“Put this on.” Kith handed Jesse a shiny black motorcycle helmet and gave him a crooked smile. “Impress your sister with how safe I’m keeping you.”
Jesse rolled his eyes. “Yeah, that’ll change her mind about you.” He pulled the helmet on and flipped the visor up, trying to adjust to the sensation. “This thing’s annoying.”
“Better than you cracking your head on the road like an egg.” Kith thumped a fist down on the top of the helmet, then swung a leg over the motorcycle’s seat, shifting forward to let Jesse climb on behind him.
“Morwen didn’t have to wear a helmet,” Jesse said, sliding on and wrapping his arms around Kith’s waist.
Kith just laughed and twisted the keys in the ignition, bringing the motorcycle to life with a choppy roar. Jesse tried to think of anything else other than the warmth of Kith’s back against his chest and the vibration of the motorcycle’s engine, and was almost glad at the jolt of fear that shot through him when Kith gunned the big bike down the driveway. He tangled his fingers in the front of Kith’s jacket and tried not to think of all the horror stories about motorcycle riding that his mother had told him when he was sixteen and interested in getting a bike. From the way she’d talked about her friends’ accidents, he’d always thought it was something of a miracle she even had any friends left.
By the time they’d reached Guelph, nearly an hour later, he was feeling better about the ride, though his legs were still shaky when he got off the motorcycle. He pulled the helmet off, grimacing as he ran his fingers through his sweat-damp curls, and handed it back to Kith, who hung it from the motorcycle’s handlebars. People passing by turned to stare at them, and Jesse saw one young man about his own age nearly trip over his own feet, catching himself awkwardly on his companion.
“Turn the glamour off, Kith.” He motioned slightly towards the people walking along the sidewalks. “People are noticing.”
“Jealous?” Kith asked, grinning.
“In your dreams.”
“I can’t turn it off.” Kith shrugged. “Not completely, even if I lost the human aspect. You’re just drawn to us.”
“Well, at least tone it down.” Jesse pointed to the big office building across the street. “That’s Guelph HQ. We’re looking for a guy named J. Jackson. He runs this branch.”
“I’m looking for him. You’re not coming in with me.”
“Why the hell not?” Jesse asked, pushing down the secret part of him that was perfectly fine with not going into a place filled with Magia agents.
“Because if things get messy, I don’t want you there.” Kith raised an eyebrow at him. “You don’t trust me to do it if you’re not with me?”
“You’re not Jules.” Kith reached out to trace the line of Jesse’s cheekbone and Jesse felt his cheeks get hot. “Are you?”
“Fine. I’ll wait for you...” Jesse looked up and down the street, then pointed to the McCabe’s on the corner. “There. I’m starving.”
“I won’t be long.” Kith nodded to him and crossed the street.
Jesse watched him go into the building—which passed itself off as the offices of a couple of local lawyers, who actually did legal work between bending the laws to keep agents out of jail—then walked down to the McCabe’s. The hostess seated him at a table in the corner and he ordered a few appetizers to keep himself busy, idly watching the crowd as he ate. A group of people passed by him on their way to another table and out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of them pause and turn back to hesitantly say his name.
He looked over and blinked at the sight of the pre-med student from the train, trying to pull his name up from memory. “Hi... Elliot, right?”
“Yeah.” Elliot smiled and waved the group he was with on to their table. “You mind if I pull up a chair, or are you waiting for someone?”
Jesse hesitated, then gestured to the chair opposite him. “Um, I am, but have a seat anyway.” He managed a smile, trying to ignore the fluttery nervous feeling in his stomach. “I would have, you know, called, but I’ve been busy.”
“No worries. I’m glad we ran into each other though.” Elliot dropped into the chair and stretched his legs out. “Nice to sit for a while. I’m staying with my cousin, and he’s been dragging me all over Southern Ontario, feels like.”
Jesse laughed a little. “Here, eat then. Get your strength up.” He pushed the plate of mozzarella sticks across to Elliot.
“Thanks.” Elliot flashed a smile that could have put Kith’s to shame, and for a heart-stopping moment Jesse wondered if the elves weren’t the only ones to have made it to the upper world. He studied Elliot closely for a moment, then reached across and took his wrist, pretending to be interested in the brightly woven bracelet Elliot was wearing. There was no tingle of magic under his fingers and the only thing that changed about Elliot’s face was the grin turning into a slight puzzled expression.
