When he was sure Jensen was asleep, Jared dressed and listened outside his bed chamber. A castle is never entirely quiet during a siege. He hurried past sleepers, guards drooping against their spears, soldiers wrapped in horse blankets, and the few he spoke to were happy to see him. After six weeks of being shut indoors, they would have been happy to see anyone.

He felt a tug on his cloak.

"Please, your Grace," said a young boy, "There's nothing to eat."

Jared bent close, thick chocolate locks brushing the boy's cheeks. "Can you keep a secret?"

"Yes, your Grace."

"Then take up your sword and stay close, for I cannot guarantee your safety."

The boy shivered. The king was well formed, long-limbed with a slender waist and a swordsman's shoulders, moving with the silent ease of a thief. A formidable opponent, and not one to exaggerate danger.

They turned the corner to find a door with a stone mouth for a knocker. "So...hungry..." it murmured, and without breaking stride Jared tossed it a candy and the door swung open and closed behind them as softly as the lid on a jewelry box.

"Keep up," said Jared, passing a torch over the boy's head, "Your little legs can only carry you so far."

The boy ran his fingers over white taproots, pulsing eerily over rough-hewn walls that shone with gumdrops, and when he plucked one into his mouth it dissolved like sweet sand. No one scholar could agree on the history of the tunnels. Theories ranged from geological surveys to monstrous labyrinths to a safe path for the princess to walk her pet elephant. Jared had devised a new purpose altogether.

After a time, Jared looked round and smiled, that sad, ironic smile that made everyone want to listen to what he had to say. "Welcome," said Jared, spreading his arms, "To my dungeon."

They had emerged in a moonlit field far, far from the castle, rock candy mountains stretching to either side of an ocean of pale blue flowers that rippled in gentle waves though no wind stirred. Jared lifted one on his finger, and the boy watched it shake off dew until the air glittered with pearls of butterfly milk.

Tears sprang into his eyes. "But my lord, this is a wondrous place. What horrors could it possibly claim?"

Jared's cloak whipped about his legs in the warm summer wind, and he set the butterflower down. "Beyond the hill is a tree from the castle orchard. There is no other like it, for it blooms white and red and you may eat of it as much you like. Wait for me there."

"And what if you should not return?"

"More importantly, how will you know it's me?"

The boy understood. Magic took all forms. Even kings.

Jared continued. "Offer me fruit from the tree and you will know by my choice whether it is me or my doppelganger."

"But which is it, the red or the white?"

Jared thumbed the gold chain around his throat. "Have you been taught the mysteries?"

The boy blushed, and recalled a sweaty night sharing the bed with his sister's friend. "...it was only once..."

"Then you know that it is neither. For my love has had me, and I will taste of apple wine even unto my grave," he said, turning away, "I will never be hungry again."

The castle would wake in another hour. Stars faded in the east and sparrowmints circled over his head and vanished into the shadows. Jared walked down the sloping sea of flowers, and at the bottom of that enchanted shore he buried his sword in the ground and sat cross-legged and said a name.

A narrow strip of the valley behind him was reflected in the steel, and he thought of Jensen, the shape of his hands, the sound of his heart, the smell of the cherry apple tree he'd planted years ago when he'd been too poor to afford a wedding ring.

Just the other day, the king and his general had been reviewing terrain and how many cannon they had captured, when a spider crawled across the table. The horde of black-eyed denizens boiled outside the castle walls, patiently starving them, yet Jensen had scooped the creature into his hands, deposited it out a window, and finishing circling a spot on the map. Love had gentled him.

The reflection in his sword flexed outward, and if he didn't look too hard Jared could just make out a pair of glowing yellow eyes in the distance. Perhaps he was a mile away. Perhaps he was standing right behind him. Hard to know.

"Hello Morgan," said Jared, "I have a favor to ask of you."

(*)

Jensen laughed at some joke with his officers. His laughter echoed through the palace grounds, rolling over solemn portraits and twin rows of torches, and the boy followed it with Jared's letter crammed in his fist.

Jensen looked up from papers. "Yes?"

The boy removed his hat. He stared at his feet, as if there were a tightrope between him and the general and someone had taken away the net. "A message from his grace."

