Five thousand years ago...

 

Balthazar watched the man who had been closer than a brother to him for the past four years. He’d returned to the palace to stay with Mathayus when word had come of Cassandra and young Mathayus’ deaths at the hand of fever. Balthazar hadn’t been able to do anything for him, though, except watch and stay close to the man for whom he had bled and killed.

The man who had saved the world from a tyrant bent on domination only to become what he’d fought so hard against. The husband and father who had struggled not to grieve and so had turned to war and unfeeling actions instead.

“I can’t watch you any longer, Mathayus,” Balthazar rumbled at last. “I can’t stay and let you do this.”

Cold dark eyes glared at him from beneath that hated gold Scorpion emblem and Mathayus replied, “Leave, Balthazar. I won’t have your death on my conscience as well.”

“You mean you still have one?”

Mathayus’ dagger was at his throat in a split second, so fast that Balthazar wondered if perhaps he’d inherited some magic from the Sorceress through their marriage bed.

“Leave, Balthazar.”

Knowing that it would do no good to argue, knowing that the man he had called friend and brother was utterly lost to him, Balthazar said, “You will always be a brother to me, Mathayus, no matter what.”

That almost seemed to reach him, but the emotion that flickered through was masked quickly and shunted away. Mathayus slowly told him, “I will not attack your people, so long as you don’t leave your borders. That is all the consideration you get...for past deeds.”

It was consideration indeed, given that the neighboring lands had already been conquered and Balthazar certainly didn’t have the army to withstand Mathayus should he wish his kingdom. Sad, he repeated, “No matter what, Mathayus, we are brothers. If we meet in another life, I pray that one will be kinder to you. Cassandra would not have wanted this for you.”

Balthazar turned back once he reached the massive, gilded doors, to take one last look at his friend. It was then that he saw Mathayus stand on the throne and rip down the giant sword that Cassandra had nailed to the wall as a promise to peace.

With a heavy heart, Balthazar left the throne-room and headed for home.

 

 

Present day...

It was the eyes that did him in every damn time.

Beck was positive that Travis stood in front of a mirror and practiced that wide-eyed, hurt look, the one that said Beck had let him down somehow, for at least two hours every day. Of course, the scruffy almost-beard and innocent expression didn’t help his resistance any. Travis looked at the world through rose-colored glasses, despite having Billy as a father, and Beck would do anything to keep them in place.

Sighing, Beck repeated, “Africa?”

Travis’ face split into a grin, knowing that he’d won just from Beck’s tone of voice, and exclaimed, “Yes! Egypt, to be more specific. There’s this headdress medallion thing, see, and it’s like priceless.”

“But worth millions?” Beck interjected dryly.

Ignoring the comment, Travis continued, “I’ve got a location and I’ve got supplies, local guide, pretty much everything.”

“So what do you need me for?”

Travis hopped from foot to foot, wiggling each, before exclaiming, “Because you permanently retired Mr. Thunder and Mr. Lightening, remember?”

Did he ever. The last time Travis had tried to defend himself in the middle of some hare-brained quest, he’d wound up with a broken arm and five cracked ribs, not to mention a head injury that had been bad enough for the doctors to worry about brain damage. Once he’d regained consciousness, Beck had made Travis swear to let him in on anything that could possibly be even remotely dangerous. Grimacing acknowledgement, Beck asked, “Just how dangerous is this?”

“Oh it’s not,” Travis answered blithely, waving off his concern. “I  mean, it’s not like anyone’s going to be guarding the ancient tomb or anything.”

“Ancient tomb?”

“Yeah! It’s so cool, Beck! This thing belonged to an ancient sorceress who helped this assassin become emperor! And no one’s been able to find the tomb except me!” Travis explained, practically bouncing in excitement.

Arching an eyebrow at him, Beck questioned, “You found it?”

Travis looked a little hurt as he answered defensively, “Yeah! You don’t think I could? That the Gato was a fluke? What about the Silberne Krone? Huh? I found that didn’t I? And the Bicchiere di cielo?”

Raising a hand, placating, Beck agreed, “You did, Travis, you completely did.”

Still miffed, Travis flopped onto the sofa and complained, “You never let me do anything, any more. Not since Greenwich.”

Stifling the remembered panic and pain that had surrounded him while waiting for Travis to wake from his three-day coma, Beck reminded sharply, “You almost died in Greenwich, Travis. I’m just trying to protect you.”

“Some things are worth the risk and the danger.”

The voice was quiet and certain, but the gaze unfocused, as if Travis was looking at something only he could see; some vision that was firing him up from the inside out. An introspective Travis made Beck nervous, so he asked loudly, “What are the risks and dangers this time?”

Travis jolted out of his thoughts and flashed a carefree grin at Beck. Toldja. There aren’t any. No one’s even ever been here except some woman back in the thirties. I’m sure she tripped all the booby traps for us.”

Beck grunted, unconvinced, and asked, “I suppose this means that I’ll have to miss the review of my own damn restaurant?”

Standing, Travis walked over to him and patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry, big guy. When we’re done this time, you’ll be able to expand, hire a new chef, and get a real review.”

Beck growled at him and Travis laughed as he ran for it. Shaking his head in reluctant amusement, Beck followed him out of the restaurant office at a slower pace. Life with Travis in it was sure as hell never dull.

*  *  *  *

Anything, Mathayus, please, oh please! Harder my love, harder!

Travis jerked awake, panting and with an aching hard-on, just as he had for the last month and a half. Since the first vision of a Beck with long hair and a sword that cut through flesh and bone like a hot knife through butter. He’d been at the Museum of History, just poking around, shooting the shit with some friends, and meandering through a visiting exhibition from Egypt. There’d been the usual swords and shields and pottery fragments, nothing too exciting.

