A/N: Soooooooo tired. *falls over in a heap* Hope you enjoy and thanx to everyone who reviewed last time!

Big shout-out to Madrachadevvi for betaing (is that a word? lol) this one. I really really really appreciate it! *huggles*

Chapter 51 Who's That Boy?

Devin's eyes popped open and the first thing he noticed was the warmth beside him. Immediately, he rolled over in Jayden's arms as a sense of wellbeing washed over him. His gaze was quickly drawn to the masculine planes of Jayden's face, tracing greedily along the straight line of his mate's nose up to the long, full lashes lying against his cheeks. They were darker than Jayden's eyebrows and hair, almost feminine in the way they curled at the tips. Unable to resist, Devin reached up to ghost a fingertip across where they fanned against his beloved's cheek before his eyes wandered lower to trace the shape of his mate's red lips. The top lip was strongly defined, the bottom slightly fuller, plumper, but perfectly in proportion. In short, Jayden was perfection in Devin's eyes.

Knowing that his mate had carried him to their bed after Devin had fallen asleep on the couch gave him a warm feeling inside. Jayden could have just as easily left him there for the night. That he hadn't simply reinforced Devin's belief that he was home and welcome in their bed. A smile broke across Devin's face at the thought. He'd been so sure that moving back to their suite would end in disaster, but they'd made it through their first day, and every day after that was sure to get easier as the tension and awkwardness between them melted away.

A muffled murmur escaped Jayden, pulling Devin out of his thoughts as the large mage stirred in his sleep. Jayden instinctively tightened his arms around Devin and pulled him closer. Devin went with the flow, slipping his arm around Jayden's waist as he buried his face against Jayden's broad chest and nudged a thigh between those long legs. It felt so good to be held this way - to hold his mate. Devin lay like that for several minutes, listening to Jayden's strong heartbeat while he soaked in his lover's presence and inhaled his spicy scent. As usual, his body reacted to Jayden's nearness but Devin tried to ignore it in favor of savoring the moment.

For a while he was successful, but when Jayden let out a breathy, deep, growling sound in his throat and ground his hips against Devin's leg, all of Devin's good intentions went out the window. It was obvious by the way Jayden's heart had sped up against Devin's ear and by the larger man's body movements that he was having a very nice dream. Devin was determined to make it even better. After all, it was the least he could do after falling asleep before his mate's return the night before.

He squirmed lower in Jayden's embrace, flicking his tongue out to tease a reddish-purple nipple along the way and drawing another soft sound of pleasure from his lover. Devin didn't linger, though. He kept moving down until Jayden's semi-erect cock was level with his mouth. Gathering the thick length in his hand, Devin moved the silky skin up and down the rapidly hardening shaft a few times before working his tongue around the emerging tip.

Once it was nice and wet, Devin took in just the head, sucking on it gently to coax out a drop of salty pre-come before taking Jayden in deeper. Something between a moan and a gasp rumbled through Jayden's chest as a big hand found its way into Devin's hair. Devin nuzzled into the touch, humming contentedly around Jayden's hard length as he began to pick up the pace, bobbing his head up and down as he tried to pleasure his mate.

Another moan and a big drop of Jayden's essence on his tongue urged him on, as did the way Jayden's fingers tightened in his hair as Devin's mate began thrusting carefully into his mouth. Encouraged that he was doing it right this time - and not the least bit disappointed that he'd woken up his lover - Devin eased up onto his knees and elbows, pushing Jayden fully onto his back without giving up his prize. He only paused a moment to drag his loose hair over one shoulder and out of the way before redoubling his efforts.

God, he'd missed this. Although Devin had been embarrassed to do this for Jayden at first, he'd really come to cherish the intimacy of the act and feeling Jayden melt back onto the mattress and spread his long, muscular legs submissively made Devin's already-hard cock pound with need. Devin wanted Jayden. No, he needed him, to be inside him and feel that closeness.

Just to test the waters, Devin reached down with one hand to nudge at the back of Jayden's leg with his hand, urging the redhead to open himself up even more.

Jayden let out a shuddering, "Oh, God yes, sweetheart," as he complied to Devin's unspoken request and planted both feet on the mattress, drawing them up further before letting his knees fall to either side.

A soft groan of anticipation echoed through Devin's chest as he pulled off completely and sucked his way down the underside of Jayden's cock until he reached the full, heavy sack below. He nuzzled it with his nose, breathing in Jayden's musky scent as he took the opportunity to glance up the large, masculine form beneath him. He paused only a moment to admire the way Jayden's muscles shifted and bunched in his tight stomach. Then he hungrily eyed the redhead's beaded nipples before allowing his gaze to continue up Jayden's thick neck to the blissful expression on his lover's face. Those molten grey eyes were closed, as if Jayden were focused completely on the feel of Devin's lips and tongue nipping and teasing their way down the wrinkled skin of his sack on the way to the smooth perineum below.

Once there, Devin suckled on the sensitive spot as if he planned to leave his mark on the area. Jayden's hips thrust upwards anxiously in response, begging wordlessly for more. When Devin brought a hand into play, tracing the puckered skin of Jayden's hole, his big man's eyes finally popped open and he pinned Devin with his intense gaze. Jayden's pupils were so dilated with his arousal that his eyes seemed almost black in the half-light of the room.

"I need you," Jayden stated simply, breathless as he reached over with one long arm to retrieve the lube from the nightstand.

In that moment, those words meant more to Devin than any flowery or passionate declaration of love he'd ever heard. Hearing his earlier thoughts echoed by his mate sent a streak of possessiveness through him that frightened him even as it urged him on.

When Jayden handed him the lube, Devin quickly popped the bottle open to drizzle a generous amount of the slippery substance directly onto Jayden's exposed pucker. Then he caught the excess that ran down Jayden's crack with his fingers and slid one home to begin loosening the tight, outer ring of muscle protecting Jayden's entrance.

It wasn't long before Jayden demanded more, both in words and in the downward motion of his hips. The moan that escaped Jayden's red lips at the intrusion was deep, his voice rough with arousal. Hearing it sent a shiver of raw desire racing down Devin's spine. Devin gave his mate what he wanted, sliding another digit into the redhead's tight body and leaning forward to trace his tongue around Jayden's glans as he allowed Jayden a moment to adjust before beginning to scissor his fingers and work his way deeper in search of the small gland inside.

Once he found it, Devin traced around the smooth bundle of nerves, drawing a gasp of pleasure from his mate before pulling his fingers out to add another. As he slid them back home, Devin ran sucking kisses up the exposed underside of Jayden's dripping erection, stopping once he reached the tip to lap at the puddle of pre-come that had gathered near Jayden's small navel. The muscles beneath his tongue flexed at the teasing caress just as Jayden's hand found the back of Devin's head again, fingers tightening almost painfully in the long, golden strands as his mate urged him to continue.

"Take me in deep, pet," Jayden rumbled, his breath coming faster and his words slightly slurred with passion. Devin's own aching cock twitched in reaction to the sound as he angled his head forward and took Jayden's erection all the way to the back of his throat, humming as the salty-sweet pre-come coated his tongue and the flavor exploded on his taste buds again. Immediately, Devin tightened his lips around his lover's steely length and increased the suction.

For several minutes the only noises in the room were their rapid breaths and the wet sounds of Devin's fingers and lips working Jayden's body. The need to sink himself into Jayden's warm, strong body was becoming unbearable despite Devin's determination to stretch his mate thoroughly. Devin hadn't been inside Jayden for so long and the tightness of the velvety channel squeezing his fingers reinforced that fact. Still, Jayden preferred a little burn when Devin took him this way, so he knew it wouldn't be much longer.

Pulling off the leaking erection in his mouth, Devin retrieved the lube and squirted more of the cool liquid directly onto the spot where his fingers were pistoning in and out of Jayden's hole. Jayden tensed ever-so-slightly at the feel of it, propping himself up on one elbow and using his grip on Devin's hair to urge him upward. Devin quickly gave in, finger fucking Jayden as he gave the delicious cock in front of him a final lick and nipped and sucked his way up Jayden's delectable body. He paused once again to tease his tongue around one hard nipple before drawing it into his mouth.

