The market was so noisy Kellan could practically feel Valentine flinching beside him, shoulders hunching inside his coat as he huffed out a cold white breath. Above them the trees blazed with the last colours of autumn, occasionally dropping brightly coloured leaves to spiral down to the damp earth. Kellan caught one as it fell and reached over to tuck it into Valentine’s long braid like a flower, grinning. Valentine shot him a glare as frosty as the ground and flicked the leaf loose before shoving his hands back into the pockets of his coat.
“Can we just find whatever it is you wanted and get out of here?” Valentine side-stepped a pair of chattering children, their faces flushed red with the cold. “I don’t know why you had to drag me out of bed to come with you. Last I checked, you’re a grown man and don’t need a babysitter.”
“Because we’re partners.” Kellan shook his head sadly. “Your mother had to have named you for irony, because there’s no love in you.”
The look Valentine gave him this time was long, cool, and oddly shadowed. Feeling suddenly guilty, Kellan started to apologize but Valentine only walked past him, his entire back held stiffly rigid. Kellan sighed and jogged after him, catching him by one tense arm and forcing him to stop by the corner of a booth selling hand-painted and framed art.
“Val, come on. It was just a joke. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“I don’t care what falls out of your mouth, Kellan. It’s usually nonsense anyway.” Valentine tugged at the arm Kellan was holding and arched a dark eyebrow when Kellan refused to let go.
“Why are you so mad at me lately? Ever since Jackson moved us all to Guelph, you’ve been acting like I chewed up your favourite toy. I had nothing to do with the move, and you know I can’t stop Jackson from doing whatever he wants. The Great Wall of China couldn’t stop Jackson unless he wanted it to.” Kellan studied Valentine’s face, trying to read what was under the usual cold mask. “We’re partners. You can talk to me.”
“That’s exactly the problem. Thanks to you and that bullshit you pulled last summer, I’m stuck with you as a partner. I never wanted to move. I applied for a transfer so I could stay in Toronto, but Jackson said you weren’t staying, so I couldn’t either, unless I wanted to quit.”
“Oh.” Kellan dropped his hand and let Valentine walk a few steps ahead before catching up again. “So is it just moving, or... you don’t want to work with me anymore?”
“Both. I never wanted a partner in the first place and I sure as shit never wanted this blood-spell between us.” Valentine sighed. “Stop looking at me like a kicked puppy. You know all this, Kellan.”
“Yeah, but I thought maybe you’d warmed up a little in the past year-ish.” Kellan mustered a smile. “Man, if you really don’t like me that much, let me talk to Jackson. Maybe there’s something we can work out, some way to break it.”
Valentine said nothing but fell into step with him as Kellan started walking again. They continued through the market in a silent bubble, unaffected by the chatter and laughter around them, until Kellan found the booth he was looking for, attracted to the tickle of magic along his senses. The boy behind the stall, a gangly young teenager with a shock of red hair and eyes so blue they were nearly violet, didn’t look pleased to see either of them but agreed to sell Kellan the spell rod he was looking for. The boy brought it out from a locked glass case containing what would only look like small carvings and other trinkets to upper world eyes, and gave it to Kellan.
As Kellan passed money over in exchange, something between his hand, the money, and the boy’s hand pricked his finger. He jerked back automatically, spilling the last few coins, and watched a single drop of bright red blood well up against his skin. The boy didn’t seem to notice, sweeping up the coins and pointedly turning his back on them, but Valentine frowned at him, dark brows drawing down in a severe expression.
“Paper cut or something.” Kellan stuck his finger in his mouth, tasting the copper-sweetness of the blood, then showed it to Valentine. “Stopped bleeding already.”
“Then are we done here?”
“Yeah, I’ll let you escape.” Kellan trailed a step behind as they walked back to Valentine’s car, absently shaking out his hand to ease the sting in his finger. He was quiet on the drive back to Valentine’s new apartment building and promised again to speak to Jackson as he swung one leg over the seat of his motorcycle. For a moment he thought Valentine was about to say something, but he only shut his mouth and lifted a hand in a wave even as he headed inside.
Kellan drove back to his own new apartment distracted, paying little attention to the rush of Saturday morning traffic around him. He was nearly flattened by a semi that tried to merge into him off the Hanlon Parkway and had to hurriedly yank his motorcycle into the next lane, feeling his heart climb into his throat at the close call. His heart was still beating too fast when he pulled into his parking spot five minutes later, and as he got up from the bike he felt a sudden wave of dizziness that made him slap a hand down on the bike’s seat to support himself. The dizziness only lasted a few seconds but he still stayed where he was for a minute, breathing hard and wondering if he was coming down with a cold.
He made himself a cup of tea when he got inside and sat at the kitchen table to drink it, the spell rod laid out in front of him. Instead of activating it, he looked around at the boxes he hadn’t gotten around to unpacking yet and the still slightly unfamiliar layout of the apartment. This one actually had carpets, even if they were a faded sort of sun-bleached blue, and someone had stencilled a cartoon dog on the wall of the living room. Outside he could hear traffic and the occasional noise of other people, but it was nothing like Toronto, which never seemed to shut down even for a second. A sudden wave of homesickness washed over him and he buried his head in his arms, feeling tired and lonely.
He slept without realizing he’d drifted off and dreamed of Valentine, lying limp and pale on the dark rock ledge of the underwater cave, crouched over by the female-faced water demon they had thought was an ahuizotl. Blood ran from the corner of Valentine’s mouth in a thin red trickle and in the shifting green-grey light Kellan couldn’t see if his chest still rose and fell with his breathing. Here was where he had laid claim to Valentine the previous summer, claiming him with blood and magic and sex, but in his dream he was the one helpless in the water while the demon pressed its fanged mouth to Valentine’s cold lips. Kellan tried to shout at it, to lay his claim again, but his voice came out as a feeble croak, barely enough to cause a ripple in the deep dark water around him. Even the anger that flashed through him felt weak and subdued, and exhaustion crept into his muscles, dragging him down under the water now matter how hard he fought to get to Valentine’s side.
He woke gasping Valentine’s name, the taste of cold lake water still inside his mouth like an unwanted kiss. When he lifted his head he saw fresh blood speckling the scratched wooden surface of the table and reached up with one hand to find his nose still bleeding sluggishly. Clapping a hand over it, he shoved himself up and hurried to the bathroom, hanging his head over the sink until the last drops had fallen. When he looked up after washing away the blood his face looked pale in the bathroom mirror, his eyes bruised and dark. He scrubbed a hand across his jaw, feeling the rasp of stubble, and decided to just go to bed, hoping to sleep off whatever cold bug he’d caught.
The phone dragged him out of a deep sleep an hour later and when he opened his eyes he had a dizzy moment where he had no idea whose bed he was in and why. The phone rang again with the slightly electronic notes of Gowan’s A Criminal Mind—Valentine’s personal ringtone—and he finally coordinated himself to fumble it off the dresser and answer, mumbling a groggy hello.
“Where the hell are you?” Valentine demanded. It took Kellan a moment to identify the emotion below the annoyance as worry threaded through with bright fear.
“At home.” Kellan rubbed at his nose, resisting the urge to ask why Valentine cared. “Something wrong?”
“I’ve been trying to reach you for over an hour.” Valentine seemed to hear the way his voice rose because when he spoke again he sounded calm and collected. “I had a feeling like something was wrong but I guess you’re just fine. Have you talked to Jackson yet?”
Sudden anger drove the last of the cobwebs from Kellan’s mind. “You know what, Val? Fuck you.” He hung up before he could say anything he knew he might regret later and switched the phone off when it rang again.
