Lust & consequences

by BRK

 Hayden manages to gain an ability that turns beliefs into truth, but the knack for making things turn out the way he wants them to is a lot more elusive.

Added: Feb 2022 6,212 words 4,900 views 4.9 stars (11 votes)

T

The gods listen to my father. I think it might be because unbeknownst to him, he’s one of them. He certainly looks it, though he makes so little of his beauty it barely registers with most folk, and least of all with him. I could wish I were as unconscious of it as he is. He’s not even that religious, more concerned with people than the hoary old gods minding their own business beyond the pale brink of human existence. And he’s utterly unconscious of anything remarkable about himself. You’d think if you were descended from the gods you’d know it, maybe even spread the word around where it might bring you some advantage; but Oswin of Geft doesn’t even seem to know that he has the gods’ ear—that even when the divine souls are stirred to wrath, even when the chief priests bemoan their arcane craft and plead to our grumpy and sour-faced regent for understanding and patience, the spoken desires of his honest peasant-born heart are heard soft but clear in the very bosom of the Inhuman Realm.

I’ve seen it happen. Not often: Oswin is a man of few words, and his unlooked-for role as a court painter—apprenticed seemingly by accident as a stripling of fourteen summers when the previous master had happened by our ancestral freehold on his mule and noticed the simple sunrise he’d painted on the barn with handmade pigments, and now, a young thirty-five, the master himself—brings him mostly into contact with wealthy and entitled aristocrats who inspire little sympathy and less prayer. But I was there when he rushed to the aid of the blacksmith’s young son, who’d recklessly climbed a tall pile of barrels stacked in the bustling palace courtyard and then fallen, to the horror of all who saw. In an instant my father was kneeling next to him, a hand on the boy’s bloody, deathly-pale forehead. Over my father’s shoulder I gasped—it was obvious the boy’s legs were shattered and his right arm, which he’d fallen on, was badly fractured. But my father, who must have seen the same things I saw, was somehow calmly reassuring the anguished blacksmith, a burly, stone-faced man I’d never expected to see sobbing before, that his son would not only swiftly recover but would grow up strong and agile, able to climb anything without danger or fear. And as he spoke those words, seemingly of blind hope, I felt their hidden power where he did not, almost as though I were standing in the very path of his connection to the Inhuman Realm—a dangerous, rushing twist of unseen fire that passed between him and the gods, making every inch of my insides tingle as it passed with the uncanny potency of the unmundane. And may I be fucked by a hundred Kordish pikestaffs if that boy did not indeed turn out as strong and as deftly agile as a Temple Island monkey—walking within two weeks, running in three, and soon enough begun on a routine of gleefully climbing every tree and belfry in sight. Even today, three years on, he is still likeliest to be found grinning atop the nearest height and stripped to the waist, his gleaming, sinewy body shining in the sun.

As a mere lad of sixteen, only two summers past having been ritually shaved by my father in the traditional rite of manhood and still ignorant of the world in many ways, I did not understand what I felt, but I marked the results—and by them I was only further confused. I began watching my father, Oswin, even more obsessively than had been my custom, training myself to observe and collate all the information I could. I felt that same brush of power twice more in the years that followed. He happened to be painting the congenitally nervous Baron of Eastmarch and his pregnant wife, me observing to see if I wanted to become his apprentice, when the baby came unexpectedly. The useless baron fainted, so it was my father who was cradling her sweaty head and holding her hand as the midwives did their work; and as he cooed to her that the baby would be exceptionally heathy and happy my skin prickled with that same unearthly rush of secret fire. I had to know if his words would come true as they had for the blacksmith’s son, so I volunteered to run errands and help out in the baron’s household off and on for several months. Sure enough, not only was that baby the most contented child anyone had ever encountered or heard of, but to this day, two years on, he has not fallen sick once, and remains almost absurdly robust and healthy.