Jayden's hips bucked as he huffed out a sharp breath at the sensation. Then his patience ran out. He pulled Devin off the hard, little peak with a wet pop and cradled Devin's face in his huge hands, pulling him higher to nip at Devin's swollen bottom lip with his strong, white teeth. Devin pulled his fingers from Jayden's body as he swiped his tongue across those red lips. After tasting them, he dove in deeper, thrusting his tongue hungrily into Jayden's welcoming mouth over and over like a starving man. Jayden's tongue tangled with Devin's, meeting him thrust for thrust and clearly just as eager for Devin as Devin was for him.

They continued that way until both were breathless and were forced to break apart. Jayden fell back on the bed again, the overwhelming need he felt blazing in his eyes for Devin to see. "Now, love. Please," Jayden murmured.

Devin let out a pitiful groan and bit his bottom lip in a vain attempt to calm himself enough to get inside his lover's body before he exploded. He pulled away to search for the discarded lube but, before he had the chance, Devin heard a pop and glanced back at Jayden to find him pouring a puddle into his big palm. Then a massive hand was closing around Devin's aching shaft, slicking him up even as the large redhead raised his legs to encircle Devin's waist and pull Devin's hips closer to where they needed to be. A hiss of pleasure escaped Devin at the feel of Jayden's hand on his cock and those long, muscular legs wrapping around him. He was nearly shaking from the effort to hold back and not come on the spot.

"Feels so fucking good," Devin groaned roughly as he thrust into Jayden's grip.

"I know something that will feel so much better," Jayden rumbled in a smooth, seductive voice as he quickly pinched the tip of Devin's cock and let go.

Devin groaned again, not wasting time to form a response as he rose up on his knees and aligned his cock with his mate's glistening, clenching hole. It was so tight and pink; he couldn't tear his eyes away as he pushed the head of his cock against it. The resistance lasted only a second before Jayden bore down and the tight outer ring swallowed Devin up to the glans.

"Fuck!" Devin gasped as he released the grip on the base of his erection to grab Jayden's strong hips with both hands and push in further. Jayden was so fucking tight. Devin had almost forgotten how good it felt to bury himself in that velvety heat. Jayden's legs tightened around him even more, pulling Devin deeper and deeper until Devin's hips were flush against Jayden's ass, the hair of his groin brushing the soft skin of Jayden's rear. Only then did they pause, both panting and fighting hard to regain some semblance of control.

Jayden rose back up onto one elbow to lean forward and taste Devin's lips again. This kiss was more urgent than the last, almost desperate, their breath coming hard, caressing one another's faces as they nipped, licked, and clumsily devoured one another. As soon as Devin thought he might be able to move without losing it, he pulled away to stare into Jayden's passion-dazed eyes as he eased out an inch or so and then plunged back in again.

Jayden let out a low, rumbling sound deep in his chest as his eyes drifted shut as he dropped back against the pillow and arched his back in pleasure. Devin pulled out again, this time until only the head of his cock remained inside Jayden's body before immediately pushing back in. A fine sheen of sweat covered his entire body as he tried to fight back the urge to shoot, but when Jayden's hot channel spasmed around his aching length and his lover's pretty red cock bounced against that rock hard stomach he knew he wouldn't be able to hold back for very long.

Soon, Devin's control dissolved as he began to piston roughly into Jayden's hole. Within minutes he was on edge, fighting back his own release as he slammed into Jayden, relishing the deep sounds of pleasure he was pulling from his mate with each well-aimed thrust of his hips.

"Harder, love," Jayden demanded with a grunt, unwrapping his legs from Devin to pin his feet on the bed and raising his ass to meet Devin's urgent thrusts halfway.

Devin redoubled his efforts, releasing his grip on Jayden's hips to lean forward onto one hand while he grabbed Jayden's bouncing erection with the other. Then he pounded into his lover, jerking the hard, leaking length as he rushed toward orgasm. Devin was so close. He could feel the pressure building in his tight balls, even as shiver of ecstasy raced up his spine and down his groin.

Jayden was close too, his muscles drawing tighter with each movement of Devin's hips. Devin squeezed the cock in his hand harder, jerking it clumsily as his own erection swelled with his impending release. Jayden gasped, a rough groan escaping his parted lips as his handsome face drew up in pleasure and his hot, milky come shot between them. Devin shuddered, gritting his teeth and crying out as he felt his release coat the walls of Jayden's channel, further slicking the way.

Two more ragged thrusts and Devin shot again before collapsing onto his lover's broad chest with a grunt. A rumbling, contented sound echoed through Jayden's chest as his long fingers worked their way back into Devin's hair and he urged Devin to meet his lips. With a hiss of pleasure, Devin reluctantly pulled his flagging erection from Jayden's dripping, spasming hole and gave in to his mate's silent plea.

"I love you," he panted against Jayden's mouth before claiming it and pushing his tongue between those soft, red lips. Jayden hummed into the kiss, meeting Devin's demanding tongue eagerly for several seconds before gentling the kiss.

Warm, gentle hands roamed Devin's body, caressing and relearning it and making Devin's spent erection twitch with interest. When those fingers found their way to Devin's back, he stiffened before instinctively pulling away. "Don't," Jayden whispered, his gorgeous eyes full of love and possibly acceptance. "Don't pull away from me. I love you, Devin. All of you."

Devin studied Jayden for a few moments before forcing himself to relax against his mate and burying his face in the man's broad chest. "You don't know what you're saying," Devin mumbled against the distorted phoenix above Jayden's heart.

"I know that you're strong and that, deep down, you're an honest and good person. I know that you're not the same man I met the day we were joined, but I also know that you'll eventually become the person I've always known you could be. Someday we'll rule Aurora side-by-side and Aurora will be all the better for it." Almost absentmindedly, Jayden traced a finger down one of the heavier scar lines. Devin did his best not to squirm away from the touch as he allowed Jayden to speak his piece. "To me, these scars are a painful yet beautiful reminder of what we once were, what we can be again. They're a reminder that we should never take our love, our family, or our happiness for granted again."

A breathy, humorless laugh was Devin's response to that. He respected Jayden's feelings and treasured the return of his mate's optimism, but he didn't share in it. "What they are is a reminder of my shame, of the horror and pain I lived through…of my own weakness," Devin corrected with a sigh. "Can we please stop talking about this and just enjoy the moment?" That said, he looked up at Jayden with a pleading expression and was met with one of concern from his lover.

"I'm sorry if I upset you," the large redhead whispered as he pulled Devin's head down to rest their foreheads together. Then he meshed their lips gently before easing Devin off of him just enough to sit up in the bed and pull Devin into his lap. Once he had Devin wrapped up tightly in his strong arms, Jayden continued. "I hope that someday I can help you see them the way I do. They're an important part of you now. Proof that you're strong…a survivor. . . something I've never doubted from the day we met."

Despite his annoyance that Jayden wouldn't let the subject drop, Devin chuckled at the memory that his lover's last comment conjured as he grinned up at his mate. "You mean the day I embarrassed you in front of the Assembly by storming out in a fit of anger?"

Jayden curled his nose, making a face as he relived that day. "That WAS a little humiliating, but I probably deserved it. I was thinking more of the way you fought your father and I tooth and nail in the beginning. You never held back or failed to give as well as you got. It was refreshing, really, after having become accustomed to the soft spoken, carefully guarded words of so many others. Very few would have had the audacity to snub me in such a way, especially in public."

Devin rolled his eyes at that before leaning forward to nip playfully at Jayden's swollen bottom lip. When he pulled away again, he grinned up at the redhead and murmured, "Well, it probably did you some good to have to win me over, my proud, pampered prince."

Jayden paused, a surprised look crossing his handsome face at Devin's teasing. Before Devin could ask him what was wrong, Jayden smiled and stretched his big arms like a lazy house cat before nudging Devin off his lap. "As much as I'd love to stay in bed with you all morning, we both have a busy day ahead of us. I have to go meet with Augustus and then there are a few last minute details to iron out before the announcement ceremony this evening."

A heavy feeling immediately settled over Devin at that reminder. They were set to announce their son's upcoming birth to all of Aurora later in the day and Devin was beginning to dread it. Not so much the announcement itself as the events that would follow. The idea of a string of strangers testing their unborn child's energy signature in hopes of staking a claim rubbed Devin the wrong way. While he understood that it was tradition among the mages, it just seemed….wrong to him.

Still, to have refused would have only encouraged the rumors already circulating about the royal family, so Devin had held his tongue and was trying to keep his displeasure to himself. At least he had a solid grip on his powers now, so dropping his barrier wouldn't pose a huge threat to those around him. He really only kept it up now because it annoyed him when others sensed him approaching. It put him at a disadvantage because he had yet to hone that skill himself.

