Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
By the time Wen reached his side, Wesley was on his knees, shivering, and wiping a hand across the back of his mouth.
“What’s happening to me, Rowen?”
Wesley’s choked plea tore at Wen’s heart. He crouched next to Wesley, barely noticing the snow against his bootless feet.
“Whatever it was, I don’t think it’s happening anymore, Wes. It’s over now.”
Wesley lifted his head and looked up at him, his eyes damp and tortured. “How do you know? How can you be sure?”
“I can’t be sure,” Wen admitted. “But I’m hopeful that it is. You’re still paler than you should be, and I know you didn’t feel well when I first found you in the woods, but other than that, for the most part, physically you seem to be back to normal. You look like you and act like you.”
“I don’t even know what normal is anymore,” Wesley whispered. He scooped up a handful of snow and used it to wipe his mouth. “I remember now what I did. And I…I liked it. I took pleasure in it.”
Wen heard the self-loathing in his tone, but even more so, felt it ripple through their emotional link. His heart aching for him, he pressed a kiss against Wesley’s hair. “Wes, love—”
“No.” Wesley pulled away, as if he couldn’t bear to have any sympathy from Wen. Another ragged breath rattled out of him. “You might as well go ahead and say it. I know you’re thinking it. Just like I am.”
“Thinking what?” Wen asked in concern.
“That maybe this is why the ondaen have always been feared. Why there are so many stories of them eating people or luring them to their deaths. Gods…” His head slumped forward, his chin to his chest. “I’ve become the monster that haunts people’s nightmares. I am the nightmare.”
“You are not a monster.”
“What am I then?” He looked back up at Wen, his gaze part defiant, part despairing.
“You’re exactly the same person you were before this happened.”
“It doesn’t feel that way,” he said, shivering harder.
“You are, love. But right now, I need you to come back inside where it’s warm, before you freeze out here.”
Wesley closed his eyes for a moment. But then he opened them, sighed, and rose, letting Wen take his hand and lead him back into the tent.
This time it was Wen who sat him on the side of the bed. He wrapped a blanket around Wesley’s shoulders, and pressed his own still-warm mug of tea into his hands. He reached for the small flask on the table, opened it, and poured a healthy shot of it into the tea.
“Drink,” he ordered.
Wesley sighed and did, taking a couple of swallows. He grimaced, but took one more before handing the mug back to Wen.
“How…how could you still even want to be with me, knowing what I did? How could you have…well…done what we did this afternoon at the hot springs? Why would you want me?” The whispered questions were so quiet Wen almost had to strain to hear them. And Wesley wouldn’t meet his gaze.
Wen sank to his knees on the ground in front of him and rested his palms on Wesley’s thighs. “Look at me, Wes.”
Slowly, Wesley lifted his gaze to meet Wen’s.
“Whatever happened to you was not your fault. And the things that occurred while you were under the influence of the magick are not your fault. You think I should be disgusted? That I should turn away from you because you see yourself as some mutant creature who hunted animals?”
“Yes,” Wesley whispered, but he continued to look at Wen, though Wen could tell he didn’t want to. “I didn’t just hunt them. I ravaged them. And you were right…I wanted to do the same thing to you.” A silent but heartbreaking sob shook him.
“But you didn’t. And that’s what’s important here. You maintained control and you didn’t hurt me or anyone else.” Wen lifted a hand to Wesley’s cheek and caressed it. “You know what I see when I look at you?”
“I can’t even imagine.”
“I see the man I fell in love with. A man who’s far stronger than he seems to think he is. Who was strong enough to fight back against the magick trying to bend him to its will. Who, as always, put others first before himself, even while under the control of powerful magick. And who managed to avoid hurting a single person, even though that’s what the magick seemed to want you to do. Instead, this strong man channeled the magick in a different direction to protect the people he cares about.”
Wesley was quiet. His gaze dropped to his lap, where Wen’s hands gently squeezed his thighs.
“So you hunted animals. It was clearly a survival instinct. For whatever reason, the magick drove you to hunt, to feed, and you did, but you controlled it and found a substitute for what you needed. So, when I look at you…” He lifted Wesley’s chin until their gazes locked once again. “I see a smart, resourceful fighter. Someone I always have been, and will continue to be, proud of to have my back. And even more important, to share my life with.”
“You…you trust me alone with your brother for the next however long?”
“I do,” Wen said seriously.
“Do you really believe it happened because I healed you?”