Jensen frowned at the letter. When had Jared left the castle? He skimmed it once and then again more slowly, his eyes narrowing.

"He also sent this," said the boy, holding up a package, "He said you would know what it meant."

"Leave it. When did you last see the king?"

"Just a few minutes ago, sir, he's gone forth to call his bannermen..."

Jensen cursed and ran to the window, right as Jared's horse shot out over the drawbridge with thirty cavalry behind him. Not much, but enough to lure the bulk of the opposing army into the open, most of whom were armed with wooden staffs and lacked both horses and armor, leaving the seasoned fighters at the foot of the castle. A clever move.

Rolling up his maps, Jensen looked the boy over. They all had that thin, chewed-up look. "Have you ever fought a soldier from the Ovens?"

"No, sir."

"Then keep your distance. You can barely lift that sword, if I were you I'd join the archers on the roof."

"But the battle could last until nightfall, what if we run out of light and I should hit one of our own?"

"Easy. The wolves from below are forever in heat, their mouths aflame with living fire, and leave a trail of smoke wherever they go," said Jensen, swiping the package on his way out, "Just follow your nose."

Jensen took a lesser-known route, removing his boots to walk barefoot past open doors, then down a damp staircase that dropped a degree colder with every step. Something went thump in the distance. He called out but no one answered.

Once he reached the dungeon, he opened the package. A red apple sat nestled in his hand, cut in half and re-bound in a pink ribbon with the insides hollowed recently if he had to guess. A key fashioned from cinnamon sticks lay within.

All of the rooms in the passage were open save one. Jensen watched the door tremble in its' frame, a high muffled voice whispering on the other side.

"...harder..."

Faster and faster came the noise, a clapping of bodies that sounded once a second, twice a second, and then a rattling that ended with a strangled sob as if the girl were dying. This wing was the oldest part of the castle, badly in need of repair with a sloping floor, and Jensen took a step back as a thick line of buttercream ran from under the door, snaking down the flagstones as if to touch him.

From the shadows he watched the scullery maid leave, flushed and wiping chocolate from the corners of her mouth, and it was only when she turned the corner that Jensen heard his voice.

"Please, come in, I was just sitting down to supper."

The prisoner smiled faintly. Morgan lay on a straw mattress with his wrists shackled over his head, miles of clean wet muscle barely concealed by a sheet the maid had tossed on for modesty. Candles flickered over a half-eaten plate of chorizo.

"How long have you been here?"

"Not long."

"Was this your idea, pushing the battle ahead of schedule?"

"No."

"So why?"

Morgan's eyes slid toward his meal. "Aren't you hungry?"

Jensen did not look at the silver dinner tray, a little pot of chocolate hazelnut sauce steaming beside cakes dipped in powdered sugar. His mouth watered. "We're all hungry."

"Exactly. You're out of time. Strike now."

"How?" Jensen said, looking at the inside of his hands, "The king has taken my best men, all that's left are servants and children. We'll be slaughtered if we leave the castle."

Morgan eyed the maps under Jensen's arm. "Who says they can't come to you?"

Jensen breathed out, fingering the hilt of his sword. "What's your plan?"

"Lay out the blueprint of the castle."

Jensen bent down, carefully unrolling the parchment over Morgan's lap, avoiding the shadow of his cock beneath the cotton sheet. Morgan jutted his chin at the side entrance. "There. That portculis can be lifted off its' hinges, but the passage will only allow men to walk in single file. See how it turns a sharp angle beneath the bell tower...there."

"Even if we could route the men into a choke point, we don't have enough soldiers to keep them at bay."

"Oh, you wouldn't need many. Perhaps five, perhaps four. If they're good enough," said Morgan, eyes glittering, "Perhaps only one."

Jensen licked his lip nervously and looked away. A stray bit of chocolate clung to Morgan's grizzled jawline, where the girl had missed. "I don't know if I could do that."

"You're out of practice

"No, I'm just afraid I'll..."

"End up dead?"

Jensen's eyes met his. "End up like you."