It also irritated him when his own energy source got over-eager and wanted to draw from any concentrated source Devin happened upon. At times it was if it had a life of its own and, although Devin had little trouble keeping it in check now, it was a pain in his ass to be distracted by it every time it got the urge to reach out. Usually that only occurred when Devin was near the far north side of the castle. The barracks were set up near the outer wall on that side of the castle grounds. It was where the guards and other mages under Augustus and Paul held their daily training and the place where Devin was most likely to run into a large accumulation of energy.

"I'll be back in a little while," Jayden announced happily, pulling Devin out of his thoughts as he gathered a clean tunic, pants, and shoes from the closet and placed them on the bed. That done, he slipped on a robe, gathered his things again, and headed for their bedroom door. "You should try to get a few more minutes' sleep while I meet with Augustus. I'll send a message to have our breakfast delivered and I'll wake you when I return."

As if the mention of breakfast worked as the on switch, Devin's stomach lurched and made a vicious, snarling sound. Jayden laughed, his eyes sparkling as Devin placed a hand over the small bulge on his lower abdomen and raised an eyebrow. "And how long will that be? I think our son is demanding to be fed…or at least my STOMACH is."

Jayden laughed again before opening the door and stepping through it. "No more than thirty minutes. Now get some more rest," he called over his shoulder seconds before he shut the door behind him. Devin thought that was odd because Jayden never shut the door like that, but he just shrugged it off as he lay back down. He did still feel a bit tired and a cat nap sounded good, especially with the long day ahead of him.

After tossing and turning for close to twenty minutes without success, however, Devin gave it up and threw off the blanket with a disappointed huff. Since sleep wasn't happening, Devin decided that a shower was definitely the next order of business. Lord knew that he needed it now since he had Jayden's come, both of their sweat, and God knew what else all over him. The fact that he'd even tried to go back to sleep in such a state was a testament to how tired his body was lately. Mind made up, Devin grabbed his robe and put it on as he made his way to the bathroom to get cleaned up.

By now he only had an hour before class started anyway. Today it was imperative that he get there a few minutes early. After talking to Kiran yesterday and asking his opinion, Devin had finally chosen his advisor. He wanted to speak to Master Benjamin about it before class began. He hoped the small mage would be open to the idea because Devin was at a loss for whom to ask otherwise.

He'd slowly and methodically eliminated nearly everyone on his list of possibilities the day before. Kiran agreed that Master Benjamin would be a good choice for Devin but seemed to have reservations as to whether or not the mage would be open to the idea. Despite his willingness to work with the royal family and his love of all things related to sociology, the mage had little interest in entering the political realm. According to Kiran, Master Benjamin had been offered a seat on the Genesis Council only a few years before the last war began but had refused in favor of continuing with his teaching career. He'd also turned down a request from King-Consort Aaron to become a member of the Assembly for the same reasons. Still, in many ways, Master Benjamin had acted as Devin's advisor before Devin's capture and they'd worked quite well together then. Perhaps with a little incentive…

As Devin pushed open the bedroom door and stepped into the living area, Chris' amused voice brought him up short. "Wow. You must've really let the big guy have it. He was grinning like the Cheshire cat on crack and walking like a cowboy when he went outta here a few minutes ago."

"So what?" Devin grumbled with a roll of his eyes, not in the mood to play Chris' games. "Don't sit there and try to act like you've never given it to Adam up the ass."

Chris' mouth fell open and his dark eyes widened in disbelief. Then he gaped like a fish for a second before curling his cute, little nose in distaste. "Screw that. It'd be a complete waste of a perfectly good hard-on. Adam shoots, I want it to be either in my ass or my mouth…or on my face or back…or…"

"Forget I asked," Devin cut in with a snort and a grudging grin as he scolded himself mentally for even letting himself be drawn into a discussion like that with Chris of all people. "I take it you're here for another session?"

Chris hmphed and crossed his arms across his chest before hissing and dropping them back to his side. "Fuck, my tits are sore this morning!"

"Way too much info, little brother," was Devin's honest and heartfelt reply as he made his way to the bathroom. "Give me five minutes, okay?" he called over his shoulder as he went to clean up.


Chris watched Devin go with a frown. As shocked as he was to hear Devin talk the way he had earlier, Chris was too annoyed to give it much thought. He barely saw Devin anymore outside of a session or class time and it was even rarer to be able to spend time alone with the guy. Since Adam had been called off somewhere to do…whatever he did, Chris had been looking forward to hanging out with the asshole for a little while, maybe even ask him about Kiran. It rubbed him the wrong way to have Devin just blow him off to take a shower. Sure, Chris was here for a session, but Devin could at least act a little happy to see him.

By the time Devin had finished up and returned, Chris had worked himself into a full-on pout.

When Devin walked right on by to go back to his bedroom with a distracted, "Just let me get dressed and we'll get started. We need to make it quick today since I'm in a hurry," Chris came close to just leaving the room without a word.

A few minutes later, Devin returned dressed in a roomy, gold button-up shirt with black pants and came over to take a seat on the couch across from Chris. Chris could remember a time when Devin would've sat beside him, maybe even cuddled up a little bit.

"Is that all I am to you now?" Chris asked with an indignant sniff.

Devin raised a golden-blonde eyebrow as he turned his full attention to Chris and asked, "What's up your ass today?"

"Nothing's up my ass today," Chris grumbled with an impatient huff. "How could there be when I had to get up early to come over here? Then, I get here and me and Adam have to wait while you fuck King High-And-Mighty-Fucking-Eager-To-Take-It-Up-The-Ass into oblivion. I barely see you anymore, man. I'm starting to wonder if I'd see you at all if we weren't doing these session thingies. Hell, now that you've moved back here, it'll probably be even worse."

A weird look crossed Devin's face at that comment and Chris instantly wished he'd kept his fucking mouth shut. "Never mind. Forget I said anything," he mumbled, looking away from Devin's pained expression with a sigh.

"No, I won't forget it," Devin shot back as he rose from his seat and moved to sit beside Chris. "How could you even think that?" the blonde asked as his pale eyes searched Chris's face earnestly. For half-a-second, Devin looked so much like Adam that it was scary.

Pushing that thought to the back of his mind, Chris shrugged and gave Devin a sheepish grin. "Because we used to be so tight and now you act like I'm somewhere on the bottom of the list of things to do and people to see?" His words came out more like a question and Devin's eyes widened ever-so-slightly as his mouth fell open. Then Chris's big brother closed it and opened it again, but nothing came out. It was as if a miracle had happened and Devin didn't know what to say, but no angels fell from high and no choirs began to sing in the background.

Chris squirmed under the other mage's scrutiny before getting up and walking over to the small liquor table set up across the room. It was more to break the weird atmosphere than any real need for a drink of water.

"I know I've been busy lately, Chris," Devin finally managed to croak, "but I thought you understood why I've been working so hard. I'm doing it for you, for my family, so that you'll all be safe."

Chris chucked back the glass of water in his hand before he could say what was on the tip of his tongue and then turned to face Devin again. What he really wanted to know was who'd died and made Devin the savior of Aurora. Wasn't that King Jayden's or Augustus' job or something? He kept his mouth shut, though, as he studied the guy for a second.

Devin seemed serious enough, but Chris had real doubts sometimes about exactly what Devin was after with his troublemaking. Less so now than when the guy'd first come back from the compound, but Devin still had his moments. Just yesterday he'd been drilling Master Benjamin about Auroran regulations for initiating combat, what they considered an attack on Aurora, what would be needed to justify retaliation under current laws, basically pumping Master Benjamin for his views on the subject and about the recent problems with security in Aurora.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Devin asked with a frown as he rose from the couch and made his way over to take the empty glass from Chris' hand and set it on the table.

"Like what?" Chris countered, confusion coloring his voice.

"Like you're waiting for me to turn rabid and bite you or something."

Chris snorted at that. "You're so full of shit, Dev." About that time, a dull, hot pain shot from his gut and down into his groin. With a soft grunt, Chris put pressure on the spot.

"Are you okay?" Devin demanded, grabbing Chris by the arm like he was trying to steady him, the guy's earlier disquiet going out the window as worry washed over his face.

