The first thing he realized was that he had no idea where he was. He was in an orchard, but not like any orchard he had ever seen on earth. Silver, angular trunks that literally shimmered swooped up into curled branches that held onto bright yellow leaves. Nick looked closer to inspect them, and found that, though the leaves were soft, they were glossy and almost transparent, sort of like amber. There was what he assumed was a fruit on the branches too—an orange-pink thing that looked like a Christmas ball. He'd really never had time to see this world, he realized, as he reached out to touch the fruit, finding that it felt like silk. He hadn't paid much attention to anything around him the first time he'd ever come, and, aside from a few weird things, it had all seemed pretty normal. The world outside was entirely foreign.

He was just thinking about trying whatever was on the tree, when he snapped to awareness. He needed to find Arian. Arian Arian Arian. He turned away from the tree, looking both ways down the line. How was he going to find him? Where would he even start? Thankful that he was at least in the right dimension, Nick chose a direction, turned and started running through the trees, kicking up golden dirt that could have easily been sand, except that it was moist. The sky was so bright, kind of hurting his eyes—it would take some getting used to. He gazed up, looking with slitted eyes into what he thought was the sun, when he collided solidly into someone else.

"Wha—!" a woman's voice cried out as Nick staggered back. "Are you alright?" Nick rubbed his eyes and looked up at the girl, and was immediately shocked by her appearance. She was about a head taller than him, of course, but her hair was such a vibrant silver that it distracted even from the trunks of the trees. She had bright silver eyes, and the pale skin of her face was sprinkled over with dusty flecks of color.

The woman took him by the shoulders, and eyed him curiously. Nick blushed under her scrutiny, and it was then that she seemed to realize what she was doing. She let him go and leaned back, adjusting her blue dress. It looked like it was made out of sapphires under the light.

"Are you alright?" she questioned again. "You were in such a hurry—were you looking for my husband to purchase Pumeia for your parents?"

Nick looked to the fruit in the tree quizzically, then shook his head. "Uh…no. I'm actually, uh, wondering where I am."

The woman smiled. "Of course. You're in Reion Fields. It's only a short while away from Tacine Gardens. Is that where you're headed?"

Nick shook his head again. "No, um…" He debated for a bit, then realized she would actually understood what he needed and wouldn't think anything of it if he just laid it out. This was a different world. "Have seen a guy around, by chance? Gold hair and gold eyes? About this tall?" Nick got up on his tip-toes and gestured with his hand about a foot above him.

The woman looked at him, non-plussed. Finally she swallowed, eyeing him more uncertainly than before, and asked, "Perhaps a more…defining feature?"

Nick cursed. Duh. "Um, his hair is short and kind up sticks up everywhere? His body is really toned and he seems to like vests? Oh, and his name is Arian."

The woman shook her head apologetically. "I'm sorry, I haven't seen him working on the fields anywhere."

"Well…I don't think he would. See, he's actually my…um…fated one, and I sort of lost track of him. So maybe he's over at that big building where—"

"You're old enough for the matching?" the woman asked, then pardoned herself. "No, sorry, you're just very young looking. And…" She started to gesture with her hand, but then just patted his head. Nick blushed. "It's a good thing to be so youthful. Always time for growing later. Anyway, if that's the case, then he would be back at the place of the matching, but that's a week's ride from here, at least." The woman shrugged helplessly as Nick's jaw dropped. "I'm sorry, but we're not very close to any city, let alone Cerequin."

"I-You don't get it. I need to see him now," Nick explained, tension in his words. "I mean, he doesn't exactly know I'm coming back, and we didn't really part on good terms, if you know what I mean. He could be finding another guy already!" Nick didn't notice he was shaking until the woman put a hand on shoulder. She looked a bit alarmed.

"How did you lose him? Did you go the wrong way during the marriage ceremony? Though I don't quite understand how you ended up here…"

Nick sighed. He shouldn't have expected that she would understand that. There were probably no such thing as break-ups here. "I…" Tears were threatening to spill over his eyes. "I just need to find him."

"Hush, hush," the woman soothed him, taking him in her arms. He felt like a little kid. "Don't worry. Fate will always find a way. Now why don't you come inside? It's about to start raining, we've got meal on, and I'm sure my husband has something to get that black out of your hair. What happened, by fate?"

Nick pressed his brows together. No, he had to find Arian. "Please, I just need to—"

"Come on. There's no use staying out in the rain. Oh, I never asked your name. Mine's Aiena."

"My name's Nick, but I really don't have time to—"

She lead him along despite his protests, and soon he was in front of a small house, strangely colored smoke writhing out of the chimney to wash out in the golden sky. A garden surrounded the silver house, growing things that really didn't look edible. A boy who looked a little older than him was out in the garden, cultivating what looked like red leaves. At least they didn't look like they were glimmering, though.

"Edis!" the woman called out, "We're going to eat now. Finish filling that basket and you can come in."

The guy nodded, then bent back to his task, hiking up his dark pants. Nick moved his eyes away from him to see the door, which the woman opened and then brought him through, into the house under the tuck of her arm. A man with long gold hair was stirring the contents of a pot that stood over a green fire. When he heard them enter, he looked up at Nick, smiling kindly.

"Have you come to work on this farm, little boy?" the man asked in a low voice, walking toward him. "You look well built, but don't you think you should get cured first?" He quirked an eyebrow at Nick. Nick's face was so red. He wanted to die. Jeez, he practically was a little boy here. Shortest person his age in the dimension went right to him. He dropped his eyes to the floor.

"Oh, Sen," the woman cut in, blushing dustily herself. "This is Nick. He's actually looking for his fated one, up in Cerequin. He just got matched, and managed to get lost. I thought you could ride with him there starting tomorrow—"

Nick threw his eyes up to the woman's, giving her a disbelieving stare.

"Tomorrow?! I told you, I need to go now."

"Now, calm down, it's getting late, and you don't want to get caught in the rains. Starting tomorrow will be best."

"LATE?" Nick blared. "It's so bright outside I'm practically blinded!"

The woman blinked, and the man—Sen—also looked a bit uncertain, brows working wrinkles right above his nose.

"I'm not really sure what you mean…" the woman finally spoke. "But traveling this late will just get you soaked and will start a very unpleasant journey, even if fate is on your side."

"Come," Sen beckoned. "Sit down and have something to eat. I promise to start us early. Fate will help us get to your one quickly." The door then opened, and Nick turned his head to see Edis walk in, a basket full of red leaves under his arm.

"Aiena, I'm putting these on the counter."

The woman nodded, and the guy placed the basket on a ledge set into the right wall before walking up to the table and sitting down on a bench that looked like it was made of the silver wood from the trees outside.

"Sit down," Aiena pressed Nick, pushing him to sit right next to Edis. Nick glowered, hating that he wasn't getting any closer to Arian, and hating how he only came to Edis's shoulder. Aiena went to sit opposite them.

Sen didn't sit down, but walked over to a cabinet where he retrieved four plates. He then scooped up a bit of whatever was in the pot on each with a large spoon, and, bringing each plate one by one, placed the steaming mixture before them.

Nick looked down at the bright purple mess on his place that looked more like melted jewelry than food. Nick was starting to wonder if the flower that Arian had created that first night had been completely normal.

"My husband's skill is cooking," Aiena beamed, picking up the utensil that Sen had given each of them. "This will be a good meal to ready you for travel."

Nick's eyes widened as he eyed the stuff. He was about to pick up the thin spoon when Edis spoke up:

"So are you coming to work on the fields? You're lucky your parents let you, especially so young."

Nick had to bite his tongue to keep from lashing out defensively. Aiena tried to cut in, but before she could say anything, Edis was talking again.

"I had to wait until I was assigned a tutor to be allowed. T. Kicen said it would be good for my physique."

Nick ground his teeth in frustration, shame washing up in his face. Edis's looked to him in sudden alarm, a gold flush coloring his cheeks.

"Your face!" Edis exclaimed, eyes popping. "What just happened to your face?!"

Nick immediately reached up to put a hand on his face. Sen and Aiena eyed him with troubled expressions.

"I do believe you happened upon a rare bit of color poisoning," Aiena said to him. "Your blush is coming in red,"—Nick exhaled in relief, removing his hand from where it had been feeling over his facial features in search of anything missing—"and your eyes are looking strangely green. Perhaps that's what's happened to your hair? You should get it treated right away. I've never seen it so thorough before, and it can be deadly if you leave it, or at least permanent." Sen nodded his head.

"I know a town close-by with a man whose skill is healing. We can stop by tomorrow."

Nick gaped, unsure of what to say. Is that what Sen had meant by "cured?" Edis seemed to look reassured though, so he decided to keep his mouth shut.

"So," Edis began again, obviously calm enough to continue speaking. "How old are you?"

Nick stumbled on that too. He couldn't say he was sixteen. That would sound strange after what he'd just told Aiena and Sen about matching. Luckily Aiena slid right in, taking the decision from him.

"Nick has just had his matching." The woman smiled as Edis blinked, disbelieving. "He's actually on his way to find his fated one. He got lost during the marriage ceremony."

Edis opened and closed his mouth like a fish out of water. Then he simply spoke:

"Fate will find a way."

Nick nodded, messing with the stuff on his plate as his thoughts returned to Arian.

"I hope so."

Edis's brows furrowed in puzzlement, but before he could say anything, Aiena stole his attention.

"Edis, speaking of matching, how is tutoring going?"

Edis grinned, immediately forgetting whatever he was going to say to Nick.

"T. Kicen says I'm doing really well. I've already developed a lot more muscle than I had before, and he says that's important to being a good husband. Yesterday we learned the mechanics of men having sex together. We'll do women tomorrow." Edis sighed. "I just wish we didn't have to wait so long to start practicing. We won't start that until a couple months before the matching."

Aiena and Sen laughed, looking to Nick knowingly as if he should get some kind of inside joke between the three of them. Nick was too busy trying not to choke on his saliva and embarrassment to catch on.