He slept for another few hours and woke starving but feeling calmer and more like himself. Stumbling into the kitchen, he tossed a frozen dinner into the microwave and made himself some coffee, gulping it down as soon as it was cool enough not to scald his mouth and throat. He ate the nuked dinner standing up, shovelling it into his mouth almost too quick to taste so he could calm the near-painful twist of his empty stomach. When he was done he dropped the container in the garbage and sat at the table again to pick up the spell rod.
For a few moments he only sat there, turning the rod over in his hand and rubbing his thumb against the ridged patterns carved into it. When he reached for his magic it felt like he had to stretch over a long distance instead of feeling it right at his command, and it slipped away from his mental fingers eel-quick. He frowned and grabbed for it again, trying to force it into shape, shoving it against the channels in the spell rod.
It rebounded against him so hard that he rocked back in his chair as though with a physical blow and the spell rod exploded in his hands, ricocheting chunks of itself off the nearest wall. An especially sharp piece sliced up his wrist as neatly as a knife and another just missed his eyes, bisecting his eyebrow instead. He hissed in pain and dropped the remains of the spell rod, staring in horror at the blood that quickly streaked his fingers in half a dozen places, joined by the rivulets running down from the gash in his right wrist. He scrambled up, trying to blink more blood out of his eye, and grabbed the dishtowel from the rack on the front of the oven, wrapping his right hand in it, shaking so hard he nearly dropped the towel twice.
He called Marta, Jackson’s personal assistant, first, leaving streaky smears of blood on the number pad, and hissed a curse when he only got her voicemail. Instead of leaving a message he hung up, wavered over Jackson’s number in his contacts list, and called Valentine, leaning against the counter while the phone rang and trying not to see the flowers of blood blooming against the dishtowel.
“I’m already in the car,” Valentine said when he finally answered, and the relief that swept over Kellan nearly made his knees give out. “What the hell are you doing? They probably felt that back in Toronto.”
“I don’t really care if they felt it in Australia.” Kellan felt his knees threaten to sag again and locked them. “I’m bleeding.” He gave a shaky laugh. “A lot.”
“I’m driving as fast as I can, Kellan.” Valentine went silent for a second then swore viciously. “Accident, I need to detour.”
“Sure, no hurry.” Kellan laughed again, squeezing his eyes shut to try and stop the kitchen from seesawing back and forth in front of him.
He heard Valentine say something else, but the words were so distant that they didn’t have any meaning. The phone dropped from his suddenly numb fingers, bouncing off the counter and landing on the floor with an ominous crack, and he stared blankly at it, vaguely aware that he was weaving back and forth like a drunk in a windstorm. The lights overhead dimmed to a burnt yellow and he rolled his eyes up to look at them, only registering that he was going down when he landed hard enough to crack his skull off the tiled floor. The yellow light flared bright for a second and then went out, plunging him into darkness.
Gentle fingers stroked his temples and brought him gradually back to consciousness. He opened his eyes and immediately regretted it in the painful glare of the kitchen lights directly overhead, squeezing his eyes shut again and raising a hand to block it out for good measure. The roughness of bandages scratched his nose and his memory came flooding back, accompanied by solid throbbing pain from the tips of his fingers to his elbows.
“Kellan?” A familiar face leaned over him and he realized he was still sprawled awkwardly on the kitchen floor, though his head was comfortably in Valentine’s lap. The fingers had stilled in stroking him but still rested against his temples, warm and comforting.
“Wow, you look really weird upside-down,” Kellan managed, a little surprised at how hoarse his own voice was. “Uh, what happened?”
“You passed out.” Valentine didn’t add ‘you idiot’ but his tone implied it. “I had to destroy your lock, sorry. I got in here and you were out cold on the floor, covered in blood, so I cleaned you up and bandaged you. I was just on the verge of calling Jackson and maybe 9-1-1 when you woke up.”
“Knew you cared.” Kellan tried to make it a joke but it only came out flat, almost hostile.
“Can you get up?” Even upside-down, Valentine managed to look sceptical. “Maybe I should call Jackson anyway.”
“Be one way to get me out of your hair.” Kellan heaved himself up to a sitting position and nearly tipped over again when the room spun around him like a carousel. He sat there for a moment, breathing hard, until the world righted itself. “I’m okay. You’ve done your duty, you can go home.”
“Can we not?” Valentine slid an arm around him and helped him onto his feet, grunting a bit with the effort. “Let me just get you into bed instead of on the floor. And don’t even bother to make any jokes, Kellan, I’m not in the mood.”
“Join the club.” Kellan leaned heavily on him as they made their slow way to the bedroom and gratefully sank down on the bed, realizing he was still wearing only his boxers. Goosebumps rose up on his bare skin and he shivered, glad to let Valentine tug the blankets up over him.
“Go to sleep.” Valentine looked around the room. “I’m going to grab a chair from the kitchen and sit with you for the night, so expect to be woken up every hour so I can make sure you still know your own name.”
“What do you mean, why?” Irritation lurked beneath the cool look Valentine gave him. “Look, I’m sorry if I upset you by saying I want out, but the fact that I want out doesn’t mean I’m going to just abandon you when you’re hurt. So shut up and go to sleep.”
Kellan opened his mouth, all the hurt and anger twisting together ready to pour out, then snapped it shut again and closed his eyes instead. He heard Valentine leave and come back with one of the kitchen chairs, settling into it with a faint creak, and just before he dropped back into darkness, he thought he felt those same gentle fingers stroke his hair back again.
He may not have been a riot at a party, but Valentine knew enough to be polite, if not especially enthusiastic about so much social interaction with people he didn’t much like. He’d thought Kellan did too—at previous Magia parties Kellan had seemed in his element, flirting with anyone who seemed interested—but this time Kellan had been sullen and withdrawn since he’d gotten into Valentine’s car just after 7 pm. Valentine had put it off to his half-healed injuries from the previous week, but as he watched Kellan sulkily endure a conversation with one of the senior mages, he saw how pale and drawn Kellan’s face was, how he looked as though he’d lost weight in just the past few days.
The senior mage glanced at Valentine and said something that made Kellan’s already stiff smile turn into something more like a snarl. He opened his mouth but Valentine was already there, wrapping his fingers around Kellan’s forearm—where the muscles felt as rigid as stone—and excusing them with the brightest smile he could muster. He strong-armed Kellan outside to the hotel balcony, locking the door behind them with a simple charm, and let Kellan yank himself free.
“Jesus Christ, does everyone know you’re sick of me already?” Kellan ran both hands back through his hair, tugging at it so it stuck up in dark tufts. The sleeve of his jacket slid down enough to show the white bandages wrapped around his wrist, bright against the darkness of the night.
“What?” Valentine asked, surprised out of the lecture he was poised to deliver.
Kellan waved a hand back towards the ballroom, where Magia agents and special guests mingled over expensive wine and finger foods under Jackson’s and Marta’s watchful eyes. “That asshole, telling me I should be glad you’re leaving.”
“Well, you should be. We’d never have been able to tolerate each other this long if you hadn’t used blood-magic.” The old frustration boiled up but Valentine shoved it down again, unwilling to examine all the emotions mixed in with it. “If you hadn’t basically forced it on me.”
Kellan glared at him, eyes like green poison. “You were pretty enthusiastic about it at the time. You and I both know it wouldn’t have worked if there wasn’t some interest there, and I bet that’s what pisses you off the most. I got under your little shield and you hate it, because you’ve spent all this time building up your armour and your reputation as this bad-ass scary loner tank. You’re good at magic, Val, I’ll give you that much; hell, you’re probably the strongest tank in the whole city. But you’re a shitty person and you’re selfish and I don’t know why I love you when I really kind of hate you right now.”
Power sparked off him on the last few words and slapped Valentine hard enough to send him back half a step, raising the hairs all over his body. The last frayed shreds of his own temper snapped and he drew on his own magic, letting it simmer around him like heat haze, like the threat it was.