“I just, uh, the bracelet’s cool.” He let go of Elliot’s wrist and tried to pretend that he didn’t feel like the most awkward person alive.
“I got it in Brazil.” Elliot wiped his fingers off on a napkin and untied the bracelet, holding it out to Jesse. “Want it? I have a bunch.”
“Seriously?” Jesse couldn’t help laughing. “People really like to give me things lately.”
“Yeah, seriously. Give me your wrist, I’ll put it on.”
“All right.” Jesse held his hand out and let Elliot tie the bracelet around his wrist. “Thank you.”
“Let me just order a beer and we can toast to new friendships.” Elliot flagged down the waitress and asked her for a Molson. “Want one, Jesse?”
Idly wondering if people offering to order him beer meant he looked older than he thought, Jesse shook his head and held up his water glass. “This is fine for me.”
“I’ll get you a refill,” the waitress said and went to fetch Elliot’s beer and a pitcher of icy water to fill up Jesse’s glass.
“So, to new friendships,” Elliot said when she’d gone, clinking his pint glass against Jesse’s.
The conversation wandered to other topics—mostly about Elliot’s travels around the world, courtesy of rich parents who wanted him to have an idea of other cultures—and Jesse lost track of time. They both ordered dinner instead of Elliot returning to his cousin and friends, and the sun was beginning to set when Jesse abruptly realized it had been at least two hours since he’d left Kith at Magia headquarters. Worried, he got his bill from the waitress and paid, hoping Kith hadn’t just been sent back to his own world. Elliot walked him outside, one hand lightly on his back to help maneuver them through the crowd that had filled the pub.
“Was it a friend who was supposed to meet you?” Elliot asked when they stepped outside into the warm evening air. “Or your sister?”
“Uh, a friend.” Jesse scanned the street and spotted Kith’s motorcycle, but no sign of Kith himself. “He had some people he had to see, then he was supposed to come meet me.”
“Give him a call? Maybe his meeting ran long.”
“I don’t think he has a phone.” Jesse tried to relax. “You’re probably right. It was a pretty important meeting.” He glanced up at Elliot and offered a smile. “Thanks for hanging out with me, though. It was fun.”
“Hey, no problem. Want my number so we can do it again?” The corner of his mouth curved up in half a grin. “Unless you lost it the first time on purpose.”
“I didn’t,” Jesse started, then jumped when Kith suddenly appeared out of the growing darkness and slid an arm around him.
“Didn’t what?” Kith asked, giving Elliot a look that made him take a step back. “Sorry I’m late, took longer than I thought.”
“Nice seeing you again, Jess.” Elliot nodded to them and went back into the pub before Jesse could organize himself enough to say anything.
“Was that necessary?” he asked Kith instead.
“I’m just looking out for you, especially since you don’t like boys that way.” Kith nipped the top curve of his ear. “Unless you’ve changed your mind?”
“Jesus.” Jesse fought to keep his voice normal. “Don’t do that. Did you get registered?”
“After jumping through a dozen hoops, yes.” Kith patted the pocket of his jacket. “Ready to return home?”
Jesse glanced at the pub. “Yeah. Guess so.” He let Kith draw him down the sidewalk back to the motorcycle.
He texted Dmitri when they got back to the farm, to let him know that Kith had gotten the elves registered, and got an invitation for both of them to come over for a drink. Kith arched an eyebrow when Jesse relayed the message to him, thought for a moment, then patted the seat of the motorcycle and told Jesse to get back on. When they pulled up in front of the Morgan house, Jesse slid off first and went up to the front door, hesitating over whether he should knock or just walk in. He settled for knocking and peeked around Dmitri when he opened the door, trying to see where Juliet was.
“She’s not home right now,” Dmitri said, sounding amused “She went to see some friends. I thought it might be easier if Kith was already here when she got home.”
“It’s probably just going to piss her off, but everything pisses her off.” Jesse waved for Kith to come up and into the house. “Hey, Dmitri, do you think it was the gryphon that killed Addy’s sheep?”
“Probably. I called her earlier and she said none of the others have been killed.” Dmitri led the way into the kitchen, which was surprisingly free of dragons, and fetched three beers from the mini beer fridge in the corner.
“Where are the Musketeers?” Jesse asked, twisting the cap off his beer and tossing it on the counter.
“Hiding from your elf.”
Kith looked up from inspecting the kitchen and the hallway leading to the living room, and grinned. “What are ‘Musketeers’?”