"Now, now, Edis," Sen chastised the boy lightly. "Patience. You don't want to get too excited and foolishly give yourself away. Your virginity is for your chosen one, and that's best." Sen turned to Nick, who was trying to not hear anything. "Right Nick?"

Nick's face flushed hotly as he was directly addressed, and started coughing, eyes wide. Edis turned to him as well.

"Hey Nick, so did you get a boy or a girl?"

Nick bit down on his lip, face so red he could feel a vein pulsing in his forehead.

"Uh…I-I…"

"A man," Aiena supplied for him. "Named Arian."

Edis nodded. "I think it would be kind of nice to get a man, except they're so predictable. I kind of want to try something new."

Aiena chuckled. "Don't get hasty. Fate will decide what's best."

Nick spooned around the oddly stringy junk on his plate, not paying much attention to the dinner discussion. Arian was a week away. A week away. And he couldn't leave till tomorrow. How long had it been since he'd last seen him? Three, four months? And from the way that Arian had talked before, it had sounded like he'd barely been able to hold off the "elders" and their matchmaking for a month the time they were separated before. A painful image of Arian curled up with another man had him blinking to keep back tears. Luckily, Aiena, Sen, and Edis were too busy discussing fate and matching to notice. With their lack of attention, his imagination allowed the nightmare to unravel further. Arian, kissing someone else. Playing with his hair. Telling him he was beautiful. And finally, the picture so clear it was like a knife being shoved through him, Arian making love to him on the silver pool of silk that Nick had lost his virginity on.

Suddenly, all eyes were on him.

"Nick, are you alright?" Aiena asked.

Nick blinked, looking up. Another tear fell down his cheek, and, embarrassed, he wiped his face with his wrist.

"Y-yeah, I'm just, uh, not hungry." He got up from the table, but then only stood their awkwardly when he realized he had no idea where to go.

"I'll lead you Edis's room," Sen spoke up, getting up as well. "You can sleep there during the rains."

Nick nodded, his eyes falling to the floor. Sen lead him to a door tucked away on the left wall, and Nick walked through it, following Sen to another door in the hall that lead to a room so small, it was entirely taken up by what looked like a twin-sized bed and a small dresser.

"I'm afraid there's only one bed, but since you're already matched, it will be fine. Have a good rest. If you need anything, come and ask us. Aiena and I will sleep there." He pointed to a door further down the hall. "If you need to relieve yourself, the room is right across ours." Nick nodded, only paying enough attention to register the information before he slipped into Edis's room and fell on the bed. Sen shut the door behind him.

Nick slumped down, falling on his face in the blankets. And almost as a punishment for all those months not looking for Arian, a punishment for giving him up in the first place, a punishment for not looking hard enough when he was looking for him, his mind conjured up more sequences between Arian and the other man he had created in his head. His eyes moved rapidly under tightly closed lids as he watched them breathing together, Arian moving forward as he thrust inside the man. Jealously and pain rose up in Nick so sharp, it seemed to literally cut into him. But the parade didn't end there. He opened himself up to it, knowing how much he deserved it if it was true, until he was weeping over a vision of the man taking Arian himself against Nick's own headboard. Somewhere inside of him, a part of his mind still managed to rage: That is mine, that is mine to have, that virginity is mine to take! The assuming part of him only seemed to break him further, however, as he realized how useless and pathetic mental possessiveness was to the real thing, how meaningless it would be if he finally got to Arian and discovered the magician happily in the arms of another. He cried softly as he could, so nobody would hear through the door, wondering to himself what he would do if he was rejected. Would he just wonder around in a strange world forever, heartbroken? Would he be forced to be with someone else?

Would he eventually regret ever coming at all? Would coming clean, telling the truth, throwing away popularity, leaving his world, for Christ's sake, really end up being worth it?

Nick couldn't let himself thing about that too long, though, just like when he was on Earth. Put away the doubts, and keep looking for Arian. It was all he had. And he wasn't done yet. He still had a week's journey to take on before he could give up hope forever. He wiped tears from his eyes, and made himself play a more pleasant picture before his eyes: the multiple fantasies of his and Arian's reunion he had created during his desperate searching. The look on the magician's face when Nick confessed his feelings and told Arian he would be his forever. The way Arian would sweep him up in those arms. How Arian would bring their lips together, brows pressing upward as he whispered endearments against Nick's lips about how he'd been waiting for him, how he'd known all along that he was coming back, how he hadn't meant what he'd said before he'd gone through the portal. Nick's mind took them to a bed, had Arian lay him down before touching and caressing him, gently removing his clothing. Nick moaned, lashes fluttering against his cheeks. He slid his fingers into his mouth, slowly sliding his tongue down his index finger, pretending it was Arian doing it. He moved on to his middle finger, then slicked his tongue over his ring finger. Whispering Arian's name, he moved his palm down his body, then to the crotch of his pants. He grabbed his erection tightly, groaning as he rocked it. Then he undid his pants, pulling them down just enough to get his hand down the back of them easily. Whimpering, he let his fingers find his hole, already dilated with desire, waiting to be entered. He breathed in, completely relaxing his muscles before—

The door opened.

Nick's eyes flashed open, automatically going to those of the guy in the door. Edis was just staring at him, brows raised and face flushed in shock. Hurriedly, Nick drew his hand out of the back of his pants, fumbling to do up his zipper and button his jeans over his dying but still obvious hard-on.

"U-um," Nick spoke, blushing hard. He saw Edis's features tighten up at the sight of red flushing through his face. Nick dropped his eyes to the blanket, moving a hand through his hair. "Uh, sorry." He wanted to shoot himself.

"I-I can,uh, leave, if you need—"

"No," Nick stopped Edis before he just walked back out of the room. "I'm, um, okay." Jeez, what had he been thinking? Getting himself off in an unfamiliar house, and what more, without even a change of underwear? He was an idiot. "Just, uh, ignore that."

Edis, despite being older and much taller than Nick, managed to look child-like as his eyes swept up to Nick's from where they had been on the carpet.

"Nick?"

Nick pulled his knees against his chest, leaning his back awkwardly against the wall. "Yeah?"

"What's it like? Sex, I mean."

Taken off guard by the question, Nick blushed heavily, catching Edis's eyes. "Um, it's—"

"T. Kicen says that practicing on ourselves isn't something we should do until a month or so before the matching, because we'll keep wanting more, but…" Edis pouted. "I kind of want to know."

Nick realized, then, that Edis was looking up to him as an older, more experienced adult. And, Nick supposed, in a way, that that was exactly what he was. It was a strange position to be in. Edis was waiting for an answer, and, no matter what Nick said, the older guy would believe him.

Nick blinked. "It, um, feels good, I guess." He played a hand through his hair uncertainly. "Really good."

Edis shut the door and moved forward so he was sitting on the edge of the bed. Nick caught his expectant expression, and realized that the boy was waiting for a more detailed explanation than that. He bit his lip.

"It's like a lot of electricity in your body, moving really slow at first, and then getting faster and faster until you explode."

"Electricity?"

Oh, that was right. Nick looked to the candle on the dresser. "Lightning?" he asked.

Edis nodded. "That sounds amazing. So is that what orgasming is like? Lightning?"

"Sounds about right," Nick muttered. He'd never talked to anyone about this kind of thing before, and it also kind of confused him how enraptured the blonde was by his every word.

"I touch my penis sometimes, when I get erections," Edis admitted. Nick flushed, not sure how to handle the conversation he'd gotten himself into. "Not enough to orgasm, but it felt really good. Did you ever do that? Before the matching?"

Nick gaped, but just nodded. "Uh, yeah." He'd watched porn and jacked off to women and men humping like animals. It kind of made him sick, thinking about it now. How, as he'd watched the men pounding into the girls, he'd thought about how great it would be to be as hot as that, taking girls left and right like it was no big deal. How he'd imagined how cool it would be, doing all the big hotties at his school and getting a reputation as a player.

"Did you ever, you know, think about doing it with someone else…before the matching?" Edis's eyes were narrowed, and Nick could tell he was nervous, could tell he was worried Nick was going to tell him off.

Nick just nodded, and Edis's face relaxed.

"Yeah, me too. There's this one girl tutoring with me—a silver—and she's got this really cute short hair, and her lips are really nice, and her breasts—" Edis caught himself, blushing gold. "I wouldn't ever want to though, for real. My virginity belongs to my fated one."

"Yeah," Nick agreed, more for something to say than anything else. Even though he'd been praying to fate for over a month, he was nowhere near to sharing in the level of belief in it that these people had.

Edis pestered him with questions for a while longer—one of which asked him if he wore a glove on his left hand because it was better for jacking off—before he finally got off the bed to pull the curtains over the window that was letting in bright gold light. The dark curtains rippled silkily, keeping out the light entirely so the room went dark. Nick kept all his clothes on, even his shoes, and curled up on top of the blanket.

"You don't want under it?"

Nick declined, unable to tell him how it would seem wrong, too intimate.

It wasn't long before it started raining like Aiena said it would. Rain started spattering against the window softly at first, then picked up until it was coming down in sheets so heavy it sounded like it might crack through the glass. And like it was a lullaby instead of a thrashing storm, Edis fell comfortably asleep to the pounding precipitation.

It was more than the rain that kept Nick away though. He was thinking about Arian. Thinking about how sleeping right now was stupid, when he wasn't even tired, and there was so long to go. He could easily get a whole day closer to Arian if he just started now, but Aiena and Sen were too naïve to understand how important every minute was right now, how every moment wasted not getting near Arian was another moment for Arian to find a match and leave Nick's life forever. Nick sat up in bed, looking down on Edis's sleeping form, and to the window. Aiena and Sen were probably asleep right now, if they were anything like Edis. Or they were having sex, which would probably make them even more unaware of anything outside of themselves. Nick slowly got to his knees, careful not to jostle Edis, then slid out of the bed.

Nick had forgotten that the night wasn't dark until he made his way to the curtains and opened them, allowing bright light to illuminate the entire room. Edis groaned and rolled over, and Nick swung them closed, his heart pounding as his eyes searched out Edis's face blindly. The guy seemed to still be asleep.