Then the following spring we were on the brink of a terrible war with Kordion, the rough barbarian kingdom to the north, which was lately sliding into aggressive expansionism. My father and I happened to pass the regent one night in an empty hall and the old sourpuss unexpectedly greeted him, shaking his hand and lamenting that our verdant land of Weia was facing dark and bloody days. My father merely smiled and said that he prayed it was not so, and—I felt it again, the prickling rush of divinity taking notice. The regent nodded and passed on, and within days the messengers returned with reports of the Kordish generals suddenly withdrawing, their forces hastily recalled to face civil war in the Kordish capital.

That was enough for me. I have a methodical and orderly mind, unlike Oswin, who is governed by compassion and duty and that sort of thing. One bird in your field might be ignored, but not a flock. I began to formulate a plan.

The truth is, I had been helplessly and agonizingly obsessed with this man long before I understood his strange connection to the gods.

I was aware of being attracted to deft strength and masculine allure from an early age. There was an exquisitely sculpted guardsman named Margus who practiced his sword-forms every morning before dawn in the quiet alley between our new bright and airy, if narrow, townhouse on the fringe of the king’s quarter and his own. I watched him lustily and covertly from my upstairs window year after year, fixated on his shirtless, scarred, and sweaty physique and the tireless, almost mechanical movements of his gleaming muscles, until I knew the sword-forms as well as he did, tracing them nightly in my dreams. But even Margus did not stir me to arousal the way my shining, golden, too-handsome father did with a wide, easy smile at the end of a busy day, or the way he sat listening silently as I gushed about my doings over the dinner table, just the two of us, a glint of bemused pride in his rare, dark blue eyes.

Everything about him held my rapt attention. His skin was almost luminous, tanned and vibrant like a soldier or a farmer, yet fine and contoured like the whelp of a well-born earl of the finest stock. Though smooth of body, as with all men in our family line his fast-growing hair was long and lustrous, a warm, wavy russet brown that revealed more secret colors and variations the more you stared at it. His jawline was even sharper and smoother than mine—neither of us can grow much of a beard, which had made for a disappointingly brief ritual of manhood, but on him that clean, inviting jaw and chin drew the eye and inspired fantasies of ghosting lips and tongue along them. Below was a neck that to me was impossibly manly—just the movement of his honey-hued throat was enough to stir embarrassing movement my loins. His sweet, dark-wine lips drew my gaze so infallibly and magnetically I was constantly having to tear my eyes away from them, only to have them fill my daydreams the moment we were about our days. And further down… I was afraid to look at his body, too easily caught up in the firm, smooth, deliciously-shaped natural brawn with which he was gifted—a problem definitely not helped by the fashionably snug sleeveless tunics that had become de rigueur in the castle and king’s quarter in those days. He slept naked, of course, as did I, and I confess I lost many sleepless nights to my rigid, quivering awareness of the epitome of nude masculine beauty that lay slumbering happily and heedlessly in the room next to mine.

I was driven—irrationally, and in frustrating despite of my lucid and sensible nature—to break the barrier between us. I needed touch. More than that, I needed taste. I longed to savor his salty sweat on my eager tongue, to swallow his hot seed the way I did my own. I craved the obliteration of that space that separated us every day, a combination of convention and the aching one-sidedness of my desire of which I was all too aware. It wasn’t mindless conquest I desired—I needed us to be two men, men pressed close, skin heated, pricks hard. And slowly there formed in my mind the growing sense that there must be a way to use my father’s gift to bring us together, literally and emotionally as well. Then one day the churnings of my mind clicked abruptly into place, and the plan was all laid out in my head: the plan to make possible the seduction of the man whom I could not stop thinking about.

I was already unaccountably good with words, much more so than my laconic father. I began cultivating a habit of argument. Everywhere we went, everyone we spoke to, I would posit a random opinion and put forward every argument and example I could think of, snowing my interlocutor into agreement. I spent weeks crafting and developing this new aspect to my persona. Over dinner I would hone my skills at persuasion, winning my admittedly amenable father over to all kinds of unlikely propositions, from Margus’s ability to beat ten ordinary men in a fight to the existence of Faerie. He observed the change and watched it develop, and after a while he sat down with me and was curious enough to ask me what was behind it.