“Jules’s pygmy dragons. She took the eggs from some wizard’s collection after he was arrested by the Magia, thinking they were dead.” Jesse laughed, remembering it. “There was a lot of yelling and screaming when they hatched, especially when they set my mom’s laundry basket on fire. We were both still living at home then and Jules was home from college on break. I don’t think Mom’s ever really forgiven them.”
“Ah, pygmy dragons. Dragonkin are not great friends to my people, as a rule.” Kith took a swallow from his beer. “Usually they like to eat us.”
“The Musketeers won’t. Probably. They just like to get into places where they don’t belong.” Jesse dropped down in a seat at the table and idly flipped up the lid of the wooden box sitting there, wrinkling his nose at the smell. “What’s this?”
“Tea,” Dmitri said. “Jules brought it back from Ottawa.”
“It’s Fae tea,” Kith said, coming to look through the contents. “Your sister does like her souvenirs.”
“Hypocrite,” Jesse muttered, then blushed at the look Dmitri gave him. “Sorry. But he does have a point.”
“I usually try to stay out of Magia business if I can help it.” Dmitri glanced out the window as headlights swept across the driveway. “Good timing, she’s home.”
Jesse braced himself as Juliet came inside, but after a slight start and a glare, she seemed to accept Kith’s presence in her kitchen, accepting the beer Dmitri passed her. When asked, Kith produced a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket and handed it over. Jesse got up to read over Juliet’s shoulder, relieved to find that it seemed to be a legitimate registration paper for Kith and his five companions, granting them permission to stay for six months, at which time they would be re-assessed. He felt the tingle of magic as Juliet checked it over for tricks, then she let out a breath and handed the paper back.
“Looks like it’s all in order,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you or your buddies get to run wild, Kith.”
“Yes, or you’ll kick my ass, I understand.” Kith tucked the paper back into his pocket. “I will avoid overstaying my welcome in this house and go home. Thank you for the drink, Dmitri.”
Jesse saw Juliet’s eyes narrow at the way Kith said the name, and hurriedly gave Kith a push towards the door. Juliet opened her mouth as though to call him back, then sighed and just said, “Call me when you get there, Jess. You know you’ve always got a room here.”
“I won’t be gone forever, promise. Just a few more days.” He came back long enough to give her a hug and whisper, “Thanks,” in her ear, then jogged out of the house to catch up to Kith.
It started raining just as they reached the farm, light enough at first that they got into the enclosed porch without getting wet, then steadily harder until it was pouring down. Thunder muttered in the distance, still far enough away that Jesse didn’t think the real storm would hit them for an hour or two. He followed Kith through into the house, waving to San where she sat curled up in a chair with her ever-present book, and up the stairs to the top floor.
“That actually went better than expected,” Jesse said, sprawling on top of Kith’s bed. “Did they give you much trouble when you went in to get registered?”
“No, not much.” Kith sat on the edge of the bed. “Who was that you were with, outside the restaurant?”
“Oh, I met him on the train, coming from Alberta.” Jesse played with the bracelet around his wrist. “He’s nice, though you didn’t have to scare him off like that. We were just talking.”
“Maybe with your mouths. Your body language said something else.”
“What, are you jealous?” Jesse sat up and gave Kith an incredulous look. “You are jealous.”
Kith snorted. “You wish I was jealous.”
“I don’t need to wish, I know. You’re jealous that I was talking to some other guy. Aww, I’m flattered, Kith, really. I—” Jesse cut off with a yelp when Kith tackled him, knocking him flat on his back and pinning his wrists down.
“I am not jealous,” Kith growled, almost biting off each word. “I have no need to be jealous. If nothing else, he ran when he saw me.”
“He only left because you came walking up like some caveman and grabbed me,” Jesse said, starting to get a little annoyed even though he had to fight not to burst out laughing. “Kinda like right now.”
“Yes?” Kith leaned in, so close that their mouths were barely apart. “If I wanted you, I could have you. All of you.”
Jesse shivered, trying to fight his body’s response and failing. “Doesn’t count when you’re doing that sexual attraction voodoo.”
Kith laughed a little, breath warm against Jesse’s skin. Jesse squirmed and barely stopped himself from arching up against Kith’s body, muscles trembling with the strain, the part of his mind not hazed over with a lust he didn’t want to acknowledge telling him to just push Kith away. He didn’t, flexing his wrists under Kith’s fingers but otherwise not moving.