Instead of pulling the curtains open this time, Nick reached under them, finding the ledge he could push up to open the window. He would have to be fast, both because of the light and the rain that would come flooding in as soon as the window opened. Nick breathed in and out, and simultaneously parted the curtains and threw the window open.

He jumped out as fast as he could, his foot catching on the sill so he fell over on his hands and knees. He got up, already soaked through, before he pulled the curtains closed and shut the window from the outside. He then stood up, blinking quickly to see through the heavy rain. There were lines of silver trees everywhere, and not much of anything else.

But Aiena had said a week's ride, implying that there was something to ride there. Nick automatically threw out the idea of a car, remembering Arian's reaction to one back on earth. He was probably looking for a horse of some kind. Nick looked around the house, feet sinking into wet earth with every step he took. He pushed back his slick hair, licking water from his lips.

A happy, musical humming crested over the sound of rain. Nick whipped around as fast as he could with his feet stuck. Had someone found him out?

The humming came again. Concerned, Nick tried to locate the source of it while debating which way to run into the trees. When he finally set off clumsily in the opposite direction of the house, Nick distinctly heard footsteps coming after him, and they were getting through the mud a lot easier than he was. Panic flooded through him, and he got under the trees, where the dirt was almost dry, thankfully, though the leaves hardly kept the rain from pelting down on him. He shivered, the tips of his fingers and nose starting to go numb with cold. The humming got closer, and he forced his legs to move him faster, feeling the muscle burn hotly as he increased his pace. Like football—try to get the touchdown. He only kept his eyes open enough to see the trees in front of him. He clenched his teeth. What the hell was fate thinking? Because it sure as hell didn't seem to be getting him to Arian. Nick brought his foot forward, and slipped over a patch of mud. He almost kept his balance until something rammed into him from behind, sending him to his hands and knees.

The thing hummed, right over the top of him. Nick turned his head quickly to face whatever it was, expression tight with fear.

He stared up into the face of an enormous cat. It blinked dark gold eyes, then nudged him, still humming. No, purring. Nick tentatively reached out, sinking his hand into what felt like feather down at its neck. The entire thing was covered with bronze feathers that seemed to be sloughing off the rain so the water just slid right down its sides. Nick eyed the huge animal, gaze falling over the natural slope of its back, and the way it tamely stood beside him. He perked. Was this what he was supposed to ride?

He got up slowly, trying to brush the mud off the front of his green t-shirt and the knees of his jeans, only to smear it worse. So much for looking decent. Sighing as he shifted his focus back to the big cat, Nick took a hesitant step closer, careful not to startle it. It, however, didn't seem worried at all by his approach. It just kept purring, shaking every once in a while to throw off persistent raindrops. Its feathers lifted briefly, as if in acknowledgement, when Nick put a hand on its back. The undersides were bright gold.

Okay. So this huge, tame cat was his obvious ride to Cerequin, and to Arian. Nick eyed the saddle-like bend of its spine, going a little pale. Refusing to be intimidated, he bent his knees experimentally, and jumped a little, though he was nowhere close to getting on its back. This thing was as tall as a horse. A big horse. He huffed out, bending his legs again.

The cat, seeming to sense his struggle, easily went down on its belly so its back was level with Nick's waist. Blinking, Nick relaxed from his stance and straddled its wide back. It was a stretch, but he was pretty flexible from sports. The ground rushed out from under him as the cat stood, then stepped forward, continuing through the trees. Nick was now entirely numb to the rain, hardly even feeling it hail down on him.

A new problem, however, was rising up in his still very active mind. So great, he had the cat thing now, but where the hell was Cerequin? Nick looked back to the house, thinking about how Sen and Aiena probably wouldn't be too happy if he went back in there and asked for directions. And would anyone else really be out in this rain? Aiena had been against the idea pretty strongly herself. Nick slumped against the cat's neck. This was hopeless. Every time he thought he was doing a little better, something evaded him.

Nick dropped his faced against the cat, feeling the rain roll off the feathers under his hands. The cat loped forward, purring. Nick scowled.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"Oh fate!"

"Visnia, is he…dead?"

"No, no, he's breathing just fine, see. His lips are a little blue, though…"

"Do you think that that's the color poisoning?"

"I'm certain. Poor child."

Nick stirred, feeling warm and comfortable, despite an odd taste in his mouth. Then, ignoring whatever it was that was trying to get him up, sunk deeper into the blankets beneath him.

"But Visnia!" the same loud voice that had first spoken squawked. "What is such a young boy doing all alone?!"

"I'm not quite sure. Mella and I found him soaking wet from the rains, sleeping on a Pehri. Isn't it awful? The poor thing, nearly dead."

"Visnia, more of the antidote is ready!" a young voice called in. "Should Mella and I bring it in?"

"Yes, and hurry. I'm afraid this one will be lost to fate soon if we don't hurry."

"Is he any better than before?" a female voice came in. The one that had asked about color poisoning.

"I'm worried he's only getting worse. His cheeks started flushing pink after he'd been inside a while."

Nick scrunched up his nose, clenching his eyes tight against sharp light. He buried his face against his arm, where it had been before. The back of his eyelids went comfortably dark.

An arm shook him.

"He moved!"

Knowing a wakeup call when he got one, Nick lifted his head to gaze into gold eyes.

Nick's hands tightened around a comforter that was up to his neck. He heard a strong gasp as he let it go and grabbed the face in front of him, pulled back, then looked around himself with dilated eyes. Three women, all looking worried sick, surrounded him where he lay in a small bed. He caught the sight of his clothes hanging above a green fire, and gulped. He was still wearing his underwear, though, thankfully.

"You poor thing!" one cried out—that loud, squawking one—almost on the verge of tears as she reached her pale hands forward and petted Nick's hair. "What happened, by fate?"

"Was I asleep?"

The loud woman seemed a little irked by his quick question, but answered it anyway.

"Yes, and looking almost dead! What were you doing out in the rains with such a severe case of poisoning? You might have—"

"Are you hungry?" another woman—the owner of the gold eyes—asked, dragging his attention away from the silver. He recognized her voice as Visnia's. His stomach growled slightly in response, but, remembering the "food" he had been served last night, quieted down pretty quick.

"N-no. Where am I?" He shifted underneath the blankets so he was sitting up. This whole situation was kind of weird. But that didn't really matter. This was directions. To Arian. "I'm on my way to Cerequin."

One of the women, plump in comparison to the rest of her race, blinked disconcertedly. "All the way to Cerequin?" That was the one who had been talking about color poisoning.

"Where are your parents?" Visnia asked.

"You should never try to take such a long journey alone!" the loud woman practically shrieked.

"Here, drink this," a new silver woman instructed him as she walked in from an adjacent room with a cup in her hand and a skinny, young silver who looked like she'd been crying trotting at her side. When the silver woman got to him, she tried to put the cups to his lips, but he knocked it away, bewildered.

"Stop," he spoke, a little irritated. "Can you tell me where—"

"You need to drink this," the woman urged, trying to put the cup to his mouth again. "Your body won't be able to fight the poison much longer."

The loud silver woman nodded vigorously. "You hair is black." The women all eyed him sympathetically, as if they were waiting for him to cry, gasp in horror, or fall over dead.

"I don't have—"

"So stubborn! I promise, it doesn't taste bad. I put cammis in it."

"It's urgent! If you don't take it, you will get very, very sick." That loud silver sounded like she was going to force it down his throat pretty quick if he didn't drink it.

"You wouldn't like to be sick, would you?" Visnia inquired simply.

"Now, this will make it all better—" The silver woman inclined the cup again.

Nick shoved it aside, more upset than confused now. Was this how everyone in this world was going to treat him? Like he was a little kid with "color poisoning?"

"I mean it, stop! I don't have color—"

The young girl came closer to the side of the bed, sniffling as tears welled up in her puffy eyes.

"Please take it," she entreated, touching his hand. "D-don't die."

Nick looked at the little girl, watching tears spill down her cheeks as her face flushed silver.

"That's right, listen to Anye."

Nick pulled away to look at the woman with the cup.

"Listen, okay? I don't have color poisoning, and I'm not ten either. Now, I have to get to Cerequin, and I need my clothes and my cat."

"Oh, he's very ill!" the loud silver woman almost sobbed. He was starting to think she was kind of crazy. "He's becoming delusional!"

"Now, just lie back down."

Nick shouted out in rage.

"Leave me the fuck alone!"

He threw the blanket off of himself, pushing past the gaping women to walk to the fire where his clothes were. The little girl burst into full-out tears.

"Are you sure you don't want something more…comfortable?" the gold reasoned. "Those are very rough, and dirty. They'll stain the sheets."

"I'm not staying long enough to stain your stupid sheets," he growled. "Now where the hell is my cat?" He put on his still-damp jeans, working on the legs as fast as he could.

"Your…cat?" the plump one wondered.

"Is that the name of your Pehri?" the silver lady with the cup asked. "She's just fine. She's sleeping outside of the house."

"Why don't we bring her in here?" Visnia suggested. "She can sit next to the bed."

A hand took him by the shoulder as he was just pulling his shirt around his waist and slipping his feet into his shoes. It was the gold woman.

"Come back to bed now, child. Have you lost your senses?" Visnia spoke with a commanding tone as she jerked on his arm.

"Oh, he has!"

The little silver sniffled softly.

Nick thrust her off of him, and the gold lost her grip, surprised at his strength. Yeah, not a little kid. Nick opened the door of the house, to the horror of all the ladies within. Outside, the rains were gone, and gold lit up the sky, unfiltered. His cat was curled up on the dirt path beside the house, and as he slammed the door behind him, she opened up her eyes lazily.

"Come on, we gotta go before—"

The silver woman opened the door, cup in hand.

"At least take this, before—"

Nick was already on the back of the cat, who was slowly getting to her feet.

"Thanks for all the help," Nick spoke, sarcasm dripping from every word. "I'll go find directions somewhere else."