"I'm good. Just need to sit for a few," Chris replied, patting Devin on the arm and making for the couch again. Damn baby pains. They'd started about three days ago. Master Alan had said that it was Jiro and Taro's weight causing the discomfort and to rest more often, but Chris was already going nuts with what little time he spent propping his feet up. He hadn't even bothered to mention it to Adam since his Adonis would've made Chris follow Master Alan's instructions to the letter. It was also obvious that Master Alan had forgotten to mention it to Adam since his mate hadn't tied Chris to the bed. Chris could think of several reasons he'd like to be tied to the bed by his husband. . . and bed rest wasn't one of them.

Oblivious to the sudden turn Chris' thoughts had taken, Devin followed him back to the couch and sat beside him, the blonde's worry still written all over his face. It was a nice change from the usual blank or irritated expression Devin wore lately, but Chris was still anxious to get away from the subject before Devin started bitching.

Before Devin could start obsessing, Chris said, "The reason I dropped in earlier was to ask you some stuff about Kiran. I know you don't like to talk about the compound, but I need to know what it was like there, what Kiran might've been up against."

"Why?" Devin blurted out, his face growing paler as he looked down at his lap before continuing in a calmer voice. "I mean, dredging all that shit up won't change anything. Can't you just ask Kiran?"

"I can't," Chris admitted with a blush, puppy dog eyes on full beam. Devin had never been able to stand up to those. "I don't feel comfortable asking him that but he said the other night that he'd stayed there for me. I just have to know."


Devin closed his eyes and leaned back against the couch with a loud sigh. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Why'd Chris have to pull out that look? The kid really had no idea what he was asking for. Devin didn't know how much the little guy had heard from the others, but he'd made a point not to bring that shit up around him. Chris had already been through enough in his young life and Devin hated the idea of adding to his problems. Then again, Devin knew from his own experiences since he'd come to Aurora that having people coddle you and hide things 'for your own good' was just so much bullshit.

As Devin opened his eyes again, he studied Chris. Chris was a caring person for the most part and he deserved to have someone like Kiran to lean on. Devin knew that Chris' resistance to the tiny mage was due to his background but, by the curiosity and anxiety shining from Chris' deep, brown eyes, Devin got the feeling that Kiran had somehow managed to tear at least a few bricks from the wall that Chris had built between himself and his birthfather. Maybe if the poor kid knew the whole truth…but that wasn't possible.

The regulations forbidding him to tell Chris about his past incarnations made that impossible, but there were no such restrictions on telling Chris what he really wanted to know, even if it wasn't the whole story. Almost as an afterthought, Devin's eyes dropped to the large, distended belly Chris was sporting and smiled. Yes, Chris deserved to have his questions answered. Even if he was young, he'd lived through more than most people did in an entire lifetime and he was about to be a birthfather himself. Despite his appearance and soft heart, Chris was no child.

"I can't tell you every detail of Kiran's time with Ashcroft, obviously, but I can honestly say that he…" the outer door to the suite popped open just as Chris leaned forward to give Devin his full attention and Jayden strolled into the room with a blinding smile on his beloved face. Devin let his words trail off and Chris let out a desperate groan of frustration at the interruption as he dropped back against the cushions behind him in a sulk. Jayden gave Chris a weird look, like he wondered what his problem was and Devin gave him a reassuring smile before taking one of Chris' hands in his own.

"Like, I was saying, I don't know everything that happened, but Kiran was beaten severely at least twice during my time at the compound. Ashcroft liked to see pain inflicted on others, although he rarely did it himself. The second time, the bastard personally doled out Kiran's punishment in front of the entire compound and didn't stop until Kiran was unconscious. Your birth-father was out of commission for a few days after that because Ashcroft refused to allow him to be healed. He did that to me as well. He'd inflict punishment and then leave the wounds behind as a reminder that he didn't take crap from anyone. During the time he had me whipped daily, he only allowed my injuries to be healed when it was time to return for another public session, and then only to keep them from killing me or so that I was less likely to pass out and miss the excitement."

Chris grimaced at that before glancing down at his sandal covered feet. "Hurts like a son-of-a-bitch, doesn't it?" he stated more than asked, a knowing tone in his voice and a mature, almost unaffected, expression on his face that was beyond his years.

"Yeah," Devin replied quietly, sparing a glance for his mate and taking in Jayden's worried frown as the large man took a seat across from them with a question in his stormy, grey eyes. "We're talking about the compound and Kiran," Devin explained quickly before giving Chris his full attention again. He really didn't like the idea of Jayden hearing what he had to say, but maybe it was time that the stubborn king better understood why Devin lived in fear of the Omega.

Jayden nodded his head in acceptance but made no move to leave the room or give them privacy, so Devin shrugged, sighed, and carried on. "Kiran once told me that Ashcroft asked him to stand beside him as his mate but that he refused. It would have meant becoming tainted to do so and Kiran wasn't willing to do that. After that, Ashcroft took what he wanted from Kiran, delegating him to the position of house slave and even going so far as to forbid Kiran to speak to anyone but him. Kiran was raped, beaten, disgraced, and treated like garbage and was still expected to offer Ashcroft complete obedience while the Omega leader was free to do whatever he wanted, with whomever he wanted."

That said, Devin took a moment to collect his thoughts again as he tried to decide what else he should reveal. After giving Chris a moment to absorb what had already been said, Devin added, "Kiran was humiliated on a daily basis, but he's stronger than I am and never allowed it to touch him deeply. When I first arrived, Kiran was always present in the dining room of the compound during the evening meal. Ashcroft kept him on a collar like a dog and Kiran was expected to sit at his feet in the floor and serve his every whim while the other mages gossiped and enjoyed the show. One night he was even forced to give Ashcroft head in front of the entire group. I'm sure that wasn't the first time something like that had happened. No one else in the room seemed the least bit surprised by it. Kiran said he put up with it because it was better than the alternative."

Chris looked up at Devin with a strange expression on his sweet face and shrugged. "That part doesn't sound too bad at least."

A blonde eyebrow raised in disbelief was Devin's initial response until he reminded himself that Chris might actually enjoy that type of thing on some level, at least based on the guy's past and his current preferences in his relationship with Adam. Not that Devin gave a damn. In the beginning he'd been a little thrown by it all, but now he understood that situations like that didn't always end badly and was of the opinion 'to each his own' as long as it was consensual. Still, what Devin had witnessed at the compound had been something completely different.

"Maybe not," Devin offered with a half-hearted smile for Chris' benefit, "but Kiran didn't relish or welcome the experience. I could see the shame and resentment in his eyes every time that Ashcroft tugged on the lead attached to his collar."

"Did he do that to you?" Jayden asked in a raw, pained voice.

Devin looked over at his mate to find his face carefully schooled into a neutral expression, but that did nothing to hide the anger and hurt raging in his stormy eyes. "He had me beaten publically many times, but never forced me to wear a collar. Not even after we became lovers. I think he knew that to do so would eliminate any chance of convincing me to join him. Perhaps he realized that that was a line he shouldn't cross."

At the mention of the word 'lovers,' Jayden's jaw tightened almost imperceptibly and he looked away for a moment before meeting Devin's shame filled gaze again. "That's not what I meant," he explained with a sigh. "I meant, did he force you to pleasure him in front of the others?"

Devin glanced at Chris, surprised that Jayden had asked something like that in front of the younger mage, and hesitated to answer for a moment. Then he decided that both Jayden and Chris probably deserved to know the truth and paused only a moment to choose his words carefully. "Yes and no. He raped me in front of a guard once, and even threatened to share me with him if I didn't behave, but he never forced me into sexual acts in front of the entire crowd in the dining hall. I have that to be thankful for at least. Kiran wasn't nearly so lucky. That he didn't turn on the son-of-a-bitch and rip his heart out in his sleep still amazes me at times."

"He had no choice. The binding Ashcroft had on Kiran was too strong for him to break while on Earth and there was still Chris to be considered," Jayden offered in explanation, his voice wavering as he tried to hide his inner turmoil from both Devin and Chris. "He probably feared the repercussions he would face if he made an attempt and failed."

With a cringe, Chris nodded his agreement. "Yeah, been there and done that. After a while, you just tell yourself that it's the lesser of two evils and say the Hell with it. If Kiran had tried something like that and that piece of shit had caught him, he would've made Kiran's life a living Hell."

