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Come Not Between the Dragon and His Wrath

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The king knows his time is running out. His son, the prince, has refused to return to Drakkinhold and he knows that he has lost whatever control he had over him.

The Sentinels are restless, wanting to uncover the traitors behind the attack on their beloved prince and if Simon has to hear about how special David is one more time, how their race needs him to survive then he’s going to kill something, preferably his son.

He needs David dead in order to secure his throne. He’s not worried about the future of the Drakkin. He cares only about his own legacy.

He’s managed to persuade most of the Drakkin that he cares about his son. He can’t say the same for his wife but he’s taken steps to ensure that she won’t be a problem anymore.

Now it only remains to eliminate the so-called ‘Chosen One’ and all those who are loyal to him - Human and Drakkin alike.

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Cook wakes up and his heart is pounding but the soft warm body next to him makes his muscles relax a moment later.

“Bad dream?” Archie’s sleepy question makes Cook look into deep eyes.

“Thought you’d up and disappeared again,” Cook admits and he hears the echo of fear in his voice.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Archie assures him and tugs him back down into a full body hug.

The phone rang just as Cook is feeling a little more reassured and Archie makes a grumpy protest when he reaches across him to answer it. “Cook.”

“It’s Kris and Adam. We’re outside, let us in.” Kris sounds urgent.

Cook rolls off the bed and goes to the window. He sees Kris and Adam at the front door and Archie asks, “is that my dragon?”

Cook nods, trying not to feel jealousy over the fact that Adam can protect Archie in ways that he can’t. “And my boss.” He pulls on a pair of track pants and a t-shirt, and goes to open the door to let them in.

Kris gives him a hug when he walks in. “You okay?” His eyes ask questions Cook isn’t ready to answer yet and Cook just shakes his head.

“The prince?” Adam relaxes when Archie walks out of the bedroom.

“Good morning, Kris, Adam,” he smiles at them both and Cook knows firsthand the effect of that smile.

“Highness,” Adam bows. “I have news of your father.”

Cook can see the grief cross Archie’s face. “Tell me,” he commands, every inch a royal prince of the Drakkin.

“The King has discovered your escape.” Adam’s beautiful face is twisted with anger and betrayal. “He has declared Daniel a traitor and called for all involved in the plot to kidnap and kill you to be hunted down and brought to justice.”

Cook growls, “Fucking convenient that the only witness to the fact that the plot was all his idea is dead.”

Adam smiles at him, and it’s all teeth and death. “I think perhaps you will find that the news of Daniel’s death may be greatly exaggerated.” Archie grins as well.

“He’s not dead?” Cook asks and he remembers that headlong tumble from the skies when Danny lost to Adam and fell to the earth.

Adam shakes his head. “No, he was gravely injured but Michael and his kin have ensured that he is well-cared for. He will be available as needed when the time comes to confront King Simon with his actions.”

“Smart move,” Cook looks at Adam, tall, beautiful, Drakkin Adam, who had placed Archie’s life above his own out there in the Louisiana bayous.

“It was Prince David’s idea,” Adam tells him and Cook stares at Archie.

“You didn’t tell me.” Cook tries not to feel betrayed but his face obviously tells its own story because Archie’s hand comes up to touch his shoulder.

“I couldn’t,” he says, earnest and apologetic.

Cook steps back, steps away. “I’d better get to work,” he mutters and heads for the shower.

“Cook!” Archie calls him but he shakes his head and closes the bathroom door on the guy he’s fallen hard and fast for. The guy who can turn into a phoenix and come back from the dead. The guy who isn’t human in any way at all.

Cook shuts everything out beneath the heat of the water. He closes his eyes, lifts his face and lets the steam-heat-burn cleanse him from the inside out.

He’s discovered two things this morning so far; Archie doesn’t trust him and his heart can break.

By the time he walks out of the bathroom, Adam and Archie are sitting on the sofa, heads together, talking urgently. Kris is in the kitchen and the scent of freshly brewed coffee draws him nearer.

“Thought you might want this,” Kris hands him a mug and Cook cups it in both hands.

“Thanks,” he murmurs and resolutely does not look over at Archie.

“He’s so young, Cook,” Kris reminds him. “He’s not always going to do or say the right thing.”

Cook closes his eyes. “He shut me out,” he says.

“He made a mistake,” Kris tells him.

Cook just shakes his head. “I gotta go,” he says. He works a couple of day shifts at Mulate’s and has never been happier to leave his apartment.

He shrugs his jacket on and feels Archie’s hand on his arm once more. “Don’t leave,” he says and his eyes are worried and anxious.

“I’ll see you later,” Cook tells him and pulls the door open.

“I hurt you,” Archie blurts and Cook looks at him.

“Yes,” he says.

“How do I make this right?” Archie asks.

“I don’t know,” Cook admits and his gaze slants to Adam who is framed by the early morning sunlight and appears so much more than human. “Give me some time, okay?”

“The Prince should not have to apologise to you,” Adam tells him.

“Shut the fuck up,” Cook responds and Adam snarls.

“No!” Archie exclaims. “I made the error, it is my duty to repair what I have broken,” Bbt his hands wave a little helplessly and he obviously can’t figure out quite what he’s done wrong.

“I’ll see you later,” Cook repeats and presses a soft kiss to Archie’s cheek. He leaves before he makes an even bigger fool of himself.

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Kris sighs. Cook has been jumpy ever since that crazy night in the bayou. He’s just been waiting for something to go wrong and Kris worries that Cook is going to start running and not stop.

“He needs to learn his place,” Adam growls.

Kris narrows his eyes. “How would you feel if I kept information - critical information from you, and not because I didn’t trust you, but because I just didn’t think it was important for you to know?”

Adam opens his mouth and then closes it again. He bows his head in acknowledgement. “Prince David did not tell Cook about Daniel and now Cook feels that the Prince does not trust him.”

Kris nods. “He loves Archie,” he says.

“I am still here,” Archie mutters and Kris looks over at him. “I will make it right,” he assures Kris.

“He’s my best friend,” Kris reminds him. “See that you do.”

Adam looks like he wants to say something but he holds his tongue.

Archie changes the subject suddenly, “Do you have any suggestions as to what I should do?” He looks between Adam and Kris. “Do I start a war with my father?”

“I rather think that you must, my Prince,” Adam replies and his eyes go hard, the tattoos snaking down his arms rolling and undulating with his emotions. “King Simon has betrayed us all. You are the prince, the Chosen, and nothing must happen to jeopardise the future your line promises.”

Archie scowls a little. “I hate being talked about as though all I am is a set of DNA.”

Kris barks a laugh and puts an arm around Archie’s shoulders. “Maybe they’ll just milk you and get it over with.”

Archie glares at him and then makes a small noise, sounding almost like he’s crying. “My life is crazy,” he tells them and his voice is trembling. Kris looks at Adam, and he knows that the Drakkin are bound by the customs of their people.

Kris pulls Archie close and then wraps his other arm around him. “You’re entitled to a little bit of hysteria because you’ve found out that your father wants to kill you. You’re still a kid, despite the fact that you can turn into a multi-coloured mythical bird.”

Archie’s eyes are wide and glassy. “I just want Cook,” he says. “Everything else is pointless if I don’t have him.”

“Well, you’d better learn to communicate better,” Kris steps back and puts his hands on Archie’s shoulders. “It’s time to step up and accept who you are and what you have to do.”

Adam’s phone blares out an inane pop song that makes Kris want to grit his teeth. He can’t understand someone with Adam’s intelligence and creativity loving the sheer blandness of today’s music. He’s been trying to educate his lover but it’s been an uphill battle.

“Yes?” Adam’s voice is low and urgent.

Archie and Kris wait while Adam talks. He waves his hands, makes some angry sounds and paces the apartment.

When he eventually finishes speaking with a final, “I’ll make sure of it,” they’re both impatient and worried.

“What’s going on?” Kris asks.

Adam’s eyes flicker as though he’s thinking about just how much to tell them but Kris knows him by now and glares. “All of it,” he demands.

Archie’s face hardens. “What has my father done?”

Adam rubs his hands across his face, digging his fingers into tight neck muscles. “The king has wed,” he says eventually.

“Who?” Archie demands and there is something in his eyes that is damaged.

“Prince David, I don’t think…” Adam begins and Archie waves an angry hand.

“Who?”

Adam sighs. “The king has taken the lady Megan to wife.”

Archie’s face goes white. “John’s wife?”

“Yes,” Adam nods and his mouth is tight.

“What more is there that you are not saying?” Kris asks and Adam’s eyes flash.

“Reading my mind now?” he asks and Kris flinches. Adam’s tone is slightly mean and Kris takes a step back.

“Fuck you,” Kris turns to Archie and says, “Megan is one of the good guys?”

Archie nods. “She is the wife of the last king of the Drakkin. When he died, she vowed never to marry again. She is much loved by the Drakkin. I wonder what my father did to make her change her mind.” He looks at Adam. “What more was there to tell me?”

Adam’s gaze is still on Kris but he turns his eyes to his prince. “The king has banished your mother, Queen Paula. She has been sent into exile and declared insane.”

“What?” Archie is shouting now, colour burning hot on his cheeks. “My mother is not mad!”

“Of course she isn’t, highness,” Adam soothes. “But the king has declared it so the Drakkin have to accept it.”

“I fucking will not!” Archie yells and the curse sounds wrong coming from his mouth.

Kris frowns. “So, the plan of action is, rescue your mother, depose your father and crown you king of the Drakkin?”

Archie’s hazel eyes are hard and determined. “I think that is an excellent plan,” he agrees.

“Right,” Kris rubs his hands together. “Where do we start?”

We don’t start anywhere,” Adam says and Kris wants to snarl at him. “I need to get back to the Drakkinhold and report back to the king.”

“Why?” Archie asks. “He doesn’t need to know…”

“He must believe that I’m still loyal to him,” Adam interrupts. “It must appear that I suspect nothing of his betrayal.”

Archie frowns. “He knows that you rescued me though.”

Adam nods. “Yes, but he doesn’t know that you overheard Daniel’s conversation. He doesn’t know that Daniel still lives. He doesn’t know that we know of his plans to kill you.”

“But if he suspects,” Archie persists.

“I am well able to take care of myself,” Adam tells him. “The sooner I return, the less suspicious he will be.”

Archie still looks doubtful and Adam kneels before him. “I am your sentinel, your shield to wield as you will. Command me and I will do as you say.”

Kris wants to roll his eyes but there is something so formal, so earnest about Adam kneeling in front of Archie.

“If I command you to stay with me?” Archie asks.

Adam bows his head. “Then I will obey. But it will weaken our position. I need to be at the court to root out those who are owned by the king and those who belong to you.”

“Megan,” Archie began.

“I will do what I can to keep her safe,” Adam promises.

Archie nods. “Go then, find our allies, placate the king, keep in touch with me.”

Adam gets to his feet and touches his right hand to his heart, a closed fist. “I will find a way to keep you safe.”

“And what about keeping you safe?” Kris asks Adam. “What about your promises to me?”

Adam looks at him and for a moment Kris feels invisible. Or at the very least vaguely transparent as Adam seems to look through him. “I am bound to serve my Prince,” he says.

“So I guess I don’t matter?” Kris kind of doesn’t want clarity here but he thinks he needs it.

“I have a duty,” Adam tells him.

“Okay then,” Kris turns away and heads for the door. He’s heard enough for now. He wants to do damage to something, someone and he needs to leave before he says something he will regret.

“Kris!” Adam calls him back but he doesn’t stop. He keeps going, banging out of Cook’s apartment and almost running to his car.

He’s driving before he looks in the mirror. Adam is standing at the curb, face white and hands clenched. Right now, Kris doesn’t care.

His phone rings and goes to voicemail. Kris doesn’t answer, doesn’t check. He’s angry and hurt that Adam made his plans without consulting him. He knows just how Cook feels.

He gets to his bar and goes inside. He starts organizing the drinks and the glasses and then he’s wiping the tables and chairs down. Before he knows it it’s opening time and he smiles when Allison arrives.

“Where’s Adam?” she asks and looks around in anticipation. She and Adam adore each other. They talk and shop together, paint each other’s nails and if Kris wasn’t absolutely sure of Adam’s sexual preferences, he might be a little concerned.

Kris shrugs. “I have no idea,” he says and stomps to the bar.

“Did you two have a fight?” Alli asks and her eyes are worried.

“He’s leaving,” Kris grits out and rubs hard at an invisible stain on the bar counter.

“Where’s he going?”

“Back home, I guess,” Kris focuses on the dark grain of the wood. “He’s got things to do there.”

“Oh,” Alli looks confused. “But he’s been here for ages, I thought he’d moved here.”

“Me too,” Kris mutters and Adam walks in.

“You left,” Adam accuses.

“Nothing to say,” Kris turns his back on Adam and fiddles with the shot glasses.

“Well, I have something to say,” Adam says.

“Talk then,” Kris lifts one shoulder but doesn’t turn around.

“Can you look at me please?” Adam asks, and Kris huffs a sigh and turns slowly.

Adam’s eyes are a little wild and Kris can see the edges of the tattoos moving restlessly at the bottom of Adam’s shirt sleeves. “I have to go back,” Adam tells him.

“So go,” Kris says.

“I will come back to you,” Adam says and it sounds like he’s clenching his jaw.

“Sure, whatever,” Kris tries to be nonchalant.

Allison is watching them, head swivelling as though she’s at a tennis match. “Guys…” she says and Adam looks at her.

“Please, give us a moment,” he asks and something in his face makes her edge away from them and head for the kitchen.

“Stop scaring my friends,” Kris tells him.

“Stop being so melodramatic,” Adam replies. “You’re my mate and that means something to me.”

Kris crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow. “Obviously not all that much,” he says. “You made your plans to leave without discussing it with me.”

“What is there to talk about?” Adam asks. “I need to go back to Drakkinhold and I will not put you in danger.”

“So I have no choice in the matter?” Kris is angry and sick and tired of Adam treating him like some useless thing. “I thought we were partners in this.” He wants to break things.

“I will not risk you,” Adam repeats and his eyes flash. The tattoos are rolling now, pushing up against the fabric of his shirt and Adam’s voice has moved to the sibilance of the dragon.

“I’m an adult with free will,” Kris says, willing his eyes to stop burning, his lips to stop trembling. “You could have asked me to come with you.”

“No!” Adam’s response is sharp and definite.

“So you’re ashamed of the human?” Kris bites his lip and Adam’s face goes dark.

“You are being deliberately provocative,” Adam says. “I am not ashamed of you. You’re the love of my life and I want to parade you in front of every Drakkin on the planet, but I will not take you into certain peril.”

Kris stares at him. “You love me?” he asks and his voice is small.

Adam makes an exasperated sound. “You’re my fucking mate!” he shouts.

“Your dragon chose me!” Kris yells back. “You don’t have to love me!”

Adam gapes. “What have these weeks with you meant if not love?”

“Sex, companionship, the dragon wanting to stay close,” Kris waves a hand. “You never said that you chose me.” He knows he’s being unreasonable and is almost sure he’s pouting but he can’t stop himself.

“You are everything,” Adam’s voice is raw and his face is naked with emotion. “I would die if something happened to you.”

And suddenly it all makes sense to Kris. “You’re afraid of what you feel for me,” he says.

“You’re too important and it makes my decisions suspect,” Adam replies. “I can’t trust my judgement if you’re involved.”

“So you want me to stay away because you’re not sure if you’ll make the right choices if I’m there?” Kris steps close and his hands touch the tops of Adam’s wrists. The tattoos roil and push against his palms, and Adam closes his eyes.

“I cannot risk you,” Adam says and Kris stands on his toes to press a kiss against his tight mouth.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs. “I didn’t understand.”

Adam’s arms come around him, haul him in and press him against his body. “Will you stop being so difficult then?”

Kris let his mouth curve in a smile. “If you swear to call me every day so that I don’t worry about you.”

“Anything,” Adam promises and then they’re kissing, and it quickly gets out of control.

“My eyes!” Allison’s shriek brings them back to awareness but when they look at her, she’s grinning and her eyes are dancing. “Make-up sex after a fight is the best sex,” she tells them.

“Oh my god!” Kris shakes his head. “You having sex is not something I ever want to think about!”

“Missionary sex, cowboy sex, doggie style,” Alli taunts and runs when he lunges for her.

“When do you leave?” Kris turns back to Adam again.

“I need to leave tonight,” he says.

Kris nods but his heart is heavy. “Do you drive or fly?”

Adam laughs. “I fly. Drakkinhold is deep in the Appalachians. There is no road I can take to get there.”

“Oh,” Kris is surprised. “I thought your people would prefer the Rockies.”

Adam shakes his head. “The Drakkin are in every mountain range in the world, but Drakkinhold, the heart of our kind, is there in the Appalachian Mountains.”

“Huh,” Kris muses. “The alien stronghold in the mountains.”

Adam smiles. “We’ve been on this planet for many generations. Think of us as illegal aliens.”

“You’re from Mexico?” Alli asks as she comes back from the kitchen once more.

“Um,” Adam says.

“I won’t turn you in,” Allison assures him and Kris starts laughing.

“I should go,” Adam starts towards the door and Kris trails after him.

“When will you be back?” he asks.

“I’m not sure.” Adam’s face is serious as he looks at Kris. “I will have to remain there until I am sure that David is safe.”

“Every day,” Kris reminds him.