And the cat started down the road, her rolling hips moving smoothly beneath Nick.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Nick had been lucky enough to finally extract some sort of direction from a guy traveling down the road. The man had freaked out when he saw Nick, going over the whole "little boy!" and "color poisoning!" overreaction that Nick had been greeted with more times than he could count by now. But after Nick had somewhat successfully calmed him down, the man had pointed him down the road, telling him that to get to Cerequin, he had to take the first right, and "just keep going." Nick didn't know what that implied, but he still hadn't reached the "first right" and his legs and ass were starting to ache from sitting on the big cat all day. Plus, he was starving, and thirsty. He figured he could just try to drink the rain when it came, but food was a big problem. Nick realized that not eating for a week while getting rained on for hours at night and sleeping as little as possible to keep from a repeat of this morning was probably suicide. He had started looking around for another orchard or a garden of some sort where there was hopefully something edible. Of course, if there was a difference between edible and non-edible things, Nick couldn't see it. And what if he ate something poisonous and got real color poisoning?

Nick groaned as his stomach growled again. Why hadn't he thought to bring food? Though, he admittedly hadn't really expected to be going on a week-long journey. He'd expected to land right in Arian's arms. He sighed forlornly. So much for that. And he couldn't exactly send Arian a text message asking him to pick him up, or at least wait for him to come. The fear of this all being for nothing was weighing heavily on him, no matter how many times he forced himself to think about other things, or told himself fate wanted them to be together.

When the rains finally came, and after several severe warnings from random travelers to get under cover, Nick still had an empty stomach. He had found the first right though, and had kind of nudged his cat into going down the fork of the road. As they loped along, Nick opened his mouth to let the rain in. It was, thankfully, heavy enough for some to actually fall on his tongue, but it still wasn't very satisfying. After a while, Nick gave up on drinking the rain, and started focusing on not shivering himself into a seizure. He was soaked in seconds, and Nick curled up against the cat, only letting himself doze off for a few moments at a time before he opened his eyes again.

The rain slowed after what felt like ages, and then eventually gave way to a clear gold sky again. It was amazing how fast the mud dried up back into its original dirt, and Nick absently wondered at that as he shivered in his still very wet clothes. It definitely wasn't warm enough to just be evaporating, as his sopping hair and pant legs attested to.

That curiosity didn't keep him from thinking about Arian very long. Pretty soon he was once again dwelling on the impossibility of this stupid adventure. As his cat walked along, he worked hard not to cry. He didn't need people being even more worried about him.

There were a lot of couples everywhere—walking down the street hand in hand, emerging from houses, stepping into little shops. None were younger than nineteen, of course, but that didn't change the startling number of head-over-heals-I'm-so-in-love-with-you-I-could-sing couples Nick saw kissing, talking, and flirting. It looked like time didn't change much here. Even older people were still obviously affectionate around their partners, whether they were just old enough to have a few kids (even the gay couples had those most of the time) or were wrinkled and worn. Jealousy built up in his stomach as he was greeted with reminder after reminder of what he might have given up for good. Then he had to discourage that thought completely—fate could make Arian wait, it would. But the mix of hunger, thirst, exhaustion, an aching body, his "color poisoning," envy, and hopelessness, had him miserable pretty quick. He shifted on his cat for about the millionth time to get more comfortable, and leaned into its neck, simmering.

The rains came again just as his clothes had finally gotten dry, and Nick was so tired he shoved his face against the feathers at the cat's neck to block out the light, and slept for a few hours. He woke up to violent chills and a stomach twisted up in hunger. As soon as he came across a house, he got off his cat, who had paused to eat something that looked like purple grass, and had gone to the front garden, robbing it of several black disc-like things that bruised delicately beneath his fingers. Nick grimaced, but shoved as many as he could fit into a little carrier he made out of his shirt by lifting the hem. When he was back to riding on his cat, he hesitantly bit into one, surprised immediately by the sweet juice that spilled into his mouth as soon as his teeth had broken the skin. Nick ate all of them, shoving the black fruit into his mouth ravenously. He soon regretted it, however, when his stomach—accustomed to being empty—groaned under all of the food Nick had forced down it. He had sharp cramps that eventually forced him to dismount and relieve himself beside a tree. The rain quickly did away with the evidence, though, which Nick would have been grateful for, if he'd had room to be grateful at all.

The morning came, and Nick felt like he'd been dragged along the rough dirt road instead of carried. Someone, aghast at his condition, offered to take him into their home. When Nick told the man that he was on his way to Cerequin, the guy practically begged him to at least come in, bathe, and get something to eat. Almost guilty at wasting time, Nick accepted. Despite the rain, Nick still felt filthy, and a warm bath loosened his tense muscles, allowing him to finally relax. The man and his wife pressured him into taking a clean set of clothing—a green vest-like shirt that reminded him of the one Arian had worn when he came to earth, and silver pants that would have screamed "gay" if everything else on this world wasn't so sparkly and shiny. They even gave him a new set of gloves that kind of reminded him of Robin Hood. When the family fed him, he ate it all this time, even though some of the flavors were a little strange. Hiking up his pants, he had left to reluctantly re-board Cat and set off again. The family had given him some food, which he protected from the rain fiercely when it came.

Nick was getting angrier with every swaying step of Cat by now. Off and on he wondered about trying to make Cat run, then disregarded the thought, worried he'd run his only transportation into the ground. It still grated on his nerves, though, every time she paused to eat the purple grass. Nick knew if she died of starvation, he would never get to Arian, but if she took forever to get to Cerequin, he'd lose Arian too. He cussed under his breath to make himself feel better, most of the time. Being petty and irritated was a lot easier than being sad.

Nick was so beaten up by the time the rains were about to come, that he weakly gave into an old woman and followed her into her house, leaving Cat outside as he sat down to food and then fell asleep in a warm bed after bathing. He told himself he'd wake up early, but Nick didn't really know how to judge. By the time he woke up, the rains were long gone, and the dirt was dry.

Every once in a while, as Nick walked down the never-ending road—Cat was starting to get too tired to carry him all the time—he gave in and let himself hope that Arian would still be waiting for him by the time he made it to Cerequin. That always led him to thinking about how pathetic that hope was, since it had been months since he'd seen the magician. He would give over to despair shortly after, and would quietly weep as he kept going, every step a symbol of his pointless desperation.

Nick could tell he was getting close though. There were travelers—some on foot, some on cats, some on wagons pulled by cats—that seemed almost to be accompanying Nick. A lot of the men and women pulled him into conversation, and pretty soon a lot of them knew his story about having lost his fated one. And all around him, there was talk of the matching. It sounded like a lot of parents were going to see their kids and their new marriage partners. Nick looked around, wondering if any of the couples were Arian's parents. When they got to Cerequin, would they find the magician with Nick, or someone else?

Nick sighed, then rejoined the group conversation when his name was called.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"How close are we?" Nick asked hesitantly again of the older man walking beside him. The man smiled down at him, his silver hair catching the sunlight. Cat was loping on the left of Nick, pausing every so often to nibble on grass.

"Not much longer, Nick. We'll get there before the rains come down."

Last night, everyone else had gone to rest in various houses on the side of the street, and Nick finally did as well with the last of the group, figuring he'd go faster with company anyway. That hadn't stopped him from staying up practically all night, heart pounding with fear of losing Arian. Was he having his first night with his new fated one right now? Could he have stopped it if he had just gone through the rains? Nick got up about a hundred times, determined to set off, but every time he did, a gold man sleeping beside him awoke, sleepily spoke the words, "Fate will find a way," and fell back asleep. And Nick had been so tired and warm, he'd given in and pulled the blankets back over his head.

At Nick's dispirited expression, the man put an arm around Nick's shoulders, leaning down a bit to do so.

"Don't worry. You'll be back with your Arian soon enough. I'm sure he's losing sleep waiting up for a sickly little thing like you, lost and all alone."

Nick didn't bother mentioning that Arian didn't have any reason to think he was lost and alone, let alone to lose sleep waiting up for him. Nick just looked ahead as the man kindly pointed out an obvious sign that read "To Cerequin." Scuffing up glittering dirt and uninterestedly watching it fall against the filthy hems of his silver pants, he listened to the man reassure him once again.

The man was going to Cerequin to meet up with his son, and was then going to request another fated one. His husband had died about a year ago to some sort of sickness. It was strange how cheerful he seemed to be despite it, saying that fate had "another plan" whenever it came up, and smiling as often as he could. Nick was pretty sure it was an act, though, because every once in a while he went silent for no particular reason and just stared up at the sky, smile dropping off his face.

With nothing much better to do, Nick had started noticing differences in the people of this world, other than the obvious gold or silver, man or woman. Silvers had generally pale skin, but some had a darker hue added to it by silver spots freckling their bodies. Their hair was usually vibrant silver, but some had hair that tended more toward white. Their eyes ranged from shocking silver, to metallic grey, to a watery sort of mist. The golds' most notable difference between each other was the darkness of their coloring. Some had the sun-kissed, golden skin Arian had, but a lot of people had bronzer skin that could probably only be called brown. Hair and eyes oftentimes settled into a deeper amber than Arian's, making them look almost human. Nick was eyeing a woman with neat, dark gold curls, when the man beside him spoke again.

"I think your Pehri wants you to get on its back again."

Sure enough, when Nick turned towards Cat, she was on her belly a ways back, forcing people to walk around her as she eyed him. She hummed happily as he acknowledged her. Blushing a little, he made his way back towards her and clambered up on her back. It made him kind of self-conscious, riding her with so many people around, because his legs barely fell against her sides, unlike the people of this world, whose legs sometimes dangled around the cats' bellies. But a break from walking was definitely welcome. Cat got up on her feet, and as she started moving beneath him, Nick let himself rest against her neck, contemplating sleeping the rest of the way to Cerequin as he pulled his fingers through her feathers. A woman and a young boy on a cat tried striking up a conversation, but Nick only replied shortly, until they left him alone. He closed his eyes, not really expecting to sleep, and forcing himself not to think of Arian at all. He would wait till he got to Cerequin for that.

