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X Universe - Book 3

I Promise Forever - Chapter 11

"You have a date, on Christmas," I asked, I rolling my eyes as Jeff set George's suitcase on the sidewalk outside the rail station. Snow flakes drifted down through the glow of the street lamps as I watched George check his pockets for his pass.

George smiled. "Family first, then friends." He pulled the rail pass, victoriously, from his inside coat pocket. "There are more comfortable places to spend Christmas night than an inflatable bed in your workout room."

Jeff sighed. "Dad's pissed."

Shrugging, George tucked his pass into his outer coat pocket. "What else is new?"

"Couldn't you have waited until tomorrow to make a bootie call, George?" Okay, maybe that wasn't very generous of me. I was only eighteen, this was only my second Watkins Family Christmas, and I wanted the whole family there.

George frowned. "Don't you start; you sound more like Dad every day. You're eighteen, Dan. You should be a horny little shit; fucking and being fucked by every stud in the area." He jerked his head at Jeff. "So should my brother. Get hooked up after you've lived a little."

It took me a moment to realize that I was actually taller than George. That was a novel realization; George was larger than life to me. I stepped in, taking advantage of my height by looking down into his eyes. "I don't call running around to find a hot ass for the night 'living', George. It just so happens I am a horny teen who fucks and gets fucked by a stud almost every night. I don't have to wonder with whom my next sex will be, George. I've got mine at home."

George scowled. "Back off, Dan. I don't care what mutie powers you have. Don't get in my face. My life. My choices. You can take your judgments and eat them, 'cause they're wasted on me."

We glared at each other for a few moments. George was a professional at dealing out righteous indignation and attitude. It was a great facade, but my lie detection system was going full force. I'd hurt his feelings. I pulled George into a hug and took a deep breath, pushing aside my irritation and impatience. "Just be safe, okay?"

George hugged me back, and then stepped out of our embrace before chucking my chin with his fist. "I'm always safe. You're looking at the Teflon man."

I shook my head, hoping that meant he had really slick condoms packed away somewhere. "Just take care of yourself, okay?" I sighed. "Internet hook-up?"

George smiled. "I'll send you his pics. You two might want to try a threesome some time. If he's as good as he looks, I'll send him your way."

Jeff slid his arm around my waist. "Thanks, but I think we have a long ways to go before we've done everything we can do without adding players to the game." He stuck out his hand to George. "Call us to let us know you got there safe."

George looked at Jeff's hand. "What? I get hugs from my brother-in-law, but a shake from my own flesh and blood?"

Jeff relented, let me go, and gave George a bone crushing hug, lifting George off the ground as Jeff buried his face in George's shoulder. "Double safe for me, okay?"

George held Jeff. Okay, George held onto his little brother while Jeff kept his big brother off his feet until he'd pulled himself together. Dad had opened up a Pandora's Box of worry for both of us. We just couldn't look at George without seeing the specter of doom hovering above him.

"Hey, don't go all weepy-fag on me, muscle boy." George cupped his little brother's face and grinned confidently. "I'm just going out on the town; been doing that since you were a preeb."

Jeff grinned, wiping his eyes. "When I was a 'preeb', I thought you were just wrestling with guys in your room."

George winked. "I was... just Greek style."

I rolled my eyes. "Get to your train, slut."


"And proud of it," I retorted, sliding my arm around Jeff's waist. "I'm in good company."

George sighed melodramatically. "Hopeless. Absolutely, hopeless." He picked up his suitcase. "Who issued you your Gay Club cards?"

We grinned and replied in unison. "Logan!"

George cringed. There was no way he was going to say shit about Logan's libido, or manliness. The way Logan had nearly devoured Scott on the dance floor at our reception left no doubt as to whom he'd be spending the night with. Even George had been impressed and turned on by the two of them. "Okay. I suppose there's hope yet."

I smiled. "Safe answer, George. You're smarter than you look."

"I don't have to be smart." He struck a pose. "I'm pretty."

"Get going you nut." Jeff pushed George toward the station.

