"Knight-McCormick St Clare."
Sloan had to grin at that; his last name (all of them) had been spoken in a derisive voice, regardless of the fact it sounded kind of ridiculous. "Hey Tony. Wouldn't it be easier to call me Sloan?"
"My name is Anthony and no, it would not. What do you want?"
Sloan clicked his tongue, moving deeper into the shop. It was a jewel shop, called Surely Charmed and Sloan tried to come at least once every two weeks.
"Is that any way to speak to a paying customer?"
Anthony's scowl deepened. "You're a paying customer I do not want."
"Ouch." Mocking a hurt expression, Sloan placed his hand over his heart. "That hurt, Tony, that really did."
"Do not," Anthony's voice was biting, "call me that."
Dropping the hand and the hurt expression, Sloan pouted. "Really Tony. All this animosity – and I came in just to see you."
"Drop the act. What do you want?"
Sloan sighed but moved to the glass counter. Under the glass gleamed exquisite jewel after exquisite jewel. This was half the reason he came here. Anthony and his sister, Abigail, made the best jewels in town.
The other half was Anthony but the other man neither knew that nor would he appreciate it if he did.
Focusing on the jewels – and quashing the urge to brush against Anthony's hands where they rested on the glass – Sloan quickly found the two pieces he'd spotted the last time he had been here.
"That necklace and those earrings. Oh, and that bracelet." Sloan considered the other pieces, pairing them with the women in his life but found none of the others matched. "That should be it."
Anthony pressed against the top of the glass, stepping back to let it open. He took out the pieces Sloan had indicated. "Are you sure you don't want more? Perhaps the bronze choker for your lady love? Or the emerald ring for your mistress?"
Sloan smiled, though that barb had found its target. Why Anthony insisted on labeling him a womanizer, especially when he knew Sloan bought all these jewels for his mother and sisters, Sloan didn't know.
"No, I think those will do for now."
Rolling his eyes, Anthony nonetheless moved down the long shiny counter, to where Sloan knew the jewel boxes were stacked.
Sloan moved down with him, partly because he liked to watch Anthony and partly because he knew it annoyed the other man.
Anthony scowled at him again, then chose to ignore him, skillfully picking out three boxes and laying them on the counter. Sloan watched him and then, hearing noise towards the back of the shop, glanced down the long counter.
Something caught his eyes.
Without thinking, he moved towards it, looked down. It was a ring, a simple silver ring, with a light blue stone set into it. It was unobtrusive, elegantly crafted and unpretentious. The stone was the same shade as Anthony's eyes.
How could he resist?
"This ring as well."
Anthony looked up in surprise. Probably because once Sloan made his choices, he rarely added any others. And he usually chose and evaluated his pieces at least a visit before he purchased them.
But this ring. He wanted this ring.
He watched Anthony take the ring, lifting a dark brow as he did. "Not your usual style," the other man commented, moving to put it with Sloan's other choices.
Sloan smiled, leaned over the counter, closer to Anthony and pretending to ignore the way the other man moved back. "Aw. You notice my style?"
"If you can call it that." Quickly and efficiently, Anthony had the jewels packed and already shrunk so they could easily fit in Sloan's pocket. "Four golds and three silvers."
Sloan made a face. "That's expensive."
"No more than you can afford, High Mage."
Sloan pouted again but took out his coin purse, taking out the necessary amount but keeping it in his palm. "Come on Tony. Just a small discount. For a loyal and favourite customer?"
"Sure. Four golds and three silvers."
Sloan let out a long, dramatic sigh, dropping the coins into Anthony's palm. "Oh, Tony. Will you ever warm up to me?"
"Not in the foreseeable future." As soon as Anthony had said it, his expression revealed he'd realized his mistake.
Too late; Sloan immediately pounced on it. "'Not in the foreseeable future'? So that doesn't mean 'never'. I knew it! You are warming up to me."
"No I am not," Anthony replied in a stiff voice. "Now get out of my shop."
Sloan rolled his eyes at the typical reply but laughed and left anyway. Outside, on the relatively busy street, he stopped to take out one of the boxes from his jacket pocket, smiling when it immediately expanded to its normal size. He opened it and carefully took out the ring, pausing a moment to admire it in the hot sun.
The stone really was the same shade as Anthony's eyes.
