|The Hunt II: Giving Chase
Author: Guede Mazaka
Robert’s pulse felt fine, but his breathing was frighteningly shallow and the way he laid on the bed, motionless and slack, reminded Owain of too many damned corpses. Which wasn’t helping the frantic itch on the edges of Owain’s senses. Come to think of it, neither was Seth, and the bastard was supposed to be his friend.
*Wait, wait. So you fucked him, and now he’s your familiar?* The other man was making Owain repeat the whole story for the third time, since Seth kept yawning during important parts. God knew how, but it’d better not be boredom; Gecko wasn’t that blasé. *It is a he, right?*
“Who are you talking to?” Owain picked at the carpet till he’d gathered up all the scraps of paper, which he then flicked hard into the wastebasket. After he ran out of scraps, he pretended that he needed to check one last time for any that’d he missed, because that way he didn’t have to look at the bed.
Seth groaned and muttered something. *Oh, yeah. Okay. Is he ugly?*
“No…” It would’ve been nice if there was, say, some kind of message that got sent when something like this happened. Like a birthday telegram, or a handbook. But instead, all Owain had was a dead-certain feeling that the man on the mattress wasn’t going anywhere but with him and a jangling prickle in his fingertips. Same kind that he got whenever his temper boiled over and he needed to fuck something up till the world wasn’t shaded in red anymore.
*Is he a bad fuck? Goddamn it, Mig--* It sounded like someone was with Seth. There was a brief scuffle and then moist wet sounds. A second later, a slightly breathless Seth came back on. *Owain?*
Sitting down wasn’t doing anything except letting all Owain’s tenseness concentrate itself inside him, so he got up and paced about as far as the phone cord would let him. “Fucking God, no. Why—”
*Then what’s the problem?*
Owain stopped and just glared at the telephone. Then he put it back against his ear and tried to remember that according to the area code, Seth was somewhere in North Africa. Timezone-wise, it’d be insanely early in the morning there. Not that Owain particularly cared. “One, he’s a Pendragon. Though they seem to want him as far away from them as possible…but anyway, if they’d wanted him dead, they would’ve taken care of that themselves. Two, I’m—I was supposed to be babysitting him for Gaspar. Three, Sparrow’s expecting him.”
*Mig, get the fuck off.* Smacking sound. *Aren’t Gaspar and Sparrow on the outs?*
“They’re at fucking war,” Owain said, incredulous. He spun on his heel and flopped onto the bed, pushing the hair off his forehead. “What the hell have you been doing?”
Seth sighed. *I’m sort of with Los Lobos now, remember? So it’s West Coast politics for me. Anyway, let me—okay. Okay, I think I’m getting it all now—holy fucking shit. You did what?*
“It wasn’t my idea! I didn’t even know you could do it just by fucking! I thought you had to—to say something! Burn a candle or whatever the hell.” It grated just to listen to himself whining like a little girl, but Owain wasn’t in the mood to act mature. He just wanted everything to calm down and reorder itself into sensibility. And for Robert to wake up and be a jerk so Owain wouldn’t embarrass himself by worrying about the man. “I’m not even attached to a city! I thought you had to be allied with one, at least.”
Uncomfortable coughing on the other end of the line. *Well. Not…um…not all the time. I’m not, and I have this bouncy little—fuck, Mig. You bite me again and I’ll…not fuck you through the floor. Anyway, Owain—there’s power in the roads, too. And you’re pretty old for not having found a city yet…you been doing a lot of traveling lately? I mean, like you just can't settle down and always got to be going?*
Come to think of it, it had been a year since Owain had been in one place for more than a month’s worth of consecutive days. And even longer since he’d had something he could call a permanent residence. He’d figured it was just him passing the time till he figured out which city wanted to work with him, but apparently, he’d been wrong. “Fuck.”
Robert shifted. Owain froze and stared at the other man, but nothing else happened.
*Hey. Hey, it’s not that bad. Yeah, you’re kind of in the shit right now, but at least you’ve got a familiar. That puts you one-up on Gaspar, anyway.* It was real nice of Seth to sound sympathetic, but then, he could afford to. The way Owain had heard it, Los Lobos had been fucking ecstatic when Gecko had taken their problem-psychotic off their hands. Whereas the Pendragons, on the other hand, might not be so appreciative of a nomadic gun-packing dowser taking advantage of a relative who hadn’t even manifested yet.
