Mariah had been cleaning up and she had the place nearly to herself tonight. The cafe was right off the beaten path from Whitley and connected to the citywide bike and walking paths via several terraced patios down from the back door.  She never knew when another customer would be in. Mr. Soy Latte was in the far corner, reading his paper and Ms. Earl Grey Tea had her press outside with a friend. All Mariah had left to do was close down. It was a crisp evening going into fall, and so she was pretty sure Ms. Earl Grey Tea and her pal would not be long. She liked it like that. With a sigh, she looked up as the front door opened.

“Well, then… I’ve not seen you in a month! Welcome back!” she smiled, though from the looks of the handsome fellow her professeur liked, things might not have been going well.  

As he walked in Gabriel paused to secure the door and heard the bubbly voice of the female at the counter. He had left the office after Largros had dropped him off outside. He’d not felt like going to work – which was odd for him. Normally, if he were upset, he threw himself into work or cleaning. But tonight, he found himself drawn to the coffee shop from his office, a nice walk. He just needed to be here. Perhaps his words to Largros about his cousin were leaving welts on his own back? 

“It’s been rather busy lately.” Making his way to the counter Gabriel withdrew his wallet from his jacket. “I’ll take a cup of your lemon tea with just a touch of honey.” He withdrew a twenty and held it out to her.

“Sure thing,” Mariah turned and filled a glass with water and then placed it to be steamed. She reached over the regular cups to a lovely porcelain tea set. She moved to the fruit basket and took out a lemon. She added the standard breakfast tea to the cup and then poured the boiling water over it. She cut the lemon in half and let some drops drip into the cup. She took a small metal tool and scrapped it across the lemon twice to allow some zest to fall in before stirring. Then, she turned it around to place in front of him, tapping the honey nearby.  

Gabriel knew he didn’t look his best, but then as of late he had been dealing with not only the demons case and the issue with his Tasker, but had also had to fend off the nosy tabloids thanks to the picture in the paper – something he hadn’t realized was happening. He was surprised that he had been able to dodge them well enough to get here. Then again they were probably just outside lurking like crazy stalkers.

With a glance towards the windows Gabriel sighed low, “Do you mind if I sit at a table away from the windows and door?” He gave what he hoped as a passing resemblance of a polite smile.

“Sweetheart, you can sit here with me if you want. I’ll either shut up and listen or I can talk to you. I’d appreciate the company. And if you’re worried about someone following, I can always close up a bit early. You’re worth it.” she winked. “I’ve got to do these dishes, anyway.”

Taking a seat at the counter with her, Gabriel did smile then as he added honey to his tea and stirred until it dissolved. Tapping the spoon gently on the side of the cup he set it aside and lifted the cup to his lips to sip and savor a moment.

“Why don’t you talk for awhile and I’ll listen.” Gabriel took another sip and looked directly at her queuing her to say something. As long as it wasn’t business oriented at the moment he figured he could handle it.

“Okay. Well, I finished my classes. Got a 4.0. Would’ve had even better had the extra credit counted. But I did that for nothing, I guess.” She shrugged.

“Extra credit? It doesn’t sound like it was necessary.” Gabriel couldn’t hide that he was impressed.

“I got bored one weekend and since I wasn’t sure what I’d make on my final, I did the project while I had breaks here. It’s no biggie. Graphs are my thing.” She smiled.  Taking a breath, she continued.

“So now what are your plans?” He was genuinely curious.

“This is my only job. So, even though I’ll have the degree soon, I don’t have any corporate experience. Which – I don’t think I want anyway, ya know?” She sighed as she wiped down the counter in front of him slowly.  “I’d rather own my own business or work with people than do the big business – business.” Her pale eyes looked at Gabe, “No offense. Looks good on you, huh?”

He chuckled low, “No offense taken, but tell me what kind of business are you wanting to open up?” Even though he’d told himself no business talk, it seemed he just couldn’t help himself. Besides this conversation was taking his mind off of other things and other people.

“Are you sure you want to walk on the hokey side of the world? You’re so… GQ, ya know?” Mariah had paused her clean up.

“I know it seems like I’m only interested in big business and corporations, but I have been known to make exceptions when a small venture catches my attention.” He sipped from his cup again before dabbing at his lips with his napkin, “So wow me with your plan. You have my undivided attention, my dear.” He liked Mariah’s spirit and her bubbly attitude.

She looked at him skeptically for maybe a few seconds before excitedly leaning on the counter in front of him to explain.