This was it. Stomach fluttering, I told him that I finally understood my heart’s desire. I was no painter, as he well knew by this point, to his amused chagrin. What I truly wanted was to be a court advocate, using logic, argument, and the law to protect ordinary folk from human predators and noble aggression.

I knew Oswin so well, his pride and faith and optimism, so I knew almost exactly how he would react. I barely kept myself from shaking with excitement as he smiled and rested a hand on my shoulder to give me his approval. “I know you will be good at it,” he said with a fond smile. “People know the truth of your words. You can convince anyone of anything.”

At that my whole being seemed to flood with the prickly power of his divine connection, and I knew the words would be literally true. I grinned, and I was sure my smile was for once even more brilliant than his.


I knew I would have to test out my new gift, and though temptation pushed me to try something right then, that very second, the truth was my father was too precious to me to risk saying the wrong thing and creating a change I could not put right. It’s also possible that I choked and held myself back from the edge of what I wanted out of sheer apprehension. That said, I had not had a lifetime accompanied by the taciturn, considering Oswin of Geft without having observed the value of measured circumspection. I waited, intending to seek ways to make small trials of my ability.

I was in those days good friends with the master carpetmaker’s middle son, a lanky, dark-haired mischief-seeker about my age named Kendrick. He stood a hand-span taller than me and was naturally athletic—always running through the fields, wrestling with his mates, volunteering to tote heavy wares for anyone who asked, that sort of thing, as if being alive meant to be in motion and to always exert oneself, and as a result he had accrued impressive levels of strength and stamina even beyond that implied by his stature and subtly developed brawn. What really drew my attention and curiosity, however, was his hairy chest. For my part I had inherited my father’s all but hairless physique, though a few shades lighter and not filling out those sleeveless tunics quite as well as he did; whereas the firm and pleasantly bulging upper contours of Kendrick’s wintry-white torso were rife with short, dark curls spread all across his breast, high enough they escaped his loose collars and trailing down between the round brick-ends of his flat, stone-hard belly into the secret reaches of his pantaloons.

The morning after the gift I was wandering the upper square, mind abuzz, when I chanced upon Kendrick drawing water from the public well. As the palace had its own wells I could only assume he was dredging and hauling on someone else’s behalf, which made me smile. “Well, if it isn’t the palace shire horse, Kendrick the Strong,” I teased as I approached, slapping him on his exposed, stone-hard upper arm, which gleamed as snowy-white as the rest of him. “Who are you hauling water for? Are the barley fields short of rain, and you’re ensuring their irrigation single-handed?”

Kendrick beamed down at me as he thunked the second of two heavily laden, extra-large water-buckets on the flagstones next to him. “Widow Goran’s son twisted his arm, as ye well know, and I’m glad to help,” he said cheerily, his voice somehow even deeper this year than it had been when it had dropped a second time in his teens. He surveyed by body with exaggerated sadness. “Ye could help as well, Hayden of Geft, if ye weren’t such a pipsqueak.”

I responded to the friendly taunt almost automatically with the age-old defensiveness of physically inferior youth. “Hey, I’m plenty strong! I’m just as strong as you are!” I said with a smirk, just as I had probably done on half a dozen occasions when Kendrick reminded me of what he saw as my wasted potential for physical fortitude. It was like a running gag between us. Those previous times, of course, Kendrick had rightly scoffed; well-proportioned and healthy I might be, but I was neither a mighty helm-cleaver like Margus nor a secret ox like Kendrick. That was part of the joke, and we both laughed. Now, though, I felt a tell-tale cold shiver up my own spine, and, more alarmingly, saw a visible shift in Kendrick’s deep-brown eyes—an actual, observable moment of him knowing the truth of my words. He looked me up and down, this time appraisingly, and nodded, as if he could see hints of hidden strength in my unremarkable form.

“Take a bucket, then, ‘Hayden the Plenty-Strong’!” he said with a bright, boyish grin. Then he bent and, hefting the first of the huge, sloshing cedar buckets onto a broad shoulder as if it were filled with nothing but goose feathers and damsels’ dreams, he headed off through the early-morning bustle, leaving me standing there, gaping after him like he’d slapped me with a fish.