“I don’t know for sure if that’s why it happened, but it makes sense. Again, I can’t let go of the fact the black festering started on your palms, exactly where you cut yourself and bled for me.”
Wen gently picked up one of Wesley’s hands, turned it up and spread open his fingers to look at his palm, then did the same to the other. The scars were back to being slightly puckered and pink. “See. No black streaks or infection in sight. Maybe…” He paused as a thought occurred to him. “Maybe it’s as simple as an exchange.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, think about it. You bled from your wounds to heal mine. I don’t know how much blood it took, but maybe the amount isn’t that important. Just the fact you gave up some of your blood, which clearly has powerful healing magick, would then leave you weakened.”
“I didn’t feel weakened. Only sick from fear that it wasn’t enough and that you were going to die.”
“Maybe it’s not the kind of weakened you could feel in a physical sense. More of a magickal weakening. And in order to replenish your magick, you have to take in more blood. An exchange. You give blood to heal someone, but then you’re instinctively compelled to replace that blood to keep up your own strength.”
“So…” Now Wesley looked thoughtful, which Wen took as a positive sign, since he no longer appeared quite as shaken and disheartened. “As long as I don’t use my healing abilities, then I shouldn’t…do…whatever it is I did?”
“Assuming I’m all…replenished now, then I shouldn’t want to hurt Al? Or anyone else?”
“Do you feel any urge to hurt me or anyone else right now?”
“No! Gods no.”
Wen smiled. “Then I don’t think you have anything to fear.”
Wesley’s forehead creased with worry again. “But what if it’s not that and it is something to do with the sorcerer?”
“It isn’t. I can’t explain it, but I’ve felt more and more certain about that all day. I just know. Right here.” Wen pressed a hand against his gut. “Maybe it’s a draegan thing. Or maybe it’s just one of my gifts, like the soothing magick I can do, but I trust my sixth sense. It seldom lets me down. And I truly believe that you are not now, and haven’t ever been, under the influence of the sorcerer. So, if you’re having trouble trusting it yourself, trust me. Please.”
Wesley dragged in a deep breath and let it out. Then he sighed and shook his head. “How do you always do that?”
“Somehow manage to make me feel better, even when I can’t imagine how it’s possible.”
“You do realize you do the same thing for me, right? You just did it earlier. Isn’t that what a partnership is supposed to be?”
“I don’t know,” Wesley said in a quiet voice. “You’re my first.”
A lump of emotion filled Wen’s throat. He gathered Wesley in against him. Wesley’s arms immediately slid around his waist, and Wen felt him take a deep breath, let it out, and, bit by bit, Wesley’s tension eased until he was warm and heavy against Wen’s chest. Their breathing, Wen realized, was almost perfectly synced. Odd, since he wasn’t actually doing any soothing magick right now. He chalked it up to their close emotional bond.
“I’m so damned tired,” Wesley whispered, his face against Wen’s shoulder. “It feels like the past…gods, I don’t even know how long it’s been…days, a week? It feels like everything I thought I knew about the world has been upended, and it’s all I can do to keep scrambling to catch up, to get my feet under me, before, wham, the next thing hits. Finding out my true heritage, you almost dying, me turning into…whatever thing I apparently become when I’m not in my human or water form. And now, Lord Hareldson is gone, Lord Rizik’s pain is off the scale, the whole camp is terrified. And you and I have to be apart for gods know how long. It’s all…”
“Overwhelming,” Wen finished for him.
Wesley nodded. “And, suddenly, all I can think about is how fucking tired I am. Like I just want to curl into a ball, close my eyes, and sleep for about a week.”
For some reason, Wesley’s quiet honesty made Wen love him all the more. He leaned back away from him. “It’s still a couple of hours until dawn. There’s no reason you shouldn’t get some sleep. We both should. Come on.”
He grasped the hem of Wesley’s shirt and pulled it up and over his head, then gently pushed him backward, until Wesley lay on the bed. Wen untied the laces on his pants, shimmied the soft, supple leather down over his hips and legs until they, too, were off. Then he pulled back the covers for Wesley to get beneath them.
Wen turned and put several pieces of wood on the fire, then undressed and slid in next to Wesley, spooning against him from behind. Unlike the night before, Wesley’s skin was warm and his breathing even. So even, Wen realized Wes had already dozed off.
He smiled and pressed a kiss against the back of Wesley’s neck. “Love you, m’caire,” he whispered.