“I took classes in health and I got into holistic health when I was still in high school. It was my escape. Potions, notions, and all kinds of things.” She pulled the stool over to her and popped herself up on it in front of Gabriel. “These days everything is going organic and natural and there’s a revival in such things, but there’s a market out there for it that’s not really true – it’s not real. It’s people and companies taking advantage of an idea. I can’t blame them for it, but what if our marketing also contains the idea that these things were crafted by and created by people who are specialists? You know, hedge witches? I know the pagan and alternative community would go for it, the mainstream? They’d do it too if we could use a different terminology on the packaging. Like, a practitioner of the natural arts,” she couldn’t help but giggle.  

“Sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into this.” Gabriel had to admit that it was a very interesting concept. “Let’s hear more, you have me so far.”

“I’ve seen so many people that have this air of perfection to them and they have this totally hidden side to them, ya know? And I believe if we market the products correctly, like what you see with the tree of life marketing? I think it could go mainstream.” She sat up more. “I also liked the idea of this shop we’re in? You know, a cafe with a natural vibe to it but with a side store that carries such things? The business model has worked for countless other entities – hello! Cracker Barrel? But you know, we wouldn’t have to be that big.”  

Gabriel’s eyes widened just a little as she became animated with her enthusiasm for the topic at hand.

“I just freaked you out, didn’t I?” People usually got freaked out when she mentioned the word “witch”.  She was waiting on the polite let down.

“Not at all.” Gabriel assured her. “I’ve never invested in a coffee shop – slash – herbalist venue before, but it sounds intriguing enough that it might actually work if set up and advertised properly.” Gabriel finished his tea and held the cup and saucer out to her. “I have a few small places in the city and a few in the surrounding areas that you can choose from. We can look them over and discuss a contract. How does 25% sound? I’ll invest and after a year you can start giving me my percentage of the revenue or you can buy me out at what I invested. Interested?” It felt good to actually do something small outside the office for a change.

“You…” She just sat there in stunned silence for a few moments. And then she continued, “You’re serious? I mean… I hope you’re serious!”

“I’m completely serious.” Her excitement made him smile just a little in response.  It wasn’t every day that he got such reactions from a deal.

Mariah hopped back and did a little circle dance on her toes in the tiny space behind the bar. She was laughing and then she stopped when the door opened again and the ladies from outside brought in their dishes.

“Goodnight, Mariah!” one called.

“Bon Soir, Genny!” she called waving at her customer, barely able to hold in her excitement. The guy in the corner with the latte was already gone.  He’d  left while they had been talking.

Taking a deep breath, she looked to Gabriel again. “Wait…”  she had just spoken in French and it reminded her of the person who was responsible for introducing her to Gabriel.  Her eyes moved over him as if she was both looking at him and through him and around him.

“What?”

“Something happened. Something’s wrong.” She moved around the bar to close the door and lock it and then turned back to him. “I’m so sorry.”

Gabriel watched her lock up and knew what was coming even before she asked.

“What are you sorry for?”

“I’ve been selfish. What’s happened, Gabriel?”

“You haven’t been selfish at all. I asked you remember? What do you mean by what happened? I don’t think I quite understand.”

“You’re upset. The…colors, your colors, they’re tumultuous. You’re happy on the surface, and I’m glad I could make you happy. But, whatever is behind that green color, is very much stronger.” She walked slowly to him,  “Where is our Professeur?”

“Professor Raudine has been transferred and I’ve been exceedingly busy with work and dodging press.” Gabriel really didn’t know why he was telling her all of this, but for some reason Mariah made him comfortable in a way that only a select few ever did. He wasn’t telling her everything – obviously.  But, he had to admit that, he needed to be here where they had begun… where things shifted for himself and his lover. And Mariah was willing to talk and listen. She was trustworthy, at least on a mundane level. 

“What has happened between you both? He should be helping you dodge press. I mean, I saw the picture, so it took two of you to make that goof – and don’t try to say it wasn’t a goof. I know you both like privacy. You should be helping one another with the storms in your auras.” Mariah placed her hands on her hips.

Gabriel could feel the tension building as his comfort lessened. He felt his walls closing in and knew it wasn’t the poor girl’s fault at all. “It’s a trust thing amongst a few others. Besides he hasn’t made an attempt to contact me so perhaps he’s had a change of heart. Whatever it may be it will not work itself out today.”

“Oh, it will be worked out. You two are soulmates. And if I have ta call him and be a pest and get him here tonight, I will.” Mariah pulled her red curls back behind her and flipped them into a bit of a knot before she moved behind the bar and pulled out her phone. “Let’s see….”  

“You shouldn’t do that Mariah. It’s best to just leave things as they are for now.” Gabriel was trying to remain pleasant with her though it was becoming exceedingly difficult not to snap. Since the moment at the arrest at the security station near the portal – he’d felt a distance between himself and his lover; one that he had welcomed at first. But when they met with Darius and he had lost the feel of the bond completely? Once he had returned, Inea’s words had made him think that Senias would be upset and demanding to know what had happened. So far, he’d not even gotten a call. 