I stood there for a few loud heartbeats as the folks of the quarter moved about me, consumed with their own affairs. The bookbinder approached the well with an empty ewer, eyeing me oddly as if wondering why I was emulating a stunned-looking statue, and I realized I would have to unstick myself and do… something. I kept thinking that convincing someone of a particular idea was not the same as it being true, as bad landlords and unscrupulous nobles constantly demonstrated. But I knew the words my father had spoken as if they had been engraved on my innards, and they certainly suggested that my ability to effortlessly convince others of any assertion was bound to the truth of that assertion. And Kendrick would not have happily stalked off with just one bucket had he not been simply certain that I was just as capable as he was of following him with the other.

I walked over to the bucket, feeling slightly dazed. It looked big and heavy, like it was part of the weight of the earth itself. Readying myself to look like a fool, I bent and grabbed the wooden handle.

It was easy. It was like the bucket was completely empty. Almost literally. I huffed in disbelief as I straightened, exerting almost no effort. I didn’t even look any different, but now I could probably take this thing I could barely have budged before and toss it onto a roof. Was this what it was like being “just as strong” as Kendrick? Was he really that strong as well? Or had my “plenty strong” thrown me some ridiculous measure beyond that, like an archer shooting for a straw target and somehow skewering the moon instead?

And—god’s balls, Hayden, you were supposed to be experimenting on Kendrick, not yourself! Had I really just accidentally tried out my gift on myself like a total turniphead?

Feeling detached from any familiar reality I might have known before then, I hefted the heavy, laden bucket onto my shoulder as though it were nothing and trailed after Kendrick out of the square toward the widow’s house.

At the widow’s cozy house near the spicemarket we were each rewarded with little overnight tarts of the sort she was well-known for throughout the keepverge, and we sat on a wall overlooking the tradesmen’s quarter and enjoyed our treats, feet dangling carelessly over the hundred-foot drop. All the while was I stealing glances at Kendrick, determined to get my cart back on the track after my little mess-up with the “plenty strong” idea. I’d proved my gift worked, admittedly, but it had been a total accident. I hadn’t asked for something and gotten it, and I had to make sure that worked because that was the only path to the true seduction of the one man I never stopped thinking about.

Something about that hairy chest, I decided at length. Maybe I can get him to keep himself shirtless to let the air flow through it. Or that letting your friends run their fingers through it is good for the skin.

Finishing my snack and licking my fingers, I looked over at Kendrick and decided to get at the shirtless angle through the heat of the workshop. “What’s it like being apprenticed to your dad?” I asked. “Ever get tired of him? Or, you know, rugs?”

Kendrick swallowed the last bite of his tart and chuckled. “Naw,” he said. “I love rugs. And me dad.”

I eyed him. It was true he and his father got along great, even better than my own dad and me, all the more so once Kendrick stayed and took up the craft after his older and younger brothers went off to join the army and the merchant marine respectively. “You do love your dad,” I agreed enviously—not realizing that I had unconsciously let my own sort of love for my own father sift into the words until that cold shiver ran up my back again, and Kendrick’s expression turned wistful and ever so slightly heartbroken. I recognized the look, and winced.

“Aye,” Kendrick said softly after a moment. He was staring off into the wispy clouds inching over the north fields, and it was obvious what he was seeing: Kirron of Isda, Carpetmaster, strong, garrulous, handsome, as strapping and hairy as his sons, always ready with a smile and a hug. One glance, and I could tell. He had it bad.

Gods’ balls, another fuck-up. I should make this right, I thought. I nudged him with my shoulder. “You know,” I said, very deliberately, “he loves you too.” I tried consciously to put as much of that undercurrent of desire and need into this statement as I had inadvertently done with his side of things, and it must have worked because he had turned his head to smirk at me before I was done feeling the shiver.

I saw the mutual lust and love his eyes, and I thought back to the last few times I had seen him and his dad together. I’d seen them hug and joke with each other, and—I’d seen those same scenes before, but… was my perspective different, or had things shifted slightly, making the smiles and manly embraces that much more intimate?

