[The 7th day of Boedromion, year 4 of the 696th Olympiad, early autumn]
Eros sighed, enjoying the weight of Martin’s head on his shoulder. He toyed with the wild fluff that Martin’s hair had become with light fingers, unwilling to wake him. Martin was clearly exhausted after a what must have been an emotionally tumultuous day. Though willing, his grey eyes had been hazy as much from fatigue as satiation. Martin’s drive to do his best by his new husband was sweet. But damned if Eros would settle for Martin putting his own needs aside to cater to his fearful beast of a husband. I’ll have to work on that. Skies above, what had the lad been thinking? Eros chuckled.
Martin shifted at the noise and Eros ran a hand over his shoulder in apology. Martin settled again with a snuffle. Eros grinned as the tousled head lolled at an awkward angle and a gentle snore began. No, Eros wouldn’t – couldn’t settle for just the barest terms of their wedding arrangement. Martin did please him, but he didn’t yet love him. He needed to work on that.
Eros rubbed the heel of his hand over the centre of his chest. Dawn was approaching and he couldn’t stay. He ached at the thought of leaving this cosy space. Again he consigned Pothos to the cracks of Darkness for his trick. Would he be this besotted had it not been for the scratch of longing planted in him? Was it that poison that had made him decide to take Martin as his consort? Or was it cold calculation to try to tip the balance in his direction, ensuring that Martin would always be with him? He didn’t know. Still, it was all right for Martin, wasn’t it? Though he wasn’t aware of it, Martin had an immortal under his spell, so much so that Eros would agree to almost anything, grant his every wish, including Martin’s continued occupation as a pilot. The clause about Martin pleasing his husband was laughable. If Martin knew what power he held...
Eros exhaled and began shifting from under the lovely burden of his spouse. He wanted to see Martin awaken, drowsy and ginger curls lit by the sun. But it was not to be – no morning lover’s talk, no breakfast in bed except at dawn, no exchanged smiles and titbits fed by hand. It was cruel – not just to himself, Eros knew, but to Martin either. Well, he’d just have to make their nights as full of passion and joy as possible.
Deprived of his lover’s warmth, Martin turned away into the pillows. Eros’ nails bit into his palms and he throttled back the urge to clamber back into bed. He did not want to go. Damn Pothos.
He drew the bed hangings closed, shrouding the source of his longing.
“I’ll see you soon, Martin,” he whispered and left.
the sun herself
Envious of you
might cover her splendour
shines and lights the dark
Your warm and drowsy beauty
must but give delight
Martin pressed the back of his hand to aching eyes and rubbed. He blinked at the note attached to the fridge and looked again. The words remained in focus, the meaning clear enough. A flush rose in his cheeks as he reread the poem praising him. For his beauty?
He really couldn’t handle - well, that, as foggy-brained as he was. He’d awoken in a strange bed, eyes popping open as memories of the previous day and night stormed his consciousness. In a claustrophobic panic, he’d clawed open the surrounding draperies and found himself in a large bedroom with attractive wallpaper in a vine motif, a wardrobe and sundry furnishings in dark wood. Sunlight slitted through a gap in the curtains, lighting an Aubusson rug on waxed oak flooring. It was all so very English that his breathing slowed at once.
Curiosity as well as the need for the toilet drove him out. A green robe in his size hung on a hook and he shrugged it on and set out to explore.
What he’d found was a comfortable, sprawling farmhouse – some rooms old and cramped, others new and spacious, obviously added on over the years. And here was this kitchen sized for a large family of farmers, the huge modern fridge – and the love poem attached with a clip magnet. Martin took it down and rubbed a thumb over it. Just an ode to Martin Crieff, written with a ballpoint pen.
“Is this my life?” he said aloud, and a choked laugh escaped him. He read again the incongruous postscript, the tone so like a chatty hostess of a country weekend gathering that his mouth turned up at the corners. The signature was a hopeless scrawl, though. No hope of finding out his husband’s identity that way.
Martin sighed. “Make use of anything. Note things needed or lacking. Let’s start with breakfast.” He opened the fridge and blinked. The space was packed with a bewildering variety of foods both fresh, packaged and prepared. He lifted a plastic carton of fruit salad. A floppy bag had fajitas. What? Martin choked back an urge to giggle. Like a child snooping at Christmas, he opened a few cupboards at random, finding them crammed with tins and boxes as well as an eccentric range of kitchen gadgets.
Martin rubbed the smile that was creasing his cheeks. “Huh. What’s needed, I think, are fewer options.” It was a mad jumble of pricey kitchenware. A few minutes of searching turned up a bag of coffee beans and slim grinder that looked like a module from the command deck of a starship. Martin moaned with need as the scent of brewing coffee began to circulate, and he turned his attention to constructing a hearty breakfast.
With bacon, eggs, toast and fruit salad reduced to smears on his plate and two cups of coffee inside, Martin began to feel more himself. What was he supposed to do now? It was his honeymoon but he was alone. It was bizarre. He was to be consorting with a nocturnal immortal. And what a night it had been. Martin’s cheeks heated and he shifted in his chair. He had lovers, of course, yet for sheer sensuality and attentiveness, his wedding night had been unequalled in his small experience. If he subtracted the embarrassing parts ( and the terror, let’s not forget tha t), he’d have to say it was the best. His husband had been understanding and, well, sweet. Wildly fit as well, if his senses weren’t being deluded. Would it always be like that?