“Uh, no…no it’s not.” But she didn’t hit the call button.

There was a huge sigh of frustration out of him right then as he stood up from the bar.

“I don’t know anything about our colors as you call them, but I do know that if he cannot trust me at my word then there is no need to go any further.” Gabriel’s gaze was pained as he looked right at Mariah, “He straight forward asked for my word on something and I gave it. Yet when things went bad the first thing he did was accuse me. If I give my word I shouldn’t have to explain how it wasn’t me that caused problems – now should I?”

“No. You have an integrity to you. You’re not that kind of person. If he questioned your integrity, he owes you an apology. Because you’re not like other souls. You’re a compounded soul. You don’t betray. I bet you can’t even lie very well. Do you want me to tell you what I think?” 

Gabriel shrugged and motioned with his hand for her to continue.

“The problem is, he’s an old soul and he’s been betrayed far too many times.” She shook her head and tossed the phone on the bar. “I see that happen a lot in old souls. Most of them never find a soulmate. I thought maybe he had a chance.”  She seemed very sad at this news. When she looked back up, she motioned for him to sit back down. “Come on. I have some of their best wine in the cooler already. Let me get you a drink. You deserve it.”

Seeing the phone on the bar made him relax once more. He watched her pull the wine and wouldn’t turn down a good glass right then. He truly would enjoy it.

She got the bottle out and pulled the corkscrew from the drawer. As she worked the bottle, she continued to speak.

“That doesn’t change that you two… wow… I’ve never seen aura colors fold into each other like yours do. So that means something’s got to give, right?” She popped the cork out and let the bottle sit on the counter top while she grabbed two wine glasses from the under counter slides.

As she poured the wine he removed his jacket and placed it over the back of a nearby chair.

“For such a young woman you see an awful lot in people.” He waited for her to pour a glass and the lifted it to swirl and breathe the fragrance in.

“I’m what? A decade younger than you? Come on.”

“I’d say yes something has to give, but it doesn’t always work out that way my dear. Fairy tales don’t necessarily exist in this day and age sweetheart.” He took a drink and licked his lips. “It’s a good year indeed.”

She sat the bottle down without pouring any into the second glass.  

“Yes they do. Fairy tales do exist. Most people just refuse to see them. They’re too rational and jaded. You have to look beyond seeing what’s in front of you. It’s like…” she tapped her chin with her fingers. “OH! It’s like looking at one of those hidden 3-D posters. Most people can’t see it. But fairy tales are real, especially when it comes to love.”

“That easy, huh?” He chuckled.

“I’ll tell you a secret.” She took a deep breath and turned in a circle, her arms down and fingers parted. “I have a soulmate, too. He’s lost his way. He can’t get to me. But I know he’s out there.” She stopped and shrugged at Gabriel before refilling his glass. “Maybe I have to go find him. Maybe he needs to be saved by me. Like you saved Professeur Raudine.”

With a shake of his head Gabriel watched her little dance. The fingers of his free hand slid through his hair setting it askew. “I didn’t save him, Mariah. I am not that gifted.” He could see that she was going to disagree with him and so as she had her say, Gabriel enjoyed the rest of his wine then refilled his glass to enjoy a third; a fourth would follow soon after that.

“Oh, yes you did. You should have seen his face that night when I handed him your gloves. Like a deer in headlights and then he was so mad that I’d pegged his ass!” she laughed.  “He’s been lonely to the point of having a purple aura and that’s not good. When you’re around him, it changes and it’s so beautiful. Especially when you two are near each other and they mix. You saved him. I don’t care what you say.”

“Don’t believe me? Call him then and ask him yourself?” Gabriel pushed her phone towards her. The wine dulled the senses and his walls fell further to let his mind open to the dragon that had hurt him. Gabriel hadn’t even realized he’d put mental barriers up – it had simply been a reactive occurrence.

Mariah picked up her phone, smirked and put it in her pocket. She wouldn’t need to call the man.  The Professeur must’ve really screwed up. She didn’t know Gabriel as much as she knew Raudine, but she really liked him. She hated seeing him sad like this.  She bit her lip to keep from saying anything as he stared into his fourth glass of wine. Then, as if he had read her mind…

“I never let anyone so close.” Staring at his glass Gabriel gave Mariah a bit more insight into why he felt as he did about the situation with Raudine. “I’d seen what emotional attachments do to others around me and how it ruined them. I shouldn’t have wanted him so badly.” Gabriel swirled the wine and watched it sway in the glass. “Enjoy your soulmate and your fairy tale when you get it Mariah. Hold onto it.”