Suddenly I wanted to see their interactions in person, right then. “Hey, let’s head over to your workshop,” I suggested quickly. “I’m sure he misses you!”

No cold flutter up the spine that time, so I guessed what I’d said was already true. Kendrick arched a dark, knowing eyebrow at me and shoved me with his own shoulder. “I’m sure,” he said, in that deep silky voice of his. “But I’m nae bringing ye to intrude just so ye can watch us embrace and maybe catch us making out.”

My expression must have been pretty comical, because Kendrick actually laughed. “Aye, Hayden, I know ye enjoy watching us,” he teased. “It’s cute of ye, but also a bit distracting.” He lifted his chin and added with a sly grin, “Though I understand your jealousy. Not everyone can be as well-equipped as we of Isda!”

“Hey, I’m plenty well—” My face turned instantly hot, and I looked away. “—equipped,” I finished, incredibly discomfited at having tricked myself into changing my body twice.

“Aye, we all know that!” Kendrick said, nodding at the big bulge of my fist-sized balls and the hefty lump running conspicuously down my left pants leg. “Ye ought to wear looser trousers so we don’t have to know!”

My face flushed even hotter, and Kendrick just laughed again.

Now, it just so happened that there was an old saying among Kendrick’s people that embarrassment makes you float. I’m not sure where it came from—maybe that heat rises, and so a hot face should lift you up, face-first; or maybe it was the fervent desire to be elsewhere that would render, perhaps for some ancient figure of fable, the desperate ability to float away in escape. Whatever the origins, that was what Kendrick was referencing when he teased, “Hah! Ye look like you could leave this wall and float all the way to the north gate!”

“I totally could,” I muttered, unthinkingly—and completely convincingly.

“Grand,” Kendrick said, even as I registered my own alarm at the familiar icy jolt up my back. “Let’s see it then!” And then, with an almighty shove that bastard garbage-spawn of a sea-imp threw me right off the north wall.


I screamed, even though I was at that point mostly being propelled forward by the force of Kendrick’s shove. I was, in fact, floating, and weirdly it did feel like it was a product of the heat of my face keeping me aloft. The only trouble was that my ability to float as I soared over the tradesmen’s quarter was explicitly a function of my embarrassment, and it became very obvious to me over barely a few seconds that my embarrassment was rapidly dissolving into terror, seeing as I was quickly shifting from forward-propelled floating to uncontrolled plummeting.

You made your equipment too damn big, some stray thought in my head snarked. it’s weighing you down!

Then all sarcasm was torn away in tatters, and I shrieked my throat raw as the buildings rushed toward me. Desperately I remembered my gift. I remembered that I had already proven it worked on me as well as others. I had no one to convince, though—no audience, no “anyone” to believe the “anything” I told them but my own self. With seconds to live I put everything I had into convincing myself of the only thing I could think of that would get me out of this alive.

“I can fly!” I screamed. The wind seemed heartlessly bent on whipping my words away, so I said it again. “I can fly! I can fly!!”

The noisy smiths’ bazaar was racing madly up toward me. I squeezed my eyes shut—

Felt the cold tingle—

And spread my wings wide, instinctively banking up away from the buildings and the hard, Hayden-smashing earth and into the sun-warmed sky.

I opened my eyes, blinking a few times to accustom them to the rushing of the wind. I arced up and around and then, again without knowing how I did it, began to flap. My heart was pounding as hard as a smith’s hammer, somewhere high up in my throat, but the exhilaration of flight stole through my insides and possessed me utterly, and in spite of the terror that had not fully ebbed I laughed and whooped as I glided in a wide curve over the city, my long hair whiffling in the wind, my whole being thrilled beyond anything I could have imagined.

