I could hear the hum of the air conditioner and the warm comfortable presence of Kevin beside me. I tried raising my hand and my muscles trembled with the effort. I tried speaking and a small croak emerged. My throat felt dry as the Sahara desert and I felt weaker than a new born kitten. I hated feeling this weak and I knew I wasn't going to be a happy camper until I was back to normal.
Taking a deep breath, I tried raising my hand once more. Kevin stirred beside me and raised himself to peer into my eyes. I glared back up at him and then concentrated on my original task. I heard him chuckle when he saw the terrible shake in my hands, but I was determined. He gently grabbed a hold of those oh so shaky fingers and pulled them to his lips.
"I'm glad to see you awake." I continued glaring at him. It made his smile wider and he kissed me gently on the nose. "Grouchy is still better than seeing you so pale and still."
My frown disappeared from my face as I saw the concern that he hid behind his smile. I wanted to ease that from his face and tried tapping into my tree. I groaned in pain as my abused body tried to channel more power and I quickly shut down my talents. I guessed my powers were going to be on standby until my body was able to cope once more.
Kevin was grumbling under his breath as he saw and heard my sigh of pain. "I don't know why you do this to yourself, James. Get some rest and stop trying to use your powers."
I looked at him apologetically. "Water," I managed to say. My voice sounded gravelly and it hurt my throat just to speak.
He nodded and turned to the bedside table where a jug of water had been placed. He filled it and helped raise me a little to take a drink. Tini, a small woman with the sexy body of a siren, and one of the Maori women who had helped rescue Leila from the nether-realms debacle, walked into the room.
"I figured you'd finally open your eyes today," she said.
Tini was one of the world's greatest healers and I was honoured that she was here taking care of me. She was in great demand from those who knew about her skills. What she could do was generally kept under wraps and, in truth, her skill took just as much out of her as mine did with me. It was a burden and a blessing.
Kevin still held the glass to my lips and I hungrily swallowed the water.
"Not too much, James," Tini cautioned.
I looked at her and frowned. She smiled before moving toward me and placing her palms on my arms. "Your body will rebel if there is too much water in your stomach."
I looked down where her hand rested against my arm and felt it tingle across my skin. I stared at how skeletal I was and closed my eyes, not wanting to see any more.
"Your body will rebuild, I promise," Tini murmured soothingly.
I opened my eyes and nodded at her. Swallowing a few more times, I tried to speak. "Am I back in the present or in the past?"
Kevin piped in, "You're back in the present. And before you try to speak, everything went according to plan. The school is back to the way it was supposed to be, with none the wiser about what you can do. And your nephew is still within Leila's womb as far as Jay could perceive. So relax, babe, all is well."
I closed my eyes as I felt Tini's soothing energy lull me back into the land of nod.
It took very nearly three weeks for me to regain my strength. During that time, I completed my school exams and finished out the year. This was also Kevin's last year at school and he graduated with a promising start at Sydney University. I was overjoyed for Kevin and we had our own private celebration to commemorate the end of one period of his life and the beginning of a new one.
He wasn't going to live on campus, but stay with us. I was totally relieved to hear that. But the biggest surprise came with a knock on the door. Dad opened it and he stared before welcoming in our guest. Kevin and I were laughing in the kitchen when Kevin's dad walked through and stared at his son.
I felt Kevin tense beside me. Looking at his face, I squeezed his hand before I walked out with dad. They needed this time alone.
Kevin came to find me a few hours later. His eyes were red, but there was a calmness about him that hadn't been there for a long time. I opened my arms and he came in for a long hard hug.
"My dad wants me to spend Christmas with him. I told him I would go, but only if you were allowed to come. That is if you want to come?"
I hugged him tighter and buried my face into the side of his neck. "Of course I will. You're my home. You should know that by now."
He sighed gustily. "I know, but I love hearing you say it." He picked me up, cupping my butt and forcing me to wrap my legs around his waist. "I haven't had time to say this to you today, but I do love you, my baby."
I blushed and hugged him tighter to me before I pulled back and cupped his face. "You know what I love the most about you?"
He gave me a cheeky smile and waggled his eyebrows. "It has to be my charming personality and the way I make you scream my name every time we fuck."
I rolled my eyes before laughing. "God, you can be an idiot sometimes. That's what I love about you. You're my idiot."
He placed his face into the side of my neck and rumbled. "I love it when you get possessive."
"I can tell," I answered breathily. His pelvis thrust into me and the hard evidence was rubbing against my ass. My own cock responded and he looked at me with a smug expression upon his face.
"I love how responsive you are to me. Do you know how good that makes me feel?"
"As good as I am feeling right now?" I asked.
A knock at the door interrupted our little foray into something that would have escalated into a full blown sexathon. Kevin cursed and slid me reluctantly down his body. I shuddered as I felt all that muscle beneath his clothes teasing me. I looked up into his eyes and promised myself he would pay dearly for tormenting me in this way.
"Um, James, I think you need to see who is at the door for you," Dad's muffled voice said behind the door.
I quickly rearranged my clothes. Kevin had most certainly been busy while I was distracted. Half my clothes were strewn all over the floor. He chuckled as I rushed around pulling clothes on haphazardly. I shouted to dad I would be there in a minute.
"Just as long as it is only a minute. I don't think these guests are used to waiting on anybody."
That had my interest and Kevin began adjusting himself too. I snickered as I watched him futilely trying to push his hard cock down. I brushed my hand against his pants and sent a sexual jolt charging through him. His body jerked and he hissed with pleasure at my touch. I chuckled once more before walking casually towards the door.
"You're a bad, bad person, James Mendoza."