“I will, if you promise me you’ll do the same?” she asked, putting her elbow on the countertop in front of him and holding out her pinky.  

One dark brow arched up in that Kennedy fashion, “Are you serious?” Gabriel looked from Mariah to her pinky that was awaiting his decision.

“I take this very seriously. There’s nothing that can break a pinky swear. So…?” she waited.

Never feeling so ridiculous in his life Gabriel hooked his pinky finger with hers. “Well to assure that you enjoy your happily ever after I suppose I’ll have to swear to one day enjoy my own.”

Smiling, she finally poured some of the wine in the other glass. The bottle was done.  Then, she turned toward the back door of the little cafe, which was literally only a few steps away from where she was.

“Shall we toast to fairy tales and soulmates?” Gabriel was definitely feeling the wine now.

“Oh, that’s not for me. I’m letting in your company.” She unlocked the lock and moved back as the door swung open and Senias came in. His eyes were on Gabriel right away.

“Well, go on and apologize for whatever you’ve done and talk. I promise I won’t eavesdrop too much.” She waited for the man to move out of her way and she walked outside and closed the door. She had to get the supplies from the small outer shed for the next day, anyway.  

Senias looked from Gabriel back to the door and then to Gabriel again. His weakness…

“I came up the back trails so no one would pay attention. I felt you. I’ve barely been feeling you. I know that’s best, but at the same time, I’m not sure I can bear much more of it.”  

Straightening up as best he could Gabriel actually looked surprised to see Senias standing there. It was as if his brain wasn’t quite registering it.

“Oh…hello..” It was the best he could do right then.

“Why did she say I needed to apologize?”  

Clearing his throat Gabriel sat upright on his stool.

“If you don’t know then I guess there’s nothing to apologize for.” Gabriel smoothed his hair back into place and started to stand up. He drank some of his wine and reached or rather fumbled for his jacket.

“Well excuse the hell out of me for being ignorant. I came here because I felt you. I thought you needed me, not an apology,” Senias looked toward the bar at the empty wine bottle. That explained a lot. “So, you’re drunk. That’s why I feel you? That’s the only reason I feel you?”

“I gave you my word..” Gabriel’s face flushed as he struggle with getting his arm in the sleeve of his jacket. As Gabriel recalled Sen’s accusations it stung all over again. “My word.. and it wasn’t enough.” The wine loosened his tongue otherwise there was no way he’d confront his dragon on all of this as he was. “You stood before the others and accused me. Not only did you not trust my word, but you gave the others reason not to as well!”

“I questioned you, because I’d not read the final report.  And last I’d heard you were going on and on about the connections from Dante to the Councilor. It’s not like I stood before judge and jury condemning you, Gabriel.” the dragon watched as his lover, his kindred, moved to redo the same movement five times before getting it right and proper. The dragon also shook his head a bit as the feeling if being slightly tipsy ebbed into his mind. Oh, what an impractical side effect of a kindred bond!

“I can’t do this.. I need to leave. I have work to do at the office and pardon me if I don’t feel as if I have to prove my loyalty to you and now to the others.” His words slurred and his steps were unsteady and yet he managed to keep upright. Finishing off the glass of wine, Gabriel fumbled to pat down his pockets and find his phone.

As Gabriel swung around, Senias grasped his wrist and tugged him back to look at him. “No. You’ll not be going anywhere that damned drunk.  Mariah should’ve cut you off a couple of glasses or more back.”

“I’m..” Gabriel actually growled as he yanked free of his dragon while staring at him like he’d grown two heads. “You seriously think that.. that I’d drive this way?” He lifted his other hand to reveal the phone.

“I don’t know what you’d be capable of when you’re actually drunk. You’re… I’ve not seen you like this very often. And I refuse to allow you to harm yourself or others – just in case you forgot you were incapable of good driving. Is that so horrible?”

“I have a driver that’s on stand by.” Gabriel’s voice was pained and low as he sat back down on the stool. It really was hard for Senias to trust him. Even given Gabriel’s family history with alcohol and how he’d had to handle the situations with his parents, Sen still thought him capable of foolish actions when inebriated.

“Fine.”

“You don’t think you judged me before them,  but you’re wrong. When you turned on me and treated me as if I’d turned what you told me in, you told them all I did it.” He at least thought he’d gotten the idea out of his head and to Sen’s ears properly. It may have been slurred, but the dragon was paying attention, so he continued. “Didn’t you see how Devon, Inea and Mira looked at me? If you had denied Skinner’s allegations and stood by me, they would’ve known it was a play by that asshole. But just like right now, you jump to the first assumption about me.”

Senias placed his hand on the counter. He again felt the wash of alcohol that he’d not drunk himself. But he was also trying to listen. To be honest, he wanted to argue at first. It was his way. He felt like, he should defend himself. And yet, the more he stood silent and listened, the more his kindred made sense.  So his gaze remained on Gabriel and he just listened. 

