I strode through Esterloch's marketplace and nodded politely to the townsfolk I passed. I occasionally exchanged pleasantries but I did not stop long with anyone; I was fearful of being late for work. All around me, traders hawked their wares, decrying the freshness of their fruit and vegetables, the quality of their leather and cloth-of-gold and the reliability of their weapons and household items. The air was filled with the scents of too many people, spices, baking food and a miasma of other aromas.
It was as I was nearing the Forge that I first saw the stranger loitering in the street. He seemed lost, a little out of his depth and definitely someone I had never seen before. I had just decided to ask him if he needed help when suddenly, a large overly warm hand descended on my shoulder.
"Quinn, my main dragon. I was hoping to see you today," Sam, the local baker said affably.
I turned in surprise and smiled a little lopsidedly at Sam.
"Hi, Sam. How can I help you?" I asked even as I checked again on the strange man.
The man had since disappeared amongst the crowds and I didn't know where he'd gone. I felt an odd rill of irritation pour through me at the loss yet I tried to distract myself with what Sam was saying; he'd been talking when I hadn't been paying attention. I caught enough to hear that he wanted me to make some pans and a skillet for his bakery. I swiftly agreed and we shook on a price before I excused myself to go to work.
I still didn't stop thinking about the stranger however once I'd reached the heat of the Forge; something had seemed odd yet strangely familiar about the man. I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was, however. I tried to shake my sense of disquietude away and soon lost myself and my thoughts in the play of hammer against anvil and super-heated metal.
I saw the same stranger I'd noticed earlier passing by the front of the Forge several times during that morning; he still seemed out of his depth and lost. Each time, he was swiftly lost to view amongst the milling crowds. Once, the breeze shifted and I stiffened when I thought I smelt the distinct scent of ice-dragon in the air. A few moments later, Jay's face peered around the doorway of the Forge and he grinned and waved at me. I relaxed slightly; I must have scented my own mate and not the stranger as I'd suspected. Jay stopped only long enough to arrange to meet me after work before he disappeared off to start his shift at the Stables.
Some hours later, I walked wearily out of the Forge yet I didn't dare to linger as I knew I had to meet Jay. I spotted the stranger loitering outside the Tavern; he seemed intent on stopping anyone who went inside. Some people didn't even bother to stop, undoubtedly a little perturbed by his general demeanour and air of unreliability. I momentarily put my mate out of my mind as I strode forward; I was intent on stopping the stranger myself when I was once again stopped, that time by Rowan. The elf looked particularly perturbed and I stopped in alarm.
"I just thought I'd warn you about that man over there, Quinn," Rowan said as he nodded towards the decrepit stranger. "He was asking for someone called Jamison earlier."
"Jamison?" I asked in alarm.
Only a few people knew that my mate, Jay, was also formally known as Jamison. I was, of course, one of them and Rowan and his family were the others.
"Of course, most people he's asked said that they don't know any Jamison," Rowan said wryly. "And that includes me and I really do know Jay's real name."
"Thanks, Ro," I said grimly. "I wonder what that man wants?"
Rowan smiled when he felt the stiff tension of my arm beneath his hand and he patted my shoulder affectionately.
"Down, boy," he said. "You're acting like a territorial Alpha dragon. I know you technically are in this case, but be a little sensible. It's probably nothing."
He looked doubtful as though he didn't believe in his own words. He laughed when I raised an eyebrow at him.
"The man looks like a shyster, I know," he admitted a little sheepishly.
"Who looks like a shyster?" Jay asked as he sauntered over.
"That dodgy-looking fellow over there," Rowan replied before I could.
My mate followed Rowan's pointing finger and Jay's face turned the palest shade I'd ever seen it. His side of our shared link went blank in his shock and horror. I reached out to Jay in alarm and rested one supportive hand on his back. He flinched and I jerked away, confused and a little hurt by his reaction. Jay then took the hand that I'd snatched away and squeezed it before he sent me a drab-green blast of apology over our soul-bond. Rowan watched the silent exchange with astute, yet worried and confused eyes.
"What's wrong, love?" I asked Jay worriedly. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"Technically I just have. That dodgy-looking fellow over there is my father," Jay said quietly.
It made sense to me then why I'd thought the man had looked familiar earlier. Although he didn't bear a strong resemblance to Jay, there was still something about the set of his face and a particular way of holding himself that reminded me of my mate. The man was far uglier than Jay would ever be though, as well as more down-trodden and disreputable.