Would tonight? Nerves fluttered in Martin’s stomach. He stood up, determined to distract himself. “The thing to do,” he said aloud, “is to act normally.” Right. A shower, then, and – and… Go for a walk. Find out where he was? Yes, that’d be good. Martin returned to the master bedroom and pulled open the wardrobe. He goggled at the clothes revealed. All this was for him? Right. Right . Normal – this was his new normal. He should… he’d call his mother and let her know he was all right and…
In the back of his mind, the words of poem revolved, now spoken in a rich baritone. ‘You shine and light the dark. You delight me, my warm and drowsy beauty.’
Martin touched a smooth shirt cuff, made of silky cotton of a quality unknown to his old experience. His fingers trembled. Oh, who was he kidding. The real question was this: have a screaming nervous breakdown on the exquisite rug in this house of peculiar and thoughtful luxuries apparently bought with the sole purpose of pleasing him, or… He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t . Martin yanked the shirt from the hanger. Hastily opened drawers revealed new jeans, a light jumper and other necessities. Martin dumped them on a bureau. He glanced at the large bed with the ridiculous navy satin sheets, now marred with several dark stains. He gritted his teeth. Silk. Who wanted silk sheets? Not ordinary Martin Crieff. He was not going to be a pampered pet. Face set, a general holding the breach against a multitude of unwelcome thoughts, he marched to the bathroom.
Once out the front door with a key left in an envelope on a side table, ( honestly, was everything taken care of, down to the last detail? ) Martin paused. The house’s flower gardens were quite pretty, he decided, though dimmed under grey skies. A converted stable housed two vehicles, but the door was locked when he tried it. Was he not meant to go anywhere? The surrounding countryside consisted of gently rolling farmland. Where to go? He walked to the narrow road and looked around. No civilization, no signs posted. Fine. Hands shoved into pockets, he strode off. He passed a posh-looking gated home. He sniffed. ‘The Laurels’. He wondered if his own house had a name. If it did, he resolved, he would never let on to his mother. She’d be embarrassingly prideful over his fine circumstances. She might even insist upon a visit. He wasn’t ready, not until he’d sorted out how he felt about this whole marriage thing. He hunched his shoulders and walked faster.
A signpost pointed the way - at last! - to Newnham. Newnham? Martin stopped short. Why, that was not much over a half-hour’s drive from Fitton. His husband had picked a house near Fitton? Did he know – well, yes, he must know that Martin was going to be working out of Fitton Airfield. He knows everything about you. And you know almost nothing about him.
Martin turned into the village proper, trying to escape the pursuing thoughts. The clothes, the food, the house – all for him. Well, the house they shared, so Martin supposed an immortal wouldn’t have chosen a shabby place. But he could have kept Martin in a dreadful overpriced penthouse, instead of taking a place that near Martin’s place of work! A house that was grand and yet comfortable enough that Martin could see himself living there in happy if somewhat isolated splendour.
Martin had it all, didn’t he? He could do as he pleased, eat what he liked, enjoy every comfort. Martin had no doubt he could take the stupid silk sheets into the yard and burn a set everyday if he wished. All he had to do was spend the nights with his mysterious spouse. Oh, and please him. And love him , whispered a small voice, let’s not forget that . A smothering weight pressed his ribs in until his breath came in short gasps.
With relief he spied a phone box on the village green. Call, call, call – who? Not his mother, she wouldn’t understand why he was on the verge of hyperventilating over his perfect life. He patted his pockets. No wallet. He lifted the receiver and punched through to an operator. “Hello? I’d like to make a call, charges reversed,” he said. “Yes. Name of Martin Crieff.”
Come on, come on ! His fingers drummed a fast tempo on the glass of the booth. The charges were accepted and he was connected.
“Martin?” Carolyn’s tone was both irked and curious. “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you for some time.”
Martin’s brain stalled. “Ah. Ah, yes. You did give me one week.”
Carolyn waited a beat for him to continue. Martin took a deep breath, then another.
“Why have you called? Collect, mind?” Why, indeed, except that Martin needed to hear someone’s voice, even if they were speaking in annoyed accents. It drove away the echoing cadences of his husband’s voice, the dark voice curling up his spinal cord with licks of heat. Oh ye gods, the way he’d sounded – kind, amused, needy, affectionate. So full of care. For him. Martin nobody Crieff. Why?
“Um. Sorry about that, I’ll repay you when I get in, I was just out and realised I’d forgotten my wallet and -”
“Yes, yes, never mind that. Are you that eager to start work? I hope you’re not bored of married life already.” Carolyn chuckled.
“Gods, no, that would be…” A terminally bad thing , Martin’s mind supplied. “Well, yes, actually, I would like to start.”
“That would be grand!” Carolyn said. “Two pilots are better than one, considering my current one. When you can start?”
In the background he heard Douglas’ deep tones. “Is that Martin? Yes, by all means, Martin! Please start soon. We’ve been put on standby and the paperwork Carolyn’s having me do is beyond tedious.”
“It’s what you are being paid for, oh lowly one!” Carolyn shouted back. “To sit in this comfortable -”
“Draughty, leaky -” Douglas rejoined.
“Portakabin, let’s not get pretentious -”
“And do the work as both regulations and I, your employer, require!”
“Fine, oh mistress of my salary.” Douglas’s voice dropped but Martin caught the words. “Still, must have been one Hades of a wedding night if he wants to flee so soon.”