Hearing Chris admit something like that threw Devin for a moment, but he quickly recovered and sadly added, "I think he did anyway. If my short experience with the Omega leader was anything to go by, Kiran has nerves of steel. The physical abuse Ashcroft doled out was like a walk in the park compared to the psychological abuse he took so much pleasure in. It wasn't enough for him to watch me suffer. He wanted to see me completely ripped apart and bleeding from the soul. Why anyone would go so far to hurt my father is beyond me, but I'm sure that Kiran suffered far more than I did at Ashcroft's hands."

"What does Adam have to do with anything?" Chris asked, his brow furrowed and his dark eyes narrowed suspiciously. Devin froze in disbelief for a heartbeat as he quickly schooled his expression and fought back the urge to smack himself on the forehead for being so stupid. He'd screwed up by even mentioning that.

"Adam had a hand in protecting Kiran from Ashcroft after he came of age," Jayden supplied with a warning look in Devin's direction. "He thwarted more than one attempt by Ashcroft to claim Kiran as his mate during the war."

"Either way," Devin said, drawing Chris' attention back to himself and quickly moving the subject away from Adam, "when Sarah was kidnapped by the Omega, Ashcroft told me that your birthfather had threatened to kill you when you were born. The bastard claimed that that was his reason for sending you away after you were born – to protect you. Kiran admitted to making that threat, but said that it was a hollow one made in desperation. When he made it, he was only thinking of his need to protect you from Ashcroft at any cost. Ashcroft kept you hidden away on Earth as a way to keep Kiran in line. I'm sure that the black-hearted son-of-a-bitch had Omega members lined up with orders to kill you in retribution if Kiran were to ever attack Ashcroft and kill him. That's just the way he worked."

At those words, Chris once again looked down at his feet, his hand subconsciously finding its way to his stomach, as if trying to shield his unborn children from some unnamed threat. He could see that his friend was wavering and perhaps bringing up Chris' abandonment by his father and his birthfather's threat had been unwise. Then again, he'd told Chris the truth and Devin, of all people, could understand how Kiran must have felt when he'd made that threat. After all, Devin had been there himself, if only for a short while.

"Kiran really does care about you deeply," Devin whispered as he leaned closer and squeezed the small hand held in his own.

Chris looked back up, tears shimmering in his eyes as his lip quivered slightly. "Then how could he even…"

"He made that threat BECAUSE he loves you so much, Chris," Devin cut in, pleading with everything in him for Chris to understand. There was no way that he could explain to Chris how he knew that with such certainty, but he was determined to try to find another way. "What would you have done in his place? He was at Ashcroft's mercy, something the man lacked in any form. He had no way of protecting you or himself from the bastard's cruelty. Picture yourself in Kiran's place. Would you have wanted to bring a child into that situation? At best, you would have become some warped and damaged shadow of your current self had you been raised there."

"Do you think he really would have gone through with it?" Chris asked, his voice shallow and unsteady. The mature countenance he'd shown at earlier had completely melted away and once again Devin was reminded of how young and vulnerable his friend could be, how much he needed people to love and care for him to help him move beyond his past. In many ways, he looked like a lost little boy or a kicked puppy as he played distractedly with Devin's fingers and avoided his worried gaze.

Devin immediately shook his head no as he urged Chris' eyes back up to meet his own. "No, I don't. He cried tears of joy the day he found out that you were here in Aurora and safe. He was even happier when he learned that you were having Adam's child. I think you should seriously consider opening your heart to him. I agree with you that you don't need a daddy now, you're already a grown man, but I know from experience that having someone there to play the role of father, even as an adult, is worth the effort. Kiran is a good man. He'll be good for you and he'll love you in a way no one else can if you just let him."

"Devin's right, Chris," Jayden murmured as he rose and moved to take a seat on the other side of Chris. Once there, he took Chris' other hand, dwarfing it in his larger one as he looked into Chris' shimmering eyes somberly. "I never knew my birthfather and I'd give almost anything to have one day with him. It's the same for my father. I was lucky enough to have his guidance until I approached adulthood, but I still mourn his loss every day and wish he was still alive. You can have that now. You just have to take the chance. I've known Kiran my entire life. I looked up to him when I was a child and I still look up to him as an adult. You'll never regret letting him into your life. He won't let you down."

Hearing Jayden's heartfelt words made Devin want to drop everything and comfort him. Jayden rarely talked about his father or birthfather because it was still so painful for him.

Chris studied the air around Jayden for a spit-second before his lips turned up slightly at the corner in an attempt to smile. Then he finally lost his battle with his emotions as a tear fell free and slipped down his smooth cheek. "Thank you, Jayden. I…"

A loud knock sounded at the door, interrupting Chris' words, just seconds before it opened and Adam walked in.

Kiran followed on his heels, his eyes immediately searching out Chris where he sat between Devin and Jayden. "Are you well?" he asked, worry furrowing his brow. Chris' lip quivered again and another tear escaped as Adam immediately crossed into the living area and pulled Chris into his arms, murmuring something in his ear as he tried to soothe him.

Chris sniffled and tightened his arms around Adam's waist as he nodded his head against Adam's strong chest. Adam crouched down to whisper to him again and Chris grabbed him around the neck and buried his face in the hair streaming over Adam's throat as he murmured something back. Not for the first time, Devin couldn't help but admire the way Adam handled his small mate and it gave him a warm feeling to know that they were so well matched, despite their occasional problems. Kiran watched from the sidelines, clearly pleased with the way Adam was treating his son but also with a drop of jealously in his sapphire eyes for Chris' easy familiarity with his husband.

Devin nodded his head toward Kiran in a silent greeting and Kiran bowed his head respectfully to both Devin and Jayden, but his eyes immediately flitted back to the intimate scene playing out in front of them. Kiran seemed to be fighting a battle within himself as he stood there. After a few more seconds, determination settled over his delicate features and he moved over to where Chris and Adam stood and ran a soothing hand across Chris' shoulder.

"What's wrong?" he asked, his worried gaze darting up to meet Adam's before returning to the back of Chris' head.

"I think the two of you need to have a talk," Adam replied, his eyes practically dancing. "Perhaps we could skip Devin's session this morning and do it after the ceremony this evening?"

Immediately, Devin nodded his approval for the plan. He'd do almost anything to get Kiran and Chris moving in the right direction. Kiran glanced back and forth between them with a confused expression on his face. "I feel strongly that we should avoid missing Devin's cleansing sessions if at all possible, unless that's what's upsetting Chris so deeply."

"I would normally agree with you Kiran but, in this instance, I feel that a break in routine is justified," Adam countered, his smile growing brighter as he hugged his mate tightly against his chest. "How do you feel about that, my sweet angel? Are you ready to talk to your birthfather now or do you need more time?"

"Now's good," was Chris' muffled, sniffly response and immediately Devin realized what was going on. As if to confirm that, Chris finally gave up his strangle hold on Adam's neck and turned to face Kiran with a bashful, embarrassed grin and watery eyes. "I'm not sure how much we have to talk about, though. After all, we could yak on about this until Hell freezes over and he'd still be my dad, right? Might as well accept it."

Kiran froze at those words, stunned, and then lit up like a Christmas tree. Hell, everybody in the room lit up like a Christmas tree, but none quite a brightly as the beautiful little mage staring longingly at his equally small and beautiful little son. Devin had to blink back tears of his own. A glance at Jayden said that his mountain of a mate was having the same problem. Luckily another knock sounded at the door, announcing the arrival of their breakfast and breaking the emotionally charged atmosphere that was filling the room.

Devin's stomach growled loudly at the thought of finally getting something to eat and he smiled sheepishly as Jayden looked at him with amusement sparkling in his eyes and then let his head fall back with a groan. "Can somebody get that before I starve to death?" Devin asked with a snicker, enjoying Jayden's dramatics almost as much as he enjoyed the grin that spread across Chris' face.

"Fine," Jayden groused teasingly, "but I fear that I need to have the agricultural section of the Genesis Council contact the growers and ask them to increase this year's crop quota. Between the two of you, you'll eat us out of house and home." Devin laughed and swatted at Jayden as he stood, but didn't argue. After all, the large mage made a very good point.


'Deep breaths,' Devin thought to himself as he sat on the big, golden throne that had been placed beside Jayden's. They'd arranged the Great Hall with Devin's newly added throne to the left, his new advisor and Master beside him, and Jayden's throne on the right with Adam and Chris by his side. Devin nodded his head congenially to the mage before him. The bastard had to be at least number three-hundred in a long line of hopefuls and Devin would be thrilled when they were done. Apparently, the commoners were the first ones through the line, followed by the military personnel, the professionals, the Assembly Members, and, last but not least, the Genesis Councilmen. It was complicated and seemed ass-backwards in Devin's opinion.