But then he’d caught sight of the sword. Massive. All out of proportion for the general size of people back then. It was forty pounds of solid steel with a plain, but equally as large, hilt. A hilt made specifically for a huge man. It was curved, like a scimitar, but clearly not a decorative blade. It had killed and maimed when wielded by its owner, so long ago. Travis had been entranced and just stared at it for over an hour before his friends had found and dragged him away.

That had been the beginning of the obsession.

He’d talked to the curator for two hours the following day, schmoozing shamelessly to get information on where it had come from, what its background was, who was in charge of the exhibition, how long it would be there. Everything that he could possibly find out about the sword, he did.

It turned out that the sword itself wasn’t Egyptian, it was Akkadian, a people who had been lost into time, wiped out by a merciless tyrant. From there, it was a short jump to the rest of the legend of the Scorpion King. Defeating that tyrant with the help of a sorceress to rule an empire before the Pharoahs came to power. Until he himself was defeated and turned to the dark powers of Anubis to destroy his enemies.

There had been an amazing mix of warriors gathered to take the evil king down before all of that, however; Nubians, Amazons, locals and, of course, the assassin himself, who had become emperor through his actions. His name was lost into time, becoming synonymous with his title, Scorpion King. The Sorceress, though, her name was Cassandra. Travis had idly wondered if that was just a name for seers in general, given the Greek and Roman use of the same name for similar women; different spellings, of course.

The headdress worn by the Sorceress, as depicted in a drawing of her with the Scorpion King, would indeed be priceless. That wasn’t, however, the real reason that Travis was dragging Beck halfway across the world. Truth be told, he couldn’t even really figure out why he was doing it. It was a compulsion, something that he absolutely had to do, and he had to have Beck with him, when he did.

Groaning as he sagged back onto the bed, Travis glared at the clock, which read 4:36 a.m. Beck would be arriving in twenty-five minutes to get them to the airport on time and there was definitely no time to jerk off. Why hadn’t the damn thing gone off like it was supposed to?

Travis rolled out of bed with another frustrated groan and stumbled to the bathroom for an insanely fast shower and shave. He figured that by the time the landed in Cairo, he’d be scruffy again. He didn’t particularly care for it, itched like a mother sometimes, but knew that it gave him a slightly demented look and people usually underestimated him because of it. Well, usually. Sometimes he really was that stupid.

No, not stupid, he corrected himself determinedly as he stepped into the shower. Just focused on what I need to do.

Of course, with years of his own father calling him an idiot and worse, the self-affirmation rang a little hollow.

Shaking off the depressed mood before it could catch hold, Travis started shaving as he thought about the erotic dreams he’d been having since that first night on seeing the sword. Not a huge surprise that he’d placed Beck in the role of the Scorpion King. They had to match in size, if not in the ruthless bloodshed department. But to put himself in the role of sorceress? Okay, sure, he was pretty much drooling over Beck and had been since that very first day in Mariana’s bar, but a woman? Him? No freakin’ way.

Pounding on his bathroom door startled him enough to cut his jaw and he swore. “Damn it, Beck! Do you mind!?”

Beck poked his head in and smirked. “Nope. Shake a leg, Travis, or we’ll be late.”

Friggin’ morning people,” Travis muttered. He finished shaving, rinsed off and hopped out of the shower. Louder, since Beck had left, he called, “You brought coffee, right?”

“I got it. Your favorite kind, too, so hurry up before it gets cold!”

Grumbling to himself, Travis stuck some toilet paper on the cut and got dressed. Two minutes later, he gave a cursory look at himself in the mirror, grimaced, and headed into the bedroom. Same ugly mug, different day. Nothing to possibly attract anyone, let alone the man he was heading for. Beck was lounging on his unmade bed sipping his coffee and holding out the other. Travis snagged it and breathed in the rich, heady bouquet with a happy moan. “Perfect.”

“Where’re your bags?”

Beck’s impatient question cut through his happy morning ritual of becoming one with coffee and he glared at the other man. “Downstairs, where do you think? Geeze, Beck, I’m starting to think you don’t want to go on this trip.”

“That’s because I don’t,” Beck reminded, standing and whapping Travis on the back of the head on his way out of the room.

Travis followed him out, ignoring the comment, and sipped at his coffee to get into a better frame of mood. It was really excellent stuff. Beck imported the beans to his restaurant and kept some at home for Travis, who’d gone nuts over the blend. They were in the car five minutes later, duffel bag easily stashed in the backseat of the SUV next to Beck’s. Traffic was terrible, even at five in the morning, thanks to an accident on the 5 Freeway. The main reason that Beck was being anal about getting there so damn early. The flight didn’t leave until noon, but between traffic and international security check-points, Beck wasn’t taking any chances on missing the plane.

They didn’t talk on the way, but it was a comfortable silence. Beck had the radio on a talk station, which always annoyed Travis, but he was too tired to complain about it this time. He drowsed while Beck drove, letting the voices wash over him and listening to the muttered comments from the man beside him with a little smile. They parked, grabbed the bags, went through security, and wound up with three more hours to wait for the flight to leave.

Settling on one of the almost-comfortable chairs, Travis propped his feet up on his duffel and waved a hand a Beck, saying, “Egg McMuffin with ham and cheese, please.”

“You are not eating that crap,” Beck informed him. “Not around me anyhow.”

Travis snorted and pointed out, “There’s not exactly a kitchen for you to whip us up food, and I’m starving!”

Rolling his eyes, Beck countered, “There’s a perfectly good restaurant over there. Get off your ass and walk.”

“Ooh. Sweet talker,” Travis teased.

Beck loomed threateningly and, knowing that the big man would have no trouble or embarrassment at all with hauling Travis to his feet in public, Travis scrambled upright. He held up his hands, placating, and said, “All right, already, geeze! Are you sure you got your full eight hours? Because I know how cranky you get when you don’t, big guy.”

