“Struggle all you want, Gabriel, not even you can break these chains. I made sure of it.”
The voice is smoky and smooth, curling with smug satisfaction at the edges. It creeps in through Gabriel’s ears and caresses his skull, gathering at the base of his neck to trickle down his spine and pool in his gut. He gives the chains another fierce jerk. They clink and echo in the dark, the only sound to accompany his rasping, ragged breaths. Then the papery hiss of a match being struck. A spark. A warm, golden light as a candle sputters to life.
A heavy steel collar digs into the muscles of his neck as he turns his head to look about him. The walls and ceiling are stone, blackened and pitted with age, piled one upon another and left to stand since the time of the Crusades. Some ancient tomb, perhaps? But it has been disturbed. The cold, stone floor beneath his bare feet, worn smooth by centuries of footsteps, has been recently swept clean. And these chains are no work of the age of iron. Heavy, glossy, bright. Some modern alloy forged by machine and able to withstand his preternatural strength.
His gaze follows the links to pulleys, attached to eyebolts drilled deep into the stone. Then to where they disappear through incongruously clean, geometric holes in the hoary masonry, recently cut and leading…he does not know where. To whatever device is employed to keep them taut against the resistance of his arms and legs. This place was prepared by meticulous and careful hands. Prepared just for him.
His eyes drift to the preparer. Pale blonde hair gleaming gold in the candle light. Slouched languidly in a pristine white suit and a high-backed mahogany chair—almost a throne, really—gazing at him intently from eyes so blue they appear lit from within. Gabriel lowers his head to look down at himself. He is standing chained, legs wide apart, arms spread, like da Vinci’s Vitruvian man. Naked and exposed to his captor. He raises his eyes again, pupils glowing with red hellfire, and glares through the strands of long, black hair that have fallen over his face.
“So pretty when you’re angry,” the blonde says, with a husky laugh. “Even prettier when you’re suffering.”
His flawlessly manicured hand reaches out and touches something on the arm of the chair. A button, maybe? There is a faint whirr, and the chains drag and scrape in the holes as they tighten, forcing Gabriel to shift his bare feet as his legs are pulled further apart, stretching his arms till the sockets of his shoulders burn with the strain. The manacles begin to cut into his wrists and ankles as he struggles to hold himself together. He grits his teeth and prepares for the sickening pop and tear of his shoulders dislocating. A bare second before this happens, the blonde taps the button again. The chains go still, but the tension does not ease.
“Jack,” Gabriel snarls, through clenched teeth. “What are you doing!”
“Stopping the device before it tears you apart,” Jack replies innocently. “I like you in one piece.”
“Why am I here? What is this place?”
“A dungeon. Don’t you like it?” Jack pretends to pout. “I had it made just for you, Gabriel. Or rather…for me.”
He rises gracefully from his chair and begins to light other candles as he speaks. Little yellow flames dancing atop pillars of white wax. So goddamned dramatic.
“You see,” Jack is saying. “I needed a place where I could make you scream as much as I want, without it becoming a matter of curiosity for enterprising law enforcement officials. You know how annoyingly vigilant the Police Nationale can be these days. Then there was the issue of your strength, so solid masonry was a must, and keeping out the sun, since I mean to have you for multiple days. Most of all, aesthetic. I mean, I’m not just going to torture you in any old hovel. It had to be…special. So, I had my property agents perform a search based on specific criteria, and voilà. This place fit the bill. It’s a catacombs beneath a twelfth century monastery. Thoroughly cleaned and rid of all the dusty old bones of monks, of course. Wouldn’t want to spoil the mood with the skulls of holy men gaping at us.” He turns to Gabriel and raises his blonde eyebrows. “Unless you’d be into that sort of thing. I could get a few back, if you’d like.”
“You bought a monastery,” Gabriel growls. “You bought a monastery and had a catacombs renovated just to torture me.”
“Yes. You’re welcome.”
“How—why? How can you—”
“I know what you’re thinking,” Jack interrupts. “But put it out of your mind. Money is no object, where you are concerned, my darling.”
“That is not what I was thinking, Jack.”
“Let me guess,” Jack says, stepping close to him. He places his index finger on Gabriel’s sternum, between his pectoral muscles, and purrs into his ear. “You were thinking…what am I going to do to you?”
Gabriel shudders as Jack’s finger draws a slow line downward, bisecting his torso and ending at his pubic hair. He curses the hot blood pulsing into his cock, making it swell and stiffen without even being touched. He wishes he hadn’t fed so recently. He wouldn’t have, he tells himself, had he known Jack would choose this moment to appear with some elaborate game into which Gabriel will be entrapped until Jack tires of it.
“You were thinking that,” Jack says delightedly, looking down at Gabriel’s thick, heavy shaft, now standing erect between them. He allows his fingertips ghost over it, then draws them away. “But you’ll have to be patient, I’m afraid. I mean to enjoy myself thoroughly before I let you have your…release.”
Gabriel lunges at Jack with a snarl, snapping his razor-sharp teeth, which miss Jack’s throat by a fraction of a centimeter. Jack steps deftly out of reach, still smiling serenely.
“I told you to be patient, my love,” he chides gently. “Now you’ve earned a consequence.”
Gabriel grinds his teeth and glares after him as he steps away toward the other side of the room. He knows better than to struggle with the chains any further, though. It’ll be no use, anyway. He’s seen Jack in this mood before, many times, and it is a treacherous one. Perhaps it’s better that he fed recently, after all. He will need his strength.
Jack slips off his white suit jacket and hangs it neatly over the back of the chair. So he’s undressing. That means he is planning on making a mess. He sits and removes his shoes, which he tucks beneath the chair, then rises again and removes his crimson button down shirt and his white pants, hanging all meticulously over the chair, so as not to wrinkle or soil them. Gabriel’s eyes slide hungrily over Jack’s lithe, muscular, golden-tanned body in his low-slung, black bikini briefs. If he is not perfect, he is as close to perfection as a human being has come.
Jack stoops to remove something from a black leather bag on the floor beside the chair, then turns back to Gabriel. He is holding a small, wooden-handled whip or flogger of some kind.
Gabriel laughs mirthlessly. “Cat o’ nine, Jack? Really? Not much of a consequence.”
“Ah, no,” Jack smiles. “It certainly wouldn’t be, for you. But this is not a cat o’ nine tails. It’s a replica of a Roman flagrum. You see? Three thongs, not nine. These metal beads act as weights, and above them—well, sheep’s bones would have been more accurate, but I shudder—are ceramic ‘teeth’. This is a scourging whip, Gabriel. Not a plaything. I am going to make you bleed.”
What a monster lives inside that angelic, golden-haired boy. Gabriel’s lips almost twitch up in a smile, but he catches himself.
“I’ve bled before,” he growls. “Get on with it.”
“Glad to see you so eager,” Jack says, crossing to stand behind him. Gabriel feels a warm palm sliding down his back, and hears Jack sigh softly. “Pity to cut up this glorious hide of yours, but we suffer for our art. Or—you suffer for my art. Let’s see if you can take ten lashes.”
Gabriel hears the scrape of Jack’s foot as he steps back, then there is a breathless pause. He chokes down a groan as the first white-hot lash is seared into the skin below his shoulder blade. He feels his skin open as the ceramic teeth slice through it, followed by the warm stream of blood trickling down his back. The wound stings and throbs with heat.
“Beautiful,” Jack says breathlessly. “Absolutely beautiful.”
Gabriel grits his teeth for the second blow, still managing to suppress any vocal response. He endures valiantly through the fifth, arching and straining against his chains. With the sixth, Jack strikes over an open slash. Gabriel gives a hoarse cry of pain and his knees buckle as the whip’s teeth cut through into sublayers of his skin, nearing the muscle tissue. He manages to pull himself back onto his feet before his shoulders give out.
Thus encouraged, Jack lashes him with increasing energy, panting with exertion, blood spattering his face and chest, and the floor beneath Gabriel’s feet. Gabriel groans through his teeth, nearly foaming at the mouth. Flinching and jerking with each tearing stroke. Jack deals a last, powerful lash across his lower back, then drops the whip to the floor with a clattering echo.
There is a soft rustle and Gabriel sees Jack’s black underwear drop onto the floor beside the whip. He cries out again as Jack’s hand clamps onto his shoulder, his thumb digging into a rapidly closing slash. He hears Jack gasping down wet, panting breaths as he wrings his cock feverishly.
“Fuck—ah!” Jack chokes out, gripping him tightly. “Gabriel, fuck!”
Gabriel feels warm bursts of fluid spattering his ass and lower back, to mingle with the sticky blood that is drying on his skin. Jack lets his searing hot body fall against Gabriel’s bloody back and wraps his arms around him. Gabriel can feel his heart beating wildly in his fragile, mortal chest. Smell the warm blood flowing just beneath his silky skin. The thirst washes over him in a sudden wave, making him dizzy, drunk with lust for this human’s blood. This is a much greater torment than any Jack could dream up with his whips and manacles and racking chains.
“Please,” he finds himself saying hoarsely. “Please, Jack.”
He feels a warm mouth pressed to his cold skin, kissing the wounds even as they fade and vanish.
“Not yet, my love,” Jack murmurs. “I want you hungry.”
Incensed with frustrated desire, Gabriel growls and twists, trying to buck Jack off of him. Jack laughs and lets go, stepping around to stand before him. His naked body, flushed with heat and spattered with crimson is too much for Gabriel to withstand. He snarls and snaps like a wild animal, thrashing his long, black hair, hurling his weight recklessly against the chains, heedless of the burning ache in his shoulder sockets. It is nothing compared to the raw, piercing pain of the thirst.
Jack is standing just barely out of reach. So close he can almost taste him. But it’s no use. He is caught helplessly in this steel web. He can barely move his arms. He can’t even lift his feet enough to bend a knee. Jack demonstrates the utter impotence of Gabriel’s position by kneeling casually before him to retrieve his whip and underwear.
Before he stands, almost as an afterthought, he hefts Gabriel’s balls in the palm of his hand and takes his cock in his hot, wet mouth. Gabriel shudders and gives a low moan. This won’t satisfy the bloodlust, but it will at least palliate it temporarily. His eyes flutter shut as Jack sucks him urgently, blonde head bobbing, warm hand massaging his tight, aching sack. His hips twitch and his legs begin to shake as he hurtles toward his peak. He should have known better. Abruptly, Jack pulls off with a slick pop and stands, leaving Gabriel on the razor's edge of climax, his rigid cock wet and cold and throbbing for release.
“Jack, god damn it!” Gabriel roars, thrashing uselessly against the chains. “What the fuck!”
“Gabriel, it’s not torture if you get to come whenever you feel like it,” Jack says patiently. “That’s just rough sex. I’ve had plenty of that and it frankly bores me. You are too special to waste like that. I want to savor you.”
“When I get free,” Gabriel rasps. “I am going to rip out your throat.”
“You’re not going to get free, my darling,” Jack says, pulling on his black underwear. “Now, I have to run. I need to shower and dress for a dinner engagement. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Gabriel watches, stunned speechless as Jack dresses himself, turns to blow him a kiss, then steps through a dark archway and disappears. He listens to Jack’s footsteps echoing down what must be long hallway, then to the heavy creak and thunderous boom of a door being opened and shut. Rage and the pain of thwarted release battle for dominance in his mind, but as the hours pass, they are both gradually subsumed by a more powerful drive: the hunger.
He hasn’t fed in close to forty-eight hours now, which would not be so dire under normal circumstances. He didn’t replace the blood he lost to Jack’s scourge, however, and the scent of a warm, naked human in such close proximity for so long has worked into him and triggered every predatory urge in his animal brain. His burnished skin is beginning to take on that pale, moon-silver cast of blood deprivation. When the candles sputter out at last, he can see the faint, red glow from his pupils casting light where he turns his eyes. Not enough for human eyes to detect, but as good as a flashlight beam for his keen demon’s senses.
He spends the first eight hours or so trying to devise a way out of this trap, but since none of his solutions leave him with all his limbs intact, he gives that up and whiles away the dark, silent hours in devising the most excruciating and protracted methods by which he will end this presumptuous mortal’s pathetically short life. Jack isn’t going to destroy him, so unless he intends to keep him in chains forever, he has to let him go some time. And then…well, he will find his caged pet not so docile as he has been in the past.
He has no idea how many hours or days have passed, but some indeterminate eons of the psyche later, as he is eviscerating a fully aware and screaming Jack in his mind for the thousandth time, he hears the creak and boom of whatever door offers entry to this place. An electronic light switches on this time, temporarily blinding him and making him cry out surprised irritation.
When his eyes adjust to the light, Jack is standing there smiling beatifically in a navy blue suit and lilac shirt, sipping a goddamned cup of coffee. Gabriel’s rage and indignation give way to his predatory nature. He doesn’t thrash or struggle or curse. He cocks his hip to one side and gazes wantonly at his captor, from beneath his long, black eyelashes. He is aware that he grows more beautiful an alluring with blood starvation. A predator’s adaptation, like a flower emitting a sweet scent that attracts bees. The usual dull-red glow of his pupils must be nearly gold now. His skin is luminescent, and his high cheekbones attractively hollow, like a fashion model from the era of heroin-chic.
“Hey there, Jackie,” he purrs, rolling his tongue lasciviously over his full lips. “You look good enough to eat.”
“You’re very charming this morning,” Jack replies cheerfully. “You must be getting hungry.”
“Hungry for you,” Gabriel croons. “I want you so bad, baby, you have no idea what you’re doing to me.”
“Yes I do,” Jack chirps, setting down his white paper cup on the arm of that offensively baroque chair. “I left you rock-hard and begging for it last night for a reason. I told you, I want you hungry.”
“I’m so fucking hungry, Jackie. Just give me one little taste, please.”
“I’ll give you more than a taste. But you’ll have to be a very good boy and wait patiently. Can you be a good boy for me?”
“So good, mi sol.” Gabriel’s purr is almost a growl now. His eyes smolder and his muscles flex as he tugs against the heavy chains. “Cariño, come to me. Te quiero.”