“The day you do not hear from me will be the day I am no longer in this world,” Adam says.

“Don’t you fucking say that!” Kris pokes Adam in the chest, something inside him burning at the thought of a world without Adam in it. “You had better keep alive or I’ll kill you myself.” He ignores the fact that his words are stupid and his threat is meaningless.

“I will do what I must,” Adam assures him. “My first priority is to keep the prince alive. He is the future of our race.”

Kris fixes him with a look. “You’re my future,” he says. “Don’t forget that while you’re out there saving your people.”

“You are the first thing I think of in the morning and the last I think of at night,” Adam says.

“That’s because you’re in bed next to me,” Kris quips and then cups Adam’s cheek with his hand. “Come back to me.”

“I will try,” Adam says and Kris has to accept this. Adam leans down and kisses him one last time, hard and passionate. “You are my heart.”

Then he’s gone and Kris takes a breath.

“Where’s Adam going?” Alli asks.

“He’s going back home for a bit,” Kris replies.

“When’s he coming back?”

It’s a little too much for Kris because he’s already missing Adam. “I don’t know,” he admits.

“Well, I hope it’s soon because you’re a crap boss without him around,” Allison tells him.

He wants to protest but he knows it’s true. Since Adam walked into his bar those weeks ago, he’s been a better man, a better person, a better everything.

He’s going to have to learn to live without Adam. For a while at least.

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Cook is angry. And hurt. But mostly angry. Archie didn’t even consider telling him about Daniel. Just listened to whatever Adam told him to do and then did it.

They are supposed to be a couple. He’s not quite sure how the couple thing works because he’s never been involved with anyone longer than two weeks at a time but he’s sure it means that they’re supposed to talk to each other about things.

When Kris calls, Cook doesn’t really want to talk to him but he answers anyway; Kris is his best friend and his business partner, and he’s not that much of a dick.

“Yeah,” he growls. He’s not going to pretend to be all rainbows and puppies.

“Adam’s gone,” Kris tells him and if Cook didn’t know better, he’d think Kris had been crying.

“Where?” he asks instead.

“He went back to Dragonland to make sure the evil king doesn’t try to kill your prince again.” Kris sounds bitter and Cook can’t blame him.

“Sorry,” he says.

Kris sighs. “I’m just pissed that he’s gone all ‘me-Drakkin, you-Mate’ again.” Cook has to laugh at just how disgruntled he sounds.

“He’s used to protecting everyone around him,” Cook says.

“I know,” Kris sighs again. “I want to help but I don’t know what to do.”

Cook scowls. “Well, my boyfriend obviously doesn’t think I need to know about what’s going on.”

“Cook,” Kris says.

“I’m being oversensitive, right?” Cook asks.

“A little,” Kris admits. “But I was in the same boat a while ago with Adam.” He makes a noise that is half exasperation, half affection. “I think our Drakkin guys are just a little too used to doing things their way and not having to answer to anyone else about it.”

Cook knows he’s right.

“I know you’re right,” he says and looks up at the sous chef who is making wild hand gestures at him.”I have to go, but I’ll see you tonight?”

“Yeah,” Kris agrees. Then Cook is swept back into the early evening shift where he barely has a chance to breathe let alone angst over Archie. And when did he turn into such a chick about things anyway?

He’s hugged by Alli as soon as he walks into the Bear and Unicorn. He grins when Matt walks past him in an almost straight line. “He started early tonight,” Cook tells her, nodding towards Matt.

“He just heard that he’s been accepted at Juilliard,” Allison says, and she’s smiling so hard it’s a wonder her face doesn’t break.

“Seriously?” Cook looks at Matt and waves when he catches his eye. “Congrats bro!” he calls.

“Semper Fi!” Matt shouts back; Cook fervently hopes there are no Marines around because Matt will get his ass handed to him if they hear him abusing their motto.

Kris is beetling up and down along the length of the bar and smiles gratefully when he sees Cook. “Thank god,” he says and throws a cloth at him. “Get your lazy ass to work.” He’s grinning though and Cook flips him off lazily.

The bar gets progressively fuller and noisier, and it’s close to midnight when Cook spots Archie at the far end of the bar - the end that Kris has been manning for the past few hours. Archie’s staring at Cook though, almost willing him to look over and acknowledge him.

Cook allows his mouth to curve briefly, just enough to let Archie know that he sees him but not quite enough to tell him he’s been forgiven yet.

“Give the kid a break,” Kris shouts in his ear. “He fucked up, let it go.”

Cook hides a grin. “I’m planning on letting him make it up to me tonight,” he tells Kris.

“Thank you for that fucking awesome mental image, asshole,” Kris growls. “Like I really need to be thinking about you having sex with jailbait!”

Cook laughs. “Archie’s older than the both of us combined,” he says and Kris gapes. “What?” Cook asks. “Didn’t you know that?”

Kris shakes his head. “Nope,” he glares. “Talk.”

Cook wipes a glass and pulls at the beer tap. “The Drakkin age differently to us. They look young, but they’re an old crowd.”

“So how old is Archie?” Kris demands.

Cook hands the beer over and nods his thanks when the guy tells him to keep the change. “Archie’s still pretty young apparently,” he says. “He’s only about two hundred.”

Kris’ jaw drops and Cook stifles another laugh. “Holy shit!” he exclaims.

“It freaked me out when he told me too,” Cook admits and then peers at Kris. “Adam never told you?”

Kris frowns. “That particular bit of information must have slipped his lizard brain.” Cook feels a little sorry for Adam right about now.

“Hi,” Archie’s soft voice is audible even above the noise of the bar.

“Hey,” Cook nods, striving for nonchalance.

“You got a minute?” Archie asks, and Cook looks over at Kris.

“You can talk up at my place,” he says and Cook grins his thanks. He takes Archie’s hand and drags him up the stairs to Kris’ apartment.

The minute the door closes behind them, Archie is in his arms. He’s shaking a little and his face feels damp when he presses it against Cook’s neck. “I’m so sorry,” he mumbles and his arms are like vices around Cook’s waist.

“Do you know why I was so mad?” Cook murmurs into Archie’s soft hair.

“Because I kept Daniel being alive a secret from you.” Archie’s voice is muffled against Cook’s skin.

“That’s part of it,” Cook admits.

Archie lifts his head and his mouth is temptingly close. “Then what?” Archie asks.

“You didn’t consider me in any of your decisions,” Cook says, keeping his tone gentle. “You and Adam just chose to do things, and didn’t once think of Kris or I as partners.” He makes sure that Archie is looking straight at him. “It made me feel as though I wasn’t important enough to include in your life outside of New Orleans.”

Archie’s face is stricken. “No!” he gasps. “No, Cook, you’re the most important thing in my life.” He’s flushed and breathing deeply as his hands clutch at Cook’s hips. “You’re everything!” It’s dramatic and passionate and just what Cook needs to hear.

“I feel the same,” Cook says and he cups Archie’s face between his hands. “Imagine how you’d feel if I shut you out of my life in any way?”

Archie flushes and his eyes are ashamed. “I love you so much,” he tells Cook.

“I’m kinda crazy about you too, Arch,” Cook says with a smile and leans down to kiss him. Kissing Archie has always been like the sensation of sticking his finger in a light socket. It’s heat and want and need and love.

“Don’t shut me out again,” Cook murmurs against his mouth.

“I won’t,” Archie promises, and he moves his hands from Cook’s hips to his ass and pulls him near. The tattoos of Archie’s phoenix writhe against the muscles of his butt and Cook laughs into his mouth, letting Archie grind into him.

“We can’t do this here,” he says.

“I don’t care,” Archie tells him and his mouth is a brand on Cook’s soul. Cook can feel the eagerness of the phoenix, wings beating against Archie’s skin, clamouring to lay claim to him.

Cook pulls away. “Well, I do,” he says. Then the door opens and Kris comes in.

“All good?” Kris asks.

Cook nods. “Thanks, man, I owe you one.”

Kris waves it away. “Mi casa, su casa,” he smiles and looks at Archie. “Adam left for the mountains.”

Archie grimaces. “I don’t like that he’s gone there with no backup.”

Kris holds out his hands. “See, that’s exactly why I have such a problem with it, but he’s all big bad dragon and won’t listen to me.”

Archie looks almost apologetic. “He’s used to being the one that we go to when things go wrong. It’s part of his nature now.”

“And another thing,” Kris glares. “Why didn’t he tell me about aging differently than humans? Was he scared that I would freak out about it?” He paces the room, and Cook and Archie watch him.

“Perhaps he thought that you wouldn’t accept just how alien he actually is,” Archie offers.

Kris stops and stares at him. “I love him!” He’s almost yelling. “He’s supposed to share shit with me! Especially when it means that he’s going to live a lot longer than I am!”

Cook sees Archie blink and remembers the other part of that conversation. “Um…” Archie begins.

“When you mate with a Drakkin, you get certain perks,” Cook says instead.

“What?” Kris asks and looks at him in confusion. “I honestly don’t think the sex could get any better.”

Cook can feel his face grow hot and sees Archie blushing as well. “No!” Cook says before Kris can tell them anything more. “It’s got to do with the age thing.”

“Just say it, for Pete’s sake,” Kris says.

“You’re not going to get old like a human,” Archie says.

“Huh?” Kris sounds about as intelligent as Cook had when Archie had told him.

“Mating with a Drakkin involves the sharing of bodily fluids,” Archie is staring at the floor. “Those fluids carry the genetic code of the Drakkin and if you, as the mate, are not of Drakkin blood, the code will bind with your own and form new DNA.”

“I’m not human anymore?” Kris asks.

“More like superhuman,” Cook says and smiles. “Although I’m a little pissed that I can’t turn into a dragon.”

Archie scowls at him. “I told you…”

Cook touches his cheek with a finger. “I know, babe, just teasing you a little.”

Archie looks like he wants to kick him. “Ass,” he mutters.

Kris clears his throat. “So, you’re telling me that by having sex with Adam, I’ve become part Drakkin?”

“Um, yes?” Archie watches as Kris swallows hard a couple of times.

“Okay then,” he says and leaves the apartment.

“Should we go after him?” Archie asks Cook.

He shakes his head. “Nah, let him be for a bit. Give him a chance to process what we’ve told him.”

Archie nods and sighs. “You weren’t much better when I told you,” he points out.

“Shut up,” Cook tells him and kisses him. Sometimes that was the only way to shut Archie up.

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Adam calls Kris every day. It’s all that keeps him from going crazy worrying about him. And then one day, two weeks after Adam has left, he stops calling.

Kris calls Archie. “Adam hasn’t phoned me in two days,” he says without a polite greeting.

He can almost hear Archie’s slow blink. “Oh,” he says and Kris knows that he’s just as worried now.

“Yeah,” Kris sighs. “He told me that if he stopped calling I should assume that he’s dead.”

Archie makes a sound. “He’s not dead, I would know.”

“How?” Kris asks and wonders just how much more his lover hasn’t told him.

Archie is silent for a moment. “How do you know he’s not dead?” Kris persists.

“He’s my Sentinel,” Archie explains.

“So what?” Kris is impatient.

“We are blood bound,” Archie says as though Kris totally understands what he means.

“For fuck’s sake, Archie, get to the fucking point already?” Kris growls into the phone.

Archie takes a breath. “When a Sentinel is born, those of royal blood share some of their blood with the infant so that if they are in danger then they can call the Sentinel to them.”

Kris frowns. “Then how come you didn’t call Adam when you were kidnapped by Daniel?”

“The conundrum is that the Drakkin in danger can only call the Sentinel if they are in Drakkin form,” Archie tells him.

“That’s kind of a stupid way of doing things,” Kris notes. “What if you need them and they’re in human form?”

Archie snorts a little laugh. “It is,” he agrees. “But it is how it has always been and we have never been able to get it to work any other way.”

“So how can you tell that he’s not dead if you’re not in your Drakkin form?” Kris asks.

“The blood bond works as a sort of security blanket,” Archie says and he sounds almost fond. “We know that the Sentinels are there, all the time, it’s a comfort for us.”

“So what?” Kris asks. “You can feel his energy?”

Archie laughs again. “You could say that,” he agrees and then sobers. “But if he hasn’t called you for two days then something must be wrong.”

“So, how do we find out?” Kris waits as Archie thinks.

“I have an idea,” the prince says and says goodbye before Kris can ask what the idea is.

Michael, the big alligator guy from the swamps of Lake Cataouatche, comes by that night and Kris almost bowls him over in his eagerness to reach him.

“Prince David sent me,” Michael rumbles. “He told me to stop by to tell you that he’s sending me to Drakkinhold to find out what has happened to the Sentinel.”

“Thank god,” Kris mutters and pulls him to a quiet corner. “How will you get there? You don’t fly.”

Michael smiles and Kris can see the reptile in his eyes for just a moment. “There are many rivers leading from the mountains. I will get there easily enough.”

Kris nods. “Will you let me know?”

Michael puts a big hand on his shoulder. “I will,” he promises. Then he’s gone and Kris is back in panic mode.

It’s two days more before he gets word and it’s Archie who calls him. “Adam’s been arrested,” Archie tells him without preamble.

“Why?” Kris demands. “Did Simon find out that he was working with you?”

“I don’t know,” Archie admits. “Michael didn’t say much, but he’s on his way back and we should get more information then.”

Kris feels like climbing the walls. “I need to do something!” he exclaims.

“We will,” Archie promises. “But we need more information first.”

Kris doesn’t want to agree with him but he knows that rushing into an alien stronghold where half the residents have more teeth than he does isn’t the smartest option. “When?” he asks.

“Michael will be home tomorrow,” Archie tells him. “We can make plans once he’s told us what he’s discovered.”

It’s the longest night of Kris’ life.

Cook calls him the next day, close to midday and Kris is going not-so-quietly crazy. “We’re on our way,” he says and Kris rushes downstairs to open up for them.

Cook is the first to come in. “Don’t freak out, okay?” he warns and Kris wants to ask why he would be freaking out when he sees Michael coming in with Archie. His jaw looks swollen, as though he’s had very bad dentistry. One eye is closed and his lower lip is puffy.

“What happened?” Kris pulls a chair down and Michael collapses into it.

“It seems that the king has gone a little mad,” Michael tells them and groans when Archie presses at a tender spot. “He was not happy to hear that you weren’t planning on returning and decided to make an example of me.”

 

“What’s going on up there?” Archie asks as he runs his hand over Michael’s shoulders and arms. “I’m sorry that he took his anger out on your skin.”

Kris watches in fascination as the pain eases slowly from Michael’s eyes and the tension seeps from his body.

“The king has declared all who proclaim loyalty to you as being traitors to the crown.” Michael almost leans into Archie’s touch. “Adam was the first to be imprisoned, but not the last.” He looks up at Kris. “Adam is still alive, but he has not been allowed to change for the past four days.”

Kris feels something inside him go cold with terror. He remembers the state they found Archie in when he’d not been allowed to change – it had almost killed him. “We need to go and get him!” he exclaims and jumps to his feet.

“Drakkinhold is well-guarded by my father’s men,” Archie says and his eyes are hot with anger. “He’s making those I most care about pay for the accident of my birth!” He’s furious and Kris sees sparks of electricity crackle across his skin.

Michael flinches, stands up and moves away. “Thank you for healing me, highness,” he says and inclines in a small bow.

“I’m sorry,” Archie apologises. “I forget my own power sometimes.”

Cook puts a careful hand on the back of Archie’s neck. “Any idea what to do next?” he asks.

Archie looks at Michael again. “Did you find out where he sent my mother?” he demands.

“Yes” Michael says. “She has been exiled to the Shenandoah Valley, along with your cousin Carly.”

Archie grins but his eyes are hard and his shoulders are set, and Kris sees a flash of the king he’ll be one day. “Excellent. Carly will be easy to reach.”

“They have been cut off from the rest of the world, highness,” Michael tells him. “There is no way to communicate with them. The king has made sure of it.”

Archie’s smile is feral. “Carly and I are able to talk to one another telepathically.” He’s already dropping onto a chair. “She and I were younglings together. She is one of the few Drakkin that I can speak with in this way. I will let her know we’re on our way.”

He closes his eyes and Kris glances at Cook. “We are?” he raises an eyebrow.

“I guess we are,” Cook pulls his phone out of his pocket.

“Who are you calling?” Kris asks.

“Backup,” Cook tells him and dials. “Cody, ca va?” Kris thinks about the odd, slightly crazy guy they’d met in the swamps on that mad night when he’d seen alligators turn into humans and humans become dragons and bright red mythical birds.

Cook is rattling something off in Cajun, and he’s nodding and smiling. Kris looks over at Archie who is still sitting statue-still with his eyes closed.

He goes to the bar and pulls out four beers. Michael accepts one gratefully, and Cook takes his with a nod as he carries on talking. Archie shakes his head and Kris puts the beer to one side.

Kris sits down on a chair opposite Archie and takes a slow pull of his own beer. When Archie opens his eyes, the many colours swirling in their depths dazzle Kris. It’s only then that he notices the crimson tattoo peeking out of the collar of Archie’s shirt. The feathers are moving across his neck, in stark contrast to the pale skin there.

“You have tattoos as well,” he notes, sounding amazed.

Archie’s smile is soft. “We all do,” he says. “The Drakkin form is part of us, it is something that explodes from within.”

“I guess I forgot that it’s who you are and not only what you are,” Kris murmurs.