With a snort, Beck lightly shoved him forward and then picked up the duffel bag to follow. Grinning, Travis ambled over to the restaurant that Beck had pointed to and flirted his way into a big booth, even though there were only two of them. When Beck got cramped, he got cranky, and he was already at cranky for reasons as yet unknown. Travis didn’t want to risk the bounty-hunter persona coming out this early in the game. It would happen, but he wanted it to wait until they were actually facing hostile people, instead of a hapless hostess in the line of fire.

Scanning the menu, Travis pointed out, “They’ve got an egg muffin with cheese here, too.”

Beck’s jaw flexed and he said, “Real eggs, though, not the processed crap elsewhere.”

Just to tick him off a little, Travis ordered pancakes, grinning at Beck the whole time he did. The other man made that cute, irritated expression where his lips scrunched up and his brow furrowed, but he ordered calmly enough. Once the waitress was gone, though, his kicked Travis in the shin. Hard.

Ow! What was that for?” Travis yelped.

Smiling now, Beck answered, “Just on general principal. Oh, and Travis?”

Travis gave him a suspicious look at the abruptly cheerful tone. “What?”

“You forgot to take the toilet paper off your cheek.”

Friggin’ morning people.

*  *  *  *

Getting on the flight was, thankfully, easily accomplished. They boarded and found their seats which were, also thankfully, roomy enough for Beck to stretch his legs. It was bad enough that they’d be cooped up for so long, but to be squashed like a bug during the length of it, well, that would’ve made him seriously cranky, as Travis liked to say.

Travis was typing away on his laptop and humming tunelessly under his breath as he listened to an mp3 player. Beck wasn’t nearly as calm, though to all appearances, he looked it. It was a mask he’d cultivated really young and had come in handy more times than he could count. Between the incessant tapping of Travis’ fingers on keys, the constant chatter of the other passengers, and the pressure in his head that told him no, he wasn’t really over that head cold, Beck was a mass of agitation waiting to explode.

Travis eyed him in surprise when he ordered a second scotch, but didn’t comment on it, instead going back to whatever it was that he was doing on his computer. Beck wasn’t sure if that was a blessing, or not, because Travis was nothing, if not a good distraction. Once the second scotch hit his system, warming him all the way through, Beck sighed deeply and leaned his chair all the way back. It was pretty comfortable, so he closed his eyes and did his best to sleep the rest of the flight.

He didn’t really settle into a deep sleep, but it was enough to drowse and let his mind wander. At some point after the cabin air came on, he felt Travis shift and move around before a blanket was tucked in around him. He sighed again, this time definitely in comfort, and wondered when they’d started knowing each other’s habits so well. It had been two years since the Gato, but most of the time had been spent apart with Travis off on one archeological quest after another.

Until Greenwich, when Beck had effectively grounded Travis.

It was kind of nice that someone knew him so well, even if it was perceived as a weakness by some. All he really knew, or cared about, was that his life was better, more full somehow, with Travis in it, despite his penchant for getting into trouble. And he was going to do everything in his power to keep Travis right beside him, perfectly safe, no matter what. He wasn’t going to lose the kid again.

Yawning, Beck curled over in the chair, trying to get more comfortable, and wound up resting his head on Travis’ shoulder. To look at, it was bony as hell, but it felt perfect to Beck and it was then, that he finally fell asleep for real.

*  *  *  *

It was a commotion that caught Mathayus’ attention on his way from talking with Philos in the gardens back to the palace. He heard mocking and jeering, the tone ugly, and the sound of fist to flesh, even uglier. Sighing, even though he knew that it was no use to wish that fighting men didn’t fight, he walked over to the source of the sounds.

The crowd wasn’t very big, as violent spectacles went, only a little over a dozen soldiers and palace guards. It was the sight of Arpid, bleeding and broken in the dirt that sent a killing rage through him. He shoved aside the nearest men and grabbed the attacker by the back of the neck to throw him through the air.

Dropping to his knees beside the too-still, slight body, Mathayus’ hands hovered in the air above Arpid’s body, not knowing where to touch that wouldn’t hurt. “Arpid, can you hear me?”

Dark eyes fluttered open, hazy with pain and confusion as the thief gasped, “Mathayus?”

“Don’t move, Arpid, I’ll get Cassandra and she’ll heal you,” Mathayus promised.

But Arpid shook his head, drawing in a thick, wet-sounding breath, and answered faintly, “Too late. I always knew...you’d be the death of me. I just thought...in battle.”

“No, Arpid,” Mathayus denied, guilt and anger fighting for equal hold of him. “You’re not dying.”

A smile surfaced and a slender hand rose shaking in the air. Mathayus caught it, his own dwarfing the thief’s. For a long moment, they just stared at each other, knowing the painful truth of the situation without words. Finally, Arpid laughed, a short, agonized sound, and said, “I forgive you, Mathyus, but I think...I think perhaps I’ll hold a grudge in the next life. You don’t mind?”

Mathayus shook his head, bringing the callused palm to his lips in a sign of affection. “Hold as many grudges as you like, my friend. I am so sorry.”

“Just...no virgin sacrifices, all right? I know you heathen Akkadians,” Arpid joked through gritted teeth.

The words had just passed when the broken body was seized in a spine-cracking bow of agony. Arpid died crying out Mathayus’ name, which caused the giant of a King to gather the lifeless body in his arms and weep openly with the loss of yet another loved one.

*  *  *  *

Travis blinked down at Beck’s head, startled to find himself being used as a pillow. Not that they hadn’t crashed in the same bed before after some insanely hard and/or violent day, but this was on a plane. In public. With no guns or bombs in sight. He glanced longingly at his laptop, but there was no way that he could type without disturbing Beck, so he sighed and carefully reached over to turn it off. No sense in wasting the battery.

“Everything all right here, Sir? Did you need anything? A drink, pillow, blanket?”

Smiling up at the stewardess, Travis answered, “Everything’s great, thanks. Hey, could you get me a pillow? I’m a little stuck here.”

She practically beamed at him and handed one over. Leaning in conspiratorially, she said softly, “I just have to say, the two of you are so cute together.”