“I’m not,” Kith said. “No voodoo involved.” He released one of Jesse’s wrists, stroking a line down the inside of his arm, then up again the tug lightly on the bracelet from Elliot. “But, of course, you are only attracted to women.” He sat up and moved away from Jesse, grinning. “My mistake.”
Jesse let out a shaky breath. “I hate you.”
“Good.” Kith dropped a kiss on his forehead and pushed himself to his feet. “Will you allow me my own bed tonight, or am I banished to the couch again?”
“I should make you sleep on the couch just for being an asshole, but you wouldn’t learn anything from it.” Jesse shrugged and swallowed nervously. “I guess we can share. If you keep your hands to yourself.”
“Your virtue is safe with me.” Kith grinned at him and walked out, and a moment later Jesse heard the clunk of the shower being turned on.
Crossing his arms behind his head, Jesse tried to relax, reminding himself that he’d shared beds before, with both male and female friends. The sound of the rain on the roof soothed him and he fell into a doze until Kith returned and tickled his ribs to wake him up. Jesse grunted and got up, taking the borrowed pyjama pants and T-shirt into the bathroom to change. He crawled under the sheet when he got back, trying not to tense when Kith slid in beside him, and couldn’t help feeling a little insulted when Kith ignored him completely. Settling himself as comfortably as he could, he closed his eyes and soon drifted off again to the sound of muted thunder and Kith’s steady breathing.
Thunder, much louder and closer, woke him a few hours later, in the depths of the night. Beside him, Kith still slept, but restlessly, his breath coming sharp and fast. Alarmed, Jesse leaned over him and took his pulse, frowning at how fast it was and how hot Kith’s skin was under his fingers. He wondered if elves caught common colds or the flu, and if he should wake someone else up to ask.
Kith’s eyes opened, wide and glowing golden, so suddenly that Jesse jerked back, almost knocking him off the other side of the bed. Kith blinked and the glow dimmed, then he gave Jesse a frown and asked, “What are you doing?”
“Making sure you’re not dead.” Jesse breathed out, trying to make tense muscles relax. The dark, stuffy air inside the room felt charged somehow, and he rubbed a hand across the back of his neck to try and smooth down the tiny hairs there. “You were breathing funny and you felt really hot.”
“There’s... something wrong.” Kith sat up, lifting his hair off the back of his neck.
“Not with me.” Kith nodded to the window, thrown into relief by fitful lightning. “Something out there.” He pushed himself out of bed and headed out of the room, and after a moment Jesse scrambled up and followed him.
They met San on the stairs, already fully dressed, and Celina and Cato both in the kitchen. A few minutes later Morwen and Corvin came down from upstairs, she still twisting her dark curls up into a bun that showed off the delicate angle of her jaw, he looking worried, grey eyes unhappy. Jesse moved back a little, away from them, feeling small and out of place. Outside, thunder boomed and the microwave on the counter beeped as the power flickered.
“Stay here,” Kith said, waving Jesse back and already starting for the back door.
“Uh, no.” Jesse caught his arm and pulled him back. The other elves left without looking back, stepping out into the rainy, windy night without hesitation. “You take me with you, or I follow anyway.”
Kith gave him an exasperated look, then nodded. “You listen to me or I will dump you on the side of the road and you can make your own way home.”
“Promise.” Jesse followed him out into the dark, hunching his shoulders against a wind-driven blast of rain. They hurried down to the barn, where Cato had already called the unicorns in and started tacking them up, and Jesse tried to stay out of the way. It was harder than he expected when the unicorns kept going out of their way to try and nuzzle him, which earned him a glare from Morwen.
“Leave him,” Kith said when she opened her mouth. “Now isn’t the time.”
The look Morwen gave him promised later retribution, but she kept her mouth shut and pulled her mare away from Jesse, sliding its bridle on and leading it out into the stormy yard. Corvin followed her a moment later with his own mare, but Celina handed her reins over to Cato and went into the shadows in the back of the barn, to reappear a few moments later with a quiver of arrows and her bow slung across her back. Kith said something to her in a language Jesse didn’t understand—rolling and lyrical, and enough to raise the hairs on the back of his neck again—and nodded at her reply, gesturing for Jesse to follow him out into the rain.