“You want to talk about selfish?” He heard his voice rising and let it. “You act like it’s your right to put a claim on me, your right to own me. You act like I should be grateful for it. That’s not love, it’s not even common decency. All you are is just a bratty little kid in an adult’s body, throwing a temper tantrum because you’re not getting your own way. I was wrong, we should have talked about this bullshit when it happened, so I could’ve told you this then and gotten free that much sooner.”
He’d stepped forward without realizing it, until he was so close to Kellan that the magic around them both coiled and twisted together, snapping with sparks. It tugged at something deep inside Valentine’s chest and he saw the bond linking them for an instant, bright blood-red and as thick as his wrist. He looked up again and met Kellan’s eyes, and saw something lurking behind the green like a shadow, like a thief. The air between them was so hot he could feel it even through his jacket and the shirt underneath; so hot it melted the thin layer of snow on the balcony’s floor in a circle all around them.
The sound of Jackson clearing his throat was quiet but still held the power to jerk them away from each other like a pair of puppets on a string. Valentine turned to look at Jackson where he stood with arms crossed over his barrel chest and the door into the ballroom open behind him, and hurriedly dropped all traces of magic. He felt Kellan do the same a moment later, a flutter along his senses like the touch of butterfly wings. Over Jackson’s shoulder a crowd had gathered, gawking at them through the windows.
“Want to explain what you two think you’re doing?” Jackson asked, his gaze flicking past Valentine to Kellan.
“Discussing our upcoming divorce,” Kellan said, flashing what was almost his normal grin.
Jackson only looked at him for a long moment. “Are you ill, Kellan?”
“The flu, maybe. I’ll catch a cab home, try to sleep it off.” Kellan dropped his eyes.
“Mr. Greyfeather will take you.” Jackson’s gaze went to Valentine briefly and returned to Kellan. “I expect you both to behave like the adults and the agents you claim to be, not like a pair of squabbling children. We will discuss the... dissolution of your partnership later. Until then you remain partners and I expect you to act like it.”
Valentine winced slightly at the mental thunderclap the last three words were delivered on and saw Kellan visibly flinch, his eyes going wide. Jackson held them with his glare for a moment longer before turning back into the ballroom, the crowd scattering out of his path like startled birds. For a moment Valentine only stood there, letting himself finish calming down, then he headed back inside and towards the exit, not really caring if Kellan followed or not.
Kellan fell in beside him as they walked across the parking lot but neither of them said a word then or on the drive to Kellan’s apartment building. In the orange of the streetlights flashing past over his face, Kellan looked pale and unwell, the shadows under his closed eyes dark as bruises. Valentine dragged his attention away and back to the road, refusing to look at Kellan again until he parked in front of Kellan’s building. When he did look back, he felt a jolt of fear go straight down through his belly at the sight of blood running dark and wet from Kellan’s nose.
“Jesus, Kellan.” He shoved at Kellan’s shoulder and dug a handful of tissues out of the cubby between the seats, pressing them to Kellan’s face himself when Kellan only gave him a blank look. The blood soaked through so quickly he brought his fingers away red when Kellan finally reached up to take the wadded up mess of tissues. “I am really getting tired of you bleeding on me.”
Kellan continued to stare at him for a moment before grinning suddenly, the sight gruesome with the blood on his lips. “Shit. I’m just a mess tonight. I’m really sorry, Val, about... everything.”
“You need to see a doctor.” Valentine wiped his fingers off and studied Kellan’s eyes, searching for the flicker of shadow he’d seen before and wondering if it meant a brain tumour or cancer. “This is not normal.”
“It’s nothing, I’ve had nosebleeds before.” Kellan took the bloody tissues away and gingerly touched his nose. “It’s stopped. Probably just the cold weather and with this damn flu, it’s—”
“Kellan.” Valentine was startled by the sharpness in his own voice and Kellan snapped his mouth shut like he’d been slapped, eyes white-rimmed and impossibly green. “See the doctor. Tomorrow.”
“Okay.” Kellan folded the tissues in under his long fingers, making a fist. “I’m sorry. I really mean that. I didn’t do it to hurt you, I just... couldn’t let her have you.”
“I know.” Valentine hesitated then reached out to brush Kellan’s hair off his forehead, frowning at the heat under his fingers. “You’re burning up. Get out of the car, I’ll book the doctor’s appointment myself and drive you there.”
“When did you turn into Mother Theresa?” Some heat leaked into Kellan’s voice, a touch of the temper he’d been displaying more and more often recently. “Cabs do exist here in Guelph. I’ll even charge it to Jackson.”
“I want to.”
Kellan raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
“Because...” Valentine searched for a reason that wasn’t related to the sick feeling in his belly that Kellan was seriously ill. “Because Jackson will bitch about spending money on a cab when I’m available with a car.”
The corner of Kellan’s mouth quirked up but the smile was more sad than amused. “Right. Come in then. I feel like I’ve got a million little hammers trying to beat my skull in.” He heaved himself out of the car and Valentine followed, watching him carefully the entire way up to the apartment.
He called the in-house doctor at their new headquarters in downtown Guelph while Kellan had a shower, bullying the nurse on duty into giving him an 8 am appointment. As he spoke he listened to the sound of water running, absently watching the clock. When the shower shut off twenty minutes later, he listened to Kellan move down the hall to the bedroom, half-expecting to hear at any moment the heavy mail sack thud of Kellan hitting the floor. It didn’t happen but he still sat tense and stiff at the kitchen table until Kellan came back in, freshly washed and dressed in sweatpants and an old frayed hoodie.
“Tomorrow at 8,” Valentine told him, getting up to make coffee just to give his hands something to do. “I’ll come pick you up at 7 and—”
“Stay the night. Please.” Kellan offered him an exhausted smile from his position half-sprawled over the kitchen table, his head resting in his arms. “I’ll even give you the bed and take the couch.”
“Don’t be an idiot.” Valentine set a mug of hot coffee in front of Kellan but stayed standing. “Don’t you always complain that you’re too big to sleep on couches?”
“Yeah.” Kellan gave a ghost of a laugh. “Some of us are a little above pocket-sized.”
“Just sleep in your own damn bed. One night on the couch won’t kill me.”
“Good.” Kellan’s eyes drifted shut for a moment then he shook his head and sat up, taking a swig of his coffee. “Thanks, Val. I’ll pay you back somehow, I promise.”
The smile this time was a little stronger and Kellan gave him a thumbs-up. For a little while they just sat there in a silence more comfortable than it had been in months—since Valentine had realized just what their blood-bond meant—until Kellan pushed himself up and announced that he was going to bed. Valentine watched him leave, eyes slightly narrowed, and gave him half an hour to get settled and fall asleep before going to check on him. He laid a hand on Kellan’s forehead and was relieved to feel less heat, though there was a roughness to Kellan’s breathing that he didn’t like much. He listened a few minutes longer then pulled the blankets up around Kellan’s shoulders before going to set up his own bed on the couch.
The instinct of half a hundred stakeouts kept him relaxed and quiet when he woke sometime in the darkest hours, aware that something had changed. Instead of the lumpy couch cushions he’d gone to sleep on, he felt a mattress beneath him and warmth stretched out along his back, fitting neatly against him like it belonged there; like the hand on his hip fit the slight curve perfectly. When he opened his eyes to orange-tinted darkness he confirmed that he’d somehow ended up in Kellan’s bedroom and in Kellan’s bed with Kellan draped against him like a living blanket. He told himself to slide out from under the sheets, to get up and stay up until morning broke whatever strangeness had made him move in his sleep but he couldn’t summon the energy to move.
Kellan’s hand slid down from his hip and across the waistband of his boxers, thumb rubbing gently at the band of skin between his shorts and the rucked-up hem of his tank top. That alone made him tense up, heat prickling across his cheeks and down his throat. He caught Kellan’s wrist to keep his hand from slipping further down and felt more than heard Kellan laugh against his back, a dark and somehow smoky chuckle.