"Don't think about the big numbers. When I was a boy working the foundry, I would say to myself, 'Just one more hammerblow, and then I will stop to rest.' And then after that one I would say again, 'Just one more, before I rest'. And on and on, until my work was completed," he said, his voice drawing Jensen in, "That's all murder is."

Jensen shuddered, eyeing the chocolate smear on his face and wishing he could have one taste. Where the hell was Jared...?

Morgan watched Jensen's misgivings play over his face. "Bring me one, one head to rest my feet upon. You can do that. And then...you may have your reward."

"There's nothing you can give me."

"And what you've been given upstairs, you feel you've...earned that?"

Jensen grit his teeth. "Don't talk about him."

"He's not around to hear it. And based on all the clamour outside I'd wager he won't be around to hear anything for much longer."

Jensen grabbed his shoulders and slammed him against the stones, eyes flashing black. Morgan laughed. "You're wasting your time soldier. Go and stop this war."

"Don't order me,: he breathed, as his mouth closed over his, "You don't have that right."

(*)

Jared rolled his shoulders and swung through a row of footmen, the last one crumpling beneath his horse. It was a beautiful day. Red-breasted doves, winged dollops of whipped cream bursting with jam, flocked against a cloudless sky, and the summer rain had left fudge puddles on the hard-baked cookie flagstones. They would write songs about this day. He'd rather be anywhere but here.

A wounded rider sidled up to him, so weary he had to hold the pommel with both hands. Jared handed him a kerchief. "Wipe the blood off your face."

The knight took it and ducked his head. "Yes, your grace."

"Do we have any deserters?"

The knight smiled. "You tell me."

Jared smiled back. He had an unerring sense of each of his men's positions, whether out of the corner of his eye or a hundred feet behind him, and they in turn learned to know where he was at all times. The king moved, they moved with him like compass needles finding north.

"There's more at the bottom of the hill," said Jared, cleaning his sword on his trouser leg, "Make a V-formation and circle round so we may attack with the sun behind us."

"Can we expect reinforcements? The castle is sparsely guarded as is."

"Fear not," he said, sparing Jensen a thought, "I have left it in good hands."

He signaled and they charged down the hill in a tidal wave of horse and steel. Even the strongest denizens of the Ovens could not defend against the sheer weight of a broadsword moving forty miles an hour, and the river stood between them and the safety of the forest.

"Have at you, dogs!" he cried, horse rearing on its' hind legs as his enemies cowered before him.

Despite this show of bravado, he desperately wanted his friend at his side. Jensen embraced the panic and rode it all the way through the fight, a mean intelligence with a gallows humor that got him thru the nastier aspects of combat.

Morgan must have seen the same thing in Jensen the first time they met. Jared imagined them, creatures at their heels, Jensen wiping the sweat from his brow, shield pushed against his waist with a red wet smile that, later in the tent, became a knowing leer as he stepped out of his armor and climbed onto the old man, stretched tight around his cock, huffing Morgan's name between his teeth as the old man growled and bit his shoulder and melted inside of him.

All of these suspicions passed in the slivers of time between kills, as one watching a wild animal stalking the other side of a picket fence. It might be a dog, it might be a wolf, it all depends on what you've come in contact with before. You can only trust the fence will be enough.

"They're regrouping, your grace."

Jared shook his hair out of his eyes. "Push them into the water, either they'll lose their footing or the current will carry them away."

The knight nodded and Jared dispatched another howling raider, the body pitching face-down in the grass.

Fatigue set in, and with it guilt for using a loved one to further Jared's scheme. Jensen might fuck out of misdirected passion during the heat of battle, and this he could forgive. Morgan might claim him to settle a score, and this he could forgive.

But there was always the possibility that nothing would pass between the two men, that their mutual respect might elevate them past carnal hunger to the lofty ether of unrequited love, and this haunted Jared. You can't kill a dream of love. You can only wait for it to wither.

I hope he's dead. he thought. The thought came unbidden, a flash in the vertigo of melee, but the more men he cut down, the more he said it to himself, dead, dead, dead, and this lent him strength. Jared interrupts them in bed, dead, Jared returns to a corpse-strewn castle and Jensen transformed back into a monster, dead, Jared hangs Jensen's body from the gate with Morgan's head tied around his neck like a pendant, dead, until it became a litany of violence in his head.