For the second time in less than five minutes, Travis blinked at someone in surprise. He grinned too, though, a few seconds after that and answered, “Thanks.”

“How long have you been together?” she asked.

“Almost two years now,” Travis answered cheerfully. Beck was so going to kill him. He’d noticed the big guy eyeing the woman on their way to their seats and she was just his type; tall, strong, very pretty with dark hair and eyes, tanned skin. He was toast, once Beck found out that he’d implied that they were a gay couple, killing Beck’s shot with the woman. His grin expanded and Travis continued, “It’s a lot of work because he’s so damn stubborn sometimes, but he’s worth it.”

“I bet he is. Let me know if you need anything else, Sir.”

“Thanks!”

Smirking happily to himself, Travis put the pillow behind his head and carefully reclined their chairs. Beck didn’t wake, though, just followed him down and squirmed back into position when they were prone. Sighing happily, Travis dared to brush his fingers over the short, soft hair before closing his eyes for a nap.

Life was good.

*  *  *  *

Life sucked.

Beck glared at a local taxi driver who was shouting at them, not in English, and pointing to his decrepit taxi. The marketplace was crowded and the smells alone were enough to drive him into overload. God he hated going places where deodorant was a foreign concept; at least the way Americans used it. Not to mention the sensation of having the most horrible, depressing dream ever, but not being able to remember anything but the taste of dirt in his mouth.

“Beck! Come on, man, this way!” Travis called.

Turning towards the younger man’s voice, Beck found him talking to a shop-owner about something and being pointed in another direction altogether. Groaning to himself, he hauled the bags onto his shoulders and stalked over to Travis. Beck gripped the other’s shoulder tight and interrupted, “We haven’t even been to the hotel yet, Travis, and I’m not your damn chauffeur. It’s only a block east, so let’s go. You can talk to this guy later.”

So saying, he shoved Travis’ bag into the other man’s stomach, enjoying the ‘oof’ of displaced air the action caused. Travis was still talking to the shop-owner, so Beck simply grabbed hold of his shirt collar and hauled him away from the man. Travis called out a few more things in the local language before stumbling into step with him, giving him a glare, which was completely ignored.

“You’re being hostile again, Beck.”

“Ask me if I care.” Beck snorted. “All I want is a shower to get rid of all this sweat, to eat something and sleep until morning.”

“Hey. At least it only takes you a night to adjust to the local time. I’m going to be wired for three days straight,” Travis complained.

Which Beck knew, all too well. That was why he’d brought earplugs with him. Travis tended to not leave his room until all hours and continued talking even after Beck was trying to sleep. He’d learned that on the last two quests and came prepared this time.

It didn’t take long to get to the hotel, even traveling along the narrow, back-alleys of Cairo. It was a three story building, more of a faded bed & breakfast or hostel, than a hotel, and Beck eyed it suspiciously before demanding, “Where did you get the recommendation for this place?”

“Friend of mine,” Travis answered blithely, walking to the front door. “Stayed here a few years ago. Said it was awesome.”

Since the door almost fell on Travis when he opened it, Beck decided to take the recommendation with a shaker of salt, instead of just a grain. Sighing to himself, he followed the other man inside.

It was about ten degrees cooler, thank God, and the inside looked to be in a lot better shape than the outside, fortunately. Tiled floors and walls, traditional decorations, an actual counter to register. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. An old woman with brilliant white hair, dark eyes, and wizened face appeared from nowhere, popping up behind the counter so fast that Beck jumped back in surprise.

“Can I help you?” she asked in accented English.

“Hey, hi there, I’m Travis Walker. You’ve got a reservation for me?” Travis greeted, leaning on the counter.

She rapped his knuckles with a folded-up fan and he jumped back as well, sucking on them as she answered, “Yes. One room, one night.”

Travis shook his head. “No, it’s two rooms for one night.”

“One room, one night,” she repeated firmly. “We have no more rooms. Otherwise, you can sleep on the street and we sell to others, not friends of friends, for real money.”

“One room’ll be fine, thanks,” Beck put in hastily.

She sniffed at him and thrust the register in his direction. Beck accepted the ancient pen and scribbled his name where she pointed, just wanting to get to the room and collapse for an hour. Or the night, he hadn’t decided yet. It was only a few more minutes to get the keys and carry the bags upstairs, Travis grumbling the entire way behind him. Opening the door, Beck whistled in appreciation at the decadent bed and decorations.

“Whoa! Nice!”

Beck’s arm snapped out straight, clothes-lining Travis on the kid’s way to the massive bed. Travis bounced back, landing on his ass, and Beck finished walking to the bed. Dropping his bag on the floor, he sank into the sinful thing with a groan of pleasure. “This bed. Is mine.”

“Hey! What about me?”

Beck cracked an eyelid at him and said, “You look comfortable on the floor, Travis.”

“Oh man, no way!” Travis exclaimed, standing. He shut the door and continued, “I am not sleeping on the damn floor, Beck! We’re going to be in the desert for two weeks solid, I am not spending my last comfortable night on the floor!”

Ignoring the continuous rant, Beck simply pulled his legs up onto the bed and rolled over, closing his eyes. The shower could wait.

*  *  *  *

Cassandra smiled at her new husband, loving both the tenderness and the fire of lust in his dark eyes. A simple pull at the ties over her shoulders sent the ceremonial dress to the floor in a hiss of silk. The fire burned hotter as Mathayus’ eyes roamed her nude body, but he didn’t move from his spot on their bed. Her smile increased at the restraint and she walked slowly to him, stopping between the V of his thighs. Resting her hands on his massive, bare shoulders, Cassandra greeted, “Hello, my husband.”

Mathayus licked his lips, eyes hot as coals, and rumbled, “Hello, my wife.”