Mariah’s words flitted through Gabriel’s mind right then as he took a deep breath, “I’m nothing like any others that you know and if you can’t see that and see that I’m more loyal to you than anyone else ever will be then it’s you that are the fool sir, not I.”

“I’m a much better Tasker than partner or kindragon…which I’ve never been before meeting you; not really.”  He looked down at the counter his hand rested upon. Now he understood what he needed to apologize for. Taking a deep breath, Senias did just that. “As a Tasker, you can act and hide your emotions from people because you generally don’t give a flying fock about them.” He sighed. “What I said out there was, unthinking and angry. Like so many before you, I assumed that you let your vindictive side through when you made the report. You were very angry with how he had treated you to begin with and how Mira had poisoned me. I felt it. But…” He swallowed and continued. “…my assumption is my fault. It’s not on you. I was wrong about you. I’m sorry I didn’t stand up for you when I should’ve.” He felt like, even though he’d known this man for all of his life – on and off – he was really just learning about Gabriel Kennedy.  

Reaching for Sen’s hand, Gabriel interlaced their fingers and used it to pull his dragon closer.

“Hard as hell to admit things like that isn’t it?” Having dropped his phone back in his pocket, Gabriel slid his other hand to the back of Sen’s neck and up through his hair there. “It’s just as hard to accept on this side, but it comes with rewards.”

There was a warmth that rolled through now instead of the anger and Gabriel smiled at his dragon as he leaned in to kiss him. It had been a long time since they’d gotten a moment alone and Gabriel wanted Senias to understand that he appreciated and accepted his apology.

Sen smiled against his lover’s mouth once they had kissed for at least a minute. The warmth was welcome and so was the further opening of their bond.    

“You know, for not drinking, I definitely am feeling good right now,” he chuckled.  

“I’ve got another bottle,” Mariah said as she scooted through the back door with a rolling cart of supplies and started refilling the fridge inside for the morning shift.  “Let me get the cold stuff up and I’ll bring it out to you. Just pick a seat out there. The place is yours for as long as you want, guys. You know – even if I snoop? I keep your secrets better than I keep my own.”  

Senias looked to Gabriel and shrugged. No one would find them here, after all. They could talk. They could catch up. It’d been a few days, after all.  

“Nothing near the windows.” Gabriel cautioned as he smiled warmly at Sen. “That damned article has had my family and office busy since it was published.” He scowled hating the fact that his private life had been made so public. It made him feel cheap.

“Funny, so far, no one outside those I’ve worked with have looked me up. I’m glad my face isn’t so famous. Not to mention, the angle was much more focused on you and not me.”  The dragon’s smile was bright.

“Lucky you.”

“Maybe it’s the magic. You have more sparkly magic than I do,” Senias teased.

“Nope, none of that here,” Gabriel snapped his fingers just to prove the point. He looked down at his glass and tried to think of what to say.

“For the record, I don’t care if you never touch magic. I poke fun because you’re surrounded by it. Someday you may find you have to use it. Or you may never do so. I don’t care. I love you just the same.”

 “Do you, because sometimes I think I’m just a passing fling for now but if I acknowledged my magic you’d truly love me.” Gabriel was showing just how insecure he really was in their relationship while the wine had his guards down. “I love you, Senias of Morias whether in this form or your true one. And that you should never doubt.” Turning his chair to the side Gabriel stretched out his long legs and sighed as his head laid back on the chair and his hand balanced the glass on the table haphazardly.

“But you doubt me?” Sen got up and took the wine from Gabriel’s hand before taking that hand in his own. “You know what you casting magic does to my feelings for you?”

“No, what?” Gabriel watched Sen hold his hand and actually dreaded what the man would say. The Kennedy’s had treated the dragon like property once they’d branded him and he wanted to make sure it was nothing like the power they’d held.

“Nothing. As a mentor, I can tell you that it’d be fun to teach you and easier to teach it to you as I also teach you about dragons and our magic that we now share through the bond. But that has nothing to do with our bond or our relationship. So, now it’s my time to get pissy with you and tell you to stop judging me,” he kissed the top of Gabriel’s hand to show that he wasn’t angry – just telling it like it was.  Mischievous eyes looked up slowly from his position. Wine tended to mello him just as ale and beer tended to get him frisky.

“I’m sure there are a lot of things that you could teach me.” Gabriel chuckled as he watched Sen and wondered just what his lover was up to. “What’s that look for? What are you up to?”

“Uh, no healthcode violations on my watch, Professeur!” Mariah yelled from the bar across the cafe.  She was shaking her finger at the man and he gave her a very naughty look.