"I'll call." George waved and walked through the doors into the station.

"He'll be fine," Jeff affirmed as he squeezed me. I wasn't sure if he said it for himself or me.

Don't destroy the annoying ringing thing. I fought my way out of a warm, snugly sleep and lifted my head from Jeff's chest. Who the hell calls at one in the morning? I floated the phone to me and flipped it on. "Hello?"

"Dan, it's Brandon."

I blinked more awake and sat up. "Hey, Bran. What's up?" I did some quick math. "You guys should be en route to New York by now."

"No, actually, we're snow bound out here."

"Damn." I shook Jeff awake. "What about Kate?"

"She's already at the airport, but she knows our plane won't be coming in."

"What," Jeff moaned. He blinked at me a few times, trying to get his brain to boot.

I covered the mouth piece. "It's Brandon. They're snowed in."

Jeff grumbled. "That sucks. I wanted the whole gang here."

"Rogue and Bobby couldn't make it, so it isn't the 'whole gang', Jeff."

"I know, I know. Still. Just us and Kate," Jeff whined, thinking about her last visit, "I'll spend the holiday getting my ass kicked again."

I put the phone back to my ear. "There's no way you guys can come out? We're not sure we can survive the Black Diva alone."

Brandon laughed. "Kate is about to be airborne, and I was wondering... Would Jeff be willing to play psychic anchor for me?"

I blinked. "Be what for you?"

"It's kind of hard to explain. We've got a way to get there, but I'll need Jeff to be my target and in a space big enough for me, Ben and Tyler, and our luggage, to arrive in."

I still didn't get it. "So what are you going to do, call up Scotty and beam over?"

"Something like that. Kate doesn't know I can make long distance transits dream walking. I thought it might put Ms. Know-it-all in her place if we were to get there ahead of her despite the storms."

I still wasn't sure what he was talking about, but anything to one up Kate had to be a good thing. "Okay, we're game."

"Can you get Jeff to an open space in about fifteen?"

I shrugged. "Sure. We can go down into the workout room."

"Great. Don't freak out when we get there. See you in fifteen." He hung up.

"What's up?" Jeff finally sounded lucid.

"We need to get some clothes on, and you need to go downstairs into the workout room while I make some tea."


I shrugged, and pushed at his shoulder. "I don't understand it either. Brandon says he needs you downstairs to be their target for their arrival. He has some sort of new power or something." I slid out of bed and hunted for where Jeff had thrown my underwear earlier. I smiled as I found them looped over the curtain valence. Pulling them down, I spun the briefs on my finger. "Good aim, Tex."

Jeff smiled, blushing. "I wasn't aiming. They were in my way." I loved it when he blushed about sex. Whenever he got aggressive in bed, he became sheepish for the whole next day. It was so damn cute.

Slipping my briefs on, I walked over and kissed my stupid husband before heading for the door. "You can get rid of my underwear like that any time."

Jeff wandered about in the fog of "near-awake" while I got the water going, turned on a few lights, and wondered what Brandon's new power was like. He'd mentioned "dream walking", but I'd never heard of it. I turned Jeff around as he followed me dutifully into the kitchen, and pointed him to the basement.

"Downstairs sweetie."

"Oh," he mumbled, moving like a sleep-zombie to the basement door. "Yeah."

I shook my head, smiling as my semi-conscious man disappeared down the stairs. "Babe?"

He stopped midway down the steps and called back, groggily, "Yeah?"

"Turn on the light?"

I felt his aura creep along the wall until he found the switch. With a click, the stairwell light came on. Jeff continued into the basement without another word.

I wandered down into the basement with Jeff's hot cocoa and my tea. What ever was going to happen, I wanted to be there to watch. Jeff had just taken a sip of his cocoa when I felt something weird. It wasn't magic, and it didn't really feel like telepathy, but it was definitely some psychic effect that was centered on Jeff. He staggered, spilling his mug, as darkness swirled from him like something out of a horror film. I wasn't sure what to do; I didn't want to disrupt something I didn't understand. The darkness coalesced into three figures, and luggage, standing in the middle of the room.

