The Woodjin: Blue Moon by Lbilover

Originally written as a request fic. The two requesters wanted 'The promised Jacuzzi gets installed at the Pines home. (The more adult the rating on this one, the better.)' and 'stroppy Elijah, exam-nerves Sean, steam-room, pedicles ... you see where I'm going with this?'

blue moon
blue moon

Sean had had it all planned: first a romantic dinner by candlelight, after which they'd ring in the New Year in totally decadent fashion. With the full moon shining down from above—and no ordinary full moon at that, but a blue moon, the second full moon of the month—there was no need to stay inside and watch the glittery Times Square ball descend on the TV. They would sit outside under the stars, basking in the warmth of the brand-spanking-new Jacuzzi that had been his Christmas present to Elijah, toast each other with a superb '75 Dom Perignon Sean had bought just for the occasion, and then get down to some serious celebrating, the kind that didn't require streamers, balloons or noisemakers, only slippery-wet naked bodies, inventive minds and willing hearts.

Unfortunately, due to the (welcome, of course, but still…) presence of various and sundry family members in their home over the holidays, those slippery-wet naked, inventive and willing bodies, minds and hearts had not yet had a single opportunity to explore the myriad possibilities for lovemaking that the Jacuzzi offered. But the last of their overnight visitors, Debbie and Mack, had been sent safely on their way the previous evening, and Sean was now free to make full amends to Elijah—and then some—for his majorly sucky Jacuzzi-giving timing.

Only, it didn't quite work out the way he’d planned. Life seldom did, in his experience.

The call came as he finished lighting the last tall bayberry taper in its pewter holder. He was about to shake out the match and step back to admire the effect of the warm golden candlelight on the simple but elegant place settings, when a sense of urgency slammed through him with as much force as if he’d been punched in the chest by Muhammed Ali. It literally robbed him of breath for a few agonizing heartbeats, and then a wordless clamoring took its place, loud as a car alarm blaring in a city street at 3 a.m.

Sean stood paralyzed, not with shock, because he knew exactly what was happening, but with dismay. Not now. Oh god, please, not now. Not ever. Sean wasn’t sure if the last two words came from him, or were simply an echo of every Woodjin’s mate who had made the same silent, desperate plea over the centuries.

“Shit!” The forgotten match singed his fingertips; Sean dropped it in his water glass where it sizzled and went out. He quickly blew out the half dozen candles he’d just lit, and then he was moving, across the kitchen, into the mudroom where he snagged his blaze orange jacket and shrugged into it, and then outside. He didn’t bother to turn on the floodlights; the blue moon’s brilliance was adequate to illuminate the yard without artificial assistance. All the while, the clamoring continued apace, not diminishing in intensity but growing stronger and more insistent, until the din threatened to make his aching skull explode.

Elijah had already emerged from the barn, where he’d been feeding the animals their evening meal, with Maggie trotting at his heels. He was removing his red plaid flannel shirt as he walked, ruthlessly yanking the still-buttoned cuffs over his hands.

“Give the shirt to me,” Sean said, forcing the words through stiff lips as they met in the center of the yard. Wordlessly Elijah did then crossed his hands at the hem of his white tee and with one swift, lithe motion removed it, too, and handed it to Sean. Bare to the waist, his moon-silvered skin goose pimpled from the cold, Elijah knelt on the frozen ground and calmly unlaced his work boots. His fingers never faltered, even though Sean knew the same car alarm siren was going off inside him, but with greater force and intensity—and one big difference.

“Can you see anything?” he asked. Elijah had described the calls to him as a slide projector on fast-forward, a sequence of rapid-fire images flashing through his brain, telling him where he needed to go and offering fleeting glimpses of what awaited him, but no more.

Elijah toed off his boots. “A car—blue, I think—and two people… a man and woman… Can’t tell what’s wrong. But they’re in trouble.” Socks, jeans, boxers… Mere seconds later, he was stripped naked. His eyes—already distant, already focused somewhere else, somewhere in the vastness of the pineland that was his to protect—met Sean’s.

There was so much that could be said at this moment, but only two things that must be said.

“Be careful, Woodjin. I love you.”

“I’ll try,” Elijah softly replied, the best promise he could offer, given who and what he was. “I love you, too.” The unspoken truth, buoyed by the fates of every Woodjin who had gone before Elijah, hovered between them: this could be the last time they ever spoke those words to each other. For a moment longer their gazes held. “My blessing on you, Sean, now and always,” Elijah said, and then he tilted his face up to the star-strewn sky, and his eyelids slowly closed, long spiky lashes casting faint moonshadows on his pale cheeks.

A telltale vertical line furrowed his smooth brow as he concentrated, gathering every atom of his strength and will in preparation for his transformation. The pines scent around him intensified, sharp in Sean’s nostrils; the Lenape tattoo low on his right hip began to glow red as a brand just removed from the fire, and the silver ring on his right hand pulsated with an eerie bluish light.

Reluctantly, Sean stepped back a few paces, giving Elijah space. He was peripherally aware of Maggie moving to his side, but he couldn’t, wouldn’t take his gaze from Elijah, not when he had mere seconds left to memorize him anew, to score deeper the lines already graven into his mind, heart and soul. The piercing cold stung his eyes, but he refused even to blink.

Then the air began to move, the improbable shifting and melting blurring Elijah’s naked form so that Sean might have been viewing it through a shimmering curtain of falling water. The air crackled and hummed with energy, as behind that distorting curtain Elijah’s transformation into his other self began. A dazzling light like a million fireflies converging in the yard sprang up; shielding his eyes, Sean watched for as long as he could bear it, until the light’s brilliance blinded him and he was forced at last to close his eyes. A ruddy glow played against his lids for unknown seconds before finally diminishing and fading away.

Sean opened his eyes and his breath caught and his heart clenched almost painfully, as if squeezed in someone’s fist. The white stag was never less than magnificent, but bathed in the enchanting radiance of the rare blue moon, which might be shining this New Year’s Eve for his glorification alone, he seemed more than ever a mystical, magical being who had stepped straight out of Sean’s childhood fantasies and into the waking world. But he was no fairy tale creature fashioned of polished ebony and ivory, this stag, he was a being of blood and bone and purpose, and his entire body quivered with the need to fulfill the imperative laid on him.

“Go,” Sean whispered, though every instinct he possessed screamed at him to say, ‘Stay, please stay, don’t leave me’. He couldn’t tell if the stag heard his whispered word, but with a snort as harsh and abrupt as a pistol-crack, the stag abruptly wheeled on his haunches and sprang away, kicking up the sandy soil as he dug in with his cloven hooves. A few powerful, ground covering strides brought him to the eaves of the forest, and then he was gone.

Sean remained unmoving, staring at the spot where the stag had disappeared until a passing cloud obscured the moon, dousing its light as effectively as if a shade had been drawn. The resultant darkness seemed to creep into his very soul, and he shivered, pushing away the instinctive thought that it might be a bad omen. Maggie’s anxious meow as she twined in and out of his legs brought Sean back to himself. His hands were fisted in Elijah’s discarded clothes so tightly they were cramping; with an effort, he relaxed his death-grip, but he raised the soft, faded red plaid flannel to his cold-numbed nose and breathed deeply of the scents of pine sap, woodsmoke and dried grasses.

“I miss him already, Maggie,” he said, lowering the shirt, and it wasn’t only Elijah’s physical presence that he meant. The painful wordless clamoring had vanished, for the Woodjin had answered his call, but the silence left behind by the severing of that connection to his lover was even more painful. The only way to cope, he’d learned, was to keep busy, and that’s what he intended to do.