Jack’s blue eyes go a little hazy and he takes a few faltering steps toward him. Gabriel’s thrall isn’t at its most potent yet, but it seems as if it’s beginning to work. He tries harder. Fixes Jack’s sky-blue eyes with his and sends out his silent siren call. Jack takes another step. He’s so close now. Just out of reach. One more step and his luscious throat will be in range of Gabriel’s bite. Jack smiles drunkenly and stands there, swaying on the brink.
“I can feel it,” he murmurs. “I can feel you in my mind. It feels…so good…to let you in.”
“Sí, mi sol,” Gabriel says softly. “Come to me.”
“Gabriel, I’m sorry…but it won’t work.” Jack rolls up his left sleeve and lifts his wrist to show Gabriel a circle of crimson symbols etched deep into the delicate skin. “Blood rune. I’m immune to your thrall, my love.”
Gabriel roars and thrashes like an enraged beast, uttering a torrent of profanity in every language he knows. Jack smiles tranquilly and steps away to the chair, carefully undressing himself as he’d done before. From the leather bag, he draws out something that looks like a fat roll of black fabric. He carries this over to a little table near Gabriel and unrolls it. Inside, there is a set of ten identical knives, small, but cruel and bitterly sharp, like ornate steel thorns. Gabriel’s irate vocalizations have ceased, and he glares at Jack, chest heaving and nostrils flaring, like a bull before the matador.
“Now, my love,” Jack says, drawing out a knife and holding it up, so the light plays along its gleaming blade. “I want you hungry, and I like to watch you suffer. So I am going to bleed you. When you’re too weak to fight me, you’ll have your reward.”
“Stick those knives in me, and I’ll feed you your own tongue before I gut you,” Gabriel snarls.
“Gabriel, honestly,” Jack says, putting his hands on his hips. “I went to a lot of trouble to do all this for you. I thought you’d appreciate it more.”
The stretched thread of Gabriel’s patience finally snaps.
“I do appreciate it, Jack!” he nearly shouts. “You don’t enjoy yourself unless I fight you, so I indulge you, but this is too much. You’ve gone too far, kidnapping me and leaving chained up like an animal. What do you want from me!”
“Pain,” Jack says flatly. “You know I need to inflict pain like other people need to breathe. I’m as much a monster as you are. Maybe more. I need this, Gabriel, and I couldn’t get it without preying on innocent humans. Not until you came along. For six years, you have kept me alive. Kept me sane. Kept me from doing the things that torment my soul to madness. You are my temple, my sin, my salvation, all in one.”
“I can’t,” Gabriel says hoarsely. “I can’t be all those things for you. I can’t do it anymore. You’ve gone off the rails, Jack. You’re scaring me, and I’m a literal monster.”
Jack lowers his eyelashes over his blue eyes. “But, when we were at that BDSM club in Milan, I said one day I’d abduct you and lock you in my own dungeon, and you said I was welcome to try.”
“I said you were—fuck me, I did say that. But I didn’t think you were being serious! I didn’t even think it was possible. Speaking of which, how did you get me here? How did you knock me out? Why can’t I remember?”
Jack spreads his hands with a theatrical flourish. “Magic.”
Gabriel rolls his eyes. “Magic isn’t real, Jack.”
“Said the vampire,” Jack retorts. “Magic is real, it’s just very rare and expensive. You don’t want to know what it took to find a blood witch in this day and age. And the cost of preparing the ritual to incapacitate you. It was all worth it for you, but it was…exorbitant.”
“Why? Why go to such extreme lengths, when you could have just called me?”
“I suppose I’m a slave to spectacle,” Jack says, smiling wistfully. “Do this for me, one last time, Gabriel. That’s all I am asking.”
“It doesn’t have to be the last time, it just has to stop being so fucking batshit insane!”
Jack sighs. “Will you do this with me, or not?”
“Are you going to kill me?”
“Of course not!” Jack says, looking wounded. “How could you even…well, I suppose the chains and knives send a mixed signal, but I really only want to torture you, I promise.”
Gabriel’s brow knits and he shakes his head, as if wavering between choices. Then he takes a deep breath. “Alright, do it. But you have to let me drink eventually. That’s the deal.”
“I’m aware,” Jack says, brightening again. “I always intended to let you. I just want you to really want it. It’s much more intense that way. For both of us.”
“I know it is, but it’s also a lot more dangerous that way. If you push me too far and the demon takes over, I could kill you.”
“Hence the chains,” Jack says, pointing with the knife. “Ok, let’s start where we left off. Say that thing about gutting me again.”
Gabriel laughs. “What…are you serious?”
“Yeah, it was good.”
“Really. I liked it. Come on, say it again. Sell it this time, though.”
“I was being sincere the first time,” Gabriel grumbles. He shakes himself and takes a breath, then glowers darkly. “Stick those knives in me, and I’ll feed you your own tongue before I gut you.”
“I’d like to see you try,” Jack sneers. “You’re completely at my mercy, my love. And I am going to bleed you like a sacrificial lamb.”
With that, he drives the knife into Gabriel’s chest, between the left pectoral muscle and shoulder socket. The thin, razor-sharp blade slips in smoothly, all the way to the hilt, releasing a stream of red-black blood, which runs down Gabriel’s chest and drips into the floor. Gabriel clenches his teeth and pants, but he doesn’t cry out. Jack’s blue eyes spark. He takes up another knife and plunges it into a mirrored position on Gabriel’s right side.
He steps back to gaze admiringly at the twin streams of blood rolling down the chiseled muscles of Gabriel’s chest. His cock is already hard and straining against the tight fabric of his red briefs. Gabriel can smell his arousal on him like a heady musk. His own cock swells and thickens in response. Jack takes up another knife and drives it into his left flank, below his ribcage. Gabriel gasps and cries out in pain as blood spills over his iliac crest and runs down his thick, muscular thigh.
“Good boy,” Jack purrs. “It hurts, doesn’t it.”
“Y—yes,” Gabriel stammers. “Hurts…so much—fuck! Hurt me, Jack, I wa—want you to.”
His eyes roll closed and he thrusts his hips, moaning lasciviously as Jack pushes the fourth knife slowly into his right flank. Jack runs his fingertips through the slick of blood, smearing it over Gabriel’s erect nipples, twisting and teasing them roughly. Gabriel’s head is spinning between pain, euphoria, thirst, and desire. Blood is streaming down his legs, pooling on the floor between their feet. The knives send sharp stabs through his body with the slightest twitch of his muscles. His cock is rigid and throbbing. His teeth ache to bite into Jack’s flesh and tear it open, glut himself on his sweet, warm human life, until he feels the death spasms of his heart. But he is losing so much blood. So much. His skin is pearly white and all his other senses are dimming as the thirst grows.
“Jack, fuck me,” he rasps. “Fuck me now, while I’m still here to feel it. I want to feel you inside me.”
Gabriel hears Jack stepping away and then the whirr of the mechanism. The chains holding his arms slacken just enough to allow his upper body to tilt forward. Jacks soft, bare footsteps return, but Gabriel’s head is so heavy, he can’t lift it to look at him. His eyes won’t open, anyway. He feels Jack’s hands on his ass, spreading him apart. There is a long, breathless beat.
Gabriel’s back arches and he gives a howling cry as Jack’s hot, slick cock spears his insides, impaling him to the hilt all at once. Jack takes him by the hips and thrusts again and again, setting a ruthless pace. The blades embedded in Gabriel’s flesh sear him like brands, tearing at the wounds with each thrust, as Jack pounds into him. Jack reaches around and takes hold of one of the knives. Gabriel roars with pain as he gives it a cruel twist and yanks it out. Blood gushes down his chest and the knife clatters to the floor.
One by one, Jack twists and plucks out each knife, to sound of Gabriel’s broken cries. His body is beginning to go limp, hanging supported by the chains. Jack hooks an arm around his midsection, pressing him against the searing heat of his body as he fucks him. Gabriel feels Jack’s cock swell and grow hotter till it almost burns his insides.
“Gabriel…fuck!” Jack pants. “I’m—so close. Drink now!”
He presses his wrist to Gabriel’s slack mouth. Gabriel just has the strength to sink his his sharp fangs into the silky skin. Jack’s blood explodes into his senses like a supernova, jolting him to full, electrifying awareness, pouring down his throat in a molten torrent. He clamps down and sucks greedily, swallowing it in deep draughts as Jack’s cock spasms, pumping his asshole full of hot, slippery fluid. The heat of Jack’s blood in his belly and his cock throbbing inside him drive Gabriel over the edge. His body seizes and shakes as he comes, cock pulsing and flexing, spurting his intense, aching, release all over the floor without ever being touched.
Jack gives a sharp cry and jerks his wrist roughly out of Gabriel’s mouth. “I said enough!”
“I…I didn’t hear you,” Gabriel mumbles, blinking dazedly about. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s ok,” Jack replies, a tremor audible in his ordinarily serene voice. “I owed you some blood, and you took it. No harm done.”
He pulls out carefully, holding onto Gabriel’s hips for support. Gabriel feels his come spilling out and trickling down his thighs. Jack wraps an arm around him and holds him close, stroking his long, silky hair and pressing kisses into his shoulders and the back of his neck.
Gabriel laughs soft and low in his throat. “Mmmm, that feels good. You’re so warm.”
“You’re a lot warmer than usual,” Jack says. “How are you? Still in pain?”
“Nope. I’m already healed up. Your blood is miraculous, Jackie.”
“It’s nothing special,” Jack says, pulling away hastily. “I’m glad you’re ok.”
Gabriel watches him attentively as he crosses to the chair and begins to dress. Something is wrong. Something has changed. Suddenly it strikes him with a blinding jolt. Jack’s blood is wrong. He hadn’t noticed it because Jack had primed him with the thirst and the pain and too many sensations to process at once. His blood is wrong. There is death in it. His stomach turns with agony at the thought. Not Jack. His precious, fragile, sunny-golden boy cannot be dying.
“Jack, tell me what’s wrong,” he says, keeping his voice admirably steady. “You’re acting weird, even for you.”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Jack says, tossing a careless smile over his shoulder as he pulls on his shirt. “I got shaken up because you drank a little deeper than I expected, that’s all.”
“Jack, please. Please talk to me.”
“It’s really nothing, Gabriel,” Jack laughs. “What has gotten into you?”
“I can taste it in your blood, mi sol. You’re…dying.”
“I’m not—!” Jack snaps, whirling about to face him. He catches himself and takes a breath, then begins more calmly. “I’m not dying. I’m not. They say I could live a normal life for…years.”
A tear rolls down Gabriel’s cheek and splashes the crimson streaks on his chest. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“How could I?” Jack asks, as he pulls on his jacket. “What would that look like? You’d think I was asking you to…make me like you.”
“Why not? I always meant to ask you one day, it’s just a little sooner than I’d have chosen. You don’t have to suffer and die. Let me save you.”
“I don’t want you to save me,” Jack says flatly. “I don’t want to become what you are. I’m already a monster, can you imagine what I’d be with power like yours? I deserve to suffer and I deserve to die, and I am going to play the hand fate has dealt me.”
“Jack, I love you. You are my sunshine. My warmth. My life. You can’t just die and leave me alone in this ugly, worthless world.”
“I won’t be those things if I’m one of you. I’ll be hard and cold and cruel. Crueler than I am now.”
“You’re not cruel, you’re—”
“I am cruel. You love me because I’m cruel,” Jack says, smiling sadly. “If I weren’t, you’d have killed me and forgotten me long before now.”
“No, Jack that’s not—”
“Hush. You know it’s true. I don’t want to argue about it now. I’ve made my decision and you will have to learn to accept that.”
“You can’t do this, Jack,” Gabriel says fiercely. “I won’t let you. You’re not in your right mind.”
“I am perfectly in my right mind. I thought to have you restrained before I told you, didn’t I?”
Gabriel stops for a moment, stunned by the forethought Jack put into this venture. He had known Gabriel would try to force the gift on him to save him. Does he want to die that badly? His mind rejects this. What creature would choose a protracted, undignified death over eternal youth and tremendous power.
“Jack, please,” he attempts again. “I am begging you. Please don’t leave me. Please, I love you. I love you so much. I can’t live without you.”
“You’re not alive now, my love,” Jack says, drawing a large manila envelope out of the leather bag. He sets it on the chair and turns to Gabriel. “I’m leaving something for you. You can open it after I go.”
Gabriel shakes his head. “I don’t need your money.”
“I disagree,” Jack says, arching a blonde eyebrow. “Tell me, are you still whoring bites to rich old women at Maximilien’s parties?”
“They’re not…all old.”
“That’s what I thought. You need money, and I have more than any man could spend in ten lifetimes. I’ve always paid you for your time, and this is no different.” He reaches in to his pocket and draws out a key on a silver chain, which he sets on top of the envelope in the chair. “This is the key to your restraints. One hour after I leave, the mechanism will automatically disengage and loosen the chains enough for you to reach it. There will be fresh clothes and a hot bath waiting for you upstairs. I’ve also had my staff procure you a little something to eat. One of them is a serial rapist and the other one is a corrupt investment banker who put thousands of poor people out of their homes. Try and guess which one is which! It’ll be fun.”
“Jack, please,” Gabriel says desperately. “Please, don’t go. Don’t do this.”
“I’m afraid I have to. I have a flight to catch. Don’t try to find me, because you won’t. Oh, and please don’t kill any of my staff, ok? I have grown rather attached to them.”
“Please,” Gabriel sobs. “Please, Jack. I love you.”
Jack smiles softly, taking one last, lingering look at him with those impossibly blue eyes. “I love you, too. Goodbye, Gabriel.”
Gabriel yanks impotently at the chains, tears streaming down his cheeks and wetting his thick, black goatee, as he listens to Jack’s footsteps departing briskly down the hall. The door creaks open and shuts with a tomblike finality.
Then Gabriel is alone. Chained up in a private dungeon, covered in blood and come, and weeping like a Victorian woman. Utterly defeated by a soft, golden-haired, blue-eyed infant, whose twenty-five years on this planet are a drop in Gabriel’s ocean of centuries. And yet he weeps, heartbroken and desolate, for the loss of the only living creature he has ever loved.