Brandon opened his eyes and grinned at us. "Surprise?"

"What the fuck was that?" I set my tea down and moved to Jeff. "You okay?"

Jeff nodded. "Yeah, just a headache."

I glared at Brandon. "You could have been more descriptive."

Brandon grimaced. "Sorry. I'm still getting used to it. I guess I should have warned you."

"No shit." I touched the side of Jeff's face. "You sure you're okay?"

He nodded, straightening back up. "Yeah. It's already fading."

I looked back at our three guests. I wanted to be pissed, but now that I knew Jeff wasn't going to pass out or have a brain aneurism, my curiosity was kicking in. "When'd you learn to do that?"

Brandon shrugged. "Around Thanksgiving I guess."

Jeff rubbed his temples. "And you can go anywhere?"

Brandon nodded. "Anywhere there are people, yeah."

I grinned. "That's so cool. And I thought we had it made for transatlantic transit."

Tyler smiled. "Yeah. Two hours is great, but two seconds is better."

"No reason to stand around in the basement," I said as I floated Jeff's mug and spilled cocoa off the floor. "Let's go upstairs and get you guys settled." I yawned. "Then I'm taking your transporter-pad back to bed. Kate isn't due for another eight hours."

Ben looked about. "Your own danger room?"

I smiled at Tyler. "Compliments of a little blonde genius."

Tyler grinned. "Isn't as good as the mansion's."

"Good enough for us."

We got the guys some hot drinks and food, and then I dragged my husband back to bed. There was no way I was facing Kate on only an hour of sleep.

I smiled, looking from the kitchen to the living room, while I prepared some tea, cocoa and coffee. I paused and just took in the view. Jeff was stretched out on the floor, spinning tales of shopping mall hell with Janet, with Misty curled up on his low back. Grams' allergy ward had done wonders. He still sniffled from time to time, but for the most part he was back to his normal vital self. A side benefit of the ward oils was that they seemed to block other airborne contaminants, including cold and flu viruses. Kate was on the couch curled up against Ben, her eyes closed, smiling softly as she listened to Jeff. Brandon was in the arm chair with Tyler sitting on the floor, leaning back against Brandon's leg. I doubted Brandon was even aware of the fact that he'd been petting Ty's hair for the past hour.

I floated the tray of hot drinks and snacks to the coffee table. "Get it while it's hot."

Kate sat up, passed Ben his coffee and took her double hot chocolate. "So, what's the plan for tomorrow?"

"We thought it'd be cool to spend New Year's in London." I winked at Jeff. "Downtown, in the throng of everything, fighting back the chill with coffees and cocoa."

"That sounds cool," Ben agreed, sipping his coffee.

Kate, Brandon and Tyler looked less enthused. Brandon was the one to voice the first objection. That surprised me, but it was also encouraging to see he wasn't just tagging along behind Ben any longer.

"Are we really committed to that," Bran asked while looking at Kate. "I'm not sure I want to deal with that many people in various states of inebriation."

Kate nodded. "It sounds like fun guys, but do we have any other options? Drunk people give me headaches."

Tyler shrugged. "Not to mention, the rail system and underground will be a pain. We'd have to rush for the trains and hope to make it to the rail before the last one left."

Jeff whined. "Come on, guys. We're mutants. Who says we have to use the train and shit anyway?"

"That'd be rich. A group of mutants flying in and out of downtown London on New Year's Eve." Kate rolled her eyes and took another sip of her cocoa. "What have you guys been smoking?"

"I'd rather not stand around for hours in the cold." Tyler shrugged. "But I guess Dan could take care of that easily enough."

I nodded. "Yep, I'd planned on it."

Kate eyed me suspiciously as she took another sip from her mug. "You know, as good as you are at blocking telepathy, you suck at lying."

I grinned and sat down next to Jeff. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Kate shrugged. "My guess is you already knew you would be with two telepaths and a guy who is not comfortable in large crowds, and you're just pulling our chains. You're many things, Dan, but being a self centered prick when it comes to your friends, you aren't." She took another sip and narrowed her gaze over her mug. "You are, however, an asshole who likes to keep secrets and be sneaky."