Arthur’s voice chimed in. “Oh, do you think he was a monster? Or, or maybe he changes shapes like Zeus? Wow. I wouldn’t want to sleep with a horse or an eagle!”
“Oh ye gods, no!” Martin said. “He’s fine! It’s just that… well, I can keep my job and right now I’m just a little…” Lost? Lonely? Trapped . “I’m at loose ends while he’s away during the day. I may as well be working.”
“He says he’s bored,” Carolyn summarised for Douglas.
Douglas’ chuckle was audible. “Can’t have my captain wasting his day away. Come in, Martin, the more the merrier, especially as regards this paperwork.”
“What Douglas means,” Carolyn said in a louder tone, “is that it would be lovely to have your company. Besides doing the necessary and required forms that Douglas so denigrates as being beneath him, I would love to begin booking more than single pilot flights. We’re waiting for a call from a Scottish lord needing to pop up to his estates. It may be a day trip, but it could be overnight – we haven’t the full details yet on the Laird’s plans. It shouldn’t cut into your honeymoon period very much. What do you think?”
“I’d love to.” The words popped out of his mouth before he’d even thought about it. But gods, he needed some space, and flying was his sole consolation at the moment, his touchstone. “Uh… would tomorrow suit?” He needed to sort out getting to the airfield.
With a thrill of apprehension Martin realised he’d have to break the news to his husband that his newly-wedded consort wanted to start work again not two days after their joining. Oh, ye gods, it would look as if he were scarpering. Martin closed his eyes conjured the sensation of controls under his hands, the lift of a plane as it parted from the ground. He firmed his resolve. His spouse had promised flying. Martin would fight for it if he had to, just as Douglas had advised him.
“Be here for eight o’clock, then. That goes for you too, First Officer Swans-in-When-He-Likes Richardson! Turn up late again and I’ll have it from your hide.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Douglas said. “Consider me chastened. I look forward to sharing your harsh animadversions with my fellow subjugated. Until tomorrow, my captain,” he said in a louder voice for Martin’s benefit.
“Oh, brilliant! See you soon, Skip!”
“All right.” Martin’s shoulders relaxed. He was committed. He’d be away for while at least, though flying away from his worries was a short-term solution at best. “Anything special that needs doing?”
“No, we’ll have the usual offerings. Wine for Iris, bread and salt for Thor. The estate is in the Hebrides, on the isle of Lewis.”
“Borderlands, is it? I’ll remember that.” It was a routine part of business to make offerings to the appropriate deities. When one ran a company that dealt with other god’s territories, it was simply good practice make one’s obeisances to the local gods, whether one worshipped them or not.
“Tomorrow, then!” Carolyn said and rang off. Martin put the receiver back on the hook. It was like a weight had been lifted from his chest. Martin was going to fly. He still had to tell his spouse, but he could do this. He would do this. Martin looked up through the glass to see the pub across the green and his stomach gurgled. All this worry had burned up the energy from his breakfast. Or perhaps it had been last night’s activities, on top of barely eating yesterday? Sighing, he opened the door and began his trek back to the house, wishing he’d had the money for an early lunch.
To Martin’s surprise, there were several vehicles crowded on the verge opposite his house when he got back. Before he could even ask what was going on, a man with a tablet accosted him. “Are you Martin Crieff?” At Martin’s nod he went on with annoyance, “‘Bout time you got here! I was just about to leave. Mind opening up the house so I can start?”
“Start what?” said Martin, bewildered.
“The internet installation, high speed – the order’s right here, says it’s priority. Was placed three days ago but we couldn’t get to you until today. The door, sir?” Another man leaning against a KCOM van tossed his cigarette on the ground and picked up his toolbox.
“Landline. Telephone. Get your signature after I’m done,” he said laconically.
Flustered, Martin dug out the house key and handed it to him. At a touch on his elbow he turned to see a delivery man holding out a box and a receipt. “Sign here, please.” Martin scribbled and took the box, blinking at it. It was definitely addressed to him, at Red Lodge Farm. He grimaced. The place did have a name. A polite cough caught his attention. An older man in a neat grey suit with a briefcase held out a hand.
“Mr. Martin Crieff? I’m Hugh Stanmore, of Mulcome, Stanmore and Associates. I have been taken on retainer by your husband to handle legal affairs on your behalf.” Martin shook his hand before the solicitor’s words registered.
“Legal affairs?” stammered Martin. “Is anything wrong?” Oh gods, was there some further legal trap to his marriage?
Mr. Stanmore’s eyes crinkled, though his face remained professionally grave. “Not at all, sir. But certain papers require your signature. The appointment was set for today. I did call your mobile, I believe. But there was no answer.”
Martin flushed. “I, er. I left the house without it.” In fact, he didn’t know where the things he’d been wearing last night had been secreted. He supposed there would be a glut of voice mails on his phone, whenever he found it. “I had no idea you were coming,” he said. That little titbit of information would have been of more use to him than a note declaiming his drowsy beauty, he thought in irritation.
“Ah. Well, if you are free now?” Mr. Stanmore smiled. Conscious of the expense a house visit from a legal advisor must cost, Martin led the way to the kitchen. He dumped the box on the counter, cleared his breakfast dishes from the table and wiped it. Mr. Stanmore seated himself without comment and clicked open the briefcase. “First, let’s begin with the bank account and credit work…”
“Bank account?” Martin said.
Mr. Stanmore put on a set of reading glasses and glanced at him over them. “Yes, as I understand it, your husband wished you to have access to funds no matter where you were. As you can see, with this card you should have no problems.” He chuckled. “Unless the networks go down, in which case you can call this number and the required amount will be wired to you.”
