Excerpt: Ties That Bind
Outside the sun sank into the dying light, but inside, a lamp cast an orange glow around the living room. Chel sat on the couch, staring off into space in the direction of the television’s blank screen, his fingers absently rubbing the top of Tomlin’s head on that special spot between his ears that he liked so much. Tomlin lay purring on Chel’s lap as a cat, his fifteen-pound body a firm security while his soft amber coat offered comfort.
Chel stirred from his thousand-yard stare. “Mathias is rather late tonight. I hope he’s okay.”
No response from Tomlin.
A glance at his cell phone showed no missed messages.
Tomlin snorted, as if he could hear Chel’s internal fretting.
“What? I’m worried he’s working too hard. He comes home later every night, and he didn’t have energy for sex yesterday! He even fell asleep while we were talking.” But Tomlin should know best, shouldn’t he? He might be flighty—and “flighty” would be an understatement—but his magic was entwined with Mathias’s. He had a direct connection to their lover that a boring non-magical human like Chel couldn’t hope to comprehend.
Tomlin adjusted on Chel’s lap, kneading Chel’s thigh, as if to comfort him.
“I know, but—”
The front door opened.
Tomlin leapt off Chel’s lap, and Chel was a second behind in standing and rushing to the door, through which Mathias had trudged. Chel pulled up short, heart pounding as he took in Mathias’s dull black hair, dark bruising under his eyes, scruff on his square jaw, and the crumbling slope of his shoulders. He looked even worse than he had this morning.
“Oh, darling.” Chel stepped closer and opened his arms, welcoming Mathias into them.
Mathias slumped the final step between them and collapsed against Chel’s chest, letting most of his weight sink against him. Chel wrapped his arms around Mathias, gathering him close and holding him so he didn’t end up a puddle on the floor. His poor sweet lover seemed so small in his arms today.
“Oh, Mati.” The now-human Tomlin flattened himself along Mathias’s back, his arms reaching all the way to Chel.
Mathias exhaled, long and slow, as if he could discharge all the tension in his shoulders. “This is the perfect way to be welcomed home.”
Chel sighed his own relief and pressed a kiss to Mathias’s temple. “I’m glad you’re home. I was worried about you.” Already thoughts of feeding him and getting him sprawled on the couch started to form. Mathias needed rest and nutrition to get better, and Chel would do anything to get that done.
“I wasn’t,” Tomlin chirped, wiggling closer to Mathias, which drove Mathias closer to Chel. No one complained.
“That’s because you saw him a few hours ago and I haven’t seen him since this morning,” Chel argued. He pressed another kiss to Mathias’s forehead. “You seemed so tired, and then you sent Tom off and you were late and you know how I am.” He said this last with a slight laugh, because he was a worry-wort and he knew it.
“Sorry, love,” Mathias murmured. “I had a few things that needed wrapping up, and I didn’t need Tom underfoot—sorry, babe, but it’s true—so I thought I’d send him home to bother you.”
“You’re so meeean,” Tomlin complained, then contented himself with nibbling kisses along Mathias’s neck.
Chel rolled his eyes and ignored their dramatic lover. “And you’ve been working this whole time?”
Mathias sighed and sank a little further into Chel’s arms, as if he could burrow into the strength. “I fell asleep.”
Chel tried very hard to keep the concern from his voice. To keep his tone light and casual, even as his need to tend to his lover rose. “Did you not sleep well last night?”
“I slept like the dead.” Mathias paused, but before Chel could ask more, said, “Tom, are you leaving hickies?”
Tomlin froze, his mouth attached to Mathias’s neck. He released with a loud smack. “Uh.”
Chel chuckled. “C’mon. If you think you can stand, we can move this to the kitchen, where dinner awaits and Tom can’t get into too much trouble.”
“Says who?” Tomlin snorted but stepped back, giving Mathias room.
Mathias clung to Chel like a wet rag, motionless and heavy. For a frightening moment, he thought Mathias wouldn’t be able to stand on his own. Chel didn’t move, counting the heartbeats between them. His own seemed far too rapid. Finally, Mathias heaved himself to his feet, offered Chel a wan smile, and headed for the kitchen. Tom and Chel were right behind him.
Chel made Mathias sit down and Tom set out the plates and forks, while he himself checked that the food was still warm. He hummed as he pulled the dish from the oven and peeked under the foil cover. A puff of steam escaped, so he carried it to the table where the plates were ready. But he wasn’t about to let the earlier topic go. “So you fell asleep at work?”
“Yeah. Bell had gone, I was sitting at my desk doing some paperwork—and let me tell you, when you’re a young magic-user, they don’t tell you about those parts. It’s all ‘fight dragons’ and ‘sell miracles’ but never ‘fill out form MR-100 to report sale of enchanted malachite.'”
Tomlin giggled, nuzzling against Mathias’s shoulder. “I could help.”
Chel and Mathias shared a fond look, then they directed it at Tomlin. Mathias shook his head. “Babe, you do plenty of help during the day. If I didn’t have you there, I’d get half as much done and be twice as exhausted.” He paused, a tad dramatically. “Also, if you recall, you nearly burned down the shop last time you tried to help with paperwork.”
Tomlin’s eyes widened. “Oooh yeah.”