Jealousy was sweet, and he tucked it behind his teeth like a candy sucked of all its' flavor.

"Your grace," said the knight, grabbing Jared's reins, "You're hurt."

Jared looked down. A knife stuck out of his side. He didn't even feel it.

"How...?" he began, and then the world went black around the edges and he fell headlong into the river.

(*)

Jensen sat beside Morgan and stared at the dinner tray in his lap, radiant with success. A bloody burlap sack sat in the corner of the dungeon. Morgan hung in the shackles and opened his mouth for another bite of food.

"He didn't even hear me coming," said Jensen, handing off another piece of cake, "He was fletching arrows when I slid down the wall on the end of a rope and..." He slapped his hands together in a cloud of powdered sugar.

Morgan chewed thoughtfully. "Were you followed?"

Jensen smiled, eager to brag. "Yes."

He lept off the bed with a spring in his heels and shook the burlap sack. It looked heavy.

"How many remain outside?"

"Nothing I couldn't handle," said Jensen, slinging the bloody sack over one shoulder like the saint of errant children, "Most have retreated to the river, so that leaves, oh, forty-five by my count."

"Forty-six."

Jensen blinked. "But I counted..."

"...the ones outside."

Jensen started to speak, but Morgan cut him off, not interested in the boy's consolations. "There's no place for me in peacetime."

"Everyone has a place."

"You're wrong."

"Why else would we do all this if not to make peacetime possible?" said Jensen, tossing the sack aside, "To wake up in a clean bed, labor in the fields, walk at night knowing you are safe?"

"No one is safe. Not so long as men such as I are allowed to live."

Jensen crouched and gathered the old man's face in his hands. "We have use for you yet. When this is over you will lend us your arm, that you may beat their swords into plowshares," he said, swiping a bloody thumb over Morgan's lower lip, "And from this garden of bones we may grow roses."

Morgan tongued the blood from his mouth, transfixed by Jensen's conviction. Never had he known a soldier to so relish danger, like a child ducking into a forbidden forest to see how long, and how far, they can make themselves go. His old imperial ambitions loomed before him.

"Take these chains off of me."

"Why?"

"I have a gift for you."

Jensen turned his head slowly, eyes following Morgan's as he dug in his pouch for the cinnamon key. It seemed far too delicate for the task. "We should wait the king returns, he will know how to decide your freedom."

"And you're privy to all the king's decisions?"

"No, I am privy to his heart."

"That's hardly power behind the throne."

"It is the root of the throne. Everyday grievances can flourish into cruelty if not kept in check, especially with power such as he wields, so it is my honor to strip him of such things so that his heart may bear fruit," he said, recalling a distant cherry apple tree, "Whatever his decision, I have already made my mark."

"Then you'd better hurry. He may not live to decide my fate."

Jensen dropped his eyes, twisting the key in his hand. Their foreheads leaned in together. "I wish you could fight alongside me."

Moran didn't have to reply. Their kiss was desperate, seering, soot and chocolate and molten marshmallow swirled as Jensen touched the side of his face with his fingertips, aching to go further. Then remembering himself Jensen stood up and went out the door and ran into the scullery maid, giving her an evil look that should have stuck six inches out the back of her head.

She closed the door and curtsied. "Did you not like your dinner?"

Morgan smiled at the girl, taking his time on the shadow of her cleavage. He could smell Jensen standing at the end of the corridor, well within earshot. "Oh no, it was excellent," he said, lips pulled back over two rows of perfectly square white teeth, "I saved some for you."

She glanced over her shoulder, listening for the other servants and the general holding his breath on the other side of the wall. Alone at last, she threw her arms around Morgan's neck and said his name, ripping away the sheet to reveal his beautiful mouth-filling cock. Jensen covered his ears and walked on.

Morgan made the mistake of assuming Jensen's bloodlust stemmed from shame, that he had fallen short as a soldier and a lover and needed to prove himself otherwise. No such thing. With Jared in peril he felt that no degree of violence was excessive in order to bring his king home and reconcile Morgan to the side of good.

He would deliver a thousand heads.