With a soft smile, he slid it onto his finger, his smile widening when it fit perfectly. Anthony and Abigail really were perfect crafters.
Tucking the box back in his jacket – after absently resetting the shrinking charm – Sloan continued down the street. It was a bright sunny day in Hellion and things could only get better.
Today was a bad day and it was in no way looking up. With a sigh, Sloan waved his hand, lifting the wards the protected the entrance to his house. He entered, shrugging out of his coat and tossing it into the hall closet he'd spelled to keep in order, no matter how haphazardly he threw things in.
There were some perks to being a High Mage. But, he thought, heading for his work room, there were just as many disadvantages. As a High Mage, he was expected to be diplomatic and to be able to solve other beings' magical problems, as well as run his spell company. And, since he was far younger than most High Mages, even more was expected of him.
With a sigh, he threw himself onto the soft sofa chair he kept in the corner of his work room. It was a big room, with a large, battered table that held whatever spell or charm he was working on. At the moment, he'd been tasked with removing a spell from the teapot that caused it to spit hot tea whenever its owner (and no one else) touched it, as well as spelling a vacuum cleaner to clean itself.
He'd been half way through the first task and just starting the second one when he'd been called away, to settle a dispute between a goblin and ogre about a piece of – all things – bread. From then, everything had piled on and on and on until he'd finally managed to escape and get home, except now he was too tired and depressed to finish his initial tasks.
He'd just closed his eyes, letting his body relax, when there was a sound – a sort of mix between a thump and wind blowing – that could only mean one thing. Somebody had transported into his home.
And, since the wards he kept permanently on his house limited the number of people who could, he had no doubt who it was. "Go away Aaden."
His brother tutted, crossing to stand in front of him. Sloan didn't bother opening his eyes. "Is that any way to greet your older brother?"
"Yes. What do you want?"
Aaden kicked him on his shin, and Sloan opened his eyes to glare at him, just as Aaden wanted. "Mum wants you over for dinner."
Sloan immediately pouted. "I don't want to."
Aaden rolled his eyes. "Who said you had a choice?"
"She said something about missing us and how you never visit and–"
"Okay, okay, I get it." Well on his way to sulking, Sloan crossed his arms. It wasn't that he hated his family. He loved them and he usually looked forward to hanging out with them. It was just…there were so many of them, and it got really tiring when he wasn't in the mood for it.
"So I'll tell mum you're coming over?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"No." With a grin, Aaden transported out.
Sloan groaned, covering his mouth against the nausea that always came when someone transported in front of one's eyes.
Things couldn't get any worse.
And of course, Sloan thought sourly, fate had to prove him wrong, didn't it? Because dinner about mum's turned out to be dinner at mum's. As in, formal, in a suit and everything. Just the sort of thing he hated and his parents knew it, which was why they probably sent Aaden, because he was the most annoying out of all of Sloan's siblings and Sloan would say yes just to get away from him.
"Come on big brother." Seeming out of nowhere – and knowing her, she'd probably just transported in – Carol slipped her arm around Sloan's waist. "It's a party. Smile a little."
Just to spite her, Sloan deepened his frown. "Why should I?"
"Because," Aaden drawled, coming up to stand beside them. "You're the second oldest son of the renowned Knight-McCormick St Clare clan and a High Mage and everyone is looking to you to gauge the mood of his party."
"You're still miffed because I made High Mage before you?"
"No," Aaden said, rolling his eyes and pinching him. "And also because I have a wife and you're still lusting after the same guy you're been lusting after for seven years."
Sloan glowered. "Shut up."
Damn him for having an empath for a wife.
"Speaking of that guy," Carol tugged his arm. "Look. There he is."
Startled, Sloan looked over and, lo and behold, there was Anthony, standing with Abigail by a wall, a drink in his hand, looking bored and aloof and so good Sloan's mouth went dry. His suit was perfectly designed to suit his tall, lanky frame. It was charcoal black and matched his hair and set off his golden skin. His shirt was blue, bringing his eyes out and his earring, a single stud that was silver and peeked through that soft looking, silky hair.
Unbidden, a smile curled the corner of Sloan's lips. "You know what? I think I see an acquaintance I need to talk to."
Aaden snorted but thumped him on the back of his shoulder. "Go on with you then."