On the other hand, the announcement ceremony itself had been a pretty simple affair. Everyone who'd wanted to attend had gathered in the courtyard outside the castle and Jayden had made the announcement from a large balcony on the second floor of the castle with their advisors and immediate family present. Master Benjamin had been reluctant to participate, despite the fact that Devin had managed to talk him into accepting the position as his advisor after much prodding and the use of some emotional blackmail. Of course, the offer to give Master Benjamin the job of head tutor for the next Prince of Aurora and possibly the twins – pending Adam and Chris' approval - had significantly sweetened the deal.

Admittedly, it had been hard to gauge the crowd's reaction from such a distance, but it had been very clear by the turn out that doing the ceremony any other way would have been impossible. For one thing, there had been at well over ten thousand people, a fact that made Devin eternally grateful that he hadn't been required to do more than wave and smile for the crowd this time. Once the crowd had heard the news, they'd cheered and talked excitedly amongst themselves while Jayden had given a short speech, his arms wrapped lovingly around Devin's waist while he smiled that breathtaking smile. Devin hadn't been able to hold back a blush of embarrassment at having so many people seeing him hugged up to his mate, but he'd just smiled and tried to act like it was nothing for the sake of everyone watching.

After that the real fun had begun. Before their small party had even reached the throne room, a huge line had formed, wrapping its way from the doorway of the Great Hall on the second floor and down the grand staircase as far as the eye could see. It had been quite a shock to see that there were so many single mages, but Adam had gently reminded Devin that the last war had made it so. All Devin could think in that moment was that this shit was going to take FOREVER and how glad he was that he'd already finished his mage training and had been excused for the rest of the day by his Master because of the announcement.

Devin felt yet another mage's energy brush over him, pulling him out of his thoughts and causing him to have a sudden, unreasonable urge to unleash his energy source and suck the bastard dry. Immediately he felt guilty as a look of disappointment washed over the guy's face and he smiled sadly at both Jayden and Devin before bowing respectfully.

"Thank you for the opportunity, Your Majesties," he said in a flat but sincere voice before bowing again and walking away.

Devin passed a tired look sideways in Chris' direction and found his friend fiddling impatiently with the hem of his shirt. Adam placed a hand over his and squeezed it gently before turning his pale gaze back to the crowd around them. Chris sighed and slumped a little, but never looked over in Devin's direction. For the hundredth time since they'd come to the throne room, Devin wished that Sarah was there. The school for the ex-Omega slaves was scheduled to open in two days and she'd already started working and ironing out the last minute details. She'd had to turn down Devin's last minute invite because she'd already made plans to have a meeting with a guy about some furniture and another one about linens and other such essentials. The second one couldn't be cancelled and she'd left soon after the announcement had been made with a promise to return as soon as possible.

Jayden cleared his throat, drawing Devin's attention back to the business at hand and giving him an encouraging smile before motioning for a mage to come forward. The next in line instantly perked up, approaching the throne almost cautiously as he bowed in Jayden's direction and then looked Devin over thoroughly, a look of awe in his expression. "It's an honor to meet you, King-Consort Devin," the mage said as he bowed low before him.

"The pleasure is mine," Devin murmured with a pleasant smile, not sure what to make of the way the guy was acting. It wasn't the first time that evening he'd come face-to-face with that strange reaction from someone he'd met for the first time. At first, he'd shrugged it off as a commoner's reaction to meeting royalty for the first time but as the day wore on it was becoming more obvious that they didn't seem to be having quite the same reaction to Jayden's presence. Sure, they were reverent and respectful, but…

"Congratulations to you both on your most recent blessing," the stranger added when Devin didn't elaborate.

"We accept your congratulations and are honored that you were able to attend the ceremony," Jayden replied as Devin nodded his head in agreement. At first Devin had tried to be more civil and outgoing with the people gathered, but the line was extremely long and he'd quickly realized that spending any real amount of time conversing with each individual would mean that the proceedings would last until the end of time.

No sooner were Jayden's words out, then the mage's energy brushed across Devin's body. It was just as annoying as the last one who'd done it and his immediate reaction was much the same. Still, he forced a smile on his face and pretended not to mind while Chris eyed him with pity from the seats he and Adam occupied on the other side of Jayden. Jayden squeezed Devin's hand reassuringly, drawing his attention back to the main event as the unlucky candidate walked away with slumped shoulders.

He kind of felt sorry for them in a way. After all, they were all just anxious for their mates to reincarnate and if that mate happened to be the heir to the throne of Aurora, then all the better. Twenty unlucky candidates later, however, Devin's pity was beginning to wane ever-so-slightly and the urge to drain their asses dry was growing by leaps and bounds. A sigh escaped him as yet another person approached and Master Benjamin cleared his throat from his seat on Devin's left hand side and mouthed the word 'smile'. Kiran, who sat on the other side of Master Benjamin, gave Devin a look that clearly said to shape up.

Nodding in his direction, Devin smiled and turned his full attention back to the unknown man in front of him. He'd already missed the guy's greeting, so he simply nodded his head in a friendly manner while the mage scanned him and moved on. After a couple of hours or so, they took a short break for their evening meal, shoving their food down hastily in Adam's office behind the Genesis Council Chambers just down the hall. It was guarded and the wardings were equal to those now in place in the King's Private Area and they were all able to relax for a moment and let their guard down for a time. It was a welcome break as Devin had been a little tired from working not to draw on all of the accumulated energy in the area. Chris, on the other hand, hadn't seemed to be having any trouble at all on his end, despite the huge number of auras he'd come in contact with. It was a little shocking to Devin to realize the tiny mage had improved so much with his use of barriers without Devin having noticed. Once they were done – all too soon in Devin's opinion – they'd returned for the next round.

Before their break, Devin had seen the military guys run through. The largest number so far had been from their ranks. After that, there had been a group in civilian dress, who were most likely the professionals, but there had been quite a few mixed in who wore more formal attire. This time, the mages who moved forward were all dressed formally and Devin nearly let out a sigh of relief as he leaned over and asked, "Are we still working through the professionals or are these Assembly Members?"

"Assembly," Jayden replied quietly near Devin's ear before turning a beaming smile at the approaching mage. "Sir Calvin, it's a pleasure to see you here tonight."

"The pleasure is all mine, Your Majesty," he replied bowing - but not nearly as deeply as the commoners who'd come through before him. Devin took an instant dislike to the guy. He didn't seem very sincere.

"How are things in the Sanyor Province?" Jayden asked politely, his smile still in place but not quite reaching his eyes like it had with the common masses who'd come before.

"As well as can be expected under the circumstances," Sir Calvin replied before turning his attention to Devin. "With your permission…" An arrogant wave of his hand toward Devin's person made it clear what he wanted, but Devin wasn't the least bit amused. Not only had the asshole failed to bow and show respect as the others before him had, but he hadn't bothered to congratulate them or even address Devin in any way.

"Here's an idea," Devin said, leaning forward like he wanted to share a secret and pinning Sir Calvin with a hard, uncompromising look. "Why don't you move it to the back of the line and try again? Next time you come through, address me respectfully as you should have the first time and then ask me again. Perhaps I'll allow it then."

A gasp came from Master Benjamin's general direction, accompanied by an amused snort from Chris and a wide-eyed look of disbelief from Jayden. Sir Calvin sputtered, like he wanted to argue but was too shocked by Devin's behavior to form a response. Unperturbed, Devin snapped his fingers in Augustus' direction where the big guy stood behind Jayden's throne and pointed at Sir Calvin.

"He seems confused, Augustus. Can you help him out?"

Augustus nodded, a blank expression firmly in place, but that did nothing to hide the amused gleam that shone from his hazel eyes. "As you wish, Your Highness." And just like that, Sir Calvin was being led back the way he'd come by one of Augustus' guards.

A sense of satisfaction filled Devin as he watched them go and the tightening of Jayden's hand around his own told Devin that his mate backed him up on his decision, even if it wasn't something Jayden would have done himself. Devin looked over at the large redhead and smiled gently. Jayden raised one blood-red eyebrow in amusement before turning his attention back to the line nearby. The ones who'd witnessed Devin's outburst were murmuring amongst themselves, some laughing and eyeing Devin with respect while others seemed offended.