(*)

The knights rushed through the forest, horses kicking up a golden spray as they cut through the lemonade springs and onward under cover of darkness. A pair of crows circled the moon as if strung about a maypole. Jared looked on dully, lashed to his saddle, the knife still plugged into his side, and listened to the birds.

A knight stooped to fill his flagon and pressed it to Jared's lip. "Drink, your grace."

Jared switched his sword to his left hand and took the flagon. "I don't hear anything. Did we kill them all?"

"We've scattered them, but they're regrouping back at the castle."

"Then we should...we should..." he said, and his sword slipped from his fingers, sticking in the ground and shivering like a dowsing rod. The knights nodded and cut the ropes around his horse.

"I'm not dead." he croaked, as the men laid him out.

"You will be if you don't get some rest." said one, producing a small sewing kit from his saddle bag. A sturdy branch was hewn for the king to bite down on, and several men volunteered their own shirts to staunch the blood flow once the knife was withdrawn.

He fought to breathe. Blood spilled between the surgeon's fingers, and with it all Jared's animosity toward his enemies. He regretted not heeding Jensen's advice and working toward a more peaceful resolution. He tried whispering as such to the men, but he was looking up from the bottom of a well, farther and farther from their faces.

Breathe in.

(*)

Hours later, Jensen lay spread-eagled on the dungeon floor, hands shaking from the adrenaline. He tried lifting his head and failed. He felt as if he weighed a thousand pounds.

"They brought in reinforcements," he managed, turning to spit out a mouthful of blood, "I knocked them back for now, but..."

He covered his face with his hands. "I can't do this alone. Please, please, come with me."

Morgan's lip curled in a cruel sneer. "Get up."

Jensen ignored him.

"Get up. You're not a child, you're a man."

"No one can be a man in this place."

"Will crying ease your suffering?"

Jensen sniffed hard, wiping his face. "No."

"I thought as much. Now stand."

Jensen rolled to his feet, blood buzzing in his ears. It was faint, like a tuning fork or someone running a wet finger over the rum of a wineglass. It was the only sound in the room.

"Take off your clothes."

"...sir?"

Morgan's eyes snapped to black. "Take off. Your clothes."

Jensen stood hypnotized by the ferocity of his eyes, the corded muscles of his arms and his scent filling the room, and obeyed. He set aside his platemail to reveal his undershirt, torn and bloody, and was halfway to peeling it off when Morgan stopped him.

"No wait. Fetch the key."

Jensen cast about for it, not dwelling on the consequences of his actions. Morgan regarded his stupor with neither surprise nor interest, and Jensen in turn became convinced he had dreamt all this. He was not in his own body.

The key twisted in the lock, and Morgan removed the shackles and rubbed the welts on his wrists. His sessions with the maid had allowed him to draw on the Mysteries of love to store raw magic, and now his whole body thrummed with power in anticipation of this moment.

Jensen stood back. "You said you had a gift for me."

"I do," said Morgan, clutching Jensen's ragged shirt in his fists and tearing it down the middle like cheap paper, "For both of us."

And wrapping his hand around the back of Jensen's neck he kissed him and and very slowly pulled them down together. Candles cast their shadows on the other side of the dungeon. Bruises ran along Jensen's left arm where his shield had cushioned the blow, but he did not feel them now. He lay trembling on Morgan's belly, inhaling his scent with his boots pointed at the floor and fingers curled into the sheets.

He kicked off everything else until they were naked with only a scanty sheet to separate them from the waist down, the red tip of Morgan's cock peaking from the top. Without breaking the kiss, Morgan reached to his right and lifted a candle from it's stand.

"Spread for me."

Jensen opened his legs and watched as Morgan's thumb closed over the flame. Black eyes studied him, the elegant curve of his spine, buttery fondant that ended in a shapely ass with a pink rose secretly kept just for him in the center.

Morgan pressed his tongue to the back of his teeth. "What are you going to do for me?"

Two powerful hands rested on Jensen's ass, nails marking the flesh. "Kill."

"Louder."

"KILL."

"All of them?"

Jensen's jaw worked, cock leaking as it touched Morgan's. "Every last one, sir."