I looked at Jeff. "Did you hear what that bitch called me?"

Jeff frowned, shaking his head in mock disgust. "Shameful."

"Are you going to let her get away with that," I whined. "Where's my knight in shining armor?"

Jeff looked at me like I was nuts. "She kicked my ass last time. I'm not asking for a rematch any time soon."

Kate nodded. "Wise man."

Misty stretch, kneaded Jeff's ass, and curled herself into a ball on his sacrum. I frowned at her. That was my ass, and she was becoming a greedy little queen. I floated her off Jeff's ass and up between his shoulders, and I lay my head down on one meaty ass cheek. Misty looked at me, got up, wandered back over, and plopped herself down on Jeff's ass again, her butt against my head, and flipped her tail across my nose while she got comfortable. I smacked the tail out of my face a couple times, but it kept sweeping back aross my brow, or curling around my eye like a monocle, or creating a moustache for me.

"Misty, stop it," I grumbled, floating her away again.

"Like she'll listen," Jeff chuckled, reaching back to scratch my belly. "She knows who's boss in this house."

"Yeah, me." I closed my eyes and settled more comfortably on the floor. "Anyway, we'll do something fun tomorrow. Even if it's playing cards to ring in the New Year."

"He's got something planned," Kate grumbled to Ben as she snuggled in closer with him, "He's just being a little shit about it."

"My house, my rules," I insisted, before a tail settled under my nose again.

Tyler laughed. "Looks like it's her house, and her rules."

I staunchly refused to acknowledge the tail. Misty just purred.

"You sure this is the right place?" Jeff looked at me doubtfully as we stood outside the gate of a four story building in Notting Hill.

I checked the invitation. "This is the address." I handed him the card. "Check for yourself."

He looked it over, nodded, and handed me back the card. "Okay."

Kate frowned. "We're in London, for a mutant safe New Year's Eve party, and you guys aren't sure we're at the right place?" She looked at Tyler. "Can you confirm the address?"

Tyler shrugged and closed his eyes. After a moment, he nodded. "Yeah, according to Yahoo-UK, this is the right spot. At least that's how it looks on the map."

"Okay, so I haven't ever been here before. Sue me." I pushed open the gate and crossed the tiny yard to the front steps. "Worst that can happen is we're at the wrong place." I knocked.

After a minute, Professor McNamara opened the door. "Daniel. Jeffrey." She looked past us to the guys. "Hello, you must be Daniel and Jeffrey's friends." She pulled the door open and stepped back. "Please come in out of the cold."

We walked into the entry hall, peeling off our coats as she closed the door. Dark Cherry wood floors, mahogany banister rails, Persian carpets, and more antiques than I'd ever seen in one place decorated the entry hall.

"I am Magdalene McNamara, Daniel's administrative counselor. Please call me Maggie." She extended her hand to Kate as Ben took Kate's coat.

"Kate Brown." She shook Professor McNamara's hand as she made the introductions. "The handsome guy with my coat is Ben Hanson. The scraggly faced reflection of him is his brother, Brandon. The cute blond is Tyler."

Professor McNamara smiled. "It is a pleasure to meet you." She gestured at the room. "Welcome to my home. It isn't grand, but I like to think of it as comfortable." Walking over to a closet, she opened it and pulled out hangers. "We can put your coats in here."

Kate leaned in to me. "Comfortable?" Her gaze traveled the room. "What does 'grand' look like?"

I shrugged. "I have no idea."

Professor McNamara hung the coats and then turned back to us. "Only a few of the other guests have arrived. You were quite prompt. Most of my guests function on 'pagan time'."

I grinned, translating the phrase for the guys. "That means they show up whenever they remember to."

"Time is such a fluid thing," she explained as she walked to a set of double pocket doors and slid them open.

In the room were four other people of varying ages. An older gentleman with grey streaked, dark auburn hair was juggling small fireballs in one hand while chatting with a younger, black woman in an indigo dress.