“What did your cousin say?” Cook asks.

“Oh my god,” Kris can’t believe that he hasn’t asked already, still slightly dazed at what he’s still learning about Adam’s people; he feels like the worst rescuer in the history of the world.

Archie smiles. “Carly says that they are well and she’s waiting for us.”

“When do we leave?” Kris asks.

“We can leave…”

“When Cody gets here,” Cook says and Archie looks at him.

“Cody?”

Kris realises that Archie won’t remember Cook’s uncle. “You didn’t get to meet Cody Curole the night we rescued you.”

“No,” Archie admits. “I was a little busy trying to stay alive.”

Kris grins. “You’re in for a treat.”

Cook looks over at Michael. “Cody is keen to see you and ‘de dragon man’ again.” He’s grinning.

Michael smiles. “He’s alright, your uncle. He’s taken to patrolling the swamps calling for the Drakkin.”

“Oh god,” Cook groans.

“No,” Michael assures him. “It’s all good. We feel like there is a true champion for the Drakkin in Cody. He accepts us as we are, says we’re wonderful.”

“Well, you are,” Cook says and Kris agrees, nodding with him.

Michael shrugs and stares down. “Most humans would fear us if they knew we were here. They would hunt us and experiment on us, and eventually we would either be exterminated or forced to find another home in another galaxy.”

Kris feels a little sick. “We’re not all like that.”

“No,” Archie agrees. “But enough of you are so that we are wary of revealing ourselves.” He stares at Kris with those huge dark hazel eyes that seem to look straight into his heart.

“I would never…” he starts to promise but Archie raises a hand.

“I have trusted you since the moment that Adam declared you his mate inside the circle in swamp.” Archie’s tattoos are moving restlessly against his neck, blood-red feathers sweeping up and down the line of his throat.

“I don’t really remember much of that,” Kris admits.

“Neither do I,” Archie confides. “But that night bound you and Adam together and in some way it bound you to me as well.”

Cook looks alarmed and Kris wants to back away. “I’m not, I mean…” Kris is stammering and Archie rolls his eyes.

“Not that kind of bond, you moron,” he says and glares at Cook. “My hands are full enough with this one.”

“Hey!” Cook protests and Kris feels his shoulders relax.

“I meant that on that night that Adam offered his life in exchange for mine, and then you were there and something happened. Your very mortal power given willingly to Adam and thus to me, bonded us to each other in a profound way.”

“What?” Kris asks, half afraid to know.

“I can sense your energy in the same way that I can feel Adam’s,” Archie says and smiles at Cook. “Not in the same way as the mate-bond, but every bit as profound.”

“So you’ll know if I die too?” Kris hasn’t decided if this is a good thing or not.

Archie shrugs. “I’m not quite sure how it works yet, I’ve never heard of a non-mate bond formed with a human.”

“I have,” Michael’s deep voice makes them turn to stare at him. “The late king, John, was mated with Megan who had a human friend.”

“Megan had a non-mate bond with a human?” Archie sounds flabbergasted.

Michael nods. “I would think she still does.” He stops and stares at Archie. “Perhaps if you ask Carly, as she and Megan are good friends, we can find this human and they can aid us with the rescue. We would then have a link at Drakkinhold that was not held in the dungeons.” He slants an apologetic glance at Kris whose mouth goes a little tight.

“That’s an excellent idea,” Archie beams at Michael who flushes a little with pleasure. Archie closes his eyes once more, establishing the telepathic link with Carly.

“Did you know about the bond?” Cook hisses into Kris’ ear.

Kris jumps a little and glares at him. “Of course not, asshole!” He kicks Cook’s ankle and Cook yelps. “Didn’t you see the horror in my face?” Then Kris thinks about the many times he and Adam have made love and prays that Archie knows nothing about it.

“I hope Archie doesn’t snoop,” Cook comments but the glare of a moment ago has been replaced by a wicked grin.

“Oh god, I’m the most doomed person that ever faced doom.” Kris puts his face in his hands. “Why can’t my life be normal?” He’s asking the universe in general and isn’t surprised when he doesn’t get an answer.

Archie’s eyes open again, ending his mental communication, and he’s a little pale. “I forgot how much telepathy takes out of you,” he says and Cook rushes to him, grabs his hand and holds on. Kris watches as the feather tattoos ripple across Archie’s skin and gravitate to the spot where their hands are joined.

“What did Carly tell you?” Kris asks.

“She said that Simon had the human taken hostage when he decided to marry Megan. The last she heard, Ryan was still held captive.” Archie’s eyes are like dark clouds. “He’s the human that has bonded with Megan and it’s how Simon forced her to accept his suit.” Cook makes a small wince when the lightning snaps on his skin.

“Baby, you have to stop doing that,” Cook tries to pull away but Archie holds on.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs and lifts Cook’s hand to his mouth. Kris sees Cook’s skin grow a little flushed and remembers what it feels like to have the Drakkin tattoos caressing your skin.

“When did Cody say he’d be here?” he asks, trying to distract them.

Cook drags his gaze away from Archie and focuses on Kris. “He said a few hours. I don’t think he was at the lake.”

Kris goes into the kitchen and decides to make them something to eat. It will keep his hands busy at least, even though his mind is frantic and desperate.

Archie comes up behind him and puts a hand on his shoulder. “Have you tried talking to him in your mind?” His face is kind and understanding.

Kris shakes his head. “He has spoken to me when he’s been in dragon mode before but not when he’s in his human form.”

Archie starts chopping onions and says, “you should try. Not all Drakkin have telepathic abilities like Adam and me. It’s usually only the heads of clans, the royal house and the Sentinels that can do it.” He smiles when Kris looks at him. “Carly is a clan chief which is one reason I can communicate with her.”

“What about your mother?” Kris asks, curious despite himself.

“She married into royalty, she’s not of royal blood and neither is Megan,” Archie explains.

“Oh,” Kris says and carries on dicing the bacon.

“Try,” Archie urges. Kris stops what he’s doing, sits down again, and takes a deep breath.

Adam, can you hear me?

For a moment, there’s nothing in his head but the whir of his thoughts. And then like an ice-cold wind, Kris?

Kris can feel his shoulders slump in relief. Thank god.

Where are you?” Adam’s mental voice sounds nothing like him and it takes a while for Kris to accept that he’s actually having a telepathic conversation with his dragon boyfriend.

At the bar with Archie, Cook and Michael, Kris tells him. Michael has just come back from Drakkinhold to tell us about you being put in prison.

Michael was here? Adam sounds panicked. He came back with no problems?

Kris isn’t sure how much to tell Adam but decides that the truth will always be the best option. It looks like they roughed him up a little, he admits.

He is alright though?

Yes, stop worrying about him and start thinking about how to get out of there. Kris is irritated.

The laugh in his mind is unexpected. I have a plan.

Kris sighs with relief. Of course you do.

Archie touches his arm and Kris opens his eyes at the touch. “Did you manage to make contact with Adam?” Archie’s eyes are concerned.

“Yes,” Kris nods, eager to get back to his ‘conversation’. “He says he has a plan to get out.”

Archie grins. “Of course he does. Tell him to meet us at Shenandoah Valley. We will get my mother and Carly, and then make our move on Simon.”

Kris nods. Archie says that you should meet us at Shenandoah Valley.

It is where they are holding Paula, Adam’s tone is amused. And just how did you discover this?

Hey, you have your methods, I have mine, Kris teases, just happy to be able to talk to Adam again.

Tell the prince that somehow I will meet you there, Adam tells him.

“Tell him about Megan’s friend,” Archie suddenly reminds him. “Ask Adam if he can try to rescue the human as well.”

“Okay,” Kris agrees. Archie wants you to try and bring someone with you. He’s a human, a guy called Ryan that is apparently a friend of Megan. He’s being used as a means to get her to do whatever Simon wants.

Simon blackmailed Megan into marrying him. Adam’s calm statement of fact does nothing to hide the rage.

Yeah, Kris says. Maybe if we take him out of the equation, then Megan will be able to stand against Simon.

For the first time Adam sounds unsure. I will need your help when I see you,

Kris knows just what he’s talking about. Michael said that you have not been allowed to change.

It is very painful, Adam’s bleak admission makes Kris even more terrified for him.

Will we have to do something like you did with Archie? Not that Kris can remember much except that Adam had been in agony and had bled and there had been so much pain.

Yes. Adam sounds exhausted. I must go. Talking this way is tiring, and me being so weak it takes more of a toll.

I’ll let you know when we get to Archie’s mom. Just make sure you get there too. Adam is silent in his head and Kris looks at Archie. “He doesn’t sound great.” He staggers a little and Archie guides him to a stool.

“Sit,” Archie insists. “You’re not used to this and even if you are, it is still very draining.”

Kris drops his head onto his arms and hears Archie go out to the bar to tell Cook and Michael what has just happened. All he can think about is Adam. I love you, he tells Adam and for just a moment, there is a warmth that seems to envelop him and he knows that Adam has heard him.

“I need da batroom,” The gruff voice makes him lift his head and he’s grinning before he’s standing.

“Cody!” He takes a couple of steps and grabs Cody’s hand. He looks exactly the same: gruff, grizzled and anything from thirty to sixty years old.

“Da batroom?” Cody repeats and Kris points him to the head.

“It’s great to see you!” Kris calls after him. Cody waves a hand without looking back and disappears into the bathroom. Kris snorts a laugh and heads back out to the others.

“Hasn’t changed at all, has he?” he asks Cook who grins at him.

“One of a fucking kind,” Cook agrees.

Archie looks a little dazed. “He’s a little different,” he notes.

“You have no idea just how different he is,” Kris says. “When Adam changed into dragon form in front of him, he barely blinked. It was epic.” He sounds sort of admiring and a little awestruck but that’s pretty much been his reaction to Cody right from the start. Apart from the fact that he makes him a little nervous.

Cody comes out shaking his head. “Dat was un dangereuse pee.” He grins and shakes Kris’ hand. “Bonjou shâ.”

“Bonjou Cody. It’s really good to see you.”

“Koman sa va?” Cody asks and Kris has learned enough Cajun to shrug.

“Adam’s in trouble, Archie’s père is trying to kill him. You know, just another day. Et vous?”

Cody shrugs too as if to agree and then nods at Archie. “It be your papa dat be makin’ all dis misere?”

Archie’s mouth thins. “Oui,” he replies.

“Weh,” Cody corrects. “It be Cajun I speak, not French, shâ.”

“Cody,” Cook warns but Archie holds up a hand.

“Mo chagren,” he says and Cody beams at him.

“Dat is tres bien,” he nods his approval at Cook. “Dis one you keep, weh?”

“Weh Cody,” Cook shakes his head. “Still so fucking bossy.” He arches an eyebrow. “English now, okay?”

Cody inclines his head in agreement and shakes Michael’s hand. “De caimon man,” he notes. “I seen you in de bayou.”

Michael’s smile is all teeth. “We see you too, human.”

“My eye!” Cody exclaims but his eyes are twinkling.

“You old faker,” Cook says fondly and rolls his eyes. “You both pretend you don’t see each other but you actually watch out for one another.”

“Dat not true shâ!” Cody’s eyes widen. “De caimon and de dragon man dey be scarin’ me.”

Kris snickers and Cody looks over at him. “You got sometin’ to say?” Cody asks.

“Me?” Kris pulls himself upright. “I got nothin’ to say.”

“Hmm,” Cody says and then puts his hands on the table. “Where we be goin’?”

Cook has found a map somewhere and he spreads it out. “We need to get here,” he points at the Shenandoah Valley.

“Your mama be dare?” Cody looks over at Archie who nods tightly.

“It will take us a while to get there,” Kris says.

“We can take turns in driving,” Cook tells him.

“Or we could fly,” Archie says and they all look at him.

“Baby, there are no airlines that go that way,” Cook says; he’s being careful and it’s painful to watch.

“Asshole,” Archie glares at him. “I have wings and can call some of the Drakkin who are loyal to me to bear us there. Drakkin who are dragons like Adam.”

“Oh,” Cook says and Kris feels a little sorry for him.

“How long will it take to get them here?” Kris asks, drawing Archie’s attention.

“They’re here already,” Archie says. The door opens and three men and one women walk in, and Archie introduces them, “This is Lil, Chikezie and Jason. I think you know Matt.”

Kris gapes in disbelief. “Matt?” He can’t quite wrap his mind around the fact that his perpetually drunk waiter is actually a dragon.

“Hey boss,” Matt waves at him. “Surprise.” Kris sort of wants to hit him.

“So can we leave now?” Archie asks. Kris wants to say something inspirational because he thinks they might need it.

“How ‘bout we take a drink for da road?” Cody suggests and Kris thinks it’s a great idea. He goes to the bar and sets nine shot glasses on the counter. He pulls out a bottle of Jack Daniels and pours the shots. They all pick up their glasses and look around for someone to say something.

“To success,” Archie says.

“To success,” they echo and drink.

They climb the stairs to Kris’ apartment and then go up onto the roof via the fire escape. Kris watches in amazement as pretty Lil transforms into a dark violet dragon. Chikezie’s dragon form is the colour of the desert sand at sunset and he’s a couple of sizes larger. Dreadlocked Jason becomes a sea-green beast with an extra long tail. And his friend Matt’s dragon is a copper creature that shines like burnished metal in the moonlight.

Archie’s transformation into the crimson phoenix is the final stage and he’s not quite big enough for any of them to ride.

Kris looks at his friends. “So, who’s riding Matt?” he asks and Cook starts laughing.

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Cook watches as Kris clambers onto Lil’s back, scooting to find a comfortable spot between her wings. He helps Cody onto Chikezie and then exchanges a glance with Michael. “I’m not going to ride Matt,” he states.

Michael shrugs. “Whatever, man,” and heaves himself onto Matt, settling easily between his wings. Archie launches himself into the air with a shriek and Cook can’t take his eyes off him. He walks over to Jason and blinks when a clawed leg lifts and offers him a heave up. He finds himself on the back of a dragon in a few seconds and barely has time to get comfortable when Jason is punching the air with a leap.

It seems like mere moments and they’re in the clouds, hidden from any eyes that might see them. He lifts his eyes from the shine of Jason’s scales and looks for Archie.

The bright splash of him is like blood against the clouds and Cook marvels again at how utterly spectacular his boyfriend is.

Concentrate on not falling off. Archie’s voice is wry in his head and he wobbles a bit on Jason’s back. The dragon moves his body so that Cook quickly finds his seat again.

Don’t talk to me! Cook chides Archie. I need to concentrate.

Archie’s laugh is like a caress and Cook sees him show off a little, flying in large loops across the sky so that the many colours of his tail feathers catch the starlight. The iridescent wings shine like beacons and the four dragons follow their prince.

Cook thinks idly that Dragon Air would make a killing in the real world and he hears Archie giggle in his head again. He leans forward and puts his hands on the ridge of Jason’s shoulders. The scales are smooth and warm to the touch and Cook strokes them slowly. He hears a low rumble and then realises that it’s Jason and he’s fucking purring like some big cat!

He looks over at Kris, slightly alarmed and then relaxes when he sees that he’s pretty much doing the same thing. So he carries on stroking the dragon. He reckons it’s the least he can do if the dude is going to carry him cross-country for however long.

He catches Kris’ eye and points his chin towards where Michael and Matt are flying. “Matt?” he mouths at Kris.

Kris shakes his head and makes his eyes big. “What the fuck?” he mouths back and Cook throws his head back and laughs.

It might be minutes, hours or days but Cook isn’t feeling the cold or the time passing. Then suddenly, the dragons are banking and spiralling downwards in huge, slow circles.

They break through the clouds and see the valley below them. He’s looking forward to being on solid ground again, no matter how awesome this has been.

Hold on! Archie screams in his head and Cook automatically wraps his arms around the thick neck beneath him. He sees Michael, Kris and Cody follow his example right before the sky explodes with teeth and wings and tails.

Jason fights like a ninja. He drops down behind a big red dragon and sinks his teeth into its tail. The shriek of the attacked dragon echoes across the sky and then Archie is there, in front of the red dragon, eyes huge and mesmerising. Jason holds on long enough for Archie to work whatever mojo he’s got going and then the red dragon is turning on his own and fighting with Archie’s army.

Cook keeps reminding himself that the boy he’s in love with is actually a prince of an alien race and has powers that he will never be able to understand.

He spots Lil, upside down, claws dug into the belly of a green dragon. He can’t see Kris but then he realises that Kris has moved around Lil, climbed up onto her belly and taken a knife and pushed it into the stomach of the green dragon.

Adam’s mate is brave beyond words, Archie says in his mind and Cook can only nod dumbly.

Cook! Archie’s scream makes his head hurt

What? he shouts back.

He doesn’t feel the teeth close on the back of his neck and the twist and snap as a dragon kills. Him.

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Kris will never forget the scream that rips from Archie’s throat when the grey dragon snaps Cook’s neck.

Lil opens her claws and drops away from the green dragon, turning over in a slow enough roll that Kris can crawl his way back to the safety of his spot between her wings.

The phoenix tears across the sky, plunges into the side of the grey dragon and splits it open on the other side, leaving the body to tumble through the air to the valley floor below.

And it’s over. They’ve won. But the cost…

Kris is almost in tears when Lil lands, nearly falling off her back in his haste to get to Jason and Cook. The others land and change in a flash of lightning. Jason is holding Cook in his arms, eyes devastated.