The man looked over at us then as though attracted by the weight of three pairs of eyes on him. He grinned in sudden relief then when he saw Jay and strode over. Rowan looked at me then as though uncertain whether to stay and give us support. I shook my head and gestured to the elf to let him know he could leave.
"I'll deal with this," I assured him before I smiled. "Thank you for your offer though, Ro."
"I'll be nearby if you need me," Rowan said seriously before he shot the approaching man a suspicious look.
I nodded yet Jay hadn't heard our exchange at all; his attention was still diverted by the sight of his father. The man finally reached us and stared at Jay reverently. He raised one hand as though to rest his palm against Jay's cheek yet Jay stepped away with a stiff and angry scowl. Undeterred, the man stood there, hand still raised and once again, I caught the scent of his dragon on the breeze.
I stepped forward, inserted myself slightly between Jay and his father and for the first time, the man looked up at me. I was taller than him by a good six inches and far broader; if I remembered rightly, Jay's father was an Omega, the weakest dragon in any flight. It had been at least eight human years since Jay had last spoken of his father and I estimated at least fifteen since Jay had last seen him. As such, Jay's father and I had never met.
"You're a bigg'un, ain't you?" Jay's father said. "You're a dragon. Like me."
"Not like you," I contradicted. "I'm an Alpha fire-drake, not an Omega ice-drake."
The man laughed and patted my shoulder.
"Down, boy. I only came here to see my son," he said and shot Jay an admiring look. "You look just like your mother. Lucky you didn't take after my ugly mug, eh? How long's it been?"
"Not long enough, Luke," Jay gritted out. "You made it clear you'd disowned me for being gay the last time I saw you."
I growled slightly then yet Jay's father took no notice of me.
"That was a mistake. I'm sure you've seen the error of your ways," the man said and reached for Jay again.
"He doesn't want to speak to you," I barked out as I slapped Luke's hand away.
I was suddenly aware that we were garnering a lot of attention from the townsfolk that lingered in the streets. True to his word, Rowan still loitered nearby and watched us with careful eyes; I didn't acknowledge him, however. Jay laid one hand on my shoulder and tried to smile at me. His eyes begged me not to make too much of a scene even though I could see he was grateful for what I was trying to do.
"Let's go somewhere and talk, eh, Quinn?" he asked gently. "I suppose I have to hear what Luke has to say. Now he's here."
He gave his father a filthy look. I nodded and when Jay suggested the Tavern, I nodded again and led the way.
"You leave your guard dog outside. He doesn't come into it," Luke said and gestured at me once we'd reached the Tavern's doors.
"He's coming. He's my mate," Jay said firmly in such a way that deterred Luke from saying anything else.
I crossed my arms and raised an eyebrow at Luke yet didn't say anything. Luke seemingly couldn't think of a counter-argument so I followed them both into the Tavern. I sat and watched Luke with unblinking eyes; to his credit, he seemed a little unnerved beneath my scrutiny. I had to admit I was suspicious of his motives, just as much as Jay himself was.
"So. Luke. What's up? Why contact me after all these years?" Jay said, his voice tight with anger. "The last time you spoke to me, you said you never wanted to see me again and that you hoped I died."
I shifted suddenly in my seat; that last I hadn't known. Some of my anger must have leached into my expression because Luke reared slightly away from the table. I could smell his fear across the wooden expanse as Luke stared at me and he must have realised in that one moment just how much more powerful than him I was. Jay shot me a grateful glance but didn't say anything; he also noticeably refrained from restraining me. Luke must have noticed for he started to look a little less secure about himself. Jay's father gave me another wary glance but said nothing directly to me.
"I just wanted to see how you were, Jamison. You are my only son," he said as he turned his attention back to Jay but his words sounded false.
"That's dragon-waste. Now give me the real reason," Jay said harshly.
Luke stared at him in genuine surprise.
"Well, I don't remember you having this much back-bone when you were younger. I might have liked you better," he said.
"I had the back-bone then. You just didn't see it," Jay gritted out. "It's not an answer though."
Luke sighed and nodded.
"All right. So I tracked you down purposefully. A drake hears things, you know. Like how much of a good life you've built for yourselves here," he said and he looked at me a little begrudgingly. "The word on the street is that neither of you are wanting for anything."
"So that's it," I said in disgust as I realised just what Luke wanted. "You're after money."
"Why should we give you any?" Jay asked before Luke could say anything. "I don't owe you a thing."
"You do. I gave you life," Luke said indignantly.
"It's convenient you remember that now," I said. "You're still not getting anything. What happens after you spend whatever we give you? You'll be back pleading for more. And when that's gone, you'll be back once again. It's not happening, Omega. We're not stupid."