Kith swung up into the saddle first and Cato gave Jesse a boost up behind him, holding his leg absently with one hand until Jesse managed to settle himself. It wasn’t the first time he’d ridden behind someone, but he’d never got quite the same sense of boundless energy and barely contained power sitting behind Jules while Geneva plodded across a field. He wrapped his arms around Kith’s waist and ducked his head against the steadily strengthening rain, though he was already soaked and shivering.
The unicorn leaped into a smooth, fast gallop when Kith gave her a touch of his leg, nearly knocking Jesse off her back. He hugged Kith as tightly as he dared, trying to remember how to breathe and wishing he’d kept up more with riding in Alberta. He knew he’d remember that ride for the rest of his life, running through the dark night as the storm steadily built up above them, the wind whipping his wet clothes against his body and threatening to drag him down to the muddy ground. Lightning flashed through the sky, bright enough to sear a purple afterimage into the darkness behind his eyes, and thunder boomed hard enough that he felt it in his bones. Burying his face against Kith’s back—still dry despite the torrential rain—he held on and sent a quick prayer to any deity listening that he would survive.
When the unicorn finally slowed and he dared to raise his head again—feeling bruised in areas he hadn’t really known existed—he saw they’d reached a gravel road he thought he recognized. He squinted in the next flare of lightning and realized they were on the other side of town, going down the road that led to an old, abandoned gravel pit. The lightning faded but he could still see a faint glow in the distance, pulsing in a steady time, like a heartbeat. Kith drew his mare back, letting his companions go ahead of him, and muttered something under his breath that sounded like an expletive.
“Get off,” he said, pulling the mare to a stop and holding her still when she tried to dance to the side.
“I said, get off.” Kith twisted in the saddle to glare at him. “Find somewhere to shelter and stay there.”
Jesse snapped his mouth shut, feeling a flash of real fear at the expression on Kith’s face, and obediently slid off the unicorn’s back, landing hard enough to make his knees buckle. The unicorn swung her nose towards him but Kith pulled her head back straight and gave her a kick to send her forward again, disappearing into the darkness after the other elves.
Cold, wet, and scared, Jesse stood in the road for long moments, arms wrapped around himself, and debated going straight back to Juliet. He was on the verge of turning around and casting himself to her driveway—a talent he wasn’t even supposed to use unsupervised—when the light in the distance flared brighter and he felt the building touch of foreign magic. Pretty sure that Juliet would notice on her own soon, he moved to the side of the road and started walking towards the light.
He dropped down into the scrubby grass on the side of the road when he got close enough to see the light was coming from the gravel pit itself, and crawled forward, half-aware that the wind was rising. At the edge of the pit he settled down onto his belly, studying the hazy, glowing air over the water at the deepest part of the pit. Kith and his companions were sitting their mares in a ragged line in front of it, Celina with her bow in her hand, though an arrow wasn’t yet nocked. In the dark sky above a fork of lightning blazed so bright that Jesse half-expected to hear it sizzle, followed by thunder that seemed to shake the ground he was lying on.
With the rising wind came hail, stinging the bare skin of his neck and arms, and a roaring sound that sent his heartbeat into overdrive. The elves didn’t move, still watching the glow, but when he risked glancing to the side, he saw the clouds twisting into a funnel, lit by flashes of lightning. The wind plucked at him, alternately tugging at his shirt and flattening it against his back, but sheer terror kept him pinned to the ground, watching wide-eyed as the tornado formed and slowly stretched down to touch the field it was forming over. It was so loud that he could barely think through the roar, moving with deceptive slowness across the field, visible only when it ripped up powerlines and in the stuttering flash of the lightning.
The tornado lasted for barely a minute before fading back up into the clouds, leaving Jesse panting, fingers digging into the muddy grass. The hail slowly stopped and turned back into cold rain, and when he looked into the gravel pit he saw the haze in the air was widening. He caught a glimpse of rolling green fields before the first of a line of elves stepped through, a woman mounted on the back of a dappled silver mare and followed by a trio of more women, each one with her face painted blue. Both men and women came after, until there were at least thirty elves in the gravel pit, dressed in finery and jewels. Another trio of women, these ones with white hair and carried on an elaborate, glittering litter pulled by a pair of matched donkeys, were the last to come through. The haze and the glow gradually faded out of the air after them, until Jesse had to squint a little to see them in the shadows.
From the ranks a strong-featured woman rode her gleaming chestnut mare forward and looked what Jesse couldn’t help thinking of as his elves over, her expression saying she was unimpressed. She glanced at Kith and said, “Well?”
“Ah,” Kith said. “Hello, Mother.”