Robert did his very best to keep a straight face as Jasper pulled the pair of dirty long johns off his head.
With one look, Jasper obviously knew it was a losing battle. "This isn't funny," he hissed, and that was the end of it.
Robert burst into laughter. He managed to clam up after that single loss, but his eyes watered with the effort and his chest burned. "Oh, but it is!" he exclaimed, leaning back against the rough brick of the tavern. Inside the building he could hear songs raging onward, goaded by the bard who'd wandered into the city. Out here in the alley, the moon and reflected light made the long johns look even dirtier.
"It's not," Jasper hissed, furious. "I'm getting so tired of--"
"You're the imbecile who decided to take a true love potion. Explain to me again why you thought it was a good idea?" In the dark, Robert couldn't see Jasper blush, but he was sure that fair skin was going pink, anyway. He'd known Jasper far too long.
"It was supposed to reveal the person who loves me, not make everyone in the city go crazy!" Though he'd started out sounding proper, the sentence ended on frustration. His next words were almost bitter. "Not everyone is a golden child, Rob."
Robert's smile faltered. For a moment, he considered laying a hand on Jasper's arm, offering some sort of emotional support. Robert's own family adored him, the only child and heir to their merchant business, a son who even enjoyed working with what he'd someday inherit. Jasper's family had sent him away as an outcast when they'd learned of his sexual proclivities, at the tender age of sixteen. Jasper was from a backwards town; that sort of behavior was to be expected.
Luckily, he and Robert had already known each other then, through Robert's summers in the country. Robert's monthly stipend had gone to support Jasper, though Jasper had quickly gotten work in the merchant business. Still, Robert knew that the way Jasper's family had locked him out hurt.
Hurt so much that Jasper was blind to anyone else. Robert's grin returned, though he had to force it, and he clapped his hand hard on Jasper's shoulder. "Well, you have no one to blame but yourself for this particular stupid idea. True love potions, indeed. Whoever heard of such a--" He was interrupted by a squeal.
Both men turned their heads, looking in alarm at the mouth of the alley. A barmaid stood there, her eyes wide in the moonlight, body frozen as she stared at them. "You," she said in reverent tones. "You're the most beautiful man I've ever seen..."
She took a step toward them. Then another.
"Run!" Robert laughed, and together the men turned and fled down the alley while the barmaid gathered her dress and ran after them.
In good shape, and not hampered by skirts, they managed to outrun her even with Robert laughing like a loon.
"It's not funny!" Jasper snapped, battering Robert about the head and shoulders as Robert bent double, hands on his knees. "You're such an ass!"
"Hey," Robert protested. "I'm the one getting you to that healer, aren't I?" Good thing one of them had an idea about how to solve Jasper's problem. Robert's laughter aside, he didn't much like the thought of everyone in the city harassing his best friend. Only he was allowed to do that.
They kept to deserted streets as they walked, Robert occasionally recalling the look of mixed awe and horror on Edward's drunk face as he'd been drawn inexorably toward Jasper. Apparently, it didn't matter what your usual sexual proclivities were; everyone was falling in love.
"Marry me!" someone shouted from above, and a moment later a brassiere plopped on Jasper's head, one cup covering his nearest ear.
Jasper sighed heavily. Robert nearly killed himself laughing.
They got out of the city without any more incidents -- at least, none that they weren't able to escape -- and headed down the dirt road under star- and moonlight, Robert slinging one arm around Jasper's shoulders. He tried to ignore Jasper's flinch; it had, after all, been a long night of getting grabbed.
"Soon you'll be your charming, totally unimpressive self again," Robert assured him grandly.
Jasper seemed to wilt. "That's not really want I want, either, you know," he mumbled. "Rob, you might be able to attract people, but I don't! I just want to have someone to--"
"Have and hold, snuggle and cuddle, all that other puke-worthy stuff you like so much." Robert shook his head, clinging to disdain. It was all the armor he had against Jasper's romantic notions -- notions that didn't involve Robert in the slightest.
"I know you think it's stupid," Jasper began hotly.
Again, Robert interrupted. "I don't think it's stupid," he muttered. "I just get tired of hearing about it." He got tired of thinking about it: Jasper and some unknown male, tucked in a Jasper's little apartment. Cooing at each other. Eating with each other. Touching each other. The very idea of someone else laying hands on his best friend-- it made his heart hurt.
"I just want a nice little life, with a nice little--"
"Jasper." Robert stiffened, staring out into the dark fields.
Jasper came to a quick stop. Robert didn't move his arm off Jasper's shoulders, ready to pull Jasper aside if needed. Never mind that of the two of them, Jasper was the taller, the broader, the more muscular. It had always been this way: Robert watched out for him.
Now he was watching eyes, glowing in the darkness, steady on their progress. Bandits hadn't been seen in this area since the mercenaries had begun camping out, but who knew if the mercenaries weren't waylaying people? Or if Jasper's stupid love potion was attracting them out? There were no alleys to escape down out here, no buildings to duck into. His unoccupied hand slid to the short sword at his belt; if he had to defend them, he would.