Master Benjamin leaned closer and tapped Devin's arm politely. When Devin looked over, the mage nodded his head in appreciation, causing a short hank of bangs to fall over his eyes before he pushed it back behind his ear and said, "You were definitely within your rights to correct him, but you should try to use more tact in the future."

"I agree," Kiran chimed in from his seat on the other side of Master Benjamin. "Correcting an Assembly Member is one thing. Insulting him is another altogether."

Devin didn't have time to reply because the line had begun to move again after the momentary disruption and yet another mage was stepping up to the plate. Candidate number several-hundred-and-whatever-the-hell was old… Grey-headed-old… Much-too-old-for-Devin's-son-old… and Devin couldn't help but look up at Jayden in disbelief before forcing a smile on his face and turning his full attention to the mage in question.

This time things went far more smoothly and the Assembly Member acted like anyone in his position should. Luckily he wasn't 'the one'. Neither was the next or the next or the next one-hundred or so after that. By the time they were into the Genesis Council members, Devin was ready to pull his hair out along with the hair of each and every long-haired son-of-a-bitch who stepped forward to claim his unborn son. Why the Hell did they all have such long hair anyway? It made Devin want to cut his own off just to spite them. He was tired and wanted nothing more than to go home.

"Can't we just call it quits for now?" Devin grumbled, leaning over the arm of his throne to whisper in his mate's ear.

"Just a few more?" Jayden asked more than stated as he gave Devin a beseeching look.

With a sigh, Devin sat back in his seat and scanned the room around them. There were still a shitload of people standing around socializing and watching the proceedings, but for the most part the line wasn't nearly as packed as it had been up till now. Before it had looked like a line for a new attraction at Disneyland. Now it was more like the checkout lines at Wal-Mart, annoyingly long because they were too damn cheap to employ enough cashiers but not suffocatingly so. When the Genesis Councilmen had begun filing into the room it had thinned out dramatically. Still….

"There's really no point in continuing. After all, the Genesis Councilmen are in the castle on a daily basis and I've seen most of them with my barrier down at one time or another and none of them have claimed our son as their mate," Devin argued, trying his best to smother a yawn with the palm of his hand without drawing attention to himself. Master Benjamin had already given him the 411 on what NOT to do while sitting on the throne in the Great Hall. Yawning, belching, picking his nose, yelling, arguing, using sarcasm, and cursing were some of the things at the top of that list. He'd already cursed a couple of times and was now arguing with Jayden, so the least he could do was try not to yawn in everyone's faces.

"Many of the Earth-Branch members are here as well," Jayden shot back, his eyes glancing around the room tiredly as he took in their audience. "Most of them have to return to their posts tonight and it wouldn't be fair to ask them to take even more time out of their schedules to come back another day. Please, Devin. Just a little longer and we'll be done. Besides, I'm anxious to meet the mage who'll become part of our family some day."

'Forewarned is forearmed,' was the less-than-generous thought that crossed Devin's mind at his mate's words, but he kept it to himself. After all, Devin had the next 19 to 22 years to figure out a way to run the bastard off for good once they found him. That reassurance in mind, Devin nodded. "Okay, but could we speed it up a little? I'm really tired and hungry."

"I'd give almost anything to know what you're thinking right now, Dev," Chris announced with a naughty little grin as he checked out the air around Devin. Devin rolled his eyes at his friend, making a mental note to scold Chris for dropping his barrier to read him outside of the wardings. Then he pretended to scratch an itch beside his ear, using his middle finger to do so and drawing a scolding look from his father in the process before turning his attention back to his mate.

"Ready?" he asked with another sigh.

A brilliant, heart-warming smile just for Devin was Jayden's response and, despite Devin's fatigue, the sparkle and excitement in Jayden's eyes had Devin's cock stirring in his pants. Jayden turned to motion for Augustus and the large mage immediately leaned forward so that Jayden could whisper something to him. Then Augustus nodded and stepped over to one of his guards and relayed the message before resuming his position behind their thrones.

"All taken care of," Jayden murmured with an understanding pat to Devin's hand before tangling their fingers together again and settling back in. True to his word, things did go much faster after that. The mages in line simply walked up to the throne, bowing and offering their congratulations while washing Devin with their energy before bowing again and walking away.

Jayden kept the conversations to a bare minimum, taking a moment to thank everyone at once for their presence and their understanding as they rushed through. Now that the burden of trying to remember names and greeting everyone had been taken away, Devin was able to relax a little and just go with the flow. In less than an hour the line had come to an end and Jayden's disappointment was almost palpable as he stood to offer Devin his hand.

"Are you ready, love?" the redhead asked with a gentle smile and sad eyes. It nearly broke Devin's heart and he immediately recanted his earlier grousing, even if it was only in his own mind, and wished for Jayden's sake that their son's mate had made an appearance.

"I'm sorry he didn't show, Jayden, but I'm sure the mage in question will arrive in his own good time." Jayden didn't seem convinced and as Adam patted the large King on the shoulder reassuringly, Devin reached up to run a soothing hand across his mate's smooth cheek. "Word is out now and everything's official. Maybe he hasn't heard the news yet or couldn't make it to the ceremony."

"You're right," Jayden replied, his confidence reasserting itself and the twinkle returning to his eyes. "Normally there would have been at least two weeks' notice before a ceremony is held. Although Adam and I have been planning this one for nearly that long, the announcement wasn't made until yesterday. We wanted to speak to you before we did that."

"Thank you," Devin said simply. "It's means a lot to me that you both did that."

Jayden nodded his understanding and began leading Devin out of the room with their small group in tow, stopping to chat and socialize with the various members of the council and assembly who still remained. The majority had gone home after going through the line, but there were many others who'd stayed just to see who would be Aurora's Prince-Consort in the coming years. Most were disappointed, but none as much as Jayden.

It took them nearly another half-hour to work their way out of the Great Hall and even then the hallway outside the throne room was buzzing with mages and humans alike, all of them offering their congratulations and expressing their hopes that their unborn Prince's mate would be found soon. Devin didn't understand the rush, but he didn't understand a lot of the things that the Aurorans did. It wasn't that he thought his own ideas and beliefs were more important or the correct ones, it was just that their son had years and years ahead of him before he was ready to be joined with his mate and Devin wasn't in any rush.

Somewhere in the crowd, Devin heard a loud, "Devin! Over here!" and immediately recognized Sarah's loud voice. He searched for her bright red hair in the mass of people around him but still couldn't pinpoint her.

"She's over there," Chris said, pointing toward the massive stairway that led up to the next level. Sarah stood a few steps up motioning them forward, Jonas standing behind her and looking around at the large crowd with a bored expression. "Kinda hard to miss that blob of turquoise on the stairs to the King's Private Area."

With a threatening glare in Chris' direction Devin shot a glance in Adam's direction. He was chatting with Kiran and obviously hadn't heard what his idiot consort had said. Not wanting to draw his attention, Devin leaned in and scolded in a whisper, "Have you lost your mind dropping your barrier in a crowd like this?"

Chris gave him a petulant shrug and looked down at his feet for a second – or at least tried to. "I'm getting better at it now and since there's not as much hostility shooting in my direction it's not so bad to drop it for a second or two. I've been doing it off and on for a while now anyway."

With that, Chris took off calling Sarah's name and Devin moved to follow. Before he'd taken two steps, Jayden grabbed him by the elbow as Adam and Kiran passed by with a parting nod to follow the small mage. Despite his irritation at being unexpectedly restrained by Jayden and the weariness in his body, Devin couldn't hold back a smile at Kiran's eagerness to spend time with his son.

"We have to stay with the guards when we're in a large crowd like this," Jayden whispered in Devin's ear before nodding his head toward where Augustus and several of their private guards stood at attention. "Besides, this is our announcement celebration and we have to at least pretend to mingle for a moment or two. After that, I think we should call it a night and get some rest. I can have a message sent asking Sarah to come to our rooms if that would make you happy."

With resignation, Devin nodded. "That would be good enough. I just wanted to ask her about the wedding plans and let her know that Kiran okayed me helping out as long as I kept it to thirty minutes a day."