Carol let him go as well, laughter dancing in her eyes as she watched him make his way to Anthony. He was halfway across the great expanse that his parents called their living room when an elf walked up to Anthony and kissed him smack on the mouth.
Sloan froze, watched Anthony smile – a smile Sloan had never seen before – and slide his arm around the elf's waist, bringing him closer. Oh. Oh.
Through the sudden roaring in his ears, he heard Carol call his name and he swung around to see Aaden heading towards him. He managed to shake his head and, noting the beings around him staring, smile and say something to the effect of 'enjoy the party' and move on his other brother, Shane, who was in the same general direction.
Shane, thank the stones, didn't say anything but he did offer Sloan his drink. Sloan took and drowned it, welcoming the burn, the subsequent tingle.
Anything to forget the way Anthony had smiled and hugged that elf closer to him.
Sloan carefully measured out three ounces of dried and crushed batleaf and tossed it, with a precise flick of his wrist, into the simmering spell. It immediately turned bright, obnoxious pink. He dipped a spoon in and lifted it, letting the thick liquid slowly trickle down. Good, it was the right consistency.
He clicked his fingers and the fire lowered to barely a flicker. It would need to sit on that barely there heat for three hours before Sloan could apply it to the locket. It was seeker spell, one that would return the locket to its owner if ever it got lost. A handy thing, but it was expensive and only the richest of rich could afford it.
Sloan rolled his shoulders, trying to work the kinks out. He hadn't slept well last night, but he'd slept on the sofa chair in the corner so maybe that explained it.
Fighting the exhaustion that threatened to close his eyes, he quickly checked on the three other spells he was working on. Satisfied they were well on their way and, after noting down that they all needed at least an hour before he could touch them, he headed towards the sofa chair. A one hour nap, he decided, was just what he needed to get back to speed again.
He grimaced when Aaden transported right in front of him. "You need to stop doing that."
"You look like something a dragon shat out."
Sloan rolled his eyes. "Gee, thanks." He moved past his brother, and collapsed on the sofa chair, immediately closing his eyes.
Aaden, of course, didn't take the hint. "What in wind's balls have you been doing?"
"Oh, I don't know, working? I am a High Mage, you know and, in case you haven't realized, I also have this little spell company that keeps me fed since, you know, being a High Mage doesn't really pay as much as it should."
"Okay, I can't help you with the High Mage thing. It was your choice to take the test, and your skill that passed it. But, this company, this spell thing, you don't need to do it."
"Sure, as long as I don't need to eat."
He could practically feel Aaden roll his eyes. There was a thump and, when Sloan opened his eyes, Aaden was seating himself on a stool he'd obviously summoned from…somewhere. "You know that's not what I mean."
Sloan sighed. He knew. As a High Mage, as a mage, Sloan had no need for spells or charms or any of the things warlocks, wizards and their brethren so relied on. Simply put, mages could and did continuously create their own magic. Magic users, like warlocks, needed magic items or plants to use magic while others like witches and wizards, needed magical familiars to act as conduits for their magic.
So, Sloan didn't need to run a spell company, like the one he did. He could, if he wanted, simply wave his hand and all his work would be done. Spell work was tedious and back breaking work but it stuck far better to items than pure magic and that was why Sloan did it and loved it.
And, besides, he was good at it.
He said as much. Now he could actually Aaden roll his eyes. "I know. And I know you like it. What I mean is, oh sun's tits, why did mum send me to do this?"
"Only one available?"
"No." Aaden scowled. "Brian ran, that coward."
Sloan allowed a small smile to quirk his lips but he couldn't keep it on. Aaden sighed. "Mum's worried."
"When isn't she?"
"Really worried. Sloan, you haven't done anything but work since the dinner party last month. I," here Aaden hesitated and Sloan narrowed his eyes. Aaden never hesitated. "I talked to Anthony. He said you haven't been in. He said he doesn't remember the last time you were in."
"You talked to him?"
Aaden caught Sloan's wrist when he would have transported. Their magic warred, Anthony trying to keep Sloan in place, Sloan trying to transport somewhere, anywhere. And then, for the first time since Sloan was seven, Anthony's magic prevailed and Sloan slumped, boneless, into the sofa chair.
Shocked, Aaden released him. "Wind's balls, it worked?"
"Shut up." With a groan, Sloan covered his face with his hands. "By the goddess."