He feels sick and wants to throw up because he can see by the angle of Cook’s neck that it’s broken and Cook is gone. He’s sure it must be some kind of nightmare.

“I didn’t see him,” Jason gasps. Then Archie is there, pulling Cook into his arms, sobbing and shouting and swearing, and Kris is more than a little afraid for his sanity.

Archie kneels in the grass and hauls Cook close, pressing his face into Cook’s neck. “No,” he breathes and his body is shaking. “This is not how our story ends.”

Kris reaches out and touches Archie’s shoulder. “He’s gone,” he tells him and then staggers back when Archie lifts his face to glare at him. His eyes are dark and it looks like lightning flashing in their depths.

“I am the phoenix!” he hisses. “I have the power of life and death, and I will not see him die this day.”

Michael and Cody come running up, and Michael places a big hand on Kris’ arm. “He is the phoenix,” he says softly. “It is the power that the prince carries that makes the king so jealous of him.”

Kris opens his mouth to tell him that there is no such thing when he sees Archie bent over Cook’s body, mouth open over Cook’s. “God, someone stop him, please,” he begs, unable to bear the sight of Archie’s grief.

Then Cook sucks in a gasping breath. His hands come up and clutch at Archie’s arms, and his eyes are open and terrified, but he’s breathing and alive. Kris drops to his knees at the sight of a genuine miracle.

“Cho! Cho! Cho!” Cody is muttering over and over again. Kris drags his gaze away from the pair in front of him to look at Cook’s uncle; he’s ashen and his cheeks are wet but he’s smiling and shaking his head. “Davy be alive and de bird boy don bring him back from de death.”

Kris holds out his hand and Cody grabs on to him. “Since I’ve known Adam, I’ve seen such things that would be declared as incredible. But this…” his voice trails off and they move closer to Cook and Archie.

Cook is holding Archie in the circle of his arms, comforting him, assuring him that he’s okay, that he’s alive and Archie is mumbling promises and threats and words of love into the warm skin of Cook’s neck. A neck that’s straight and whole and Kris can feel himself shaking.

“Hey,” Kris’ voice is raspy and it sounds like he’s been screaming for years.

“Hey,” Cook replies and his mouth twists in a grin. “So does this mean I’m the Messiah?” he jokes, but he’s white and Kris can see him shuddering. Kris finds himself laughing and crying in a heap on the ground curled around Archie and Cook while the Drakkin and Cody watch them.

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Cook decides he’ll just stay on the ground for a while. Archie seems to feel the same because he drapes his body across Cook’s and pushes his face into Cook’s neck.

Kris sits next to them, holding onto one of Cook’s hands, face still sheet white and traces of tears on his cheeks.

“No be meanin’ to interrupt all dis love,” Cody’s voice breaks into the silence and Cook looks up at him. “But dare be more people comin’ dis way.”

Archie is up and on his feet before Cook can blink. Kris offers Cook a hand and hhe fact that he’s able to get to his feet is still something that Cook can’t quite believe.

“I saw you die,” Kris whispers and he’s still a little shaky.

Cook hugs him. “I’ve got a phoenix for a boyfriend. It apparently means that I don’t get to die today.” He tries to joke but the shocked expression that still shadows Kris’ face makes him sober. “I’m alive,” he tells his best friend, the person he trusts most in the world.

“Yeah,” Kris lets out a huge breath. “I get that.”

Cook walks over to Archie who is standing rigid and staring intently at the approaching group.

“Who are they?” Cook asks and touches a hand to the small of Archie’s back.

“They are Queen Paula’s guard,” Archie replies without removing his gaze from them.

Cook counts about ten men and women. “Why aren’t you going out to greet them?”

Archie’s gaze flickers to him for a moment. “I don’t know what my father has told them. They are completely loyal to the queen and will kill without a breath if they think we are a threat to her.”

“So were they the dragons that attacked us when we arrived here then?” Kris asks from Archie’s other side.

“No,” Archie shakes his head. “They are my father’s men. They have been stationed here to get rid of any intruders. The queen’s guard is there solely to protect the queen.”

Kris frowns and then muses, “so we’d better get them on our side.”

Archie nods. “We are going to need an army and the queen’s guard are the most fearsome warriors of the Drakkin. Only the Sentinels are more lethal.”

Cook sees the worry for Adam’s safety return to Kris’ face.

“Highness,” Cook turns to look at the speaker and sees a stranger. He realises that it’s the red dragon, one of the king’s men that Archie somehow compelled in the heat of battle.

“Monte,” Archie holds out his hand. “I’m happy to see you.”

The big man hangs his head. “I attacked you, highness so I must die.”

Archie frowns. “You were under orders, I had to break the seal before I could stop you. You answer to the king, not to me.”

Monte flinches when he meets Archie’s eyes. “The king’s orders are to kill all those with you and bring you home to Drakkinhold.”

Archie turns to face him, focuses on him. “Tell me what the king told you about me,” he orders.

Monte looks away again and keeps his eyes downcast. “He told us that the humans had turned you, made you believe that he wanted to hurt you, made you betray your own king.”

Archie’s eyes flash lightning. “And the rest of the Drakkin believe him?”

Monte’s gaze goes briefly to Cook. “Your mate is human,” he states and it’s simple and awful and true. “It was not hard to convince us of your defection when you did not return home after the Sentinel rescued you.”

Cook can’t help himself. “He hasn’t gone home because the king was the one behind David’s kidnapping and he was afraid that he would die if he did.”

“The king is distraught.” Monte stands tall. “He has declared all involved in the plot to kidnap the prince to be traitors and killed on sight.”

Archie’s gaze is shuttered. “If I could prove that it was King Simon behind that plan, would you fight for me?”

Monte’s face twists. “My clan and I will swear fealty to you, highness, if you indeed have proof that the king betrayed and handed you over to your enemies.”

“I will let you speak with Daniel and you can hear for yourself.”

Cook sees the shock on Monte’s face. “Daniel? But he was the mastermind behind the plot and was killed by the Sentinel when he rescued you.”

“No, he lives and in return for his life, he has agreed to testify against the king, my father.” Archie’s voice is hard and his gaze is steady. “He will tell you the truth of what happened to me.”

Monte is visibly shaken but he bows his head. “I will keep my word if yours proves true,” he assures the prince.

“I know you will,” Archie smiles and then turns back to face the queen’s guard.

The tall blonde woman makes a small bow. “Highness, we were not expecting you.”

Archie holds out his hand. “Kristy, it’s been a long time.”

Her face relaxes a little and she shakes his hand. “It has indeed, highness.”

“I wanted to see my mother,” Archie says and she looks at him.

“I wasn’t aware you were coming.” Kristy replies and Cook can almost see the ‘Get Out’ sign.

“You shouldn’t believe everything you hear,” Archie tells her.

A slender man comes up behind Kristy and his expression is severe. “The king has betrayed our queen. I don’t think she would survive you breaking her heart.” His mouth is tight as he looks at Archie.

Cook opens his mouth to protest but Archie touches his arm. “I’m not here to do any harm. I have come to restore my mother to her rightful place as queen at Drakkinhold.”

The man exchanges glances with Kristy. “He’s her son, Thomas,” Kristy seems inclined to let Archie through.

“The stories we have heard…” Thomas turns to Cook looking at him as though he’s an insect.

“He’s my mate,” Archie interrupts.

“I will take you to her,” Kristy says. “The others must wait here.”

“Cook comes with me,” Archie says and he stares them down.

“Alone,” Thomas says.

“Enough,” Kristy says to Thomas, but she’s looking at Cook. “The prince’s mate may come as well.”

Thomas glares at Cook as though this is somehow his fault. “I’ll stay with the rest of them,” he says and Kristy motions for Archie and Cook to follow her.

“Are you sure about this?” Kris calls and Archie turns to smile at him.

“It’s going to be fine,” he assures Kris and something in Archie’s voice makes them all relax. Cook remembers that Archie has that particular skill and wonders if it’s a Drakkin thing. He reckons that it’s really an Archie thing.

“Both,” Archie tells him and grins when Cook scowls at him.

“Smartass,” he mutters and Archie takes his hand.

They don’t speak again as they walk down the hill. Cook looks around for a house, smoke, any indication that there is life here but he can’t see anything.

“We live in caves,” Archie whispers and Cook suddenly notices the wide cracks in the side of the valley wall.

Kristy changes into a blue dragon before jumping into the air and heading for the largest opening. Archie’s transformation still takes Cook’s breath away.

Hang on, Archie tells him and claws hook into the shoulders of his jacket. Archie’s phoenix form is stronger than it looks.

Cook squeaks and his hands go up holding onto Archie’s legs. He’s in the air, flailing a little and flying towards a stony wall. He can hear Archie giggling in his head and he scowls.

Archie puts him down carefully on the dusty floor of the cave. There’s a flash of the now-expected lightning and then Archie’s back in human form. “You’re an evil little shit,” Cook tells him.

Archie’s grin is the most open he’s seen in a while. “That was fun,” he says and laces his fingers through Cook’s.

Kristy is waiting for them and she leads them deeper into the cave. Cook wants to ask questions. It’s the first time he’s been in a true Drakkin home and he’s a little confused.

“It’s a cave,” he notes.

“Just wait,” Archie assures him. “It’s more than just a cave.”

They follow Kristy down a narrow passageway for what feels like a long time and then Cook is stunned as the passage opens up into a huge expanse that stretches as high as it is wide. He sees four or five dragons lazily soaring in the air. He looks down and sees several Komodo dragons scurry across the mossy floor of the monstrous cave.

“I keep forgetting that the Drakkin are not just dragons and you,” he murmurs to Archie.

“Wait until you see my mother in her Drakkin form,” Archie murmurs back. “She’s awesome.”

Kristy waves a small bearded dragon over. “Call the queen. Tell her the prince is here.” The lizard hisses, its ruff flares up and it scurries off.

“Holy crap,” Cook breathes and then he notices the snakes. “Just how many guards does the queen have?” he asks Archie.

Archie shakes his head. “There are too many Drakkin here,” he says. “Kristy, what’s going on?”

Her mouth thins. “I would rather the queen tell you herself.” She avoids Archie’s gaze and looks across the cave floor to where a woman is approaching.

Cook follows her eyes and blinks. The queen, if this is her, is tiny. Her arms stretch out when she gets near and Archie lunges forward into them. “David!” Tears are running down her face as she clings to him. He’s always thought of Archie as little but he’s a giant beside the woman in his arms.

“Mama,” Archie’s voice is muffled in her hair and Cook can hear that he’s choking back sobs.

“When I heard you had been taken…” the queen pulls away and takes Archie’s face between her hands.

“I’m okay, Mama,” Archie assures her and he’s smiling so hard that it makes Cook’s eyes burn a little.

“I owe Adam so much,” she says and then her gaze moves to Cook. “And who are you?” she asks, an eyebrow arching as she glides towards him.

Cook stays still as she walks around him and he’s suddenly terrified. There is power in every cell of her and it’s all focused on him right now. “Mama…” Archie begins but she holds up her hand and he shuts his mouth.

“You are mated,” she says.

Cook looks at Archie who nods. “Yes,” he replies.

Her eyes flash and for a moment, Cook can see Archie in her eyes. “You are mated to my son,” she states.

“Yes,” he repeats. Then she’s hugging him and her scent is everywhere; Cook feels light-headed.

“Welcome to the family,” she breathes into his ear and she owns him for life.

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div9

Kris is getting impatient. It feels like he’s been waiting for about a hundred years for Archie and Cook to return.

Cody has settled down on the grass and pulled out a ratty pack of cards. He, Michael and Matt are playing Blackjack and Monte is sitting a little way from them, looking wistful as if dying to join in the game.

Lil, Jason and Chekizie are talking in low voices and the remaining members of the queen’s guard, including an angry looking Thomas are standing at attention, watching them all carefully.

Kris! Adam’s voice is loud and desperate in his head.

I’m here, he responds. Something must change in his body language because all of the queen’s guard are suddenly alert and watching him.

I’ve managed to get out, Adam tells him and Kris wants to punch the air in pure glee. I’ve also got Megan’s friend, Ryan with me. His voice is growing weaker.

Are you okay?” Kris asks urgently.

My body is very weak. Not making the change for almost five days has done some serious damage.

Is there any way you can get here? Kris doesn’t have much hope.

I’ve roped in the aid of an old friend. Adam sounds smug. He’s someone that Simon trusts implicitly, but when the king divorced the queen and had her exiled, I think it made him rethink his loyalties.

Can you trust him? Kris doesn’t want Adam’s life in the hands of someone on team Simon.

He’s in love with Paula. He’s prepared to do anything to win her affections. He’ll be bringing Ryan and I to the valley and we can make our plans from there.

Won’t Simon suspect that’s where you’ll go?

There’s a brief silence and Kris wonders if Adam has stopped listening for him and then, Simon won’t be looking for me.

Kris frowns. Why not?

Another pause and Adam admits, He thinks I am dead. And then he’s gone; this time Kris knows that he’s not coming back for a while.

“What did the Sentinel tell you?” Thomas is kneeling next to him.

Kris flinches away from the hard grasp of the hand on his shoulder. “I will tell the prince and the queen once I’m with them again.” He reckons that he doesn’t have anything to lose.

Just then, Kristy comes flying back and lands on the grass next to them. She transforms back into human form and she’s smiling. “The queen is very eager to meet you,” she tells him.

“Great,” Kris says. “I’ve got a fair bit to tell her too.” She blinks and then flashes back into dragon mode. The guard and the Drakkin with Kris all change form. Michael grumbles under his breath as he remains in human form and climbs on board Matt. They head straight for the cliff face. Lil is completely crazy and Kris thinks that he and she will end up as ‘cliff-kill’ as she speeds towards the stone.

Kris is still shouting by the time they land in the mouth of the cave; he was sure he was seeing his death. Lil is giggling when she changes back, and he sort of wants to kick her but his mama told him never to hurt a girl so he doesn’t.

“I think I still have grooves in my shoulders,” Lil tells him as they walk down a long passage. “You have strong hands. And nails.”

“I think I can officially say that I hate you most of all.” Kris glares at her and she laughs again, patting his cheek.

“You’re adorable,” she grins and then the passage opens, the cavern is like something from a movie. It’s vast and open and rises up into the air with an opening at the top where he spots a dragon circling down. The sides of the cavern sparkle and he thinks that any kid looking for pirate treasure would be happy finding this place.

“Oh my god,” Kris breathes.

“It’s something, isn’t it?” Cook is suddenly in front of him and his cheeks are a little flushed.

“Vou san vou- mem byen?” Cody puts a hand on Cook’s shoulder.

“Mo bon, Cody,” Cook assures him and then he grins. “Wait till you meet Paula,” he whispers.

“Hi guys,” Archie bounces up and for the first time, Kris can see him truly relaxed. “I want you to meet my mother.”

Archie leads them over to a small building that doesn’t look like the palace of a queen. There are three dragons resting on the floor, wings spread and lit up. Kris lets his gaze drift up and he sees the sunlight filtering through several chunky openings in the cave roof, following the light back down to the dragons basking in the warmth.

A woman is coming towards them, her smile wide and bright. “My Sentinel’s mate is most welcome here,” she greets, hands outstretched.

Kris doesn’t even try to stop himself. His hands are in hers and she’s pulling him close before he can think twice about it. “Hi,” he mumbles as she hugs him.

“What news of Adam?” she asks; and Kris wonders how she knows that Adam has contacted him.

“He’s on his way here,” Kris tells her, “and he’s bringing Ryan with him.”

“David tells me that he hasn’t changed for several days,” Paula’s gaze is worried. “How will he get here?”

“Adam says that he’s managed to convince one of Simon’s most trusted advisors to join our cause. He’s bringing him.” Kris watches her closely but her expression doesn’t change.

“Did he say who it was?” Archie asks.

Kris shakes his head. “No.”

“It shouldn’t be long,” Archie tells him. “Then you’re going to have to help Adam with the change.” His gaze is sympathetic. He knows what it will take to assist Adam to change after having gone so long without it.

“And who is the other human with you?” Paula asks.

Cook says, “This is my uncle, Cody Curole. He helped us with rescuing Archie, and I thought he’d be a good man for the job this time.”

Cody steps forward and shakes Paula’s hand. “It be my first time for meetin’ a queen,” he notes and grins. “Be you de dragon or de caimon?”

“Cody!” Cook’s cheeks flush a little and he tries to pull his uncle back.

Paula laughs and waves a hand. “I’m neither, Monsieur Curole,” she raises an eyebrow. “Would you like to see what my Drakkin form is?”

“Mama,” Archie’s the one blushing now. “Stop showing off.”

“Mais weh,” Cody says. “You mus’ be tres jolie..”

Paula is still smiling when the lightning flashes and then they’re all looking at a huge snake with gold and brown scales.

“Holy fuck!” Cook scoots back until he’s practically standing on top of Cody.

“Choooh!” Cody’s tone is admiring as he steps around Cook and puts a hand out to touch. Kristy and Thomas tackle him to the ground in a heartbeat. Kris and Cook are racing to go and help him, yelling protests.

Archie is in the melee a second later and the two queen’s guards go flying backwards. “Do not touch my friends,” Archie warns and his voice is diamond-hard.

The anaconda slithers across the floor to where Cody is sitting. He looks up at her and she lowers her huge head. Kris reckons her head is about the same size as Cody’s which makes the queen a huge-ass snake indeed.