"That's right. And when you get back," he said, warm melted tip of the candle breaching Jensen's virgin ass, "I can't wait to see this look on your face."

Jensen's mouth fell open as the candle sank into him, widening him, Morgan's other arm locked tight around his waist.

"Don't let it get away from you," Morgan whispered, as their cocks slid together, "Focus."

Jensen bit his lower lip, struggling to hold back as all his hurts were forgotten and new strength flowed through him, candle easing in and out of him. His ardor primed the pump as it were, his lithe young body becoming a vehicle for magic and then reflecting it back tenfold until he felt he might burst like the seed pod of a flower.

"That's it..."

"I think I'm going to finish."

Morgan crushed the base of Jensen's cock in his fist, and the boy cried out. "Not today you won't."

The transfer complete, the last bit of magic faded from Morgan's cock like a wisp of smoke, and he yanked out the candle and sent it rolling across the floor. "Now on your back soldier."

Jensen did so, breathing heavily, every muscle tensed like a steel trap. He could have knocked down a door frame with his cock. Morgan rolled on top, knees bracketing Jensen's hips. Even kneeling he towered over Jensen, lips parted, eyes tight black slits watching him with a cold fascination.

"Go now young man. Kill for king and country. And when you sheath your sword in the enemy's breast," he said, cock pumping in his sweaty fist, "You will wear my favor."

Jensen's heart battered inside him, panting in sympathy as Morgan gripped his shoulder and milked himself with long thrusting strokes, hard belly undulating, and whispered "good boy" as he bent to kiss him and shot a hot rope of buttercream across Jensen's chest.

"I won't fail you this time." he whispered, kissing Morgan again and again in gratitude, and rushed out with his sword hilt held against his heart like a bunch of flowers, as if death were something to be wooed. "Will you wait for me?"

"I'll be right here."

With a last farewell, Jensen gathered up his things and bounded out of the room. Morgan counted to a hundred, until he was sure Jensen had reached the murder hole on the other side of the castle. Jared's blood tinged the air like a distant cookfire. It was now or never.

Once he was certain he was alone, he crept out the door, a splash of moonlight sharpening his features as he sucked in his first lungful of air as a free man, and ran for the forest.

(*)

The knights dry-washed their hands on stalks of rosemary to hide their scent, and hobbling the king's horse they leaned against the boulders each lost in thought and listened to thunderclouds gathering over the foothills. It smelled like rain.

One of the knights was just closing his eyes to sleep when he spied a chocolate egg on the ground where none had been a moment before. He took it and rolled it between thumb and forefinger, saying to himself, "When was the last time his grace had a boiled egg?"

He knelt down and touched Jared's face. "He's so cold, and there must be more nesting birds in these forests. I will fetch him dinner while the others keep watch."

Another knight noted him and said, "It's not safe to venture alone in these woods, for the wolves of the Ovens lay in wait to cut your throat. I will join you."

A third knight shivered suddenly despite the summer heat. The forest stretched behind him like a great mouth, and he thought what a comfort it would be to his king to build a fire. "It will only be a few minutes work to gather kindling."

And so it went that the camp emptied one by one, until each man found himself inexorably drawn to some noble errand, and when they tried retracing their steps they recognized neither the stars over their heads nor the sound of their own names when they tried calling to one another. Meanwhile Jared lay by the river, alone, rosemary needles floating along the current and out of sight back to the castle.

Asleep in his cloak, the king looked very young, blue butterflowers arranged in his hair like a living crown. His sword was never far, and the butterflowers sang to it in their high humming chorus.

Morgan thought about that sword a great deal. You could trap a man's soul in a mirror just as easily, but a sword would sit well over the mantelpiece, with an excellent view of the royal bed as the old man hooked his fingers into Jensen's hips and opened the ring of his virgin ass.

A pink fog rolled through columns and darkness and columns of moonlight like the folds of a paper fan, when twin plumes of smoke curled from black nostrils to spin clockwise toward the moon. Jared sighed and rolled over.

The stag was as tall as any horse with ten-point antlers of whorled red and white peppermint, black coat speckled gray with large eyes that reflected nothing. Grass withered in its' path. Two vultures hunched on a nearby branch, and when the stag regarded them they stared back with feline indifference and it turned back to Jared and no other creature stirred.