Wen’s heart ached because he was already missing Wesley when they’d have to go their separate ways in a few hours. He hated that they had to be apart. He understood why, and his loyalty to the draegan lord and the draeganjhere was resolute. But, damn, the idea of Wes going off to who knows where, physically far away, but also out of reach of their emotional link as well, left him hollow inside. Though he could only imagine that was but a pittance compared to how Lord Rizik must be feeling right now, not even knowing if his mate were alive.
Wesley was right…they couldn’t live in constant fear of losing one another or they’d go crazy. But Wen knew he’d feel a thousand times better if he and Wes didn’t have to be so damned far apart for their jobs.
For now, though, for this moment in time, they were here together. And even doing something as simple as holding Wes and going to sleep next to him was a treasure. One he would remember on the long, cold, lonely nights to come.
* * *
Wen woke just before first light, his internal clock attuned to little sleep in the face of duty. He gently shook Wesley’s shoulder.
Wesley turned over and opened his eyes, those warm, love-filled eyes that Wen could just make out in the dim glow from the nearly spent fire. The sight caused Wen’s heart to melt all over again.
“Is it time already?”
Wen nodded, suddenly finding it hard to form words. He experienced Wesley’s heartache as strongly as his own.
“I hate this,” Wesley murmured.
Wesley reached up to touch Wen’s cheek with his fingertips. “Before I go, I need you. Please,” he raggedly whispered.
Wen didn’t have to ask what he meant. He felt it, and reciprocated. He needed Wesley, too. Needed him like he needed to breathe.
Curling a hand around Wesley’s head, he pulled him into a kiss.
Wesley’s relief that he was feeling the same way was apparent, not just through their emotional connection, but in his hungry response. His arms curved around Wen, holding him close, his hands kneading his back, then sliding down to do the same to his ass. His tongue urgently and eagerly mated with Wen’s, and his soft moans nearly did Wen in.
Gods, every time they were together it got better. As their emotional link deepened, especially after what had happened yesterday morning at the hot springs, their physical connection seemed to grow stronger as well.
Wen rolled Wesley onto his back and crawled on top of him, savoring every inch of sleep-warmed flesh against his own. They were both hard already, both leaking.
He pressed kisses against Wesley’s throat, nuzzled the hollow between his neck and shoulder, tongued his nipples until they were hard, shiny peaks and Wesley trembled in response. The he kissed down over the flat plane of his abdomen, and even farther down, to the sexy indentation between his hip and groin, licking into it, nipping at the hot skin.
Wesley’s moans continued to be intoxicating, urging Wen on. His hands clutched in Wen’s hair, tugging on the strands, eventually guiding him to the hard length of his cock.
Wen licked over the head of it, lapping up the clear beads of moisture seeping from the slit, and then slowly, slowly sucked him into his mouth, bathing his shaft, until it was slick and impossibly hard, and Wesley’s desire was a pulsing, live thing along the thread of their connection.
Wen wished with all his heart that they had more time this morning, so that he could savor every drop, every cry, every thrust of Wesley’s hips. But time was short, and their combined need was great, desperate even. He rose to his knees and, while Wesley watched in the fading light of the fire and the growing grey dimness of early morning through the tent walls, Wen slid his own prick over Wesley’s, letting the wetness from his mouth and Wesley’s leaking seed dampen his shaft and activate his own natural lube.
“Please, Rowen,” Wesley gasped, pulling his legs back to give Wen easier access.
His heart racing, his mouth suddenly dry with urgency, Wen wasted no time. He pushed…and pushed…and then he was in, sliding deep, swallowed by heat and squeezing pressure.
Wesley’s eyes closed. His head tipped back, exposing the line of his throat. His face was a study of raw passion. In that moment, Wen knew he’d never seen anything more beautiful.
“I’m so fucking in love with you, Wesley Brannock.”
Wesley’s eyes opened, his pupils blown from desire. “And I you.”
Leaning forward, Wen captured Wesley’s mouth in a fierce kiss. And as he kissed him, he began to move inside Wesley as well, slowly, deeply. It was incredible, and perfect.
But eventually slow wasn’t enough for either of them. Their time was ticking away and they both knew it, but more than that, their combined desire demanded more. More and more and—
“Harder,” Wesley urged, speaking for both of them.
What Wesley wanted, Wen would always give him, especially when he needed and wanted it just as much.
Moments later, with a strangled shout, Wen poured his release deep into Wesley. And mere seconds after that his cock trapped between their still thrusting bodies, Wesley cried out with the beginnings of his own release.