His first stop was the barn, for he doubted Elijah had had time to finish feeding Sonny, Cher, Paco and Dolly. He tugged the heavy sliding door open and Maggie slipped inside, no doubt glad to get in out of the cold. The building might be unheated, but compared to outdoors it was a warm and welcoming haven. He closed the door and stood for a minute blinking as his eyes adjusted to the harsh glare of the overhead light that Elijah had left on. The first thing his eyes fell on was an unopened bale of hay in the middle of the barn aisle and coiled next to it, like a somnolent Black Racer snake, a heavy-duty black rubber hose.

Four pairs of liquid brown eyes followed Sean as he moved down the row of stalls, checking to see if the animals been grained. They had, but the tense and worried atmosphere had infected them, too, and the sweet feed and oats in their feed tubs were almost untouched—an unheard of development for such enthusiastic eaters.

“Everything’s all right,” Sean said, trying to sound confident and in control, as if he were addressing a conference room full of investors uneasy at a recent downturn in the stock market, but his voice sounded shrill to his own ears. He gentled it, adding more quietly, “Elijah would want you to eat.” It wasn’t his words but the tone that got through to them. Sonny moved first, straw rustling as he went to his feed tub and shoved his muzzle into the grain. He was followed in short order by his stable mates, and contented munching sounds heralded the return of normalcy to this one small corner of the Woodjin’s world.

Sean deposited Elijah’s clothes on a metal folding chair in the tack room then retrieved the hose and finished topping off the water buckets. When he was done, he turned off the water, and restored the hose to its holder on the wall—carefully draping it in neat, even loops. Then he expertly freed the fragrant alfalfa hay from its baling twine with his knee, and separated it into individual flakes that he distributed to the animals.

Last of all, he got down the push broom from its hook on the wall and swept the wide cement aisle with meticulous care. He found the work surprisingly satisfying and the atmosphere inside the barn, so cozy and homey, soothing. In fact, he’d grown to love caring for the animals as much as he’d grown to love the animals themselves, although picking out the platter-sized hooves of Sonny and Cher still left him somewhat unnerved, even with Elijah there to assure him, in a voice trembling with suppressed laughter, that it was perfectly safe and they had no intention of turning his feet into pancakes.

Elijah… God, what he wouldn’t give to hear his infectious giggle right now. Sean focused on his sweeping, till not a single shred of hay or stray oat was in evidence.

He was tempted to linger when he was done, take solace from the animals’ uncomplicated companionship, but there was the aborted New Year’s Eve dinner to deal with, and Maggie was clearly impatient with his dawdling, to judge by her stiff-legged strut back and forth by the barn door.

“Okay, I’m all done,” said Sean as he hung up the broom. “Just let me get Elijah’s clothes and we’ll go back to the house.”

Rocky was waiting on the kitchen counter for them when they entered the kitchen, and he immediately leapt onto Sean’s shoulder and burrowed against his neck. “He’ll be okay, Rocky,” Sean soothed. “I promise.” But the squirrel wasn’t in a mood for any half-baked promises. With a short, sharp, don’t-bullshit-me tug on the short hairs over Sean’s ear, he abandoned Sean for the refrigerator top, and refused to take the peanut Sean held up as a peace offering.

“I’m sorry, Rocky,” Sean said, pocketing the peanut. “Trust me—I’m no happier about it than you are.”

For answer, Rocky presented the back of his bottlebrush tail. Stubborn Piney squirrel, Sean thought, a reluctant smile curving his lips. But his smile vanished when he turned away and was confronted by the table, so hopefully set for an intimate New Year’s Eve dinner. The sight seemed to mock him, but he told himself that his and Elijah’s evening wasn’t ruined yet. What did it matter if they ate later than originally planned? The vegetable lasagna was covered with foil and would keep in the oven, the salad mixings hadn’t yet been combined or the loaf of Italian bread on the cutting board sliced, nor had the chocolate soufflés been removed from the fridge to warm to room temperature before baking.

But none of this made it any easier to shut off the oven or return the greens to the crisper. It smacked of defeat, somehow.

Shit. Shit shit shit.

You promised Elijah you wouldn’t do this.

I know I did. But damn it, I wanted tonight to be perfect for him.

Sean rested his forehead against the cool enamel surface of the refrigerator, torn between crying and punching the inoffensive door with his fists. Rocky, chattering softly, dropped onto his shoulder again and curled around his neck like a living stole, something he only did when he was settling in for a while. Sean drew a shaky breath and straightened.

“Had a change of heart, huh?” he said, remembering a similar occasion when Rocky had lightened his worries with an unexpectedvolte face. “Or is this a case of misery loving company?” He fished in the front pocket of his jeans for the previously rejected peanut and offered it again. This time Rocky accepted it, turning it over and over in his small paws before cracking it open.

While Rocky busied himself with the peanut, dropping bits of shell all down the front of Sean’s shirt in the process, Sean went to the cupboard next to the sink and got out the tea canister. He added several spoonfuls of herbs to the blue willow teapot that was kept at the ready on the counter, and then filled the kettle with cold water and set it to boil on the stove. He always prepared a pot of the herb tea ahead of time, as Elijah would need it to warm and sustain him after his transformation. But truthfully, he could use a dish himself. Badly. Funny, the bitter tasting brew had grown on him, though he still couldn’t drink it without a fair amount of honey to leaven the bitterness.

Sean waited by the stove while the water heated, listening to the ping of the stainless steel as it expanded and the roiling sounds as the water began to boil. He’d have to get some medical supplies together, just to be on the safe side, but that wouldn’t take long. What to do after that was the question. How to kill—bad choice of word, Sean, he berated himself—pass the time until Elijah returned?

He could call Katie or Hannah or Ian or Crystal. Any one or all of them would drop whatever they were doing, even on New Year’s Eve, and haul ass out to the cabin to be with him. But this vigil, he’d come to understand, was for the Woodjin’s mate to endure alone, like a sea captain’s wife on her widow’s walk, searching with desperate eyes for the first glimpse of white on the far horizon. And he had Maggie, Rocky and Fred, and although some might question his sanity for thinking a cat, a squirrel and a box turtle were adequate company at a time like this, well, they’d be wrong.

The television was always an option, but raucous New Year’s Eve celebrations broadcast from ballrooms around the country were not exactly what he wanted to watch when his lover was somewhere out there in the cold and dark risking his life, and the 24 hour news stations didn’t hold the allure they once had. He still kept informed, but it was the real life, everyday concerns of the communities in the pines that mattered most to him now, and above all else, the young man who was their heart and soul.

All roads led, inevitably, back to Elijah.

The kettle’s shrill whistle interrupted his unproductive thoughts, and Sean shut off the burner. The best answer was schoolwork, although he’d been looking forward to this rare day off from hitting the books. Even during the winter break, he’d kept at it. His medical school class was filled with people ten years’ younger and ten times brighter than he was, and he was determined to work ten times as hard to make up for his shortcomings.

After filling the teapot and setting it to steep on an iron trivet, Sean found the first-aid kit, stopped in his study for some reading material, and on the way back to the kitchen gave a lift to Fred, who was scrape-scrape-thudding his ponderous way down the hall. Fred might move slowly, Sean thought sentimentally, but he had a heart of gold.