“It be okay,” he assures her, and she nudges his cheek and flickers her tongue across his skin. Kris can see him shiver. The flash of lightning returns Paula to her human form and she glares at her two guards.

She holds a hand out to Cody who gets slowly to his feet.

She glares at her guards. “They are here at my invitation, you’ve shamed me.” Kristy’s cheeks are red and Thomas is scowling.

“He touched you!” Thomas protests.

“I practically invited him to!” Paula’s eyes flash dangerously and Thomas backs down, muttering something under his breath.

Paula takes a breath and turns to Kris and Cook, still holding onto Cody. “Come and have something to eat.” Kris follows her after exchanging glances with Cook. Archie moves to her other side and drapes an arm across her shoulders, completely delighted at being reunited with his mother.

“So on a scale of one to what the fuck, where did that land?” Cook murmurs out of the side of his mouth.

“What the fuck territory,” Kris shakes his head. “Just when I think the Drakkin can’t get any weirder…” his voice trails off as he walks into the house. The house that he hadn’t realised was there because looks like it’s part of the wall of the cavern.

It’s a lot bigger on the inside than it appears. Kris’ eyes wander and he sees walls that seem higher, wider, longer than they look. He’s not sure if it’s an illusion or the real deal.

“We have some magic in us,” Paula smiles.

They trail after her to a huge kitchen and Kris can’t believe all the food on display. Some of it he doesn’t recognize and he wants to ask but thinks it might be a little rude.

Cody feels no such reserve though. “Choooh!” he exclaims as he bites into a red fruit that looks like a huge strawberry. “Dis be like heaven mus’ taste.”

Paula beams at him and they don’t speak much for the next few minutes, content to eat in silence.

Archie is the first one to ask - “Mama, why did Father do this to you?” Kris watches Cook reach over and take Archie’s hand, offering comfort.

Paula’s eyes are hard. “He decided that he wanted me out of the way.” She looks at Archie and her face softens. “You were meant for a peaceful life, David.”

Archie shakes his head. “It’s not your fault.” He exchanges a glance with Cook. “We just have to figure out how to go on from here.”

She nods and gives them some wine. “I think we should wait until Adam gets here. He is a warrior and the best strategist I know.”

Archie heaves a sigh. “I’m just glad you’re safe.”

“My guards would never have allowed Simon to kill me. The royal line runs through me and not Simon.” Paula looks at Cook. “David will be in danger for the rest of his life if Simon is allowed to live.”

Kris shivers a little when he sees the resolve in Cook’s eyes. “Then he must die,” Cook says and it’s final.

divdc
div10

Kristy shows Cook and Archie to a room and smiles when she leaves. “I will come for you when the Sentinel arrives,” she tells them and closes the door.

Cook stares at Archie and then looks at the bed. “You tired?” he asks and Archie blushes.

“Not really,” he admits. “I’m still a little wired.”

Cook grins and he knows that it’s feral and wicked. “Well then, let’s do something about that, shall we?” He stalks towards Archie who lets out a startled giggle and flees to the other side of the huge bed.

“We’re in my mother’s home, Cook!” Archie hisses but his cheeks are rosy, his eyes bright.

“Well then, we’ll have to just be very, very quiet, won’t we?” Cook lunges across the bed and hooks Archie around the waist. They tumble into cloud-soft sheets and Cook rolls on top of Archie.

“You’ve got a lot more than you expected when you took me on,” Archie’s hands go to Cook’s cheeks and Cook wants to rub himself against the soft skin.

“That’s what love is, baby,” he tells Archie and leans down to kiss him. “It’s accepting all of you, not just the easy parts.”

Archie’s smile turns a little evil. “You love my easy parts the best though,” he accuses.

Cook grins, wide and hot. “Your easy parts are awesome,” he admits and he kisses Archie again, this time a little hotter, a little wetter.

Archie’s moan is like music to Cook’s heart. “You make me feel…” Archie trails off and Cook raises his head.

“Feel what?” he asks.

“Everything,” Archie says. “Until you were in my life, feeling was something that was a weakness, to be used against me. But then you made me realise that love and the emotions I was taught would make me weak actually make me even stronger.”

Cook rewards Archie with a hard kiss and his hands creep up under Archie’s t-shirt and stroke the soft skin he discovers. The tattoos roll beneath his fingers. “I had no idea what love was until I met you, David.” His eyes are serious as he stares at Archie.

Archie smiles into his mouth and Cook lets himself go. It’s only moments and they’re skin to skin, heated and gasping.

“I don’t want to be without you, ever,” Archie tells Cook and the broken sound of his voice makes Cook shake.

He opens his eyes again and meets Archie’s gaze. “You won’t have to,” he promises Archie.

He’s hard and aching and all he wants to do is sink into Archie, drown in him, become part of him.

“Yes,” Archie says and Cook realises that he said it out loud. “Yes, anything, everything.” His mouth is red and swollen and his pale chest is flushed red. The tattoos are sliding across his arms and shoulders in graceful movements, bird’s wings etched into and under Archie’s skin.

Cook moves down Archie’s body and puts his lips against the flat disk of Archie’s nipple. He’s almost dislodged when Archie lifts into him, body curving up and head thrown back. The feathery tattoos of the phoenix brush against Cook’s mouth as he kisses Archie’s skin. He’s so beautiful here, panting and wanting in Cook’s arms.

Cook palms Archie’s cock as he presses warm kisses against his smooth chest. He wants to take, to claim but he’s determined to make this last as long as he can.

Archie has other ideas. His fingers tangle in Cook’s hair and tug sharply. “Get. In. Me.” His command brooks no refusal. The Drakkin mark shoves against his scalp, almost as if it wants to punch through and inhabit Cook.

“I don’t have anything.” Cook is about a second away from coming all over the sheets.

Archie shoves him away and rolls over to the small table beside the bed. He pulls the drawer open and comes up with a small tube of lube in his hand. “Oh god,” Cook groans. “Your mother totally knows what we’re doing.”

Archie grins at him and rolls back. “My mother isn’t stupid,” he says, handing over the lube. “Now, stop wasting time and get busy.”

Cook squeezes a liberal amount of lube onto his fingers and reaches underneath Archie, watching his face as he touches his hole. Archie makes a small movement. “Cold,” he says.

Cook presses one finger inside and Archie groans. “Too much?” Cook asks.

“Shut up, I’m fine,” Archie tells him and his fingers clutch at Cook’s shoulders. “Please.”

And Cook wants to wait, he wants to take his time and make sure that Archie is ready for him but the day has been scary and he died for fuck’s sak,e so he just stops worrying. He lines up and pushes in slowly. It’s their first time without a condom and Cook feels every nerve in his body go taut and start buzzing.

“Oh my god, baby, so good, so fucking good,” he’s babbling as he surges forward until he’s seated flush against Archie’s ass. He swears that the phoenix tattoos are stroking his cock from the inside as Archie’s body clamps down on him.

Archie’s eyes are dark and wide; his mouth opens in a gasp as Cook moves his hips a little. It’s an invitation Cook is programmed to accept and he kisses Archie again, nipping at his bottom lip and then sucking it into his mouth.

“Love you, Cook,” Archie’s neck is long and inviting and Cook puts his mouth to the rapidly beating pulse at the base of his throat. Then Cook’s orgasm seizes him and he can’t help but use his teeth against the soft skin. Archie clenches around his cock and Cook’s eyes close as he comes for what feels like forever.

Archie is sobbing when Cook opens his eyes. He feels like the biggest bastard ever as he tries to pull out, to pull away, but slender arms stronger than his hold him tightly, clutch him close.

“Baby, I’m sorry,” Cook whispers into Archie’s ear, almost in tears himself. He can feel the tattoos ripple against him, petting him.

“Shut up,” Archie tells him once more. Cook can feel the wetness of Archie’s cheek against his own so he turns his head a little, tastes salt and something that is purely Archie.

“I hurt you,” Cook is accusing himself and angry because he totally lost himself in the feel of Archie’s body around his.

“I could break you in two if I wanted,” Archie tells him and Cook lifts his head. The smile that greets him makes something inside him take a breath in relief. Archie’s eyes shine brightly as he puts a hand to Cook’s mouth. “I love that you forget yourself with me.”

“You’re okay though?” Cook wants assurance.

“Idiot,” Archie says and pulls him back down for a kiss. “Now get some rest. When Adam gets here, things are going to get a little crazy.”

Cook tries to pull out, move off Archie but he’s held firmly in place. “Stop wriggling,” Archie commands him. “Or I’ll have to do something.”

Cook finally allows himself a grin. “I’m an old man,” he says. “I don’t have the same powers of recovery that you do.”

Archie grins back at him. “You’re the mate of the Drakkin prince. I think you’d be surprised.”

Cook laughs and puts his head in the curve of Archie’s neck. He falls asleep to the sound of his lover’s heartbeat.

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Kris is jumpy and he pokes around his room, wondering when Adam will get there. He eventually toes off his sneakers and lies down on the bed, willing himself to sleep.

A soft knock on the door a couple of hours later wakes him up and he can’t believe that he managed to get some rest.

He rolls off the bed and opens the door and Michael is standing there with a serious expression on his face. “You must come with me,” he says.

“Adam?” Kris asks and Michael nods. Kris races back to the bed and puts on his shoes before following Michael out of the house. He sees a crowd of people and heads for them.

Paula touches his arm. “You must be strong,” she says and her eyes are wet with tears.

Kris shrugs her off, not caring about how rude he’s being. He pushes his way between the crowd to where Matt and Cook are standing. He looks down and sees Archie kneeling beside Adam.

Kris’ isn’t even aware of falling to his knees but suddenly, Adam’s hand is in his and he’s crouched over Adam’s body, his heart beating so hard that he’s sure that everyone can hear it.

Adam is on the ground, pale and shaking. He opens his eyes and Kris can see the agony. “I promised I’d come back to you,” he whispers. He looks a breath away from death, the skin across his cheekbones stretched taut and thin. The light brown freckles are almost black now in contrast to the almost translucent white of his skin.

“I guess it’s my turn to do the saving,” Kris chokes and wraps his other hand around Adam’s hand.

“It’s too dangerous, baby,” Adam tells him and his voice is soft. “I won’t risk you.” His eyes are dark with pain and his breathing is ragged. He sounds like every gasp of air is an effort.

Kris wants to yell at Adam to stop being an asshole but he reckons that actions speak louder than words. He looks across at Archie. “Help me,” he begs.

The prince nods and holds out a hand to Cook. “I will need your strength,” he says. Cook kneels next to Archie without a word.

“Form the circle of healing,” Paula’s command gets them all moving; and in a few seconds, Adam, Kris, Cook and Archie are surrounded by a ring of Drakkin, hands joined and faces resolute. Then the humming begins, the sound of Drakkin voices joined in their determination to bring their comrade back.

“You will have to do most of the healing,” Archie warns Kris. “I can give you the benefit of the Drakkin power but you are the one who must remain steadfast.

“What must I do?” Kris asks.

“Don’t let him go,” Archie tells him and Kris remembers the night back in Louisiana where Adam had said the same thing to Cook. “No matter what happens, don’t let him go.”

The humming noise is like an echo running through Kris; he can almost feel the energy in his muscles, bones and blood. He holds Adam’s hands and then pulls him into a sitting position before wrapping him in his arms. “I will love you all my life,” he whispers into Adam’s ear and Adam nods into the curve of his neck.

Then Adam starts screaming.

The tattoos are writhing violently beneath Adam’s skin. Kris can feel them punching against his skin, clawing to escape their jail. His arms tighten and Adam bites his shoulder, drawing blood. Kris makes a noise, a groan and Archie looks at him.

“Hold on.”

“Yes,” Kris grits and his fingers dig into the muscles of Adam’s back.

Kris can feel the tattoos beating at the inside of Adam’s skin, a brutal attack that Adam’s body should not be able to survive. Adam seems as though he’s shaking apart in his arms. Kris pushes at the mark, feels his shirt ride up and the tattoos twist against his belly. It seems as though they want to crawl from Adam into him and he clenches his jaw.

“Hold on.”

“Yes,” Kris can feel the power rising around him, in him and he tries to concentrate on Adam, focus all that energy on the dragon coiling beneath the surface. He can hear Adam screaming in his head and it makes him flinch.

“Hold on.”

“Yes,” Kris’ nails break the surface of the skin of Adam’s back and the dragon roars free.

Kris holds on as the flesh beneath his hands turns cool and scaled. He holds on as hands around his waist turn into claws and pierce his skin. Kris holds on as the air turns to lightning and the world goes black.

When he opens his eyes again, it’s quiet and the soft glow of a lamp is the only light. He sits up on the bed and looks around. Cody is perched on a chair, chin against his chest.

“Cody!” Kris calls and Cody lifts his head.

“You be awake den?” Cody gets up and comes to sit next to him.

“Adam?” Kris asks.

“De dragon man be out in de sky,” Cody tells him and he smiles. “You done good, shâ.”

“Is he okay?”

Cody nods. “De queen say he mus’ be de dragon for un petit time.”

Kris swings his legs to the ground and tries to stand. Cody catches him before he faceplants into the floor. “Choooh, shâ, best you be staying where de queen put you.” He helps Kris back onto the bed.

Kris feels like he’s been driven over by a truck. Twice. His head is pounding and his body is aching. “I want to see him,” he tells Cody.

Cook walks in with Archie at his heels. “You’re awake!”

Kris looks at Archie. “He’s okay?”

Archie’s smile is a sunrise. “He’s amazing.”

Kris agrees and there’s a noise outside and Adam comes bursting in. He’s human and beautiful and healthy. “I felt you wake up!” He throws himself on the bed, curling into Kris. The tattoos are restless against Kris, pushing at Adam’s skin.

Everyone else simply disappears and Kris turns onto his side, staring into Adam’s eyes. “You scared me,” he accuses Adam softly. They don’t hear the others leaving, the door closing quietly behind them.

Adam’s eyes are very blue and he reaches out to stroke a hand down Kris’ cheek. The tattoos pulse against Kris’ skin in welcome. “I’m sorry,” he apologises.

“Don’t do it again, okay?” Kris begs.

Adam smiles and scoots a little closer. “I’ll do my best,” he promises and presses his lips to Kris’ mouth. “You gave me a bit of a fright yourself.”

“How long was I out?” Kris asks.

“It felt like forever,” Adam confesses. “But it was about six hours or so.”

“Are you back to full strength?” Kris runs his hands over Adam’s body and the tattoos undulate beneath his touch.

“I am fine,” Adam assures him and kisses him again. His skin is cool to the touch and Kris wraps his arms around Adam in an effort to warm him.

Kris tucks his face into the curve of Adam’s shoulder, his mouth hot against Adam’s skin. “Cook died,” his voice is small and he can hear the choked delayed reaction in his tone.

“The prince told me,” Adam whispers into his hair. “I can’t imagine the agony he went through.”

Kris closes his eyes and breathes in the scent that is uniquely Adam - spice and life and wild. “I’m guessing that’s not something Archie can do for just anyone?”

“No,” Adam agrees. “It works only with his mate.” He takes a breath. “His powers are growing and the king knows it.” He sounds grim. “He will not be patient for much longer.”

“So do we take the battle to him?” Kris asks.

He feels Adam nod. “With Ryan here, Megan knows that the king has no further hold on her. There is no reason for her to remain as his queen. She’s going to wait for us to let her know when it is safe for her to make her move ”

Kris lifts his head. “I haven’t met Carly yet,” he says, realising it for the first time.

“She was on her way to Drakkinhold, going to aid Megan, when you arrived here,” Adam tells him. “We met up with her and she helped me with Ryan.”

“So who was the Drakkin that helped you escape, that came here with you?” Kris asks curiously.

Adam snorts a little laugh. “The queen has an admirer that she has kept at arm’s length while wed to the king. There is no obstacle to him now so he decided to join our cause.”

“Who is he?” Kris wants to know who this guy is so that he can hug him or something for bringing Adam back to him. “You told me that he’s someone close to the king?”

“Yes. Up until this morning, he was the king’s closest advisor. His name is Randy.”

Kris blinks. “Simon’s most trusted advisor is a guy called Randy?”

Adam giggles and it’s a sound that makes Kris’ heart feel light. “Randy is better than Randall, right?”

Kris buries his face in Adam’s shoulder and snickers. “I have nothing to say to that.”

Adam squeezes him and Kris feels his mouth against his temple. “Nothing was going to stop me from coming back to you,” he whispers.

“I would’ve come and fetched you,” Kris assures him. “I’m pretty good at rescuing Drakkin by now.”

“I know,” Adam kisses him then, hard and possessive and Kris presses close. The tattoos roll against Kris’ chest, kneading his muscles and he’s shaking by the time Adam lets him go again.

“We don’t have time for this,” Kris drops his head back so that Adam can lick and suck at the line of his throat.

“We always have time for this,” Adam mutters into his skin and his hands are everywhere, pulling Kris’ t-shirt off and pushing his jeans down in his haste to get to the heat of Kris’ body.

Kris lets Adam do whatever he wants to him, moving his body however he wants. It’s not long before Adam’s lifting his hips, pulling him beneath him and pushing in. Kris arches up into Adam, feels the tattoos twisting beneath the smooth skin above him and he opens his eyes to stare up at Adam.