But Gabriel has not passed ages on this earth by being a fool. Beneath his sorrow, his mind begins to work. Ciphering through the details and working them out to a conclusion. By the time the mechanism engages, and the chains drop slack to the stone floor, he has a fully formed plan. But he must act quickly, now. The hourglass of Jack’s life has been turned, and every moment is precious.
The fiery crimson and rose of sunset are just beginning to deepen into lilac and indigo, and the first stars are twinkling in the Parisian sky. Atop a dingy-white building somewhere in the 9th arrondissement, stands a man. He is tall, handsome, bronze-skinned, and bears several deep scars on the right side of his face. These, along with his neatly trimmed goatee and moustache, and the silver-streaked black hair worn in a long braid down his back, give him something of the air of a romantic vagabond from a Victorian novel. His dress, however, is thoroughly modern. He wears heavy, black military-style boots, dark-grey jeans, which fit his muscular legs like a second skin, and a plush black pea-coat with jet buttons.
He strides to the corner of the roof and crouches beside a windowed dormer, gazing down across the rue Pierre Fontaine, upon the red-tasseled awning over the entrance of a cabaret. The neon sign casts its pink glow on the dirty sidewalk below and proclaims the name “La Nouvelle Eve.” Lights shine from the upper-story windows, but the steel gate is down and locked over the main entrance, as the cabaret has not yet opened for the evening.
He waits, watching with keen, dark eyes as a pair of antediluvian prostitutes pass by. Then something odd happens. Wisps of black vapor begin to curl out from beneath his booted feet. They grow thicker and blacker, roiling and climbing, till the man himself is entirely swallowed in a pillar of inky smoke. The pillar collapses and rolls silently down the side of the building, past windows and through fire-escape gratings, till it spills into the momentarily deserted street.
This creeping black mist whispers along the ground, a shadow among shadows, and streams in beneath the side-entrance door of the cabaret. It gathers and coalesces just inside the door, billowing up into a column, till it has once again solidified into the form of the same handsome, well-dressed man. Now corporeal, he strides briskly down the corridor, which skirts the performance hall, leading past several doors and a narrow staircase, then turns a corner to the bustling backstage area.
As he rounds the corner, a cacophony of lively voices greets his ears, and his eyes are assailed by a mayhem of jewel-toned fabrics, feathers, and sequins. Before a row of brightly-lit mirrors, dancers in cherry-red lipstick and various states of elaborate undress are chatting and pinning up their hair. Several of them notice him at once. With exclamations of indignant protest in French, they leap to their feet and advance on him, as if to bar the way. His presence hits them like a shockwave. They startle and shy back, baring their white fangs defensively. He observes them calmly, not stirring a step. Young ones. Fierce and unsophisticated and blood-hungry. He could break them all like matchsticks.
“Everyone stay calm,” he says, raising a hand, palm outward. “I’m not here to make any trouble for you.”
As he is saying this, another dancer hurries forward from between the racks of carnival-colored finery. A black-haired beauty of a much calmer disposition. To the untrained eye, she would appear just as young as the others, but to his, she is obviously the oldest and strongest. She places herself intrepidly between the interloper and her brood, arms spread as if to shield them. They huddle behind her like chicks seeking shelter in the feathers of the mother hen, watching him warily. These fledglings have likely never seen one of the elders of their race before, but all know instinctively what he is.
“What do you want with us, master?” the black-haired beauty says in English, with a musical French lilt. “Certainly my girls have done nothing to offend you. We mind our own business and keep to our territory.”
“Nothing at all, Madame…?”
“Lacroix,” she says, dipping her chin respectfully. “Amélie Lacroix.”
“Gabriel,” he replies, with a slight bow. “Madame Lacroix, I am looking for a man. I know he is here, so if you will tell me where to find him, our business will be concluded, and you and your girls can get back to dressing for the show.”
Her large, hazel eyes flicker over him from head to toe. “Is this man…a friend of yours?”
“I mean him no harm, Madame,” Gabriel says. “I am in need of his services.”
Madame Lacroix looks up into his face, studying him for a long moment. He bears her scrutiny serenely, with a patient smile.
“Very well,” she says, appearing to relax somewhat. “He is upstairs in the parlor. I will take you to him, if you wish.”
“No, Madame, that won’t be necessary. Thank you for your help.”
Gabriel gives another cordial bow to the distressed young huntresses, then heads back the way he came, till he reaches the staircase leading to the club’s upper floor. He ascends the stairs and emerges in a low-lit, red-carpeted hallway, with placards on the wall indicating “suites” to the left and “parlor” to the right. He turns right and comes to a partially-open double door at the end of the hall, where he pauses, listening. Inside, he can hear a male voice speaking in a low tone. He steps in silently and observes the scene. A young man is seated on a red velvet sofa, with his back to the door, and appears to be in the act of receiving enthusiastic oral pleasure from a red-haired cabaret dancer.
“Ah…yeah,” he is saying huskily. “Just like that, sweetheart.”
Gabriel crosses his arms and waits, with a sardonic smile playing at the corners of his lips. The dancer pulls away, as if to say something to her amour, but her eyes light on Gabriel, towering like a black monolith behind the sofa. She leaps up with a yelp and hastily backs away. Her erstwhile companion, however, doesn’t seem to be fazed in the least by her strange behavior.
“By the prickin’ of my thumbs,” he drawls languidly, dropping his head onto the back of the sofa.
He puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it, letting a stream of blue-white smoke curl up from between his lips, as Gabriel steps around to stand before him.
“Well, well, well,” he says, as his long-lashed, amber-gold eyes drift up to Gabriel’s face. “Look what the cat drug in.”
Gabriel waits silently.
“It’s ok, Sofie,” the young man calls to the petrified dancer. “He’s a friend. Why don’t you go on down and I’ll catch up with you later.”
The girl gathers up her skirts and practically runs from the room, slamming the door shut with a bang behind her. Neither of the two men appear to notice. Their eyes are locked intently on each other. Gabriel looks the young man up and down. His skin is pale and silky-smooth, and his angular cheeks and pouting lips are ruddy with recent feeding. He is wearing a plaid snap-front shirt, which hangs open, displaying his lithe, sinewy muscles. A line of dark hair leads the eye down his taut abdomen, to his exposed, still very erect cock. He winks at Gabriel and tucks it back into his underwear, but he doesn’t bother to button the fly of his jeans.
“Hello, Jesse,” Gabriel says. “I’m glad to see you’re making the most of yourself.”
“I’m doin’ just fine,” Jesse says, with an indolent toss of his shaggy, chestnut-brown hair. “You sure give Sofie a scare, though. You oughta call ‘fore you bust into a place and raise a hubbub. I coulda met you somewhere else.”
“You could have, but you wouldn’t have. I needed to find you quickly, not play cat and mouse with you for days.”
“What d’you need as couldn’t wait a couple days?” Jesse says, exhaling another plume of smoke. He drops a hand and palms languorously over his cock through the tight, crimson fabric of his briefs. “You get to missin’ me that bad?”
“I need to find someone,” Gabriel says, ignoring the gesture. “It’s urgent.”
Jesse arches an eyebrow. “How urgent we talkin’?”
“Ten thousand urgent.”
“I see. That’s mighty urgent. What’d he do that’s worth ten thousand? Kill your dog?”
“All that matters is that I need to find him,” Gabriel says impatiently. “You’re the best tracker in the world, so I came to you. Do you want the job or not?”
Jesse takes a slow drag from his cigarette, attempting to conceal his pleasure at the compliment. “Depends on what we lookin’ for. Vamp? Wolf?”
“Huh,” Jesse says, scratching his chin. “Well, now…human’s harder. There’s lots more of ‘em and they ain’t gonna be on no one’s radar that I know of.”
Gabriel crosses his arms. “How much harder?”
“I reckon…twenty thousand oughta smooth out the difficulties.”
Jesse squints. “Seventeen.”
“Fifteen,” Gabriel says firmly. “Final offer.”
“Plus travel expenses.”
“Fine, whatever you need.”
“And I want half up front.”
“Deal, but we have to get started now.”
“Hold up a second, jefe. There’s one little hitch in our giddyup,” Jesse says, as he stubs out his cigarette in a brass ash tray. He reclines and stretches his arms out along the back of the sofa, looking up at Gabriel from beneath his sooty eyelashes. “Sofie got me all worked up, and then you come in and interfered with my fun. I’m afraid I just can’t concentrate with a hard-on chafin’ all in my drawers and distractin’ me.”
Gabriel glowers at him. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Serious as death and taxes. If you want me to get to work, maybe you can think of a way to…help me out.”
“Hijo de puta,” Gabriel mutters. “You’re a pain in my fucking ass, you know that?”
“Yeah, but that’s why you like me,” Jesse says, with a wicked grin that bares his sharp, white fangs.
Gabriel continues to grumble under his breath in Spanish as he unbuttons his pea coat and tosses it onto a chair. Jesse rakes his amber-gold eyes over Gabriel’s muscular torso and trim waist, accentuated beautifully by a tight, black v-neck shirt. Gabriel steps between his legs, nudging them further apart with his boot, then lowers himself to his knees and hooks a finger into the waistband of Jesse’s red briefs.
He pauses and looks up at him. “Don’t touch me or I’ll stop.”
“Yessir,” Jesse says hastily, lifting his ass and tucking his hands beneath it to sit on them.
Gabriel laughs out loud at this gesture, which makes Jesse blush to the ears. Gabriel reaches out reflexively and strokes his cheek, gazing into his absurd, beautiful face. There had been a reason he turned this boy, all those years ago. The memory of their subsequent separation sends a stab of pain through his gut. He draws his hand away and returns to business, tugging Jesse’s briefs down around his upper thighs. His cock is rigid and veiny, and the thick shaft glints with a row of steel barbells. There is a ring through the ruddy, swollen head. That’s new.
Gabriel takes it in his hand and draws a long, slow stripe with his tongue, up the shaft and over the ladder of barbells to the head, toying with the ring as he circles the leaking slit. Jesse moans and bites his lip as Gabriel swallows him, taking his cock in a slow, wet slide, all the way to the back of his throat. Jesse’s chest begins to rise and fall with rapid, panting breaths as Gabriel’s tongue works over him, swallowing around his aching shaft, teasing and milking him till he’s trembling all over. He pushes his back against the sofa, straining against the urge to take hold of that lush mane of black and silver hair.
“Fuckin—please,” he whines desperately. “Please…I can’t take no more, please!”
Gabriel pulls back slowly, letting the bitterly sharp point of a fang just graze the head.
“Come in my mouth,” he rasps, then he swallows Jesse again, stroking and sucking him urgently, lips wrapped tightly around him, so the barbells pop through with each pass, making Jesse gasp and buck his hips.
“Ah…ah—fuck!” Jesse sputters. “Bite me now!”
Gabriel clamps down with his fangs, hooking them into the shaft of Jesse’s cock. Jesse wails and curls forward. Despite his earlier warning, he throws his arms around Gabriel’s head and clings to him. His cock jerks involuntarily against the two deeply-embedded razorblades, making blood gush from the bite as he comes, spurting into the back of Gabriel’s throat. Gabriel keeps sucking him, eagerly swallowing the hot, salty-sweet cocktail until Jesse’s arms go slack, and he collapses against the back of the sofa.
Gabriel carefully disengages his fangs and draws away. He sits on the sofa and pulls the dazed boy into his arms, guiding his head and craning his neck to bare his throat. He hisses as Jesse’s fangs sink in, then shudders with pleasure at the intense, intimate connection of the bite. As he regains his strength, Jesse drags himself into Gabriel’s lap and buries his hands in his long, silky hair. Gabriel wraps him up in his arms, breathing deeply, feeling their hearts synchronize as the demon blood flows from him back into Jesse, far more potent than what he took just a moment ago.
The blood of the elders works like a strong drug on the younger ones, creating a sensation of intense euphoria while they feed, and afterward, temporarily increased strength and heightened senses. Eventually, with long exposure, this transfer forges a strong bond. If an elder feeds a young one on their blood often enough, as Gabriel had done with Jesse, they are able to sense each other’s presence over great distances and will find themselves frequently drawn back together, often as if by chance, regardless of how far or for how long they have strayed apart.
He has never believed it, but he has heard rumors that if a young one is fed exclusively through the blood of an elder, the two will develop a far stronger connection, being able to hear each other’s inner voices and see through one another’s eyes. This is ancient absurdity and superstition, of course. Like…blood runes and witches, for example. Interesting. He is still gazing into the middle distance, ruminating on this, when he realizes Jesse has pulled away and is looking searchingly into his face.
“What?” he asks. “Was I doing that thing?”
“Yeah, you fucked off into Gabriel-ville for like, five straight minutes. You ok?”
“I’m fine, I’ve just…had a lot on my mind. You get enough to drink?”
“Yup, and I’m rarin’ to go,” Jesse says, sitting up and rubbing his hands together eagerly. “Firin’ on all eight cylinders. What you got for me?”
Gabriel gets up and goes to his pea coat, where he draws out a bloodstained white washcloth in a clear plastic bag, and a thick roll of black fabric. He hands the bag to Jesse.
“This him?” Jesse asks.
“Yeah. Blood and semen. You should be able to get a good scent from that.”
“I’ll say,” Jesse smirks. “I ain’t gonna ask how you got it.”
He opens the bag and breathes deeply, letting the scent flow into him. He closes it and takes a few breaths, then repeats this process, eyes going hazy and unfocused for a long moment. Then he comes back to himself, seals up the bag, and looks at Gabriel with an odd expression.
“What is it?” Gabriel asks. “Did you get his scent?”
“I did. Listen, jefe…I hate to talk myself out of a job, but you ain’t gotta track this poor bastard down to kill him. He’s gonna be deader’n a doornail in a year. Maybe six months.”
Gabriel turns his head away. “I knew. I wasn’t aware that it was so serious, but I knew. He told me he had…more time. It doesn’t matter. That’s why I need to find him. I don’t want to kill him, I want to save him. Look, these belong to him. I don’t know how much use they’ll be, but I don’t have anything else of his to give you.”