He set Fred down very carefully on the floor by the kitchen table, fixed himself a dish of tea, covered the pot with a cozy to keep it warm, then sat down and opened Wheater’s Functional Histology. But as the minutes ticked past with agonizing slowness, a part of his mind was elsewhere, seeking for some sign, however dim and far-off, of Elijah. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but the last couple times Elijah had been called, Sean believed he had felt something, some tug on the tenuous thread that connected them, and it gave him hope that eventually he’d be able to sense Elijah even after his call was answered. Right now, their connection was frustratingly like an ancient 28K dial-up modem, static-y, balky and intermittent. If only, Sean thought with wry amusement, he could upgrade it to a T-1 line.

Tonight the modem was acting balkier than ever, and Sean found himself more and more distracted from the chapter on cell cycle and replication as he tried to open his mind and senses and hear. When he found himself rereading the same paragraph for the fourth time, he gave up trying and closed the book with a sigh. Absent-mindedly he rubbed at his left thigh, which had started tingling with an uncomfortable pins and needles sensation. Then he let out a startled yelp as the pins and needles morphed into a red-hot poker jabbing into his quadriceps. What the…?

Maggie had been sprawled on the adjacent chair observing Sean through eyes narrowed to amber-gold slits, clearly aware of his mental turmoil. But at precisely the same moment that Sean felt the stabbing pain, she sat up, her rust and black fur standing on end, pinned her ears back and yowled. The ear-piercing wail startled the shit out of the napping Rocky, who went flying from Sean’s shoulder to his secure spot on the fridge, and Fred, who abruptly withdrew his head and clamped his hinged plastron shut.

Oh fuck. Oh fuck. It was Elijah. Something had happened to Elijah.

Sean pushed back his chair and stood up, grabbing for the table’s edge as his left leg buckled. A haze of pain clouded his mind, and he bit down on his lower lip to keep from crying out again. There’s nothing really wrong with your leg, he reminded himself. It’s only phantom pain. You can work through it.

But phantom pain or not, if the intensity level of what he was now experiencing was any accurate indication, then Elijah must be in agony. It was by far the worst Sean had felt since that first time, when Elijah had been shot. Images from that night flashed through his mind—the stag resting on his side in the snow while his life’s blood stained it red, Elijah lying in his arms, pale as death. Panic started to bubble up inside him, and he knew that if the wait until now had been difficult, what was coming next was going to be orders of magnitude worse. Then Maggie jumped onto the table. After that initial, spine-chilling yowl she had quieted, and looking at her, cautious optimism started edging out the panic Sean felt. She seemed calm and composed, and that gave him reason to hope that perhaps the injury wasn’t as serious as it had at first seemed. He trusted her sixth sense completely, having born witness numerous times now to the almost uncanny bond she and the Woodjin shared.

And as if to confirm what he intuited from Maggie’s demeanor, the throbbing pain in his left thigh started to subside to a more tolerable level. Of course it was possible that Elijah was consciously masking the pain in an attempt to hide it from them, but even the Woodjin, as stoic as he was, could only do so much.

Too little, too late, Elwood, Sean thought. I know you’re hurting.

Maggie butted her head into his chest, meowing softly.

“It’s not as bad as I thought? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?” He gathered Maggie to him and hugged her, taking comfort from her warmth, her rasping purr, and her strength of spirit, so remarkable in one small cat. “Oh Maggie, what would I do without you?” he murmured, and then answered his own question, humorously, “Have a major panic attack, that’s what.” She meowed in obvious agreement, and he managed a laugh. “Come on, let’s go wait outside.” Usually he met Elijah by the back door when she alerted him to the stag’s return, but not this time. Not this time.

Sean dressed carefully—jacket, scarf, hat, gloves, insulated L.L. Bean boots—and took with him the heavy mag flashlight that had literally saved his life on a former occasion. He hoped and prayed that it wouldn’t be necessary to go into the woods to look for Elijah, but he was ready to do so again if Maggie thought it necessary—and he’d be much better prepared than the last time he’d made such a journey. A knapsack that Elijah teasingly referred to as Sean’s ‘Woodjin rescue kit’, sat in readiness 24/7 by the back door, and it would only take a few seconds to grab it and go. Sean flipped on the yard floodlights before stepping outside. If Elijah was at all disoriented, he thought, the brightness of the lights might help to guide him home.

Too anxious and keyed-up to remain in one place, Sean prowled the shadowy perimeter of the yard with Maggie at his side, careful to stay inside the protective ward… in case. He let the flashlight play over the pine trees, ghostly sentinels with outstretched arms. The wind was kicking up, rustling their branches so that they might have been whispering to each other in some ancient, long forgotten tongue. On a fine day, with the Woodjin at his side as they hiked through the woods, Sean found the sound fascinating, and amused himself with speculating on what they might be saying. Right now, though, it was unsettling as hell, and he wished they’d keep their secrets to themselves.

Elijah, where are you? Get the fuck back here before I have a nervous breakdown, would you?

Then Maggie’s rasping purr started, sputtering then catching as if a miniature pull cord engine was concealed inside her feline frame. Sean’s gaze shot to her; her ears stood at attention, and she was staring fixedly at a gap in the trees perhaps fifty yards to their right, source of one of the innumerable sand trails that crisscrossed the pines like tributaries of a great river.

“Elijah?” he asked tensely, but Maggie was already streaking away across the yard, her fluffy black and rust tail streaming behind her. Sean went in hot pursuit, the cold searing his lungs as he sprinted after her. He’d covered perhaps half the distance when the most heart-stoppingly beautiful, the most flat out fucking fantastic sight in the entire world appeared, stepping out of the trees into the moonlight. Sean’s heart gave a joyous bound even as a sob was torn from his aching throat and tears of relief spilled down his cheeks.

The white stag was back and he was safe.

The emotions that swept over Sean were so overpowering that he forgot all about the phantom pain and what it might mean. He fairly flew the remaining distance and flung his arms around the stag’s neck in a stranglehold.

“You’re back, oh thank god, you’re back,” Sean choked out, his tears soaking into the stag’s ivory fur. A velvety muzzle bristling with whiskers tickled the nape of his neck, and then a warm gust of breath blew down the back of his shirt. He gave a shaky huff of laughter and looked up into the stag’s blue eyes, midnight dark and soft with love. “How’s your leg?” A totally rhetorical question under the circumstances, so Sean stepped back and aimed the mag at the stag’s left hind leg. His momentary elation evaporated. “Shit,” he exclaimed in dismay.

Bright scarlet blood was welling up and trickling from four parallel diagonal slashes that scored the stag’s hindquarters. Sean recognized that handiwork. The Devil’s work. “You’d better transform, Elijah. We need to get you inside asap.”

The stag snorted and backed away, moving with unaccustomed awkwardness. Sean could see that he was avoiding putting his full weight on the wounded leg, and wondered how severe the damage was. After all, the Devil’s claws were sharp enough to cut like a razor. Well, he thought, as the familiar hum and crackle signaled the start of the stag’s transformation, he’d be better able to assess the injuries in a few minutes. But as on a previous occasion, they were some of the longest minutes of his life, and he barely waited for the dazzling light to fade before opening his eyes.

The first words out of Elijah’s mouth were, predictably, “I’m fine.”

“You have a very strange definition of the word ‘fine’, Woodjin,” Sean said grimly.

Elijah was balancing on one leg. His face was paler than usual and lines of pain bracketed his mouth. And no wonder, for on the human Woodjin, who had no protective layer of fur, the gashes looked even worse, scoring his thigh on a diagonal that ended just above his knee. Scarlet blood was welling up and trickling down his calf and shin, and dripping onto the ground. Sean didn’t give Elijah a chance to argue, he just swooped in and scooped him up in his arms, thinking fleetingly that poor Katie would once again have to work a miracle on the blaze orange down jacket that had been Warren Wood’s.