Groaning, Owain dropped his head into his hand. And he hadn’t even begun to think about how he was going to find out what the hell was going on this side of the ocean. He needed to know what had happened back in New York to get Locke sent after him, and he needed to send ahead to New Moon, and he really, really fucking needed a drink, but he had to figure out a new itinerary for the rest of the trip, too. At least he’d managed to get a nap while Robert had been knocked out—the first time.
In the end, he just swallowed and dealt. Nothing else he could do, after all, and he’d rather be caught running than standing still with his pants down. “Is he going to wake up soon? He’s been out for nearly fifteen minutes.”
*You said he hadn’t been able to do anything before you two fucked? Um—wait a min--* Seth yelled at someone that wasn’t Mig *--yeah. Any second now. He’ll be fine; it’s just that whatever he’s got came out while you were bending him over. You know, since he’s a familiar and all now. Have fun explaining.*
“Fuck you. This was not my idea,” Owain muttered, twisting and scooting so he could lean against the headstand. He stared at Robert and tried to ignore the growing little niggle that was telling him it was a damn good idea anyway, since that wasn’t going to help him get the whole mess untangled.
Christ, he’d never even thought about it—familiars or consorts were for heads of cities, not for self-acknowledged small-timers like him. That wasn’t false humility, either; Owain knew exactly what he could and couldn’t do, and he figured it was stupid to complain about, or fake himself out.
Well, he had known. It was a different playing field now. “Oh, fuck. I’m—never mind. Thanks, Seth.”
*No problem. I still owe you for covering my back that one time—Mig, goddamn it. Listen, Owain, gotta go. Stupid fucking--* Some kind of lunge-wrestle cut off Seth’s curse and produced a loud crackling in the phone. A moment later, the line clicked dead.
Feeling a lot like it, Owain put the phone in his lap and just stared at it for a minute. Then he blew out a strained breath and reset it on the cradle.
When he turned back, Robert was looking at him. “Jesus! Don’t you ever make any sound when you wake up?”
Instead of answering, Robert slowly moved his eyes to the bed. His pupils went unfocused and soft, then snapped back to razor clarity. Likewise, his jaw tightened, and when he spoke, his tone was laced tighter than those old-fashioned corsets. “Is there any reason why I happen to know that three men and one woman have been killed on this bed?”
“Are there stains?” The joke was weak to begin with and fell like a cement-shoed traitor from Owain’s lips.
“No, there aren’t any stains,” Robert snapped, sarcastic and furious. He jerked himself up, probably so he could try strangling Owain, but midway a fierce wince caught him and he dropped back. A fascinating little flush layered itself across his cheekbones, but it didn’t do anything to soften his expression. “Does it always hurt this much afterward?”
He was muttering too low for Owain to determine whether Robert had been talking to himself or not. Though since Owain had heard him, that was a moot point…and that was also another shock that Owain didn’t exactly need. “Don’t tell me you’ve never—the way you’ve been acting—”
Slow and careful, Robert turned over on his side, then half-curled towards Owain. His grimace told almost as much as his silence.
Owain blinked. “Well, that might make sense then…”
“What makes sense?” Robert’s expression suddenly loosened into extreme fatigue, which quickly spread to the rest of his body. He didn’t look at Owain as he spoke, but instead concentrated on rubbing his marked-up wrists, like he wasn’t expecting an answer. Not that Owain could really blame him, considering what the other man had been through in the past two days.
He did bruise nicely, the irrational part of Owain’s mind noted. That must be why he wasn’t moving.
While the rational part was busy trying to figure out a good way to explain everything, the stupid part was making Owain’s hand go out. That got Robert’s attention; his gaze flicked up to Owain’s fingers and warily tracked them as they slid into his mussed hair. It was stiffened with dried sweat, but quickly softened and silkened against Owain’s hand.
“You look like hell,” Owain informed Robert.
“That would be your fault.” Though that tone couldn’t exactly be qualified as unhappy.
Grinning, Owain smoothed the slight floppy wave off of Robert’s forehead and let his fingertips linger over the man’s bruise-swollen temple. “Yeah. I know.”
* * *
It felt nice. Startlingly gentle, and very soothing. For a good second, Robert was lulled into complacency by the shock of Owain stroking his hair. Then he had moved to press up against the other man’s hand and his body had shifted, bringing both a new wave of soreness and a sickeningly vivid flash of past violence.
He’d shuddered and jerked away before he’d quite realized what he was doing. But by the time Owain had stopped blinking and reached for him again, Robert’s reason had fully revived itself. When he flinched back this time, he knew exactly what he was doing. “What did you do to me?”