“You could always watch,” Senias challenged. He took Gabriel’s wine glass and emptied it himself before reaching for the bottle.  

“Mmmm kinky. I guess I won that bet against myself,” she giggled. “I doubt I could just watch, though. You guys are hot and I’d want to at least you know,” she wiggled her eyebrows over her  blush. “And most gay guys don’t like the female form anywhere near them like that.”

“I find the male human form much more to my liking, but your human female form is just as lovely in it’s own way. I’ve enjoyed the fine works of art that show it and you, my dear, are also a fine work of art under those clothes, I’m sure,” Senias was trying to be nice about it. He looked to Gabriel to see what sort of reaction he’d end up with. After all, Gabriel wasn’t facing Mariah.

“It’s so funny how you say things like that. As if you’re not human,” she shook her head before locking up the cash drawer for the night.

“Sometimes he’s a complete beast.” Gabriel rose to his feet and gathered his cufflinks and discarded tie and coat to lay over his arm. “But as much as I enjoy your company my dear, I’m not the sharing type.” He tugged on Senias’ hand to let him know that he was ready to leave. Yes he was possessive and he never denied it.

 

“Well, then I’ll meet you at the trailhead at the foot of the hill out back. I’ll leave the lights on and pretend I just forgot them. That way, no one can get any more pictures of you out front.” Mariah grabbed her own jacket out of the side cubby before motioning for them to come out the back of the place with her.

“I don’t know about this.. do you really think someone could still be out there waiting?” Gabriel rubbed a hand over his face and sighed heavily. He hated feeding the tabloids his life and he hated that in doing so Sen could be in danger. “I can just call a car..”

“Look, the guy in the corner recognized you. Mr. Latte thinks he’s smooth, but I’m pretty sure he’d like to make some money. I don’t trust it, neither does my gut. So it’s just four patios with little staircases between them and then a bit of a trail, but there’s rope banister all the way. Jean-Michel knows the way, he uses it a lot.”  Mariah was not taking NO for an answer. Her hunches were almost always correct.

“I think I enjoyed that wine too much… next time only one glass.”

“Come, love,” Senias helped steady Gabriel at his side and they moved to the back door.  “Besides, who wouldn’t like a moonlit walk through the woods?”

“Alright, I can’t fight both of you..” Gabriel leaned in Sen and let him guide them out of the coffee shop and stayed as steady as he could along the way.

Still grinning in that goofy wine way of his, Gabriel looked up at his lover. Sen had let his facial hair go for a while, now. It was interesting.  

“I really like this Professor.” His hand lifted to rake through Sen’s beard. “Looks good on you..”

“Well, seems I’m not the Professeur any longer. I lost my job at the university. But, I’m glad you enjoy the look. It’s called ‘Homeless Man in Good Clothes.’”

Looking straight ahead he frowned, “Where are we going again? Can’t go to your place nor mine.. please no hotel.”

“If I weren’t half lit, I could do it. That was some very strong wine you had back there.” Senias chuckled and moved his face aside to smell Gabriel while they were close. “How about we let her take us to Rose’s? I doubt Nathan would allow anyone not part of the family close to the Matthews’ homestead. You can call her and give her a heads-up? It’s no further from town than your home, just in the opposite direction.” They were making their way down the wooded back trails off of the multiple patios behind the little cafe. Mariah had long left them in the dust. 

“Mmmm okay that works. I won’t argue that point right now.” Gabriel chuckled as he leaned into his dragon more. “I’ll call in the car. Do you think Mariah will mind driving us?” Gabriel had slid one arm around Sen’s waist. He was relaxed, feeling good now and very much content. It had literally been days of little to no sleep with all that had been going on including the problem with his dragon.

“No, she doesn’t mind us at all. I think she rather likes being the mother hen to us,” Senias chuckled. “She’s a very odd, lovely human.”

“One day soon I swear I’ll make it so that we can be like this no matter where we are.” Gabriel nuzzle his dragon and rumbled low for him.

“You trying to be a lycan, Gabe? You won’t try magic, but you’re rumbling?” This was too cute.

There was a low chuckle, “Blame Eva and Devon..” Gabriel thought of the lycan couple and smiled to himself.

“Don’t worry, Mariah would never try to take you on for dominance.” They came to the bottom of the trail where there was a small park and a parking lot nearby. Mariah’s little four-door pulled in as they made their way toward it.  When they were inside the car Gabriel pulled his phone and called his Aunt to make the arrangements with her for their overnight stay. Just as Senias had said, Rose had no problem welcoming them in.

“Mari, the address is 290 East Granview. Think you can get us there? If you need gas money…”

“It’s no problem, Professeur. I found myself an investor today. I think I’ve got it all covered,” She smiled from the front seat, her expression quite wicked in the rear-view before she backed up and took them onward and out of the city.