I raised an eyebrow at the display. "Cute," I commented to Jeff as we walked in.

Professor McNamara shook her head. "Shaemus, you won't impress the youngsters so you might as well put your toys away."

The juggler frowned, catching the three balls of fire between his fingers. "You have a disappointing tendency to destroy the theatrical moment, Maggie. Youngsters are always entertained by flashy displays."

I looked at Ben. "Shall we?"

Ben grinned, lifted his right hand, and produced a fireball the size of an orange. "Catch."

I caught the fireball and tossed it between my hands before snuffing it out. "We aren't that young."

Shaemus frowned. "I thought you said the new guests were a student and a few of his friends."

Maggie laughed. "Shaemus MacGleery, may I introduce Daniel Watkins, the student I mentioned, his husband, Jeffery Watkins, and their friends Ben, Brandon, Kate and Tyler. I am certain they will be more impressed by your wit than your abilities."

Shaemus snuffed out his fireballs and nodded to us. "A pleasure to meet you. Where were you schooled?"

We all answered like a small cheerleading squad. "Xavier's."

The dark skinned woman smiled. "Oh, mutants!" She set down her drink and extended her hand to us. "I am Olivia Noctmala."

I shook her hand, as did the other guys.

Professor McNamara smiled. "Olivia teaches holistic health and alternative medicine here in London."

"Amongst other things," Olivia added as she finished shaking Tyler's hand.

Professor McNamara gestured to the two guests sitting on the couch near the window. "The distinguished gentleman in grey is Professor Dougan Killian, from Belfast, and the beautiful woman in the dress that I must have for myself, is Ingrid Oshfeld.

Ingrid inclined her head to us, "Hello," before she turned her smile back to Professor McNamara. "I will introduce you to the designer; a delightful, easily distracted little French man who has a weakness for big, muscular Americans."

I shouldered Jeff and grinned. "I know how he feels."

She laughed. "I had to threaten to turn his latest distraction into a very pretty, but very unresponsive, stone statue if he didn't finish my order."

Professor Killian rose, saluting us with beer glass before he smiled at me. "Greetings, lad. I understand that you are from the Green Isle as well."

I nodded. "I'm only half Irish, but I lived a good part of my life in Ireland."

His eyes twinkled as he looked me up and down. "Obviously the Irish won out; as it should."

I looked around at the people in the room, hoping to change the subject. "Everyone's a witch?"

"Feh," Professor Killian said, swigging a bit of his beer. "Not hardly. Dancing naked under the moon is all well and good, but for real magic, you have to be more serious and less passionate."

Professor McNamara grinned. "Dougan is the ceremonialist of this little assembly. He is trying to prove that the formulas and rituals of magic are simply a science that we have not found all the calculations for."

She'd lost me. I knew the basic concepts of ceremonial magic. It was the core of any basic ritual. But how magick was just a black-boxed super science? That was Greek to me. I shrugged.

Ingrid scoffed. "Formulas, rituals and ceremonies are only crutches. True magic is done from the soul, shaped by will and made real by desire." She gestured over a candle flame, swirling the smoke around her fingers until it transformed into a dove. She stroked the dove's back tenderly.

Jeff leaned over. "Can you do that?"

"No." I smiled at Ingrid, impressed. "That's a real bird isn't it, not just an illusion." Everything told me it was real, but it was hard to believe.

"Quite real." She stood up and walked over, holding the dove out to me. "Quite unafraid of humans as well."

I stroked the dove, smiling at how soft her feathers were. "That's so cool."

Professor McNamara laughed. "I thought you should be rewarded for your restraint, Daniel. You passed your first Occultal Sciences class without eviscerating your instructor."

"Ocht, he didn't have that idiot Kensington did he?" Professor Killian's opinion matched my own.

"He most certainly did, Dougan, and I thank you not to belittle the value of the experience."

Professor Killian took another swig of his beer, and muttered under his breath. "Like the value of a dental visit I'm sure."