I looked over my shoulder at him, a saucy smile on my face, and shrugged nonchalantly. "And you love every minute of it."
He laughed ruefully. "I can't deny that."
I opened my door and waved to him before walking to the front door with a big smile on my face. Kevin grumbled as I heard him whisper to his penis to go down. There was laughter still in my eyes as I saw who was standing at the door. It felt as if my heart dropped to the ground, and I sent an urgent summons out to Pounamu and Jay. Standing side by side were the Winter and Summer Crones.
"Greetings, Grandmother's. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?" I asked shakily.
They looked at each other, before turning to face me. "We have come to reclaim the power we loaned you."
I looked down and saw that I was suddenly wearing the clothes that the Winter Queen had given me. In my hands was a bowl of hot, steaming stew. Part of me didn't want to give up this new-found power. It was unpredictable, but it had given me an advantage that I knew would help me in the future.
"You are welcome to continue with these gifts, grandson, but it will come at a price."
I looked up and saw the look of anticipation upon their faces. I felt more than saw Mother Nature appear with Jay and Pounamu in tow. I looked at Mother Nature but she just stared at me, waiting for my decision. The onus was all on me.
"Before I make my decision, what price will I have to pay?"
The Winter crone smiled at me. It was disconcerting, almost as if I were a rabbit hypnotised by the seductive swaying of a cobra. The Summer crone spoke while the Winter crone kept me enthralled. "I will not lie to you, James. You will become less human and more Fae. You will also be beholden to us, for you will be our Knight, the one charged with correcting the balance when either Summer or Winter abuse their powers. You have already come far in righting those wrongs, but there is still more to do, and we need your help."
I stared at them. If they had used any tricks at this moment, I would have rebelled. But I didn't want to give up these powers. They knew that. I knew that. I turned away from them and staring at me was Kevin. I looked into his eyes and a precog hit me. I saw him old and wrinkly and he stared at me with longing and pain. My skin was still young and supple and I was helplessly standing by his sick bed watching him die.
I snapped back into the present. "I have to refuse your gift, Grandmothers."
Kevin looked at me surprised. "Are you sure you know what you're doing, James?"
I grabbed his hands and stared at the strong young flesh that held onto my own. "I'm going to stay human. I know what I'm doing."
I turned back to the Crones. "Thank you, Grandmothers."
They reached out and touched me. Deep inside my tree shuddered and I felt something being pulled from deep inside my roots. I screamed as pain racked my body, mind, and spirit. It was excruciating, and darkness tinged the edge of my vision. Kevin was holding me as I squirmed from the pain and then, finally, there was blessed silence.
I was shuddering and Kevin rocked me in his arms. I turned to the Crones. "Is it done?"
The two of them smiled in unison before speaking in a dual tone. "We can not take all of the power we bestowed upon you for it has become a part of you and you have altered it enough that our power no longer recognises it. If we try to convert that last bit back to its original source, we will kill you."
"So what does that mean?" I asked.
"It means that you are no longer human, but you are not Fae. You are something entirely different. It means that you have stolen part of our power and twisted it. It means you owe us."
"Then you will have to kill me, because I will not be beholden to anyone."
Kevin grabbed me tighter and uttered a protest, but my eyes were staring at the Crones. They stared right back until a small smile curved their lips. "Is this your wish, Grandson?"
"No, James! You can't do this. I won't allow it." Kevin lifted me into his body, trying to cover as much of me as he could hold. "You're not allowed to leave me." He began rocking me to and fro.
The Crones moved forward, and Kevin tried to scramble to his feet with me in his arms. I heard him whimper as his body froze. I closed my eyes waiting for the inevitable.
"Before you commence, I would like to say something, Grandmother."
I opened my eyes in surprise. Standing beside me was a young girl of about 12. She had her mother's eyes: the late Queen of air and darkness.
"Princess Aurora, is that you?"
She smiled down at me. "Hello, James." Turning to face the Crones, she straightened her shoulders. "You can not take something that was not given by you."
The Winter Crone cocked her head. "Explain, Granddaughter."
There was an ominous tone in her voice, but Aurora paid no heed and spoke confidently and freely. "It is I that gifted James, and what you are trying to steal from him is something I bestowed. Therefore, James has not stolen anything. His body, mind, and spirit are his to do with as he wishes. You have no case under the rules of our own laws."
The Crones glared at Aurora and she stared confidently back. "You are free from your contract," they said to me.
With those last words I felt relief sear through me, and breathed a sigh. The Crones looked at me one more time before they disappeared. Aurora turned and smiled down at me, then kissed me on the head and also disappeared.
Sam is slowly coming back to normal. That small piece of Fae power I hold is enough to help ween him off slowly but surely. He's actually dating a girl and I'm happy for him. If what he felt for me was purely him trying to fool around and experiment, then I hope it's out of his system.
I met with William's uncle, Daniel. I laughed and had a good time. He's quite the comedian, and I was the first person that William has allowed over his house. I dare not tell Christine. After all, I beat her to his house. But they are like two love struck doves, so I know he will tell her eventually.
Life has finally gotten back to normal, or as normal as my life ever gets. I'm going to enjoy it to the fullest. Kevin and his father have turned to a new chapter in their lives, although he gets a little bit uncomfortable with me around. Nevertheless, he is truly trying and tolerates me. I won't ask for more, and I refuse to tell Kevin that his father is very indifferent to me. I can handle indifferent as long as he remains civil.
So my life is cool. I have the man of my dreams who is as in love with me as I am with him. I have my family, and I have the best friends I could ever ask for. Whatever the future may hold, I'm loved and, this time around, I'm willing to not only show my love but also express it. That is something that would have been a difficult thing for me to do, once upon a time.