“You want me to stop?” Kellan pressed a kiss to the side of his neck and ran his tongue up to the lobe of Valentine’s ear. “Just say the word.”
“Yes.” He said it instantly, with no hesitation. “I’m not as big an asshole as you seem to think, Val. So tell me if you want me to stop.”
Valentine opened his mouth to say yes, but what came out instead was, “No. I don’t... Don’t stop.” He let go of Kellan’s wrist, suddenly completely aware that there was no spell here, and nothing affecting his decision except the heat against his back and the hand sliding beneath his shorts.
He arched at the first touch, his breath catching in his throat, and squirmed when Kellan only kept the movement of his fingers light and teasing. Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried to relax the tense muscles of his stomach, blocking a gasp behind clenched teeth when Kellan gave a certain twist of his wrist.
“You can enjoy it, you know,” Kellan said, his tone both amused and exasperated. “Relax, Val.”
“I’m still not entirely sure this is real.” Valentine took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Maybe I’m just dreaming.”
“You’re this awkward even in your damn dreams?”
“Yeah.” Valentine surprised himself by laughing and felt his muscles unknot as he did, at least until Kellan’s teasing strokes became a little rougher, a little more insistent.
His thoughts went unbidden to memories that were barely clear enough to remember, of darkness and the sound of water, of blood on his tongue and flushed skin under his hands, of magic coursing into him and through him. He shivered all over and hunched in on himself, digging his fingers into the mattress and breathing in uneven little pants, pressing back against Kellan behind him. He felt Kellan push himself up a bit, felt Kellan’s weight settle more heavily against him and quick fingers freeing his hair from his braid before sliding through the heavy weight of it, sweeping it aside to bare the back of his neck.
“I do love you,” Kellan murmured into his nape, the movement of his lips bringing up goosebumps on Valentine’s skin. He rolled his wrist again and nipped at Valentine’s shoulder, his skilled fingers coaxing Valentine to the edge and over it in a shuddery spasm that left Valentine panting for breath, his heart pounding in his ears.
He rolled over to look at Kellan and dumped himself off the couch in the early morning light of dawn, bewildered and chilled by the dampness of his shorts and the sweat drying on his skin. For a moment he just sat there, looking around Kellan’s living room with wide eyes, then he pushed himself to his feet and grabbed a blanket to wrap around himself, walking hesitantly down to Kellan’s room. When he looked in he saw Kellan was still fast asleep, sprawled out on his belly with his face pressed into his pillow, his dark hair sticking up in disarray. Valentine watched him for a few long minutes, feeling disoriented and uncertain, then went to have a quick shower before Kellan woke.
Kellan was up and in the kitchen when he got out of the bathroom, humming along to the radio and poking through the fridge in search of breakfast. He glanced up and grinned as Valentine walked into the kitchen, flicking his gaze up and down Valentine’s body in obvious appreciation. Valentine felt a flush spread across his cheeks and refused to examine why, or to adjust his position, keeping one hand on the towel around his waist so it wouldn’t slip off.
“You seem to be feeling better,” he said, hearing the acid in his own tone. “Sleep well?”
“Slept awesome. I’m not even sure I need to go to the doctor now. It was probably just a bad cold and now it’s finally letting go.” Kellan tossed him an apple from the bowl on the counter and kicked the fridge door shut with one foot. “Need to go grocery shopping though.”
“You’re still going to the doctor.” Valentine examined the apple and took a bite, gagging as the taste of rot filled his mouth. He spat his mouthful in the sink and dropped the apple in after it, rinsing his mouth out with a handful of water and glaring at the apple, which looked completely innocuous sitting at the bottom of the steel sink. “Nasty. Get dressed and I’ll even buy you breakfast after.”
“I’m not the one who’s half-naked. Want to borrow some clothes? I have some old jeans that might fit if we roll the bottoms up a bit.”
“Probably better than wearing a dirty suit.” Valentine followed Kellan to the bedroom and took the jeans and sweatshirt Kellan handed him, using the bathroom to change. The jeans did need to be rolled at the bottom and the sleeves of the sweatshirt hung over his hands in a way that Kellan seemed to think was adorable, but they sufficed for the trip to the new Guelph Magia HQ.
He sat in the waiting room while Kellan went in to see the doctor, picking absently at a loose thread on the hem of the sweatshirt and pointedly ignoring the fact that the sweatshirt smelled a lot like Kellan’s cologne. The clock on the wall seemed purposely just loud enough for the tick of the hands to get inside his head and after a few minutes he went out to the car to get his headphones, plugging them into his phone and leaning back against the wall to listen to music. He was almost asleep when Kellan came back out of the office and pulled his headphones off, leaning over him with a big grin.
“I’m fine. Doc says I should take it easy for a couple of days and especially be careful about what magic I’m using because it’s a little unstable right now, but I am good to go. Just need to keep an eye on the nosebleeds in case they come back.” He kissed Valentine’s forehead and straightened up. “I seem to remember you offered to treat me to breakfast, or was that only valid when you thought I was dying?”
“You’re really okay?” Valentine studied his face. “You wouldn’t lie about something like this, would you?”
“Why the hell would I? Come on, Val, breakfast, before my stomach eats itself.” He headed for the door, humming, and after a brief moment of hesitation, Valentine followed.
“It can’t be done.” Jackson folded his hands in front of him on his desk and leaned forward. “I told you this when it happened. The only way you’re breaking a blood-bond like that is if one of you dies, and I don’t particularly want to lose either of you. You’re both too powerful to lose.”
“Then I’ll quit,” Kellan said. “Hell, fire me. You said you would if we couldn’t get along.”
Jackson fixed him with a stare that threatened to skewer him to his seat. “Or you could both grow up and put aside your petty little differences like professional adults.” His gaze slid to Valentine, who met his eyes steadily even though Kellan saw a muscle jump in his jaw. “I’ve indulged you long enough and through too many complaints, Mr. Greyfeather. You’re nearly 22 years old. If I wanted to listen to whining, I would buy a puppy. Work it out. I don’t care how but I do care when, because I have a job that I need both of you on, within the next day. Quitting is not an option, Kellan, shut your mouth. And both of you, get out of my office.”
Kellan obediently closed his mouth and got to his feet, shaking his head slightly when Valentine looked up at him. The set of Valentine’s mouth turned almost mutinous but he said nothing as he pushed himself up and followed Kellan out to the reception office, where Marta raised an eyebrow at them and handed over a manila folder marked with a classified stamp.
“If he starts drinking whiskey with his lunch instead of coffee, I’m blaming you two,” she said.
“It’s not my fault Val hates me.” Kellan meant it mostly as a joke but the glare Valentine shot him would have seared his eyebrows off if it was any more fiery. “Okay, never mind. Marta, please try and talk to him. There has to be a way to break this spell, somewhere in all those old books he has hidden around the place.”
“No promises.” She made a shooing gesture and picked up the phone as it rang, plastering on a brilliant smile and rattling off her greeting so fast it all sounded like one long word.
“I don’t hate you,” Valentine said as they stepped out into the hallway. “Though sometimes you bring me pretty close. You’re the one who said you hate me, remember?”
“How many times do you want me to apologize for that? I’m sorry, it was a jerky thing to say and the fact that I was sick doesn’t excuse it. Happy?”
“You’re still being an asshole.” Valentine took the file from him, obviously and overly careful not to touch his hand. Kellan frowned at his bent head as he looked through the file, still trying to figure out why Valentine seemed even more reluctant to be near him after the night he’d stayed over.
“Looks pretty standard,” Valentine said, still flipping through the papers. “Poltergeist activity, shouldn’t take more than ten minutes to banish it. I don’t know why Jackson would give this to us.”