Jayden snorted at that. "It should be interesting to see how Sir Kiran enforces that ultimatum, especially when the day draws near. He clearly has no concept of how stubborn you, Chris, and Sarah can be." Devin just grinned at that observation as his mate guided him further down the hall toward the stairway that would lead them to the King's Private Area, stopping here and there to address someone quickly or to wave at one of their peers. By the time they reached the stairs to their suite, nearly twenty minutes had passed and Devin was truly on the edge of exasperation. When he sighed, Jayden squeezed his hand. It quickly became obvious that Jayden had misread the reason for Devin's impatience when he smiled apologetically and said, "I'm glad she finally worked things out with Jonas," as he waved at one of the passing Genesis Councilmen, skillfully avoiding the mage's attempt to flag them down. "Do you know when they plan to hold the ceremony?"

"Not yet. I think that we should have it in the gardens behind the castle. The weather never seems to change here and the plants are so pretty. I wanted to see what you thought about it before I asked Sarah."

"This is your home too, Devin. You don't have to ask my permission for something like that," Jayden replied as he ran an arm around Devin's waist and pulled him closer to his side.

Devin nodded, a mixture of embarrassment and a warm feeling filling his body as they continued on their way. For once he was thankful for the ever-present guards who followed him around. They were excellent for clearing a path through the messy, crowded hallway and once Jayden stopped chatting with half the people they met it didn't take much longer for them to reach the desired stairway. Devin glanced over his shoulder to give Master Benjamin a friendly smile before snaking his arm beneath Jayden's and slipping it around Jayden's waist. He really didn't get into public displays of affection, but it was still so obvious that Jayden was hiding his disappointment just beneath the surface. Poor guy.

"I really am sorry that we didn't find Raphael's other half," Devin murmured as they topped the final step and entered the hallway.

"It's okay," Jayden replied. "I just don't want our son to have to wait for his mate to reincarnate. Some are forced to wait longer than others and I'd hoped that he'd be lucky in that respect."

Suddenly Devin understood why his lover had been so determined to stick it out earlier. Devin hadn't even considered that before now. It would be so sad if Raph was forced to wait for centuries before his mate was born like Augustus had until now. Devin paused and looked up at Jayden with a serious expression, determined to reassure his mate that their son wouldn't have to deal with that, but before he could get a word out, Chris came huffing down the hallway after them with Adam, Kiran, Sarah, and Jonas following behind.

"I think I found him!" Chris crowed as he approached Devin. "We were going to make a quick pit stop at the Genesis Council Chambers to grab a list for Sarah before we came upstairs. Well, there was this guy wandering around in the hallway just outside, peeking through the doors like he was lost and looking for a good spot to hide. I just caught a glance of him before he went on in and it hit me out of nowhere that he's the guy you're looking for. Come check him out, Devin, before he disappears. You're never going to believe this!"

"I told him he was nuts," Sarah announced with a dismissive wave of her hand in Chris' direction, "but he just wouldn't shut up about it. Trust me; this guy does NOT look like Prince-Consort material! Or is it Prince material since he'd be the older one of the pair?" Devin shrugged in confusion because he honestly had no idea how all of that worked or what they were talking about beyond the fact that Chris was under the delusion that Raphael's mate was in the library and Sarah thought he was full of shit.

"Would you two give it a rest?" Devin demanded with exasperation as he looked up at Jayden in disbelief. "I mean, really… The two of you have lost your minds or someth…"

"It's Prince-Consort," Jayden cut in absent-mindedly, his entire focus on Chris' excited face. "The younger of the pair is normally the Consort unless he holds the office of High Councilor, Prince, or King. Only in those cases will the older of the pair carry the name of Consort in his title. Take me to him. I want to meet him."

Devin's eyes widened even more as he glanced between Chris, Sarah, and Jayden like they'd all lost their minds.

"Chris might be right," Adam explained with an amused chuckle at Devin's obvious disbelief. "He has the gift of sight and with that comes intuition. If he says that the young man downstairs is Raphael's mate, then that may very well be the case."

Defeated, Devin let out a sigh as he looked over at Jonas. "Did you see him?"

"I did," Jonas replied simply, clearly confused by Devin's random question.

"Could you please go downstairs with one of the guards and point the guy out?"

Jonas raised an eyebrow at that, his whiskey-colored eyes still showing his confusion, but there was no hint of displeasure over Devin's odd request. "It would be my honor, King-Consort Devin," the man replied as he bowed at the waist and gave Devin a friendly smile.

"Great! I really owe you one, Jonas," Devin murmured with a grin as he reached over to pat Jonas on the shoulder. "I'm worn out and Chris doesn't need to be running all over the place chasing ghosts. If you find him, tell him we're waiting for him and escort him to our suite."

Within seconds, Jonas was off to search for…whoever the guy was…and Devin was happily on his way to their suite with his family in tow. He held no delusions that Chris was right, despite his father's vote of confidence, but he almost hoped that it WAS true for Jayden's sake.

Once they'd finally, at long last, reached their destination, Master Benjamin made his excuses and returned to his suite. Then Augustus went his own way, claiming that he had some last minute business to take care of, but only after fussing over Chris - and completely destroying his tough guy image in Devin's eyes. After ordering some more food to be brought up - both Devin and Chris were starving despite their recent meal - Devin sat down and waited for Jonas' return while he quietly listened to his family chatter and go on excitedly about the stranger in question.

The food arrived first and Devin didn't waste a second dragging everyone into the dining room to dig in. Sarah, Jayden, and Adam all made themselves a plate from the various snack foods Devin had ordered, but only picked at them with disinterest while Chris and Devin devoured everything in their wake and exclaimed over the delicious flavors and textures at their disposal. There were so many fruits and vegetables to choose from, in every color of the rainbow, and bite-sized bits of baked chicken and roast beef.

In the last day, Devin had magically begun to enjoy the food that was regularly placed in front of him and attacked it with new zeal as his family watched happily from the side lines. When Devin and Chris were on their second plate each, a knock sounded at the outer door of the suite and Jayden immediately jumped up from his seat at the table and went to answer it. Adam chuckled at his godson's excitement even as Devin dropped a cube of cheese back onto his plate and looked toward the dining room entrance with interest.

Soon, Jonas strolled into the room and Devin immediately waved him toward Sarah. "Go sit with your woman before she drives me crazy!" Devin demanded as he waited for his mate and the mystery man of the hour to make an appearance. He wasn't disappointed. A few seconds later, Jayden's large frame loomed in the doorway. Only after he'd passed through and stepped aside did Devin see the small mage behind him.

The little guy was seventeen at most and had shorter, shaggy brown hair with black streaks dyed into the bangs in front. Painfully thin didn't BEGIN to describe him. Anorexic came to mind as Devin took in the way the kid's bones poked out at his wrists and the way his hipbones jutted out above the waistline of his low-cut jeans. The shirt he had on was a little too tight, showing off the kid's distinct lack of muscle and even the outline of his lower ribs and displaying a wide expanse of skin along his lower abdomen.

Devin had seen the waif look before, but had never found it the least bit attractive. Sure, the kid wasn't half-bad looking compared to most. He had pretty amazing jade green eyes and cute freckles across the bridge of his pert little nose, but the huge snake tattoo running down his arm was a little disconcerting as was the heavy chain wrapped around his wrist and another hanging from the belt loop of his pants. Were those combat boots the kid was wearing? Yeah. They definitely were.

As Devin's eyes widened slightly in surprise, he shot a glance in Chris and Sarah's direction to gauge their reactions. Chris just looked excited and smug. Sarah looked smug too, but in that 'See, I told you so,' kind of way that had always irritated Devin. Devin rolled his eyes at her before remembering his manners and rising from his seat to approach their visitor.

"Hello, I'm King-Consort Devin. It's nice to meet you," he called out in what he hoped was a calm voice as he approached and offered the kid his hand. The other mage took it without a moment's hesitation as he looked up at Devin in awe. It was in that moment that Devin realized that the guy had black eyeliner artfully smudged around his wide, almond shaped eyes.

"This is Mason Dayburn," Jayden murmured, a glimmer of amusement in his tone, when Mason continued to stare up at Devin and failed to introduce himself. "He's the son of Earth-Branch Genesis Councilman Samuel Dayburn and his Consort, Ralph Dayburn."

Mason glanced over at Jayden, his amazement clearly on display, before looking back at Devin again and shaking his head as if to clear it. Then he pulled his hand hastily from Devin's grip and wiped his sweaty palms on his blue jeans. "Um, yeah. Nice to meet you guys. How's it hangin?"

Hope you liked and please don't forget to review. It's the only way to know if anyone's still out there. *huggins*