Someone tapped him on the shoulder a while later and handed him a purple fruit. Nick ate it slowly, past questioning the food here. It was good, but maybe not exactly a fruit. And, after a bit of light napping that didn't do much for the ache in his feet and the burning of his muscles, and a little bit of uncomfortable conversation between him and a gold girl about his age, a woman announced that Cerequin was an hour away.

Nick's heart thudded in apprehension as craned his neck, looking to the sign that confirmed it. His defenses against thinking of Arian collapsed under a flood of fears, horrors, and a few hopes. What would he do if Arian was already taken? What if he found out the magician was occupied with another man in one of the rooms in that big building? What if Arian was right out on the street, hand in hand with someone else? Nick couldn't swallow just thinking about the shame that would rise up in him if he passed by the magician and saw him happily flirting with his new partner. Arian would look at him in confusion, then dismiss him without a thought…He would probably laugh about it later with his new fated one—"Yeah, a kid hopped a dimension for me. He's obviously trying way too hard." Nick gulped, brows lowering over his eyes mournfully, and started hating himself for even thinking getting Arian back was possible at all.

Nick had been worried that finding the building would be difficult, but as soon as he stepped through the city gates, his eyes fell on the enormous structure. A straight, wide path led to it, and Nick remembered the huge line he had seen when he had first looked through the portal. Anxiety gripped his stomach, coupled with sickening regret. He broke off from the rest of the pack and started in the direction of the building, the rest going down another road.

When he made it to the front of the building, he didn't wait for Cat to get down on her stomach to dismount her clumsily, grabbing handfuls of her feathers before dropping the rest of the way. He ran toward the open doors, forcing his way through the short line. Luckily, he was small enough that people were more confused than upset by his cutting. He slipped through, moving up to a table that hadn't been there before. A woman sat behind it, and as he rushed up to her, her warm smile dropped into horror.

"The hospital is that way, child," she spoke, pointing to the left. "Get there quick. I'm amazed you can still—"

"Look, I don't have color poisoning," he interrupted her. "I'm looking for my fated one, Arian. We got kind of separated, and I—"

The woman's eyes widened in surprise, concern washing from her face.

"So, you're the one that gold was talking about. The other-worlder with green eyes and dark hair." She nodded, her expression tightening curiously. "Do you really blush red?"

Nick's cheeks flushed in response, and she gasped in amazement.

"Listen," he tried again, "I just need to get to Arian. Where is he?"

She shook her head, gold waves of corn-silk hair swirling around her face. "I've heard the whole story, and the elders really don't think you being with him is such a good idea. We are willing, however, to let you come back through the matching when you turn nineteen. You're sixteen, correct? I'm sure someone will find themselves very lucky to—"

Nick slammed his hands down on the table.

"A portal came! A fucking portal came! If that wasn't fate, then what the hell is?"

"Please, I've heard that too, but the elders think it was a bit of an…um…"

"Coincidence?" Nick hissed venomously, causing the woman to flush gold and still manage to look pale at the same time. "There just happened to be a portal that appeared three…four times, conveniently between my world and yours? You think that was an accident?"

The woman was visibly trembling. "B-but you l-left…"

"And now I'm back," Nick growled. "I want Arian. Right now."

Eyeing him like he might explode any minute and take the entire building with him, she muttered fearfully: "He's…already been assigned another fated one."

Nick's argument deflated immediately. The anger on his face melted. He'd known it, he'd known it. If only he'd been faster, if only…

"When?" he finally voiced hesitantly.

"Well, from what I heard, Arian had said he wanted some time to himself before he was re-matched. So just a few days ago."

"Oh," Nick responded dully, his eyes on his feet. Don't cry, don't cry. Too late. Don't cry. "And do you think they've already…you know…" Nick clasped the spread fingers of his two hands indicatively.

"I would imagine so. I'm sorry, but don't be so down. Fate will find you a new one when you turn nineteen."

"Yeah," Nick agreed, more for something to say than anything else. He doubted he'd ever be able to take another "fated one." "D-do you think I can see him anyway? Just to tell him I tried?" Part of him cringed at the idea, the humiliation. But he needed to know it was real, just like when he'd gone to school just to get beat up. He had to know that it had all been pointless. So he could just give up. And cry. For hours. He could already feel the tears building up.

"He would be at the newly-wed housing. Here, I'll look him up…" The woman pulled a stack of papers towards her and started shuffling through them. "Ah, here. Arian. He's in house number twenty-five."

Nick nodded dully. "Which way?"

The woman directed him down the road the rest of his group had taken, and Nick shuffled back out, head down and shoulders slumped as the next person in line went past him to go inside. Cat hummed, getting down on her belly, but he didn't get on, only walked past her. He was going to walk all the way there, no matter how far. Cat figured it out pretty quick, and got back on her feet to walk beside him. He wrapped his arms around himself, refusing to cry.

He found the housing soon enough. It stretched for miles, literally, and was sprawled out in rows like the orchard the portal had taken him to. The houses were silver, probably made out of the bark of those trees. Some had little gardens out front; some just had purple grass, one of which Cat loped over to for a snack. Nick kept walking along alone, stepping as slowly as he could to avoid the inevitable. Unfortunately, twenty five was early on in the lineup. Nick gulped as he eyed the door, uncertainty seizing upon his heart. Butterflies swirled up in his stomach, making him sick with nerves. He almost just walked away, but some part of him that was desperate for reality kept his feet rooted. He brows were pressed so tightly together, his forehead was starting to ache, and his breaths were coming a little too fast. Trembling, he reached out to knock on the silver door. He made as if to rap his knuckles on the surface, then pulled back right as they brushed the wood, teeth clenched. Again, his hand stretched out, but was withdrawn before he'd even been able to get at the door with his nails. He fiddled with his long-sleeve vest, fixing the collar, adjusting it so it didn't look so long on his arms. Impulsively, he even tore his gloves off so Arian wouldn't think he was trying to hide the star. He next worked on scraping the dirt off the hems of his pants with the sides of his tennis shoes, trying to make it less obvious that he had come all this way. It didn't work too well. He ran a hand through his hair, ordering it as well as he could, trying for a casual was-just-in-the-neighborhood look, even though he knew that was ridiculous. Then he breathed out, and knocked on the door.

The sound of footsteps immediately hit his ears, but when no one came to the door, Nick knocked again, forcing himself to hit the door harder.

Steps were definitely approaching the door now. Nick tried to keep from hyperventilating, cold sweat already staining the armpits of his shirt.

When he saw the doorknob turn, he nearly collapsed.

There he was. Nick stumbled, and Arian reached out in automatic response to grab Nick's arm before he could fall over. Nick looked into those gold eyes, unable to look away. Arian was frozen with Nick's arm in his grasp, squeezing it a little too hard, but Nick didn't dare move.

The magician gaped wordlessly, a million questions flashing in his eyes and playing over his expression, speaking for him none-the-less.

And then he half moaned, half sobbed:

"Nicholas."

Nick's breath caught, letting out as a small cry. And then he was crying, somehow pressed up against the magician's chest, with Arian's arms shaking around him as he cried too.

"N-Nicholas," Arian stuttered again, and it hurt how much the man's voice speaking his name fulfilled him. Nick grasped handfuls of Arian's silver shirt, so warm in those arms that, every time he thought about it, it had him crying all over again. Arian seemed to be trying to grab him up so tight that he wouldn't be able to leave. Hands were digging into his hair, pulling through it over and over, and Nick was just helplessly leaking against the magician's shirt.

Arian was the first to pull away, of course. Nick grimaced in pain as those arms released him, looking up when a gentle hand cupped his chin.

"Why…why…"

Nick stared into watery pools of gold, hardly breathing as his heart fluttered. And before he'd even registered his own intent, he had gotten up on his toes and kissed the magician's lips.

Arian gasped beneath the press of Nick's mouth, resisting for a moment before he let Nick pull him in closer. Nick delved between Arian's lips, swaying on his tip-toes until he fell forward against the magician's chest again, arms around the man's neck. Arian responded almost tentatively, joining in the urgency of tangling tongues and knocking teeth, but only barely. Nick was sliding his hands underneath the magician's shirt, when Arian pulled from Nick's lips, taking a huge breath before shoving Nick away. Nick rocked back on his heels, shocked into awareness. Red-faced, he looked up at the magician, those wary gold eyes telling him exactly what he'd known before he'd even knocked on the door. He snapped his arms to his sides. What had he been thinking?

"Nick," Arian exclaimed. "Nick, how…what—why are you here?"

Something crushed Nick when he heard those words and read the defensiveness in Arian's eyes. He'd come out of the closet, pleaded for Arian to be his again, left behind his dimension, and traveled all the way to Cerequin, only to come face to face with the hurt he'd caused—the evidence of all the horrible things he had said that day months ago, clear as day in these eyes that had been robbed of their blind faith and innocence—and the result: Arian had moved on.

Pain surfaced on Nick's face, and a little bit of self-hatred. He should have known this was inevitable. He should have just come in, seen Arian's new fated one like he'd meant to, and left. But he'd let himself get carried away and practically forget why he'd come here in the first place. Getting Arian back wasn't an option…was it? Nick's heart pounded out in denial of that horrid reality as he eyed the magician. It couldn't be like this, it couldn't. That would hurt too much.

"Nicholas," Arian urged, stress evident in the wrinkles between his brows. "Why?"

Would Arian believe him if he said it? I came back because I want to be yours. His fingers clenched into sweaty fists, nails digging into his hot palms. Would Arian even want to hear it?

"Um…I…I wanted to…"

"Wanted…?" Arian pressed.

Nick wished he could look away from the intense gold eyes gazing into his desperately. Desperate for what? For Nick to leave? So Arian could jump back in bed with his new partner? From the way Arian's brows twisted upward, the sharp pain that that thought had caused was evident on Nick's face.

"I…I wanted…you." His cheeks heated up as he realized that part of him foolishly hoped such a small confession would win him back the magician. It would have—two months ago.

Arian breathed out, then swallowed. "Why?"

Nick shook his head. Arian would never believe him, not after how cruel he'd been, how cold.

"B-because…" Answers evaded Nick, and he reached for something to say, something to prove to Arian that he had changed, even knowing his attempts were in vain. "…you."