“I’m going to guess something about it isn’t standard. Be ready for anything, I guess.” Kellan stopped by his and Valentine’s shared desk to grab his coat, grimacing out the window at the gently falling snow outside. “I hate winter. Can’t ride my bike.”
“So get a car.”
“I don’t want a car.” Kellan fought off a flash of annoyance and forced a smile. “Maybe I’ll just move to Cuba.”
A speculative look came into Valentine’s eyes but he didn’t bother replying before pulling his coat on and heading out to the car. Kellan tagged along at his heels, sticking his tongue out in an attempt to catch one of the big snowflakes drifting down. They reached the address in the file fifteen minutes after leaving headquarters, pulling up in front of a plaza of short office buildings on Taggart Street and walking down to the office at the end of the row. Kellan felt magic tingle along his nerves as they walked through the door and saw Valentine glance around quickly before he went to speak quietly to the girl at the front desk.
The owner of the business came out and introduced himself, shaking their hands with wary courtesy, and led them into the back warehouse, a long narrow room full of various bits of steel and plastic that didn’t look like much of anything to Kellan’s eyes. The owner seemed glad to flee back to the front office, leaving them alone in the cold warehouse with only the sound of the wind outside to break the silence.
“I kind of expected—” Kellan started, and then the screaming began, a high ratcheting shriek that sent him to his knees with his hands clapped over his ears.
Valentine stayed on his feet but only barely, flinching as the shriek grew even louder, vibrating the very walls around them. He made a few quick motions with his hands and a bubble of silence descended over them both, but not before Kellan realized his nose was bleeding again. He licked blood off his upper lip and wiped his nose with the back of his hand as he got to his feet, hoping the bleeding was only temporary. Valentine looked at him, frowning, but before he could speak the poltergeist launched a steel rebar at them from the other end of the warehouse.
Kellan whipped up a shield a bare instant before the rebar would have slammed through his chest and stared wide-eyed at it for a few seconds when it rebounded and clattered back to the stone floor. Valentine punching him hard in the shoulder brought him back to the current situation just in time to strengthen his shield against a deluge of thrown objects. He felt the magic begin to twist in his mental fingers, stretching out against his will in strange ways, and clamped down on it in an attempt to force it back under control as Valentine began to set up a banishing spell.
The poltergeist went still so suddenly that Kellan stumbled a little under the force of his own gathered power. He glanced at Valentine to see if he’d completed the banishing spell, but Valentine was frowning at the shadowed corner of the warehouse, his hands stilled for the moment. The magic twisted inside Kellan again and he lost the shield for just an instant; just long enough for the poltergeist to whip a chunk of rock through the narrow opening. It caught Valentine across the temple, snapping his head to the side and dumping him in an unconscious heap on the warehouse’s floor. Blood spread quickly outwards in a corona around his head.
Power exploded from Kellan, so suddenly that he had no chance to control it. It wiped the poltergeist out of existence as neatly as someone blowing out a match and expanded outwards until the warehouse’s walls bulged with it. Kellan arched with the force slamming through him and fell to his knees beside Valentine’s still form, trying desperately to make his heavy limbs obey him. He managed to slump awkwardly over Valentine, protecting him from the worst of the debris when the warehouse blew away around them in a shifting vortex of power and dirt.
Kellan. The voice came from everywhere and nowhere all at once. Come.
He pushed himself unsteadily to his feet, staggering as another burst of power rippled through him, cramping his stomach and doubling him over. He spat and it came out tinged with blood, whipped away by the wind before it could hit the ground. Somewhere in the distance he heard screaming but it seemed unimportant to the suddenly groggy workings of his mind. As he stepped away from Valentine his power only increased, until it leaked from his pores and sparked around his head like fireflies, encasing him in a ten-foot wide circle. Walls fell before him like dominoes and he passed through without really seeing the damage he was causing, his eyes wide, his pupils little more than pinpricks.
He blinked and realized that it was dark, the stars overhead peeking out between the drifting clouds. He slowed and then stopped, looking around himself in confusion, and tried to remember how he’d gotten out to a lonely country road so late at night, when the last thing he remembered was going with Valentine to a job in downtown Guelph. His feet ached and his head buzzed like he’d been drinking, but he didn’t taste any alcohol inside his mouth; only something vaguely electrical and burnt. His nerves hummed with magic and he absently lifted a hand to call for a bit of light.
His hand blazed instead, sending a column of bright white light nearly five feet up into the air. So much power washed through him that he felt punch-drunk with it, his mind filled with a glow almost brighter than the light flaring up from his hand. Concentrating, he curled his fingers and pulled the light back in, forming it into a ball like a miniature sun. Something tugged at him from the north, whispering his name, and he turned towards it, hearing his own breathing harsh in his ears.
He blinked again and found he was walking through the empty streets of a long-dead town, dust and dirt swirling around his feet. The light in his hand pulsed in time with his heartbeat, throwing off occasional flashes like tiny solar flares. He studied the crumbling ruins of the houses and shops all around him, once-bright paint tattered and faded grey under the light of the moon. When he held his own light up to the nearest wall he saw maggots squirming in the battered wood, feasting on it like flesh.
“Kellan,” the voice said, inside his head and in his ears both. Kellan, look at me.
He turned unwillingly, his muscles tensing in protest, and wasn’t very surprised to see the boy from the market standing a few feet away. His finger started to throb and he felt blood trickle slowly from his nose again. “Who... what... are you?” His own voice sounded distant and groggy, the words numbing his mouth. “Let... go.”
“I don’t think so, sweetheart.” The boy smiled and his face changed suddenly, features rearranging themselves to something older and infinitely more predatory. Kneel, Kellan. Down where you belong.
Kellan’s legs folded under him, landing him on his knees hard enough to skin them even through his jeans. The light in his hand guttered and went out but the power continued to rage inside him like wildfire, until he thought it would leak out through his pores like sweat. The boy—who wasn’t a boy at all—only watched him, the corner of his mouth twitched up in a slight smile.
“I... won’t...” Every word was a struggle, like screaming underwater. “Val...”
“He’ll come.” Silly little blood-bonded fools, children playing at something you can’t even comprehend. “He won’t be able to help himself.”
Kellan fought to shake his head, managing only an almost imperceptible twitch from side to side. “Uh-uh. Not... Val.”
“I really don’t think you’re in any position to argue.” The boy settled himself down on the ruins of an old stone wall. I need you, I need your power, and nothing tastes sweeter than mages bound by blood. One eyebrow quirked. “Among other things.”
Sheer bitter hatred almost gave Kellan the strength to rise and he was gratified to see the boy jerk back a little, before the muscles in his legs went loose again, thumping him back down onto his knees. “Gonna... kill you.”
The boy gave him a cool look that reminded him so much of Valentine that it hurt. “Maybe you could, if you were older and smarter. As it is, little mage, it doesn’t matter where you come from or who your real daddy is. Your Magia teachers were competent enough, but of course they didn’t know what you are.”
“Which is... what?” Kellan struggled to remember a past he only had dim glimpses of; the first fourteen years of his life shattered like broken mirror glass, only rarely showing him a fragment of something recognizable.
Does it matter now, my mageling? Soon you’ll just be dinner. The boy rubbed at his stomach and grinned, displaying perfect white teeth.
“Have... a right... to know.” Kellan gritted his own teeth with the effort of speaking, exhausted down to the core despite the strength of the magic humming through his bones.
“You’re from another world, darling.” It was destroyed, torn apart by greed. You’re not the last—others must have escaped—but you’re an endangered breed now, mageling. He smiled again. “Would you like to hear how your parents destroyed the world? I might be doing this world a favour by killing you.”
“How?” Kellan swayed a little and wondered how long until he fell on his face.