He hands Jesse the black fabric roll containing Jack’s knives, which he had left scattered about on the blood-soaked stone floor, and which Gabriel had carefully collected and cleaned, and restored to their case.
“These’ll do fine,” Jesse says, drawing one from the roll. “Holy shit, they’re hand made. Looks like your dead man had ‘em in mind for somethin’ special.”
“Jack,” Gabriel says. “His name is Jack Morrison. He’s…a rich kid I met at one of Maximilien’s parties.”
Jesse tosses the knife in the air and catches it. “Balanced real nice, too. Jack Morrison…blonde fella? Real good lookin’? Except he kinda got crazy-eyes?”
Gabriel frowns. “Crazy eyes? I don’t think I’d say that.”
“I mean like…ok, y’know how most folks that know what we are look at us a certain way? Like we’re tigers or somethin’ and they’re scared we might haul off and attack ‘em? If this is the fella I’m thinkin’ of, he wadn’t like that at all. He’d set there and look right into you with them sharp-ass blue eyes, like he was takin’ your skin off and seein’ what was inside. I never seen a human look at vamps like they was the food, but he done it.”
“Yeah, that sounds like him,” Gabriel says, sitting down beside Jesse. “You met him?”
“Naw, I seen him a couple times around the scene. Seemed kinda stuck up to me. He never did nothin’ but watch. Like he was only there to remind himself how much better he was than everyone else.”
“That sounds like Jack, too. So, where do we start?”
“Well, since he’s in the lifestyle, I’d say we start with Maximilien and work our way out from there. Any chance he’s been in contact with our kind outside the scene?”
“There was something he said. But it’s going to sound crazy.”
“You payin’ me fifteen grand to track down a human with nothin’ to go on but some spunk and a set of custom-made throwin’ knives. Try me.”
“He…knocked me out, somehow. Incapacitated me to bring me to his dungeon and—”
“Dungeon? Holy shit, what kinda freak is he?”
“I think other humans would classify him as a major one. Anyway, he said in order to knock me out, he had to have a ritual prepared by a blood witch.”
“Blood witch,” Jesse says, with a frown. “You sure that’s what he said?”
“Yeah, but that’s all fairytale bullshit. Right?”
Jesse throws his hands up in exasperation. “Gabriel, you are a literal fuckin’ vampire. I ain’t never seen a man so bullheaded about bein’ a skeptic. Blood witches is real. Or, they was, a long-ass time ago. There ain’t no more who comes from the old clan lines, except one. And I wouldn’t go fuckin’ around with her, nohow.”
“She’s about as ornery as a old mule and twice as like to kick your dick off. Plus…you know. She can do magic spells and shit on vamps.”
“Well, I doubt Jack would’ve been too inclined to tell his plans to someone he hired for one of his torture games, anyway. We’ll probably have more luck with Maximilien. Speaking of which, why are we even talking about doing all this gumshoe shit? I could’ve done that myself. I’m paying you because I want you to track him. Like a tracker.”
“Half what I do is plain old detective work, jefe. The scent don’t do me no good till I can find where the trail starts. Same as when I was human and you hired me to guide you out huntin’.”
Gabriel smiles. “I didn’t believe you could do what you said for a second, you know. Scrappy little shit in a cowboy hat, claiming the Comanche taught him to hunt and track game. You always surprised me, Jesse.”
“If we bein’ fair, you surprised the shit outta me, too. I never seen a fella take down a deer on foot and barehanded.”
“Probably surprised the shit out of the deer even more,” Gabriel laughs. “What was it you said? I came back carrying it on my shoulders, covered in its blood. You fucking stood there looking at me, then at the deer, then back at me and you said, ‘Well, I reckon that works, too. But it ain’t gonna make you a better shot.’”
“I wadn’t wrong,” Jesse grins. “You never learned to aim proper.”
“No, but I wasn’t really interested in learning. I just wanted to get you out in the wilderness alone so I could fuck you.”
“You coulda fucked me in town, you know.”
“I would have if I thought you could keep your fucking mouth shut. It was a good thing I didn’t, too. You wailed and carried on like I was murdering you. Remember how thin and flimsy the walls were in those old saloons? The whole town would’ve come to see what the trouble was.”
“I only hollered like that cause I never had a dick in me before and it hurt like a motherfucker. That’s on you for bein’ impatient. After that, I done it cause I liked when you’d clap your big ol’ hand over my mouth and growl about how you was gonna slit my throat if I ain’t shut up. That shit got me leakin’ like a busted pipe.”
“You always liked it rough, you little demon,” Gabriel says, smiling affectionately. “Even before I turned you.”
Jesse slides the knife back into its place in the roll and lights another cigarette. “This Jack fella, he like it rough too?”
Gabriel shakes his head. “It’s a whole different kind of rough with him. He’s a genuine sadist. The kind that actually gets sexual release from inflicting pain. I met him at one of Max’s bite nights, and he liked me. He asked for me again at the next one, and that time we fucked, too. I didn’t want him to pay me, since sex wasn’t part of the arrangement, but he insisted. He’s been paying me a ridiculous amount of money to let him torture and fuck me in various creative ways for six years.”
“Six years?” Jesse says, raising his eyebrows. “He must look young for his age, then. I thought he was a kid.”
“He is a kid. He’s only twenty-five.”
“Christ, twenty-five? Fucker got started early, huh?”
“Yeah. He was only nineteen when he started coming to Max’s parties, but he was exhibiting sadistic behavior much younger than that. Couple assaults with sharp objects on classmates during boarding school. His rich parents made those go away. In college, he cut up a few pros pretty bad and paid them off to shut them up. Then he got introduced to Maximilien by a friend of his, who had a similar penchant for the bloody…and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Gabriel plucks the cigarette from Jesse’s mouth and lies back on the sofa, drawing on it and puffing out little rings, which whirl up above his head and dissipate.
“So, tell me somethin’,” Jesse says, after a pause. “If you only tryina save this fella, why do you need me to track him down? Why not just call him or email him like normal folks?”
“He doesn’t want to be saved,” Gabriel says flatly, staring up at the ceiling. “I have to convince him otherwise.”
Jesse takes the cigarette back and rolls it between his thumb and forefinger, gazing at the glowing ember. “What if he don’t change his mind? You gonna do it anyway?”
“Alright, then. As long as we’re on the same page. But you know what’s gonna happen if you turn him against his will.”
“And you’re ok with that?”
“No,” Gabriel says, squeezing his eyes shut. “But if I have to give him up to save him, then so be it. He might never forgive me, but at least he won’t be dead.”
“Gabriel, just so you know.…I forgave you,” Jesse says quietly. “I know you think that’s why I left but it ain’t.”
Gabriel opens his eyes again and turns his head to look at him. “Why did you leave?”
Jesse shrugs. “Cause you never loved me.”
“I always loved you,” Gabriel frowns. “What are you talking about?”
“I mean you was never in love with me. I always hoped maybe you’d change, but you didn’t.”
“I’m so sorry, Jesse,” Gabriel says, his normally smooth voice cracking with emotion. “I never treated you the way you deserve.”
“Naw, you was good to me. I like bein’ what I am and I was happy enough with what we was doin’ for a long time. But after all them years, it got to weighin’ on me so heavy I couldn’t carry nothin’ else. I had to get away. Just be alone and do my own thing a while, you know? I had time to do some growin’ up and get some perspective, and…it’s better now.”
Jesse draws on his cigarette again and exhales the smoke slowly, gazing across the room and out the window. Gabriel watches him, entranced by the careless grace of his movements as he rakes his fingers through his hair, then tosses his head as it tumbles right back into his face.
“Anyhow, all’s I wanted to say is I forgave you a long time ago,” Jesse says at last. He casts a sidelong glance at Gabriel, a sly smile playing across his pouting lips. “And I ain’t in love with you like that no more, so you can cut the weepy, woe-is-me guilt shit, alright?”
Gabriel reaches out and takes his hand on the sofa between them. “Thank you, Jesse.”
“Don’t mention it, old man.”
Jesse leans over him to grind the butt out in the ash tray, then lies down with his head on his chest. Gabriel holds him tightly, pressing kisses into his scalp and breathing in his warm, smoky scent.
A few minutes pass, then Jesse looks up at him. “We can still fuck sometimes, though, right?”
“Pfft, obviously,” Gabriel says, pushing his head back down onto his chest. “I didn’t give you eternal life so I could spend eternity not fucking you.”
“And this stabby psycho you’re fixin’ to make one of us…he don’t happen to be the jealous type, does he?”
“I don’t think so,” Gabriel says, absently stroking Jesse’s unruly mop of dark-brown hair. “Jack doesn’t think the way other humans do about anything. He never seemed to care one way or another what I was doing when I wasn’t with him.”
“He didn’t care you was out doin’ mysterious vampire shit? Humans eat that shit up.”
“No. He never asked about any of that. The only thing he’s ever been curious about is my history. He’s fucking insatiable when it comes to that. He’d sit there for hours making me describe everyday mundane shit from life in the 1600s. He was always disappointed when I hadn’t met this or that famous historical person, too. I’d explain to him that I didn’t know they were going to be important back then, so I wouldn’t have known to seek them out, but he’d still pout about it.”
“Some of the young’uns do that,” Jesse says, propping his chin up on his arms on Gabriel’s chest. “They only see the past after it’s all compressed into history books, so they got no idea how big the world is and how many folks been in it, and they get dumbshit ideas about how things was. Askin’ if I knew Billy the Kid just cause I was from the wild west, too.”
“You did know Billy the Kid.”
“Yeah, but that ain’t the point,” Jesse grins. “Point is, history’s long as fuck and bigger’n anyone reckons. We all part of it all the time, only we don’t think about it.”
Gabriel grimaces. “Fuck me, you’re getting philosophical. Who’ve you been hanging out with? They’re clearly a bad influence.”
“Mostly just Madame Lacroix and the gals, and they ain't philosophical. I don’t know how she picks ‘em. They’re sweet as honey, but they ain’t got two brain cells to rub together between all ten of ‘em.”
“She has ten fledglings? Christ, I had enough trouble with just you. How the fuck does she manage them?”
“I dunno, jefe, if you wanna exchange parenting tips, you can go ask her. I just know she keeps ‘em on a short leash and they don’t step outta line.” Jesse pauses, looking troubled. “She’s been real kind to me, too. I hate to leave her, but fifteen grand is fifteen grand and I gotta support my luxurious lifestyle somehow.”
“Luxurious, huh? How old are these ratty-ass jeans?”
“They ain’t ratty, they’re vintage. Get with the times, viejo.”
“Why don’t you want to leave her? And what are you doing here, anyway? This doesn’t seem like your usual kind of place.”
“I met her through Max. She was lookin’ for an older vamp she could trust to hang around the place, and I was lookin’ for somewhere to daylight while I’m in Paris, so it worked out for both of us.”
“Why does she need an older vamp to hang around?”
“Don’t know. She’s scared of somethin’, but she won’t say nothin’ about it. If I had to guess, I’d put my money on a ex-lover lookin’ to make trouble for her, or somethin’. She seems to think whatever it is won’t be a problem for her and me together, so it can’t be a lot more’n that.”
“Jesse, if you have an agreement to stay here and look out for her, you can’t just go running off with me. That wouldn’t be a very honorable thing to do.”
“Aw gimme a little credit, will ya? I ain’t fixin’ to leave her in the lurch. I got a couple friends in town. I’ll ask ‘em to hang here for a spell and keep an eye on things. They’ll be happy to do it.”
“Good. Get a hold of them right away, though. I was hoping to leave by tomorrow night.”
“They can be here tonight, if you want to get goin’ sooner.”
“If that’s not too much of a rush for you. I’d like to get out of this building as soon as I can, regardless. I don’t want to be lurking around here freaking out all the girls and making Madame Lacroix feel like she has to entertain me. Ugh, she called me master when I spoke to her.”
“Yeah, it must be rough, folks bendin’ over backwards to please you everywhere you go.”
“They’re just scared of me,” Gabriel says bitterly. “I don’t want that kind of reverence. It reminds me of the old days, when the elders threw their weight around indiscriminately, and everyone was afraid. They slaughtered thousands of young ones for very little cause, or for nothing at all. Used their power to amass huge fortunes on the backs of human slaves. It’s repellent to me to be associated with that part of our history.”
“That why you never settled nowhere or saved no money? You didn’t want to live like one of them nobles?”
“Yes, partly. But I don’t like to be tied to possessions. I can get whatever I need or want when the need or desire arises. That’s enough for me.”
Jesse eyes him sardonically. “Pretty big talk for a fella in five-hundred dollar jeans and a tailored cashmere pea-coat.”
“I’m not an ascetic monk, I just don’t want to own half of Europe. I don’t have dress like shit to have principles.”
“Aw, don’t pout, jefe,” Jesse laughs. “I was just jokin’. I think you look real handsome.”
“I know I look fucking handsome, I’ve seen me,” Gabriel grumbles. He reaches down and ruffles Jesse’s hair with both hands, making it appear even more wild and unkempt than usual. “You know that mirror thing is a myth, right? You should try using one sometime.”
“Naw, lookin’ like a ruffian’s part of my charm. I start combin’ my hair, who knows what’s next. Ties? Khakis…?”
Gabriel grabs Jesse abruptly and pulls him into a rough kiss, sliding his hands down his back onto his ass. Jesse groans and rolls his hips, grinding against Gabriel’s cock till he pulls away, panting.
“Christ, I want to fuck you so bad right now. I’m going to get out of here before my willpower gives out.” He gets up, rolling Jesse off him onto the sofa, and picks up his coat and the knives. “Talk to Madame Lacroix and call your friends. Meet me outside Le Carmen in an hour?”
“You got it, jefe,” Jesse says. “Anything I should bring with me?”
“Yeah, your hunting gear and any clothes you have that don’t look like you’ve been doing farm work in them. I’ll see you in one hour.”
