The day before the year’s Bith celebration is scheduled to start in Anatea, Zeke finds himself bundled up in a blanket as he sits across from Aries and Tavares in a carriage rented just for the trip to the embassy.
Normally the gentle motions of the carriage would have Zeke dozing before they even left their neighborhood. Carriage rides are a luxury for them. Even with Mickey driving the horses over the paved streets, it’s a treat that never fails to make Zeke’s head feel heavy with sleep. However, this time the carriage isn’t for a trip to the shore or for one of their birthdays and that has Zeke too nervous to rest his head and doze against the inside panel of the carriage.
Zeke fidgets constantly within the confines of his borrowed blanket, hands twisting together out of sight underneath the heavy fleece. With his heart all but leaping against the front of his chest, Zeke becomes more worried with every second that passes. He wants to ask Aries to turn back before they reach the embassy. Despite barely being dressed for the cold weather, anxiety makes Zeke feel like diving out of the carriage headfirst into the snow in order to hide in the freezing flurries.
Working himself into a panic is easy.
Zeke has been halfway there since waking up that morning and realizing that he and Tavares will be away from almost everything that they love on this side of the portal. The gentle motions of their carriage do nothing to lessen the fear making his heart hurt and Zeke’s breath catches briefly, stopping in his chest as the carriage feels like it’s shrinking around them and —
When Tavares reaches out and squeezes one of Zeke’s knees through the blanket, Zeke nearly deafens them all with a startled-sounding cry. Knocking the right side of his head against one of the ornately carved wooden panels lining the carriage’s walls, Zeke whimpers at the pain in his head and rubs at his scalp with the tips of his fingers as Tavares watches him with worry clear in his green eyes.
"You’re too nervous," Tavares says once the echoes of Zeke’s cry dies down and Aries uncovers his ears and lets his dark blond hair fall back down around them.
When the carriage slows at an intersection, Tavares moves to sit next to Zeke, pressing close until their thighs press together in the confines of the vehicle. “I know this is your first time traveling between the worlds, but I swear I won’t let any harm come to you.”
Tavares’ nearness helps some, but it’s still not enough. There’s so much that Zeke is afraid of doing, so much that he’s afraid of not doing, and Tavares can’t banish every single one of those fears in a few moments’ time.
"I — I don’t speak the language," Zeke says, his voice coming out barely higher than a whisper. He reaches for one of Tavares’ bigger hands with one of his smaller ones, grabbing for his lover’s fingers before he can stop to think about how hard they’re trembling. "I have tiny horns and I’m half human. Your parents are going to hate me.”
It all comes out in a big jumble of whispered words, all the fears that Zeke has been nursing since the start of their planning and a few that come as a surprise even to him.
Tavares shakes his head and offers Zeke a small, but kind smile as he squeezes the other demon’s hand in his.
"Your horns are perfect," Tavares promises in a low murmur. He reaches up to tweak one of the small horns that jut from amidst the sleek blackness of Zeke’s pulled back hair and then laughs at the quiet sound of surprise that Zeke utters. "You’re perfect. My parents will love you."
Zeke gives Tavares a dirty look that has his nose wrinkling. “And justhow do you know that?”
Laughing, Tavares leans in and kisses the tip of Zeke’s nose.
There’s no room in the carriage for him to swing Zeke into his lap and no privacy to kiss him properly besides, so a chaste kiss will have to suffice until later. Tavares contents himself with the vivid flush that darkens Zeke’s cheeks and the familiar scent of his younger lover’s pheromones.
"I know my parents," Tavares says simply, feeling something soft and warm take hold of his emotions as he looks down at Zeke’s blue gaze. He smiles at Zeke and then settles back against the carriage’s comfortable cushions with his fingers still entwined with Zeke’s cooler hands. "And don’t worry about learning to speak the language just yet. Where my parents live is a trade center where everyone speaks multiple languages. You’ll be fine."
Zeke frowns, pushing his bottom lip out into a brief pout. “But what if I’m not?”
"My parents loved me before I could speak the language," Tavares says with a faint hint of amusement in his voice. "How many times do I have to tell you that they’ll love you?" He rubs his thumb over the back of Zeke’s hand and then turns to Aries with a demand already on his tongue. "Tell him, Aries! Tell Zeke how much my parents liked you when they met you."