“The downfall of any civilization is its people. They want and want and want, and even when they have all they need, they want more. Your parents thought they had the right to own everything, people included.” You take after them, mageling. “So they fought and cheated and killed for power, until the world began to die and the enslaved rose up to run the streets red with blood.” Your mother died to send you here, sweetheart. She tore her own heart out even as they cut her throat and tried to cut yours. With blood-magic she shoved you through a gate with only the hope that you could survive. It’s a terrible kind of love, that which a mother holds for her only child.
“You... were there.” Kellan closed his eyes for a moment then forced them open again. “So this is... revenge?”
“Only a lucky coincidence.” Or fate, if you prefer. The death of the last of the Greene family, if not the last of your world. The boy looked past Kellan’s shoulder and smiled again. “And here comes your reluctant partner.”
The way he said the last word brought heat to Kellan’s cheeks and a sudden, almost uncomfortable jolt to his lower belly. He fought to free himself but his magic slipped through his fingers like sand and he could only remain helpless on his knees as the sound of Valentine’s car grew louder and closer.
Stinging throbbing pain brought Valentine back to consciousness and he gingerly lifted a hand to the source of it, feeling torn skin and crusty blood under his fingers. When he opened his eyes he found himself staring at a whirling swath of dirt and small bits of debris, whipping by so fast it looked almost solid. A careful glance around told him that it was all around and over him in a dome, and he wasn’t sure if it was meant to protect him or trap him. He tried to remember how he’d gotten here through the sick pounding inside his skull and slowly began to put the pieces together, starting with the angry poltergeist that had almost skewered Kellan like a bug on a pin.
The thought of Kellan brought it all back at once and he groaned, sending his senses out just enough to confirm that it was Kellan’s magic spinning around him. Sitting up made him feel like his head might fall off and he had to swallow hard against nausea, hunching his shoulders until his stomach went back down where it belonged. He reached out towards the shield around him and tested it for weakness, finding that its very nature made it unstable. Bracing himself, he flicked up a shield of his own and hammered at Kellan’s magic as hard as he could.
He’d been trained as a tank for solid strength and brute force, a living protective barrier using magic like a sledgehammer instead of the more delicate and complicated spells a mage of Kellan’s calibre could cast, and he was very good at it. The whirling shield splintered under the force of his blow and exploded into dust, allowing the debris it had been holding up to hit the floor around Valentine with a crash. He took a deep breath, listening to the wail of sirens nearby, and carefully pushed himself to his feet.
Jackson caught him when he stumbled out of the rubble and nearly fell, easing him down and holding his hair back while he puked up what felt like his entire stomach. When he was done he looked up and around with wide uncomprehending eyes at the destruction, a full city block levelled into dust and debris.
“What happened?” Jackson’s big hands tightened around his biceps and Valentine got the distinct impression that Jackson wanted to shake him like a rag doll until answers fell out. “Where is Kellan?”
“I don’t... know.” His tongue felt like sandpaper, his voice rasping up through his throat. “He lost control.”
“I don’t know.” Valentine met Jackson’s dark eye and saw the very real fear there. “He’s been off for weeks. Snappy, sick, not normal. He destroyed a spell rod by accident, that’s how he hurt his wrist. But the doctor said he was fine.” He felt a chill run up his spine and bit his bottom lip against adding, Or at least he said the doctor said he was fine.
“Obviously not.” Jackson looked around, one raised eyebrow somehow managing to encompass all the damage. “The truth, Valentine. Is he sick, or is he going renegade?”
Valentine forced himself to think about it, trying not to focus on the knowledge that Kellan’s life hung on his word. “Sick,” he said finally. “He hasn’t gone wild, he just isn’t well.”
Jackson nodded and gave his shoulder a quick squeeze before releasing him. “We agree then. Now how do we find him, and more importantly, subdue him?’ He looked around again, eyebrows drawing down, and added in a distracted voice, “I knew he was powerful, but this powerful?”
Valentine licked his lips, grimacing at the taste of bile. “Let me go alone and call you in when I find him. If the whole agency goes after him, he might see it as a threat. I would.”
“He’s stronger than you.” Jackson looked back and held his gaze for so long that Valentine had to curl his fingers into fists to keep from fidgeting. “Clean yourself up first and see if anyone wants to slap some stitches in that hole in your head. I have damage control to do.”
“Yes, sir.” Valentine stayed where he was for a few moments after Jackson moved away then heaved himself up and made his way over to the pair of mages disguised as paramedics. A woman with a rough voice and gentle hands stitched up the wound across his temple and laid a bandage across it, warning him to see someone immediately if he experienced loss of vision, nausea, or dizziness. He agreed and pushed himself off the back of the ambulance, picking his way through the rubble to reach his car.
He slid into the driver’s seat and then just sat there, tipping his head back against the headrest and closing his eyes. He felt so bone-weary that he could almost drift off right then, but he thought of Kellan and sent his senses out instead, sifting through thousands of different energy signatures in search of just one. It was hard, exhausting work and his style of power wasn’t made for it, but he stubbornly kept trying until he caught a flicker of Kellan’s trail.
He opened his eyes again, stiff and cold, and judged a good hour had passed. The sun sat just past its zenith, a dull yellow circle in the grey sky that made his head ache when he squinted at it. It took him three tries to slide his key into the ignition and he stopped at the nearest convenience store to buy painkillers and a case of energy drinks, Kellan’s trail tickling at the back of his mind the entire time.
The trail led him out of Guelph and into the empty side roads, where snow was beginning to fill the fields. He drove until the sun began to set, wondering how Kellan could have gotten so far on foot, chugging the energy drinks in an effort to keep his heavy eyes open. As the shadows began to lengthen in front of his headlights, he finally felt Kellan’s trail grow stronger, veering off onto another narrow side road running between dark houses and storm-smashed barns. Valentine dropped his speed along this road, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, and checked his cell phone on a hunch. The screen lit up but the bars remained blank and he got nothing but static when he tried to call Jackson.
Instead of turning around he kept going, bumping the car as gently as he could over gravel that soon became little more than wheel ruts in the ground. Trees crowded in around him, their branches stripped bare of leaves, and scratched along the roof of his car like spindly nails. Valentine found himself breathing hard, gripping the steering wheel tight enough to turn his knuckles white, and flipped on his high beams to pick his way through the gloom.
He came on the dead town so suddenly that he had to slam on the brakes to avoid a building that loomed up abruptly in the glow of his headlights. He sat with the engine running for a moment, trying to look around, then turned the engine off and got out of the car, pocketing his keys and breathing out on a long white stream of condensation. The moon lit his path well enough for him to walk down towards what had once been the town common, and the two figures in the darkness there, one sitting and the other kneeling.
“Greyfeather mage.” The boy from the market grinned, his teeth a flash of white in the dim light of the moon. “Come to take back what’s yours?”
“Come to help a friend. I don’t own him.” Valentine glanced at Kellan, made sure he was still breathing, and returned his gaze to the boy. “Neither do you.”
“I don’t exactly want to own him.” The boy got up from his seat on the stone wall and moved over to Kellan, making a ‘tsk’ noise and wagging his finger reprovingly when Valentine automatically raised a hand and called on his magic to crackle around his fingers. “Put it away or I’ll rip his throat out right here and now.” He laid his palm flat against Kellan’s throat.
Valentine gritted his teeth but pulled the magic back, stepping forward. The boy tightened his grip, just enough to make Kellan choke a little, and Valentine stopped where he was, helpless rage building up in his chest. It took an effort to keep his voice calm enough to ask, “What do you want from him?”
“Power, from both of you.” He trailed a hand down Kellan’s chest and wrapped his fingers around something invisible, making a tugging motion that Valentine felt in his own chest. “You really don’t realize what you’ve done to each other, do you? Or what you can do.”
“I don’t really care either, not when the information is coming from some jumped-up little supernatural shit.”