Martin picked up the first set of papers and shuffled them in disbelief. The numbers made his mouth go dry and he sat with a thump.
“Is there a problem?” The solicitor was watching him, a touch of amusement in the corners of his mouth. Mute, Martin shook his head. “Excellent. Sign where indicated, if you please?”
Martin signed. And signed some more. Home insurance forms, ownership for the vehicles in the garage, the deed to the very house . Martin gulped at that. He pulled the last piece of paper to him and stared. “What’s this?”
“A will, Mr. Crieff, covering all of your possessions both now and in the future.”
“But…” But if I die… Well, I will die before him. I’m only human . “I don’t think it’s necessary, Mr. Stanmore.”
The solicitor cleared his throat and pulled a small paper from his briefcase. “It isn’t meant to be completed today. My client wished you to consider it.” He looked at the note and slid it across the table as if it were too personal to look upon.
Martin flipped over the note. In a familiar scrawl, it read, ‘ Though it is with great unhappiness that I contemplate the potential of Martin’s demise, his profession is on occasion a dangerous one. To me his life and being are without price and irreplaceable. Yet he is mortal, with a mortal family who will also miss him. My suggestion is that his estate be willed to them. ’
Martin’s face was numb. He couldn't deal with this. He rubbed at his face, startled when his fingertips came away damp. “I,” he started to say, but his throat closed. He nodded. Mr. Stanmore took the paper without comment and folded it into an envelope along with copies of the other papers..
“Here you are, Mr. Crieff. Put these somewhere safe.” He placed a business card on the table and rose. “Thank you for seeing me. If you need anything, you can call me at any time.”
Martin stood. “Would you like something before you go? Coffee? Tea?”
The solicitor shook his head. “Thank you, no. Oh, one more thing.” He held out a key ring. “For the garage and cars. Good day, Mr. Crieff. Felicitations on your union.”
Martin grasped the keys until the sharp edges cut into his flesh. “Wait. Mr. Stanmore. Do you know him? Did he tell you his name?”
Mr. Stanmore smiled. “No, Mr. Crieff. It seems unusual, but our firm has dealt before with, erm, those not of our realm. Don’t worry, you’ll be taken care of. It’s quite normal.”
In a daze, Martin saw him to the front door. The telephone man and internet provider were just finishing their work. Martin scrawled his name a few more times and closed the door on them. He leaned against it, abruptly exhausted. “Normal,” he said to the empty room, unsurprised to hear his voice quaver. “It’s all normal. Oh ye gods.” He desperately wanted something eat and about ten years time to digest the fact that he, Martin Crieff, would never need to worry about money again. No more scrabbling week to week. No worrying about rent on shabby flats.No more asking for help from family. He was free.
Exhaustion washed over him. A nap was in order if he was going to be flying tomorrow. And who knows how late I’ll be up tonight . Mind empty, he walked back to the kitchen, fingers brushing wainscotting and papered plaster as he went. His wainscotting. My house. He couldn’t grasp it.
Tinned soup and several large sandwiches later he turned his attention to the last item, the package. He picked it up and shook it. Heavy. He pulled the box open. Fabric? He looked at the invoice. “‘Sheets - 245×220 cm – 100% linen.’ Of course.” No details neglected, nothing escaping his husband’s notice. He was the luckiest mortal on earth with such an attentive spouse.
Then why were iron bands wrapping his chest again, shortening his breath?
He unwrapped the sheets and found the washing machine in the mudroom at the back of the house and loaded them in. He stripped the soiled sheets in the bedroom as well and tidied away the discarded wipes from the previous night, flushing at the memory. In the bedside table drawer he found his wallet, now-dead mobile and his epaulettes. Martin touched a finger to the bright gold braid. Tomorrow, he promised himself.
Back in the living room, he made himself comfortable on the sofa and picked up the hand-held phone. He blew out a breath and punched in his mother’s number. “Hello? Mum? Yes, it’s me. No, I’m fine, fine, I’m sorry I worried you.” He grimaced. “No, I didn’t expect to be picked up like that. But everything’s fine.” He listened and a small knot of tension unwound within at her concern. He knew how to relieve her mind. “My husband - well, I can’t tell you much. It’s still all a bit mysterious, Mum. Ineffable, I guess. I can’t explain right now. But don’t worry! Let me tell you about where I’m going to be living…”
Martin talked and his mother exclaimed. Accentuating the positive for his mother’s sake helped Martin’s state of mind, though his stomach still churned. All right, so it was an arranged marriage with an unseen immortal being. But at least his husband cared enough to arrange things to make his life easier. Smothering it might be, but the literal proof of some feeling was there.
Tomorrow Martin would be in an aeroplane. Away from this perfect house and his sweet husband with that unbearably attractive body… Skies above, I’m only human … Martin thrust down the stab of lust. All he had to do was find a way of breaking it to his spouse that two days after their wedding, Martin needed space. He could handle that, surely.
It would be all right. Wouldn’t it?Oh, bugger.
[The 8th day of Boedromion beginning at sunset of the 7th, year 4 of the 696th Olympiad, early autumn]
Eros exhaled in relief as he spied Martin asleep on the sofa, a book from the one of the well-stocked shelves rising and falling on his chest. He rubbed the ache in his chest which had loosened at the sight of his slumberous darling. Was it always going to be so hard for him to take his leave in the dawn, and so joyous upon their reunion? He fancied the warmth of Martin’s spark was warming him from inside out. Blessings and curses , he thought.
