Dragon Flames

Xerxes

It’s quiet in the firehouse, for once. Most of the guys are upstairs playing poker, while Vyn and Malek are washing the truck out front. I savor the silence. I’m not exactly a people person and sometimes the energy in such close spaces could be too much, making me want to unfurl my wings and fly far away; screw the psych evals everyone would want me to take. But right now, with everything quiet, I could just relax.

“You two are paranoid,” I tell my brothers. Vyndaspes, or Vyn as most of us call him because it’s a damn mouthful and Mom was clearly on her ‘let’s find every dead relative we have and name our kids after them’ kick, just winked at me.

“Paranoid?” Vyn asks, walking around to get the other side, “Or taking advantage of a perfect situation? It’s sunny, we’re firefighters, everyone’s out and about…”

“I think you might honestly die if you had to keep it in your pants for more than 48 hours,” I inform him.

I’m the oldest--only by five minutes, but still--and I don’t know if it’s that, or something else, but I’ve always ended up being the responsible one. Malek wouldn’t know a conversation if it hit him over the head and Vyn seems to subscribe to the philosophy that if he can’t find any trouble he’ll just make some up himself.

Also, I don’t think virgins are in the habit of strolling up to shirtless firefighters, I add telepathically.

Vyn rolls his eyes at me, sending back, you don’t know that. Don’t stereotype them.

I’ve always kind of felt like the whole ‘it has to be a virgin’ thing is kind of nonsense, but apparently it’s got something to do with dragon DNA and human DNA mixing. Mom says that it’s also because whether the girl (or boy, if you’re a female dragon) knows it or not, there’s her dragon mate out there somewhere, and so something will always keep her from being with anyone else because of the subconscious pull towards her mate. Or at least, that’s how it felt for her.

Then again, Mom’s a hopeless romantic and always has been, so.

You’re not even looking for your mate, I tell Vyn. You’re looking for a girl to have a fun time with. You need to focus.

Vyn pulls a face. I’ve got plenty of time.

No, you don’t.

It’s an old argument, and one that I know is probably a lost cause. Vyn’s going to straighten out and find his mate or not, and if he doesn’t, it isn’t my responsibility. But it still feels like it is. Like I should be out there finding his damn mate for him so he doesn’t end up a pile of ash a few years down the line.

That’s the other scary thing. We don’t know when it’ll happen. There’s no strict cutoff age, like hey, if you’re thirty and you don’t have a mate you die. It’s different for everyone. Vyn could fall sick tomorrow and waste away in a few months. Or it could take him years. All I know is, we’ve all only got a few more years at the most. And for beings that can live for centuries, that’s a pretty short lifespan.

I’m not happy about this whole mates thing either, I tell him. Finding someone because you’ll die otherwise doesn’t really feel as romantic as finding someone that you genuinely like. What if I hate my mate? What if she hates me? It’s been known to happen. Plenty of mates get together without knowing or caring all that much about one another. Most of them grow to love each other but others…

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with someone I don’t like, and I certainly don’t appreciate there being a time crunch on my finding that someone. I like to do things in my own time. This whole ‘do or die’ thing weighs on me.

But it’s not like any of us have a choice, so. I’ll pick staying alive, thanks.

Malek grunts in that way that I know means he agrees with me. Malek… well, to call him talkative would be the overstatement of the year. He didn’t even speak until he was five. Dad thought he was mute for a while.

“Hello?” A woman’s voice calls out from the sidewalk.

I turn and see a pretty brunette standing there, a tupperware container in her hands. I sniff. Smells like brownies.

Probably one of Vyn’s admirers. He’s got dozens of them. God help him if they ever find out about each other, I doubt even Vyn’s dragon scales could save him from their wrath.

“Do you need help with anything?” I ask. It’s possible she wants to donate food to the firehouse. We tend to get that from time to time. There’s this one adorable little girl down the street, she’s six, and wants to be a firefighter when she grows up. She makes us pumpkin pie about once a month.

“Oh, hi.” The woman blushes and holds out her container. “I just wanted to give these to you. As a thank you.”

I take the container. “Thanks.”

I turn to go and put the brownies in the fridge. The guys’ll love them. But as I do, the woman starts talking again.

“You rescued my brother from that forest fire a week ago,” the woman goes on.

I turn back to look at her. It’s fire season in the hills, and despite everyone’s best efforts, campers and hikers still get trapped. “I’m glad he’s doing okay.”

