“Good evening, boys and girls. I’m so pleased you’ve chosen to spend time in the dark with me on the Nightwatch once again. Though you don’t tell me you’re listening, you don’t give me a signal that you’re there, I can feel you, hanging onto the words rattling from your speakers. Knowing the truth of the things the Nightcrawler tells you, and pretending that you’re listening casually instead of on tenterhooks.”
LaCroix smiled and chuckled out a breath. He hadn’t seen Nicholas for fully half the year, because he was a stubborn, petulant child when at his worst. And after their last heated argument about the nature of life, death, being undead, Nicholas had given in, only a touch. The fury had slipped from his words, the rod up his back had bent just a little.
And instead of anger beaming from his eyes, he aimed a different kind of heat at LaCroix, one he’d so missed from their early years together. A familiar fire that LaCroix had known he could regain with time and patience.
“Let me offer you some relief, Gentle Listener, and reveal what I want to talk to you about tonight. A topic I’ve expounded on many times before. Love. And what an utter waste of time it is to dream of it, to feel it, to pretend that it matters.
“Oh, love exists. But of everything you can feel, every strong emotion, every blinding need, love must be the weakest of them all. I want to talk about when love is too pathetic, too inadequate, a word to do your feelings justice. When one single word cannot be wide or deep or tall enough to encompass everything you imagine or feel or want or aspire to be in a single moment.”
Six months ago, Nicholas had stopped arguing and stepped forward, and instead of his mouth curving into a sneer or a frown as expected, he’d crushed his lips against LaCroix’. Nicholas hadn’t kissed him in a hundred years it seemed, but it was as familiar as if they’d done the same only the day before.
Nicholas tasted the same. His breath caught the same when LaCroix hauled him close, an arm tight across his back.
One moment, the perfect reconciliation. The next, it crumbled. With Nicholas they always danced five steps forward and four steps the way they’d come. He’d enjoyed a heady ten seconds of Nicholas back where he should have always been. But regret crept between them, as it had so many times before. Nicholas had fled, but at least he hadn’t left LaCroix with parting words he’d used in the past, how he’d never come back to him, how he demanded his freedom and would never be what LaCroix wanted him to be.
LaCroix didn’t have to point out for the thousandth time how he only wanted Nicholas to be what he was. A vampire. Himself.
They’d said none of that. LaCroix suspected, hoped, that meant fewer steps backward this time. Six days without talking to Nicholas could feel like an eternity, so six months had been an ache that nothing would satisfy. He wanted to go after Nicholas, make him see reason, not caring how badly they fought as long as he could spend at least a little time with him. Instead, he’d waited and tried not to let it feel like a punishment.
“I’ve said to you before that if you love something, let it go. In a light moment, I said that if it doesn’t come back to you, you should hunt it down and kill it. Well, let’s say it was a light moment, at least. I’ve also said that if you love someone, let them go. If they were yours, they’ll learn their lessons and come back to you. But what if how you feel is more than love? Can you let go? Should you?
“When someone isn’t a separate being, but part of your very essence, not an arm or a leg or something you can live without, but your heart, your soul, a piece that makes you who you are, can you release them? There was a time in my life when I would have said no. Cling to them. Dig your talons deep and hang on tight. But with age comes wisdom, mon enfant, and my advice now would be let. Him. Go.”
LaCroix curved his hand over the top of the microphone and leaned closer, his voice dropping.
“If he’s yours, you won’t need to hang on. You won’t need to chase. That rebellious, independence-seeking chunk of your soul is part of you and therefore cannot go too far. Like the ancient Chinese belief in the invisible thread that joins you with everyone whose hand you’ve ever shaken, a cord stretches between you and the part of you that has broken off. Trust the bond you forged. Have faith in that connection. Otherwise you’ll reach out your hand and as your fingertips brush him, as you try to close your fist, the momentum of your need pushes him away.”
A sharp tingle ran up LaCroix’ spine, down his throat and chest, down to his groin. He gasped into the microphone. As he’d half-expected and fully hoped, Nicholas had come.
“No, stop pursuing, stop reaching. Let him reel himself back to you, whether by that tightly woven cord or the trail of breadcrumbs he dropped as, despite himself, instinct and need overcame any conscious doubts about where he belongs.”
Nicholas stood on the other side of the control room window, eyes shining, fangs glinting below his lip. He opened the door and stepped inside, walking slowly, stalking, until he stood behind LaCroix.
Every nerve wanted to jump in Nicholas' direction. LaCroix' skin rippled with gooseflesh, a rush flowing through him at their closeness. He deliberately spoke slower and didn't hurry, savoring the moment.
“I hope you’ve enjoyed my most recent thoughts, Gentle Listener. I so enjoy being the voice you turn to in the dark. Never forget that the Nightcrawler is here for you, offering to be whatever you need. Friend, lover, brother, father confessor. Go and make merry, boys and girls, before the sun shines its light on your darkest deeds. And tomorrow night, call me and tell me what they are, and I will offer absolution . . .”
Nicholas cupped one side of LaCroix’ neck, tilting his head to the side. LaCroix hardened in anticipation, then gasped as needle-sharp fangs pierced his skin, drawing hard against him. Nicholas moaned into the red kiss, his other hand sliding down the front of LaCroix’ shirt.
“Is that what you’re offering me?” Nick growled against his throat. “Forgiveness?”
LaCroix stood and spun. He pushed Nicholas until his back was against the wall. “Unconditionally.” LaCroix tilted his head and let his fangs drop into place as he pressed forward, Nicholas’ cock lined up against his own. “But I offer you something better.”
He sank his fingers into Nicholas’ hair, pulled his head to the side and struck. LaCroix drank greedily, filling himself in case too much time would pass before the next chance to taste him again. He kept Nicholas pinned to the wall with his body, but finally tore his mouth away. His fingers slid to Nicholas' cheek.
“Permission to accept what you are. To embrace it. To revel in it.”
Something flashed across Nicholas’ eyes. LaCroix didn’t know if it was lust, anger, fear. For so long, he hadn’t cared which it was, because the result was the same. They fought, their bodies often close enough to brush, Nicholas’ breath in his face. Lust or fury would have taken them to nearly the same place. He’d have him close any way he could, he’d resigned himself to thinking for decades, and tomorrow would take care of itself.
Nicholas closed his eyes, his jaw working. When he snapped his eyes open, they glittered, lust overriding any hesitation. Nicholas kissed him, and the taste of their mingled blood undid the damage of months of loneliness. Years of it stacked one on top of another in LaCroix' chest.
Nicholas was his again, for at least a little while. Maybe only until tomorrow, or maybe for half a century. He could never guess how much time would pass until his protégé would let humanity creep in again, and he'd try to leave LaCroix behind.
But next time, they wouldn’t be estranged for years, or even six months. Next time, LaCroix would do better at letting him go.