“Sean, I can walk,” protested Elijah, also predictably.

“Tell it to someone who might actually believe you.” Sean started back to the house, walking as fast as he dared.


He halted and looked down at Elijah, into those fathomless blue eyes that were so like and yet so unlike those of the white stag, eyes that at the moment weren’t soft with love, but held a definite hint of storminess. “Don’t you ever give up arguing? Fortunately I know the perfect way to stop you.” He bent his head and covered Elijah’s mouth with his.

The kiss was meant to be brief, no more than a distraction, but it lingered and deepened as the pent-up emotions of the past hours burst free of restraint. Elijah’s arm tightened around Sean’s neck and the pines tang grew stronger and more intoxicating, swirling around them as their tongues met and mated and their hearts synchronized, beating as one. How long the kiss would have lasted, with all else forgotten save the joy of reunion, Sean had no idea, but Maggie finally took matters into her own capable paws.

“Mrrowrr,” she said emphatically, and Elijah giggled against Sean’s lips.

Sean lifted his head, breathing hard. “What did she say? Get a room?”

Elijah giggled again, sorely testing Sean’s shaky restraint, and said, “More or less.”

“Sorry, Maggie,” Sean apologized, and he started walking again. Searching for distraction, his thoughts turned to the couple that Elijah had set out to rescue. “Want to fill me in on what happened to those people?” he said.

“They were on their way to a New Year’s eve party when their car got a flat tire,” Elijah replied. “They changed it no problem, but the car wouldn’t start when they got back in.”

“The Devil?” But Sean already knew the answer.

“Uh-huh. The same old trick—they followed his light into the woods.”

Sean couldn’t repress a shudder, even though it was through the Devil and his trickster ways that he had met the white stag and the love of his life. “They’re okay?”

“Yeah,” Elijah said, touching his cheek, “they’re fine, Sean, just shaken up. I got them back to their car, and the last I saw, they were highballing down the road without looking back.”

But they will carry the memory of you and what you did for them with them for the rest of their lives… and be the better for it, Sean thought, knowing that Elijah would never believe it, that he never saw himself as others saw him, or understood the profoundness of his effect on those he rescued.

“And what about you?” he said.

Elijah grimaced. “My foot slipped.”

He didn’t elaborate, but Sean didn’t really need to hear more. He’d been witness to a battle between the white stag and his deadly enemy, and the ferocity of that encounter wasn’t something he was likely ever to forget. Besides, when it came down to it, the only thing that mattered was that Elijah had emerged the victor, and more or less intact. Still, his arms held Elijah a little closer as he covered the remaining distance to the house, and he was beyond grateful for the protective wards around the property that kept the Devil out.

Sean maneuvered them into the mudroom, and set Elijah down. A faded but warm blue flannel bathrobe was hanging at the ready on one of the hooks by the door. He helped Elijah into it, and then with his arm supportively around Elijah while he hopped on his right foot, guided him to a chair at the kitchen table. An agitated Rocky wasted no time in leaping onto Elijah’s shoulder and giving him an earful in his inimitable style. Sean picked up the more phlegmatic Fred and handed him to Elijah. The Woodjin touched noses with his box turtle and they exchanged some meaningful eye blinks.

Sean was blinking rather fast himself, if not for the same reason.


“Oh gollykeeper, Sean, do you have to call Dr. Ian?” Elijah asked plaintively.

“Yeah, I’m afraid I do.” After carefully cleaning away the obscuring blood from Elijah’s thigh, wincing for Elijah when he wouldn’t wince for himself, Sean had assessed the wounds and realized that he was going to have to call in the big gun, Ian Holm. The middle two of the four gashes were gaping wide enough to require sutures he was pretty sure, and that was sadly beyond his capabilities—yet. He pulled out his iPhone and unlocked it. “I’m not taking any chances, Elijah, and it’s as much as my life is worth with Ian if I do.”

Elijah sighed and leaned his head in his hand. “I hate to ruin another holiday for him and Martha.”

“While I’m sure they’d rather you have left that couple to the tender mercies of the Devil so they could enjoy an uninterrupted glass of champagne, they’ll just have to bear up under the disappointment.”

“Sean!” Elijah exclaimed, but the corners of his mouth twitched as if he was trying not to smile.

“Stop grumbling and finish your tea,” Sean replied, finding Ian’s number in his contact list and tapping it with his forefinger. “You’re still too cold. We’ve got to get your body temperature up.”

For a wonder, Elijah obediently drank his tea while Sean spoke to the doctor, who picked up on the first ring as if he’d somehow known he’d be hearing from them. Holidays were definitely a busy time for the Woodjin.

“Ian, it’s Sean. Can you come out and take a look at Elijah’s leg? He’s had a slight…accident.” He kept the information to a minimum, knowing Ian would read between the lines; the habit of protecting the Woodjin was already deeply ingrained in him.

“I’m on my way,” Ian replied tersely, and hung up.

Elijah set the mug on the table and sighed again, disconsolately. “I feel terrible, Sean,” he said, his eyes on the artfully arranged china, crystal, linen and pewter at the other end of the table. “Not just about Dr. Ian and Martha, but you. You went to so much trouble to make everything perfect for tonight.”

Sean pocketed the phone, shrugged and got to his feet. “Known risk, Woodjin.” He picked up Elijah’s empty mug and went to the counter to refill it. “Besides, we can still have our dinner. It’s just going to be a little delayed, that’s all.”

He returned with the mug, handed it to Elijah and studied him closely. A little color had crept back into his cheeks, and the lines bracketing his mouth were gone, no doubt due to the tea; it had willow bark in it, which helped take the edge off the pain. Sean had lightly covered the gashes with a sterile dressing, and though some red showed through, the bleeding had definitely slowed.

It was tempting to think, especially with Elijah looking so drop-dead gorgeous in the deep blue flannel that contrasted perfectly with his creamy skin and turned his eyes the color of sapphires, that dinner wasn’t the only thing they could share later, after Ian had sewed him up. But Sean knew it wasn’t fated that they should make love outside in the Jacuzzi under the blue moon, that come midnight, Elijah would be in bed and out like a light, and that was okay. Because right now there were two people out there who were only alive to see another year due to the unfathomable courage of one extraordinary young man, and what better omen for the New Year could there be than that?


Elijah was in a bad mood. As unprecedented a state as this was for him, even more unprecedented was the cause of his bad mood: Sean.

Grouchy as a black bear prodded awake from his winter hibernation, he prowled around the kitchen, studiously ignoring Maggie who was sprawled on the counter, her eyes following him with a question in their amber depths. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand what was bothering him, for as always, she did; but her solution was simple and straightforward: go find Sean, drag him away from his studies, by the scruff of his neck if necessary, toss him in the Jacuzzi and climb in after him. Just do it, her look said, as if she were a spokescat for Nike. What is the problem?

Only it wasn’t that simple or straightforward, no matter what Maggie thought. And the problem was that Sean had a histology exam tomorrow, and he needed quiet, space and solitude so he could prepare for it. He was in his usual state of pre-exam nerves, and Elijah had come to understand that anyone as driven as Sean was to excel in everything he did was bound to fret and stress and agonize, even when it was clear that he was going to do well. It wasn’t the Piney way, but then, few Pineys had become the CEOs of multi-billion dollar corporations either. Sean was light years more relaxed now than when he’d come to the pines, but at his core he would always be driven to succeed, and passionate about those things that mattered most to him. Like Elijah.