“I missed you,” Adam gasps into his mouth. “Missed this. Being a part of you.”

Kris hums his agreement and sets his heels at the back of Adam’s thighs, pulling him in. Adam feels like an extension of him; he’s surrounding him, inside him and Kris thinks that if Adam were a different person then he would consume him.

“Love you,” he tells Adam and then he’s coming, so hard and intense that Kris has to close his eyes again. Adam drops his head into the crook of Kris’ neck when he comes and sets his teeth at the juncture there. He bites down and Kris knows that the mark will be there forever when the skin breaks under the pressure.

He’s bleeding into Adam’s mouth and he’s never felt happier in his life.

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Cook bangs on their door about an hour later. “Come on you two, time to start planning our strategy.” He looks over at Archie who is grinning at him and shaking his head.

“You are a very bad man,” Archie tells him and Cook winks.

“I’ve known Kris for years. He’s like a cat. Put him in a horizontal position and he can sleep for a week.” He hears the door open but doesn’t turn around as he waggles his eyebrows at Archie.

Cook yelps when Kris kicks him on the ankle. “I heard that, asshole.” Kris glares at him but his cheeks are flushed and he’s looking healthier than he has in a week.

Cook grins. “I see that sleeping wasn’t on the cards then?” Kris blushes and ducks his head when Adam comes out behind him and puts a possessive hand on his neck.

“Fuck you,” Adam tells him pleasantly.

“No thanks,” Cook replies and glances at Archie. “Got my hands full already.” He ducks out of Archie’s flailing hand with a laugh.

“Was there something you wanted?” Adam asks.

Archie nods. “Randy is with Carly and my mother. Ryan was a little worse for wear and he went to get some rest. He’s human and been through much for Megan’s sake. But now, we need to know what you’ve discovered and what our next move should be.”

Adam curls his fingers around Kris’ as they follow Cook and Archie back to the huge living room. Paula is glaring at Randy and there’s a pretty woman with a smiling face and dark hair who looks like she’s playing referee.

Cook has already met Randy; he’s a loud guy who strikes him as a bit of an idiot but Cook’s not turning down any help offered at this stage. He can understand why Paula hasn’t encouraged Randy though, and he reckons that it’s not because she’s been married all this time.

“Come on now, you two,” Carly is saying to them, her accent sounds vaguely Irish. Cook leans back against the doorway and watches as Archie joins the fray.

“Don’t you ‘come on now’ me!” Paula spits and points at Randy. “He let Simon divorce me and declare me insane!”

Cook thinks privately that she’s looking a bit crazy right now but keeps his mouth shut.

“Mama,” Archie’s voice is pleading. “We don’t have time for this right now.”

Randy folds his arms across his chest. “I did what I thought was best for the Drakkin,” he states.

Paula is practically frothing at the mouth. “And what part of getting rid of the queen did you think was best for the Drakkin!”

Adam steps into the fight. “The king had evidence…” he begins and Paula rounds on him.

“Another word and your Drakkin form will be a gecko,” she warns. Adam’s mouth is a tight line and his nostrils flare.

“Mama, you’re being unreasonable.” Archie sends a look over to Cook that makes him turn his head away so that he won’t laugh. “Randy came here, helped Ryan and Adam escape.”

“Technically, I managed the escape,” Adam interjects. “Randy was just the transport.”

“Honestly?” Archie glares at Adam. “You’re going to argue semantics?”

Kris jostles Cook. “They put the fun in dysfunctional, don’t they?” He’s grinning and Cook smiles back.

“Even lizards have mommy issues,” he agrees.

“I can hear you,” Archie shouts at them and turns back to his mother. “Seriously, Mama, Randy, we can sort this all out once we’ve managed to get Simon out of the way. Until then, just fucking deal with it, okay!” Cook’s smile gets wider as he watches his little prince prop his hands on his hips and level a stare at his mother and Randy.

Paula throws up her hands and throws herself into a chair. “Fine. But I want it stated for the record that I don’t trust him.” She juts her chin out towards Randy who takes another chair.

“And for the record, the only reason that you’re still alive is because I blackmailed Simon into not killing you!” He sits back in his chair and clenches his jaw.

There’s a brief silence and then Paula asks, “what?” Her voice is suddenly small.

Randy looks at her and his dark eyes are hard. “When Simon decided that he needed a new queen, he wanted to kill you. I persuaded him to divorce and exile you instead.”

“How?” Adam asks.

Randy moves a little, appearing uncomfortable. “I’ve been at Simon’s side for a very long time. I know things that he’s done, things he’d prefer not getting out. I used one of my trump cards to keep you safe.”

“Oh,” Paula breathes and her face goes soft. Cook thinks that Randy might be getting very lucky in the near future.

Cook looks down when Kris asks, “So does anyone have any idea how we’re going to take Simon out?”

The room goes silent and then Carly demands, “and who the fuck are you?”

The shouting from Adam, Paula and Archie is epic. Cook just watches the show and he nudges Kris. “They sure are volatile.”

Kris nods and sighs. “I think my drama dragon pips your drama phoenix though.”

Cook considers this for a moment, looks at Archie who has moved between Adam and Carly, clearly ready to prevent bloodshed. “I dunno,” he muses. “Mine is small but mighty.”

Kris purses his lips. “That’s a fact. I mean, power over death isn’t something to sniff at.”

The argument seems to be winding down so Cook raises a hand. “So, is anyone interested in actually figuring out how to take Simon down?” The words fall into a sudden silence and he watches as Randy exchanges a look with Adam.

“It’s a pretty simple plan,” Adam begins and Cook just knows he’s not going to like it.

“The prince must come forward, denounce his father, put the throne up for a vote and then wait for the people to do what is right.” Carly is looking between Archie and Cook.

“Archie is not putting himself in the line of fire.” It’s the only thing Cook is actually sure about.

“It’s the only way to avoid bloodshed.” Adam almost sounds apologetic.

“No,” Cook says emphatically.

“I’ll do it,” Archie walks over to him. “I want to risk as few of the Drakkin as possible. This is the best option we have.”

Cook wants to yell at Archie but there’s been enough shouting for now so he scowls instead. “You’re the one who will be in danger.”

“I won’t be alone,” Archie assures him.

“I will be at his side,” Randy says.

“As will I,” Paula stands up and walks to her son, puts a hand on his shoulder.

“And I will be at his back,” Adam tells him.

“What about us?” Kris asks.

“You are not a part of this,” Randy states and Cook can feel his hands curling into fists.

“I don’t care who the fuck you are, asswipe.” Cook is in Randy’s face before he’s even aware that he’s moving. “Where the hell were you when Archie was kidnapped and left to die?” He’s yelling now but he doesn’t care. “What the fuck did you do for the Drakkin apart from being the yes-man to the shit who tried to kill the prince?”

Archie’s hand is on him, stroking his back in gentle movements, trying to calm him down. But Cook isn’t done. “I had to watch Archie dying and you were holding hands with the prick who wanted him dead. If anyone isn’t a part of this, then it’s you!”

“Cook,” Archie comes around him, pushes his way between Randy and him. “I would never do this without you.”

His soft assurance calms Cook down and he blinks away the sudden moisture in his eyes. “I won’t let you,” he mutters. Archie makes a small sound and he’s wrapped tightly in Cook’s arms, and Cook never wants to let him go.

“I apologise,” Randy is standing stiffly to one side and his face is blank. “I was not aware that you were the prince’s mate.”

“Yeah, well, don’t forget it,” Cook informs him and bends his head to kiss Archie’s cheek. “I tend to get a little crazy when I think about how close he came to dying.”

“I’m okay, Cook,” Archie murmurs into his neck and Cook can literally feel the tension fall away.

“I’d kind of like you to stay that way,” he admits and Archie giggles, warm breath dampening Cook’s throat.

Adam clears his throat and Cook lifts his head, sending a warning glare his way. “The sooner we get going, the quicker this will all be over with.”

Kris steps up to Adam. “Babe, I think Cook is feeling a little stressed and I’ve gotta admit that I’ve had better days myself. We really need to get this show on the road before we start eating each other.”

Cook is grateful that he’s got a friend who understands him when he can’t actually use real words. He smiles at Kris and then looks at Adam. “What he said.”

Adam sighs. “Then let us try the road where the least amount of deaths is likely to happen.” He takes a moment to meet all of their gazes.

Cook starts to shake his head but Archie looks up at him and there is steel-hard determination in his face. “I’m going to do it,” he tells Cook, “with or without your support.”

Cook feels the bottom of his stomach drop out but Archie reaches up a hand and whispers, “but I’d much rather it be with you at my side.”

“Like I’m letting you go anywhere without me ever again?” Cook snorts even though his stomach is roiling with anxiety.

“I’ve got a good feeling about this,” Archie tells him. Cook doesn’t.

“You’re living in a dream world,” Carly says and her eyes are dark. “Simon will not go out without a fight. Even if we give him the option to leave peacefully, he will do whatever he can to stay in power.”

“Then we should make him an offer he can’t refuse,” Archie says and looks over in puzzlement when Cook and Kris both start laughing. “What?” he asks and Cook shakes his head.

“I’ll explain it to you later,” he assures Archie.

His little prince scowls at him and then turns to Paula. “Will you be able to get us into Drakkinhold undetected, Mama?”

Paula’s eyes are sharp. “Why would you assume..?” she begins and Archie holds up a weary hand.

“Please,” he levels a stare at her. “You grew up in the palace, you were the Crown Princess of the Drakkin and everything was open to you. If anyone knows a secret entrance, then it’s you.”

Paula smirks a little. “Why, David, I wasn’t aware that you knew me so well.” She sobers at a glare from Cook. “Very well, there are several ways into Drakkinhold that are not well known to all who live there.” She’s careful with her words and doesn’t look at Randy.

“I have sent a message to Michael’s kin to meet us at entrance of the valley of Sorrows.” Archie looks over at Cook. “They will bring Daniel with them and he will be our trump card.”

Cook understands the words for what they are - an olive branch and an acknowledgement that they’re in this together and that Archie plans on keeping him informed of all his plans from now on.

“So, how do you propose we approach the king?” Randy sounds sceptical. “He’s not going to just hand the crown over to you.”

Archie seems almost irritated when he replies, “My father is not king by birth. He is king by marriage and when he divorced my mother, he lost all claim to the throne, except that of might. He rules because the Drakkin fear him”

“He has many who are loyal to him,” Randy cautions.

“As do I,” Archie reminds him. “I am also the true heir, the hope for Drakkin kind and I’m sure we won’t be alone.”

Cook isn’t feeling so sure. “Babe,” he begins, “shouldn’t we wait this out? I mean, maybe…”

“No,” Archie’s face is determined. “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life running and hiding from him. This needs to end. Now.”

Cook has never been more proud but he still has a weird feeling in his gut. Something tells him that Simon isn’t going to go quietly.

“So, once I get you all in,” Paula says and they all look at her again, “what is our next move?”

Cook watches as his lover and the rest of the Drakkin hunker down and start strategizing. He heaves a sigh and heads to the kitchen. Whatever they’re planning, he’s sure it’s going to involve Archie doing something Cook isn’t going to like and he’d rather just yell at him after the fact than go into battle with Archie distracted.

Kris follows him.

Cody is in the kitchen, sitting at the huge table and watching two small lizards in fascination. He looks up when they come in. “Choooh!” he exclaims and waves a hand at the lizards. “De bebe lizards be showin’ me how dey change.”

Cook leans down to look at the lizards and they stare up at him with frighteningly aware eyes. “That’s just fucking creepy, man,” he says and steps back.

The lizards hop off the table and scurry out of the kitchen. Cook hears the pop of thunder as they change back and shakes his head. “Seriously, I wonder how a full human body can change into something so small.”

“The same way Adam can become a ton of dragon,” Kris shrugs and Cook wishes just once that he had an ounce of the cool, calm acceptance of his best friend.

He slumps down into a chair opposite Cody as Kris goes to pour them each a cup of coffee. “I’m not liking this plan,” he mutters and stares at the big knot in the wood in front of him. “I know that something is going to go wrong.”

“Dey not be normal human folks, shâ,” Cody reminds him. “Dey don’t have de same problems wit’ shit dat we do.” Then he flushes and starts tracing one of the curving knots in the thick wood.

Cook stares at his uncle. “Cody?” he asks. Kris picks up on the tension in his voice and looks at Cody as well.

“Dat queen be sumptin’ else, shâ,” Cody says with a smile and Cook feels a little bit like throwing up in his mouth when he spots the infatuated look in Cody’s eyes.

“Oh, no,” Cook warns him. “You do not go there, Cody, you hear me?”

Cody scowls at him and Cook sees Kris drop his head to hide his smile. “Who be you to tell me what to do?” he demands and his chin is jutting out. Cook recognizes that particular gesture - Cody is going to be difficult.

“She’s a queen!” Cook points out.

“So?” Cody is getting belligerent, his mouth a line of irritation. “Dere be stranger tings in dis world dan a queen finding a poor swamp man wort’ her while.”

“Oh my god, you idiot, I’m not talking about you being worthy of her,” Cook says in exasperation.

“Wha’ den?” Cody insists, but he’s settling down again.

Cook looks over at Kris helplessly. They’re the three humans caught up in this crazy situation and now he’s got to talk his uncle out of a crush on a woman who can turn into a snake. Kris shrugs, looking just as helpless. “I just want you to think about this a little more carefully,” Cook tries.

Cody folds his arms. “I be goin’ to aks de queen if she be willin’ to accept my suit,” he tells them and Cook wants to beat his head on the table.

“Seriously?” Cook asks him; he can practically hear the Grey’s Anatomy theme song whistling in the air.

Cody’s chin goes even higher. “Weh, I be serious.”

Cook sighs. “As if I don’t have enough to deal with,” he mutters.

“You be careful, shâ,” Cody wags a finger at him. “You not too old to get a whup from me.”

“Sorry,” Cook mumbles, and this time he knows that Kris is laughing.

“What dey be doin’ out dere?” Cody thankfully changes the subject.

“Discussing battle strategy,” Kris offers and he’s looking pretty glum. “I guess we’re not really needed for that.”

Cody gives him a considering look. “Mais non, shâ,” he shakes his head. “I tink dat de battle will no’ be won without you two dere.”

Cook exchanges glances with Kris and his own doubtful expression is probably a mirror image of the one that Kris is giving him. “We’re human, Cody,” Kris points out.

“You be de mate of de dragon man,” Cody shrugs. “It be a heavy load, but you be good at carryin’ dat one.” Then he looks at Cook. “De bird prince he cannot do dis witout you, shâ.” He sounds utterly certain of the fact.

“We can’t change into anything to help them,” Cook says. “I’ve already had one close encounter with death. I don’t know if Archie can bring me back from another.”

Cody nods as if this is all par for the course and Cook thinks that maybe being around the Drakkin has made him believe that it is.

“Hey,” Cook looks up when he hears Archie’s soft voice.

“Hey,” he says back and Archie’s soft mouth curves into a smile. “Ready to hand out that ass-kicking?”

Archie nods. “We leave in half an hour.”

“What?” Kris is on his feet and moving before he’s even finished the word. They watch him rush out of the kitchen, heading straight for Adam.

Cody shakes his head. “Dat boy be so cray for dat dragon man,” he tells no one in particular.

“Cody,” Archie looks at him. “We can’t take you with us.”

Cody’s brows lower making Cook think about gators and the swamps and just how very scary Cody can be when he wants to be.

“Why not?” he asks. “I be a good man in a fight.”

Archie holds up his hand. “We’re keeping this very tight. My mother isn’t even coming with. She has already shown us how to gain entrance to Drakkinhold. It’s just going to be me, Adam, Cook, Kris and Randy. Everyone else will be staying here.”

Cook is confused. “What about the army you’re going to need if Simon decides to oppose you?”

Archie shakes his head. “I am not going to need an army.” He sounds utterly convinced of the fact and Cook really doesn’t want to burst his bubble, but he just knows that Simon isn’t going to quietly into the night. “Besides, Michael and his kin are already in place outside Drakkinhold. We will have plenty of muscle on our side.”

Cook feels marginally more confident. “So just the five of us?”

Archie nods. “I have a feeling that it will come down to a trial by combat.”

“A what?” Cook can hear his voice rising and he glares at Archie. “A what?”

“It is how all major disputes are settled,” Archie tells him. “The Drakkin do not really fight one another in numbers as there are so few of us remaining.”

“You be fightin’ de king?” Cook seconds the dubious look that Cody gives Archie.

“Oh no,” Archie laughs. “That wouldn’t be fair.” Cook can feel his shoulders relax and then Archie adds, “He wouldn’t stand a chance against me. Adam will act as my champion.”

Cook takes a moment to try and wrap his head around the idea of an Archie who obviously believes he can kill a dragon. He groans when the rest of the sentence sinks in. “Oh god, Kris is going to be so pissed.”

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“You’re going to do what?” Kris hears himself shouting and Adam puts his hands on his hips.

“It is my duty to the prince…” he begins but Kris holds up a hand. He’s going to be embarrassed later about having this fight in front of the queen and her guards but right now he’s just scared that his stupid heroic boyfriend is planning on throwing himself headfirst into danger. Again.

“Do not even go there,” he warns. He’s aware that the others are creeping out of the room, eager to avoid the fallout.

“But I must,” Adam insists. “David cannot fight Simon himself, the battle would be one-sided.”