"It's that bad? You're that depressed? Are you serious?"
"Shut. Up." Sloan managed to wave a hand and barely caught the bottle of firewhiskey that appeared. He twisted it open and slugged down the drink, hissing at the burn. Aaden just watched, looking stunned.
"Okay, okay," Aaden knocked away the bottle when it was about half finished. "Enough. Wind's balls, are you planning on getting drunk?"
"I did," Sloan said, staring longingly at the bottle but making no move to take it. "But after hangovers three days in a row, I decided work was a better antidote. Unless someone's found a charm to get rid of heartache and unrequited love."
"Listen to yourself." Sounding disgusted, Aaden moved off, to set the bottle on the table. "You sound pathetic."
"It's the firewhiskey."
"And that's a pathetic excuse."
"I hate you."
"Get over it." Aaden turned to stare at him. Sloan just stared at the bottle and idly wondered what would happen if, in this state, he tried to summon the bottle.
Aaden hissed out a breath. "Go see him."
"No." Sloan said immediately and decided, whatever. He waved his hand and watched the bottle smash into the opposite wall. Whoops.
"Wind's balls!" Aaden roared. "What's the matter with you Sloan?"
"I'm half drunk," Sloan said. "And you took away my bottle. So I'm throwing a tantrum."
"You're acting like a child."
Aaden shook his head, ran a hand through his hair. "Why," he said, gentling his voice. "Why don't you want to go talk to him?"
"Because." Sloan decided it would be better to brood into his hands. "He doesn't like me, he's never liked me and no matter how hard I try, or how much I flirt, he still doesn't like me and he's never smiled at me the way he smiled at that stupid elf."
"Sloan…" Aaden sank onto the seat. "Are you seriously going to give up, just like that?"
Sloan knew his smile was sad and rather bitter but he couldn't bring himself to care. "He's never brought anyone to our dinner parties. All the years he's come, he's never brought anyone but 'Gail. And now, he brought that elf. Must be a pretty special elf." Unable to take it anymore, he waved his hand and summoned another bottle. It fell onto his lap and he opened it, chugged it down.
Aaden didn't bother to stop him. Instead, with another sigh, he summoned his own bottle. "All right then. At the very least, you don't have to drink alone this time."
Well on his way to drunk, Sloan lifted his bottle, waved it. "Hear hear."
Sloan woke up with a splitting headache, a sour taste in his mouth and the need to vomit burning the back of his throat.
What, by the goddess, had he been thinking? He and Aaden hadn't gotten drunk since the time Aaden's ex-fiancée had run off with that shape shifter. Ah, he thought sourly, memory crashing down on him. That was why.
But at least Aaden had a pretty wife to go home to, who would comfort him through his hangover. Sloan wanted a pretty wife to do that.
"Funny," said a voice that was all too familiarly derisive. "And I was sure your taste didn't run that way."
Sloan's eyes widened. It couldn't – cautiously, he opened his eyes, peeking over his bed sheets. And, there he was, the sun gilding his hair blue but casting his eyes into his shadow, Anthony sat at the table Sloan kept by the window, reading the morning's papers.
He had to be dreaming.
"And," Anthony continued, turning a page on the papers, "I'm pretty sure Quinne wouldn't comfort Aaden through his hangover. Blast him, maybe, for being so stupid to get hung over in the first place."
Sloan managed to sit up, fighting the nausea that immediately rose. "Is that what you're here to do?"
Anthony looked over, arching a brow. Of course, Sloan thought, he'd look perfectly put together and gorgeous and everything Sloan didn't feel. "No." Carefully, he put his papers down, turned to face him fully. "You sent me a note, asking me to meet you here this morning."
"I did not." But he had, Sloan recalled. He'd sent it last night, full of firewhiskey courage. He'd planned to, with Aaden's encouragement, tell Anthony everything, and then, in Aaden's words 'kiss him until he forgets the stupid fucking elf'.
What, by the goddess, had he been thinking?
"Well," Anthony said, getting up and crossing to stand beside his bed. "What's so urgent you needed to see me first thing this morning?"
"Nothing," Sloan muttered. The courage, he wasn't surprised to discover, had gone with the night. "It's," he sighed, "nothing." He waved his hand. "I'm sorry for ruining your morning and pulling you away from your stu – from your lover."