With that, Gabriel crosses to the window and slides it open. Jesse watches idly as he dissolves into a roiling column of inky-black vapor and streams out the window. Then he hops up from the sofa, eager to go and get ready. His head is full of memories of trains and steamships and hotels, bustling seaports and deserted wagon stations, and long nights under the stars in the vast wildernesses of the American southwest. He and Gabriel are going on the road together again. Whatever happens with that Jack fella, at least it won’t be boring.
**********WARNINGS WARNINGS WARNINGS*************
The Big F is used as a slur against homosexuals by a person who is not in the story, but is repeated by a character as part of his first-person account of his history.
Sexual abuse of minors by a Catholic clergyman is referenced.
A consensual sexual interaction between two people who are both underage is described very explicitly as part of a character's first-person account of his history.
A Catholic church is subjected to some activity that would be considered highly objectionable by the ecclesiastical authorities.
No historically significant art or architecture was harmed in the making of this chapter.
“What the fuck are you wearing?” Gabriel says, as Jesse approaches.
What Jesse is wearing is black. Head to toe. A long, streamlined duster with brass buttons, a fitted snap-front shirt, and skin-tight slacks over square-toed cowboy boots. He’s even got a heavy-belted side-holster slung over his narrow hips, complete with a leg strap.
He looks up innocently from the beneath the brim of his black Stetson. “Clothes that don’t look like I been buckin’ hay. Ain’t that what you said?”
“I did, Jesse, but do you have to look so much like…”
“A vampire?” Jesse says, with a wicked grin.
“Yeah. You ever hear the word ‘subtle’? We’re trying to keep a low profile, here.”
“No chance of that, you lookin’ the way you do,” Jesse shrugs. “Anyhow, no one believes in vamps. Why would me lookin’ good make a difference?”
“Because, if you walk around wearing—wait, me? These are normal, modern clothes.”
“I ain’t said anything about your clothes, jefe,” Jesse says, eyeing him up and down. “It’s your face. Folks stare at you all the time.”
Gabriel actually glances about, as if he’s expecting to find intruding eyes on him as they speak, which makes Jesse laugh and clap him on the shoulder.
“What’s wrong with my face?” he says indignantly.
“Nothin’s wrong with it. You’re a real good lookin’ man. But a tall, sharp-dressed fella like you, with them sexy scars and long-ass hair…that’s the kinda thing folks notice.”
“That’s why I’m not dressed like a gunslinger from a gothic manga,” Gabriel grumbles. “I attract enough attention all on my own.”
“That’s what I’m sayin’. Keepin’ a low profile ain’t our thing. So, we hide in plain sight. Attract attention. Act oblivious. It works better’n tryina slink around, which everyone notices.”
“Fine, but lose the gun strap till we’re out of the city. The Paris police won’t think it’s cute, and I’m not in the mood to deal with them.”
“You ain’t no fun,” Jesse pouts, unbuckling the straps and removing his holster. He stuffs it into his leather satchel and spreads out his arms. “How’s that? Now I look like a preacher in a gothic manga instead.”
Gabriel can’t help but laugh at this. “You really do. You just never stopped being a cowboy, did you.”
“Nope,” Jesse beams. “Don’t reckon I will, neither. Not if two-hundred-odd years and livin’ all over the world didn’t train it outta me.”
“I’m glad it didn’t. I like you the way you are. You get in touch with your friends?”
“Yup. On their way already. How we travelin’?”
“I chartered a flight to Venice.”
“In the hour you was gone?”
“No, I had the plane on standby already. It’s waiting at Orly.”
Jesse arches an eyebrow. “Sounds expensive. Speakin’ of which.”
Gabriel draws an envelope out of his coat pocket and hands it over. Jesse stows it in the satchel without opening it.
“It is expensive, but it’s not my money,” Gabriel says, producing a tri-folded sheet of white paper from the same pocket. “Look at that.”
Jesse takes the paper and unfolds it. He begins to scan it, then pauses and looks at Gabriel before he holds it up to read through it more carefully.
“Boy howdy,” he says, letting out a low whistle and handing back the paper. “You wadn’t kiddin’ about ridiculous. How good is that fuckin’?”
“This isn’t what he usually pays me,” Gabriel explains, as they walk briskly along. “It’s because he wasn’t planning on seeing me again. There was something else at the bank, when I went to collect the money. A will. Or—a codicil, rather. The point is that it…it names me the sole heir to his property and assets. Which are very extensive.”
“Holy shit. He must really like you.”
“He says he loves me,” Gabriel says blankly. “But I don’t know how a person could claim to love someone and leave them chained up in a dungeon with nothing but a ‘goodbye’ and ‘don’t try to find me.’ He doesn’t make sense to me. If he loves me, why would he rather die horribly than become immortal and be with me?”
“I was gonna ask you about that. How’d he keep you chained up, anyhow? You coulda just vaped outta there any time.”
“The dungeon was in a tomb beneath a twelfth century monastery. Not used by any living monks, so I could be brought there, but still consecrated ground, so my power was leashed.”
“Well, shit. He’s thorough, at least. Done his research.”
“That’s Jack. If the devil is in the details, he’s Lucifer himself. And don’t fucking say I could have ‘vaped.’ It makes me sound like a douchebag.”
“I’d let folks call it anything they want if I could do it,” Jesse says, lifting up his hands and examining them dolefully. “Why ain’t I got smoke-monster powers?”
“You’re still young. You’ll be able to do it eventually.”
“Hey, jefe, that monastery thing got me thinkin’. Maybe that’s why he thinks he’d rather die. Lots of humans got religious hangups about the whole vamp thing.”
“I know that, Jesse, I’m a fucking Catholic. I was, at least. I don’t think Jack is religious, though. I mean, he’s a sexually sadistic psychopath. And he’s gay.”
“That don’t stop a lot of folks,” Jesse shrugs. “There’s humans who go to church Sundays and then pay vamps to bite ‘em at Max’s parties. I even know some vamps who still give last rites to their dinner.”
Gabriel rolls his eyes. “That shit is so ridiculous. A vampire can’t be an ordained priest. What do they think last rites from them matters?”
“Maybe it’s more of a aesthetic thing for drama. Y’know, like a vamp in a novel.”
“Novels,” Gabriel spits. “Vampire novels are a fucking blight on society.”
“They made things more fun for us, though. People think we’re sexy now. Plus they teachin’ folks a grip of wrong shit all mixed up with what they got right till they don’t know what’s what. Makes huntin’ ‘em easier.”
Gabriel flags down a passing taxi, and the two climb in.
“Orly, s’il vous plait,” he says to the driver, then turns to Jesse. “Calling it hunting is generous. It’s more like choosing a cow from a herd inside a stockyard. They’re not wild anymore. They’ve become…domesticated.”
“Some of our kind think we’re gettin’ domesticated, too. Like lions turnin’ into housecats.”
“I know who says that, and you don’t have to remind me what he thinks. He’s been on about it since before the industrial revolution. If he had his way, our kind would be right back where we were when Constantinople was still the center of the world, and not just some shithole in Turkey.”
“Some shithole in Turkey?” Jesse laughs. “It’s still the biggest city in Europe. Fifth biggest in the world.”
Gabriel grins. “Yeah, but no one cool goes there anymore.”
“Speakin’ of gettin’ domesticated, how we gonna handle Max?”
“Depends on what kind of mood he’s in. Figuring out whether he actually knows anything useful won’t be the tricky part. If he does, he’ll be too excited to dangle it over my head and toy with me to keep it to himself. But he’ll want to make us jump through some hoops to get it, and even then he might not tell us.”
“I reckon I could work it out of him, if worse come to worst,” Jesse says musingly.
“Jesse, do not pick a fight with Maximilien. I know he seems like a prissy ponce, but he’s old and dangerous.”
Jesse leans back and crosses his arms. “A fight? I wadn’t thinkin’ that.”
Gabriel regards him suspiciously, but Jesse ignores him and continues to look straight ahead.
He narrows his eyes. “Jesse.”
“Tell me that you and Max didn’t—”
“I don’t see how it’s any of your business,” Jesse sniffs. He waits for Gabriel’s discomfiture at the idea to fully percolate, then he grins. “Naw, but he sure wants to.”
“Oh yeah?” Gabriel says, relaxing somewhat. “What makes you say that?”
“He been droppin’ little hints about it here and there. Touchin’ me when he’s talkin’ to me, introducin’ me around at parties like I’m a show pony, offerin’ to take me to his tailor to have me fitted for a suit. That kinda shit.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Oh, and one time he cornered me in the hallway and said, ‘Jesse, what do I have to do to get you to fuck me?’ I took that for a pretty fair indication of interest.”
“That dirty old man,” Gabriel snorts. “What did you say to him?”
“I told him I’d think about it.”
“You fucking little tease! Why didn’t you just tell him to fuck off?”
“I dunno, he’s a good lookin’ fella, he just ain’t my type. ‘Sides I figured I might need a favor from him sometime, so why burn the bridge?”
“Whore,” Gabriel says, smiling affectionately. “I’m so proud.”
“Thanks, jefe, I learned from the best.”
“God damned right, you did.”
Gabriel takes his young (that is, young relative to himself) companion’s chin in his hand and presses a kiss to his lips, then he sits back and lets his gaze drift out the window. They ride in silence for a while, watching the city lights flit past like the tails of a thousand technicolor comets.
“Being creatures of violence, we have a responsibility to maintain peace,” Gabriel says softly, as if to himself. “Being creatures of suffering, it is our duty to cause no more suffering than we must, and to ease it where we may.”
“Being the stronger, we should never use force when other means of persuasion will avail,” Jesse says, in the same low, liturgical cadence. “To dominate the weak by strength is oppression. Oppression breeds rebellion, which begets violence and suffering. Therefore, let us exercise compassion and forbearance, and walk as shepherds, rather than wolves, among the flock.”
Gabriel gives a soft chuckle. “You remember all this old nonsense, huh?”
“Yep. I remember pretty much everything I read. Includin’ Apologia Sanguinaria, by Saint Ignacio de Oña.”
Gabriel sighs. “Ignacio de Oña was a heretic and a madman. He lost the ‘saint’ designation when the church got a hold of his extra-canonical writings. And he was a vampire, so, obviously no sainthood.”
“It don’t surprise me the church wadn’t a fan. He had some pretty good ideas.”
“A lot of our kind disagreed with him too, so yeah, I’d say he was probably onto something,” Gabriel laughs. “As superficial and hedonistic as it seems, Max’s whole scene system is based on his philosophy. The idea that we should live in harmony with humans as much as we can without endangering our survival. That includes showing the ones we choose to trust that we’re worthy of their trust, too. That’s why the rules are so strict.”
“Seems to work. I never heard of no vamp disobeyin’ Max’s rules. Sweetest little gal in the world could walk home alone with any of the vamps at one of them shindigs and be safe as with her mama.”
“They wouldn’t dare disobey Max. They all know what happens to anyone who crosses him.”
“Oh?” Jesse says, cocking his head curiously. “You known any who did?”
“Once. Back in London in Samuel Pepys’ time. A young vamp lost control and killed his human client. Max had him stripped and nailed to the wall of his drawing room with iron spikes through his arms, legs, and torso. He let him hang there for a week before he sent word to his sire to come and fetch him. She was beside herself with terror of what Max was going to do them. He calmly explained that the boy was young and had made a mistake, but order must be maintained. Both were banned from attending his salons and asked politely to leave the city, which they did with alacrity and many expressions of gratitude and remorse. That’s why vamps under the age of one-hundred are only allowed in under the supervision of a responsible elder. Younger ones lack the self-control it takes to stop before the demon has its way.”
“And to keep their damn mouths shut. I know young’uns can’t help bein’ excited, but they always way too eager to blab shit around.”
“Not all the young ones,” Gabriel says, puffing out his chest with the air of a proud father. “You were never like that.”
“Naw, but I come into the thing with my head screwed on straight already. Bein’ a vamp don’t put sense in fella, but it don’t take it out neither. I’m pretty much the same man I was, only now I can’t go in the sun.”
“You’ll be able to do that too, eventually. I know how you loved the big blue skies and wide open spaces. I always hated myself for taking that away from you.”
“It’s a tradeoff,” Jesse says unconcernedly. “I’m real strong and I can do a buncha cool vamp shit, and I get to live a real long time. Watch the world change. ‘Sides, I can look at the blue sky in movies and photos.”
By this time, the cab is just pulling up to the airport. Gabriel directs the driver to a smaller building away from the main terminal, which handles chartered flights and private jets. He pays and thanks the man—with a whispered word of forgetfulness, should any of their conversation have been overheard—then he and Jesse disembark, bound for Venice and whatever aid Maximilien may choose to bestow upon them.
As he passes through a door in the ambulatory into the transept, Father Joseph Cleary is surprised to see a young man seated in the nave in the front pew. St. Kevin’s church practices perpetual adoration, and is thus open to the public for prayer and silent meditation whenever mass is not being said, but his parishioners rarely, if ever, take advantage of this fact. The majority are families with young children, and few even attend Wednesday evening mass, let alone visit at this late hour.
This night-time penitent appears to be in his mid-twenties, pale-blonde hair, very handsome, and extraordinarily well dressed. Everything about him radiates luxurious ease. His clothing alone places him well out of the reckoning of Father Cleary’s parishioners, who hail from the Irish working-class. He studies the young man as he draws nearer. He is troubled by something. This much is apparent on his face. A crisis of conscience, perhaps?
He is not in an attitude of prayer, so the father steps quietly over and takes a seat in the pew. Near enough to speak to him, but not intrusively so. The young man continues to gaze toward the high altar, which stands in the center of the apse, flanked by the statues of St. Michael and St. Gabriel.
“What is troubling you tonight, my son?” Father Cleary says gently.
The young man casts his blue eyes on the priest, then turns them downward. “What makes you think something is troubling me, father?”
“In my experience, young men don’t often sit alone in a church in the middle of the night unless something is troubling them.”
“I suppose not,” the young man says, smiling self-consciously.
Father Cleary returns a warm smile. “Perhaps you’d like to talk about it? I’d be happy to listen.”
The young man sighs and sits back in the pew. “Well, father…I’m dying.”
“Ah, I see,” the priest says, crossing himself and dipping his head in sympathy. “I am so sorry to hear that, my son. There is no better time to turn to God. His grace is a great comfort in such trials.”