Owain withdrew his hand, then sat back against the headboard while his face went from almost affectionate to closed sobriety. “What? Did—did you see something?”
“I told you. Three men, one woman.” And now Robert knew the manner in which the woman had been killed. That wasn’t what disturbed him; it was the disorienting nausea of feeling tossed into a different time that was churning his gut.
The other man appeared to be thinking rather hard, with brow furrowed and hands folded against his mouth. Then he drew a long breath and shrugged on a distant, ironic smile. “Congratulations. You have psychometry. You’re also my familiar. I’m a dowser, by the way.”
Robert wasn’t certain as to what any of the three terms implied, but he could infer enough from Owain’s tone and put it together with the riverbank incident. “You’re talking about magic.”
A full grin of nasty superiority bloomed on Owain’s face. He put his palms flat on the mattress and leaned forward, presence billowing ahead of him to scrape under Robert’s skin. “You make it sound so serious. It’s not. It’s just as shitty and dirty and inelegant as everything else in life.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Robert said under his breath, pushing himself up. Perhaps he had less cards in his hand, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t make each and every one of them count.
And it seemed he wasn’t the only one not at ease, for Owain nearly started away when he came near. The blue in Owain’s eyes went midnight and retreated to leave the hard gray behind, and the sheets between them rustled as the other man clenched fists into them. But then his mouth pulled into a mocking upcurve and he relaxed. Rolled his shoulders and tilted his head, looking for all the world like a curious little bird. “You still don’t believe me. You’re trying to fuck my head around so I’ll spill the truth. Well, it won’t work, green-eyes. Because that is the truth.”
“Is that so, sir?” The words rolled out extra-sweet to sting all the harder. Robert experienced a deep satisfaction upon seeing Owain flinch at the last one, and he made no attempt to hide it.
“Yeah. I’m a dowser, mostly. I know how to find things, and not just underground. I can find the best roads between point A and point B, the deepest spots in the river—you name it, I can get you a location. You apparently are a psychometric. You touch something—” hand grabbing Robert’s, so fast he couldn’t slide away “—you know its history.”
And then Owain slapped Robert’s hand against his belt, and the world turned inside-out to show a strangling. Some blond-haired man, jerking and flopping and clawing like a fish fresh from the water onto the cutting board, and a younger-looking Owain standing behind him. Yanking the belt tighter.
A particle of Robert knew he wasn’t really there, and that was enough. With a snarl, he tore himself out of the memory and back into reality, only to find that he’d been rolled beneath Owain, hands pinned to either side of his head while the other man straddled him.
“There? That enough proof for you?” Owain asked, expression dangerously close to the crystalline-cold fury in the memory.
It was enough. It was enough to make Robert go limp and stare at the ceiling while he tried to determine when his life had passed over from relatively normal to bizarre.
“Usually people find out much earlier. In the teens, mostly.” Now Owain sounded almost sorry, but it was telling that his grip on Robert didn’t loosen.
He was hurting Robert’s already-abused wrists. The ache was grinding from dull to sharp, refreshing itself before it started to spread down Robert’s arms. In Robert’s mouth, a strange mixture of bitter, hot, and sweet was starting to seep into his raw throat. He was thirsty, but somehow, he didn’t think water would do him any good.
“Cities are…odd places, you know. So many people together…and a lot of them are really old, too. Hundreds and hundreds of years, and every generation wants to live in the same place.” Owain’s voice was drifting a little, smoothing into a contemplative discourse that would be equally at home in a drunk or a professor. His fingers finally let up some of their pressure, then dragged their knuckles down the length of Robert’s arms to come to rest on Robert’s chest. “That’s where the real power is, but usually it’s bound up in a family. Los Lobos have had Los Diablos for about four centuries, you Pendragons have had London for something like fifteen hundred years…but New York and Nouvelle Lune are oddballs.”
When the other man pronounced ‘Nouvelle Lune,’ he did so with an accent that wasn’t quite like anything Robert had heard before. Then Robert remembered Owain saying that he was half-Creole…and Creoles came from around New Moon? Clearly, he would have to spend some time familiarizing himself with the breakdown of the American hierarchies.
It was curious that he couldn’t remember when he’d decided to stay, but the strangest thing of all was how unconcerned Robert was about that now.
