensen swallowed at the sight, his own cock reminding him that it hadn’t been touched by anything but the bed sheets for quite a while. He tried to think of something to say, when Jared’s eyes snapped from where they were looking to bore into Jensen’s gaze.

“I need you to ride me.” Jared said, plain and straightforward even as his eyes burned with lust.

“Yes,” Jensen gasped almost instantly. The mere suggestion sent fire down his bones, and even though his logical mind didn’t know why or how that was, the rest of him was begging for it.

Jared pulled his fingers free with a wet pop, but before Jensen could complain about their loss, Jared was grabbing hold of him and rolling them again so that the dragon was on his back. Jared lifted Jensen with inhuman strength and placed him astride his hips.

Jensen had only a moment to be confused before Jared was taking one of his hands and guiding it to the dragon’s erection. It was large and very warm, and slick with oil much like Jared had made Jensen’s hole.

“You need to help me put it in so that you can ride me.” Jared instructed him.

Jensen nodded and blushed as he reached his other hand back to feel where his opening was and guide Jared into it. The slick looseness of it was foreign to his fingertips, but it excited him to feel the difference in it. The give of it now would enable him to sink down on Jared and feel that warmth and hardness inside of him.

The oil made everything slick, and Jensen lost his grasp a few times before they got Jared’s head positioned at Jensen’s entrance.

With Jared steadying Jensen’s hips, Jensen started lowering himself down onto Jared’s cock. The head hurt as it slid past the initial ring of muscle, and Jensen flinched. Jared’s fingers tightened on his hips, holding him up to keep him from sliding down Jared’s cock any further.

“Are you alright?” Jared asked.

Jensen nodded and breathed deeply. His body seemed to be adjusting to the intruder, and after a moment the pain dimmed leaving only the sensation of fullness in its wake. Gently, Jensen pushed down again, the burning sensation of the stretching resumed for a moment, but wasn’t as bad as the first penetration. After a couple of minutes, his ass settled against the tops of Jared’s thighs, halting his downward movement.

“So good, so perfect,” Jared cooed at him.

Jensen felt an odd mix of pride and shyness well up in him at the words, and he had to fight back to urge to cover what he could from the dragon’s approving view.

“Such shyness from such a bold man,” Jared commented, clearly reading the look on Jensen’s face.

Jensen crossed his arms in outrage, but the movement caused his body to shift and remind him of the reason he was sitting astride Jared naked in the first place. If the inhale of breath that Jared took was any indication, he also felt the reminder.

Despite Jensen’s weight resting on them, Jared’s hips lifted up pushing his member that much farther into Jensen before dropping down and pulling just the slightest bit out again. The stretch and pull of Jared’s cock going out of his hole made Jensen’s thigh muscles tighten almost reflexively trying to hold him inside.

“Ride me. It’s what you are meant to do.” Jared encouraged him.

Unsure in his movements, Jensen pushed himself upwards a bit before dropping back down. His body sent mixed signals of pleasure and dissatisfaction as he repeated the movement. Frustrated, he tried shifting forward then back trying to change the angle to something more pleasing.

“Yes, there. Like that,” Jared moaned underneath him, his hips making little pulsing movements as Jensen kept riding up and down his cock.

“Jared, I need…” Jensen frowned in concentration. He needed to reach that spot that Jared had earlier, but he didn’t know how to achieve it.

“What? Tell me my rider, and I’ll give it to you. You’re doing so well taking me inside. It will only get better the more we practice. Touching, kissing, you astride me, pleasuring us with your body…” Jared trailed off with a little whimper when Jensen dropped down harder than he had before.

The faster pace felt better, but it was still frustrating. His cock was aching, and he wanted nothing more than to wrap his hand around it and stroke until it released his seed, but his insides felt like they were feverishly grabbing onto Jared’s cock, trying to keep it inside and guide it to the right place. He knew it was just his mind playing tricks on him, but his failure to get satisfaction from it irritated him.

“I can’t find it.” Jensen finally admitted as his thighs began to feel strain and frustration began to override pleasure.

“Find… Oh, oh my little Rider,” Jared said with fondness in his voice. Jensen wanted to snap at him to quit calling him little as he was only small in comparison to Jared’s mythic sized bulk, but he was distracted when Jared sat up. The movement forced the cock inside of Jensen to shift uncomfortably for a moment, but Jared grabbed Jensen’s legs and pulled at them to rearrange their stance.

Jensen doubted his ability to hold the new position for very long, but the signals that his cock was sending him indicated that he didn’t need to try. Jared’s erection was finally brushing against that sensitive spot inside of his body, and his own cock was closer to the heat of Jared’s skin, practically basking in it.

“Better?” Jared’s breath brushed across Jensen’s face, and Jensen nodded, his body already continuing its up and down movement.

“Uh,” Jensen grunted as he rode down on the hardness. His brain occasionally protested the action as unnatural and wrong, but Jared’s hands stroked over him, and Jared’s mouth whispered filth and endearments against his skin between kisses to his face. Faced with such assault on his nerves, Jensen couldn’t help but keep going, increasing his pace to seek out more.

“Yes. Harder.” Jared encouraged as his large hand wrapped around the erection trapped between their bellies.

Jensen jerked forward at the touch, the warmth and the tightness of Jared’s hand almost putting him over the edge when combined with the way his insides felt. A few strokes of Jared’s hand and Jensen’s balls tightened up and began pulsing.

Open mouthed, he tilted his head down to look as he coated Jared’s still stroking hand and both their stomachs with his seed.