The wizard blinks at them for a several seconds. “Well… It was a surprise,” he admits. “This was right after the portals were open to public use and I had never seen one bit of Anatea or a demon in their natural habitat. I was expecting something terrifying to come out and eat me.” Aries offers Zeke a crooked smile that is very quickly returned. “Tav’s mother may be a bit stern, but she’s kind. If it wasn’t for Tav, I think she’d have fed me until I burst.”
Zeke giggles and some of the light returns to his eyes. “She’s really nice?”
Aries nods. “The nicest,” he promises in a solemn tone. “All of Tav’s family is that way. You’ll see.” Aries settles back in his seat when Zeke sighs softly and then smiles at him. “You’ll love it there.”
"Thank you, Aries," Zeke says quietly. With his head resting on Tavares’ shoulder, Zeke looks softer than usual. There’s still an edge of panic to be found when Tavares and Aries look closely, but it’s as close to calm as possible. "Don’t forget to take care of my plants while we’re gone."
Tavares presses a kiss to the side of one of Zeke’s gleaming horns. “Aries won’t forget.” Tavares makes the promise before Aries has a chance to speak. “Everything will be fine, love.”
Zeke bites at the inside of his bottom lip. “I — I know,” he says softly, gaze flicking over to Aries. “I know you won’t forget my plants. I’m just —” Zeke sniffs and then rubs at his eyes with the hand that’s not clutching at Tavares. “I’m still —”
He can’t finish his sentence. He’s embarrassed enough that it makes his head hurt. His cheeks heat up and when he feels tears sting at his eyes, his embarrassment only deepens at the thought of crying over nothing in front of Aries and Tavares.
The only good part is that Mickey isn’t in the carriage with them because Zeke doesn’t think he could handle seeing pity or disgust on the other man’s face.
"I know," Tavares says in a hushed whisper. He presses a kiss to Zeke’s forehead above the eyebrow that has a small scar slicing through it. "It’s okay. You’re okay."
It takes Zeke the rest of the ride to relax, but Tavares doesn’t release his hand until they’re at the embassy.
When the hugging starts, Zeke hangs back.
He stands back by the bags and watches as Aries and Mickey kiss Tavares over and over again until they’re all laughing and their eyes are bright in the lights shining overhead in the embassy’s reviving room. As much as Zeke knows that Tavares loves him, it’s still hard to believe it when he sees the way that Tavares looks in his lovers’ arms with Mickey’s deep red hair spilling out around their bodies.
Maybe that’s how Mickey feels when he walks in on Tavares kissing him in the shop. Maybe that’s why Mickey always looks as though he’s sucking on something sour when they’re all together and snide when he’s alone with Zeke. If that’s how he and Tavares look when they’re together, Zeke really can’t blame Mickey for being such an ass.
Well… he can, but he gets it now.
Several minutes pass. Several long and faintly embarrassing minutes that see Zeke standing off to one side of the small room while his lover says goodbye to his lovers. By the time they seem to remember that he’s in the same room as them, their bags have already been escorted through the portal with a member of the embassy’s staff and Zeke is honestly considering flinging himself right after them.
Aries pulls away from Tavares and then smiles at Zeke.
"Aren’t you going to come closer so I can hug you goodbye?"
Zeke crosses the room without truly thinking about it, stepping up to Aries and allowing the wizard to pull him into a tight hug. Aries’ hug is comforting. He smells like smoke and spices from his lab and Zeke likesthat smell enough that he saves Aries’ clothing for last when he does the laundry.
One big hand settles across Zeke’s back just underneath the end of his braid. Aries hauls him close, hauls him into a hug that leaves Zeke flushed and breathing hard, and then Aries steps back slightly so that he can smile down at him.
"I’m going to miss you," Aries says and there’s so much sincerity in his voice that it even manages to quell some of the insecurity clamoring for the top spot in Zeke’s thoughts.
"I — I’ll miss you too," Zeke says before nerves get the better of him, stammering slightly at their continued closeness. He feels confused when Aries moves away properly, torn between satisfaction and displeasure in that moment. "I’ll bring something back for you… If you want."
Aries smiles and pats Zeke’s head, one big thumb rubbing against the protrusion of one of his horns in a caress that can’t be accidental. “That would be nice, Zeke,” he says. “We’ll see you in a month.”
Zeke nods. “Yes,” he says softly. “A month.”
Mickey doesn’t address Zeke at all. In fact, when Zeke does turn to look for him, the other man is already striding off in the direction of the exit. Zeke isn’t surprised. He’s still hurt by Mickey’s dismissal, but he isn’t surprised by it in the slightest.