Wen pulled out of Wesley, prompting another cry from Wes, this one of denial. But when he slid down between Wesley’s legs and took Wesley’s pulsing cock in his mouth, Wesley’s cries turned to passion once more. Wen sucked and swallowed until he’d taken every drop Wesley had to offer. Immediately he felt the magick of it, as he had yesterday morning at the hot springs, tingling in his belly, spreading out from there, warming him and filling him with such intense devotion for Wesley he felt as if his heart, his very soul might burst from it.
Mate, it said. Always and forever.
When he finally released Wes and looked up at him, he found Wesley looking back, his gaze astonished but oh-so-tender.
“I feel you still,” Wesley said. “I know you’ve said before that draegan fluids are spiked with magick, but, Rowen, I’ve never felt it like this before. It’s…like…like live heat spreading through me.”
“I feel you, too,” Wen said, “in very much the same way. It’s getting stronger every time.”
“I…I hope it lasts.”
“Our bonding?” Wen asked, concerned at what he meant.
“No.” Wesley looked sheepish. “I mean this warm tingly feeling inside me. I hope it lasts for a long time, so I can still feel you even when we’re apart.”
Understanding caused a lump in Wen’s throat—which seemed to be happening to him often these days. “Oh, Wes…” he said softly, crawling back up so he and Wesley were once again face-to-face. “So do I, m’caire. Gods, so do I.”
He tenderly pressed his lips against Wesley’s.
After that, they both knew they could stall no longer. It was getting lighter outside.
They rose, cleaned up, dressed, and shared the rest of the bread and a few pieces of dried meat. There was no time to reheat the tea.
“Do you have everything you need?” Wen asked, his heart aching as he watched Wesley don his pack and strap on his weapons.
Wen pulled on his cloak, then adjusted his own weapons. He had duties to get to this morning, as well, and so damned many things to deal with on his plate he wasn’t sure how he was going to make it through the day. Especially if his heart kept hurting like this all day.
He put out the remains of the fire, and then he and Wesley left the tent together, walking hand-in-hand to where the path diverged, with one branch leading toward the command tent where Wen had to go, and the other off toward the eastern boundary of the camp where Wesley planned to meet Allend to begin their journey.
They stopped and turned toward one another, sadness echoing between them.
Wen restlessly smoothed the fur edging of Wesley’s cloak, then looked up and locked gazes with him. “Wes, whatever you do, don’t shift while you’re gone. And don’t let Allend shift either. Your safety depends on the two of you passing as purely human. Don’t take any chances.”
“You know how hot-headed and rash Al can be sometimes. If he were to get worked up and he shifted…it would be a disaster and dangerous for both of you.”
“He won’t,” Wesley said, sounding calmer and more confident this morning. “I won’t let him. I promise.”
Wen swallowed and then nodded.
“And you…” Wesley said. “I want to tell you the same thing—don’t shift because it’s dangerous. But I know you’re not going to listen to me, not with the job that lays ahead of you, having to get the camp moved.”
“You don’t have to worry. I’ll almost always be with Lord Rizik, and, remember, he can see the sorcerer’s nets. So I’ll be safe when I’m flying.”
“You better be.”
“I will. I told you before, I have far too much to live for these days to take any stupid risks.” He managed a small smile, but quickly sobered. “Come back to me safe and sound.”
Wesley nodded. “I plan to, and I’ll bring your brother home safely, too.”
“I know you will.”
“I don’t want to leave you,” Wesley whispered, his eyes dark with sorrow.
“I don’t want to be apart from you either. I’ll miss you every second. Just remember…you have my heart, Wes.”
Wesley placed one of his hands on Wen’s chest. “And you have mine.”
Wen reeled him in and crushed Wesley against him in an embrace, and then pulled back enough to kiss him, which he did, thoroughly, wanting to savor and remember every detail of Wesley’s taste.
When they finally pulled apart, because they both knew the time had come as the first pink streaks of sunrise shot across the horizon, Wen dragged in a painful breath. He stroked Wesley’s cheek. “Safe travels, my love.”
For a moment, he saw emotion well in Wesley’s eyes. “You, too.”
After one final kiss that they were both reluctant to end, they stepped apart.
“I love you,” Wesley whispered, and then he turned and took off down the path without looking back.
Wen watched him for only a moment before he, too, turned away with a heavy heart to start his day. As each of them headed toward the unknown future, he didn’t know when fate would let them see one another again.