“Oh, I’m not in need of comfort,” the young man says tranquilly. “I’ve reconciled myself to it. But there is someone who cares for me. His response to the news was much stronger than I expected and now things are complicated. He is deeply troubled by it, and I can’t get rid of this feeling like…not sadness, exactly. Anxiety? Though that isn’t quite right, either.”
“Is it perhaps, regret?” the priest offers.
“I don’t know,” the young man shrugs. “I’ve never felt regret before. What does it feel like?”
Father Cleary would have been annoyed at this, but the young man is looking at him earnestly, with no hint of sarcasm in his expression.
“You have never experienced regret?” he asks.
“No,” the young man replies. “I understand the definition, I’m not a madman or anything. But I don’t feel things like that.”
“Well, can you recall a time in the past when you felt the way you are feeling now?” the Father says, studying his face carefully. “Maybe that will help you identify it.”
The young man gazes thoughtfully across the transept toward the chancel. “Yes. When I was a child. But it is something of a long story.”
“I am happy to listen, my son. I have nowhere to be but here.”
“Thank you, father,” the young man says. He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. “When I was thirteen years old, I was being taught at home by private tutors. I’d had a little trouble at school, and this was the only way to fully supervise my education. My mother worried that I’d be lonely and desolate without other children for companions. My parents employed a cook who had a son about my age, and so my mother arranged for him to study with me after his classes each day.
He was fifteen and already in high school, but I was well ahead of him academically and intellectually. He was fascinating to me, regardless. He was tall and had brown hair and hazel eyes, and I thought he was very handsome. He smoked cigarettes behind the garden house and used swear words, and he knew all kinds of things about television shows and popular music and video games that I’d never heard of. I knew better than to try any of his rough talk around my parents, but I used the swears he taught me with relish when we’d play one of the video games he’d brought.
One day after lessons, we went up to my room to play some fighting game with a lot of scantily clad girls in it. I asked why they were dressed that way and he said because guys thought it was sexy. I asked what sexy meant. He said it’s something that makes other people want to kiss you. He asked if I’d ever kissed a girl and I said no, and that I didn’t think I’d like to. He asked if I’d like to kiss him.
I remember my face getting hot and my stomach doing flips like I was afraid, but I said yes. He kissed me and I liked it. We started kissing every chance we got. I noticed that sometimes when we were doing this, he would push his hard penis against me through our pants. It made mine swell up and ache and I asked him why. He said it was nothing to worry about, and he knew how to make it feel better.”
The young man casts a sidelong glance at Father Cleary as he speaking, but the priest’s hands are pressed together as if in prayer, and he is staring steadfastly at the floor. Thus, he does not see the ghost of a smile that flickers across the young man’s handsome features, as if he is enjoying some private joke, though his voice remains grave.
“We undid our pants and tugged each other’s penises while we kissed,” he continues. “Mine ached more and more till it did something like a sneeze, and started spitting into his hand. It felt good, but I was absolutely mortified. He laughed and said that was what was supposed to happen, so I kept tugging on his until it did the same. He called it jerking each other off. After that, we sneaked away to my room as often as we could to kiss and jerk each other off. No one ever bothered us during the afternoon, so we began to get bold and careless. We started doing it right there in the library after the tutor left.
But one day, the tutor came back to get something he’d forgotten and caught us. He made us sit there and read our bibles until my mother got home. When he told her what he’d seen, she laughed and said it was just boys playing games, and there was no harm in it. That seemed to make the tutor angry. After he left, he called my father and told him.
My father was furious. He fired the cook on the spot and sent her out of the house with orders never to allow her perverted son to speak to me again. He sat me down in the study and yelled nonsense at me till he was tired of it, while my mother got drunk, like she always did to cope with his rages. Finally, he told me if I wanted to be a faggot, I wasn’t going to do it under his roof. I asked what that meant, and he said it’s a boy who lets other boys kiss and touch him. I said I thought I’d like to be a faggot, then.
That made my mother laugh. He hit her so hard she fell down and cut her forehead on the coffee table, and he stormed upstairs without stopping to see if she was alright. I was sent directly to boarding school in Switzerland, because my father was a glutton for clichés, I suppose, and you can imagine what I got up to there. But there you have it. That is when I’ve felt something like this before. My mother was made to suffer because of something that was my fault, and I wasn’t suffering at all. It didn’t seem fair, and it made my stomach hurt and feel sick. It was much more painful then than it is now, but it’s the closest thing I can think of to the same feeling.”
The priest seems to shake himself, and clears his throat before he speaks again. “You…you think that a person who cares for you is suffering, and that it is your fault?”
“Not exactly,” the young man says thoughtfully. “It isn’t my fault that I’m dying, but it feels unfair that he’s suffering for it and I’m not.”
“My son, I have counseled many who are in your situation. It is very common for a dying man not to be as sorrowful as he thinks he should be, and to feel guilt for it, when he sees those who are close to him grieving on his account.”
“What do they usually do about it?”
“I normally advise them to bring their loved ones to a trusted clergyman for guidance and comfort.”
“I doubt my lover would be inclined to visit a clergyman, father,” the young man says, smiling ruefully. “The church hasn’t exactly been welcoming to his kind.”
“Ah, I see,” Father Cleary nods. “God’s love his boundless, my son. He looks after all who suffer, and all sins can be forgiven. Your lover should not abandon the church because of his sexuality.”
“Oh, it isn’t the gay thing,” the young man says. “He’s a vampire.”
Father Cleary blinks at him. “So…he is a person who lives a lifestyle modeled after the fictional creature?”
“No, he’s a real vampire. They can’t enter places sanctified to the service of God, so you can see how he’d have trouble visiting a clergyman.”
The father sighs wearily. “And I suppose he couldn’t get a priest to visit him, then. Since he might drink their blood.”
“Vampires can’t harm servants of God, father,” the young man laughs, looking as if he can’t believe the priest suggested such a thing. “You know that, of course. They must teach you.”
Either this young man is making some kind of elaborate joke, or he is suffering from a severe delusion. Or he is an idiot who has been deceived into really believing his lover is a vampire. The two latter possibilities are far too convoluted for Father Cleary to begin to approach, so he surmises it must be some sort of prank, which makes him irritable.
“My son, the church deals in spiritual warfare and combating the evils of Satan,” he says tartly. “They do not teach clergyman about creatures from children’s fairytales, like vampires and werewolves.”
“Funny you should mention werewolves. You know, they can’t harm true servants of God, either. But there is no such restriction on them entering sanctified places.”
The young man is smiling placidly, but there is ice in his blue eyes and something menacing is creeping into his tone. The priest rises abruptly and glares at him.
“I have heard enough of this,” he says angrily. “I do not know what you are playing at, but I will not be mocked and have my intelligence insulted by a bored, spoiled youth. Get out of the church, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
“Will he, I wonder,” the young man says musingly, “have mercy on yours?”
A subtle movement flickers in shadows at the edge of the priest’s vision. He gives a start and whips around toward the chancel. His mouth drops open and he stands frozen, unable to comprehend what he is seeing. Between the altar and the statue of St. Gabriel, there is a gigantic grey and white wolf, far too large to be of any species known to science. Its huge head is lowered, in a posture of stalking, and it is regarding him with keen, silver eyes that appear lit from within.
“Unclean spirit!” he sputters, fumbling for his rosary as he steps backward. He catches hold of it and crosses himself. “I cast you out! In nomine Patris, et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Sancte Michaël Archangele, defende—”
“Father, be still,” the young man says, rising from the pew. “The Archangel Michael can’t hear you. God has turned his back on you. You have no power to cast out this demon, so you can waste your breath trying, or you can spend your last moments in repentance. I would suggest the latter.”
The priest turns to him trembling and dismayed. “Who—who are you? What are you?”
“I am a dying man,” the young man says coldly. “You are a dead man. You have soiled your holy office. Preyed upon the young and innocent and used your position so satisfy your base lusts. Confess, father. Confess and be absolved.”
The wolf bares its fangs and emits a low growl, taking a step toward them.
“I confess!” the priest cries out. He falls to his knees and grasping the young man’s hand. “I am weak. I have sinned. Please…mercy. I beg you.”
The young man yanks his hand away. “Make your supplication to God. I can’t hold the wolf back much longer.”
Father Cleary wavers, looking frantically about the nave and apse. There is no escape. No help to be found in the statues and icons of the saints. His sins have cut him off from the divine presence and laid him bare to the ravening maw of evil. Accepting at last that his death is at hand, he clings to his rosary and bows his head. As he utters his final prayer of supplication, the wolf lopes silently across the transept and falls upon him. His cry of agony dies with merciful swiftness as its jaws close around his throat. The young man watches breathlessly, lips parted and cheeks flushed as the predator tears into its prey. A crimson pool spreads across the ornate floor, stopping just before his feet.
“Stop,” he says, at last. “Leave enough of him to be identified.”
The wolf draws away reluctantly. Its white and grey ruff is streaked with crimson, and its jaws drip blood into the pool on the floor. It turns its keen, silver eyes on the young man, alight with a predatory gleam.
“No,” he says hastily, holding up a finger. “No, not—!”
His protest is cut short as the full weight of the huge beast hits him squarely in the chest, knocking the breath from his lungs and laying him flat on his back.
“No, no, stop!” he cries out, as the bloody muzzle is pushed into his neck. “God damn it! You’re ruining my suit!”
Undeterred, the insatiable wolf swipes its slavering tongue over his face with enthusiastic affection. The young man works his hands between them and pushes it back, frowning disapprovingly. Chastened, the wolf makes a mournful warbling sound in its throat. This appears to soften its supine companion somewhat. He sighs, and his hands come up to ruffle the velvety fur behind its ears. The wolf wags its tail delightedly and nips at his chin in response.
“Such a fucking wild animal,” the young man says, stroking its muzzle. “Change. I want to kiss you.”
The wolf nuzzles him again, then it throws its massive head back and begins to seize and jerk spasmodically. The huge paws on the young man’s chest seem to split apart, claws retracting and flattening. Its plush fur fades and dissolves as its body warps and shifts grotesquely, until it has transformed into the naked body of a lithely muscular young man. His handsome face is clean-shaven, and his glossy black hair is wild and tousled, and falls about his forehead as he looks down at his companion.
“I am sorry about your suit, Jack,” he says, in meticulous, but heavily accented English. “I was frenzied from the kill.”
“I don’t care about the suit, I have hundreds,” Jack says breathlessly, sliding his palms over warm, naked skin. “I want to fuck you right now.”
“Here?” the recent wolf asks, lifting his head to peer about. “In the church?”
“You just ate most of a priest, Genji. Do you really care?”
“No,” Genji grins, flashing his white teeth and illuminating his dark-grey eyes.
Jack pulls him down into a rough kiss, licking and sucking the lingering blood from his lips as he fumbles with buttons. He manages to pull his shirt open, as Genji tugs his pants and underwear down and straddles him. He takes Jack’s rigid cock in his hand and guides it, pressing the swollen head against his tight opening. Jack’s pupils dilate as he watches the boy sink onto it, swallowing him in his slick, squeezing heat.
“Careful!” Jack gasps. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You cannot hurt me, human,” Genji laughs merrily. As if to demonstrate this, he pushes himself firmly down, taking Jack all the way to the hilt at once. “Try it. Fuck me as hard as you can.”
“That—ha! That’s a hell of a challenge,” Jack pants. “I won’t last too long that way, though.”
“Good. I must eat soon, or I will grow wild again.” Genji plants his hands on Jack’s chest and leans over him. “Now, be quiet and fuck me. You talk far too much.”
“Oh, yeah?” Jack laughs, grabbing hold of the boy’s hips.
Genji yelps as Jack gives a savage thrust. Jack bends his knees for leverage and pistons his hips, watching Genji’s gorgeous, uncircumcised dick bouncing and dripping clear strands onto his stomach. Jack takes hold of it and begins to stroke it as Genji bucks up and down to meet his thrusts. They fuck ravenously, like two animals in heat, each groan and sharp breath, and slap of flesh on flesh amplified and echoing in the cavernous chamber.
Jack can’t help but smile at the fact that he’s fucking a werewolf on the floor of a church, beside the bloody remains of its parish priest. Gabriel would be so amused. The thought of his beloved sends a deep pang shooting through his chest. He swallows the pain and forces it down, focusing his attention on the beautiful young man who is riding his dick like a champion racehorse. Beads of sweat are rolling down Genji’s smooth, tawny skin. His chiseled stomach muscles flex and tighten. Jack can feel his cock swelling and heating up in his hand.
“Good boy,” he rasps. “Come for me.”
Genji arches his back with a strangled cry as his cock pulses and flexes, spurting white streaks all over Jack’s stomach and chest. He falls forward onto Jack and covers his mouth in a sloppy kiss, as Jack fucks him through the sucking spasms. Jack gives a last, deep thrust and holds it as he comes, pumping his tight hole full of warm, slippery fluid.
They lie pressed together, panting and riding out the high, then Genji laughs and buries his face in the crook of Jack’s neck. Jack hisses as he bites down, just hard enough to bruise without breaking the skin.
“Careful,” he scolds. “I don’t want to be unpleasantly surprised when the next full moon rolls around.”
“I am careful, Jack,” Genji mumbles. “I would only want you to be one of us if you could control the transformation. I would never turn you with a bite.”
“Well, unfortunately, I wasn’t born into it,” Jack says, stroking his damp skin. “So, no dice on the wolf thing. It does look like a lot of fun, though.”
“You are a lot of fun,” Genji says, pressing a kiss to the spot he’d bitten before he pulls away. He rolls off Jack and sits beside him, languidly stretching his lean body. “How did you know? About the priest?”
“It’s a gift,” Jack says, sitting up as well. “More of a curse, really. I don’t know where it came from. I could always do it. I can’t not do it. I look at a person and all I can see are the secrets they want to hide. Their sins and weaknesses, every scrap of inner ugliness…it crawls all over them like slimy, black tentacles. When I told the priest that story about my first sexual experience, he was a mass of them. I couldn’t even see the man anymore.”