A month away will be good for them.
Zeke can only hope.
Marran is beautiful — and warm.
It’s summer in the thriving port city, a far cry from the freezing winter flurries that were piled everywhere back home, and Zeke loves it. He loves the canals that trace through the city instead of streets, the way that everyone seems so friendly, and how no one seems to care that they have horns.
DC may be home, but it’s not exactly full of demons.
Marran is the exact opposite. Everyone looks different. Everyone has horns or wings or something that marks them as different and not human and there’s still such a sense of community.
Floating on a boat in one of the canals that supposedly goes up towards the center of the city, Zeke feels some of the nervousness abate as he watches the demons going about their shopping. He hangs halfway out of the boat and trails his fingers through the cool, clear water that laps at their boat.
"It’s so beautiful here," Zeke breathes, pulling his hand out of the water so that he can turn around and smile at Tavares. "What was it like growing up here?" When Tavares doesn’t give Zeke an instant answer due to the way that he’s sitting and staring at the shops and various demons they’re passing by in their boat, Zeke huffs softly and inches over the cushioned seat of their boat until he’s sitting hip to hip with his lover. "Tavares?"
"Hm?" Tavares glances down at Zeke, dark eyebrows drawing together as he meets Zeke’s gaze. As if by instinct, Tavares reaches out and takes Zeke’s hand in a loose but tender grip. "Did you say something, love?"
The endearment makes Zeke’s face warm. Any frustration at Tavares’ lack of attention melts away at that touch and he presses close, resting the side of his face on the hard curve of his lover’s shoulder.
Sighing a bit, Zeke cuddles close. “Could you — could you tell me about what it was like when you were younger?” He sighs for the quick caress of Tavares’ thumb over the back of his thumb and rubs his face against the older incubus’ shoulder where an intricate line of tattoos stands out against his lover’s dark brown skin. “We don’t talk about your childhood…”
"We don’t talk about yours either," Tavares points out in a low voice.
Tavares doesn’t sound angry about that, but there’s a sort of emptiness in Tavares’ tone that makes Zeke worry. Zeke flinches, drawing back from Tavares in an attempt to put some space between them on the seat.
"Wh-what? I thought— I don’t—"
Tavares reaches for Zeke, strong fingers closing around the paleness of the other demon’s upper arm, and keeps Zeke from moving too far. “I didn’t mean it like that,” Tavares says, eyes wide and filled with alarm at Zeke’s struggling. “You don’t have to tell me anything, Zeke. I just —” Tavares frowns and then turns to look at where the driver of their boat is busy pretending to ignore them.
"Stop the boat," Tavares says, almost snapping the order at the demon taking them through the canals. When the boat continues to motor up the canal, Tavares bares his teeth in a snarl at the driver. "Don’t make me repeat myself."
The driver’s shoulders slump. “But your bags —”
"Take them up for us and let Aya know that we’ll be a little late," Tavares says in a slightly kinder tone. "We’ll find our own way home."
When the boat eases close to one side of the canal, Tavares wastes no time leaping out onto the path that stretches in front of a line of shops and their nosy customers. He reaches out for Zeke, offering his hand to his lover and trying to calm him with a charming smile. “Come with me, love?”
"I don’t know, Tav," Zeke breathes, still eyeing Tavares warily.
Tavares’s frown is mild and it certainly doesn’t last, but it’s there all the same.
"I didn’t mean to make you worry or scared, Zeke," Tavares says. "I’ll make it up to you. I promise. Please, just come with me." It’s the ‘please’ that does it for Zeke. Tavares looks at Zeke as though he wants to wrap him up in something soft and carry him off. His green gaze softens as he looks at Zeke and when he smiles, Zeke just has to smile back at him.
Zeke takes Tavares’ hand and steps up onto the walkway next to the canal. He allows himself the pleasure of hugging Tavares’ bigger body and sighs softly against his lover’s chest as the world around them almost seems to fade until it’s just them and the circle of Tavares’ strong arms.
"I am sorry,” Tavares murmurs against the top of Zeke’s head where his hair has escaped its tight braid. “Sasha told me not to ask about your past or anything and I just— I should have thought before I opened my mouth.” Still with his arms around Zeke’s waist, Tavares pulls back just far enough that he can press a kiss to Zeke’s forehead. “Forgive me?”
Zeke nods his head quickly. “Of course,” he breathes. “How could I do anything else?”