He moved about the room, closing the draperies to exclude any light that a passing car might cast. He squinted, shifting to mortal gaze. Yes, perfect darkness. Returning to the sofa, he craned his neck to read the spine of the book. American Gods ? He huffed – fantastical trashy fiction about debased gods struggling for power with upstart techno-godlings in the New World. As if any of his own needed to cross the sea for believers. It was as likely as gods arising from technology. One good bolt from Zeus would put paid to any such. Besides, the native gods of the New World were not kind to interlopers.
Eros pulled the book from Martin’s loosened grip. He brushed a hand down the shirt and chinos he’d assumed and sat on the rug, careful not to place himself within range of Martin’s head.
“Martin? Martin, it’s time to wake. I’m home.”
Martin twitched and Eros leaned away, just in case Martin’s clumsiness last night were a common occurrence. Eros didn’t need another bloody nose. But Martin only stretched and his eyes opened, blinking but failing to focus on anything. “It’s just me,” Eros reassured him.
Martin yawned, muzzy-eyed. “Oh, are you back, then? Wha’ time is it?”
“About nine thirty. The last light of sunset has faded. Are you hungry?”
Martin rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. “Not quite. Had something from the fridge freezer ‘round five. Gods, but I must have been tired.”
“Should I be proud, or was it something other than our exertions last night that so exhausted you?” Eros teased. Martin groaned.
“How do I answer that without getting in trouble?”
“Oh, dear. Hard day as well as night then?” Martin dipped his chin. Eros traced a finger along the back of his hand. His heart warmed when Martin took a deep breath and hesitantly turned his hand to twine his fingers with his. “Tell me about it,” Eros said. He leaned in to press a kiss to Martin’s knuckles. “You may not credit it, but I missed you.”
Martin swallowed. “You know, I think I believe you.”
“That’s encouraging, and I’d love to hear more of this development. May I join you? The floor is a bit hard for these ancient bones.”
Martin covered another yawn. “Please, no more age-gap jokes.” He shifted his legs down and Eros sat beside him, urging Martin to lean back against his shoulder.
“Why, darling? Are they getting old?” Eros grinned at Martin’s groan. “I’d apologise, but it’s best you know from the start. I have an irreverent sense of humour.”
“And a fine appreciation for the ridiculous,” Martin muttered.
“Are we referring to my consort? I assure you, that though he may occasionally do things that are humorous -”
“More like, make mistakes all the time...”
“I would not laugh at him. I also have a keen appreciation for the unusual.”
“Bizarre, you mean.”
“Wonderfully different, Martin. You’ve no idea how much it can mean to an immortal like myself. Really.” Eros touched the side of his head to Martin’s. “Now tell me: how was your day?”
Martin pulled away to squint into the space from where Eros’ voice came. His fingers twitched in Eros’ hand. “I – um. Did you really mean for me to, er. Have… all this? The house? And the cars? My gods, I almost passed out at the bank account.”
“Of course. Did you think I wouldn’t take care of you?”
“No, it’s not that, it’s just…” Martin was beginning to flush. “It’s a lot.”
“You don’t like it?” Eros swallowed back a pang.
“No, of course I like it!” Martin said. But Eros could see his face was distressed. “You’ve been… very generous. But – I’m not used to so much.”
“Please don’t think of it as a burden, Martin, I don’t want you to feel kept.” Only to keep you with me . “You value your independence. That’s all I wished to give you.”
“That’s not the problem – well, a bit maybe. It’s – just. Maybe I’m afraid.”
“Afraid?” Eros’ breath caught, his damnable dart-stricken heart pained. “I wish you wouldn’t be. I would never cause you harm.”
Martin shook his head. “Not like that. It’s what it all means. Your notes, the clothes in my size, a house near my work - even new sheets! And the solicitor, with the will, and you are even thinking of my family.” He hiccuped a laugh that had no humour. “So my day was wonderful and terrifying. I’m sorry. It’s a lot to take in, and I still don’t know why, I don’t know you.”
Eros pressed the tips of his fingers to Martin’s lips. “Hush, say no more. I understand. It was brave of you to come to me but I know of your reluctance. You’ve no reason not to mistrust me, Martin, but believe me when I say again I don’t mean to burden you.”
“I’m joined with you. I’m not exactly going to go anywhere, am I? I can’t.” Martin said in a low voice.
Eros drew his hands away. “Oh, for Nyx’s sake, Martin, you wound me. Will it help if I apologise for that? I’ve never before taken a consort! It’s obvious now I shouldn’t have used the traditional human approach.”
“It’s pretty much a dead tradition, to be honest. But I’m thankful you didn’t borrow a leaf from Zeus’ books.” Martin’s joke fell flat.
“No! My feelings for you are such that... I did grant your request to continue flying. I hoped it would please you, and I’m sorry that you’re unhappy. But I’m not used to this marriage thing either!”
“Sorry.” Martin shifted. “It’s fine. I’m not unhappy. I mean, I think it’ll be fine.”
“You’re hedging about something,” Eros sighed. “Go on, say it.”
Martin swallowed. “Um. I think – well, you’re very fanciable.”
The god of love and passion bit the inside of his cheek. Martin went on. “You do, ah, seem very nice.