His hands settled on her hips, covering them entirely, and he pulled her in for a long, deep kiss. They had been parted for the last fortnight, as tradition dictated, to prepare for the ceremony. She was as hungry as Mathayus and responded eagerly to the kiss, remembering their brief time together in the rebel camp. She’d stopped Mathayus then, not wanting to lose her powers, but there would be no stopping tonight.

Their tongues danced and the room spun as he carefully picked her up and lay her down on the bed. Gasping in surprised laughter, Cassandra cupped his face and whispered, “I love you, Mathayus.”

A strange expression surfaced on his face and Mathayus vowed, “I will love you forever, Cassandra. Beyond this life and into any others that we share. I will find you and love you in those, as well.”

She stared into his eyes, feeling the echo of power he’d unknowingly released with those words. It seemed that she wasn’t the only one with talents invisible to the eyes. Stroking gentle fingers over his strong brow and sharp cheeks, Cassandra accepted his promise with all her being. “And I shall wait for you to find me in every life. There will be no one else for me in all eternity, my love.”

Mathayus kissed her then, sealing their fates together. The ripple of power their new bond created was far stronger than any marriage ceremony. His mouth was demanding, aggressive, and she moaned into it, relishing his strength and passion. His manhood was hard and long between her legs, still separated from her body by the ceremonial leggings he still wore. Her hands tugged impatiently at them and she demanded breathlessly, “Take them off, Mathayus!”

He chuckled, breathlessly, she was pleased to note, and murmured, “Patience, my Sorceress.”

“Not tonight,” she countered, rubbing her hands over his arms. She’d been waiting her entire life to find this man and didn’t want to wait any longer to have him.

Kissing her nose tenderly, he replied firmly, “Especially tonight.”

Mathayus kissed his way down her throat and over her chest, to her breast. She gasped in surprise when he suckled there like a babe, seeming in no hurry to move. His fingers played with her other breast and nipple, causing sensations to ripple through her body. Her own hands roamed his shoulders and restlessly patted his hair as she squirmed under his attentions, gasping.

He finally left her breasts to kiss and lick further down her body, but they ached in the memory of his caresses. Cassandra watched in disbelief as Mathauys’ fingers parted her nether lips and his tongue swiped a long path up the center, collecting all the juices therein and pulling forth a shocked, “Mathayus!” from her.

Looking up at her from between her legs, Mathayus gave her that wicked grin before deliberately turning back to what he’d been doing. If she’d thought him suckling at her breasts was incredible, it paled in comparison to this new, too-intimate caress. He alternated between long licks and toying with the very center of her. Some magic spot that sent jolts of pleasure throughout her body.

Her heart sped ever faster and harder in her chest as her entire being focused on that one spot that Mathayus tormented with tongue, and now finger. When he rubbed it hard, Cassandra convulsed with need and pleasure, back arching and hands clenched in the bedding, crying out long and loud.

When the world returned, Mathayus cradled her on his chest, stroking a hand along her back with the other resting possessively on her backside. She sighed deeply and murmured his name.

Laughter rumbled deep in his chest as Mathayus asked, “Back with me, my Sorceress?”

Feeling too languid and content to take issue with the amused tone, Cassandra reminded herself to make him pay for it later, and kissed the warm skin beneath her. Sitting up, straddling him, she was surprised to find him naked, his manhood rubbing against her from behind. Turning curiously, Cassandra found it in proportion to the rest of her husband; big and hard, though an extra sleeve of flesh adorned it, where the rest of his body held no extra flesh anywhere.

Straddling him in reverse, she gripped it carefully in one hand, not sure how much pressure she could, or should, use. Mathayus gasped as if in pain and she looked over her shoulder at him. One of his arms covered his face and the other hand clenched the bedding. Pleased to have reduced him to simple noises so easily, she took a firmer grasp and shifted the sleeve of skin up and down.

“Cassandra!” he gasped. “Stop!”

Worried, she looked at Mathayus again and found him pushed onto his elbows, dark eyes clouded with lust. Feeling more powerful than when she’d wielded magic, Cassandra released him and turned again to face him.

Mathayus instantly sat up, pulling her tight and devouring her mouth. She returned the kiss with equal passion, that tight need within coiling low in her gut; an ache to be filled, to join with her lover in the most intimate of ways. Breaking the kiss, she gripped his face between her hands and ordered, “Take me, Mathayus, fill me with you!”

He groaned and shook his head, clearly fighting his body for control and ground out through clenched teeth, “I’ll hurt you.”

His concern for her even in the midst of his terrible need made her smile. Her gentle warrior. This time, she kissed his lips gently and said, “That cannot be helped, my love.”

“Ride me,” Mathayus finally replied. “That way, you control how fast we go.”

It was easy to figure out what he meant, so Cassandra rose to her knees, centering herself over his shaft. The tip of him didn’t even fit within and she grimace, forcing the first part of him inside. She was pained and stretched with barely any of him sheathed, which couldn’t be good for either of them. Taking a breath, Cassandra simply dropped, letting herself be impaled in one fell swoop. A shriek of pain escaped and she clutched at the steady, broad shoulders, panting. Something wet filled her from inside, distracting her slightly as Mathayus kissed and soothed her with soft murmurs.

“Gods, remind me not to do that again,” she said at last, shaky and sore, but no longer actively hurting.

Mathayus smiled. “It gets better, I promise.”

Sense of humor restoring itself, Cassandra observed, “I should think so, or you men would find your own relief.”

Chuckling, Mathayus said dryly, “We do that too, sometimes.”

He kissed her again, deep and wet, possessive. Cassandra replied as passionately as she always did, drawn to his fire and need for her like a moth. His hands roamed over her body, massaging and squeezing. Fingertips tweaked her nipples and cupped her breasts. His mouth sucked on hers, tongue thrusting inside to dance and explore. Her pained tension lessened in slow degrees, body relaxing as her desire grew until Cassandra tentatively began rocking on the shaft that still impaled her. Mathayus may have lost some seed already, but he’d certainly not lost any stature.