Blinking, Arian bit his lip and looked away, releasing Nick, whose eyes quickly found their way to the floor.

"You found the portal again?"

Nick nodded. "Yeah."

"Why did you go through it?"

I'd been searching for it, and then it finally came, and how could I not go through it? I've missed you so much, and I feel so empty without you…

"I don't know," Nick breathed.

Arian nodded his head, as if that's what he'd been expecting. He was probably relieved.

"Okay," he finally said, voice flat. "You can, uh, go now, if you want. I have to get ready soon anyway."

Nick wanted to ask what for, but realizing he probably didn't want to know, and too afraid that he would start crying if he even tried to say anything at all, he just turned around wordlessly. He blinked rapidly, eyes heavy with grief. He would not let himself cry in front on the magician. He was about to walk right out the door, when his leg abruptly swerved beneath him, suddenly pins and needles. Nick almost collapsed before he got his bearings and took another step—

"Nick! Nick, are you okay?"

Nick was groaning, clutching his knees, his legs sprawled out on the ground before him. How had they fallen asleep? Had he stood in front of the door too long? But that didn't make sense…

"I-I can't—"

Arian was already kneeling beside him, almost unconsciously wrapping an arm around his shoulders. Nick looked up to meet concern in those eyes. He looked down on his legs, brows raising in disbelief, back up to Arian, his legs, Arian…

"I missed you," he blurted out.

"What?" Arian asked, almost like a gasp, pulling around Nick's body so they were staring into each other's eyes again.

Nick looked the magician straight on, and continued. He had to at least let the young man know before he left.

"I wanted you so bad. And not just…" Nick drifted off, putting a hand through his hair, eyes flicking down for a moment before he forced himself to look up again. "I missed you."

"Wha—you—Nick—"

"I tried to just do what I'd done before after you left—be what I'd been—but…I couldn't. Because I should have just gone through the portal with you."

"Nick," Arian begged, taking Nick's face.

Turning his eyes slightly to the side, Nick admitted softly,

"Actually, I never should have left."

"Oh, fate, Nick, what are you saying!"

"I'm sorry I ruined everything," Nick apologized mournfully, eyes back on the floor. "You're probably better off with whoever you're with now. I'm sorry…" Nick swallowed, tears welling up in his eyes against his will. "I'm sorry I'm such a loser…"

Those large hands fell to his shoulders and grabbed him roughly. Arian gazed down at him, a fierce look in his eyes.

"Nick!" he shouted. "Don't you dare say that!"

"What—?"

"You are not a loser—I don't know what that word means, but I hate it! I hate the look in your eyes when you say it! Like…like you can just give up!" Arian exhaled heavily from his nose, nostrils flaring.

Nick didn't move, too stunned to make any reply. Arian seemed to be in shock himself, the righteous anger on his face melting into confusion, hands still on Nick's shoulders. Those gold brows rose as if in question of themselves.

"Ah…" Arian's voice hesitantly came in. His face flushed gold, and he looked away, embarrassed. "Are your legs okay?"

"Arian…" Nick looked down, then brought his eyes back up, playing his hands absently in his lap. "Do…you…not want me to give up?" He almost relinquished the question, nearly made some excuse to render it invalid, realizing how impossible it was. Arian was happy with someone else now, he had moved on, he…

Arian turned back towards Nick in surprise, all defenses cast down. Frightened hopes hung in his eyes.

He was begging.

Nick gulped, utterly unsure of himself.

"Uh, I…" What was he supposed to say now? Something that would make Arian believe it was safe to…believe him? Or…shouldn't he say nothing at all, because— "I regret leaving so much, Arian."

The magician blinked, looking like a frightened player that was about to get milled over by the quarterback, but still wanted the ball. The star in Nick's palm throbbed.

"Because…if I hadn't, I would still be with you, and I want that now, because I've been thinking and I'm lonely, and—" Nick caught himself when he caught Arian's distraught expression. "No no no!" he spoke quickly. "I didn't mean…it's not just because I was lonely, I was lonely for you. I tried to do stuff with some girls, and it…it just wasn't…" Arian's eyes went wide with horror. Nick cursed and bit his lip. "Not like…that! I was just trying to be something I wasn't, and it didn't work, 'cause I could only think of you—I-I don't know!" he cried, putting his hands in his hair in frustration even though he really did know. Why wouldn't the words come out right? "Just—I think you might actually be my fated one, and so I've been looking for you and now I found you, and if you want I want to be yours, and everything I said before was just…" Nick trailed off, the look on Arian's face anything but encouraging.

"Nicholas," Arian replied after a time, eyes dim with sadness. "How…how can I know you mean what you say?"

Nick's eyes flickered down as he kept back tears. Of course. "I know. But…I just…I just know." Nick shook his head, realizing how little sense that that had made.

"What if you change your mind again?" Arian asked softly. "I don't want to give myself to you just to wake up to an empty bed." Arian's brows pulled in pitiably. "I don't want to be alone, Nick."

How had he done this? What was wrong with him? What kind of jerk was he? Nick clenched his fists, pulling for anything, anything.

"I promise," he put in lamely, not even making eye contact. What was a promise, from him? He never kept his promises, to himself or anyone else, did he?

Arian seemed to detect the non-committal tone of Nick's voice and spoke up distressfully: "Nick, I don't want to be alone. I'm afraid it would hurt…too much…if you left me again." Arian exhaled. Nick could see from the corner of his eye that the magician was looking away too. It was like both of them were afraid to really see each other.

"Arian, I…"

All the words in the world wouldn't make Arian believe him. How many words had Nick used to force Arian away from him? What was the difference? Nick looked up to the magician, who was focusing on a corner of the small room. Nick debated for a moment, then got up on his knees, ignoring the voice in his head that told him he was going to be rejected. He hesitated before forcing himself to reach out and bring the man's face around so they were eye-to-eye.

"Nick, your legs—"

"You can feel what I'm feeling, right?"

Arian looked puzzled.

"Something like the bond, or whatever?" He was desperate, his green eyes searching for some sign of recognition on that beautiful face.

Arian nodded. "The…bond…yes."

Nick didn't let himself think. Gently this time, but still swiftly enough to keep him from worrying first, he pressed his lips against Arian's. Arian immediately put his hands against Nick's chest, but didn't push him away. Not near as confident now, especially against the magician's unyielding mouth, Nick moved against those lips, coaxing them open with uncertain laps of his tongue. His fingers tangled up nervously in the hem of his vest, and, haltingly, he jerked one hand forward and knocked it against Arian's hip clumsily before he built up the confidence to place it at the man's waist. He broke from the kiss with a ragged breath.

"Feel what I'm feeling."

And he was kissing the magician again, hands roving without any sure destination over the man's long body. What was he doing? He played confusion, tongue moving against Arian's as he waited for the man to take the lead. When Arian didn't, Nick flushed, not daring to pull back for fear that he'd lose a grip on what he was doing, and the small bit of cooperation Arian was providing. Maybe…maybe the magician just needed time before he would be putting his arms around Nick, pressing their bodies together? Then…then…

Nick trembled. He was going to have to do this himself, wasn't he?

He willed himself to bring his other hand up to take the hem of Arian's shirt. Would Arian even let him? Was he only letting this kiss go on so Nick's feelings wouldn't be hurt? Had Nick misread the need in Arian's eyes, the scared desire? Was it all in his head? This is where Arian had stopped him before, wasn't it? His fingers shyly slipped over the bare skin just beneath the thin shirt. Arian's hands dropped down from Nick's chest. Nick froze, waiting for the magician to grab his wrists. Arian just breathed out shakily, hands falling lightly about Nick's thighs.

Nick's fingers jerked into motion again. His heart was hammering, feeling like it might thud through his ribcage. He clenched the hem of the silver shirt undecidedly, almost lifting it, but then stopping as he agonized over the possibility of Arian refusing to lift his arms for the shirt to come off, or shoving him away. What would he do then? The magician's tongue licked forward to tap his lip, and the quick rush of self-assurance that sent through Nick gave him enough fuel to raise it a few inches. Arian, detecting his intention, thankfully grabbed the hem himself and pulled off the shirt, exposing the toned planes of his chest and abdomen, pectorals and abs forming rises underneath golden skin. The lines swooping down to his pelvis were etched into that perfect body, just visible above the waist of his pants. That and the trail of blonde hair had Nick so hot, knowing what they led to. When Arian had tossed the shirt to the side, he looked to Nick and spoke,

"We can try this…one more time, okay? If…if you even…" Arian's brows pulled together in agony and even a hint of anger as he closed his eyes, then opened them again. "It can't be like last time. At all."

Nick didn't dare ask what it would mean if he did it right. Would Arian just say nothing and have Nick leave? Would he dump his new partner and be with Nick? That was something Nick was too worried to bring up either, fearing that this concession was more a result of being caught up in the moment. Yeah, it would hurt if Arian rejected him after they were finally together again, but Nick couldn't let this opportunity slip away either.

He just nodded in agreement, waiting for the magician to scoop him up and take him to a bed, or something. Arian just knelt on his shins as if he were waiting too. Of course; it couldn't be simple. Nick inhaled, then closed his eyes, lips returning to Arian's and hands resuming their aimless exploration over the now bare, warm skin of Arian's sculpted torso. After a while they found their way around the magician's waist and settled at the small of his back. And even though Arian wasn't taking full control, he had moved his hands up into Nick's dark hair and was tilting his head down to make kissing easier. After pulling back to remove his own shirt, Nick moved back into the comfortable position against the magician, groaning when his bare skin pressed up against the definition of Arian's musculature.

What did have him uncomfortable was that he knew what was next. His hands went to the tie of Arian's pants, sweating and shaking as he weakly hoped Arian would realize what he was about to do and would do it himself, like with his shirt. But Nick could feel apprehension radiating from the man, like he was just waiting for Nick to force him away and accuse him, tell him he was forcing him, tell him he would never want him. And…could Nick really blame him?