“Val. Go.” Kellan’s voice was rusty and it took him an obvious effort to turn his head enough to look at Valentine, eyes pleading. “Run.”
“Shut up, Kellan.”
“You should take your partner’s advice,” the boy said, moving his hand back up to catch hold of Kellan’s chin. Leaning forward, he tilted Kellan’s face up and kissed him, pressing their mouths together in a parody of intimacy.
Kellan’s body jerked, the air around his mouth shimmering a green like emeralds. Valentine saw the boy swallow, drinking in the emerald shimmer, and moved forward, already raising a hand and calling on his magic. The boy flicked negligent fingers at him and a surge of power picked him up off his feet and slammed him back down to the ground, knocking the breath out of his lungs and the magic out of his grasp. He gasped for air, trying to ignore the painful rotten feeling inside his skull, and rolled over, pushing himself up to his knees with trembling arms.
“You’re not strong enough alone,” the boy told him, letting Kellan fall in a limp heap. You don’t care enough, Greyfeather, about anyone.
“Get out of my head.” Even from where he was Valentine could see the horrible graceless way Kellan was lying, the stillness of his back. He forced himself to straighten up, pressing a hand to his own chest where he’d seen the blood-bond once before, and risked taking his attention away from the boy. His thoughts whirled and then focused on one thing, a mental plea for Kellan to get up, to breathe, to do anything but lie there boneless and crumpled like a discarded toy.
The creature wearing a boy’s shape took a step towards him, frowning instead of smiling now, but Kellan’s hand shot out suddenly and grabbed his ankle, tripping him up. Valentine didn’t stop to think, lashing out like he’d wanted to since he’d seen Kellan down on his knees, and hit the creature with a pure pulse of power, putting all the pain in his head and the sick feeling in his chest into it. It was inelegant and foolishly overpowered but it knocked the creature back a step, doubling him over. He coughed up a spray of green sparks, wiping at his mouth in disgust, and gave Valentine a look stripped of all his previous smug attitude.
The spell he cast nearly destroyed Valentine’s shield completely, leaving the arms he crossed in front of his face striped with blood and staggering him back a few steps. The magic felt like Kellan’s, left a half-remembered taste on his tongue and made him so angry it hurt to breathe. As the creature advanced, he reached out and snagged a handful of T-shirt, yanking the creature in and head-butting him in the face. He heard the satisfying crunch of bone and a yelp of pain that sounded completely human, before he gut-punched the creature and heard it turn into a choking gasp.
He stepped back, trying to circle around and get to Kellan, watching warily as the creature stayed hunched over, clutching at his stomach. The sound of laughter, low and wheezy, startled him into freezing in place, and he narrowed his eyes as the creature looked up, blue eyes crinkled with amusement.
“He stole from you, you know. When you stayed the night at his apartment and thought you dreamed going to his bed. How do you think he suddenly got better?” Blood works best, but other bodily fluids will do.
Valentine stared at him for a moment, humming with power and rage, then startled both of them by laughing. “Except I said yes. I was willing, and you can’t steal something given freely. I love him.” He hesitated, realizing it fully himself, and snorted. “And kind of hate him too. But either way he’s my mage, my partner, and you don’t get to have any of him.”
He reached out a hand and yanked, calling on the familiar pulse of Kellan’s magic as though it was his own. The creature stumbled forward a step, eyes wide, his thin face twisted in a frightened sneer and he dug his heels in, fighting the pull. Green light flickered around his slim form, sliding off his features and sending tendrils out towards Valentine. Valentine gritted his teeth and pulled as hard as he could, feeling something open up inside him like sprung ribs, a hole right down to his center.
Kellan’s magic hit him in a wave, knocking him flat on his back and healing the wounds across his temple and arms even as it seemed to shatter his skull like glass. He dimly realized that it was killing him and fought to put himself back together, getting to his feet in stiff, jerky movements. He stumbled to Kellan and tore out the knees of his jeans falling beside him, dimly aware that the creature had vanished. Kellan’s eyes were barely open, a dull green glitter beneath the sooty darkness of his lashes, his skin like ice under Valentine’s fingers.
“You’re not dead, you asshole.” Valentine barely recognized the raw voice coming from his own throat. “I refuse to let you die.”
Kellan’s eyelashes fluttered and Valentine sensed distant, unsteady focus. He stroked the curve of Kellan’s cold cheek with shaking fingers, struggling to hold onto himself through the spin and heartbeat-thud of Kellan’s magic inside him. Leaning over, he pressed his mouth to Kellan’s, tasting blood and dust. He spread a hand out on Kellan’s chest, leaving the bloody imprint of his fingers, and tried to breathe Kellan’s magic back into him the same way the creature had taken it out.
The magic twisted in his mental grasp and he felt Kellan’s heartbeat—already faded and uneven—stutter under his hand. Gritting his teeth he pushed harder, almost sobbing with frustration and grief as Kellan’s heartbeat ticked down like a clock. He lost his grip on the magic at the same instant that Kellan’s ragged heartbeat stopped, the tiny bit of heat in his lips from Valentine’s breath fading into nothing.
“Fuck you!” He yelled it, his voice cracking and breaking with the force, and slammed his fist against Kellan’s chest, all his careful control gone into the maelstrom inside him. His head throbbed and pounded, and he coughed up a fine spray of blood suddenly, tears of rage and pain pricking hotly at his eyes. “I hate you so much. Kellan!”
In the silence following his scream he felt calm descend over him. He leaned over again and brushed a kiss against Kellan’s cold lips, giving in to the power swirling through him, slowly killing him. When he tried to sit up again his muscles gave out and he collapsed on Kellan’s still chest, his eyes too heavy to keep open any longer. His fingers went numb and he felt the numbness creeping up his arms, knowing that when it reached his chest he would die.
Under his ear Kellan’s heart thumped once, and a second time.
As darkness drew its veil across Valentine’s eyes, he felt the magic begin to trickle out of him and into Kellan, flooding them both with green light. Too late, Valentine thought fuzzily, then, You better live, Kellan, if I’m going to die for you. I’m your tank. It’s my job. He felt the darkness tug harder at him and finally surrendered fully, sinking down deep into nothing.
Kellan woke feeling like even his eyelashes hurt, like he’d gone ten rounds with a wrecking ball. It hurt to breathe, it hurt to open his eyes, it even hurt to blink. Somewhere something was beeping loudly and insistently, but he paid no attention until he was suddenly surrounded by doctors and nurses all asking him a thousand questions at once, their voices echoing around inside his skull like pinballs.
“Out.” Jackson’s snarl froze everything in silent tableau, then the room emptied as quickly as it had filled, leaving Kellan dizzy and disoriented.
Jackson helped him sit up with one meaty arm under his shoulders, letting him look around the room. He recognized it as a private suite in the little hospital the Magia maintained for its agents, trim and economic in its furnishings but filled with state-of-the-art equipment. Flowers sat on the dresser beside the bed and he didn’t have to see a card to know they were from Marta. Gradually he became aware of the IV in his arm—and the itch it produced—and the wires stretching from his body to the machines grouped around his bed.
He gestured for water and Jackson poured him a glass, sticking a straw in it and helping him to drink. After a second glass he felt lubricated enough to ask, “Where’s Val?”
“Not here.” Jackson set the glass aside. “What do you remember, Kellan?”
“Not a lot.” Kellan tried to think through the pain and the exhaustion still dragging on him. “Need to talk to Val.”
“Sleep first. You still need time to recover.”
“I want—” The rest of the sentence would have been ‘to see Val’ but Jackson put a hand on his head and sent him back down into the darkness of sleep.