“New York’s been without a family head for about twenty years now, and it seems to be okay. Picky bitch of a place. But Nouvelle Lune’s never done the family system. It’s got this…weird set-up of spirits, or something, and they choose.” Owain rocked back, but his fingers remained fiddling with Robert’s shirt-buttons—the other man had changed his clothes while he was unconscious, it seemed. That didn’t leave very many sets left, so Robert would have to…go about the business of settling in, even though he still wasn’t certain as to in what he was settling.
“My father’s the Creole side. He was part of the gang that had Nouvelle Lune before Sparrow’s Krewe, and when Sparrow took over, there wasn’t any room for the old members. So that’s why I was up in New York. I don’t have a city.” A faint shadow whisked over Owain’s face, then twisted into a sardonic expression. “Apparently, I don’t need one. The roads count, too.”
“A modern-day nomad?” Robert mused, rearranging the man’s words in his head. The first shock of disbelief was wearing away, and now that it was obvious Owain knew what he was talking about, it was only sensible to accept it. Besides, something about Owain’s explanations simply felt correct, deep in Robert’s gut. It was as if he were receiving the matches to the little holes he’d been carrying around since the orphanage.
With a shrug, Owain replied, “Close enough. And you, for some reason, are now permanently attached to me. You’d call it a familiar in English—there’s better words for it, but I don’t feel like translating right now. Gist of it—with you around, I can do more. You can’t leave me—well, you can, but I’m told it hurts like a bastard. But on the other hand, if you’re not in good shape, then that’s a drain on me.”
“I suppose it’s nice to know that someone now has a vested interest in keeping me alive.” Robert gingerly pushed himself up on his elbows, expecting a sharp protect from his lower half, but surprisingly enough, the ache had considerably diminished. Too much so to be merely due to his being made to lie down.
It seemed that some kind of closer connection came with the arrangement, because Owain glanced down and patted Robert’s side. “Yeah, well, it’s easier on me if you can walk by yourself.”
“You certainly aren’t the type that enjoys being inconvenienced,” Robert noted, adding a little dryness to his tone. He stared steadily up at Owain, watching the minute tics of jaw and the shift of pupils. “Am I allowed to have any opinion on the matter, sir?”
Owain stilled, except for the flare in his eyes. “You had your opinion, and you damned well gave it back in the bathroom. So stop calling me ‘sir’.”
“You know, I think you like it.” Robert pushed up a little farther as Owain leaned down, so their noses were a bare inch apart. Then he licked out one final word. “Sir.”
“You want me to make this hard for you. Easier to say you were coerced than to admit you fucking like it, too,” Owain sneered, just before slamming Robert back onto the bed.
* * *
On the surface, it was a hell of a lot better reaction than Owain had been expecting. Inexperienced or not with men, Robert naturally moved like a delicious, desperate whore and that annoyingly intense concentration of his made him one fucking fast learner. And it wasn’t like breaking a man, either, which was only fun once before the poor wilted flower was ruined for anything else. It was like getting nails under layer after layer till Owain’s hands and arms and hell, all of him was completely submerged in a fierce, addictive whirl.
He was going to wreck another one of Robert’s shirts if he kept this up. If Robert kept up that rippling twist of his spine and didn’t shut his mouth so Owain’s tongue wouldn’t have to do it for him. Owain was pressing teeth and rolling the ball of his thumb, hard, over bruises that weren’t even an hour old, and Robert was pressing into it. Jesus.
Christ. Christ, and they had to get moving. Unforeseen drawback of having company number one—Owain’s ability to act sensibly was severely impaired.
With an effort that made him groan like a woman in labor, he trapped Robert’s hands against the mattress and peeled himself off. “Wait.”
Robert’s eyebrows went up. “No.”
And then he was straining against Owain’s grip to bend up and grab Owain’s mouth with his own, and God, it hurt. Teeth locked together, Owain tugged the other man away. “Not now, damn it—anyway, I thought you were seeing bad things whenever you touched the bed.”
“I figured out how to tune it out. It’s not so different from ignoring chatty old hags.” For a third time, Robert was struggling to nip at the corners of Owain’s mouth, and Owain truly, seriously wanted to cry.
Luckily for his dignity, he managed to restrain himself. “Goddamn it, we have to go. Haven’t you put the rest together yet? I can’t—I can’t fucking hand you over now. So that’s Gaspar, Bill, maybe Sparrow and probably your fucking family on my back.”
“My cousin shouldn’t be a problem. He might even send you a gift.” But the rest of Owain’s words were clearly hitting home; they knocked Robert’s expression from unwavering lust to irritated deliberation. “Where?”