Nice . Eros shut his eyes. Nice was shorthand for, ‘It’s not you, darling, it’s me.’ Eros knew the language of loss as well as love. He wasn’t sure whether to laugh, cry or kiss his brave little Martin. He waited for the axe to fall.
Martin spared him. “I think – I think it might work out? But I just need time to, to… adjust.”
Eros breathed out and recaptured Martin’s fingers. “Anything you need, however long it takes. I’m glad you find my company pleasing.”
Martin’s ears turned red with embarrassment, Eros saw. Ah, there’s attraction aplenty there. I can work with that . “Yes. Well.”
“I’ll dare to hope, then. I am patient.” In a brighter tone Eros added, “I’ve been told I’m persuasive. And charismatic.”
“When not making appalling age jokes,” Martin said, matching his tone.
“Nonsense. That’s part of my charm.”
“Whoever told you that?” asked Martin.
“Cheek. Do you like the house?”
“I love it,” Martin said in perfect honesty. Eros squeezed his hand. “A bit in the sticks, but then you’ve given me a car and a Range Rover. I think I’ll survive.”
“Oh, good. I did try to arrange something suitable in the short time I had.”
“But about the kitchen...”
“Not enough? I’ll take care -”
Martin grabbed at his knee, squeezing once he found it. “Don’t you dare! Heavens, how much do you think I eat? And there’s all the gear and gizmos?”
Eros’ cheeks heated, though whether from embarrassment or the unexpected hand on his knee he wasn’t sure. “Er. Too much?” he hazarded. “I had a professional shopper handle things.” Martin let go and fell back against the sofa back with an arm over his eyes, snorting. “She came highly recommended, I’ll have you know.”
“Of course she did!” gasped Martin.
“Only the best for you, darling.”
Martin dropped his arm and turned towards Eros. His brow was creased. “You – you do mean that, don’t you.”
Eros succumbed to the pull of the dart-sting and let it bring his lips to Martin’s, a soft brush that deepened as Martin’s mouth moved under his. Eros hummed in pleasure as Martin lifted his head to engage him more fully, returning the kiss until Eros drew back with a gasp. "Ah, that's lovely. But take it slow, darling. There's plenty of time, if you're willing. Nyx, but you are tempting."
He wound an arm around Martin's shoulders to encourage him to turn towards him, but Martin had stiffened. Eros exhaled. "What? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, fine, really, I was – I am – I was enjoying it." The words tumbled out. Eros braced himself.
"Oh, shit," Martin muttered. He dropped his head to Eros' shoulder and mumbled something.
"Sweet, what did you say?"
"No," Martin said to his shoulder. "Just – we may not have much time. Tonight."
Eros grasped Martin's shoulders and pushed him upright. "What do you mean?"
Martin gulped. Eros waited. At last Martin blurted, "Please don't take this wrong way, but I was a bit… Er. I called MJN, that is, the airline I fly for. And I kind of... told them I'd start work." His jaw firmed though his eyes were wide with trepidation. "Tomorrow."
Eros couldn't help a soft oath escaping his lips. Martin flinched and that irked him even further. "I see. No, no, don't shrink up on me."
Martin touched his face. "You're frowning."
"Well, why not?" said Eros, exasperated. "Why should I be happy that you’re still tying yourself up in knots about making me angry?"
Martin's brows snapped together. "Can you blame me? You're an immortal! And I'm not! Everyone knows that immortals are fickle -"
"Mortals likewise, and I do wish you’d stop doubting me! If you knew -"
"... and there's all those stories, about the tricks they play -"
"This is not a trick! It would be nice if the consort I've made solemn oaths to could -"
"... with people turned into cows, or, or flowers and I don't want to become one of -"
"...stop thinking I'm going to turn him into a house-plant! Even when his level of intelligence currently resembles one. If you’re going to cower before me every time we run into a problem -"
"Oh, that's reassuring! You do that! You can just set me in the bedroom and I'll just wait for you and, and process sunlight -"
"I've said again and again I will not harm you! It's the last thing on this realm I would wish! Would you kindly stop making me feel like a bully?”
“What, you’re not upset in least that I’ll be going off tomorrow? Look me in the eye and say it!” Martin was on his knees on the sofa facing him, face flushed and hands clenched.
“Yes!” Eros said. “I am! I swore you'd fly and I meant it. By Nyx and Erebus, I swear it again here and now.” His own face was hot as well, his voice raised.
“Are you sorry about that?” Martin retorted. Hades’ teeth, the lad was either foolish or brave to continue challenging him on that subject. Damned if Eros didn’t find a feisty Martin with a temper matching his hair attractive, even as he longed to shake sense into him. Eros’ voice dropped to a growl.
“I wish … Fine, here’s how my oath is affecting me! I’ve known you but one night, and I already worry about you out there, flying into other divinities’ territories. You little fool, I’m afraid of mechanical failure on the tin cans you mortals insist on risking yourselves in, something beyond your abilities to handle. And, yes, fine, I’m a touch jealous. It’s irrational. Probably the damned scratch -”
“What?” Martin said. Eros looked at him. Martin’s expression was still contumacious but he sat back onto his heels.
“Never mind. To sum up, Martin Crieff, I'm sorry that this night will be cut short, since you'll need more sleep and I am afire to know all your perfections!”
Martin’s mouth dropped open. “What?” he yelped.
“But don’t mind me! You can go! With my blessing!” Eros shouted. “I’ll miss you!”
“Great!” Martin said. “Me too! I think! You lunatic .”
“Why are you still shouting?”