The statement earns Zeke a hug and a quick kiss that Tavares presses against the tip of his nose. Zeke laughs and then rocks up onto the tips of his toes so that he can press a kiss to Tavares’ mouth. The kiss they share is sweet and slow, tender with an edge of heat that makes Zeke long for some privacy.
When the murmuring of the people around them becomes too loud to ignore, Tavares breaks the kiss and smiles brightly at Zeke.
"Let’s go before we cause a riot," he says, reaching out so that he can hold one of Zeke’s hands and tug him forward into the crush of demons doing their shopping. "I’ll show you all the places where I’d go to get away from my parents."
Zeke grins up at Tavares as they walk through the marketplace around them. “If you feed me first, you can show me anything you want.”
"Anything I want?" Tavares asks. When Zeke nods quickly, Tavares smiles and says, "I can do that."
Before long, Zeke starts to notice something about how people treat them in Marran. Back home, if people look twice at them, it’s because of their horns or because they’re holding hands. More often than not though, people mind their business.
In Marran, everyone stares and no one seems to expect Tavares to pay for anything, not even the obviously expensive outfits that he picks out for Zeke from one of the busier storefronts in the sprawling marketplace.
"You didn’t tell me your family owned the town," Zeke says in a light tone as they pause by one of the many bridges that cross the canals that break up the city with their gentle blue tides.
With their packages set aside for someone to come collect them before the celebrations start, neither demon has any bags to carry around the city and that frees them up to take a longer path through the city. A longer path means an emptier set of streets to wander through and even in such a busy place like Marran, there are little places that Tavares leads Zeke to where no one comes by no matter how long they stand there. This latest bridge crosses a narrow canal in back of a row of private houses and thanks to the crawling vines of greenery clinging to the stones, the bridge looks lovely, but seems rarely used.
Pleased with himself and his little joke, Zeke stifles a giggle with his cupped palms. When he’s no longer seconds away from cackling with laughter, Zeke turns around and directs a sunny smile up at his lover.
Tavares isn’t smiling. Instead, the other incubus has a guilty expression on his face and he doesn’t meet Zeke’s eyes.
"Tav?" Zeke takes a step towards his lover. "What’s wrong?"
"Zeke, I need to tell you something about my parents."
Frowning, Zeke crosses his arms over his chest and scowls at Tavares. “They’re not going to eat me are they?”
Tavares frowns, eyebrows drawing together as he eyes his younger lover with confusion in his eyes.
"What? No, Zeke," he blurts out. "Of course they’re not going to eatyou. Incubi aren’t cannibals.” Before he can let himself wonder whythat is the first question that Zeke chose to ask, Tavares shakes his head to clear it and then forges on. “All of the land that makes up Marran comes from my mother’s holdings. She’s nobility and I —”
"You’re like a prince," Zeke breathes, eyes widening as he stares at his lover. "I thought your family had money, but not like that! Why didn’t you just tell me that?”
"I didn’t know how to tell you," Tavares says in response. "I thought you’d worry more. I didn’t want that." Tavares’ mouth turns down with another, deeper frown. "You were panicking earlier —"
Zeke rolls his eyes. “You could have told me when we were home,” he mutters. “Now I don’t know what to do when I meet your parents. Do I have to bow or curtsy?” He frowns up at his lover. “And why were you so — so weird when I brought up your childhood? You really did scare me you know…”
Tavares frowns again, this time ducking his head as though he’s embarrassed. “I said I was sorry,” he mutters, eyes darting to the side so that he doesn’t have to see the sudden sternness in Zeke’s gaze. “My apology was sincere.”
"I know," Zeke says with a brief shrug of his narrow shoulders. "I wouldn’t have accepted it otherwise. I just don’t understand why you didn’t come out and tell me about your parents. You told Aries didn’t you?" The question winds up coming out in a rather accusatory tone.
Tavares licks his lips.
"I didn’t have much of a choice," he murmurs. "Aries and I have a contract. As a summoner, he has some power over me even though he tries not to use it." When Zeke’s mouth purses up into a frown, Tavares tries to explain the bond he shares with his master. "I can’t hold the truth back from him. Even when I try, all he has to do is ask and the bond makes me tell him everything —more than I’d tell him on my own."
"But, Tavares—" Zeke makes a face. "That doesn’t sound fair," he says. "Why don’t you just break the contract if he has that sort of power over you?" Then Zeke’s eyes go wide and fill with genuine worry. "Wait — I’m a demon too. Does that mean that someone could summon me?”