That was the cue for Owain’s reason to continue its upward clawing into his brain, and for him to let go of Robert and get off the fucking bed, but of course it didn’t go that way. Instead, he stared hard at the other man and somehow ended up leaning closer. “You’re taking this very well.”
Robert rolled his eyes. “Stop changing the subject. It isn’t helping.”
It was a good point. In fact, it was such a good point that by thinking on it, Owain finally pulled himself off the bed. He quickstepped back to neutralize the urge to lunge, then turned around because damn it, just watching Robert straighten out his clothes with cool little finger-flicks was making Owain’s prick whine. To distract himself, he shouldered his bag and picked up Robert’s, since the other man…
…was limping heavily. He still walked with enough grace to turn anyone’s head, but it suffered interruptions of a wince-grimace-surprise type. Also, his collar wasn’t nearly high enough to hide all the marks, and his shirt cuffs were slightly too short.
“We’re still going to New Moon,” Owain said, fast and loud to match his pace out the door and to the car. He’d left the room key on the side-table, and had paid in advance, so they should just leave directly; the staff was used to cleaning up messes of all kinds. “I know more people there than in New York. And Sparrow’s more reasonable than Gaspar.”
“He also has an interest in keeping me happy, since I might complain to my cousin,” Robert observed. He really was picking up things fast. Good, since Owain wasn’t exactly teacher material.
Owain got the bags stowed and them in the front seat, and he’d almost gotten the key in the ignition. But then Robert had to hold up his wrists so Owain could see the red-purple parallel rings around them. “So I’m allowed to be loose now? I don’t remember you saying anything about not being able to do anything to you.”
That ended in Robert half across Owain’s lap with back shoved into the wheel while Owain tried to tongue-fuck the insolence out of the man. Didn’t work. Though Owain did—barely—keep them from sounding the horn.
When he finally dragged himself away, he made sure to shove Robert off at the same time. Facing forward, ignoring the ragged breathing beside him, Owain started the car. Then he kept his fingers glued to the wheel. “You are going to fucking stop that and be a nice, entertaining gentleman for the next few hours. Then we’re going to stop for gas at this place where the clerk’s a heavy sleeper and no one else is ever around, and I’m going to fuck you over the hood. All right?”
“Whatever you say.” The ‘sir’ was only implied, but Owain had no problem hearing it. He twitched, and Robert smiled with teeth.
* * *
Owain kept a small stash of pulp horror novels in his bag, and over the course of two hours, Robert had a little fun reading them. It helped him pretend he wasn’t feeling as if he were going crazy.
Losing sanity probably did produce a very similar sensation, but he was fairly certain that falling off the edge of sanity didn’t involve an unshakeable knowledge that he was also tumbling toward something.
It was dizzying. It was chaotic and overwhelming and intoxicating, and it was about as far from the suffocating strict order of the English servant world as possible. No wonder Robert was liking it. Loving it, to be truthful, but he wasn’t quite at that stage of honesty yet. Not when he still didn’t know all the details about the circumstances that had conspired to put him here.
If he were a genuinely educated man, and not merely one who quietly read many different books, then he might have a theory about how his environment had shaped his—shockingly easy—adaptation of his new life. But he wasn’t. He was reliant on what he knew and not what might be, and what he knew was that this was somehow much better than before.
It couldn’t be due to whatever was humming between him and Owain, since Robert had been able to still disagree and struggle against the other man. And it had started before he’d passed out in the bathroom.
Robert checked the clock. “Yesterday at this time, I was just stepping onto American soil.”
“No shit.” Owain reached over and opened the glove compartment, then dug out two wrapped sandwiches. One he handed to Robert, and one he began to eat in quick neat bites.
Parts of Robert’s throat and jaw began to itch, and he had to remind himself that it was stupid to be jealous of a sandwich.
“This side of society’s a real whirlwind, but you’ll get used to it,” Owain added. He bit off another chunk, chewed efficiently and swallowed. “You know, now that I think about it, it’s a good thing I’m not attached to a city. Much more variety when you can travel.”
“This is the first time I’ve ever been somewhere besides England.” Thoughtful, Robert did away with half his lunch-dinner. Even the sandwiches over here didn’t taste the same; they were much more flavorful and filling, almost to excess. But not quite; he had worked up a considerable appetite.
He earned himself a narrow-eyed, meditative look from Owain, but true to word, the other man didn’t do anything until they’d finally arrived at the gas station. And even then, he waited till the tank was refilled and paid for. Owain opened the door as if he was going to get in, which annoyed Robert both because he’d been expecting…something else and because he was, in fact, that eager.
