Jade huffed, her hooves making a sloshing, crunching noise on the melting snow. Kenneth muttered to the aether, dropping the magic that would warm the air around him and his horse. The humid cold of late winter rushed in immediately.
Ahead of him, the inventor’s college stood against the gray sky, and he nodded to the gatekeeper as he turned Jade toward the stables. They knew him by now, and no longer stopped him and asked what he was doing here every time. No more nervous bowing or “my lords,” and Kenneth was glad for it.
It had been a month since Kenneth and Thorn had discovered they were lifemates, and they visited each other often enough that it wasn’t strange anymore.
Kenneth stabled Jade, making sure to give her the choicest bits of hay. He never needed to stable his own horse at the collegium, but the talentless were much more self sufficient.
And that would be proven today, he knew. Thorn wanted to show him his new graduation project. Kenneth sighed, trying to push away nerves. The last time Thorn had shown him his work, Kenneth had bungled things between them horribly. He couldn’t let that happen again.
“Kenneth!” His anxieties faded when he heard his lover’s voice, and at the same moment felt his magic strengthen. He wasn’t used to that yet. Thorn, just by being near, doubled his magical power, and it was still a heady thrum when it happened. He would get used to it in time, according to the masters at the collegium, but for now it was still intoxicating.
Thorn stood at the entrance to the stables, a grin on his face. His brown hair was mussed, and the frayed coat he wore creaked like old leather as he walked closer. “Sorry I missed you enter the college, I was getting some supplies from the refinery.” He leaned over and reached into Jade’s stall, petting the horse on the nose before tilting his head as he met Kenneth’s eyes. “Kenneth? You okay?”
Kenneth blinked, trying to find his sense of self beneath the potential to control the aether. Bands of it wrapped the stables, waiting to be sensed and manipulated. “Yes, I’m alright.” He focused on Thorn’s face, and memories of their times together coupled with the head rush of magic quickened his blood. “I’m just glad to see you.”
Thorn smirked, his gaze dropping. “I can see that.”
Kenneth’s face heated, and he adjusted his robes. He wondered if all lifemates felt that way as they got used to each other, or just him. He cleared his throat. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. Is it still the magic?” Thorn said. He leaned against the stable door, and Kenneth’s gaze was riveted to his neck, following it down to where his coat covered what Kenneth knew to be a well muscled chest, and then down to Thorn’s tight trousers which covered a long, beautiful, uncut cock. Desire pulsed through him again, maddening.
“Kenneth,” Thorn snapped. “Pay attention.”
Right. Thorn’s tone of command, so surprising coming from a talentless, cleared his head, the sense of magic falling under his control. Arousal still burned, but it wasn’t so bad. Privately, he relished the idea of obeying Thorn’s snapped commands. “Right,” he said again. “I’m sorry. I came here to see your work, of course.”
“Of course.” Thorn grinned. “It is what I invited you for.” He stood up from leaning against the stable. “Follow me.”
They traveled through the familiar path, down the wooden halls of the talentless college where other people, dressed similarly to Thorn, wandered the halls. Wheeled contraptions clicked past, and once Kenneth peered into a workroom, where flame hissed from pipes in the wall while a woman held metal over it. Down one hall, a mouse zipped past, disappearing into a crevice.
“Not as clean as the collegium,” Thorn said with a sheepish look. He pulled out a key, the door to his workroom opening with a creak.
Unlike last time, he hadn’t covered it. “Take a look and let me know what you think,” Thorn said, gesturing to the table. A mechanical hand lay atop it, and there was a brief moment when revulsion, or maybe just fear, flashed through Kenneth.
But it vanished quickly. He moved toward the table, where a metal hand lay, gray and heavy. This was what Thorn did. This would improve lives, just as magic would. And it would help the lives of those that magi had injured during the war.
“It’s not done yet,” Thorn said. “But it’s going to be more efficient than…than what I have now.” He removed his gloves, letting Kenneth compare his lover’s current prosthetic to the one on the table. The new one was sleeker, with fewer gears, and with wire that a word to the aether revealed was copper wound through the palm.
Thorn stared at him, and Kenneth realized his lover was anxious too.
“I love it,” Kenneth said. Thorn smirked. “Alright,” Kenneth amended. “I barely understand it. But it looks nice. More…” he looked at his own hands. “More natural.”
“I was going for more efficient,” Thorn said with a nod, his gaze shifting away from Kenneth. “But aesthetics matter too.”
Kenneth blinked, surprising rooting him in place. Thorn had designed it that way because of him. Kenneth’s thoughtless words a month ago, even after all that had happened with Alder, came back to him. He had hurt Thorn even more than he realized.
“It’s wonderful,” he said, choosing his words with care. He had to do this right. He had to let Thorn know he wasn’t repulsed by his fake hand, not anymore, and he wasn’t repulsed by Thorn’s work.
Maybe it would be better to show it.
He moved to Thorn, pulling him close, taking in the scent and nearness of his lover. The fuzzy-headedness returned, lust mixing with his overpowering sense of magic. “You’re wonderful,” Kenneth said, and he kissed Thorn’s neck, letting his inhibitions fall. “No matter what, I want you.”
Thorn gasped when Kenneth kissed his neck, and it turned into a chuckle. “Is that you or the magic talking?”
“Me,” Kenneth said. He took Thorn’s fake hand in his, feeling the powerful metal as he lifted and pressed his lips to it. “It’s always me.”