“Thanks to you,” she says, putting her hand on my arm.

Ooooh, Xerxes, looks like you got an admirer, Vyn teases me through the bond.

I ignore my brother, and I gently shake off the woman’s hand. “I’m just doing my job, ma’am. Thank you for the brownies.”

I turn and walk into the kitchen before she can say anything more. If I linger, she’ll think she has a chance with me, and hell no. It’s not that I don’t care for the occasional one night stand, but I’m on the clock. I don’t mix business with pleasure. Especially not when the person is a rescue or the relative of a rescue. When I want to have some fun, I can go out to the local bar and find somebody. But not here.

I can smell the disappointment coming off of her in waves, but I ignore it. This job is important to me and if I sleep with this woman, she’ll tell other people, and then next thing you know everyone knows that if you flirt the right way you can get with Xerxes and just--no. People need to see me as a firefighter first and foremost and a man second.

I can pick up on Vyn trying to make a move on her, though. Sure enough as I walk back out, I see Malek’s retreated to the opposite side of the garage and is avoiding eye contact. Vyn, meanwhile, is leaning against the truck and giving the woman his I’d like to eat you alive smile.

Why the hell the women always go for that, I don’t know.

“Sara, that’s so funny, I remember the girl I had a crush on in first grade was named Sara.” Vyn gives her a playful glare. “You wouldn’t happen to be her, would you? Come to apologize for dumping orange juice on my head?”

The woman, Sara, laughs. “I’m sure I’d remember doing something like that, so I don’t think I’m your girl.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that,” Vyn says, his voice dropping down all low and gravely.

Fuck’s sake. I roll my eyes and go to pick up the hose that Vyn’s just left lying around.

“Can I get in the truck?” Sara asks, already moving to get inside.

Malek growls, startling her. I glare at him. Cut that out.

Last time Vyn let a girl in the she fucked up the controls.

I’ll handle it, I tell him.

Malek would have preferred to live back in Medieval times. He could’ve been in dragon form all the time and just growled and spewed fire to get whatever he wanted. Now he’s actually got to do things like communicate. The horror.

Still, I can’t help the wave of protectiveness I feel. Malek’s my youngest brother, and I know he struggles with communication. I worry about him more than I worry about Vyn. For all his posturing, the moment he scents his mate, Vyn’ll be all over that. Or so I hope. But Malek’s got to actually talk to the girl. How will he manage that? Half the time he acts like other people scare him, the other half he acts like he resents their existence.

I don’t know which I fear more: Malek finding his mate, or what he’ll actually do if he does find her.

“Not this time,” I say to Sara and Vyn.

“I’ll let you get in later, when these two party poopers aren’t around,” Vyn says. “Maybe we could make a night of it.”

Sara giggles again and pulls out her phone. “I’ll give you my number.”

I can literally feel Vyn’s smugness through the bond. I ignore it until Sara’s left. You’re going to give your mate an STD if you’re not careful.

And how would you suggest going about finding a mate? Vyn shoots back. Your tall, dark and broody routine working out for you?

I try not to growl at him. Vyn just keeps talking though, because Vyn loves nothing more than seeing the sign to stop and turning around and ignoring it in favor of continuing to push.

You don’t get to lecture us about finding mates when you can’t find your own. Maybe you should join a dating site?

Uncle Achille said we should try church. There’s lots of virgins there, Malek adds.

I don’t think a church girl would be very open to learning a supernatural creature would like to mate with her, Vyn points out. I mean, in our shifted form, don’t we kind of look like demons to some people?

Fine, I tell Vyn, because I’m stubborn and damn it, someone has to set the example around here and I guess that someone is going to be me. I’ll find my mate and show you all how it’s done. You happy?

Vyn grins at me, delighted, like he’s found his favorite TV show on. Very.

The alarm goes off, and all thoughts of a mate fly out of my head. There’s a fire.

The chief thunders down the stairs. “Another forest fire,” he bellows down at us. “Get your asses in gear!”

“Yes, sir,” I respond, immediately rushing over to get dressed and grab equipment.

Hopefully this whole mate thing can wait until fire season’s over. Right now, I’ve got bigger things to worry about than finding my mate. The forest fires that sweep through this area are deadly and it’s going to be all hands on deck for the next few weeks.

Besides, it’s not like I’m going to find my mate in the middle of a forest fire, right?