Then Owain ducked back out with two of Robert’s ties in hand and casually ambled to where Robert was standing in front of the car. He held them both up. “Which?”
Not thinking, Robert tapped one. “Are we attending a party when we—”
His chin cracked against the hood, and then the pain ricocheted through his chest, leaving him gasping and stunned while slippery fabric swiftly yanked his wrists together behind him. There were hips cradling his arse, pressing a hard erection into him, and a vicious mouth on the back of his neck. “You were stretching and preening the whole fucking way. I swear to God, you’re a bastard.”
When Robert lifted his head to reply, he was only able to catch a glimpse of the gas station’s empty window; as Owain had said, the clerk wasn’t very attentive. And then cloth crumpled between Robert’s parted lips, snapped tight and pulled back so it cut into the corners of his startled cry. The heel of a hand was grinding between his shoulderblades, forcing him back down, and he went. Banged his cheek against the car, so he turned his head to lie it on the other side and had a tongue licking at the new soreness before he’d even touched the metal.
“You’re still trying to talk. That’s fucking adorable, really.” Owain trailed his tongue down Robert’s cheek to swirl it over Robert’s vocal chords, which were indeed moving with muffled attempts to garble nonsense. His voice feathered beneath Robert’s skin, deceptively soft and lulling. “I can just imagine it—you all silent, running the show from the back. Whoever the hell your lordship was, I bet you had him twisted around your fingers.”
Fingers. Fingers were slowly working their way down Robert’s back, massaging the strain from his arms and smoothing the knots along his spine. They’d stop every so often to pinch and press a nail down hard enough to be felt through his coat and shirt, and then they’d go on. Drift around the small of his back and come up beneath his clothes to wander just at the edge of his waistband. Eyes fluttering shut, Robert moaned and squirmed backward, trying to make them slide farther down.
Owain was cocking his head so only one side of his mouth grazed Robert’s nape, ghost-light touch that sharpened the difference between it and the painful crushing of Robert’s cock against the car. And the engine was still a little warm, too. Seemed to grow warmer, heat soaking into it from Robert, who in turn was being seared raw by the snickering, snake-languid man lying on top of him. “That’s not how it goes now, green-eyes. This isn’t your prissy tea party we’re talking about, this isn’t an argument over who gets to sit at the head of the table. This is real—”
Sudden cold. More metal stroking an icy tip along the top of Robert’s nose, tracing frost over his frozen face and then nudging at his top shirt button. The gun briefly dipped beneath, then glided over his shoulder and down his arm to nestle against his hip. His trousers were starting to come off, and Owain was taking his time with that so as to hit every opportunity to manipulate another hissed whimper out of Robert. Now Robert’s eyes were squeezed shut, and for the life of him, he couldn’t force them open.
“—and has a point—”
As the fabric rumpled down Robert’s hips and then crumpled his knees together, the pistol stayed put. It lifted just a little to let the trousers fall, but then came back down to chill his hip to the bone. He bit down on the tie till he could feel his teeth grating.
“—and isn’t something to fuck with.”
Now the gun was moving, Owain’s hot fingers wrapped around its ever-cold steel. The contrast brutalized the sore and bruised spots over which it traveled on its way around the outside of Robert’s thigh and up inside. A wave of panic rose and fell and crashed throughout Robert so quickly that he couldn’t tell whether it’d gone or had completely overwhelmed him. He humped himself closer to the car, trying to melt away from the chilly pistol tip that was pressing insistently, frighteningly close to sliding inside of him. That was sparking no small amount of pain, but so far they were only that: tiny hot sparks, trembling into his skin.
“You know what the difference between a familiar and a consort is?” Almost kindly, Owain dropped a kiss at the corner of Robert’s eye. Robert opened it long enough to see the dark brilliant gleam in the other man’s face, then closed it again. “Consorts don’t need their partner around to do shit. Familiars do. Like I said, you could leave. But you’d have to go right back to whatever life you had in England. Because you need me if you want to stay in this.”
Owain’s other hand was coming round to take hold of Robert’s prick, wrapping it in some kind of rag. It squeezed and Robert bucked, back into the ice smooth-sharp tip that went in just a little—
--and he sagged against the car, coming so hard it felt like all his muscles were unstringing at once. Still trapped in his trousers, his knees unlocked and collapsed so that if Owain hadn’t been pinning him to the hood, he would’ve fallen. His head spun one way, then the other, and he sucked on the spit-soaked cloth in his mouth because he had to breathe with both mouth and nose if he wanted enough air.