“It looks good on us, does it not? Your seed marking your dragon’s hide as your own even as I take you as mine.” Jared said softly, his hips pushing up more often as Jensen’s movements became slower as lassitude started to take hold of his limbs.

“My dragon,” he murmured as he turned his head to mouth at Jared’s neck. Jared’s skin was salty and wild, and his scent overly masculine, but it felt right to lay claim to the larger man.

“Mine,” Jensen stated again with more certainty, his body giving a jolt of lust at the admission though it was worn out with the pleasure had already been wrought from it.

“Yours,” Jared acknowledged, “most definitely yours. Yours to ride and to hold, to soothe and to kiss.”

Jensen smiled a bit at the declaration and moved to press a kiss against Jared’s mouth, sucking on his lips and his tongue. Pushing down once more, Jensen ground his hips in a circle. The erection inside of him seemed to warm and swell even farther right before it started to release the dragon’s own seed inside of him.

Jared’s moan was caught in Jensen’s mouth, and Jensen found himself moaning back in response to Jared’s satisfaction.

Rolling them once more, Jared pulled out of Jensen with a slick pop. He leaned down to take another kiss before rolling from the bed and wandering over to one of the dressers in their room.

Jensen watched his muscles ripple across his back as he moved, too tired to be able to summon his usual embarrassment at looking at a naked form.

Jared bent over to pull something out of the bottom drawer of the dresser, and Jensen bit his lip at the way that the dragon’s ass flexed as he moved.

Jared glanced over his shoulder and smirked when Jensen couldn’t quite adjust his gaze or the look on his face in time. “And you had me believing that you had no eye for finer things. It seems my rider hides a healthy appreciation inside of him.”

“You’re an ass. The finest of donkeys,” Jensen said with a scowl.

Jared laughed as he crossed back over, his manhood hanging soft and wet between his thighs. “I think you mean that I have an ass, and that you are quite fond of it.” He corrected as he crawled back onto the bed.

He dipped his head down for another kiss, and Jensen found himself leaning up to meet him halfway.

Jared broke the kiss before it could become heated, and held a cloth in front of Jensen’s eyes before trailing it down to wipe at his stomach.

“Roll over,” Jared ordered, “I’ve no desire for you to be angry with me for causing discomfort, especially if it means that I’ll be denied coupling.”

Jensen turned over slowly, oddly embarrassed to allow Jared to touch him in such a way even though he had just given him much greater and more intimate liberties.

Jared’s touch was gentle and efficient, and Jensen turned back in time to see Jared wipe at his own person to remove the traces of oil and seed that remained on him.

“Jared,” Jensen said softly.

“I was right. I know. You need not apologize to me if it pains you.” Jared said with a smile as he flopped back down on the bed in a style more reminiscent of a large puppy than a fearsome dragon.

“I think I’m falling in love with you.” Jensen blurted out, finally giving voice to the feeling inside of him that had caused such confusion and discomfort.

Jared’s face softened, and he reached out a hand to stroke over Jensen’s jaw. “Only falling? You give your heart too little credit and your brain too much. But I’ll not debate you on that. You know that you are my most precious possession, and you always will be. I hold you above all else.”

Jensen blushed. “You are incorrigible.”

“I’m adorable.” Jared retorted as he pulled Jensen close to rest against him.

“You are acceptable, for a dragon.”

Jared kissed the crown of Jensen’s head and said no more. For a while there was only the sound of their hearts beating and their soft breaths in the room.

Right when Jensen thought that they were about to drift off to sleep again, Jared shifted on the mattress to lean over and open the drawer that was built into the stand that held the oil.

His long fingers weren’t in the recess for very long before he plucked something small out and shut the drawer. He stared at the palm of his hand for a moment before looking at Jensen’s face.

Jensen arched an eyebrow in inquiry, but said nothing.

“I was wondering if you would do something for me.” Jared mumbled.

“What?”

“I… I kept this when you left me. I thought to return it a hundred times, but I could not bear to part with it. Yet I could not wear it either, knowing how you viewed me as a monster to be hated and reviled.”

“Jared?”

“And I thought, I hope now that you have, that perhaps you would let me…” Jared sighed in irritation and grabbed Jensen’s hand, dropping his mother’s lone earring into it.

“I was hoping that you would consent to giving it to me to wear.” Jared admitted.

Jensen stared down at the earring for a little while before leaning up and tilting Jared’s head to slip it into the hole that he had previously hung it from.

“Only a dragon would give himself a token of betrothal.” Jensen murmured.

“A token of fidelity and marital commitment,” Jared corrected, “or do I not understand that intercourse comes after the marriage and not before in the human’s world?”

“There’s been no ceremony. I fear you’ve taken me and made me a fornicator.”

“Mmm, indeed. I should very much like to fornicate with you often. Make you reach as high of heights in my bed as I will take you in the skies.”

Jensen shuddered. “Perhaps we should avoid any actual flight.”

Jared laughed and shook his head. “You will take to the skies as naturally as any bird. It is what riders do.”

Jensen snorted in disbelief. “I don’t believe you.”

“You will in time.” Jared assured him before taking yet another kiss.

As they traded soft kisses, Jensen marveled at the ease that he participated in them. Not a year before he would have died before sharing such gentleness with a creature let alone a male one.

If he had come so far as to enjoy and even crave such things, he had no doubt that Jared would have him in the skies with little effort. He would sit astride his dragon and survey the world from a most dangerous perch. He’d be twice the fool that he’d been going onto the mountain in the first place, but he would be giving another more happiness than he ever thought possible.

Jensen figured that gift alone would prove him to be thrice the man that he’d set out to be, and that was as good a life as any man could want.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

FIN