"That’s not how that works," Tavares says, smiling down at Zeke. "It’s something that you choose to do. No one can summon you without your express permission." He reaches out for Zeke and pulls him close enough that their bodies press together as they stand at the foot of the bridge. "You’ll be fine. I’ll keep you safe."
Zeke’s face turns bright red. “You can’t promise me something that,” he blurts out.
"Hm… Why not?" Tavares gets one hand on the faint curve of Zeke’s hip where the bone juts out over the waistband of his dark blue trousers. "I thought you wanted me to claim you. If I’m going to be your mate, doesn’t that mean that it’s my job to protect you?" Tavares smiles and leans down so that he can brush a brief kiss across Zeke’s parted lips. "Do you think we should go now?"
The change of subject leaves Zeke confused. “Go? Go where?”
"To meet my parents," Tavares says with a kind smile. "They’re probably worried about us. I should have given the driver a longer message."
"You need to apologize to him too," Zeke blurts out. "You yelled and it wasn’t his fault."
Tavares nods. “You’re right,” he says. “I shouldn’t have yelled. I’ll apologize the moment I see him again.” Tavares kisses Zeke again, pressing their mouths together in a kiss that quickly deepens into something that leaves Zeke’s body humming from arousal.
When Tavares pulls away from Zeke’s mouth he smiles, giving Zeke a look of barely concealed hunger. “The sooner we get there the sooner I can take you to bed. You were so nervous that I don’t think you’ve fed properly since we started packing.”
Zeke whines as heat floods his body. “Y-you can’t just say something like that,” he stammers after several seconds pass. “We’re in public.”
"No one’s around," Tavares says, voice dropping down into a huskier register. "And even if they were, they wouldn’t care. That sort of thing is normal around here."
"Even for a prince?"
"Especially for a prince," Tavares says, smiling as he strokes Zeke’s skin in one last teasing caress. A moment later, Tavares pulls away properly and tries to fix Zeke’s clothes so that the younger demon looks less rumbled. "Come on. We should go before they send out a search party to look for us."
Reaching out and holding Tavares’ hand makes Zeke sigh and smile. “Are you sure we’ll get there in time for dinner? We shouldn’t make your parents wait.”
"Don’t worry," Tavares says in that self-assured way that never fails to make Zeke want to roll over and beg. "I know a shortcut."
By the time that Tavares and Zeke make it to his parents’ sprawling estate, the preparations for the upcoming celebration are in full swing and servants are everywhere that the two incubi look.
Fairy lanterns brighten the estate and make the main house seem all the more impressive. Not that it needs to be more impressive considering how the main house already looks like it would take up an entire city block back Earthside.
Zeke can’t stop staring.
"This can’t be real," Zeke breathes, craning his neck so that he can take in the way that the main house’s massive double doors open up to show an entry room that has to be twice the size of the store back home. "It can’t be. Everything’s just so huge!"
Tavares chuckles and squeezes Zeke in a one-armed hug. “This is the third time you’ve said that,” he points out. “It’s not going to stop existing because you say so. You’ll see after you get the grand tour tomorrow.”
"I thought we were going to the temple tomorrow," Zeke says, glancing around the room as they walk across polished wooden floors to another set of double doors that swing open at their approach to reveal a long hallway that is decorated with portraits and filled with servants bustling back and forth. "This place is so big. I don’t think we could tour the whole place and go to the temple.”
"We have a month here," Tavares says. "That should be long enough for me to give you a proper tour of the estate and the city even if we stop to christen a few of the rooms." The smile that Tavares shows Zeke as they pause just in front of the double doors is genuine and tinged with more than a small amount of heady lust. "And I intend to christen as many as possible."
Zeke claps one hand over his mouth to mask his laughter.
"You’re ridiculous," Zeke says, sighing softly before he rocks up onto the tips of his toes so that he can wrap his arms around his lover’s neck. He hugs Tavares tightly, almost desperately, pressing his nose in against his lover’s throat and breathing in the other demon’s rich scent. He can sense the servants wandering around and giving them a wide berth as they stand in front of the doors, but none of that matters. Zeke needs the sort of comfort that only Tavares can provide.
"Are you sure you don’t want to ditch? We could go up to your room and just… hide for a while."
Sensing the disquiet in Zeke’s tone, Tavares starts to rub at his lover’s back just above the base of his tail. “You’re still nervous?”
"I can’t believe you’re not," Zeke mutters, speaking just loudly enough that Tavares can understand him. He makes himself relax, going limp against Tavares’ bigger body and sighing as though they aren’t keeping Tavares’ parents waiting. "I’ve just — I’ve never met anyone’s parents before. I don’t want them to think I’m not good enough for you."
Tavares squeezes Zeke in a tight hug that lifts his lover off the floor with the force of it.
"You’re perfect," Tavares says in a firm tone. "Anyone that thinks otherwise will just have to deal with me." He holds Zeke in his arms for another long moment and then lets Zeke down to stand on his own two feet. "We’re going to be mates after all, aren’t we? You’re part of my family."
"Oh." Zeke feels his breath catch in his throat at Tavares’ admission. "I-I am?"
When Tavares nods, Zeke has to grab at the hem of his shirt in order to keep from flinging himself at his lover.
"Oh, Tavares —"
The idea of being family to someone isn’t so shocking. Despite not having any contact with his birth family, Zeke has everyone at the brothel to look out for him. They’re as close to family as Zeke has and they care for each other because of their shared circumstances, but Tavares is —
His relationship with Tavares is different.
"I mean everything I’ve said to you," Tavares says, smiling as Zeke stares up at him. "I want to marry you when you’re ready — if you’re ever ready for that. I want to have a life with you. Someday."
Zeke feels his cheeks burn. “We don’t know enough about each other, Tav.” It’s been over a year and they only know the basics about each other. Favorite foods, favorite colors, what kind of sex works best for them. Meeting Tavares’ family and staying with them for the length of the celebration is a step forward. It’s a step towards something permanent, but it’s only one step. There’ll have to be others.
Tavares inclines his head in a sharp nod. “That’s true enough,” he murmurs. “But that’s fixable. I know that you don’t like to talk about your past and I have some things that I’m uncomfortable talking about as well, but we can at least try.”
"Yeah," Zeke says, sighing a bit. "Now where are we supposed to be going? This house is too big for us to wander around and if we’re already late…" Zeke lets his sentence trail off and he glances at the far end of the hallway with worry plain on his face. "Can we afford to be any later?"
Tavares lifts one large hand and pinches the bridge of his nose. “You have a point.”
Snagging one of the servants running by them is easy enough.
All Tavares has to do is wiggle his fingers at the direction of one of the servants heading towards the entrance of the estate and within seconds, they have a crowd of young demons surrounding them. None of the demons look like they’re more than fifteen and they smile up at Tavares with eagerness infusing their every action.
The little demons are cute, Zeke thinks as he watches the servants fawn over Tavares from the start. They’re like puppies: eager and adoring. If not for the fact that their home doesn’t have the room for it, Zeke would suggest bringing one or two back Earthside at the end of their vacation.
"How can we help you, Master Tavares?" The tallest of the little servants, a purple-haired demon with dark brown skin and eyes, steps forward from the crowd of demon servants and drops into a formal bow. "My name is Char and I’m in charge of the pages on the first floor. If there’s anything you need on this floor, you can be sure that we’ll find it for you."
Tavares smiles, white teeth flashing against the dark brown of his skin, and several of the little servants actually swoon at the sight. “Thank you, Char,” Tavares says. “But I don’t require any hard work. I’m looking for Tama. Do you know where she is?”
Char glance at his fellow servants and then returns his gaze to Tavares’ face. “Everyone is at the shrine, sir.”
A tiny servant with curly pink hair and twisting green horns steps forward and drops into a deep bow. “Ko is with your parents as well,” the small demon says in a squeaky voice. “The twins arrived from the capitol yesterday, but they’ve been in their rooms since supper.”
"And you are?" Zeke steps forward, smiling at the servant that barely seems bigger than the kittens that Sasha keeps in the garden back home. When the little servant goes pink all over and hides amidst the long sleeves of a deep green robe, Zeke giggles in response, feeling the urge to gather the child up in his arms come forward in full force. "I’m not going to hurt you, kid."
Char winds up answering Zeke’s question.
"Pru is the head cook’s only son," Char says as he rests one hand atop the little demon’s pink curls. "He’s in training to be a personal attendant. He can show you to the shrine if you’d like."
Char makes a face as though it pains him to let the other demon take care of their guests and then drops into another deep bow. “We apologize for taking so much of your time. Welcome back, Master.”
When Char turns to leave, his fellow servants do as well, all walking away in a gossipy huddle except for little Pru with his wide red eyes.
"Will you take us to the shrine, Pru?" Tavares takes on a gentle tone for the shy child standing in front of him. "I know you must be busy, but —"
Pru shakes his head. “I’m not busy,” the little demon says with a wide smile on his face. “I’d be happy to help you, Master!” Pru bows again and then pushes the sleeves of his robe up until his hands peek out from underneath them. “Oh! I’m sorry for the rudeness,” he blurts out, looking at Zeke with a faint flush on his face and prepares to drop down into another formal bow. “You’re the master’s fr-friend and I —”
Zeke smiles and reaches out to touch Pru’s shoulder. “You don’t need to apologize,” Zeke says in as gentle a tone as he can manage for the young child in front of him. “I understand how having guests can be a little scary.”
Pru beams at Zeke’s words. “We should hurry,” he says a second later. “Ebi is supposed to be moving furniture tonight and believe me you don’t want to be caught in that.” With that, Pru takes off at a fast trot, almost running down the hallway. If not for their longer legs, the little demon would outpace them in a heartbeat.
As it stands, Tavares has to work to keep up with Pru and despite the soft smile on his face that appears every time that he looks at Pru, Zeke isn’t doing much better.
"I know what you’re thinking," Tavares says when they pause in front of a corridor filled with servants unpacking and doing some serious decorating as they rush back and forth.
Zeke frowns. “Hm?”
"You can’t steal him away from the estate," Tavares teases. "I think the cook would be very angry with you." Still smiling, Tavares leans over and presses a quick kiss to Zeke’s cheek. "We’ll have plenty of time to have our own children in the future. You don’t have to risk our cook’s wrath like this."
Zeke smiles. “He is cute though,” he says, glancing at where Pru stands waiting for them at the end of the corridor. “All of the little demons are. Where does your mother find them?”
"They grew up here," Tavares says, curling one hand around the bend of Zeke’s elbow to guide him around the busy little demons. "Most of them aren’t of our kind so we have several generations of servants living on the land with us. It’s better to live on the estate than anywhere else so children usually follow in their parents’ footsteps."
Zeke doesn’t speak again for a long while, not until the doors to family shrine are a few short steps away and Pru has taken his leave of them. When Zeke does open his mouth, his voice is low and full of an emotion that Tavares can’t quite place.
"Will I do what?”
"Follow your parents?"
Tavares shakes his head. “That’s not likely,” he says. “I want a quiet life. What my mother does isn’t quiet or easy. I’m happy with what we have Earthside.” Tavares offers Zeke a smile. “But if you like it here, I’m sure we can come back and visit often.”
Zeke returns Tavares’ smile. “I’d like that,” he breathes.
"Are you ready to meet my family?" Tavares asks.
"Yeah," Zeke says quietly. "I think I am."
Tavares looks like his mother Tama.
Only her dark brown eyes and the spirals of her thin horns are different from the face that Zeke sees every single day. Her face looks so much like Tavares that for a moment, Zeke has to glance back and double check that his lover is still standing a few paces behind him.
When Tama steps forward to greet him, Zeke feels that nervous tremor threaten to return. “I-I don’t know if I should bow, or —”
"A hug will do, little one," Tama says in a rolling tone that makes Zeke feel at home. She steps forward with her arms outstretched and then gathers Zeke up in a firm hug. "I’ve heard so much about you. It’s nice to finally put a face to the high praise Tavares has written about you."
"Tavares writes about me?"
His lover comes forward and wraps one strong arm around his shoulders. “Of course I write to my family about you,” Tavares says with a gentle smile on his face. “You’re important to me. I wanted you to be important to my family too.” He kisses the side of one of Zeke’s horns and then smiles at the way that Zeke leans into his body. “Let’s finish the introductions so we can light the candles and go to bed.”
"Finally someone in this house is making sense." The demon that comes to greet Zeke and Tavares is young, younger than Zeke even, with thick brown hair pulled back in a series of complicated braids. Smiling, the demon pushes out his hand for Zeke to shake. "I’m Ko. It’s great to meet you. Tav’s told us a lot about you."
Zeke grins at Ko. “It’s nice to meet you too,” he says. “Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about you all. Tavares wasn’t exactly big on sharing.”
"Don’t worry about it. He just didn’t want to scare you away and with a family like ours, who can blame him?"
Ko makes a grotesque face at Tavares and then starts to tug Zeke away from his lover. “You have to meet our birth parent and then we can make with the religion. I want to hear all about what life is like on Earth. Tav never tells me about anything interesting in his letters.”
"That’s because you’re a child," Tavares says.
"I’m only a few years younger than your mate," Ko says with a wicked smile shaping their wide mouth. "If I’m a child, then so is Zeke."
For a moment, the shrine is filled with bright laughter, but it dies off when Ko approaches a hooded figure seated in a wheeled chair. After touching the figure’s shoulder, Ko leans in close and says, “I know you’re tired, but Tavares brought his mate for us to meet. After this, we can pray and you can go lie down.”
The figure nods and murmurs something too softly for Zeke to hear. Whatever they say is received with a solemn nod and a faint smile.
"Zeke," Tavares says in a low voice. "I’d like you to meet my birth parent, Aya. Aya, this is my future mate." His voice catches a bit at that and then it strengthens. "We’re here to celebrate with the family. I hope — I hope you’ll come to the temple with us when you’re feeling better."
The first thing that Zeke notices about Aya is the other incubi’s bright green eyes. They’re Tavares’ eyes in a different face, but Zeke recognizes them instantly. Zeke also recognizes the haze of pain in the other demon’s eyes. His knees wobble and only Tavares’s grip keeps him from collapsing to the ground when emotion overcomes him.
"I-it’s nice to m-meet you, Aya," Zeke says eventually, flushing with shame at his reaction to his lover’s other parent. Everything in Zeke’s mind wants him to ask questions or appear sympathetic, but he can’t bring himself from doing anything other than apologizing. "I’m sorry we made you wait. It’s all my fault, I —"
Aya waves aside Zeke’s apologies with an almost skeletal hand.
"It’s fine," he says in a melodious tone. "It did me some good to get out of bed before tomorrow and I have to admit, I wanted to meet you." When Aya smiles, the cheerful expression brightens his face and seems to warm the room. "Come now; let me give you a proper welcome to the family."
Aya’s hug is quick but strong. Zeke presses a kiss to the older demon’s cheek and then steps back until he can grasp for Tavares’ hand without looking. He grabs onto Tavares, holding onto him as though he’s afraid that the other demon will try to leave him. Tavares grips his hand tightly in return, holding him with a strength that will most likely leave bruises behind come morning.
None of the others miss the way that the two demons suddenly seems tense, but Tama is the first to speak up. Tama smiles at her assembled family members and then inclines her head in a brief nod.
"You young ones have plenty to talk about," she says. "We shouldn’t keep you from catching up with each other. Please feel free to light your candles and go find a room to speak in. Aya and I already lit our candles."
Zeke’s first thought is to head for the large statues of the three main gods. However, a smaller statue of a kneeling goddess catches his eye. “Who’s this?”
"That’s Dorna," Tavares says quietly. "She’s the goddess of family and the home — a protector if you will. Would you like to light a candle for her?"
Nodding as he moves, Zeke drops down to his own knees in front of Dorna’s statue. “Yeah,” Zeke says, almost sighing as he looks at the small statue that continues to call to him. “I think that I should pray first though. Will you get me a candle?”
Tavares pats the top of Zeke’s head and then moves to get a match and candle from somewhere in the shrine. “Take your time,” Tavares says just loudly enough that Zeke can hear him. “You don’t have to rush to find something to pray for.”
"I’m fine," Zeke says. "I think I know what I’m going to pray about."
Later, once they return from talking to Ko, Tavares and Zeke retire to Tavares’ bedroom and get into the massive bed without even properly undressing from the day’s travels.
Tavares curls up against Zeke’s back and starts to rub small circles into his lover’s upper thigh until Zeke utters a soft sigh and relaxes further within his embrace.
"So what did you ask the goddess for?"
Zeke takes his time answering, remembering the warmth in his chest that came after asking for Dorna’s favors. When he does speak, his voice comes out low and rough with emotion.
"Courage," Zeke says with a fleeting smile settling on his face in the dark. "I asked her for courage and strength so I could be strong for you and your family. I don’t want to disappoint you, Tavares."
Tavares sighs against Zeke’s ear. “How many times do I have to tell you that you couldn’t possibly disappoint me?”
Zeke utters a sleepy giggle and then says, “Until I believe you,” in a cheeky tone that serves to chase away the lingering tension from earlier that night.
Regardless of what tomorrow brings, Zeke and Tavares will be ready for it.