Luke looked put-out by that but there was a certain weariness in his eyes that indicated that perhaps he'd been planning exactly what I'd pre-emptively accused him of. We didn't get the chance to speak further as the serving wench approached us to offer us drinks and a snack; I assured her that that wasn't necessary as Jay and I were leaving. I also told her not to serve Luke under any circumstance as he wasn't going to be staying either. Jay and I stood and without further preamble, left the Tavern completely.
"I can't believe the audacity of the man," Jay said angrily. "Why find me now after all this time?"
"Perhaps he's only just managed to track us down," I suggested half-heartedly. "Or perhaps he's only just dared to approach us; who knows how long he's known where we are?"
"Maybe so," Jay said as he gave me a glum look. "And he can just as easily lose himself again as far as I'm concerned."
"Same here. If he doesn't, I'll make sure he loses himself," I said grimly.
Jay said nothing to that yet I saw the satisfied glimmer from his side of our shared link all the same. I had to smile and threaded my fingers through his; both of us remained silent.
That night, Jay and I were awoken by the sword that hung over our front door; it wailed out its usual warning song to indicate something terrible was happening nearby. Jay and I both heard a loud crash from the living room after the sword had started to sing followed by a sudden bout of loud curses. Both Jay and I bolted immediately out of bed and into the living room; I wasn't surprised to see that Luke was picking himself up off the floor, as he'd fallen over the table.
"What in the name of drakes do you think you're doing here?" I bellowed and some of my dragon was evident in my voice. "You shouldn't be here."
"Were you trying to steal something?" Jay asked just as angrily. "You were, weren't you?"
"Well, it's my right, isn't it? You're my son. You should help me out," Luke whined and it was only then that I saw just how pathetic he was.
"You're a poor excuse for a dragon, even for an Omega," I said in disgust. "You have no hold or claim on your son anymore. You disowned him. He's not interested in you any more. He owes you nothing."
"And he owes you, does he?" Luke asked with a brave attempt at a sneer.
"Yes. I do," Jay said simply. "I have more fealty to my mate than I do to you; he's always stood by me when you couldn't. In fact, I think we should take you to the Lawkeepers and hand you in as a common thief."
"You wouldn't," Luke said as he gave Jay a horrified glare.
"I would. And so would he," Jay said as he nodded to me. "You broke into our house and tried to rob us. We're only doing our civic duty. Quinn, get your clothes."
Of course, Jay and I had slept naked as was our habit and it was only then that I was reminded of that fact. Even though I should have been giving the orders as I was the only Alpha in the room, I still did as Jay had demanded; in fact, I laughed my way into the bedroom. Once I'd dressed, I returned with Jay's clothes, curious to see what had caused the scuffle I'd heard whilst I'd been in the bedroom; I guessed that Luke had tried to make a break for it and so I was glad to see that Jay had managed to restrain him. I then took a grip of Jay's father and once Jay had dressed, we made our way down into Esterloch with Luke held tightly between us.
The chief Lawkeeper was actually at the Lawkeepers' Courts when we escorted Luke there and, once we'd told Kirrin our tale, she nodded grimly. I was glad to see that once again, she believed us as neither Jay nor I were in the habit of lying or handing people in wantonly as thieves. We also told her part of Jay's past regarding the fact that Luke was his father and of how he'd disowned Jay some years before.
"Okay, drakes, leave him with us," she said as she gave Luke an unfriendly glare.
Jay and I then left Luke with Kirrin; we ignored his desperate pleas to not leave him alone with the Lawkeepers.
Jay and I found out afterwards that after a lengthy questioning session, Luke confessed that he'd intended to rob us after we'd refused to give him money. As expected, he was treated as a common thief. His right hand was subsequently chopped off as punishment and Luke was banished from Esterloch forever.
"Do you think Luke will be back?" Jay asked me that night. "Despite being cast out, I mean?"
"I sincerely hope not," I said grimly. "If he does, I'll chase him out of town personally. He won't like that, I tell you. Thank the drakes you didn't take after your father. I think you're a credit to your mother."
Jay glowed beneath my praise even though I'd never met his mother; I'd heard enough about her over the years though to know that she'd been a kind and loving dragonshifter. I smiled at Jay as I'd meant what I'd said, before I leant in and kissed him gently.
"Come on then, dear. Let's go back to bed and forget about things for a while. The adventure's over," I said with a hefty sigh.
"Until tomorrow, " Jay said cheekily.
All I could do was laugh and agree with him. Despite some pretty hairy or uncomfortable moments, we both knew that our lives could never be described as being boring. Adventures always turned up.