“Yeah, I realise that,” Kris nods. “Archie’s a bird and Simon’s a dragon so …”

“No,” Adam’s shaking his head. “David has much more power than Simon. He could kill him with a blow.”

Kris gapes at Adam. “Then why the fuck are we even having this conversation?” He tugs at his hair in frustration. “Why doesn’t Archie just get rid of Simon and then we can all get back to living happily ever after?”

Adam is frowning at him as though he’s a stupid kid who understands nothing and to be fair, that’s probably more than a little true. “That would be ignoble,” Adam chides as if that explains it.

“Ignoble?” Kris’ voice rattles the rafters and he tries to hold on to his temper. “So you’re telling me that Archie isn’t going to fight the father who’s been hunting him and trying to kill him because it wouldn’t be fair?”

Adam smiles at him. “Exactly,” he says.

Kris punches him in the stomach.

“You are such a moron!” he yells. “The smart thing to do would be to just get rid of him in the quickest, most expedient way, but nooooooo, not the Drakkin.” He’s so angry he’s spitting and Adam is staring at him, wheezing a little but obviously hardly affected by Kris’ blow.

“I don’t understand why you’re so mad,” Adam says and Kris suddenly realises that he really doesn’t understand.

He takes a deep breath. “I’m mad because you’re deliberately putting yourself in danger again. And this time you don’t even have to!”

“The prince cannot fight the king,” Adam says. “It would be one-sided and the Drakkin would always look at David’s rule as one by might and not by right.”

Kris can feel his eyes actually roll back in his head. “Oh my god,” he mutters, “it’s like King Arthur and the dragons of the round table.” He rubs a hand over his eyes.

“This is my duty, Kris,” Adam is suddenly very near and Kris can feel the heat of his body. “It is what I am born to do.”

“A sacrifice?” Kris asks tiredly.

“You think so little of my skills as a warrior?” Adam sounds affronted and Kris looks up at him.

“No,” Kris admits. “I just don’t want to lose you.”

Adam is still pissed though. “I’m the most powerful Sentinel born to the Drakkin in over ten thousand years. Simon hasn’t been in combat for decades. I rate my chances as better than even.”

“Babe,” Kris puts a hand on Adam’s arm, not wanting this to go any further suddenly. “I don’t give a flying fuck about Simon. I love you and want you to be alive. Even in the unlikely event that Simon might get a lucky shot, those are odds I’m not really willing to take.”

Adam’s face softens and he pulls Kris into an embrace. “I will not lose,” he murmurs against Kris’ forehead. Kris knows he’s not going to win this one.

“I will kick your ass if you get killed,” he mumbles and presses his mouth to Adam’s throat.

“Duly noted,” Adam says. Kris lifts his head and kisses him.

“Is it safe to come in?” Kris turns to see Archie and Cook standing at the door.

Kris nods.

Archie comes up to him and puts his hands on Kris’ shoulders. “I would not allow Adam to stand for me if I wasn’t completely sure that he would be victorious,” he says and Kris believes him.

“If there were another way to take the throne, then I would do it,” Archie assures him. “But trial by combat will be the easiest, most effective and ultimately the quickest way to get rid of Simon.”

Kris wonders if Archie is even aware that he doesn’t refer to the king as his father. “I get it,” he tells Archie. “I’m not happy about it, but I get it.”

Archie smiles then and leans down to whisper, “if he is injured, I can heal him.”

Kris nods again and feels Adam come up behind him. “Can you bring him back like you did with Cook?”

Archie shakes his head. “If I believed for one second that Simon has a chance against Adam then I would never allow him to face my father.”

Adam puts a hand on Kris’ waist. “We should get going.”

Archie looks over his shoulder at Cook and nods. “Randy will carry Cook and you will take Kris. We are meeting Michael and his kin at the foot of the mountain up to Drakkinhold.”

Cook asks Kris, “you okay, buddy?”

Kris smiles and shakes his head. “Nope, but I’m ready.”

Archie leads them out of the house over to the small group of people waiting for them. Paula looks like she’s torn between crying and shouting. She settles for hugging Archie hard. “You come back to me, you hear me?”

“I’m a phoenix, Mama, I always come back,” Archie replies with a cheeky grin and gets a swat for his troubles.

A man with golden brown hair and a dark tan comes over to them. “Tell Megan that I’m safe,” he says. “Tell her she doesn’t have to do this anymore.”

Adam nods. “She holds on for you,” he tells Ryan whose face flushes a little as he looks away.

“I know,” Ryan says and then wipes his eyes. “I just want her to be safe.”

“I will make sure of it,” Archie tells him.

“Thank you.” Kris watches Ryan walk away, shoulder drooping.

“You boys best be careful out dere,” Cody looks between Kris and Cook. “De draong folk, dey don’ always ‘member dat you not de same as dem.” He hands them each a wicked looking knife. “Jus’ in case,” he whispers.

The sound of thunder and a flash of lighting and smoke, and Adam is in Drakkin form, black and blue scales glistening in the light. Kris looks over to see another dragon, dark gold with red-tipped scales where Randy had been standing.

Cook kisses Archie on the lips and climbs onto Randy’s broad back. Randy launches into the air the moment Cook is settled. Archie flashes into phoenix form and soars up after them with a cry, one scarlet feather drifting to the ground in his wake.

Come on, Adam says impatiently, time to go!

Kris clambers up onto Adam’s huge foreleg and boosts himself up to the spot between Adam’s wings. He wraps his fingers around the ridge between the wings and braces himself. Adam throws himself upwards, screaming his delight and Kris tightens his thighs against the shining scales.

The rush of flying with Adam will never grow old, he thinks as they race after the dragon and the phoenix in the air.

this is what I miss when I’m not with you, Adam’s voice is a low rumble in his mind.

what does that mean? Kris asks.

you accept me in my Drakkin state, Adam sounds wondering. it is a wonderful thing to be so loved by your mate.

Kris can feel his cheeks heating despite the cold wind in the air. you’re everything, he tells Adam. when you’re the dragon, it’s like you’re even more of everything. He feels dumb because that doesn’t sound right but how is he supposed to put into words just how flying with Adam makes him feel?

you don’t have to say the words, Adam reminds him, and this time there’s a smile in that voice. I can ‘hear’ everything, remember?

ass, Kris tells him.

love, Adam responds.

love, Kris agrees.

get some sleep, Adam suggests. it’s going to be a long flight and you need the rest.

Kris closes his eyes obediently, lets his body lean a little to the left so that the high arch of Adam’s wing supports him and goes to sleep.

He wakes up when Adam lands, almost tumbling off Adam’s back.

Randy is already pulling on the shirt that Cook has carried with him and Archie is talking to Michael. Adam flashes back to human form and kisses Kris when he hands over his shirt. “You needed the rest,” Adam says before Kris can protest being allowed to sleep the entire way.

“You should have woken me up,” Kris grumbles and then Michael is hugging him.

“It’s good to see you alive and well,” Michael says and if anything, he looks even bigger and scarier.

“Yeah, well, I guess I’m lucky that way,” Kris says with a smile.

He looks over to a man he’s only seen once but will never forget. Daniel’s eyes are set slightly too close together and his mouth is a tight thin line. “Is he willing?”

Michael smirks a little and it’s not a pretty sight. “He’s willing.” Kris doesn’t want to know how they’ve ensured Daniel’s compliance but he’s their ticket into the king’s court so he’s going to take what he can get.

All eyes turn to Archie when he says, “my mother has given us a way into Drakkinhold that is not known by the king and his court.” For the first time, Kris can see the king he’s going to be one day. Today even.

Michael prods at Daniel who spins on his heel. There are about twenty of Michael’s kin and they surround the traitor in a tight circle. Archie holds out a hand and Cook takes it without a word.

Adam comes up to Kris and drops an arm across his shoulders. “He will make a fine king.” His gaze is fond as he watches Archie leading their little group towards the cliff face.

“I think he already might be,” Kris agrees and they traipse after the others.

Archie finds the crack in the cliff and slips through. Cook mutters something about impatient kids and follows him. Michael, Daniel and the other Drakkin are next to go. Kris and Adam are the last to pass through, and then they’re in a tunnel, crude and poorly-lit but obviously not natural.

“This will take us to the lower realm,” Archie’s voice echoes back to them as they walk. “It comes out one level below the king’s court.”

“Will Simon know when we arrive?” Cook’s question is the same one that Kris wants to ask. “A level below will still give him some time to get ready for us.”

“He will panic,” Randy sounds certain. “It won’t take us long to get up to the court and he isn’t expecting us. The king’s guard will be out in training so he won’t be heavily guarded.”

“Guess it’s a good thing we’ve got an inside man then,” Kris hears Cook’s sarcastic mutter and grins.

“I don’t think Cook likes Randy,” he whispers to Adam.

“Randy has been walking a very fine line with Simon,” Adam whispers back. “He has finally taken a stand on the prince’s side and is in grave danger.”

“Will Simon want to kill him then?” Kris asks.

“Yes,” Adam says. “The king does not tolerate disloyalty. This is why I must fight for our prince today.”

“Fight and win, right?” Kris slants a glance at Adam.

Adam nudges him. “Ye of little faith,” he chides.

“I’ve got a feeling that Simon won’t play by the rules,” Kris admits.

Adam nods. “That is one of the reasons we’ve brought so many of Michael’s kin with us. The king’s guard are not foresworn as the queen’s guard are, but they may put up a fight out of honour.”

“Wonderful,” Kris mutters and then realises that they’re going up.

“We must be quiet from here,” Archie calls back. “I don’t want anything to give us away.”

Kris wants to ask Adam more about the trial by combat but he obediently keeps silent, continuing down the tunnel, following Archie.

It seems like they’re walking forever and then suddenly the wall of bodies in front of him stops abruptly. With a quick tug, Adam stops him from walking into the back of a Drakkin soldier.

He can’t see what Archie is doing but he hears the sound of a gate or a door opening before the group starts moving forward again. The sudden brightness of light outside the tunnel takes Kris by surprise and he’s blinking into the sun.

Adam is a solid presence at his side, letting his prince call the shots while Kris takes a moment to look around once his eyes adjust. Drakkinhold isn’t what he was expecting at all.

“What do you think?” Adam’s voice is a caress in his ear and Kris leans against him, eyes wide as he takes in light and space and air.

“It’s amazing,” he breathes as he watches golden sun catch dust particles tumbling from the stone walls and turn them into diamonds as they fall to the floor.

“I hate having to leave,” Adam admits and takes Kris’ hand. “Come on, let’s get this done.”

Suddenly there’s a shout and a tall blonde woman runs towards them. “David!” she calls and throws her arms around Archie. Kris watches Cook’s eyes narrow and he waits to see what Archie will do.

The prince gently pulls away from the lady and takes her hands in his own. “Megan, it’s truly wonderful to see you.” His smile is a little sad. “I wish it were under better circumstances.”

So this was Simon’s new queen? Kris thinks she’s lovely in a quirky sort of way when she looks up at him, with sharp eyes. “You are Adam’s mate?”

He looks at Adam, unsure of how much to say and Adam nods at him. “She is on our side,” he assures Kris.

So he steps forward and holds out his hand. “Kris Allen,” he greets as she grasps his hand between hers.

“You are most welcome,” she tells him and then her gaze goes to Adam. “Ryan?” she asks.

“He’s fine, he’s with Paula and Carly,” he assures her.

She lets out a relieved breath. “Thank god,” she murmurs before turning back to Archie. “I think perhaps Simon knows that you’re here.”

Cook stiffens. “How?” he demands.

Megan’s face grows haughty. “And who are you?” she asks.

Archie steps up to Cook and curls his fingers around Cook’s. “He’s mine,” Archie tells her.

Her surprise is evident. “You’ve brought your mate into this?”

Cook bristles. “His mate brought himself, thank you very much.”

“I beg your pardon,” Megan smiles. “I meant no offence, only…” she trails off.

“Only what?” Cook asks.

“Drakkin protect their mates, they do not bring them into danger.” Megan looks between Kris and Cook. “It is most unusual that David and Adam have allowed you to be here.”

“Oh my god,” Cook mutters. “No one allowed us anything. We chose to come because we were never going to let the lizard king get his hands on Archie or Adam again.”

“Archie?” Megan asks, one dark blonde eyebrow raised.

“It’s what he calls me,” Archie says with a small blush. “Now I really must insist that we get moving.”

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Cook is quietly freaking the fuck out. Archie seems to be this whole new person in his home environment and Cook isn’t quite sure that he’s even his Archie any more.

The only thing that’s keeping him from hitting something is Archie’s warm hand clasped around his as they head up to the next level.

“So how do you want to play this?” he asks Archie.

Big eyes looks up at him and he can see that his little prince is thinking hard about what lies ahead. “If Simon suspects that we’re here, then he’s going to bring the council into the mix,” he says, almost to himself.

“What will they do?” Cook asks.

“They will decide whether there are grounds for a trial by combat, they will approve my champion and they will adjudge me king when Adam wins.” Cook likes that Archie seems so sure of the outcome of this entire shitstorm but he’s not so certain.

“What about Daniel?” he nods towards Michael and the men surrounding the traitor.

“The council will determine whether his testimony is admissible. If they agree that what he says is truth, then Simon will not be able to avoid a trial.” Archie seems delighted at the prospect. “I’m hoping that Simon still believes that Daniel is dead and cannot turn on him.”

“Won’t someone have told him by now?”

Archie shrugs. “Perhaps, but I still think we have the element of surprise on our side. He doesn’t know that Daniel has agreed to testify against him.”

They reach a huge set of doors that appear locked shut. Megan touches Archie’s shoulder. “It is your right,” she tells him and Cook wants to tell her to stop touching his boyfriend so fucking much.

“I know,” Archie’s smile is happy and serene. Cook wants to see that smile forever. He watches as Archie touches each door, places his palms flat against the dark wood and pushes. They split open like a skin. The room in front of them is vast and airy.

He sees the crimson feather tattoos rattling against the pale column of Archie’s throat, and without thinking about it, he reaches out and puts a hand on them. Archie looks at him, startled and then his mouth curves in a smile so private, so warm, so Archie, that it makes Cook ache. “I love you,” Archie says in a low voice.

“Yeah, ditto,” Cook mumbles, ears a little red. But he keeps his hand on the back of Archie’s neck, possession and comfort, for whom he’s not too sure yet. The giant doors slam shut behind them and Cook feels the tension ratchet up in his body.

“David!” A voice draws their attention. Cook sees a stocky man with dark hair and thin lips walking towards them with outstretched arms. “You’ve come home to us at last!”

Cook steps in front of Archie before the son of a bitch can touch him. “Back off,” he warns.

Simon’s eyes are hard, belying the warm welcome in his tone. “Get out of my way, human,” he orders. “I wish to greet my son properly.”

Adam steps up then, smoothly moving Cook back next to Archie and taking his own place in front of his prince. “We come to challenge for the throne,” he tells Simon.

Cook watches the calculation in Simon’s eyes and then the king throws his head back in a laugh. “You have no reason to challenge me,” he declares.

“Oh but we do,” Archie says and there is noting of the boy-prince in his voice. Archie is magnificent and sure and his eyes blaze hot and hard.

Simon looks over at a cluster of people who are sitting at one end of the court. “You wish to challenge me before the council?” he asks, sounding disbelieving.

“I do,” Archie says and heads for the group Cook assumes are the council. Cook looks at Adam who puts a hand on his arm.

“Wait here,” Adam tells him and follows Archie.

Simon’s eyes narrow when he spots Randy. “You should not have come back,” he spits.

Randy shrugs. “I have seen the queen. I am sure the council will be most interested to hear how not insane she actually is.” Cook kind of wants to cheer for Randy right now.

“Traitor!” Simon hisses.

“Right back at you,” Randy looks over to Michael and Cook sees the moment that Simon finds Daniel in the group.

“He is alive?” Simon looks around for someone to answer him.

Cook decides it might as well be him. “We thought we might need a little insurance,” he says and he knows that he’s pushing it. “Daniel is our ace in the hole.”

“Simon!” A deep voice calls the king making them all turn to face the five men and women in white, walking towards them with Archie and Adam in tow. “The prince has levelled some serious accusations against you.”

“He’s been brainwashed by his human mate and my crazy ex-wife!” Simon protests.

The head of the council just looks at Simon. “David has also told us of your plot to kidnap and kill him.”

“And yet here he is, Benedict,” Simon waves an expansive hand. “Alive and well.”

“No thanks to you,” Cook points out and steps back at the poisonous glare that Simon gives him.

“You have no proof that I was behind this scheme,” Simon alleges.

“I am their proof,” Daniel steps forward then and bows his head to the council. “The king ordered me to abduct the prince and keep him from taking on his Drakkin form.”

The gasps are audible and Benedict turns his attention to Simon once more. “This is true?”

Simon looks as though he wants to run something through Daniel and shakes his head. “You would believe this traitor over your own king?”

“You held Megan’s friend hostage in order to force her to marry you,” Randy adds his accusation to the pile.

“I did no such thing!” Simon refutes.

“We’ll let Megan answer that, shall we?” Benedict looks at her. “Is this true, my lady?” He is gentle with her and she responds with a slow nod, never once looking at her husband.

“The lady Paula, our former queen, she is no more insane than I am,” Adam speaks up and it’s then that Cook sees Simon’s realisation of the situation.

“You have seen her?” one of the councillors asks.