The butterflowers flew off all at once and Jared's eyes opened, closed, opened again. The stag was familiar to him, but he couldn't say why.

He wound his arm around its' powerfullly built neck and whispered, "You shouldn't be here. My men have not eaten in days. They will cut you down."

Something in the stag's expression softened. This was not the response it had expected.

"Are you hungry?" asked Jared, fumbling inside his cloak with his good arm, "I picked these just the other day."

The stag watched the top of Jared's head. One swift kick would crack his bones, but then Jared looked up and the moment passed.

"Here," he said, holding out an apple, "Taste it, you'll like it."

The cherry apple shone a dark red, ripe and leaking juice down the side of Jared's hand, and when the stag did not move to take it Jared bit off a piece and held that in his palm. The apple flesh gleamed white inside. As sweet as it smelled, it could not mask the earthy tang of Jensen's fingerprints from when he had last tended the tree.

Jared took a bite and swallowed. "See? It's not poisonous."

His shirt had come loose during the surgery, and a narrow window of warm skin peaked out when his cloak moved. The injury was grievous. One push and he would fall into the river where the long gentle hand of the current would pull him down forever, and Morgan could wear his face and rule the kingdom. But Jared smiled tenderly as no man had ever smiled at Morgan, and the stag pressed its' mouth into the king's palm and ate.

Suddenly, a pang shot through Jared's heart, and he started suddenly in the direction of the castle. Once his back was turned, the stag began to revert to its' true form. "Something has happened," said Jared, dropping the apple and reaching for his sword, "They must have gotten to Jensen."

There's a reason many magicians hand their names down over the generations. Morgan was not the first of his name nor would he be the last. Names held great power. So when he stretched out his hands preparing to crush Jared's neck, the mention of Jensen disrupted the spell and he lost focus. Every vision of Jared's death-the chase, the struggle, the light going out of his eyes-vanished as the young king turned around at Morgan's touch and dropped his sword.

"My love," he exclaimed, "How did you find us?"

A naked Jensen stood before him, or at least the idealized version of Jensen in Morgan's fantasy, though in the dark and half out of his mind with fear for his lover's safety Jared could be forgiven for overlooking this flaw. Smiling in relief, Jared's earlier misgivings evaporated and he enfolded him in a desperate embrace. Morgan was silent, horrified at his mistake and yet yielding easily to Jared's kiss. He was easy to love.

"Is it done?" asked Jared, breathing hard, "Is it truly over? Say it is over so we may go home."

Morgan tried pushing him away, but not very hard. He had to get back to the castle, if Jensen were in danger...

"Don't leave me!" Jared cried, clasping Morgan's outstretched arm, "Are you the ghost of my true love that you have traveled all this way in the guise of an enchanted creature and yet will not speak to me?"

The tang of blood sizzled in the air, Jensen's blood, and Morgan felt the eldritch thread connecting them begin to unravel. He pulled away again, but Jared held on and sank to his knees in supplication.

"Forgive me," he whispered, tears floating in his eyes, "I should never have tricked you into defending the castle, but we were running out of time and I had the people to think about."

He kissed Morgan's hand, tears sliding down his face. "The war is over. We can be married now. Everything I've fought for is yours, my crown, my land..." he looked up, tentative, "My children."

Morgan froze, his hand loose in Jared's grip.

Jared swallowed. "Our children."

A blue butterflower lit on his belly, softly, mindful of the dreamers within. Phantom sons stood behind Jared, each one another Morgan in miniature, strong, proud, a legacy he'd never dared entertain in his plans for conquest. The devil could not have made him a better offer.

The mountains flared with silent lightning. A restless wind tossled the hair on his head as Morgan edged toward the water with Jared in his arms. The river surged and sucked at their calves, and the king did not resist.

A pair of knights appeared on horseback. "Your grace?"

But the two men sank beneath the waves, the moonlit glittering on the surface as the water closed over their heads, and when the knights dove in after them and came up for air a minute later, they returned empty-handed.

(*)

TO BE CONTINUED