I looked over at my wings as I beat them to keep my speed and altitude. They were vast, nearly man-height in breadth on either side, the feathers a rich brown that complemented my russet-brown hair and mildly tanned coloring. The uncanny strength I had gifted myself with meant that beating my wings was almost effortless and produced incredible lift and thrust, and I quickly discovered that I had acquired not just the mechanical ability to fly but the knowledge of how to fly with deftness and agility. As I reveled in the rush of air over my skin I noted that I was feeling it on my arms but not my torso—it seemed from what I could see and feel that while I was still wearing the same fitted sleeveless tunic, it was now specially adapted in back to fasten around the long, thick scapulars where the wings connected to my body and the muscles driving them.

I hadn’t just “popped” the wings out of my body, I realized in amazement. Like the growing affection between Kirron and Kendrick, like my own inhuman strength, this change had receded backward from the moment of my announcing, and believing, my ability to fly. Convincing my audience of these truths—first Kendrick and then, in desperation, myself—changed my world enough to make it so that these truths were true.

Still, I thought as I swooped slowly lower, thinking about where I could land, I couldn’t believe that I had changed the world in any massive way. The earth resisted change. People did too, as a rule. Ripples in a pond dissipated with distance. The ideas I convinced people of probably changed the world the minimum amount for my new truth to make sense. I gathered more evidence of this conservation-of-change feature of my gift almost immediately.

I was near the palace keep, so I decided to alight in the mostly empty back courtyard where I had room to land with a minimum of worry about eaves and street traffic. Just as I was dropping to my feet and carefully retracting my wings, all done habitually as if I’d done a thousand times, one of the washerwomen—a jowly, middle-aged woman I did not recognize, though I knew many of the palace staff and servants—came out of one of the nearby buildings lugging a large, covered wicker basket the size of a cauldron. When she saw me she cried out in shock, dropping her basket and causing a cascade of clean linens to spill onto the stone. “What are you!?” she screamed. “Fae? Are you here to steal our babies?”

I was barely settled in the grip of gravity again, so I took a step toward her and I almost stumbled. “No! No! It’s okay!” I said to her, hands out in a placating gesture. Fae? How had that been the thing she thought of? “I’m not fae, there’s no—” I stopped myself abruptly, practically cleaving my tongue to my palate to abort the statement in time. If there were fae, and I wiped them out with a few words, I would never forgive myself.

The washerwoman had snatched up the wicker lid to the basket and seemed ready to use it as a defensive weapon. “What are you?” she demanded shrilly. “What do you here, creature? Begone!”

Other concerned faces poked out of the building she’d come from, and from the smithy on the other side of the courtyard. This could spread and get out of control quickly. I could be strung up or burned at the stake in an hour’s time—we of Weia were nothing if not briskly efficient in the face of danger. I had to fix this, now, and not just with her.

I took a slow step toward the woman. Was she new? Would that help? “It’s okay,” I repeated calmly. “It’s just me. Everyone here knows me, the boy with wings.” I took another step, feeling a rush of frigid cold up my back—in my panic I was laying it on pretty thick. “It’s okay,” I assured her. “Me having wings, it’s normal, everyone’s good with it. With me. Okay?”

My spine was throbbing with the truthmaking chill, but I held in my shudder and kept my eyes on my truth-audience. Belatedly I realized the smarter course would have been to get rid of the wings altogether, but it was too late now, and fuck an angry ox if I was going to give up flying anytime soon.

The woman was now looking at me with chagrin. “I’m so sorry, Master Hayden,” she said. I blinked at her use of my name, but then I remembered the truth I’d convinced her of—that everyone knows me. “I was forgetting. Of course it’s you.” She shook her head and bent to collect her spilled linens. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

I looked around. Everyone was returning to their work, rolling their eyes at the unnecessary fuss. It was just Hayden. I quickly knelt and helped her refill her basket. “It’s no problem at all,” I said, fitting the top and hefting the basket for her—it felt so light to me I was afraid I would overplay the act of lifting it and launch it at the sun. “I’m sorry I caught you by surprise. What’s your name?”

“Margie,” she said, and she was talking to me normally now, as if boys dropping out of the sky and helping her with her washing were as commonplace as bread and supper.

We walked together toward the main building of the keep. I held the basket held casually against my hip, the tips of my massive, meticulously folded wings almost, but not quite, trailing on the courtyard stones. “I’m sorry I caught you by surprise, Margie,” I said, offering her my most winning smile.