Moonlight glittered along skin, shining orange and gold, as the creature came closer. A shadow, a glow, both at once and yet neither. Small, Robert realized with relief. Small, and non-human, and...
"It's a dragon," Jasper breathed.
Only as big as Jasper's head, it glided up to them on gossamer wings, tail weaving to keep balance, and hovered.
Slowly, Robert stepped away. The dragon bobbed in the air before Jasper. Jasper's dark brown hair, having come unbound during one of their narrow escapes, wisped around his clean, delicate bone structure, framing him. Jasper's full lips parted as he took a deep breath.
And then the dragon plastered itself across his face. Jasper yelped from beneath its belly, and Robert couldn't help it -- the perfect, beautiful moment was broken, and he couldn't stop from laughing as Jasper hopped and twisted around, trying to rid himself of the beast without actually touching it.
Muffled underneath the tiny golden dragon, Jasper tried to say, "This is not funny!"
It only made Robert laugh harder.
Finally, with a frustrated screech the dragon let go -- it had been clinging via Jasper's ears -- and flapped madly around his head.
Jasper ducked, pulling his coat up to hide, and started at a much faster pace down the road. The dragon followed.
"This is what you get when you mess with potions," Robert said with glee. "You should just be happy with what you have in life!"
"And what is that?" Jasper snarled. "You? Because last I looked, you were all up in Franq's trousers!"
That was true. Robert shrugged philosophically, not that Jasper could see.
"Is the dragon gone yet?"
Robert glanced up at it, reaching out automatically to correct Jasper's course before he went off the road. "Nope." In fact, it was buzzing around them like a rather irate beetle. "It looks angry."
"Oh, great," Jasper muttered. His voice echoed strangely from the confines of his coat. "An angry dragon."
"Well, you have kept it from its one true love. No one understands inter-species romance."
Jasper kicked at him, but aimed in the wrong direction.
"If you're trying to convince it you're insane, I don't think that'll work."
"I hate you so much right now."
Robert smiled, content. There was little in the world he liked more than hearing Jasper say such things; he knew it really meant that Jasper liked him quite a lot.
Not enough, and not in the right way, but still. A lot.
"I think I see lights," Robert said, ducking to keep the dragon from flapping into his head as it swerved and twisted in a valiant attempt to join with its long lost love.
"Oh, thank the gods," Jasper breathed.
It didn't take long for Robert to realize that the healer, ensconced in the mercenary camp, might be a tad bit hard to get to. Personally, he didn't want to fend off twenty large, armed people who were all after Jasper in their pursuit of love. "Jasper?" Robert said carefully. "Perhaps you'd better wait out here."
Jasper opened his coat enough to peer up ahead, at the numerous cookfires illuminating the night. He closed his coat again when the dragon tried to wiggle its way in. "Good idea. You just bring the healer out."
"I'm really not so sure we need so many people," Robert said again, though there was only the healer and his... friend. An elf; there were enough of them that it wasn't too surprising, but Robert couldn't exactly call them common, either. More unusual was the human; even in the firelight Robert could see he was golden-skinned, with black hair and dark, slightly tilted eyes.
"Well," the elf said with a thoroughly annoying grin, "You can haven't him without me, so... besides, a true love potion? This has got to be hilarious."
Despite the fact that Robert had been thinking just that same thing all evening, he scowled. Elves were pretty. Long limbed and graceful. This one had pale skin and light brown hair, braided into a hundred different plaits that clicked as he walked, decorated with beads and feathers and bits of things that glinted in the moonlight. He wasn't Jasper's type, but he was still attractive. In Jasper's current fragile state, Robert would have preferred not to have attractive people around.
Next to the elf, the medic -- not healer, the medic had said -- was shorter and broader, but still slighter even than Robert. He was also quiet and rather cranky, Robert thought. Of course, if Robert had been pulled from his off-time, he'd probably be cranky, too.
"Just make sure you keep your hands to yourself," Robert grumbled. They were nearing the road where he'd left Jasper; a dark shaped marked the man, while a flitting of gold marked the dragon. More eyes peered from the brush. One brave rabbit was humping Jasper's leg.
The elf started to snicker. "Oh, the things he's doing for inter-species relations!"
"It's not funny," Robert muttered darkly.
The healer -- medic -- paused and took a deep breath. A moment later the elf did the same. Then the elf took several steps forward. Somehow, even his walk looked suddenly reverent.
"Ashe." The healer reached out and grabbed the elf by his elbow, stopping him. "It's just a spell."
"Right," Ashe breathed. "Just a spell. But don't you think he's--"
"Ashe," the medic said sharply.
Ashe looked entirely put out.
"Jasper!" Robert called, relatively sure that neither the human -- Katsu, he remembered -- or Ashe was going to pounce. "I brought help!"
"Get the rabbit!" Jasper yelled back. "It's ruining my shoes!"
Robert snickered, but stopped when he realized with some distress that neither the human nor the elf was snickering; they were looking distraught on Jasper's behalf, a glazed appearance in their eyes. "Hey!" Robert punched the medic's shoulder. "Do something!"
"Right, right, something," Katsu mumbled. He shook his head as if shaking free of a trance, and setting his satchel down, started to dig through it. "Try this. This might work." He offered up a stoppered jar.