"Ignore him, Daniel. Professor Killian and Professor Kensington have a small, professional rivalry between them."

"Only because someone has put wards around him that he couldn't make for himself," Professor Killian retorted while shooting Professor McNamara a petulant look.

"You can't curse people simply because they step on your toes, Dougan."

"He didn't step on my toes, Maggie, he stole my grant. The bloody cur."

Kate leaned over to Ben. "This is going to be a different kind of New Years Party."

Professor McNamara looked at Kate. "I promise we will keep the politics and discussions of advanced magickal principles to a minimum, Kate. That would make for a boring evening to be sure."

Professor Killian downed his beer. "I'm going to get myself another Black and Tan."

"Dougan, do keep sober for most of the night?"

"You're a cruel woman, Maggie McNamara. Inviting me for a pleasant evening and then curtailing my libations." He saluted her with his glass. "I shall be on my best behaviour."

"Thank you."

He wandered out of the room in search of more beer.

Shaemus lit his drink and sipped it through the blue-white flames that flicked up from the surface. "We aren't all stuffy professorial types. Once a few more people arrive, there will be plenty of entertainment."

Professor McNamara looked toward the entry hall as a soft chime sounded. "More guests." She smiled at us. "I will check on you later. I am certain you will find entertainment as people arrive." Turning on her heel, she left to answer the door.

I grinned at Jeff, who was looking a little uncomfortable. "Don't worry, babe. No one is going to try to convince you that Catholicism is wrong."

Jeff smiled, but he still looked nervous. "Nina would beat me with her rosery if she knew were I was tonight."

My grin grew as I teased him. "What will you pay me to keep my mouth shut?"

Jeff flinched, and then realized I was joking. He grinned. "What do you want?"

I wiggled my eyebrows. "I'm sure you can come up with something satisfactory."

Kate smacked my shoulder. "Behave. You have innocents present!"

Tyler frowned. "Like I haven't seen it all before."

Jeff looked at Ty for a moment and then grinned as he furrowed his brows menacingly. "You know, I never did pay you back for the interruption." He wiggled his fingers at Ty, and I felt his aura sending tendrils towards the kid.

"You wouldn't dare." Ty jumped as the first aura-finger jabbed at his ribs. "No fair!" He took off out of the room, swatting at the invisible fingers as Jeff laughed meniacly and chased him.

Kate sighed. "We'd better go after them. They might break something."

I shook my head. "Children."

The four of us walked hastily from the room and after the soon to be cornered Ty. He protested like a doomed prisoner in a torture chamber, but he loved being tickled. It was one of the true childlike activities Ty actually enjoyed. We simply stood back and watched as Jeff gave Ty his fill of tickling and laughter. I glanced at Brandon and saw the sad, longing in his eyes as he watched. The guy really did have it bad.

I had no idea there were so many different types of magickal practitioners. In addition to the six of us, there were a total of twenty over guests; few of them were from the same magickal traditions. By eleven-thirty, most of us had met other people to have conversations with. I came up to Kate as Ingrid was handing her a card.

"I think you are perfect. Your eyes capture the essence of our new perfume. Who is your agent?"

Kate fished out a card from her purse. "This is Chris's card. He knows my schedule better than I do."

"I will call Philip on Monday. He will be enchanted." Ingrid smiled. "It is always a delight to see how the universe makes the right connections at the right time." She extended her hand. "I hope to see more of you in the future, Katherine."

"Thank you, Miss Oshfeld."

"Ingrid, please. Such proper names make me feel positively ancient."

"Okay, Ingrid."

They shook hands and Ingrid smiled at me. "You are a blessing, Daniel. You have furnished me with a new model, and poor Dougan with a protégé."

I looked over at where Professor Killian was animatedly talking with Tyler. "I feel sorry for Brandon. He lost his date for the evening."

Ingrid laughed. "Not at all." She nodded toward the kitchen, where Brandon was talking with a heavy set French man, taking notes like mad. "Jean Pierre found a fellow food lover. They have been discussing the finer points of pastry dough for the past half hour."