“She’ll be standing on the front steps waiting on us.” Gabriel was slumped in the seat so that his head was on his dragons shoulder and his eyes were closed.

“I noticed you didn’t mention the condition of us both?” Senias took a deep breath. He was going to try his best to pull more of the alcoholic effects from his kindred, but he kind of doubted it would work, considering the amount Gabriel had partaken of.

As the car pulled into their drive Rose Matthews was standing in her open doorway waiting as patiently as she could for their evening guests.

“I know I can’t be mothering or he’ll think I’m smothering him.” It wasn’t often that they got visits from her nephew and so to be called for an overnight visit was a thrill to her.

“Did he say why they needed to come here instead of going to his own home? Think maybe the paparazzi’s giving them fits?” Nathan lit his half used cigar, since he was outside anyway.

“He didn’t exactly say, but I think the attention may be part of it.” Rose rubbed her upper arms and glanced at her love, “I also think.. Well I swear he sounded a little tipsy.”

“Well, if he needs motherin’ mother away. But just remember, he’s also got Sen with him. That dragon’ll be takin’ good care of him, like I do you.” Nathan watched Rose give him a look.  “What? You don’t believe me? Or you don’t want to think about Sen takin’ care of Gabriel in some of the ways I take care of you?” He scratched his t-shirt covered chest.

“Oh Nathaniel, you know very well that doesn’t bother me at all.” Rose’s cheeks did flush though even as she rested a hand on his upper arm. “I just know Senias,  and I’m not so sure that his care of Gabe is quite the same. He lacks some of your finesse.” She pressed her cheek to that same arm and simply stayed right there until the car stopped at the foot of the stairs.

As Sen exited the car, Gabriel took his hand and let himself be helped from the car. Mariah was out of the driver-side door and willing to help stabilize the both of them.

“Please don’t fall on me. I’m squishable compared to you two,” the little red-head reminded them.

Gabe looked up the steps at his Aunt and smiled, “Good evening.. Aunt Rosie and Nathan. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’m told it’s wonderful for moonlit strolls.” He chuckled and leaned on Senias.

Either it’d be strike one or they’d all just laugh it off – Senias was the only one that called Rose… “Rosie” – at least til Nathan had come along.  One dragon looked up at  the other and he couldn’t help but smile. Nathan nodded to him and sucked in more of the tobacco flavor while watching from the porch.

Exchanging a look of surprise with her dragon, Rose made her way down the steps to help with her nephew.

“It’s been quite lovely Gabriel, now let’s get you inside. We’ve had the upstairs guest room prepared for you and another room as well if more than one is needed.” Rose was being polite in how she offered separate rooms to the couple.

“Oh, one will do. Mariah wants to go home and soak in her tub. She’s already told us about it.”

“Yeppers! I got a new bath bomb from one of the local shops. It’s gonna smell like sandalwood and patchouli exploded.” Mariah replied to Sen before letting them both go. “They’ve had quiet fun tonight, I couldn’t let them just… well,  you know.” She shrugged.

“Well thank you for seeing my boys to me.” Rose smiled for the young woman and knew that it wouldn’t be the last they saw of her.

“Have a good one!”

“See you tomorrow Mariah.. Thank you for everything.” Gabriel watched Mariah climb back into her car.

“Bon Soir, Mari!” Sen called.  After all, they’d been able to go all this time without actually spilling beans to her. Why ruin things, now?  

“Alright Senias, let’s get him inside and to bed.” Rose was trying to help, and Nathan was just chuckling as he watched. They both smelled of the wine and she tried not to let it get to her as she helped steady them while the car took off. The little car was going down the drive and he had to make sure the wards were reset when it left. So, he didn’t offer to help until then.

“You really shouldn’t stand there Aunt Rose.” Gabriel smiled for her and looked down at where she had his arm around her shoulders and was actually trying to hold him up. It was sweet and yet completely useless.

“Rosie, back up.” Nathan touched her shoulder to guide her out from beneath the weight of her nephew.  “Sen, up and over.” Nathan spoke with authority. He closed the wards with a flick of his fingers and then made his way down the stairs. Once he got to the base, he scraped the end of the cigar on the dusty ground and then placed it in his little clay bowl near the steps.

“You’ll thank me in the morning,” Senias stated to Gabriel, before he turned the man to face him, squatted and then lifted him bodily up off the ground over his left shoulder.  By the time it was done, Nathan was right beside both of them, helping guide.

“Rosie, lead the way for ‘em, hun.”  

All Gabriel did was close his eyes and chuckle as he was held over Sen’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes. He even started humming along the way as if the off key tune would help hasten them along to the room.