"I'll take it to him," Ashe offered.
"I don't think so." Robert took the jar and hurried forward, not at all liking the way that no-good elf was smiling. Dreamy and wondering. Any minute now skinny, four-fingered hands would be on his Jasper. He unstoppered the jar, cringed at the horrific smell, and offered it to Jasper. "Try this."
"How much?" Jasper asked from inside his coat.
"I don't know. Drink all of it."
Behind him, he heard the elf sigh, "He's so beautiful."
"You can't even see him, he's still in his coat!" Robert snapped over his shoulder.
He saw Katsu frown and look at Ashe, then back at Jasper, then at Ashe again. "You're both idiots."
Robert prayed for patience. If that was how the medic wooed people, then Jasper was safe from Katsu's advances.
"Oh, gods, this tastes even worse than it smells," Jasper choked out.
"Keep drinking. The rabbit's losing interest." And sure enough, it had stopped humping and was blinking rather perplexedly; or as perplexedly as a rabbit could blink.
"Oh, Moran preserve me," Ashe breathed with great relief. "That was terrible. He doesn't even look like my type."
Katsu's head whipped around to Ashe, dark eyes narrowing. Then he frowned and twitched his shoulders as if re-settling knowledge more firmly around himself, and tried to look like nothing at all had happened, and he hadn't been staring dreamily at Jasper a moment before.
"I guess that worked, then." Robert tossed the jar back to Katsu while the dragon, with a screech, sailed off over their heads.
Ashe nearly hit the ground when it soared, screaming, above him, and then with a weak laugh said, "Sorry, it just sounded... familiar."
"Right," Robert drawled. "Well, thank you. You have your money? Good. Then we'll just be going now." Gratefully, he turned Jasper -- just starting to peek over his coat -- and herded him back down the road.
"No more love potions!" Katsu shouted after their retreating backs. "Of all the stupid..."
Robert bristled, even though he agreed.
Jasper ran his fingers through his hair, pulling it away from his face for a moment. "That was something I don't wish to repeat," he said, clearly glad to be done with it.
"No, I agree. And you owe me a small fortune. That healer -- medic -- didn't come cheap."
Jasper looked distinctly put out. "And the potion didn't even work. Just everyone acted crazy, but no one single person--" He stopped.
Robert stopped a few steps later, looking back expectantly.
"It didn't affect you, did it?" Jasper asked curiously.
Robert rubbed the back of his neck, thinking over the evening. "No," he said at last. "It's faulty, I suppose."
But the look on Jasper's face said something else entirely. Jasper smiled slowly, dark eyes softening. "It was supposed to show me the one person who-- and you were the only person who didn't change when falling in love with me--" He looked a little wondering. "Rob -- why didn't you say something?"
"Perhaps it really was just faulty," he tried to say quickly, heart beating too fast in his chest. Jasper's eyes, normally a deep blue, were almost black in the darkness. Moonlight painted him with a soft glow; straight nose, high cheekbones, narrow jaw. It even iced his hair, making dark brown locks shimmer. Robert couldn't stand losing Jasper, and Jasper had never been interested. Jasper was the only person who'd never been interested. Robert swallowed.
He really wanted to pretend like he had no idea what Jasper was talking about. Instead, he stared hard toward the city and wished it would move closer and envelope them. "What was I supposed to say, Jasper? 'Gee, I know you don't like me, but'--"
"Who said I didn't like you?"
Robert stared at his toes. They were closer than the city, at least.
Jasper chuckled. "I feel like such a fool. You were right here, the whole time."
"I'm always right here," Robert snapped. "Nothing has changed."
Jasper's hand slid against his neck, making him shiver. Like silk against his skin, warm and caressing. Jasper's fingers cradled Robert's jaw, softly insistent, and pulled his head upward. Reluctantly, Robert met his eyes. "I know that," Jasper murmured. "Now."
Robert's uncertain laugh was silenced by Jasper's kiss. He hesitated a moment as lips pressed against him -- and then melted into it, his shirt flattening between their bodies, feeling the hard yet soft planes of Jasper's chest against his own. He ran his hands up Jasper's back, measuring the contour of muscle, and pulled Jasper to him. He was wrong after all; everything had changed.
Somehow nothing goes as expected for Ashe and Katsu, even when they are only wandering into someone else's adventures. Dragon Hunted has a 5 marble review here at the Bookshelf, and Dragon Traders is on the TBR list for sure. Thank you, JB, for sharing this!
Getting abducted by slavers wasn't part of the plan. Not that there was much of a plan to begin with, but it definitely involved more payment and fewer chains. Ashe can't help but feel a bit of panic when the meeting to sell dragon eggs, which were hunted down weeks earlier, turns sour, and he ends up drugged, caged, and on his way to a land where elves are pets.
To make matters worse, the only person who has a chance of saving him is Katsu. Katsu, who after two weeks of sex is still an enigma. Katsu, who isn't exactly the best combatant on the team. Ashe can only hope that this enigma might still have a few tricks up his sleeve, or Ashe's fate is sealed.
More news and tidbits can be found at JB's website or livejournal.