It started feeling good, the close press of their bodies, and she moved more definitively. Mathayus groaned, fingers spasming tight on her ass where they rested. Cassandra knew that he could have torn her apart to slake his own needs, and yet he waited still, giving her his protection and love even here; maybe especially here.

Rising up and down, Cassandra gasped in pleasure as that something deep inside was struck again. She shuddered with want and took his mouth in growing need. His arms wrapped tight around her waist and he rolled her beneath him. Far from frightened, Cassandra relished the unleashing of his powerful body into hers. The steady, hard thrust of his cock sent a sharp spasm of need and she clutched at his shoulders, groaning, “More, Mathayus, oh Gods, more!”

He gave another of those breathless chuckles, a sound to which she was fast becoming addicted, and complied. He rose on his hands and angled differently, sending that bolt of pleasure through her again. She couldn’t even gasp his name, it was too much. Her eyes rolled back as she cried out wordlessly.

Mathayus grunted and gasped above her with every move. The rest of their coupling was fierce and animalistic…she clawed at him to get him closer; he bit her throat to mark her as his; she arched and writhed beneath while he plundered her body from above without mercy.

When the world shifted and pure lightening blinded her from the inside out, Cassandra screamed his name. The single word was ripped from her throat as Mathayus filled her with his seed, his own completion at last found deep inside her. He collapsed on top of her, the weight pinning her not uncomfortably, though breathing was somewhat difficult. Sated and content, once the shivers finished having their way with her body, Cassandra gently stroked her hand over her husband’s hair and slowly drifted into sleep.

*  *  *  *

Beck woke at the first moan from Travis. The kid sometimes had whoppers for nightmares, not that it was a big surprise given who his father was, and Beck had had to wake him more than once from them in the past. A rueful grin surfaced when the next moan made it clear that Travis was not having a nightmare. Shaking his head, Beck relaxed back on the bed and closed his eyes.

The soft, needy noises Travis made got under his skin, though, and Beck got hard without even trying. Shifting uncomfortably, Beck stroked his cock somewhat guiltily.

Is it my fault he sounds like pure sex? he thought defensively.

Travis’ breath hitched and he moaned again, legs sliding beneath the blankets with a silky sound that went right through Beck. Whoever she was, Travis obviously had good taste because she was clearly rocking the kid’s world. Beck’s hand moved a little faster, matching the faint gasps from Travis, like he was the one nailing the kid, instead of some faceless woman.

Beck’s eyes snapped open at the thought and he froze. He didn’t think of Travis like that, never had and wasn’t now. Except his dick twitched when Travis groaned next, showing the lie to that. Beck scowled. He didn’t need this kind of complication in his life, especially not with a straight, annoying, white boy who often found trouble at the end of a gun.

The gasps and moans, still soft, grew in intensity and Beck couldn’t help but watch in the semi-dark as Travis’ hips rolled, the blanket tented by his erection. His own hand gripped and jacked his cock and Beck bit his lip to keep silent. All he’d need to make his night complete was for Travis to wake up and catch him jerking off to the sight of Travis having a wet dream. It was Travis arching and helpless to his dream lover that had Beck thrusting faster into his hand. He came a too-short time later, mouth pressed to his arm to stifle the noise threatening to escape.

And then his world really changed, because Travis came a few seconds later and cried out a name…

“Mathias!”

Anger suddenly coursed through Beck, fast pushing away  the orgasmic haze as he realized that Travis’ dream lover had been a man. That he’d been getting fucked, instead of fucking. And while there was no explanation for the unreasoning fury and possessive bent, Beck glared at Travis lying so unknowing and sated on the floor, still sleeping. He grabbed an extra pillow and slammed it into Travis’ face.

Travis yelped in fright and surprise, exclaimed, “What!? What happened!?”

Smiling in satisfaction, even though he was still ticked for no reason he could figure out, Beck settled back on the bed again with an unrepentant, “Sorry. Thought I saw a scorpion on you. Night, Travis.”

That he knew the kid would be up the rest of the night worried about poisonous insects, was a bonus. Beck fell asleep with a smile on his face.

*  *  *  *

Beck was still smiling the next morning when Travis stumbled around only half awake from lack of sleep. Serves the little punk right, cheating on me like that, even if it was in a dream, Beck thought, still irritated. He mentally smacked himself at the thought and hastily pushed it aside with a shouted, “Get a move on, Travis!”

“Fuck off!” Travis shouted back.

Smirking, Beck silently entered the bathroom and flushed the toilet, pretty sure of the demands of the water pressure in the old place. A howl of shock and then a stream of invective from Travis confirmed it. Beck grinned when the other man jumped from the small shower stall.

“What the hell crawled up your ass this morning?” Travis demanded, shivering as he grabbed a towel to dry off.

Beck kept his eyes off the tempting array of wet Travis and answered, “We’ve got a long way to go if you want to find this thing. We still need to pick out camels.”

“Horses.”

“No, camels.”

“Beck, horses are faster,” Travis pointed out. “Not to mention, they smell better.”

Beck shrugged. “But camels are smarter. Everyone knows that.”

Rolling his eyes, Travis bent over to grab his underwear and a bolt of lust hit Beck right in the gut at the pale, taut ass thrust in his direction. Swallowing thickly, he turned and walked out, saying, “I’m getting something to eat,” as normally as he could. He grabbed his bag and left the room, hoping a round of verbal sparring with the old woman would firmly quell any impulses he had towards Travis.

Except the one to strangle him, of course.

*  *  *  *

Thankfully, Egyptian coffee was like an injection of pure caffeine, so after two cups, Travis felt almost normal. He gave Beck a healthy distance, not sure what was up with him, and munched on a piece of bread as they took a taxi to a camel dealer’s place on the outskirts of Cairo. A few minutes after getting there, he watched Beck move from animal to animal and stood back to let him do his thing. He had some pretty strange notions sometimes.