He yanked open the tie, thumbs slipping under Arian's waistline. Arian's erection was growing, tight against the crotch of his pants. That was encouraging. It…it was for him, right? He slid the magician's pants down, that cock springing up as soon as it was released. His own dick was getting hard with longing as he broke their kiss, turning his eyes down to see the surging organ, long and pulsing and soon to be—Nick swallowed dryly, his penis rebelling against the trap of material keeping it in—in him. He whimpered.

But no, this wasn't what this was about. He schooled his expression so he didn't look so hungry. The whole point of this was to prove to the magician that he wanted him for more than sex, that he wanted to be with him, wanted to love him. Arian's body was an increasing distraction, though. Literally. Nick watched the cock swell impossibly larger in response to his hands on Arian's bare outer thighs. Arian got up on his knees for a moment so he could remove his pants entirely. Nick rushed to get out of his own as he watched the head of the magician's penis glisten with pre-cum. No, he calmed himself, not just sex. Arian being his in every way would be so much better than any sex. Even really good sex. Sex that would have him moaning, unaware of anything but the steady pumping of all that hard length within him.

"Oh, god," Nick groaned. Arian looked almost offended at that, arms wrapping about himself as if he might be reconsidering even as his gaze raked over Nick's naked body. Nick flushed self-consciously. Okay. Time to prove himself.

"Arian," he began, reaching out to touch Arian's arm. "I…I mean what I said. You're…really hot and all, but that's not all I want. Can't you feel that?"

Arian shook his head, but leaned into Nick's touch so Nick was cupping his shoulder.

"Um, okay," Nick replied, trying to get his footing, scouring his mind for some way to express what he felt. "Well…I do." He smoothed his hand down the magician's arm. "Do you know what I think about when I think about you?"

Arian looked into Nick's eyes and dully answered, spreading his arms in gesture. "This, probably."

Pain shot through Nick. "Yeah," he admitted tentatively. "But that's not it."

Arian was listening despite himself, breaths shallow. Nick brought his hand back up that long arm, not trusting himself to let his eyes do anything but follow the path of his fingers. What he was seeing now was bad enough.

"I also think about how nice you are and how you've got a perfect smile and how cool your magic is. This—" Nick lifted his bare hand so the star shone. "Every time I see it, it makes me me miss you, even if I don't admit it to myself."

Arian's breath came out in a tremble. "The star," he spoke. "From earth."

Nick nodded. "They're beautiful. And…you gave me this one." He blinked. "No one…no one except my family has given me anything at all. Let alone this."

"It's special to you?"

Looking up from the silver star, Nick looked up at Arian in disbelief.

"Of course it is."

The war within the magician was obvious on Arian's face. Finally though, he spoke,

"And is…is it because I'm special to you?"

Nick's eyes widened hopefully as he nodded vigorously. "Yes."

"Why?"

His lips were already tumbling out the answer before he'd even given it thought.

"Because you were my first, and somehow you made me feel safe and special and wanted, and I never felt that way before. You make me feel…worth something. Like maybe I'm not totally lame. Like maybe I can be accepted and…loved." Nick threw his eyes to the side as tears unexpectedly gathered in his eyes. "And now I'm scared I've lost that because I'm such an idiot."

Arian carefully took Nick in his arms, both of their erections tamed by the change of atmosphere in the room. The magician's silky skin and big hands were now a comfort against Nick, reminding him of that first day and how Arian had endlessly soothed him. Worked to make sure he wasn't hurt in any way. Nick's shoulders shook.

"I-I don't know what I'm going to do without you."

"Oh, Nick, I—" The man's voice dropped to a whisper. "I want you too." He squeezed Nick tighter against him. "I...I'm telling myself not to listen to you, but I can't help but want you back. I can't want anything else when you're beside me."

"I'm sorry," Nick answered, tears trickling down his cheeks.

"It-it's okay."

They held each other, none of the desperation in it like when Nick had first come through the door. Just warm and quiet. Nick wiped tears out of his eyes. Arian was smoothing a hand down his back. And then, that hand coming up to cup Nick's face, Arian tipped it up and kissed him.

Nick fell into him, any signs of stress disappearing from his face as their tongues came together. His body eased, loosening in the circle of the man's arms. Arian traced the curve of his ear, down over his neck. Their lips parted, and Arian eyed Nick uncertainly.

"Nicholas, I…I don't know…"

"Please, Arian," Nick whispered. "You're everything."

"Do you really mean that?"

"Can't you tell?"

Arian nodded his head. "I think so, maybe. But I'm scared. I-I've never met anyone like you before."

"Do you wish I was different?" Nick asked sadly.

"No," Arian replied, hugging Nick closer in reassurance. "I like you how you are. I just don't know what to expect. I don't know when I might lose you again."

"I know. And I'm so sorry," Nick apologized. "But I really mean it. I want forever too, Arian. Please."

The man breathed in, breathed out, chest rising and falling.

"Oh, Nick." He almost sounded like he was in pain as his hands tightened in Nick's hair.

"I promise. I promise." Nick was on the verge of tears again. Come on, this had to work. What would he do if Arian said no?

His lips were recaptured. He didn't dare deepen it. Maybe it was a goodbye? But then Arian was slipping a hand down his body. Nick shivered as the palm slid over his ass, then moved down to the back of his thighs. Arian brought his hand away, leaving Nick's skin still tingling, before that arm came back at a different angle, against the inside of his knees. He was suddenly lifted into the cradle of Arian's arms. Gasping, he felt as the magician stood.

"What—"

Arian walked across the room, down a short hall, and through an open door. A bedroom. The man laid Nick out on the bed, and Nick's heart stuttered even as his cock twitched.

"D-does this mean…?" His brows pressed together.

Arian feathered kisses down the boy's neck.

"I…can't say no," Arian admitted, torn. "Y-you…" He abruptly lifted his head, eyeing Nick desperately, eyes glistening. A tear spilled over and slid down his face. "My fate."

Nick choked. "I won't hurt you this time, I swear." The words sounded so empty.

Arian didn't respond, only took Nick's mouth again as he got up on the bed. Nick moaned, pressing his hips against the magician's abdomen. Arian's cock, up again, brushed his ass, and Nick had to turn his face to the side so he could breathe in and out in shivers.

"This isn't all you want?" Arian asked, moving his lips down Nick's jaw. "Really?"

"N-no," Nick responded. "I want you to…know me. And I want to know you."

"What do you want to know?"

Nick struggled. Just the proximity of Arian's skin coupled with the promise of what was definitely to come now had Nick so turned on he could burst. "I," he finally got out. "I want to know who you are. Better than anyone else."

"Why?"

"Because…I care."

"And you want me to be the same way with you? Know you better than anyone else?"

Nick nodded. "I've never had someone care enough about me to want to get to know who I am for real." Including myself. "You're the only one I've ever met who seems like they might." Might was a definite under-exaggeration.

"Oh, Nick," Arian spoke again, but softly, sympathetically. "Why did you ever leave?"

Nick exhaled. "I was confused." Arian's hand moving through his hair was so warm. "I guess I kind of figured it out a little late."

Arian bit his lip, then shook his head.

"Not too late."

Nick gazed up at the magician in amazement. "No? Not even with your new fated one?" It was out of his mouth before he'd realized what he was saying. He flushed in fear.

"I haven't met the new one yet," Arian spoke, then, "Nick…Nick, I don't want to."

A huge weight Nick hadn't even realized was there lifted off his shoulders.

"But the woman said you had already—"

"She was wrong," Arian cut in, taking Nick's left wrist and bringing the hand palm up so the star was visible. The magician's eyes flickered over it, the silver light intensifying in seeming recognition, spilling over his face. "You've been my only."

Nick gasped. "Really?"

Arian nodded, brows tensed slightly and mouth pursed as if there was something he wanted to say. After a moment of personal debate that was easily read on his face, he spoke in false casualty,

"And…you?"

Nick's heart leaped into his throat.

"No," he answered immediately, louder than he meant to, alarmed at what Arian had suspected. "I mean—yes. I couldn't be with anyone else."

Arian's eyes didn't move from the star. Then his shoulders abruptly relaxed, and he dropped his face into the palm of his free hand.

"Oh, thank fate," he croaked. "I thought you had said…"

"No, no," Nick reassured the magician. "I couldn't, I couldn't. Only with you."

Arian looked up and tentatively smiled.

"I'm glad."

Nick nodded, cursing himself for ever even thinking about trying to do it with anyone else. "Me too."

Their lips met, tongues gently intertwining. Arian sucked in Nick's bottom lip, pulling back slightly so their mouths were only brushing, before he moved harder against Nick, deepening the kiss. Nick reached up to wrap his arms around Arian's waist, and Arian pressed his body closer to Nick in silent understanding. As those hands moved through his hair, Nick squirmed against the magician, gasping when his cock twitched against the silky skin of the man's stomach. When Arian reached down to stroke him with a magically lubricated hand, Nick threw his head back and moaned, grinding into the magician's palm. His own hand reached down for Arian's shaft, and when he came in contact with the head, he wrapped his hand around the end of it, thumb circling over the hole weeping pre-come. Arian moaned, his breaths becoming more uneven as their lips moved together.

Nick's hips bucked in strong arousal. That was because of him. Arian was panting between kisses, shoving his cock down Nick's fist, slowly losing control, all because of him. Nick spread his legs wide in askance. He wanted it now, oh god.

Arian let go of Nick's dick immediately and shoved three fingers into his hole. Nick tightened up before forcing his body to make allowance for the intrusion. The way Arian hesitated, almost removing one of them as Nick's hole constricted, touched Nick right to the core. Even after Nick had used Arian—practically destroyed his heart, for Christ's sake—the magician still couldn't bear to hurt him. Guilt moved through Nick, and he silently solidified the promise within himself—he would never hurt Arian ever again. Ever.

The touch against his prostate, which Arian quickly found, had Nick sinking himself down on those long, thin fingers. "Oh, Arian," he moaned pleadingly, hand tightening around the magician's cock. "Oh damn."

"Do you want me to use the magic?" Arian asked between heavy breaths.

"N-no," Nick replied, blood surging through his cock as Arian rolled over his sweet-spot. "I want to f-feel everything."