He woke again to the real darkness of night, rising up to consciousness slowly. He opened his eyes feeling completely bewildered by the strange surroundings until he managed to get his tired eyes to focus and his memory began to drift back. Carefully swinging his legs out from under the blankets, he sat up, pouring himself more water with shaky hands. When he’d drained most of it he reached out to shut off the machines and removed the electrodes from his skin, grimacing at having to slide the IV needle out of his arm. Freedom attained, he pushed himself up and limped into the bathroom to empty his bladder. The face looking back at him from the mirror when he washed his hands looked older and thinner even under a layer of dark scruff that had to be more than a few days old. It made him wonder just how long he’d been unconscious.
The door clicked as he was making his way back to the bed and he spun towards it, gripped by a sudden nameless fear. The shadow that slipped inside paused on seeing him, then Valentine’s familiar voice growled, “What the hell are you doing out of bed?”
“Val.” He sank onto the bed before his knees could give out and spill him onto the floor, shivering at a flash of memory; Valentine down and bleeding.
He opened his mouth to say something else—like explain that he’d just needed to take a piss—as Valentine crossed the room, but it never got out before Valentine caught his face in both hands and kissed him hard, teeth and tongue and heat against his lips. The sudden solid weight in his lap nearly knocked him backwards before he braced himself with one arm and snaked the other around Valentine’s waist, arching up into him. Thinking became impossible with all his blood rushing down south and he gave himself over to being kissed breathless, to the press of Valentine’s chest against his and the movement of hips that was maddeningly just shy of enough.
“Jesus,” he managed when Valentine finally let him go, feeling bruised in a way that he wouldn’t mind happening again. “Who are you and what did you do with the real Valentine Greyfeather?”
“Not funny, Kellan.”
“You know what’s really not funny?” Kellan grinned, feeling giddy. “I finally get you back in my lap and I don’t even have the energy to take advantage of it.”
Valentine looked down at what little space there was between them, one eyebrow arching. “One part of you obviously has some energy.”
“Not enough.” Real regret coloured Kellan’s voice. “Especially since I’m pretty sure this is a dream.”
Valentine eyed him for a moment then leaned in again and bit him hard, right where the line of his neck met his shoulder. Kellan yelped and immediately clapped a hand over his mouth to muffle it, half-expecting all the lights to go on and Marta to burst into the room in full guard-dog glory. When it didn’t happen he breathed a sigh of relief and slid his arm back around Valentine’s waist.
“Still think you’re dreaming?” Valentine asked.
“No, you’ve convinced me.” Kellan rolled his shoulder, wincing a bit. “What are you, half-Hobbit, half-piranha?”
“Something like that.” Valentine sighed. “Sometimes I’m not even sure what I’m doing. I even had to sneak out to see you because Jackson’s banned me from coming here. Do you remember any of it?”
“Bits and pieces. Maybe. You were hurt.” Kellan rebalanced so he could reach up and push Valentine’s hair back, tracing the outline of the scar on his temple. “And there was...” A face flashed into his memory, perfect white teeth in a predatory grin, blue eyes so dark they seemed purple. “That kid from the market.”
“Jackson thinks he was probably an energy vampire and he put you under his control somehow. He stole your magic and he nearly killed us both.”
Another flash of memory, this one enough to make Kellan’s eyes go wide. “You stole it back. Are you insane?”
“Probably,” Valentine muttered. “What was I supposed to do? Leave you? You were dying. That’s what it came down to, Kellan; you were dying and I had to at least try. I’m your partner, your tank, it’s what I do.”
“Is kissing me also something you just do?” Kellan asked dryly.
“You seemed pretty enthusiastic about it at the time.”
Kellan grinned despite himself at having his own words thrown back at him. “Touché, point to you. I guess we’re even then.” He slid his hand under Valentine’s loose shirt and rested it there against the warmth of Valentine’s skin. “I saved your life, you saved mine.” His grin faded. “Val, all that shit I said to you, I’m sorry. You’re not really a shitty person and that joke about your name was just stupid. I was a complete asshole to you and I probably wouldn’t have blamed you for letting that energy vampire or whatever eat me. Forgive me? And if you still want to go back to Toronto, I’ll find some way to make Jackson agree.”
“I want...” Valentine let his weight slump forward, wrapping his arms around Kellan’s shoulders and pressing his face into the curve of Kellan’s neck. “Right now I just want to go back to sleep.”
“Fortunately that’s something I am very good at.” Kellan let him get up and shoved back on the mattress until he was stretched out with his head on the pillow. He offered a hand to Valentine and pulled him in when he accepted it, tucking Valentine against his side and absently tugging the tie off the end of his braid. Closing his eyes, he let himself drift, falling into sleep to the steady comforting sound of Valentine’s breathing.
A week later, when he’d finally been allowed out from under Marta’s watchful eye—though still banned from active duty both to let him finish recovering and while Jackson talked to the Magia head agency about the damage he’d caused—he lifted Valentine’s car keys silently from the counter in his kitchen and slipped them into the pocket of his jeans before going back into the bedroom where Valentine still slept. He leaned down and ran his fingers through the heavy dark fall of Valentine’s hair, brushing it back from Valentine’s face so he could press a kiss to the temple laid bare. Valentine muttered something but didn’t wake, only turned his face further into the pillow and relaxed again.
Smiling to himself, Kellan left him to sleep off the exertions of a night spent running around Guelph—partnered temporarily with another agent he was vocal about disliking—hunting rogue demons. He stepped out into the cold air and took a deep breath, coughing a little at the chill he pulled into his lungs, and walked towards Valentine’s car, whistling. As the car warmed up he flicked through the radio stations, eventually settling on 107.5 DAVE FM for the drive north out of Guelph.
He passed the area where he’d almost died with little more than a shiver and kept going, until he pulled into the uneven gravel driveway of a small family farm nearly an hour away. An old, shaggy horse wandered around in the front field, lipping at the snow and occasionally scraping it away with one plate-sized hoof in search of grass. It raised its head to look at him as he eased the car past and he gave it a little wave, idly wondering if it ever decided to just walk off without fences around to keep it in.
Nearly five minutes passed between his knock on the front door and the old woman finally opening it, and he was glad to step into the warmth of her kitchen, his nose and cheeks tingling. She silently pointed him to her wooden kitchen table and put tea on, taking a seat opposite him and folding her hands in front of her.
“You’re a witch, right?” he asked. “You work with us sometimes.”
“The Magia occasionally deigns to ask for my help, yes.” The look she gave him made him grin. “I don’t think you’re here on Magia business, however, Mr. Greene.”
“No, ma’am.” He didn’t bother to ask how she knew his name. “I’m looking for information.”
“Your energy vampire is still around, yes, but not anywhere nearby. Let someone else root him out.” She got up again and poured them both out a cup of tea, setting out a plate of cookies with it. “But that isn’t really why you came here.”
“My parents. Was he telling the truth?”
“Yes.” She sipped at her tea. “Your parents tried to gain power and destroyed their world, and themselves. You, however, were saved, though I suppose it remains to be seen if you’ll follow in their footsteps eventually.”
Kellan took a deep breath. “Do you think I will?”
She looked at him for so long he started to fidget. “I think that’s up to you, Kellan. And before you get too upset, remember that you are still alive out of love, because your mother loved you enough to sacrifice herself to save you. No one is all black or white.”
“Thanks.” He drained his tea and snagged a couple of cookies for the road. “I better get back. Val’s going to murder me already for taking his car and leaving without him.” He hesitated, half-turned towards the door. “Is he... Will I lose him?”
“Are you asking me if he’ll die or if he’ll leave you?”
“Either. Both. Will I hurt him?”
“Again, Kellan, it will all depend on the choices you make. Though I don’t think you should dismiss him. Valentine Greyfeather is easily as stubborn and pig-minded as you are.”
Kellan laughed. “Thanks.” He lifted a hand and left the house, sliding back in behind the driver’s seat and turning the engine back on. Cranking up the music, he left the farm behind and headed home to his partner.