Damn, I was missing everything. "You don't miss much."

She smiled. "Occupational hazard. I am constantly having to ignore what I perceive."

"Tell me about it," I laughed, tapping my head. "Too many senses for my own good."

"Now, if you'll excuse me, my date has arrived." She slipped around us and wandered toward a tattooed middle eastern man who had just come in.

I grinned at Kate. "You knock them dead no matter what the company, huh?"

Kate shrugged. "It's the eyes; purple is just plain unusual."

I nodded toward Ben as he talked shop with a huge man with a body that practically put Peter's to shame. "Looks like everyone has been meeting new people."

Kate smiled. "That's Stephan Rutger. He's some big physical trainer to the stars."

"Professor McNamara sure knows a lot of interesting people," I commented as I looked about the room. "To think everyone here is paranormal. You wouldn't think it just looking at them would you?"

Kate laughed. "You sound like the parents who come to the school for the first time. They see all the kids out playing and doing stuff, most of whom look normal, and they say: you wouldn't think these children are mutants."

"Are you laughing at my husband?" Jeff wrapped his arms about me and squeezed. "Hey babe."

I grinned. "Did you have fun?"

Jeff smiled as he kissed the side of my head. "Yeah, I guess. I seldom get to arm-wrestle someone who can give me a run for my money."

"You guess?" He was tired, he was pumped, and yet he felt a bit uptight to me.

Jeff's last opponent, Urlian, stepped in from the other room. He flexed his fingers and shot a fanged smile at Jeff. His hooves made an interesting clopping sound as he walked across the room to us.

"You are a worthy opponent, mortal. I hope to spar against you again."

Jeff grinned nervously. "Next time I'll beat you."

Urlian laughed. "I look forward to proving you wrong."

Professor McNamara wandered over, sipping from her water. "Urlian, did you leave any of my furniture intact?"

"Maggie, your furniture has not even a scratch to remember me by." He looked at her cherry wood floors. "Your floors, however, shall remember me for quite a while."

"I learned my lesson last year," Professor McNamara said as she looked sadly at her floor, "about the furniture at least. I bought that ironwood table with you in mind. I knew you would not be able to resist challenging others to test their muscle against yours. I'd forgotten about the hoof scuffs."

"How many witches can claim to have their floors marred by the 'Forest Lord' himself?"

Professor McNamara laughed. "Aren't we full of ourselves, as usual?" She patted Urlian's well worked bicep. "Unlike the average witch, my dear, I know the difference between a member of the faerie court and 'The Lord of the Forest'. Hooves and antlers aside, you're nothing like him."

"You wound me."

She grinned. "His Lordship is not so concerned about being so physically provocative as you, Urlian. You are much more fun at parties."

Were it not for the fangs, Urlian's smile would have been dazzling. "Thank you, Maggie."

Professor McNamara smiled and took his arm. "I think there is a young witch over there whom you have captivated for the past hour. I should introduce you before her eyes dry out from staring."

Urlian grinned, winked at us, and let her lead him away. "Well met, gentlemen. I do hope to enjoy your company in the future."

Jeff blinked at after him, and then turned to me. "Did he mean that the way I think he meant that?"

I shrugged. "Probably. He is fae, after all."

I felt the shiver that ran down Jeff's spine. Monogamous or not, neither of us were dead. "You aren't inviting him over, right?"

I stroked his arm. "No sweetie. I won't make the poor Catholic Boy fight the conflicting imagery." I looked back at Urlian as he talked with the witch at the far end of the room. "He does look like almost every virile image of Herne I've ever seen."

"But he isn't a 'god', right?" Jeff was having a hard time getting his mind around the whole idea that immortals did exist.

I laughed. "Nope. I've felt the presence of the Divine, and though he radiates a very powerful and ancient aura, he definitely isn't 'a god'." I squeezed Jeff's hand. "He isn't a demon either."

Jeff grinned. "You saw me sweating it, didn't you?"

I nodded. "Yeah, when he first walked in I thought you were going to climb the walls."