Eros growled towards the ceiling, “Because you, you maddening idiot, have got under my skin!”
Martin shot back, “That’s not my fault!” He leaned close. “Anyway, you – chose – me . ”
“More fool me.” Eros eyed him with a burning gaze.
“Are we going to fight about this too?”
There was a pause before Martin said, “Well?”
“I’m flying to Scotland. If I have to stay overnight – do you want to come stay with me?” His tone was belligerent, his chest rising and falling.
Through clenched teeth Eros said, “Oh, I’ll come with you, all right. Though it’s not going happen in sodding Scotland. It’s going to be here. Tonight, you unbearable creature.”
“Great,” Martin said, and was on his lap a moment later, hands buried in Eros’ hair as they fought for control of the kiss. Eros’ blood thrummed as Martin’s hands tangled in his hair to pull his head closer, mouth open as their lips clashed hard enough to bruise. Nyx, but the lad was all fire when his dander was up. Martin’s tongue licked within and Eros groaned and began fighting with the opening to Martin’s jeans. Maddened, he wrenched them open and did his best to drag them down. But Martin’s legs were on either side of his own and the cursed things caught, leaving him with only half of Martin’s delectable arse cheeks exposed.
Martin’s giggle at his predicament was wild, his own hands having ceased dragging on Eros’ hair and fumbling his way down his chest, trying to force buttons free. “Why in Hades did you decide to wear clothes tonight?”
“Revenge,” Eros said and contented himself with grasping Martin’s arse and pulling him against his aching groin.
"What?" Martin said, nuzzling beneath Eros' chin and forcing his head back against the sofa. His mouth nipped the underside of his jaw and moved lower, planting damp mouth-shapes against the column of Eros' throat. Eros' eyes fluttered.
"Thought you would want the chance," he gasped. "To remove my clothes... Oh, stars, keep doing that! After last night." He shuddered as Martin set his mouth to the juncture of neck and shoulder.
"I was unconscious. Not the same!" Martin said. He'd managed to pop a few buttons and wrenched the shirt from Eros’ shoulder. "Get out of this thing. Are you... are you going to make me get rough?" He punctuated this with a grind of his hips.
"Heavens forfend," Eros said, loving this fiery side of Martin. He’d have to provoke him more often if it meant Martin lost his usual inhibitions. He squeezed Martin's arse and thrust against him.
"Good." Martin yanked the shirt tails free and followed this up with a valiant attempt to wriggle his fingers under the waistband of Eros' own trousers. His progress was halted by the tight fit and he hissed a curse. Eros choked as Martin gave up, grabbed him by the shirt front and did his best to topple the god over. Stitches popped as Martin heaved. They toppled sideways with Eros beneath but Martin’s grip slipped. He began to slide to the floor, eyes wide and mouth open in dismay. Eros whooped with laughter and caught him under the armpits, winding up with the panting and welcome burden of one Martin Crieff sprawled over him.
"Oh, teach me Greek wrestling, will you? I'll show you how it’s done." In a quick movement Eros had them both on their feet. He stooped and heaved Martin over his shoulder in a conqueror's carry.
"Oof! Put me down!"
Eros only laughed and began to stride to the master bedroom. Martin thumped him several times, legs kicking. Eros pinned the flailing limbs and grinned. "You are adorable when you're provoked, you know that?"
Martin made a sound between a growl and a screech. Fingers scrabbled at Eros' shirt tails, baring skin. Eros stumbled on the first step of the stairs and swore, bumping his shoulder into the wall when Martin's teeth bit. "Oh, you little viper!" he said, shocked and admiring. "Don't make me drop you. How dare you sink your fangs into me?"
There was a growl – or was it hiss? in reply. “Hurry up . ”
"Venomous little thing."
"Don’t die before you do something about it," Martin advised. “Like get the venom sucked out.” He nipped again. "Can't you go any faster, you, you... old man?"
Martin received a sharp slap on his half-naked buttocks for that impertinence and yelped. Eros obeyed – but absolutely not because there was a hot-blooded mortal urging him to the bed chamber with tooth and nail. Not at all. He kicked the door shut and surveyed the room. The bed was unmade, sheets stripped, but the mattress pad was sufficient. He ran his hand up Martin's thigh and snapped the elastic band of his pants against a plump buttock, snickering at Martin's renewed struggle to be set down. "I'll show you what happens to snakes in my bed.”
Dropping his shoulder, he plopped Martin on the bed. Martin bounced, arms flung out. “Oh, ye gods. You’re killing me. Your jokes are horrendous.”
“So you have said, consort mine. Not that your ripostes are much better. Now – will you get those clothes off or do you require further assistance?” Eros took a heavy step in the direction of the bed and grinned as Martin began to struggle free of his encumbrances. “Oh. So wriggly, little viper. I like that.”
Eros fended off the jeans flung towards the sound of his voice, chuckling. Opening a drawer, he tucked a small bottle into the sagging pocket of his shirt that had been half-ripped away by Martin’s combativeness. Eros rested one knee on the bed. Martin paused, caught in pulling his shirt over his head as the mattress dipped. Eros grasped a bare ankle and dragged his squawking lover closer. Ah, the lad was delicious, even smothered in garments. Panting, Martin freed his arms and head and froze when Eros placed a hand on his hip, pressing him into the mattress. “Got you, little snake,” Eros purred. What a lovely sight it was, too. Martin’s cock lolled only inches from Eros’ hand.