It wasn’t until the dealer tried to steer Beck away from a pale camel that Travis got closer and asked, “What’s going on?”

The smallish man gave him a worried look. “He does not want this animal! It is bad! Evil-tempered!”

“Aren’t they all?” Travis questioned, only a little facetious.

“No, no, this one is…”

The man’s voice trailed off and Travis turned to find Beck putting some kind of saddle on the now-sitting camel. Shrugging, Travis commented, “Doesn’t seem all that evil to me.”

Pure astonishment lit the man’s face and he made a warding gesture of some kind.

Snorting with amusement, Travis walked over to Beck, eyeing the creature distrustfully. “Got yourself a ride, I see.”

“Yep. You should too,” Beck informed him, tightening the saddle in place. “Camels are better than horses.”

Travis shook his head and reached out only to almost get a finger bit off. Snapping his hand back just in time, Travis glared at the animal.

Beck smirked. “See? Smart. Good judge of character, too.”

Making a face, Travis replied, “Ha-ha, very funny. I’ll stick to animals that don’t stink to high-Heaven, thanks.”

Scratching one of the camel’s ears, Beck soothed, “He didn’t mean it.”

“Yeah. Okay. While you two get better acquainted, I’m going to get our guide and supplies,” Travis informed him.

Beck shook his head and said, “Just give me a few minutes to finish up here and we’ll go together.”

And even though Travis knew that Beck was just worried about him, irritation rose full force at the way Beck wouldn’t give him any credit to do something on his own. “You don’t need to hold my hand, Beck. I’ve been on my own most of my life, you know?”

“Yeah. And look how well it turned out. Or did you forget why we met in the first place?”

Really hurt by the jab, Travis drew back as if bit. Stiff, he said, “No, I haven’t forgotten,” and walked away. Beck called his name, sounding apologetic, but Travis ignored him.

I know better, damn it! I know better than to let someone in this deep! Travis thought, sick and angry with both himself and Beck.

He was so engrossed in the insult and hurt that he heard the squeal of tires as a car stopped too fast, but paid it no attention. It wasn’t until a hood was pulled over his head a second later and multiple hands grabbed him, that Travis realized the danger. Fighting and screaming Beck’s name did nothing but earn him a blow to the head.

Stunned and in pain, Travis fell limp into his kidnappers’ arms. He was tossed into a car, doors were slammed, and the car peeled away. Gunshots hit the window and Travis had just enough time to wonder when, and why, Beck had gotten a gun before being struck again on the head.

This time, he spiraled down into darkness.

*  *  *  *

As soon as the words escaped, Beck would have done anything to take them back. Travis got that kicked-puppy look that tore right into him and made him want to grovel over broken glass to make it go away.

Travis said quietly, “No, I haven’t forgotten,” and walked away.

Mentally kicking his own ass, Beck called, “Travis! Travis, wait!”

But Travis was clearly too upset, because he didn’t even twitch in response. Beck groaned and watched a moment longer before turning back to the camel dealer.

The small man gave him a commiserating look and observed, “Young lovers are worse than wives, sometimes.”

Beck was going to correct him when the screech of tires caught his attention. He instantly looked for Travis to find him surrounded by thugs, a hood yanked down over his head. He ran for the kidnapping even before Travis started screaming for him in a panic and fighting for all he was worth. Beck saw his foot catch one of the attackers in the gut and a fist slam into another’s head, but there were four against one and there was no real contest. He could only watch as Travis was thrown into the back seat and the car burned rubber getting away.

Then he heard gunshots and saw the back window explode in a potentially deadly hail of glass. A quick glance around showed a large man with long black hair shooting at the car. Beck altered course to intercept, visions of the gas tank being hit and the car exploding in front of him, painted vividly into his mind’s eye. He grabbed the man’s gun hand and pinched the nerve so that it dropped instantly into his hand.

Automatically stripping it and shelling the clip, Beck snarled, “What that hell do you think you’re doing!?”

“My job!” the large man snapped back, dark eyes furious. “You better have a good reason for stopping me, or I’m putting your ass in jail!”

A cop. Perfect, Beck thought, wondering how things could possibly get worse. “You were going to hit the gas tank.”

“I know how to shoot a gun.”

“Yeah well, I didn’t know that.”

The man was easily as large as Beck and not in the least intimidated by him, that was obvious. He leaned forward and informed him, “You’ve got two choices here, buddy.”

Beck blinked at him in surprise, then asked, “Two choices?”

“Yeah. First option, you tell me who you are and what your involvement is in what just went down. Second option, I drag your ass down to the office and you tell me anyhow, except then you have to deal with having your passport taken away and a whole mess of trouble you don’t want.”

Sounds better using letters, Beck decided, grinning to himself in dark amusement. Keeping a straight face, he held out the remains of the man’s gun and said, “The name’s Beck and that man who was just kidnapped is my friend, Travis Walker.”

There was a brief pause because the cop demanded, “Billy Walker’s son!?”

“That’s him,” Beck confirmed, almost cheerfully. If he could get the guy to take off, he’d be after Travis all that much faster. Red Tape was something he seriously didn’t need right then.

Groaning, the man said, “I knew I should’ve gone to the dentist like I was supposed to this morning, but no. This is karma biting me in the ass for my hatred of the dental profession.”

“Are we done? Because I need to...”

“Not a chance, Mr. Beck. You’re coming with me and we’re going to have a nice, long chat.”

“Look, Detective, I know you know how important time in a kidnapping...”

“He’s Billy Walker’s son, Mr. Beck. They aren’t going to do anything permanent to him until he refuses to pay the ransom,” the cop stated. “Now. You want to come along with, or without, the cuffs?”

Keeping his face neutral, Beck asked, “Don’t I even get to know your name?”

The man’s lips almost twitched into a smile as he answered, “Inspector Jesup Rinaldi.”

Beck arched an eyebrow. “You don’t look Italian.”