"He wasn't the only one," Kate commented. "A few of these people push the limits for a poor little Baptist minister's daughter."

I laughed. "Like you couldn't take any of these people down in under a minute flat."

Kate shrugged. "Icons and archetypes are hard to get around, Dan. Even if my best friend is a witch, the ingrained imagery still evokes very specific responses."

"Well, thanks for working around them for me." I kissed her cheek.

Kate smiled. "You're worth it, even if you are just a red-bristled broomstick."

Jeff smiled at Brandon as Bran tucked his notes into his back pocket and made his way over to us.

"We're closing in on midnight," Brandon observed as he stopped beside us.

"Yep," I replied, not needing to look at a watch. "Did you get any good recipes?"

Brandon smiled. "I wish I could afford to go to Paris for Chef School."

"Why cant you," Jeff asked, cocking his head at Brandon curiously.

Brandon shrugged. "That's a lot of money. Mom and Dad could never afford it, and I doubt I'll be able to get a scholarship."

"Anything's possible, Brandon." Jeff lightly punched Brandon's arm. "You've got to believe in yourself."

Brandon smiled. "Easy for you to say."

"Yep, it is," Jeff agreed. That was my man, modest to the core.

Tyler looked up, finished his conversation with Professor Killian, and wandered over to us. "This was more interesting than I thought it would be."

Brandon smiled. "Sorry to leave you alone Ty, but once you two got into graduate level metaphysics, I realized I had nothing to contribute to the conversation."

I could almost read Ty's face as he smiled at Brandon. I waited, but Ty didn't say, "You contribute just by being there." He opted for another response.

"No reason for you to be bored, Bran. Did you have a good talk with Chef Rousseau?"

Bran grinned. "You'll find out next week, when I can get back to the kitchen."

Ty groaned. "Please, no more chocolate."

"What's wrong with my chocolate," Bran asked, frowning.

"Nothing, but I've had more chocolate in the last month than I've had my whole life."

Brandon looked at Kate plaintively. "Are you sure he's human?"

Kate nodded. "Hard to believe, but it's true: not everyone is addicted to chocolate."

"You've got to be joking, everyone is addicted to chocolate," Ben interjected as he made it back over to Kate. He leaned in and nuzzled her neck, "I know I am."

Kate smacked his arm. "You can stop that line of conversation right there."

She ignored my grin, but we both knew I'd picked up the effect his words and actions had on her. Kate may have acted as cool as a cucumber, but Ben definitely rang her bell. I was amazed there hadn't been any late night bedroom gymnastics from Bryan's room. Why Kate was holding off was beyond me. It wasn't like either of them were virgins. Of course, Ben also wasn't pressuring her, at least from what I could tell.

Professor McNamara clapped her hands lightly to get everyone's attention before she spoke. "We are less than five minutes from the New Year. As this year's gathering is in my home, we will be enjoying the beauty of London's New Year's Eve celebration."

She waved, and the room became translucent. To all normal senses, we had been suddenly transported to the center of London and were surrounded by thousands of celebrating people. It was an impressive, real-time illusion.

"Wow," Jeff whispered, "will you be able to do that some day?"

I shrugged. "I don't know, maybe."

"Thank God we didn't actually materialize here." Kate looked about. "If I had a sudden wash of mental static from so many people, I'd freak."

Brandon nodded. "Ditto."

I noticed that Tyler had stepped in beside Brandon, looking a bit wide eyed at everything. Brandon had his arm protectively across Tyler's shoulders. If I thought Kate and Ben were being cautious, then Bran and Tyler were taking it slower than a glacier's movements. I still wasn't comfortable with Ty's choice, but it was his life. I just hoped he wouldn't regret it.

As the people counted down and the fireworks launched, Jeff extended his aura to give us all a group hug. "Happy New Year, everyone."

"Happy New Year," we echoed with huge smiles and lots of hugs.

A family Christmas and New Year's Eve with friends and the man I loved. I couldn't think of any better way to celebrate the rest of our lives. I closed my eyes and enjoyed it.