Martin’s eyes were wide and dark. “What are you going to do about it?” he tossed back.
Eros’ grin was wide, though he knew Martin couldn’t see it. His fingers moved in tiny circles. “I believe something was mentioned about sucking venom out?”
Martin wet his lips. His cock twitched, filling even more as Eros watched. “Y – yes?”
Eros smoothed his hand down Martin’s thigh, then used both hands to widen the vee of Martin’s legs. Martin’s breath came faster. Eros stroked up the soft inner skin, enjoying the smoothness near the top as he teased and skirted his goal. “That must have been a mistake,” he said in a conversational tone.
“How – oh. How’s that?” Martin was squirming, trying to nudge his cock towards Eros hand.
Eros lifted his hands away. Martin made a noise that was close to being a whine. Eros pulled the little bottle from his pocket and rolled it between his hands. “One sucks poison from a bite. The thing one must does with vipers,” he said, and clicked the bottle open. Martin stilled. “Is milk the venom.” He drizzled a little lubricant into his hand and let the bottle fall between Martin’s legs.
“Oh.” Martin’s voice was faint. “ Eros . Um. Will there be some kind of warm-up first? Because to be honest -”
“Hush. Leave it to me, I am -” The god of love and passion, if you only knew, you ridiculous thing. Let me show you what I’m capable of. “Adept at, ahem, snake charming.” He grinned at Martin’s groan. He leaned forward and cupped Martin’s cheek, rubbing a thumb over the scattering of freckles. “And you need charm and attention lavished on you, sweet thing. Relax.” His voice dropped to a soothing purr. “Relax, lie back. Repose yourself, ssh. I’ve got you.”
As he spoke, Martin’s lids fell to half-mast. He turned his head into Eros’ hand, neck muscles loosening bit by bit as his nervous tension drained away. Eros drank in the way Martin’s mouth parted as Eros’ voice washed over him. Fingers drifted in light strokes down, gliding over pectorals, nipples. He spread Martin’s legs further, seating himself between and bending one of Martin’s legs to rest against his side. When he touched Martin’s cock with one slick hand, swirling the moisture around the tip and playing with the foreskin until the glans was exposed and glistening, the noises Martin made were all he could wish for.
The glow of Martin’s arousal bathed Eros and subsumed the sharp longing beneath sweetness. This, this is what he needed, the writhe of Martin’s body as he pressed one finger inside Martin’s entrance, the quiver of Martin’s leg beneath his lips as he touched his mouth to his knee. Martin jolted as his finger passed over a small bump. “Ah! Don’t, it’s -”
But Eros was sex incarnate – he understood. Martin was very sensitive, oh blessings for this gift , and so Eros shifted, insinuated a second finger and worked around the prostate, teasing but never quite touching. His thumb rubbed the taut rim of flesh as his fingers moved, encouraging the muscles to relax. Martin’s fingernails dug into the mattress pad, chest heaving and his eyes closed as he gave himself up to his lover’s knowledgeable hands.
Eros closed his own eyes, the light of Martin’s spark burning behind his lids, pulsing brighter as he came nearer to completion. Eros focussed on driving him further, fingers within and a hand without working his heavy erection with long strokes. “Oh, gods, please .” Martin’s voice was strained. A hand covered Eros’ own, urging him to move faster. Eros let his hand be guided, intent on learning the ways of Martin Crieff.
A fluttering around his fingers was all the warning he had before Martin began pulsing, Martin’s hips lifting from the bed as he cried out. Eros sighed as Martin’s spark brightened to a brilliant flare against his closed lids. “Oh, darling, you’re so beautiful,” he murmured. His own erection was a heavy weight straining in his trousers, but it was nothing compared to the satisfaction of seeing how Martin glowed, limp and sated. With care he withdrew his fingers, rubbing the tender ache in his chest with his knuckles. Stretching himself beside Martin, he nuzzled into his curls as he folded an arm over his love.
Martin’s breathing slowed and his lids lifted. “That was – I don’t know how to…” His voice was thick. “Can I… what about you?” He turned in Eros’ arms. Eros shook his head and pressed him closer.
“Another time, sweet. I am content.” He was. He snagged Martin’s shirt and swiped away the mess between them. Task finished, he curled himself around his lovely spark. My Martin .
Martin shivered and reached out, patting around. “Oh, hells.” His jaw popped in a tremendous yawn. “Forgot. I washed the new sheets. They’re still in the dryer.”
Eros hummed, drifting in contentment. “Bugger the sheets. Are you cold?” Without further thought he manifested a wing and wrapped it about them. Martin inhaled as the downy warmth settled over him.
“You have wings? Where were they before?”
Eros shrugged. “I never had them to start with. But mortal expectations and belief sometimes shape gods – or their aspects, at least. Mortals used to believe only birds could fly, so gods wound up with wings. I’m thankful that they haven’t started believing we fly like aeroplanes or other mechanical things.”
“Yeah.” Martin snorted. “Imagine propellers on your head. Like a helicopter.”
“Or a flying robot from a Japanese movie. All rockets and rivets.”
Martin smiled against his shoulder. “It’s a bird. It’s a plane…”
“It’s me. Are you warm enough?”
“Yes.” Martin yawned again. “So. You fly.”
“So do you, love. Tomorrow. Go to sleep, I’ll wake you before I go.”
“”kay. G’night,” Martin said, voice drifting lower.
Eros waited, his mortal spark wrapped in his arms. He smiled as the small snore started. Besotted. That’s what he was.
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