The other man hefted him further onto the hood and let him lie there on his side while Owain cleaned up what little had gotten onto the car. Then Owain leaned against the front and started wiping off his gun, expression curiously closed. Occasionally he’d look over at Robert with a trace of nervousness that made his movements rough.
“God, that guy must have some grade-A booze,” Owain muttered, staring at the station window. He put away the pistol and leaned over Robert, slow and wary, to undo the gag and the wrist-bindings. “Ruined the suits, so I figured I might as well even it all up and ruin these, too.”
The joke wasn’t nearly up to Owain’s caliber, which made Robert look at him a little more closely. For a few seconds, they merely stared at each other, a silent maneuvering in their gazes. But then Owain stooped and started pulling up Robert’s trousers, doing the belt for Robert. That was fortunate, since it was doubtful that Robert’s hands would’ve stopped shaking long enough for him to do it himself.
“So?” Owain backed off a few inches and raised an eyebrow.
“So you made your point,” Robert said, silkening his voice, but leaving most of the mockery out of it. He rubbed at his wrists, which bid fair to be burning dully for days, and leaned forward. “Sir.”
First Owain’s expression froze stiff, but a relieving second later, a broad grin cracked it. He raked his fingers through Robert’s hair and pulled them together for a messy, hard kiss, then pressed a thumb into the new bruise on Robert’s cheekbone. “You’re nuts. I can’t believe—I did that, and you’re still—oh, fuck it.”
They tossed the gag-tie, but Owain draped the other one around Robert’s neck and used it to drag him—not unwillingly—back into the car.
* * *
Sooner or later, Owain would have to lose the stupid gleeful face, but not right now.
Robert couldn’t even sit up. By the time they had to stop for the night, he’d be able to do that, and walk without too much stiff-leg, but for the moment, he was lying down on his side with head against Owain’s hip. That way, he could knock the ash off his cigarette without having to move. Or he could make little breathless whimpers whenever Owain slid a finger around the inside of his collar to scratch at all the little bite marks on Robert’s neck.
“So where were you born?” Robert asked, eyes half-closed and smoke wafting a little at a time from his lips. “Your father was from New Moon, your mother…”
“Wales. Mother went back six months pregnant, and I stayed with her till I was fourteen. Then she finally drunk herself into the grave, and Père sent for me. Strict old fuck. No wonder she left him.” Owain was taking a liking to Robert’s hair when it wasn’t gelled into proper stiffness. Without that gunk, it slipped through his fingers like water and ruffled prettily into fine lacy webs that he could then comb apart. And then Robert would lift his head into it and exhale a contented cloud of smoke. “Why’d you kill your father?”
Shadows blurred the lines of Robert’s face, but fast disappeared when Owain curled his fingers beneath the other man’s jaw. “Oh, I thought it’d make me feel better. He owned a lot of those cloth-making factories, fucked all the girls he employed, including my mother. Used to tell them either they gave up their babies so good families could adopt them, or lose their job. Of course, all he really did was donate a lot to the local orphanage.”
“But he was the Pendragon, right?” Of course, that family wasn’t known for its generosity, but even so, Owain found it odd that they’d let any latent member slip away.
“So I’m told. One of my grandfathers didn’t…wasn’t what the family wanted, or something of that sort. So they let him go, and didn’t keep tabs on the descendents.” Robert moved his shoulders in a dismissive gesture and sucked on his cigarette, cheeks going hollow in a way that made Owain want to pull over. Goddamn it, he was starting to see why people might settle in one place. It did make some things much easier. “I’m afraid I wasn’t listening very closely to Arthur when he explained everything. Still too shocked from finding out that I was related to one of the wealthiest families in England. I think…he said I was different in some way, because McCordle—my father—left bastards all over, but Arthur hadn’t gone looking for any of them.”
Okay, that made sense. “Because you’ve got a gift, and I bet your grandfather didn’t. It happens sometimes—you get an ordinary one even in the most powerful families.” Owain slowed down to read the next sign coming up: they were going to hit both Georgia and dusk soon, so he should probably think about finding a hotel. And then he’d have to start making phone calls. Fucking great.
Robert narrowed his eyes. Then he levered himself up to put out his cigarette, then press his cheek against Owain’s shoulder. “What?”