Which, of course, was the heart of the problem right now—Sean’s passion, or the current lack thereof in Elijah’s life.

Elijah went to the refrigerator, opened it, stared morosely at the same contents he’d examined less than five minutes earlier, and shut the door. Not even the gleaming bottles of Shiner Bock on the middle shelf held their usual appeal. He didn’t want beer. He didn’t want Tastykakes. Right now the only thing that would hit the spot and scratch his itch was Sean.

And did he ever have a fearsome itch, one that had nothing and everything to do with the spidery pink scars decorating his left thigh. Dr. Ian had removed Elijah’s sutures that very morning, and declared that he was satisfied with how the wound had healed in the two weeks since a misstep had allowed the Devil’s razor-tipped claws to slice his leg open.

Two weeks! They had felt more like two years because he and Sean hadn’t had sex—real sex, that is—even once during them, per doctor’s orders. Two of the cuts had been deep and involved the underlying muscle, and Dr. Ian had, as usual, been blunt and to the point, making no attempt to spare Elijah’s blushes as he enumerated the many things Elijah wasn’t allowed to do until he was fully healed.

“You do want to have full use of that leg again, I assume?” he’d growled when Elijah protested. “Or would you prefer the Devil to have the advantage?”

Sean, the traitor, had supported Dr. Ian, and with truly superhuman determination resisted Elijah’s best efforts to persuade him that what Dr. Ian didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him and his leg would be perfectly okay. Consequently, all they’d shared were some kisses, some cuddles and some unsatisfactory hand jobs—for the first week, that is, until Sean, his defenses showing signs of crumbling, had declared a total sex moratorium, lest matters escalate out of control. Elijah, of course, had been all for letting matters escalate out of control, but with Sean already in a state of nerves over his upcoming exam, he hadn’t had the heart to press his advantage.

But as if all that weren’t bad enough, Dr. Ian’s orders had also included a stricture against Elijah using the Jacuzzi that had been Sean’s Christmas present to him. “There’s too much risk of infection, Elijah,” he’d said, beetling his bushy eyebrows. “A shower is one thing; soaking in a hot tub is another.”

Sean had once again sided with Dr. Ian, ignoring Elijah’s indignant stare, and a repeat of the never-to-be-forgotten Jacuzzi sex in Sean’s Trump Tower suite was beginning to seem like an unattainable dream. Flying solo in the shower was a very poor second best, not only for him but for Sean, too. Elijah had had no qualms about pumping the ever-reliable Fred for information about what his partner was getting up to in the bathroom of late.

And now that Elijah’s leg was finally stitch-free and he was desperate for some Jacuzzi action—heck any action—Sean was holed up in his office studying for an exam.

Sometimes having a lover who was in medical school frankly sucked.

Elijah threw himself into one of the kitchen chairs and sat in sulky silence with his arms crossed on his chest. His slouching posture would call a scold down on his head from Katie if she could see him—Elijah, sit up! You’re the Woodjin!—but for a few minutes he indulged the inner brat he had rarely let loose as a child, wallowing in disappointment until he grew thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Considering that before meeting Sean he’d been resigned to a solitary life without a mate, to be whining now because he and Sean had to go easy on the sex for two measly weeks showed exactly how spoiled and selfish he had become. I want to have my cake and eat it, too, he thought, but this analogy immediately conjured images of Sean in the swirling, steamy water of the Jacuzzi, naked and aroused: the cake on which Elijah was about to feast.

Elijah shifted in his chair, trying to banish the erotic slideshow from his brain, knowing it would only lead to an uncomfortable hard-on and yet another furtive trip to the bathroom to relieve it. It was no good, though. The truth was, he was horny as a stag in rut, to the point that he almost wished another stag would appear in the yard and trumpet a challenge so he could transform and go butt heads with it and let off some steam in a battle over his mate. Which was beyond ridiculous, of course, because he had no competition for Sean’s affection, but the stag side of his nature didn’t particularly care. If it couldn’t get sex, locking antlers with an imaginary rival was the next best thing.

In fact, his desperation had reached such heights that yesterday in the shower Elijah had tried to stimulate his pedicles with one soap-slippery hand while he stroked himself with the other. He’d become addicted to the intensely pleasurable sensations that stroking them aroused, but it was clear that to get those sensations required Sean’s magic touch, and if Sean didn’t provide some serious pedicle action soon, he thought he just might go stark raving mad.

His unhappy gaze found the faint outline of the Jacuzzi that now occupied one half of the wooden deck on the other side of the sliding glass door. It was filled, heated, treated, and only needed the cover removed for its maiden voyage to get underway. But the thought of using it without Sean, without making love to his mate under the jewel-bright stars on this perfect pines winter night, without drinking the celebratory bottle of champagne that had been waiting to be uncorked since Christmas, was beyond depressing.


Elijah started as Maggie jumped onto the kitchen table and stalked over to him, her fluffy rust and black tail flicking in a manner that meant she was seriously pissed. She’d had, he could tell, about enough of his sulking and self-pity.

Elijah let out a pent-up sigh. “I’m sorry, Mags,” he said, sitting up and massaging the back of his neck which had developed a crick from resting in such an awkward position. “I know I’m being an ungrateful jerk.”

Yes, you are.

That brought a reluctant grin. Maggie was never one to mince words. So, you’re still voting for the ‘hogtie Sean and throw him in the Jacuzzi’ plan?

It’s what he wants.

Oh? Are you reading his mind, too, now?

But Maggie didn’t do sarcasm. He needs you. He studies too much. His brain is tired.

Elijah sat up even straighter, his grumpiness vanishing as fast as a snapping turtle when a progger was nearby. “Really?” he said aloud.

Yes! Maggie was emphatic.

“Gollykeeper.” He eyed Maggie suspiciously. How do you know Sean’s brain is tired?

I was right about you going to New York, wasn’t I? Maggie replied with irrefutable logic. It was her trump card, and she knew it. Now go get Sean. Considering the conversation at an end, she bent her head and began to groom the fur on her left shoulder industriously with her sandpaper tongue.

But Elijah didn’t move right away. Instead he drummed his fingers on the tabletop, his eyes narrowed as he contemplated the Jacuzzi, thought about his never-to-be-forgotten visit to New York and certain arrangements he’d made, and then he smiled with satisfaction. No, not just yet, Maggie. There’s some stuff I need to do first, and then I’ll need you to go get Sean and bring him out here.

What are you planning? Maggie asked, aborting her grooming. If she were human, she’d have been raising a quizzical eyebrow.

Elijah flushed. He shared an awful lot with Maggie, but not everything. Never you mind. Remember that old saw about curiosity and the cat?

Maggie snorted. Made up by a human, of course. She jumped into Elijah’s lap and butted her head against him, purring loudly. I love you, Elijah. It makes me sad when you are unhappy.

“Well, I’m definitely not unhappy now,” Elijah said, hugging her. What would I do without you, hmm?

I have no idea, she replied, a spark of humor lighting her amber eyes. You do take a lot of looking after, Elijah.

Elijah laughed with genuine amusement. I’ll try to do better, I promise. “But right now,” he set Maggie on the floor and stood up, filled with purpose, “I’ve got preparations to make.”


Sean pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and closed his tired eyes, shutting out the blurry image on his computer monitor. Stupid. He was doing exactly what every article on test taking advised against: cramming at the last minute. But dammit, it wasn’t good enough simply to pass his histology exam tomorrow; he wanted to ace it, to nail identifying every damn slide under every damn microscope in the lab.