“Half,” Rinaldi explained shortly. He motioned towards a decrepit car and continued, “Let’s go, Mr. Beck.”

Casting a glance down the now-filled street, knowing there was no chance of catching up to Travis’ abductors, Beck sighed and followed the cop to his car. All he could do was pray that Travis was doing okay.

*  *  *  *

Travis groaned as the muted throbbing became outright tap-dancing on his skull when his eyes opened. Closing them immediately, Travis took a few minutes just to breathe, making sure that his stomach was under what limited control he could summon. Opening his eyes more slowly, Travis was glad there was just the one lamp in the room and it gave off only a dim light. A few seconds later, he was able to push up into a sitting position and take a real look around the room.

It was a nice one, surprisingly. The bed he was on was large and comfortable, the blankets new and the pillows soft. It was decorated conservatively, with old-fashioned accents, had hardwood floors and a large bay window that showed the night sky outside…through the bars on it.

Sighing, Travis carefully stood and walked over to the door. He didn’t really expect it to be unlocked, and he was right. He knocked and called out, “Anyone there?” then groaned and held his head. “I could use some aspirin or something. Cave-in skull in here, you know.”

Travis groaned again and stumbled back to the bed. He’d let them know he was awake and aware, if not exactly mobile, and now he just had to wait. He didn’t wait long, maybe another five minutes, before the door opened and a man walked in. He was tall and handsome with brilliant blue eyes, classic features, and a striking, imposing even, bearing. This was a man of power, no doubt about that. Travis had been around power enough in his life to recognize it.

“How are you, Mr. Walker?”

Crap. It wasn’t a random kidnapping because he was American. Travis managed a weak grin and answered, “Been better. Can’t say much for the service around here.”

“I am sorry about that,” the man replied, his eyes flickering up to Travis’ head injury. “They weren’t supposed to injure you so badly.”

“Yeah well, you let me go and I’ll forget all about this,” Travis offered.

The man laughed, a genuinely amused sound, and said, “I don’t think so. No, Mr. Walker, I have business to conduct with your father before I let you go anywhere.”

Perfect. Just friggin’ perfect, Travis thought with a sigh. “Look, whoever you are, you obviously don’t know Billy if you think that kidnapping me is going to get you anything. My father, and I use the term loosely, hates my guts. Can’t even stand to look at me. He’s not going to lift a finger to get me back.”

Mmm. Perhaps. And yet, he paid off that mob boss in Chicago to the tune of half a million dollars and then spent another hundred thousand to track you down in South America. I think that your father cares a great deal more than you think he does. You are, after all, his only son,” the man pointed out. “For that alone, he considers you valuable.”

Travis shook his head, then winced, regretting it. “Billy’s not going to pay you a dime to get me back.”

“Who said anything about money?”

Well that can’t be good, Travis thought, worry clenching his stomach.

“And don’t think that your friend Mr. Beck is going to rescue you. He is otherwise occupied at the local constabulary and likely to be there long after my business with your father is concluded,” the man finished.

Travis blanched. Beck’s in jail? When the man turned back to leave, Travis blurted out, “Wait! Who the hell are you?”

Gazing at him intently, the man replied, “You may call me Memnon,” and left.

Stunned, Travis didn’t say anything else as the door closed behind his kidnapper.

*  *  *  *

Like a lot of police stations the world over, this one was crowded with cops, criminals, overworked administrative staff, and a pissed off Captain. Beck sat calmly at a conference room table, listening to Captain Mansza, go off on him about ‘nefarious activities designed to cause nothing but pain and bloodshed’ for the last fifteen minutes. The variations were all, essentially, the same.

Rinaldi leaned against the wall, watching, apparently easy with letting his superior officer take control of the interview. The dark eyes took in everything and the broad, familiar face revealed absolutely nothing.

When Mansza paused for a breath, Beck interjected, “You do know that I’m nothing more than a witness, right? It was my friend who was kidnapped?”

“Oh you are far more than that, Mr. Beck,” Mansza snapped. “Why didn’t Memnon kill you and what does he want with your friend? What sort of crime is he here to commit?”

Beck bristled at that, but stayed calm as he replied, “Travis isn’t a criminal, he’s an archeologist. He’s here to find some kind of ancient headdress from a legend he called the Scorpion King.”

There was complete silence as Mansza and Rinaldi looked at one another in open surprise, then both began laughing. The longer they laughed, the more irritated Beck became. It was one thing for him to make fun of Travis’ choice of occupation, but something else entirely for others to do the same thing.

“What is so funny?” he finally demanded.

Clearing his throat, the Captain answered, “There is no such thing, Mr. Beck. The legend of the Scorpion King is even more tenuous than most legends. If Mr. Walker is here to find the Scorpion King, then he will find only empty desert sand.”

Beck scowled and said, “That’s his choice. We’re here legally, we have all the proper visas in place, we’ve paid for our equipment. What are you going to do to get Travis back? He’s been kidnapped, remember?”

“I think you had best prepare yourself for the certainty that your friend is already dead, Mr. Beck. Memnon doesn’t take hostages. I don’t know what young Mr. Walked did to piss him off, but no one does that and lives. No one.”

Standing, Beck snapped, “Do you want anything else, or am I free to go?”

Rinaldi and Mansza exchanged another look and, this time, a nod and shrug. Beck’s eyes rolled at the silent communication and he waited until Mansza told him, “You are free to go. I suggest that you leave Mr. Walker’s kidnapping to us, Mr. Beck, and go on with your life.”

Beck kept silent on what he wanted to tell the Captain to do with his advice as he left the conference room. There was too much to do and way too much time had been wasted. He had calls to make and support to get into place. There was no way he find Travis on his own and it would take time to get the right people. Even though all he wanted to do was track Travis down through the streets of Egypt, taking the city of Cairo apart stone by stone if he had to, Beck forced himself to walk calmly onto the street and hail a cab.

He would get Travis back, safe and sound; there was no other option.