“What about us?” Genji asks. “Monsters, like me.”
“It’s different with the supernatural kind. I can see it, but it’s not so ugly unless one is particularly evil. It’s just part of your nature, woven into the fabric.” Jack smiles up at his wolf companion as he hops to his feet. “Speaking of fabric, where are your clothes?”
Genji grins. “I left my bag in the vestry. No need to ruin two suits.”
“Oh, quit rubbing it in,” Jack says, as Genji takes his hands and helps him up. “I’m fussy about my clothes, I know. I’ll call Will to pick us up while you get dressed. We need to get out of here before someone else shows up and gets involved. And you still need to eat.” He looks down at himself as he fastens his fly. “Ugh, but first, back to the hotel to shower. I’m covered in blood and sweat and come.”
“Yes, you are,” Genji says, eyeing him hungrily. “You are very sexy like this.”
He reaches for him but Jack steps nimbly back. “Stop that, you bad wolf! Go get dressed!”
Genji flashes another sharp-toothed grin as he slips away into the ambulatory. Jack makes his call, arranging to have his man pick them up several blocks from the church. Genji returns a few minutes later, wearing a snug, European-cut suit in black, with a brilliant magenta shirt, left open at the collar. Jack smiles admiringly. In human form, Genji is always impeccably dressed and highly fashionable. Nothing like the wolves people imagine, hairy and unkempt and ill-mannered.
“Hanzo sent a message while we were occupied,” he says. “He is deeply grieved to hear of your condition, and will be honored to receive you at the castle. He invites you and your attendants to stay with us there as long as you wish.”
“Thank him for me,” Jack says. “And thank you, Genji. This is very kind of you both.”
“But, Jack,” Genji says, as they are strolling out into the dark street. “Would you not rather spend this time with the one you love? Even if he is vampire scum?”
“I can’t,” Jack says, looking away toward the city lights, twinkling in the distance. “He won’t be able to let me go. He’ll force the gift on me, and I won’t become one of them.”
“Jack…I think you should consider it,” Genji says gravely. “You are my friend. You are Hanzo’s friend. We care for you very much, and you are so young to be taken from the world. As much as it pains me to think of you as one of them, it would be far better than to lose you forever.”
They stop at the corner, where the car is to retrieve them, and Jack turns and gazes thoughtfully at him.
“What is it?” Genji asks.
Jack smiles sadly. “It’s just…strange. I’m surrounded by all of these old, dangerous monsters, and I’ve never felt so safe. You hunt and kill people for food, but you all seem to want me to live so badly.”
“Perhaps it is because you remind us what it was like to be human,” Genji says softly. “When we look at you, and you look back at us without horror or revulsion, it is a good feeling. It is a relief, for once, not to be feared by a living man.”
“But I’m a monster, too.”
“No. We are old monsters, as you say, but you are not.” Genji reaches out and strokes his cheek. “You are still human, at your core. You are different from them and from us.”
Jack lays a hand on his and closes his eyes, leaning into the caress. Genji’s youthful face and buoyant manner often make Jack forget his friend’s tremendous age compared to his own. He wonders, as strong arms close protectively about him, what it is like to carry the burden of so many centuries on one’s shoulders. It must be heavy, indeed. And if Genji’s years weigh upon him, Gabriel is like Atlas, borne down by the literal weight of the world. Jack realizes suddenly, with great embarrassment, that there are tears rolling down his cheeks. He buries his face in Genji’s chest, hoping that this humiliating emotional display will pass before the car arrives. Can’t have the staff seeing him weeping like an infant. What would they think?
Gabriel and Jesse are standing in the drawing room of Maximilien’s lavish Venetian townhouse, where they were lead by a human servant, who had politely asked them to wait for the master, then departed. They have waited more than a quarter of an hour, and Gabriel has just begun to grow impatient, when the master arrives, at last. He is a tall, handsome (if somewhat too-slender) man, angular and aquiline in a classically Gallic way, with steel grey eyes and steel grey hair, not one of which is ever out of place. His velvet smoking jacket and silk cravat give him the air of a gentleman of extravagant leisure, which he certainly is.
“Gabriel, Jesse, what a lovely surprise,” he says, in his smoothly moderated French accent, with a genteel bow to each. “I did not expect to see you until the next salon.”
“Howdy, Max,” Jesse grins, tipping his hat (which he then instantly removes, being reminded by his own gesture that he is wearing it indoors).
“It’s good to see you, Maximilien,” Gabriel says, in a not entirely unfriendly tone. “How have you been?”
“Eh, you know the way,” Max shrugs. “Some things are good and others are not so good. Please, sit.”
Jesse and Gabriel take seats on a gorgeously upholstered couch, and Max sits across from them in a high-backed Edwardian chair.
“Sorry for droppin’ in on you unannounced,” Jesse says. “It’s kinda urgent.”
Max waves this away. “It is no trouble. I am always happy to receive you both. What can I do for you?”
Gabriel levels his black eyes at his host. “Jack Morrison. I need to find him.”
“Jack Morrison?” Max says, with a passable imitation of surprise. “Why ever are you looking for him?”
“Because I don’t know where he is,” Gabriel replies flatly.
“Indeed,” Max says, with a chuckle. “You are very clever, Gabi. But I am not Mr. Morrison’s keeper. He does not inform me of his whereabouts when he is not at my salons, and I do not ask. What makes you think I could be of any help?”
“Aw, come on, Max,” Jesse wheedles. “You know everyone and what they’re up to all the time. That’s why we come to you first.”
“I am flattered by your high opinion, Jesse,” Max says. “But the reason I know everyone and what they are up to, is because I can be trusted with such knowledge. What would become of my good name if I were to betray my clients’ confidences?”
“Jack is only a client of mine, Max,” Gabriel says. “He comes to your salons as your guest. You two are friends.”
Max raises a perfectly groomed eyebrow. “Ah, but friendship is an even better reason not to betray his secrets. If I knew anything regarding his whereabouts, that is. Which I do not.”
“That’s just fine, Max,” Jesse says, in a conciliatory tone. “I wouldn’t respect a fella who told secrets he ain’t got a right to. But, I’d hope a friend would want to do what he could to help a fella out, if he could do it without breakin’ faith with another friend.”
“Jesse, my darling boy, I would love to help you,” Max says, smiling almost affectionately at the young man. “But you are not a friend of Mr. Morrison.”
“Naw, I ain’t. But I was talkin’ about Gabriel. I’m tryina help him out, and I’m askin’ you to help me. He’s your friend, too, Max. He been your friend since before Jack Morrison’s great, great grandpappy was born.”
“I knew Gabriel for a long time before that, yes,” Max says, glancing at Gabriel. “But I would not say that we have been friends so much lately.”
Gabriel replies to this, but Jesse doesn’t hear what is being said. There is an odd scent in Max’s house, and it has been pricking at the back of his mind since they entered, but it has just now worked its way into his active attention. Now that he’s noticed it, he can’t ignore it, but he finds that if he tries to consciously focus on it, his head begins to throb. He pushes it from his thoughts, for the time being, and returns his attention to the conversation.
“What’s it going to take, Max?” Gabriel is saying. “I will tear apart every city in Europe if I have to, but I don’t want to do that. Tell me what you want.”
“Oh, Gabi,” Max sighs. “Why is it not enough for you that he does not wish to be found? Go and get yourself another pretty blonde. I know many. I could introduce you.”
Gabriel shakes his head. “You know it’s not like that. You know Jack is different. That’s why you treat him the way you do. I haven’t seen you befriend a human since you were called Maximilianus.”
“Yes, he is different, Gabriel,” Max says, putting odd emphasis on the name. “Perhaps, if you were not so…forgetful, you might appreciate how very different he is.”
Gabriel frowns. “What are you talking about?”
“What, indeed,” Max says, laughing mysteriously. “But that is neither here nor there. I cannot tell you where he is, because I do not know.”
“Wolf!” Jesse snarls suddenly, giving Max and Gabriel a start. He jumps to his feet, looking about and taking rapid, shallow breaths, as if he is scenting the air. “I thought I knew that smell. Been givin’ me a headache since we come in. A wolf been here. Less’n a week ago. Maybe a couple days.” He cranes his neck and breathes deeper. “Yep, just one. Powerful, though. Old.”
“What have you been doing, Max?” Gabriel says, a hard edge creeping into his voice. “Why would a wolf have been in your house?”
Max tosses his head indignantly. “I entertain who I please. And I keep the peace between the kinds by making those other than our own welcome in my house. Wolves included.”
“Wolves are animals,” Gabriel growls. “They kill indiscriminately. Women, children, innocent people.”
“Our kind do the same!” Max snaps, grey eyes glinting warningly. “All but the ones who are under my influence. Do not try your moral superiority with me, Gabriel. I do more to protect the innocent and maintain order than you do, isolating yourself and refusing the company of your own kind. We could have changed things together, but you ran away. This is how it must be now.”
Gabriel sits back on the couch, glowering darkly, but he doesn’t challenge Max’s assertion.
“Sorry about that, Max,” Jesse says. “You’re the master of your own house, and I didn’t mean no offense. Wolves get my hackles up, and I ain’t used to smellin’ one so strong like this, is all.”
“No apology is necessary, Jesse,” Max says, resuming his relaxed attitude. “I know your senses are very keen, and instinct tells you to regard them as enemies. But this wolf is no threat to us. He is a friend.”
“Is he, now,” Jesse says musingly. “Ain’t that somethin’. I never spoke to one other’n talkin shit when we was runnin’ ‘em off our turf. What are they like?”
“Ah, I could tell you many things about them,” Max smiles. “But, alas, it is almost morning, and you should get to full cover soon. You are welcome to stay here. If you have no other arrangements, that is.”
“I got nowhere else to be,” Jesse says, lowering his long eyelashes over his amber-gold eyes.
Gabriel mutters something under his breath in Spanish, and Max looks at him sharply.
“Forget about him,” Jesse practically purrs, drawing Max’s attention back to himself. “He’s just grouchy cause he ain’t gettin’ what he wants.” He steps closer, till he’s nearly standing between the older man’s knees, reaching up and tugging absently at the top snap of his shirt. “I’d be mighty obliged if you’d show me one of them rooms.”
Max’s chest visibly rises and falls as he rakes his steel-grey eyes over the beautiful, languidly graceful boy. His fingers flex and curl involuntarily, as if struggling to resist touching him.
“Jesse,” he breathes. “Do not toy with a poor old man. My heart cannot take such a strain.”
“I wouldn’t toy with you, darlin’,” Jesse says, with a positively demonic grin. “Unless you ask real nice.”
Gabriel watches this scene with a mixture of sardonic amusement and scorching jealousy, but wisely keeps his thoughts to himself. He nods curtly to Max as he rises and bows, then leads Jesse out of the drawing room. Jesse shoots him a wink over his shoulder before he closes the door behind them, leaving Gabriel alone with his thoughts for the time being.
His territorial possessiveness over his young companion evaporates as soon as they are out of sight. The predatory instinct is difficult to control in the moment, but the animal sleeps when it is not being prodded. Besides, he has other things on his mind. Namely, Jack. His heart and body ache for his sunny-golden boy, off somewhere in the wide world, fragile and vulnerable in his mortal shell, and slipping further away from him with each passing moment.
This would agitate him to action, but he is growing lethargic as the sun nears the eastern horizon, turning the deep cobalt of night to the grey-violet of pre-dawn. Being elders, he and Maximilien do not share Jesse’s need to get under full cover, but it is still an annoyance. Full daylight dulls their senses and makes them irritable, and direct exposure to the rays of the sun causes them physical pain. But not even Helios can drive out the demon that permeated their flesh so many ages ago, in such pure concentration.
Not the purest concentration, but close to it. The ancients alone carry the essence of the demon undiluted, and they are long buried and forgotten, relics of a cruel and bloody age, to whom the warlike Spartans would have seemed but tender lambs. If they ever existed at all, that is. They may have been a fabrication of the fractured mind of Ignacio de Oña. Held captive, tortured, mutilated, and in a final act of cruelty, made into the monster that had tormented him. Banished from the holy presence and forced to prey upon the children of the very God he had served so devoutly.
After years of desolate wandering, seeking redemption and finding nothing but more emptiness and misery, he had returned at last to his abandoned hermitage. Torn by shame and self-hatred, and divested of the need for sleep, he sat alone day and night, writing reams of demented words, from which grew the Apologia Sanguinaria. A defense of vampires as a part of the Creator’s design, and a moral guideline, by the following of which they might hope, however falsely, that they too, may be redeemed.
The church had canonized de Oña as a saint after his death, then revoked the canonization and declared him a heretic and a madman, when these later writings were uncovered. Unfair, perhaps, since his heretical writing had all been done well after his mortal death, but his continued posthumous existence would not have been a thing easily explained to ecclesiastical authorities who had long ago rejected the half-demon sons of Lucifer as delusions brought on by ergot poisoning and mass-hysteria. Besides, even if it could have been proven to them, it is doubtful that being a vampire would have worked much in his favor as far as restoring his sainthood.
But Ignacio de Oña has long since faded from the memory of all but a few, like Gabriel, who discovered his works—somehow, he does not recall the circumstances—and seeing the method in the madness, took the disgraced saint’s wisdom for his own polestar. Maximilien, too, who was a learned man and an ambassador before his death, prefers de Oña’s diplomatic approach for his own reasons. Peace, as he is often heard to say, is excellent for business. His smooth savoir-faire, in combination with his absolute ruthlessness, has kept him a very influential man through the centuries. One can never count on a government, but one can depend upon Maximilien, who has outlasted many.
The other surviving elders are few and scattered. Maximilien keeps in contact with them, but Gabriel does not. He has never forgiven them for their cruelty and avarice in the past, and knows that they will never abide by the tenets he and Max have adopted. If they were not forced by circumstance to hunt using stealth and subterfuge, they would return to their bloodthirsty ways. The only thing that keeps them in check now is the sheer number of humans, and the free and open communication between them, which would mobilize all the nations against their kind, if it ever came to actual war.