Anthony frowned. Sloan, pushing his sheets back so he could get up, didn't notice. "What lover?"
"Hmm?" Sloan looked over his shoulder. "Oh, your lover. The one you bought to mum's dinner a couple, three?, weeks back." Since the memory still burnt at his heart, Sloan turned away, with the pretext of getting up and heading for the bathroom.
"That wasn't my lover."
The stopped him cold. Slowly, half afraid of what he'd see, Sloan turned around. Anthony's expression hadn't changed. "What?"
"That wasn't my lover," Anthony repeated.
"Oh?" Sloan managed a sarcastic half smile. "Then who was he? A one-night stand you decided to bring to my mum's dinner?"
"No. I." Anthony began to look frustrated, a look Sloan was far used to. He ran his hand through his hair. "He's a friend. A friend who was doing me a favor."
"He was doing me a favor," Anthony repeated, dropping his hand. "It was your brother's idea, except it was obviously a stupid one and one I should not have followed."
"I'm not following," Sloan managed, eyes on Anthony's. "Why would you bring a friend to dinner and treat him as a lover?"
"Brian said if I want you make your move, I should make you jealous, so I asked a friend to come to the dinner with me and act as my lover."
"Wait, wait, wait." His head was spinning and Sloan was pretty sure it wasn't because of his hangover. "You want me to make my move?"
"I thought it was obvious," Anthony crossed his arms, looking uncomfortable and defensive.
It was a look Sloan remembered from their early days and it delighted him. He hadn't been able to make Anthony look that way for years. "So, if you want me to make my move, that must mean you want me."
Anthony's lips thinned as Sloan began to slink his way towards him. "And if you want me, that must mean you like me."
"What's your point?" Anthony snapped.
"My point?" He didn't really have one, Sloan had to admit, but Anthony didn't need to know that. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"Why didn't you?"
"I thought I made it obvious that I want you."
"Yes, want," Anthony muttered, his tone waspish. "Lust. Not love."
Sloan felt his eyes widen and a grin split his face. Anthony scowled and hugged himself harder. "Love? You love me?"
"You do, don't you?"
"By the goddess," Anthony muttered and whirled on his heel, heading for the door.
Quickly, though it made his head pound, Sloan darted around the bed and caught him by the wrist. With a growl, Anthony spun around, only to lose his footing. He grabbed Sloan and Sloan yelped, his feet sliding on the floor. He managed to wave his hand and his mattress flew out, to soften their fall.
He ended up with Anthony on top of him and, he had to say, he wasn't sorry about that all. He grinned up into Anthony's scowl. "You love me."
"Shut up," Anthony repeated, raising himself up on his elbows.
"No," Sloan countered, his headache miraculously gone and his nausea a distant memory. He raised his arms, looped them around Anthony's neck. "You love me."
And, before Anthony could realize just how Sloan planned to shut up, Sloan reached up and kissed him.
By the goddess, yes. This was what he'd been thinking about, ever since he'd landed eyes on the other man, seven years ago. Anthony's lips were soft and firm and moving with his and then he was opening up so Sloan could slip his tongue in and kiss like he'd wanted to for seven years.
But then Anthony was raising his head, breaking the kiss and that was not a whimper. Sloan opened his eyes and blinked up into Anthony's. "Why–"
"What is this?" Anthony demanded. "Us? What is this?"
Sloan couldn't help roll his eyes. "You must be more innocent than I thought if you don't know."
"I don't mean that," Anthony snapped, his tone, once again, waspish.
Sloan sighed and lifted his hand to Anthony's gaze. Anthony's eyes widened. "Would I," Sloan asked softly, "be wearing this if all I want is sex?"
"It's the ring. The one you brought from me."
Sloan shrugged. "It reminded me of you."
Anthony looked at him, looked at the ring, and then smiled. And it was soft smile, a happy smile, and it settled in Sloan, making him smile and slide his arm back around Anthony's neck. "So, want to say it first?"
Sloan laughed and tugged him down. When their lips were a breath apart, he murmured, "shut up."
Anthony's laugh was smothered by Sloan's kiss.
A/N: Had these characters in my head for a long, long while. I finally got my act together to actually put down their story :D. Anyway, hoped you enjoyed Sloan and Anthony. You'll probably hear from them soon enough.
Oh, and I need to come up with a better title...