A groan reverberated in Arian's throat as his fingers withdrew, leaving Nick empty and longing. A drawer rattled with the force of Arian opening it, and Nick looked to the bedside cabinet—the wood a swirl of pinkish silver. From it, Arian pulled out a beautifully designed bottle. The glass, or whatever the hell it was made out of, was an iridescent black cut into swirls and shapes. Arian removed the fluted stopper and poured into his cupped hand a small pool of a thick, glittering purple substance. Nick eyed it, baffled.

"Is that…?"

Arian nodded, smiling. "It's very good, I've heard. It lasts for hours, and it's really warm." He grinned at Nick, a small bit of shyness still in his face—still recovering. "Unlike your cold lubricant that wastes away almost instantly."

"That was lotion," Nick protested, avoiding the unmentionable pain of the events that they were pretending to speak about casually. Arian didn't reply, only took himself from Nick's hand, moving the lube down his length.

The magician shuddered when his hand made contact with his erection, flushing and turning his eyes to the side as he stroked the shimmering substance down himself. The purple coloring thinned out, becoming a dim sheen, but the glitter was clear against Arian's skin, brought out by the thin stream of light that was pouring between the dark curtains.

"It's, uh," Arian spoke again, voice thick with desire, "really warm."

Nick trembled anticipatorily as he watched the magician's face blush gold and eyes haze over with need. Arian looked down Nick's body, and when those long fingers reached down to trace his dark happy trail, they were buzzing with heat.

"N-Nick," Arian murmured, pushing the head of his penis against Nick's opening. "Can I…?"

"Please."

Arian slid into him, and Nick almost jerked back in wide-eyed surprise as he cried out.

"Ohgod-d-d-damn."

Arian hissed, body lowering over Nick as he pressed further inside. Colors were sparking before Nick's eyes as he gaped wordlessly, clutching the magician's arms. Nick's cock was throbbing, and he could acutely feel Arian's doing the same inside him. The magician came down so they were chest-to-chest, holding each other tightly. Nick muffled his heady whimpers against the man's chest in reaction to the slight movement of Arian's cock within him. He was actually starting to get scared about what would happen when Arian came in contact with his prostate. The magician pressed upward.

It was an explosion—heat so intense against his sweet spot, crackling against his vulnerable skin. Nick came instantly, shooting against the man above him. The abrasion and Nick's orgasm sent Arian right over the edge too, and he came inside Nick so hard the boy could feel it. Both of them were a box of shivers, quivering against each other.

"That's, uh, really good, yeah," Nick panted, and Arian nodded against his shoulder in agreement.

"Can I keep, um, going?" the magician asked after a while. His cock had already returned to partial erection.

"Yeah," Nick allowed, bracing himself for the onslaught of pleasure.

Arian eased himself in further, a low cry coming from his mouth. His lower lip dropped, gold brows tightening in a knot at his forehead, eyes fluttering closed. "N-N-Nick." Nick could taste his breath.

Nick was straining against the urge to kick Arian back. God, this was too much. So quick after orgasm, his cock was already filling back up with blood, and his nails were scrabbling down Arian's back with all his strength, not that there was any way the magician could feel it. Nick was flaring from the inside, his prostate hot and swollen, pulsing with unbearably erotic warmth. He couldn't imagine was Arian was feeling inside of all that tight heat.

Nonsensical words tumbled from Arian's lips as he whimpered. The magician was hardly daring to move, only pumping deeper a little bit at a time with tiny pushes that left both of them speechless, clutching each other and moaning against slick skin.

"You more…used to it?" Arian asked when he had finally succeeded in fully sheathing himself without sending any of them to release. Nick clenched around the magician's length, sucking air in steadily to keep from going insane. "I'm thinking about…moving?" Arian sounded doubtful, not only in the case of Nick agreeing, but in his own ability to even carry out his words if Nick did.

"'K-kay," Nick gave over uncertainly, digging his nails deeper into the skin of Arian's shoulders.

Arian took in a breath, pulled back, and then slid home again, the effort evident on his face. Nick gritted his teeth. Yet, after a series of halting thrusts where Arian practically had to stop after each one, they settled into a slow, rolling rhythm that Nick was carefully but bravely beginning to answer. Now that the shock of the stuff had worn off, Nick could deal with the pleasure much easier, hips growing more confident, not missing a beat in his renewed hunger for more. His lips bumped against Arian's, and they moved into languid kissing, able to spare the breath.

Arian tore from Nick's mouth to exhale heavily—even though they had a better handle on it, there was no denying what the intoxicating heat and slickness was doing to both of them. When Arian turned his head back, he didn't fall back into the kiss, but rather spoke softly:

"Nick—ah—Nick."

"Yes?" Nick asked, huffing.

"I'm…s-so glad to b-be…yours."

Nick's eyes went wide, and, for a moment the throbbing of his cock and prostate were shoved to aside as he looked into those sincere, gold eyes. Overpowering fulfillment and happiness moved through him, and he kissed Arian's parted lips.

"Me too."

And then, with a smile that spoke of much more than satisfaction, Arian leaned back into the kiss. He snapped his hips forward, double-timing their set tempo. Nick gasped, arousal swirling away any coherent thought.

"Faster okay?"

Nick nodded shortly, not knowing if he could make it. Long, full, quick thrusts were filling Nick then, and the sounds coming from Arian's mouth weren't doing anything to help his situation. He was arching his body so he was taking every inch of the magician, grinding down on the base. His face flushed hotly, and there was no extra air for kissing now—Arian's head had dropped back against Nick's shoulder, and Nick just fell back against the pillow, curling his toes. Swift inhalations and exhalations were all he could do, and Arian's chest rose and fell with him. It didn't help that Arian being so close was causing their stomachs to become a trap for Nick's penis, the magician's tight abdomen stroking Nick's length vigorously as he moved in and out. Nick groaned.

"A-Arian," Nick called. "N-now."

Arian threw himself up Nick as hard as he could, unwittingly jerking Nick off. That was it for him. He flew into orgasm, tearing his nails down Arian's back and digging his heals into the bedding as come spurted from his cock. Arian gave as soon as Nick did, and Nick suspected he had been holding back.

The heat faded, becoming more of a dim stimulant that didn't necessarily get him hard again, but just kept him more sensitive to touch. Arian, thankfully, didn't pull out right away, so Nick could breathe off the aftereffects of orgasm, only dealing with small stirs of Arian shifting and slowly going limp. The magician had let himself fall against Nick, and they both had each other wrapped up—arms settled limply around one another, Arian's long legs tangled with Nick's. Nick lifted one hand and ran it through Arian's soft, damp hair, which was sticking up wildly in a sexy kind of way. He breathed in against the magician's neck, and sighed.

This was perfect.

"Is this real?" Arian had lifted his head, eyes warm as he looked down at Nick. "I never thought you'd come back."

Nick accepted Arian when he leaned down to touch his lips. Nick smiled softly when Arian pulled back.

"I sure hope it is."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Nick walked out of the building, brows tight with anger. Arian had an arm around the fuming boy, looking a little frightened.

"…Nick?"

"Is that all they can think about when they see me? That I'm going to die of color poisoning?"

"The elders understood as soon as you explained…"

"Yeah, but—!" Nick started, then slumped against Arian's side. "Just—everyone thinks it, and then I'm just so short…practically a midget…"

"No, Nick," Arian all but pleaded, bringing Nick closer. "You're perfect the way you are. Don't listen to them."

"How?" Nick asked petulantly. But he really couldn't be that upset. Arian just had to duck down and look into his eyes with concern, and Nick melted into a helpless smile.

Arian, who had already caught onto this, leaned down and pressed a chaste kiss to Nick's lips. Nick froze up in response, waiting for someone to call him out, laugh at him, call him a pussy—something. But…no one would here, would they? The piercingly gold sky was a clear reminder that he was safe now, and that, maybe, he didn't have to care about what anyone except this man in front of him thought. Nick hadn't put his glove back on— probably never would—and looking down on the star was always kind of a shock. But then he would think of Arian, and then he would probably look at Arian, and he would remember against that his old life was over, and the beautiful, golden-haired magician was his new one.

After the last throes of orgasm had subsided and exhaustion was weighing on them the first night, or rain, they slept together—fully established after a long, painful argument with the elders as a married couple—Arian had, probably without realizing it, crushed Nick against him so hard that Nick could hardly breathe, let alone move out of the awkward, balled-up position he was in. Arian would drift off for a while, and then would jerk up in a flash of concern before tightening his arms even further around Nick and falling into restless sleep again. Nick didn't sleep at all. He cried.

Slowly, though, the more days passed, Arian began to realize Nick wasn't leaving (as well as Cat, who had kind of made a permanent residence in their backyard), and the way they were together was reminiscent of their first time together, except Nick was a lot surer that he was happy. He found out he was actually pretty good with the food they had on Arian's world, and the magician insisted that cooking was Nick's skill several times, even though Nick denied it over and over, more for Arian to keep reasoning with him then out of a sense of modesty.

It was when Nick was in Arian's lap, the magician stroking his fingers through Nick's hair and praising it, that the most obvious question came to mind. Nick turned his head to look up at Arian, and asked,

"Hey, why didn't you ever ask me if I had color poisoning?"

Arian beamed and shook a hand through Nick's dark hair, before responding,

"I always knew you were perfect."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

What the hell is this?! Part FOUR, and the VERY LAST part of Fated. Oh, hell yeah! Hope you guys liked it.

However, despite the oh-so-exciting idea of leaving Arian and Nick to themselves, I am, at this very moment working on an epilogue. No, this is not going to be "years later," talking about all their lovely children and how happy they are and all that sappy sweet stuff that I can't even believe I indulge at all. It will, rather, be an epilogue that will comprise an event briefly foreshadowed in the second part.

You want to see this epilogue? It's not going up until I get fifteen real reviews on this fourth part. No "good job," or "nice story." Real reviews. Don't write me a novel. Just tell me what you think in more than five words.

Until then, Nick, Arian, and I will have fun together. (: