MIDDLEHILL #1.5: OLD TRADITIONS
Even if he was king, he didn’t want Kevin as an underling. Was there such a thing as an overling? Between remembering the cop in the front seat of the cruiser and seeing Brian again, the fact that Kevin was the only thing between Matt and that world again didn’t help.
The basement apartment had been a converted storage room that wasn’t up to the code a doghouse should be kept in. Matt’s new house on the school property had windows on three sides of the open space. The only wall remaining in the main part of the house was the one that divided the galley-style kitchen by the front door apart from the dining and living room area. The apartment had always looked cluttered because there hadn’t been any storage. It didn’t even have a closet. His house had a place for everything he owned. The kitchen and living room took minimal effort to keep tidy. The space had felt like home the moment Matt had the key in his hand.
He just took off his shoes when he smelled the ozone that immediately preceded Kevin popping in from somewhere else.
Matt’s responses took no time at all to develop. His happiness at that smell was in full gear before he even saw Kevin, who was already smiling. Matt smiled back, all warm inside, but the next breath of air he took was so cold it burned the lining of his throat. His chest ached as his lungs froze and refused to do their job.
“Are there more bags in the truck?” Kevin asked.
Matt couldn’t manually override his lungs and take a new breath. He hadn’t fallen out of a moving vehicle, and the worry that one day Kevin really was going to be gone was a common, everyday fear, but Matt really couldn’t breathe. Kevin looked happy to see him. Everything was good, and Matt was still suffocating.
Matt tried looking away, but that didn’t help. Kevin was so beautiful. He was a couple of inches taller, broader, and had sculpted muscles over his back, arms, and shoulders. Matt couldn’t have found his own deltoids if he’d had glass skin. Kevin had full lips, a cute nose, and cheekbones that Matt liked running his fingers over, even when Kevin was napping and it woke him up again. Matt had always needed to physically touch things to prove they were real.
Kevin had come straight from the Fae event. He was still wearing Fae clothing. The leather slacks with buckles crisscrossing his thighs were pretty much standard issue for Fae, but the beautiful silk shirt that gathered and billowed exactly the way it should was new. It had leather sleeves that ended in a fingerless leather glove that secured itself with straps around his thumb and between his ring finger and pinkie. The leather boots he wore had enough heel to do amazing things to his thighs.
Kevin’s body was accentuated when he wore Fae clothing, though Matt did appreciate him in a well-cut suit too. With the air of confidence Kevin wore like a cape to finish the outfit, he looked proud, dashing, and gorgeous. An ounce of doubt would have ruined the whole thing. Matt like the boots best of all. He always had.
Kevin took the bags from Matt. “Did you hear me?”
Matt didn’t know if he should shake his head or nod. He had heard the question but forgotten what Kevin had asked. Kevin guided him down into a chair from the kitchen table. Matt put his head down on the solid wood. His heart was pounding hard now, desperate for oxygen.
Kevin let the bags he was holding slip to the floor. He knelt down in front of Matt, which wasn’t helping the whole not breathing thing. “Sweetheart, are you choking? Nod your head if you can.”
Matt tasted Kevin’s scent in the air around him. His Kevinness was a smell Matt still wanted to roll around in like a dog. Matt’s heart crashed around his chest. Kevin wore black and white, and the whole world beyond him was starting to gray.
“It’s okay, I promise. Just relax, Matt. It will pass.”
Swallowing air hurt, and his lungs weren’t designed to filter air from his stomach.
The Fae’s hushing sound was much more sibilant. Matt had gotten used to Kevin making a sussing sound with his tongue to calm him once he was worked up over something. The panic had never taken over him like that. There was something else around the house pulling Matt down into unconsciousness. He felt like a fist was reaching into his chest so that even when his lungs struggled to breathe with Kevin beside him, he couldn’t do it. If anything, he heard laughter just behind him on the other side, breathing icy cold down Matt’s neck. He wanted to swat at it but decided to pass out instead.
Kevin just stroked the back of his head.
* * * *
When Matt woke up, he tried to remember why he had fallen asleep in such an uncomfortable position. He might have nodded off studying the Fae language at the table, but his tutor, Bea, kept things as entertaining as she could. And if he was with Kevin at night, Kevin usually nudged him and told him to go to bed before he fell completely asleep. Matt had told Sam hundreds of times to go to bed instead of falling asleep in a textbook, but he hadn’t realized how good it felt when someone cared whether or not he got a crick in his neck.
Kevin wasn’t on the same sleep schedule. Matt wasn’t at his most mature when he was tired and wanted to go to bed, but knew begging or dragging Kevin into the bedroom when Kevin was still up and working wasn’t attractive. Caring about what actions were or weren’t attractive wasn’t desirable either, but Kevin was Matt’s first relationship, and he didn’t want to fuck it up.
He raised his head. He remembered shopping. And his memory about the cop and Brian. The guy who had gone off with Brian was definitely Fae. He’d been looking for Matt in the park, but Matt’s magic kept him covered like camouflage. In the beginning, even Kevin had thought Sam was king and Matt just Sam’s protector. To most Fae, Matt read as human. The idea he would be the king was straight lunacy.
Kevin was frowning. Right. Matt had passed out. His body had taken over once he’d blacked out and forced himself to breathe. Now his throat was only a little cold. His head pounded like the brain matter in his skull had been forced though a fine wire sieve and just scraped back into the cavity.
Matt put his head back down at the same time Kevin turned off the overhead light. That reduced the pain by about half.
“Can you talk? Are you all right? What happened? Was it an attack?” Kevin didn’t pause after each question.
Matt wanted to press his finger against Kevin’s lips, but that would mean trying to find them with his head down. “It was just cold. I’m fine.” His voice was scratchy. Matt thought about wanting a glass of water, but Kevin was already pouring it. “Don’t run the water cold.”
“What happened?” Kevin asked, handing him the glass. The chill in Matt’s throat was already receding.
“Yeah. Sorry,” Matt said. He took the glass and pressed it against his forehead. “I uh…got cold. Like a blast of freezing.”
“Where was your jacket?” Kevin asked.
“I gave it to a guy I knew from the park,” Matt said. “He didn’t have anything, and it was so cold. I thought… It seemed like the thing to do. Don’t be mad.”
Kevin sat down next to him. “Do I look mad?”
Matt touched Kevin’s cheek, just to be sure. “No.” His face didn’t have a hint of the darkness it got when Kevin was upset over something. Matt had tried pushing him childishly to see if there was something he could say or do to make Kevin mad, but Kevin only got angry over people who had hired him to make their business statistically luckier but wanted to draw out the rest of the payment through the court. Kevin always made the business better than it had been without his services, and he could prove it. It was part of his talent as a Fae prince and one of the few Fae who had learned how to capitalize on their talents in the real world.