Adam nods. “It is she who has aided our entrance to Drakkinhold. She is the one who suggested that we challenge for the throne in this way, to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.”

Benedict nods. “She was always eager to keep the peace.” His smile is fond and then he looks at Simon as though he’s a bug that he’d like to squash. “Do you deny all these accusations?”

Simon throws up his hands. “I’m the king. I don’t have to deny anything, I can just have you all killed.”

“Try and get the doors to open,” Archie suggests with a smile and Cook can see satisfaction in his dark eyes.

Simon walks to the doors and puts his hands against them, exactly how Archie had done a few minutes before but nothing happens.

“What did you do?” Cook whispers to Archie.

“Nothing,” Archie tells him. “Drakkinhold is sentient. The city recognized me as the true king. Simon will never be able to hold the throne now even if he wins the trial by combat.”

“You could have mentioned that little titbit earlier,” Kris mutters.

“Sorry,” Archie says but he’s smiling as he watches the king try to get the doors open.

“These accusations appear to be validated by the city turning on you, Simon,” Benedict says and then he looks at Archie. “You wish to formally challenge?”

Archie nods and steps forward. “I, David Archuleta, true prince of the Drakkin do challenge King Simon to trial by combat for crimes of treason committed upon my house.” Cook thinks that Archie has never looked more beautiful as he stands there, calling his father out for trying to kill him.

“Simon, king of the Drakkin, do you accept this challenge?” Benedict looks at Simon with quiet intent.

“Do I have a choice?” Simon asks bitterly.

“You didn’t give me one,” Archie says, “Not me or Mama or Megan or Adam.”

“Who do you name as your champion?” Benedict asks.

“I name the Sentinel, Adam Lambert as my champion,” Archie says. Adam steps forward and drops to one knee.

“That is acceptable,” Benedict agrees and he turns to Simon. “You are an equal to Adam in your true form. This will be a fair fight.”

“Where do I stop?” Adam asks Archie and there is something nasty in his tone. It’s clear that he’s asking his prince for permission to execute the king. Cook thinks that if he never hears Adam talk like that again, it wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

“Don’t kill him,” Archie says.

“I will try not to,” Adam bows his head to the council and then to Archie. “I am yours to command.”

He flashes to his dragon form; and as always Cook is taken aback at the sheer size of him. Adam is beautiful, sleek and shiny and utterly terrifying, and Cook wonders just how Kris manages to avoid thinking of this aspect of his lover when they’re in bed together.

the same way that you do with the prince Adam tells him and Cook flushes.

fuck off, lizard he bites and Adam snaps his huge jaw in a grin. It’s the single scariest thing Cook has ever seen.

“Is my boyfriend being mean to you?” Kris asks and suddenly Cook realises that Kris can hear them both.

“Mental telepathy is not cool when everyone can do it,” he mumbles.

Simon flashes to his dragon form; he’s also black but his scales are tipped with yellow. He’s smaller than Adam but not by much. Adam’s neck is longer and Simon’s tail is a little thicker, but otherwise there’s not much difference between them.

Benedict orders them all to step back and Cook moves with Archie and Kris to one side of the room. Michael, Randy and the rest of their crew come over and stand with them as well.

“This is going to be fun,” Michael says and his smile is all teeth and anticipation.

“You’re all fucking insane,” Cook tells them.

And then the two dragons are in the air and hurtling at each other. Cook can feel Kris’ fingers dig into his arm as they watch the battle. Dragons fight dirty. Simon is the first to gain some advantage and his claws rake along Adam’s side.

Cook hears Kris hiss as he watches blood spill down onto the stone floor. Adam flings himself to the side, whipping his tail up so that the spike at the end catches Simon’s soft underbelly. The spike punctures the skin and blood spills out in a dark river to the floor.

Simon screams and hurls his body up towards Adam, head punching into Adam’s stomach and Adam goes smashing into the side of the wall and everything shakes as Adam drops to the ground, head hanging and sides heaving.

He pushes out of the way seconds before Simon lands on his back, claws outstretched to catch at his wings. It’s a bizarre sort of tumble turn and then Adam is in the air again, body straight like an arrow and heading for Simon. Screaming in both anger and pain accompanies the collision in midair.

Adam clings to Simon’s back now, claws digging into the fine skin of his wings. Adam’s long neck snakes down and his teeth find purchase at the base of Simon’s neck. Simon freezes when it happens and then his head drops forward in surrender. It’s Adam’s wings that bring them back to the ground.

It’s Adam’s victory.

Cook lets out the breath that he’s been holding for the past few minutes go and he almost passes out. Archie is smiling but his eyes are a little wet and right then, Cook realises what this is costing him. He puts an arm around Archie and pulls him into a hug. “You okay?” he murmurs.

“No,” Archie admits. “But I will be.”

Benedict and the rest of the council approach the two dragons. “It is decided.”

Simon’s head drops further to the ground, Adam’s jaw still tight around the base of his neck. The lightning flashes and the smoke clears, and then Simon is kneeling in human form, head bowed with Adam, also changed, standing over him.

“Do you accept the outcome?” Benedict asks.

“I do,” Simon says and Cook thinks that this is all just a little too easy.

“Very well,” Benedict turns and faces the rest of them. “I hereby declare the trial by combat won by the Sentinel Adam Lambert as champion for Prince David. Simon is no longer king and is hereby banished from Drakkinhold for crimes committed against his kind.”

Cook doesn’t even have a chance to shout a warning when Simon launches himself at Archie with a scream. He changes in mid-air and Archie is taken to the floor under the weight of a huge dragon.

Cook hears the snap of jaw and the tearing of skin and he hurls himself at Simon, fingers digging into the membrane of Simon’s wings, trying to rip them apart.

And not even a second later, Adam is in dragon form, his claws punching into Simon’s back as he pulls him off Archie. Simon screams defiance and blood flows out of several wounds on his back as he struggles against Adam, defiant and unbowed. Adam’s teeth clamp down on his throat, bite through the skin to the blood below and his black and blue scaled head shakes as though he’s holding a toy.

Cook doesn’t care though; he’s kneeling next to Archie, watching what looks like a river of blood pouring out of his chest. He wants to put his hands over the gaping hole, stop the bleeding but his hands aren’t big enough.

“Archie!” Kris is kneeling beside Archie, his face bewildered and frightened. Cook just stares as Archie’s blood pulses out of his body.

“He’s dying,” Cook hears someone say before realising that it’s his own voice saying the words.

he’s going to be fine. Adam’s voice is a low rumble of reassurance in his mind. he is a phoenix

Benedict and the rest of the council are recovering from their shock at the sudden attack. Cook sees Benedict looking down at Simon, who has reverted back to human form and is lying on the ground unmoving. “Is the king dead?” he asks.

Randy walks over to Simon’s body, reaches down to check for a pulse and then looks up at the council. “Yes, he’s dead,” he affirms.

“Justice, then,” Michael mutters but his eyes are worried and fixed on Archie, who remains motionless.

“What do I do?” Cook asks. “How do I save him?”

Adam is suddenly there, a warm and comforting presence that makes Cook believe that everything is going to be okay. “Take him in your arms,” Adam tells Cook. “We will do the rest.”

And then it’s as though they’re back in the swamp in Louisiana. Cook is holding Archie’s limp body and surrounded by a circle of Drakkin who are humming in a rhythm that seems to shudder through Cook’s body into Archie’s. He’s barely aware of several of Michael’s kin flashing into Drakkin form as the sound echoes up and through the city. It’s as though the whole world is shaking apart as he holds onto Archie, tucking his face into his neck and breathing in the scent of him.

He feels arms coming around him, hands twisting in his hair, and he feels something inside him give way. He pulls Archie closer, holds him tighter until the world becomes sound and heat. He feels the blood on Archie’s chest soak into his shirt and into his skin as the tattoos batter at him, assuring him that he’s okay, that Archie’s alive. The tears come hot and salty and he doesn’t care as he clings to Archie as though he’s the only solid thing left on earth.

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Kris sits back, exhausted as he watches Cook and Archie. He’s not sure if they’re ever going to let each other go again.

Adam sits next to him, holding out a hand. “Come on, I need to get cleaned up.”

Kris notices the gashes in Adam’s skin where Simon’s claws had found purchase. “That looks pretty painful,” he says and Adam grins.

“Well, I guess this is where I say, you should see the other guy?” He arches an eyebrow and Kris laughs.

“Archie’s going to be fine, isn’t he?” Kris asks. He’s worried because his brain isn’t up to speed yet and he wants to make sure that everyone is okay.

Adam nods and then sighs. “I am sad that I had to kill Simon, but he acted with dishonour in attacking the prince in Drakkin form while David was still in human form. I could not let that cowardice go unpunished.”

Kris sees that the huge doors have now swung open and scores of people are streaming into the court. “I guess not,” Kris agrees and allows Adam to lead him away from the crowds. “Where are we going?” He’s curious but not really desperate to know.

“To find a shower and a bed,” Adam tells him and Kris is totally on board with that plan.

They’re walking through twisting corridors and it makes him dizzy, but he just focuses on putting one foot in front of another, mind still seeing the battle and the blood.

Adam eventually stops and pushes a door open. “Come in,” he invites as Kris just stands there.

Kris watches Adam head to the bathroom and then he hears the water in the shower go on. He goes into the bathroom where Adam is already stripped naked. “Have you got something to clean those scratches up with?” he asks as Adam steps into the shower.

Adam shakes his head. “There is no need. Once I’ve showered, I’ll be fine.” His eyes are very blue as he holds out a hand. “Join me?”

Kris doesn’t hesitate. He’s in the shower almost before Adam is finished asking him, burrowing into Adam as though he wants to be part of him.

“Hey,” Adam croons and his hands cup Kris’ face. “I’m okay, Archie’s okay, the bad guy is dead. What’s wrong?”

Kris shakes his head and pushes his face into Adam’s shoulder. “I can’t get it out of my head.”

“What?” Adam asks and tips his face up again. “Talk to me.”

“The fight, the blood, it’s all so fucking medieval,” Kris tells him. “It’s nuts and now, I’m stuck in this crazy world with you, and I’m just a guy and I’m so fucking scared.”

Adam moves one hand to Kris’ back and presses him close. He strokes Kris’ back in slow circles, comforting him, reassuring him and gradually the storm that’s raging inside Kris starts to abate.

“It’s not always like this, you know,” Adam’s voice is barely audible above the water beating down onto them. “Most days, it’s normal shit; go to work, eat your food, live your life, fuck a little. What happened today isn’t normal, not even for us.”

Kris sighs against Adam’s skin and he feels the tattoos undulate beneath his cheek. He absently reaches up between them and pets the dragon mark. He’s almost sure he hears Adam purr.

“I know,” Kris says eventually. “It just feels like it’s been a constant state of crazy since I met you. I’m a little tired of all the drama.”

Adam chuckles and it rumbles over Kris’ skin. “Well, now that David is the king of the Drakkin, perhaps things can go back to normal for the rest of our kind.”

“Wait,” Kris pulls away and stares up at Adam. “Will Archie have to stay here?”

Adam shakes his head. “It is not how we do things anymore. Drakkinhold is our city, but it’s not where we live. Only the council live here full-time and the aged come here to be cared for. Most Drakkin live in the world you inhabit.”

“Oh,” Kris sighs. Adam turns the water off and then they dry each other off, Kris carefully inspects Adam’s skin to see what damage has been done. Most of the gouge marks have faded and look like day-old scratches and he shakes his head. “I guess healing Archie healed you too.”

Adam nods and smiles before taking Kris’ hand. “I think I need to lie down for a while,” he tells Kris. “All the fighting has made me very tired.”

Kris lets Adam lead him to the big bed and he almost whimpers in pleasure as they sink onto feather-soft covers. “I think I can sleep for a week or three,” he murmurs.

“Well, for an hour or so, anyway,” Adam agrees and Kris closes his eyes and holds on to Adam as he drops into unconsciousness.

He’s alone when he wakes up.

Kris looks around the room but can’t see Adam. He spots his own jeans and t-shirt folded neatly on a chair and climbs out of the bed. They’re clean and he puts them on gratefully.

He steps out of the room and starts walking in what he vaguely remembers as the direction they came in earlier. He meets people along the way who smile at him, murmur greetings as though they know him and he shakes his head. He can’t wait to go home now.

Somehow, by sheer dumb luck, he finds his way back to the court. The big doors stand open and sunlight streams through the high windows.

“Kris!” Cook’s happy voice makes him turn and he sees his friend coming towards him with Archie close behind him.

“Hey man,” he accepts Cook’s hug and then smiles at Archie. “So, I guess I should call you ‘Your Majesty’ now?”

Archie makes a face. “I’m going to let my mother rule as queen for a little while,” he says. “I don’t think I’m quite ready to be king.”

Kris looks over at Cook who shrugs, “I told him that I’d support whatever he decided to do,” he says. “Turns out the kid just wants to go to college and be a regular boy.”

Archie scowls at him. “I’m not a kid,” he reminds them.

“How about you being my Prince Charming?” Cook grins and leans down to kiss Archie who is trying to glare and not smile at the same time. It’s sort of adorable and a little creepy. Kris rolls his eyes but he’s still not seeing the person he wants.

“Randy’s gone to fetch Mama and the others,” Archie says. “They’re going to bring Cody as well.”

Cook’s grin is almost blinding. “Man, I can’t wait to see what Cody thinks of this place.” He’s almost rubbing his hands together in glee.

“Baby.” Kris hears Adam’s soft voice and everything inside him settles down. He leans back into Adam’s embrace and breathes. “You should have rested a little more.”

Kris grimaces. “Why? I didn’t do anything strenuous like fight a dragon or almost die.” He can almost hear Adam’s smile.

“I need you to rest, you’re going to need your strength.” Kris doesn’t trust that reasonable tone.

“I’m plenty rested, thanks,” he says and refuses to look at Cook and Archie while he blushes.

“Not for what I have in mind for you,” Adam assures him and Kris steps back onto his toe. He takes great pleasure in the hiss of pain that Adam makes.

“We can stay here tonight,” Archie tells him, “and head back to New Orleans tomorrow morning. I think we’re all ready to go back to civilisation.”

Kris snorts a little. “I’m ready to go now.”

“We can’t,” Archie apologises. “I’m being crowned tonight.”

Kris looks up at the sky. “Of course you are,” he says.

Adam’s arm is a comforting warmth around his waist, the tattoos petting against him. Kris relaxes and thinks that maybe just one night in the secret city of the Drakkin isn’t a bad thing to experience.

“Okay,” he agrees. “I can do this.”

Cook grins at him. “Great. Then you can help me keep Cody away from Archie’s mother tonight.”

Kris stares at him horrified. “Are you crazy? I’m not going to get in the middle of that.”

Adam is shaking a little and Kris realises that he’s laughing. “Laugh it up, lizard boy,” he tells him. “It won’t be so funny if she decides to take him up on his offer.”

Archie is staring at them all in horror. “Are you trying to tell me that Cook’s uncle likes my mom?” His eyes are so big they almost engulf his face.

“Cody is crushing on your mom,” Kris defends Cody. “He thinks she’s awesome.”

Archie points a finger at Cook. “My mama only had sex once,” he states, “and that was how I was conceived. Otherwise she’s as pure as snow. Right?”

“Um,” Cook says and swallows.

“You keep your uncle away from my mother, you hear?” Archie is right up in Cook’s face and Kris starts laughing. Adam’s laughter comes soon after.

Cook leans down and kisses Archie. “We’re on the same page, babe. I just don’t want to be the one to tell Cody that he can’t have your mother as his swamp bride.”

Archie sputters angrily into Cook’s mouth and then goes limp in his arms. “I hate you all,” he says eventually when Cook lets him go.

“So, how about we tell Cody that Paula’s really in love with Randy?” Cook suggests.

Kris shakes his head. “No one will believe that.”

“Well, we’d better think of something or I’m going to be the boyfriend of my nephew.” Cook grins at Archie’s annoyed face. “You know, with your mom becoming my aunt then you’d sort of be…” he yelps when Archie pinches him hard.

“What if they’re already, you know…” Kris asks in a sort of terrified panic. “I mean, we did leave them behind.”

Archie goes pale. “Seriously, I hate you all,” he moans and Cook pats him comfortingly on the shoulder.

“Cody sure likes his snakes,” Adam muses and ducks behind Kris when Archie lunges for him.

“I’m going to de-Sentinel you!” Archie threatens Adam who snorts with laughter.

“Don’t worry, babe. What’s the worst that could happen?” Cook asks and they all look at each other.

“I don’t even want to know,” Kris shakes his head and sighs. “I think Cody and Paula as a couple is scarier than anything Simon could do.”

“Stop saying stuff like that,” Archie moans and puts his hands over his ears. “I don’t want a stepfather.”

He pouts when they all start laughing at him. “Well, I don’t!” he insists.

Kris thinks that right here, right now, feels pretty much the closest thing to heaven on earth he can imagine. He looks at Archie’s earnest face, Cook’s laughing eyes and Adam’s beautiful smile, and he sighs.

He’s going to tell Adam a little later about the small scaly mark he found on his ankle when he’d put his socks on. It’s just a few scales, but they were bright silver and moved gently against his finger when he’d touched it. He wonders if Cook’s found anything on his body. He’ll ask him later.

Two humans, a phoenix and a dragon. It sounds like the start to an awesome joke.