And besides, if he quit studying now, could he honestly say that it was because his brain was fatigued and needed a break? Or was it because a tiny fork-tailed imp on his left shoulder (no devils need apply for the position these days) kept reminding him that Elijah had gotten his stitches removed that morning and was now cleared to have sex?

Elijah was naturally unhappy with him for supporting Ian’s ‘no sex until the sutures are out’ dictum, but it wasn’t as if it had been a picnic for Sean, sharing a bed with temptation incarnate and having to resist him. In fact, he sometimes thought he finally deserved that hero label that Katie wanted to slap on him, considering that Temptation Incarnate had done his level best to persuade Sean, both verbally and in non-verbal ways that had tested Sean’s restraint to the breaking point, that what Ian Holm didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.

But while it was true, as Elijah had taken immense pains to point out, that they’d gotten away with that once before, after Elijah was shot, the circumstances had been different then, the stakes much higher with an impending separation of god knew how long staring them in the face. Plus, it had been their first time and their desperation level had been totally off the charts.

Yeah right. Sean fiddled with a yellow No. 2 pencil lying next to the mouse pad, and even the innocuous piece of wood and graphite seemed disturbingly phallic to him in his current state of sexual frustration. Who was he kidding? His desperation level was off the charts right now. Only cold showers and discreet wanking off had kept him from losing what little sanity he had left over the past week, and he suspected it was the same for Elijah, though each had been careful not to let the other know there was any wanking off occurring.

If it wasn’t so frustrating, the absurdity of the situation might be funny, Sean thought, absentmindedly turning the pencil end over end. Hell, even the imperturbable Fred had had a fed-up expression on his hook-nosed face when Sean grunted a surly greeting that morning. By now, he was probably thanking his lucky stars there was no Mrs. Rogers sharing the bathroom with him. Relationships, as Sean had informed him more than once, were hard work.

But hallelujah, the end was in sight. Just a killer histology exam stood between him and the end of self-denial, and he intended to highball it home from Philly tomorrow the instant he was done. No joining his classmates in the cafeteria this time for the ritual moan fest and dissection of the exam questions over coffee and bagels.

You’re getting a little ahead of yourself, Sean, he scolded himself. You haven’t taken the killer histology exam yet. Stop procrastinating and get back to work. His dad had been the one to point out to him that their family name was contained within the word ‘procrastinating’, and all his life he’d busted his butt to prove that it didn’t belong there.

Determinedly, Sean turned his attention back to the computer screen, focusing on the next slide in the series his sluggish brain was struggling to identify. But superimposed over the image of cells stained improbable pinks and blues, he saw Elijah, wearing only a white tee shirt and his favorite snowflake pattern flannel boxers, sitting on the kitchen table that morning while Ian removed his stitches.

Sean the future doctor had intended to focus on Ian’s technique with forceps and Littauer scissors, but much like the evening when Elijah had been shot, Ian’s expertise proved no competition for the creamy skin of Elijah’s inner thigh, the tantalizing coarse dark hairs that peeked from the rucked-up leg of his boxers, and the even more tantalizing outline of his cock, revealingly molded by the soft flannel. Add to that the alluring mix of bayberry soap and pines that radiated from Elijah’s hotter than human skin and to say that Sean had been distracted was like saying the white stag was simply a deer.

To the accompaniment of a full complement of his signature uninformative ‘hmms’, Ian had removed the sutures one by one and dropped the threads of black nylon into Sean’s outstretched palm, while Sean had prayed with considerable fervor that the perceptive doctor had no idea his assistant was struggling against a hard-on of massive proportions. Sean had waged the same battle every single day when he checked Elijah’s wounds, examining them carefully for any sign of infection, and then cleaning the areas around the sutures with dilute hydrogen peroxide and drying them thoroughly.

He was plumb wore out, as Katie might say.

Sean closed his eyes again and gave a sigh of defeat. It was no good. He simply couldn’t concentrate. Win, lose or draw, pass or fail, he was finished studying for his exam. How idiotic was it to sit here miserable, frustrated and with an incipient headache, when he could be with Elijah? What was he trying to prove anyway, and to whom?

Stop being a masochist, Sean.

He reached for the wireless mouse, and with a few quick clicks shut down his computer. “Good night, sweet Apple,” he murmured, hitting the monitor button.


Sean swiveled in his computer chair to see Maggie padding softly across the oak floorboards toward him. “Hey, Maggie. Everything okay?” He tried to speak lightly, but worry crept into his voice despite himself and he tensed. He was learning to compartmentalize his fears, as he suspected every Woodjin’s mate before him had of necessity done, but what had happened two weeks ago was still too near for that to be successfully managed.


Maggie’s vocalizations were uncannily expressive, or perhaps Sean was simply learning to interpret them better as the months passed. But he heard reassurance in the elongated, rising note of her voice, and relaxed.

“Did Elijah send you to get me?”


That was definitely an affirmative. An intriguing affirmative, for Elijah, albeit with uncharacteristic (if understandable) grumpiness, had promised not to disturb Sean this evening unless it was truly important. He wondered if Elijah sensed that his lover had reached a breaking point or if he was simply as fed up with their mutual celibacy as Sean was and decided to do something about it. Either way, it was a most welcome development.

He stood, clasped his hands in front of him and stretched his arms over his head to a succession of soft pops as joints tight after so many hours sitting at his desk released. But erotic anticipation had his blood circulating faster as he wondered what surprise Elijah had in store for him, and a tide of warmth flooded through him. His weariness dropped away like the sloughing skin of a pines rattler.

Maggie was already at the door. She turned her head and gave him a look that said, ‘What’s taking you so long? Hurry up!’

Well, it would certainly be no hardship to stop procrastinating this time. “I’m coming,” Sean said, smiling and dropping his arms, and he hoped like hell he would be coming, and soon.

Expecting Maggie to head toward the bedroom, he was mildly surprised when she turned in the opposite direction. Elijah wanted him in the kitchen? Okay… maybe not his first choice of rendezvous, but wherever and however Elijah wanted him, he was game. Then the true answer hit him, a lightning bolt that sizzled straight to his groin. The Jacuzzi. Elijah wanted him in the Jacuzzi. Of course.

The hour they’d spent in the Jacuzzi in his Trump Tower suite stood out in Sean’s mind with crystalline clarity. Not so much for the sex, though that had been mind-blowing past belief, but for the unlocking of fetters that years of unfulfillment had shackled around his self confidence. Elijah had seized the initiative and made uninhibited love to him, showing him in no uncertain terms that he was indeed a desirable man.

The instant he entered the kitchen, Sean’s eyes flew to the sliding glass door at the far end and what met them set his heart racing. Though all else outside was inky dark as only a moonless night in the heart of the pines could be, the Jacuzzi glowed—cerulean from the recessed floodlights that illumined the blue liner, and golden from the dozen-odd pillar candles set at intervals along the apron. Steam curled from the surface of the heated water, and standing in the middle, his naked body wreathed in its ghostly tendrils, was Elijah. No stag this time, but a nix, a shape shifting water spirit intent on ensorcelling him. His eyes, huge and faintly gleaming, held Sean’s as surely as they had in a starlit clearing two years earlier, and drew him like a lodestone.

In his eagerness to be ensorcelled Sean blundered against the kitchen table, hitting his hip on the edge hard enough to leave a bruise. He winced, but kept right on going, his gaze never leaving Elijah, who stood still and waiting. Sean’s pulse thundered in his ears, drowning out every other sound, and the unleashing of the desire he’d struggled to keep in check for the past two weeks left him shaking. He had barely enough presence of mind not to walk face first into the glass door, though even the few seconds it took to slide it open and step through seemed like eons.