Aside from the distraction the man was offering, which Owain knew by now he couldn’t do anything about—or really wanted to, except roll Robert over the seat and—fuck, sometimes he hated being anchorless. And Seth was in North Africa, and Owain was pretty sure the others from his early days in New York were either dead or so far out of reach that they might as well be. “I just hate getting stuck in the middle of two cities. Believe me, a gang war like that can do some serious damage. Boston’s just coming out of one—almost nothing but ruins now.”
“I suppose this would be the kind of thing that has to be dealt with up front.” After a bit of hissing and shifting, Robert got himself resettled against Owain’s side. He dug around in Owain’s coat pocket, produced a cigarette and lit it, then handed it to Owain.
“No, running is not an option. This shit will follow you to the death. And sometimes beyond—remind me to tell you about Barbossa sometime.” Owain took the smoke and had a drag before the implications caught up with him. He shot a teasing smile at Robert. “Servant, huh.”
Blank expression. “The best ones are those that can anticipate, they say. Sir.”
Fuck Robert and the clever little begging snoot he put in his voice, but Owain did like that, and Robert took full advantage of that fact. “You want me to wreck the car, don’t you?” Owain muttered, holding the cigarette to Robert’s mouth.
As the other man took the end between his lips, his lashes came demurely down so Owain could see just how long they were. “Won’t you have to get rid of it anyway? Bill—I assume it’s Bill I’m seeing—will want this back. He’s very attached to it.”
“Oh—no kidding. Fuck, I didn’t even think of that. Budd probably has something in the undercarriage, or…”
Readjusting his plans, Owain took the next turnoff and cruised around a bit till he finally tracked down the car he had in mind. The owner was eating inside some diner, so Owain and Robert quietly shifted their things into the other car, which was nearly identical with theirs. Then they switched the cars, and Owain drove off, feeling a little more relaxed about the situation.
In fact, he felt good enough to pull into a hotel a little early and reward Robert by getting out some salve and fingerfucking the man on the floor. That had the added benefit of soothing Robert’s soreness so it wasn’t such a drain on Owain’s energy, plus making the other man murmur pleasantly and curl around Owain afterward. So Owain indulged himself and rubbed it into Robert’s other bruises as well, enjoying how worked up Robert got. Then it was easy to suggest a first lesson in sucking off, which Robert picked up as quickly as he did everything else.
Of course, that meant that the next morning was hell.
* * *
The phone was ringing. Much too early, but Robert was used to that, so he automatically began to reach for it. But his hand was knocked away, and then he was pushed over as Owain lunged for it.
“Hello?” Whatever answer Owain received wasn’t pleasant, because his face shuttered and cooled while his free hand slowly knotted itself into Robert’s shirt. The conversation was short, and on Owain’s side consisted mostly of yes’s and no’s. Then Owain slammed down the phone and swung his legs over the side of the bed, glaring at the floor. “Goddamn it.”
“What?” Robert started to sit up, then noticed that he could do that without wincing unduly. He snorted and chastised himself for being preoccupied with something so trivial. “What happened?”
Owain was yanking on his pants, but he spared a moment to throw Robert’s clothes at him. “That was Budd calling—nice of him to give warning, but goddamn it, how the fuck did he find—never mind. We’ve got to move. Gaspar’s coming down early—Bill drove him out of New York in some kind of takeover.”
It seemed that more than one habit learned in service was useful in this life; Robert was up and dressed almost before Owain was, and he was first to the door. He laid his hand on the knob and turned it—
--was yanked away just in time for the door to explode open. Off-balance, Robert fell heavily into a nearby chair and thus could only watch as a grim-faced man with a shotgun stepped in. Meanwhile, Owain had grabbed a rifle from his things and had it pointed at the stranger.
“Bon matin.” The newcomer had a long blond ponytail, a French accent, and a slouch that somehow hinted more at coiled springs than laziness. And from behind him was stepping another man, who was brown-haired, dangerously controlled, and carrying a skull-headed cane that made Robert’s hands curl into fists.
“Not really, but I guess this saves me a phone call.” Owain nodded to both of them, then looked at Robert. “Shotgun is Jacques, and cane is Will Turner. Nouvelle Lune boys.”
Will Turner set his cane on the floor and folded his hands on it, casual as a lord in the park. “You used to be one as well. Till your boss decided to come down south and upset Jack.” Then he turned to look over Robert, gaze lingering hard on the various bruises and marks that showed. “And I see that you’re well on your way to upsetting London.”