“Rosie, Rosie do you have pockets full of posies.” Gabriel actually groaned as he felt a thump to the back of his head.

“That’ll be enough of that noise sir.” Rose pulled her hand back and closed the door behind them before moving to open the guest room for them. “Senias, there are clean sheets and clean towels in the bathroom off to the left. Is there anything else you need?”

“Drinking water, headache medicine, and some bananas if you’ve got them.” Senias already had a pre-remedy set up for hang overs. It usually worked like a charm.  He made it into the bedroom about that time.

Gabriel groaned as the room spun with the constant joggling. “Sen stop joggling me..” He actually chuckled while Sen seemed to spin with him still over his shoulder.

Senias did actually spin twice with Gabriel, before squatting and  having Rose and Nathan help him hold Gabriel up on the side of the bed.  He’d never have gotten the man into the bathroom.

“I’ll go fetch what you need,” Nathan patted Rose as he walked by.  

“Well, we made it. I’m gonna get you undressed and covered and make sure and feed and water you properly. Then you can take the medicine so it can begin working now and still be in your system by morning. And you’re going to sleep soundly, you understand?” Sen knew it made Gabriel feel better to know what was in store for the most part. Sure, tonight had been a wild night, but it was time to settle down a bit. He moved his hand to Gabriel’s cheek and let his thumb caress him there. The adoration in his gaze couldn’t be denied.

“Only if you stay with me here all night.” Gabriel’s warm gaze held his dragons as he smiled for him. He stayed seated without swaying on the side of the bed as Sen started seeing to his clothes. “Wait I need to..” Gabriel wanted to lay his jacket over a chair along with his other clothes. He wouldn’t rest well otherwise, but as if reading his mind Sen was already doing it.

“Need some help with him?” Rose asked softly as she watched Senias tend to her nephew. He was tender in a way that she really had never seen him be other than with her own mother and even then had been different than this was. Rose held her hands out for the clothing. “You can’t hold him up and arrange his clothes, too, Sen. You’re skilled but I don’t think you are that talented.”

“Thank you.” His expression told her that he appreciated the help. “Rose knows how you like your clothes. It’ll be fine.” He was being extra nice to Gabriel right now. He had to admit, he loved drunk Gabriel. So long as drunk Gabriel wasn’t mad at him and closing off from him.   

When Gabriel was in nothing but his boxers, Rose took the medication given to her by her own dragon and had started toward Gabriel. Senias was in front of her, his hands taking the medicine and water. She looked back to Nathan and his warm gaze told her that he understood. It was habit. Rosie took care of everyone. But she had to realize that Senias wouldn’t allow anyone to take care of his kindred – if that’s what Gabriel was. 

Rose took the other necessities and placed them on the side table, near the window before turning to help Senias get her nephew situated in the bed. Gabriel grabbed the blanket and pillows and after a wallow or two, seemed to fall immediately asleep. 

“So you thinking about sticking around permanently for this one? I can see that you care for him, but will your ways change for him?” Rose didn’t want to sound like a bitch but she wanted to watch out for her nephew too.

“My ways? Woman, what do you know of my ways? Have you been studying my life since you hooked up with John Matthews?” Senias wasn’t about to take tit without tat from this one. He got up and began unbuttoning his shirt.  

“Don’t take that tone of voice with me sir, I am not a young girl anymore that can’t spot the obvious right before my very eyes. And for your information, I never lost sight of you even while enjoying life with my dear John. So while I haven’t been studying your life I do know your ways, just as I know my own nephew’s.” Her hands moved to rest on her hips and her chin tipped up just a notch. If not for Nathan’s timely return Rose had no doubt that Senias would have stripped down right there in front of her every eyes. He was a rascal – always had been. She just wondered how in the hell he would treat Gabriel. Gabriel deserved more than a rascal. 

“And what do you mean by that?” Senias had unbuttoned his jeans but had not pulled them down. He was ready to talk this out, tipsy or not. After all, Gabriel was either already out or very nearly so.

“This, now?” Nathan asked from the doorway. It wasn’t a harsh statement, but he was pointing out the timing as bad.  His bright blue eyes moved between the two.

Catching her kindragon’s eye she sighed, “Oh alright, we can discuss all of this in the morning. See to yourselves and get some rest. Cook will be delighted to see more guests to enjoy her food.”

“Thank you, Rosie,” Senias whispered as she turned to leave.

Once they were gone and the door was closed, Senias pulled his pants down and kicked his jeans over to the side of the room on the floor with his shirt. He had his t-shirt and boxers on and that was all he needed. He happily climbed into the bed with Gabriel, so the both of them could get a good night’s sleep.

TBC…

~  Rachel Diane Adams and Dawn McClellan © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2018