The frigid air outside was a shock nearly as great as if he had walked into plate glass, and it snatched his breath like a thief. But mere feet away welcome warmth awaited him, and he wasn’t thinking of the 100 plus degree water. He shut the deck door firmly behind him and moved forward like one in a trance, his eyes riveted to the young man who awaited him—his lover, his mate, his Elijah.

Steam was rising not only from the water, but from Elijah’s wet skin and hair as well, as if the passion burning inside him had heated his body to evaporation point. His eyes were huge and midnight dark, the pupils so dilated that no trace remained of the autumn sky blue that Sean adored. The honeyed light from the flickering candles cast a golden aura around him, and transmuted to liquid gold the gleaming rivulets of water that coursed down his skin. His chest rose and fell rapidly, though he remained otherwise perfectly still with his arms dangling at his side and his fingertips lightly touching the surface of the swirling water.

A choked whimper escaped Sean as Elijah deliberately moved his right hand, drawing Sean’s attention to what he’d thus far missed: the flared head of Elijah’s cock, flushed deep ruby with arousal and straining out of the water. What few shreds of coherent thought remained in Sean’s brain vanished and a haze of pure lust enfolded him as Elijah, a smile of ineffable seduction curving his lips, swirled his fingers around his erection and brushed the backs sensuously across the wet tip.

“Elijah, shit.” Sean seized the edge of the Jacuzzi, intending to vault right over the side and into the water when Elijah’s infectious giggle unexpectedly rang out on the frosty air.

“Wait,” he said, his voice trembling with laughter. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

“What?” He was utterly baffled.

“Your clothes, Sean.”

Sean glanced down. Shit. He was still dressed. He fleetingly contemplated saying ‘fuck it all’ and jumping in anyway, but he had some firsthand experience of wrestling wet denim over a raging hard-on, and thought better of the idea.

Athletic socks, jeans, silk boxers, and UPenn sweatshirt were shed in record time until he stood buck naked with an erection that was impressive even for him. The cold? It wasn’t a factor. Sean was so aroused now that he could have been standing on an Antarctic ice flow with the Emperor penguins and kept it up.

“Gollykeeper,” Elijah breathed, his lustful gaze riveted to Sean’s cock, which bobbed its approval of that look, and there was no trace of amusement in his voice now, only awe.

What Sean’s impulsive vault into the Jacuzzi lacked in grace—it was impossible to be graceful when sporting a full-on erection, he’d discovered—it definitely made up for in enthusiasm. Barely had he splashed down for a landing when his arms were filled with Elijah, hot, wet, panting and needy. Proving that he was indeed now healed and ready for action, he wrapped his muscular legs around Sean’s waist as their mouths met in a stunning kiss, all restraint, all caution thrown to the starry pines night. Again and again they kissed, slanting their mouths this way and that as Sean turned in a tight circle, while his hands roamed greedily over Elijah’s body, exploring slick-wet satin skin and firm muscle that it seemed far too long since he’d touched.

The frigid January air stroked icy fingers across Sean’s bare torso, but Elijah’s caresses melted that ice and replaced it with a flush of heat that lingered wherever he touched. And though the tip of Elijah’s nose resembled an icicle, his mouth was pure velvety warmth and Sean licked his way around the inside, craving the whiskey-smooth, butter-rich taste that was indescribably Elijah.

The cold/hot contrast heightened every erotic sensation, sending helpless shudders through him, and when Elijah, his mouth still fused to Sean’s, unwound his legs and dropped down to stand before him, the silken glide of his damp cock as it brushed against Sean’s through the swirling, hip-deep water was electrifying.

Impatient for closer contact, Sean widened his stance on the pebbled bottom; his hands slid below the water’s surface to cup Elijah’s buttocks and pull him in, but Elijah tore his mouth away and gasped, “No.” He grabbed Sean’s right wrist almost roughly and pulled his dripping hand upward. His expression was wild, his eyes blind with need, and the already pungent tang of woodsmoke, pinesap and dried grasses grew sharply stronger. “I want this,” he said, placing Sean’s hand on his head, and pushing against it like a cat demanding petting. “Now.”

Nothing loath to abandon his original plan, Sean palmed the sides of Elijah’s skull and slid his thumbs into the damp auburn strands, unerringly finding the raised round calluses hidden there. The first light stroke across the surface wrenched a cry from Elijah, and a spasm shook him and his hips bucked against Sean’s, giving him the delicious hard pressure of cock on cock that he craved.

“Ohhhh…” Elijah’s eyelids drifted closed in the aftermath of that first touch; droplets of water caught in his tangled lashes glinted like tiny diamonds, and a floodtide of scarlet color stained his cheeks. He was impossibly beautiful, and for a moment Sean was stunned into immobility, captivated, enchanted, ensorcelled as surely as any mortal in tales of old. But Elijah, purely human and needy, pushed his head again. “Sean… don’t stop…” he begged.

“Sorry,” Sean said hoarsely. He’d learned how to caress the pedicles according to Elijah’s mood, and what Elijah needed right now wasn’t the slow teasing build up at which Sean had become so expert, but something harder and faster. So he pressed the pads of his thumbs down into the spongy surface as he made the next stroke, and muffled Elijah’s incoherent cry with his mouth. His thumbs relentlessly circled and stroked, circled and stroked, and he greedily drank down each helpless cry, whimper and moan, glorying in being able to give his partner this unparalleled pleasure,.

Though he would never truly understand how it felt for Elijah, his uninhibited reaction to the pedicle play always fed straight into Sean’s own arousal. Beneath the water’s surface their cocks moved in counterpoint to the strokes of Sean’s thumbs, meeting, circling, parting, meeting again, faster and faster, until pulsating bands of vivid color like the northern lights began to blur the corners of Sean’s mind, presaging orgasm, and he could feel Elijah’s quaking body start to come apart in his arms.

Quickly, before they lost control and were swept away too soon by the inexorable approaching tide, Sean lifted his mouth and withdrew his hands from Elijah’s hair, ignoring his incoherent whimper of protest. Gripping Elijah’s shoulders, he drew him down until they were crouching, covered to their necks in swirling supercharged warmth.

Then without conscious thought, as if following the pattern to a dance imprinted on his brain but long forgotten, Sean pushed off with his heels, and sent them both gliding weightlessly across the Jacuzzi until Elijah’s back met the padded side. Still obeying the instinctive choreography of this unrehearsed mating dance, Sean ducked below the surface, and when he surged upward again, blinking against the water streaming from his hair, Elijah’s knees were draped over his shoulders and Sean’s pulsating cock was poised and ready to enter him.

Sean was forced to grab the edge of the Jacuzzi when the water’s buoyancy threatened to move him out of position, and he quickly pressed forward into Elijah without any of the careful preparation he would normally have used. Pure instinct and the driving need to be inside Elijah now overrode all else, and besides, Elijah’s fingers biting into his buttocks and urging him on said he wanted it, too. Sean didn’t stop until he’d pushed all the way in, taut balls pressed snug against Elijah’s ass, and only then did he pause, struggling valiantly against the imperative to thrust while he gave Elijah’s body time to adjust.

“You okay?” he said between clenched teeth, his white-knuckled grip on the Jacuzzi holding his body still despite its screams of protest.

Elijah dug his heels under Sean’s shoulder blades and moved impatiently. “What do you think? Move already, would you?”