“It’s all right,” Margie said, her cheeks pinking, “a lad as handsome as you can get away with most anything!”

Unsettlingly, I felt a new brush of ice slither up the middle of my back the moment she’d said it. What in all the hells? I hadn’t offered anything for her to believe, but somehow, I’d convinced her anyway. Something about—my demeanor? My body language? Something about me had triggered my gift of convincing people of things without my even having had to say a word.

My stomach fluttered, and my wings shifted uncertainly behind me. That was… that was not good.

As we passed through the back hallways of the keep toward the ceremonial halls, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone’s eyes seemed to catch on me, like my presence drew their gaze. Young women, matrons, pages, guards—everyone looked up as I passed, Margie at my side gabbling away about her newborn and the nightmare she’d had about a fae taking it and how that must have caused her moment of shock at seeing me, about how the guards talked about how I should be up in the air flying over Kordish forts gathering information instead of flirting with apprentice carpetmasters, all sorts of things I barely heard. I was too busy watching myself being watched.

At first, I thought I was getting all this attention because of my wings, but the more people we encountered, the more stares I saw, and the more I recognized the singular fire in their eyes. It was lust.

Margie had made me “handsome”—and able to “get away with most anything.” That part I wasn’t even going to think about. But the handsome thing, that was clearly coming into play in spades. I was almost certain that all of my ideas were being not just fulfilled but fulfilled with extreme potency; and when applied to masculine attractiveness, that level of effectiveness might just make me—

“There you are,” said a familiar voice. “I was hoping I’d see you this morning—on the ground, that is.”

I turned and saw my father smiling at me from a wide doorway. In my state of distraction I hadn’t noticed that we were passing near the royal workshops. He nodded toward my hair, which I realized must be a little windblown. “Been out roving, I see,” he said dryly. There was an adorable spot of cerulean paint on his left cheek.

All at once I was overflowing with happiness, at the memory of flying and at seeing him now, my rock when all else was changing around me. I smiled widely back at him, and to my amazement he visibly caught his breath. It was barely noticeable, and probably only to me because I knew him so well, but—he had reacted to me. I was irresistible to everyone. Even him.

We stared at each other for a second before I realized Margie was trying to relieve me of the washing basket. “I’ll just take that, lad,” she said, and I forced myself to turn to her.

“Are you sure?” I asked her. “I’ll be happy to take this up for you to—”

She was shaking her head. “It’s all right,” she said, her expression soft as she took the basket from me. “You two handsome fellows have your moment. You’re lucky to have a father who loves you as much as he does!”

The cold tingle again. I swallowed. What was it with this woman? My father had already loved me, but now I had convinced her of something new… “You-you’re very lucky, too, Margie,” I stammered. “In anything you could want.”

She winked. “I know it,” she said, then turned and tottered off with her burden, humming happily to herself.

I turned back to my father. He was closer now, and almost without my being aware of how it happened we were embracing. At the last second I remembered my strength, and I cradled him gently as he squeezed me close. Unable to help myself I let my hands move slowly over his elegantly sculpted back, and he hummed against my neck. He was warm and strong and everything I wanted.

I can get away with anything, I thought indecently. I could kiss him on the lips, right then and there, and I could get away with it. I was so afraid of what I would do I thought I might throw up. My mammoth dick twitched against the whole length of my thigh, prodding me to act, to speak.

Oswin showed no sign of letting me go. “Dad—” I said, uncertainly.

“You can hold me like this, you know, any time,” he said contentedly. “It’s good. We should do this—”

I felt the truthchill, this time combined with the rush of fire from his own prayers-granted gods-touch gift, and I shuddered, hard. I almost kissed him just to shut him up. Instead I shushed him, holding him close as he tightened the embrace. “Shhh,” I said, my breath gusting across that spot on his tawny neck under his left jaw I’d stared at for years. “Don’t speak.”

He hummed again, and we held each other like that for a long time. And, yeah, he was right. It was good.

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