With a choked gasp of laughter at Elijah’s response, so entirely typical of him, Sean moved, withdrawing partway from the blissful heat that encased him so tightly and then driving home. His reward was the most erotically charged moan he’d ever heard from Elijah, which was saying something, and that was the last encouragement he needed to move in earnest—and he discovered that fucking someone in a Jacuzzi was a unique combination of heaven and hell beyond anything he’d yet experienced. The jets positioned on either side of them shot out streams of bubbling water, and the pins and needles prickles on his cock each time he withdrew were so intensely stimulating that it was almost beyond bearing.

Pushing up on the balls of his feet, Sean released his hold on the Jacuzzi. Instead, he braced his forearms against the edge and found Elijah’s pedicles again with his thumbs, stroking them ruthlessly in concert with his increasingly powerful thrusts that had Elijah’s knees forced up by his ears. It took only a few strokes for Elijah to insinuate his hand between them, grasp his cock, and start stroking it with frantic desperation.

“Sean,” he moaned, thrashing his head back and forth, threatening to dislodge Sean’s caressing thumbs. “I…I’m gonna… come…” And seconds later he did, beautifully and with abandon, his head flung back on a wordless cry and his spine arched like a bow. Spasms wracked his body until the tension drained away, leaving him limp and pliant. Sean, sent hurtling toward the edge by the clamping of Elijah’s tight passage around him while he climaxed, buried his sweating face in Elijah’s neck and gave himself over completely to the mad rush to completion.

“Oh fuck. Fuck,” he gasped. The pulsating bands of brilliant color overspread his mind; his balls tightened and his hips jerked convulsively, until with one final, fierce thrust, buried as far as he could be, he came. The intensity of the orgasm that ripped through him actually caused him to black out momentarily, with Elijah’s name a prayer unuttered on his lips.

“Sean? You okay?” Elijah’s concerned voice roused him, and with an effort he lifted his head and looked into eyes bluer than a cloudless autumn sky, eyes that held a satiated, satisfied glow.

God, he could never get enough of that look, of knowing that he was the one to put it there. “Fuck yeah,” he said weakly. “I am so okay.”

Elijah grinned. “Me, too.”

“Another of those skunk envy moments, Woodjin?” Sean asked, grinning back.

Elijah giggled. “Definitely. It kinda felt like I was in a whirlwind there for a while.”

“You and me both.” Sean leaned in the couple of inches necessary to capture Elijah’s bruised and swollen lips with his own, but this time he kissed them with exquisite gentleness and the utmost reverence. Their mouths clung for a few brief seconds before Sean drew back, and cupped Elijah’s soft cheek with his palm. He said, “You are utterly amazing, and I love you so much.” Then he carefully pulled out, hating this moment when they had to separate, and eased Elijah’s legs from his shoulders, lowering them into the water.

Elijah let out a disappointed sigh. “I wish…”

“I know.” Sean quickly moved to sit beside Elijah. “Come here,” he said, holding out his arms, and Elijah slid onto his lap and rested his cheek over Sean’s gradually slowing heart. “How’s your thigh feel?” he asked, praying they hadn’t overdone it, knowing he should have been more careful but knowing, too, that there was no way in hell he could’ve held back.

Elijah flexed his left leg a few times, testing it, and then smiled happily. “It feels good as new,” he boasted.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear that.” Sean wrapped his arms around Elijah, who yawned and snuggled against him, and with that final worry relieved, he finally allowed himself to relax and enjoy the warm jets of water pummeling his tired muscles. It was sheer, unadulterated bliss.

Sean slowly stroked the length of Elijah’s supple back as the minutes passed in contented silence. The flickering candlelight danced on the water and overhead the myriad stars shone piercingly bright. The scent of burning pine from the wood stove filled the air. As amazing as the Jacuzzi sex in Trump Tower had been, nothing compared to making love under the pines winter sky—in the water or out of it, and Sean had done both.

And frustrating as the wait had been, he thought, it had been totally worth it—for this. He pressed a kiss into Elijah’s hair and breathed deep of his unique, cherished scent. Oh yes, it had totally been worth it.

“Sean?” Elijah said at length.


“I’m sorry I behaved so badly these past two weeks.” He glanced up, and his expression was guilty and contrite.

“’sokay,” Sean said at once. He’d been expecting this; Elijah was never one to go easy on himself, if he thought he was in the wrong. “I haven’t exactly been Mr. Sunshine myself lately. Just ask Fred.”

That earned him a brief smile. “I did.” But the smile faded as quickly as it appeared. “I could have made it easier for both of us, though, especially when you had this test to prepare for. I just…” His hand clenched into a fist on Sean’s chest. “I hate to feel penned in,” he burst out, as if making some shameful confession.

“Oh Elijah, of course you hate it,” Sean said, covering his hand comfortingly. “How could you not when you’re the Woodjin? I understand that, and so does Ian. But he’s right: you can’t risk the Devil having an advantage. You have to give yourself every chance to heal as well as you possibly can.”

“You have no idea how mad I am at myself for slipping and letting him hurt me,” Elijah said bitterly. “I shouldn’t have been so careless.”

This he should also have been expecting, Sean thought, his heart wrung. Of course Elijah would blame himself, even when it was so clearly not his fault.

“But that can work to your advantage, Elijah,” he said. “Every good businessman knows that you analyze your mistakes, learn from them and let them make you stronger, give you that edge over your competitors.”

Elijah was silent, considering Sean’s words. “I haven’t been doing a very good job of learning from it so far, though,” he eventually said.

“So you got a little frustrated and cranky. It’s not the end of the world. Besides, as I said to you once before, it’s nice to know you’re only human like the rest of us.” As on that previous occasion, his sally earned him a giggle, albeit a reluctant one.

“This is another of those times you’re not going to let me be serious, are you?” Elijah complained.

“What do you think?”

Elijah moved his head and kissed him, directly over his heart. When he looked up, his eyes were serious, as serious as Sean had ever seen them. “I think you are the most wonderful man in the entire world, Sean, and I’m luckier than I deserve.”

“We’ll see if you say that when I’m the one in charge of sewing you up,” Sean replied, retreating behind self-deprecation the way he always did when he was embarrassed. “I only hope I’ll do half so competent a job as Ian does.”

Elijah looped his arm around Sean’s neck and pulled him down into a fierce kiss. “Of course you will,” he said with equal ferocity. “You’re my magician. You can do anything.”

“I’ll keep that in mind when I’m in the lab tomorrow taking my histology exam,” Sean said lightly, but Elijah’s unflagging faith in him made him feel that he could do anything, hell, even leap tall buildings in a single bound if necessary.

“You make sure you do,” Elijah said. “But I’m not worried. I just know you’re gonna ace it, and… Oh gollykeeper!” He sat up so abruptly he created waves.

“What is it?” Sean tensed. Was Elijah being called?

“The champagne! I completely forgot the champagne. Darn it.”

He sounded so chagrined, and with his damp hair sticking out in random tufts he looked so much like an outraged kitten that had just had its first bath, that Sean couldn’t help it. He started to laugh.

“It’s not funny,” Elijah protested, but another reluctant smile was tugging at his lips. “I wanted everything to be perfect our first time using the Jacuzzi.”

Sean pulled Elijah back down into his watery embrace. “Champagne or no, it’s seemed pretty damn perfect to me,” he said, “but if you want us to try and improve on perfection, I’m more than willing to give it a go.”

“Already?” Elijah wriggled on his lap, and the resultant effect made his eyes sparkle with delighted anticipation. “You are a magician,” he said, impressed. This time Sean actually felt like one.


The champagne was eventually opened, after Sean got back the results of his histology exam.

He aced it, of course.