It would be no war, in fact. It would be a massacre. The children of men would certainly overwhelm the children of Satan with ease, and every one of their kind would be subject to brutal death. Such would be a tragedy of Sophoclean proportions, monsters though they are. They were men once, and this world belongs to them, as much as to the living. More, perhaps, since they can look ahead to no gates of pearl flung wide to receive them, nor St. Peter beckoning them home to their well-earned rest in the bosom of the almighty.
A sudden noise shakes Gabriel from his reverie. He looks up to see Jesse entering the drawing room.
“I thought you were going to spend the day in one of Max’s rooms,” he says, blinking groggily. “What happened?”
“Look outside, jefe. It’s after sunset,” Jesse drawls, collapsing onto the couch beside him. He laughs drunkenly as he lights a cigarette. “I’d be worried, only it ain’t the first time you done this.”
Gabriel glances through the open window. Sure enough, as he has sat wrapped in his thoughts, the sun has traversed its entire course across the sky, and gone down in a riot of purple and scarlet in the west. He turns to Jesse, who is letting his thick, white cigarette smoke curl up from his mouth, and staring vacantly into the middle distance. His pale skin is has taken on a pearly shimmer, and his amber irises appear to have actually ignited, shining like pools of molten gold in inky-black sclera.
“Christ,” Gabriel mutters. “How much did he give you?”
“As much as I could,” Maximilien says, as he steps into the room. He smiles at the dazed boy. “But certainly not as much as he was worth.”
In comparison to Jesse, Max looks quite a bit more human than usual. There is a healthy, almost ruddy cast to his lips and cheeks, and his steel-grey eyes are bright and clear. He has already dressed for the evening, and the color of his sleek, tailored suit mirrors his eyes and perfectly coiffed hair.
“Glad you enjoyed yourself,” Gabriel says irritably. “We’ve wasted enough time here. If you’re not going to help us, we’re leaving.”
“Ain’t wasted,” Jesse mumbles. He draws some abstract shapes in the air with his cigarette. “I can track him…see where he gone.”
Gabriel looks at him. “You can see where Jack went?”
“Naw,” Jesse says huskily. “The wolf. I got him. Got his…scent.”
“Gabriel, this is of the utmost importance, so listen carefully,” Max says, taking a seat in the high-backed chair across from them. “The wolf that was here is an ally. You must not, under any circumstances, make an enemy of him. His people are not friendly to our kind, but he and his brother are more reasonable than most. They are also extremely powerful. If you offend them, their clan may only kill you. Or it may be an act of war that will cost many, many lives.”
Gabriel stares at him. “So, I need to avoid offending this wolf. If we happen to run into him. Wonderful. What does this have to do with Jack?”
“Gabriel, sometimes I believe that you are playing at being stupid simply to infuriate me to madness,” Max says impatiently. “I trust Jesse to act judiciously, so I have given him some advice regarding wolves and how to properly handle one, should you happen upon it in your travels. I will tell you nothing else. Have you seen the news this evening?”
“I suggest you make yourself acquainted with current events. It is vulgar to be ignorant of what is occurring in the world around you.” Max rises from his chair. “Regretfully, I must bid you gentlemen goodnight. I am expected at a soirée and cannot be absent.”
Gabriel stands and bows courteously. Jesse staggers to his feet as well, but a bow seems to be somewhat beyond his ability at the moment, so he gives a clumsy nod.
“Thank you for the lovely day, Jesse,” Max says suavely, taking his hand and pressing a kiss to it. “I hope we will see each other again soon.”
“Anytime. You just gimme a call,” Jesse says, with questionable steadiness. “Bye, Max. Take care.”
“I always do,” Max smiles. “Goodbye, Gabriel. Good luck.”
With that, he departs briskly, closing the drawing room door behind him. Gabriel turns to Jesse and looks him up and down, then bursts out laughing.
“Jesus, Jesse,” he gasps through his mirth. “I have never seen you this wrecked. What did Max do to you?”
“He fuckin’…I never been fucked like that in my life, is what,” Jesse slurs. He flops back into the couch and stretches out his long legs. “Christ on a cracker. I’da known how it was gonna be, I woulda took him up on it sooner. But you know. You two used to fuck, didn’t you?”
“A long time ago. Seems like he’s improved since then,” Gabriel chuckles, sitting down beside him. “You alright?”
“Yeah, I’m good. I never had his blood and he give me a whole mess of it.” Jesse pauses to draw on his cigarette and exhale another plume of smoke. “Feels like I shot up a armful of china white.”
“It’ll wear off in a little while. Did he tell you anything?”
“Yup, but you ain’t gonna like it.”
“He says Jack’s safe and you shouldn’t be chasin’ him when he don’t want to be found. He wants me to try and talk you outta goin’ after him.”
“Not likely,” Gabriel snorts. “And what does he give a shit, anyway? What happens between Jack and me is my business.”
“That shit he said about startin’ a war and all that. He thinks you gonna piss off them wolves and get the whole clan riled up. You do that, he got no choice but to come in on your side, and he don’t want to fuck up whatever thing he got goin’ with ‘em.”
“Max is so fucking dramatic. I’m not going to start a war. And if Jack is tangled up with a bunch of wolves, he’s not safe. No matter how civil and reasonable Max thinks they are.”
“I ain’t really tryina talk you out of it,” Jesse shrugs. “I’m just tellin’ you what he told me.”
“He didn’t happen to tell you where to find these wolves, did he?”
“He told you.”
Gabriel blinks. “He told me?”
“He asked if you seen the news, right?” Jesse says, taking out his phone. He taps the screen a few times and then hands it to Gabriel. “Read that first one under top stories.”
Gabriel taps a headline that reads, “Grisly Scene at Dublin Church,” and scans through the text, murmuring bits of the passage aloud as he reads.
“…wounds consistent with a large animal attack. Hair found at the scene is said to be…” He looks up at Jesse. “This is ridiculous. There hasn’t been a wolf in Ireland since the 1700s. And even if there was, what would it be doing in he middle of Dublin?”
“Well, I reckon it wadn’t just any old wolf,” Jesse says drily.
“Which is more ridiculous, since they can’t kill holy men any more than we can.”
Jesse cocks his head to the side.“Unless the priest was dirty.”
“Why would a wolf go to the trouble of seeking out a priest, on the off-chance that he was dirty? And how would it know anyway?”
“Maybe it had someone with it. Someone who likes killin’ scumbags and got a uncanny way of sniffin’ ‘em out.”
Gabriel almost laughs. “Jesse, Jack doesn’t—he isn’t magic. And he’s not on some crusade against scumbags. He’s just a psychopath who gets off on cutting people up.”
“Is he?” Jesse asks, looking steadily into his eyes.
“Yes, Jesse,” Gabriel insists. “I’ve been seeing him for six years. I’d know if he was some kind of sexually deviant Batman.”
“You willin’ to bet his life on it?”
Gabriel shifts uneasily against the back of the couch, as the two men Jack had left him for sustenance at the monastery rise in his mind. A serial rapist and a corrupt banker who put thousands of poor out of their homes. He brushes the thought away. Jack had brought him those men because he knew about Gabriel’s personal preferences, not because of some moral code of his own. Jack is a killer and a sadist. A monster, like him. He has to be.
“Fuck me,” he sighs. “I guess we’re going to fucking Ireland.”
The moon is shining silvery-white in the clear night sky, as the massive gates of Shimada Castle swing open to admit the vehicles bearing the young master Genji and his American guest. They had flown in on a sleek, Shimada-owned Concord jet, and were met at the airport by two large, black SUVs driven by Shimada attendants. Jack had spent most of the flight sleeping, but he is still groggy and listless, much to the concern of his titanic bodyguard and personal attendant, Reinhardt Wilhelm (who Jack affectionately calls Will, and is the only member of his staff he has brought with him).
When they disembark, they are greeted with warm and hospitable courtesy by the master of the house, Genji’s older brother. Hanzo is a little older than Genji, and is just as handsome, but in a more refined, aristocratic way. His face is clean shaven as well, but he dresses in the traditional style of kimono and hakama pants, rather than the western suits Genji has adopted, and he wears his glossy, black hair long, tied back at the nape of the neck with a strip of blue silk.
Jack’s leonine, yet incongruously soft-spoken, bodyguard gently insists that he take some refreshment and bathe before he drops dead from exhaustion. The master of the house agrees, and invites Jack to meet him and Genji in the teahouse in an hour. Jack thanks them and follows his towering protector to his suite, which sits on the east side of the Seiden, and has its own private meditation garden.
Inside the spacious, Japanese-style set of rooms, Reinhardt sets down the luggage, then helps Jack undress and leads him to the shower. Jack insists rather testily that he can bathe himself, and sends the hovering man out to order tea while he accomplishes this very simple task. Reinhardt exits the bathroom reluctantly, leaving the door open. Jack can’t help but laugh at this, as he starts the steaming water.
He washes his body with a bar of soap that smells of honey and sandalwood, then shampoos his hair with some minty, aromatic shampoo. He has just rinsed away the last of the suds, when an odd thing occurs. It’s as if the world around him is a projection, and the slide has suddenly been yanked upward.
How very strange, he thinks, as his vision goes black.
He opens his eyes again, and finds he is looking up at the exposed beams of a rich, dark-wood ceiling. He is trying to determine what ceiling this is and why he should have such an absorbing interest in it, when Reinhardt’s fretful face obscures it from his view.
“Will, what are you doing?” he says irritably, swatting the man’s hand away from his forehead. “Why am I lying on the floor?”
“You are not on the floor, master Jack,” Reinhardt says, sounding apologetic and a tad frantic. “You are in bed. I left you to bathe, as you said, and just as the servant was delivering the tea, I heard a loud sound. I rushed in to find you had fallen in the shower and I carried you here.”
“Oh, I…I see,” Jack says. “Well, I suppose I’ll have to get used to this sort of thing. It’s only going to get worse.”
The old lion bows his head. “I was so frightened, master Jack. I thought you had died.”
Jack sees that there are tears starting in his old eyes (one of which is blind and bears a long scar), and immediately feels ashamed of his irritability and callousness.
“I’m sorry I was cross with you,” he says. “You were right to want to stay and help me. I’ll listen to you from now on.”
“I only want to protect you, master Jack,” Reinhardt says. “If anything happened to you, it would break my heart.”
“Will, I’m dying,” Jack says, reaching up to tug his beard affectionately, as he did when he was a child. “You know I am. You can’t protect me forever.”
“I can at least stop you falling down and splitting your skull in the bath,” Reinhardt says staunchly, straightening himself up. “How is your head?”
“It’s…it aches a bit,” Jack says. “Nothing a cup of tea won’t mend.”
“Let me get your underclothing, and then I will pour the tea,” Reinhardt says, pleased to have something useful to do. “They are still packed, but I will have them out in a moment. Ah, and there is a yukata and sandals for you there.”
Jack sits up on the dense, cushy sleeping mat and watches Reinhardt bustle about, performing his little tasks with delicate precision, despite his large, rough hands and broad, bulky, more than seven-foot-tall frame. He deposits a pair of silky grey briefs in Jack’s hands, which Jack pulls on as Reinhardt pours a glass of water. He comes back armed with the water and sees that Jack swallows the entire glassful. Satisfied that his young master is sufficiently hydrated, he goes to the low table across the room to attend to the tea.
Jack wraps the deep-indigo yukata around his fatigued body, grateful, for once, not to have to put much thought into what he is wearing. This traditional garment is so simple and easy, and he does look rather good in it. Thus attired, he seats himself on a cushion before the table.
Reinhardt sets a little ceramic cup before him and fills it with steaming, amber-brown liquid. From the breast pocket of his black suit, he produces a little silver phial, from which he carefully lets one drop of some viscous, blackish liquid fall into Jack’s cup. Jack wrinkles his nose, watching the drop swirl and roil until it has dissipated in the tea.
“Do not make that sour face, master Jack,” Reinhardt admonishes paternally. “You know you must have your medicine, or your head will ache and trouble you all night.”
Jack pouts, but he lifts the cup dutifully to his lips. He takes a slow sip, shutting his eyes and breathing deeply of the soothing vapor. By the time he has finished the tea, his headache and vague nausea have vanished like mist in the bright sun, and he feels energetic and refreshed. That witch knows her business, at least, however outrageous her fees.
Palliative care is all that can be offered to him now, by the medical or mystical arts, and since the mystical methods lack the poisonous and humiliating side-effects of the medical, the price is negligible. Jack will die with dignity, not drooling and witless, tethered by machine to a rotting mortal husk in a room that reeks of disinfectant and death, as his mother had.
Reinhardt refills his cup and places a little plate before him, containing some small, round, yellow cakes. Despite not feeling hungry, Jack takes one up and bites into it, knowing that it will allay his protector’s concerns to see him eat. The cakes turn out to be dense and buttery, and only slightly sweet, and he finds he enjoys them quite a bit.
“I feel much better now, thank you, Will,” he says brightly, after he has finished both. He hops up from his cushion. “Oh, look at the time. I’m expected in the teahouse. Do go and see that you get a proper supper and bath before bed, alright? I’ll call for you if I need you, I promise.”
“Very well, master Jack,” his doting attendant says, with a sigh. He rises and slides open the door with a dip of his head. “Enjoy your evening.”
“Oh, I intend to,” Jack grins, as he strolls out into the moonlit garden.
He passes down a wood walkway that leads through the tranquil courtyard, beneath the ever-blooming cherry blossoms, past the bath house, and toward the open, gazebo-like structure they call the tea house. It isn’t in view yet, but he knows Genji and Hanzo are already there. Genji is smoking fragrant tobacco from a long-stemmed Kiseru pipe, and the sweet aroma drifts softly along on the balmy breeze, accompanied by the sweet, haunting notes plucked from Hanzo’s yukata.
As he rounds the corner, he smiles, seeing the gleam of the lanterns reflected in their eerie wolf’s eyes, as they both turn their heads in his direction at once, having heard (or smelled) him coming. Genji jumps up and embraces him heartily as he steps in under the teahouse roof. Hanzo rises gracefully and gives him a stately bow.
“Jack, I am glad you are awake,” Genji grins. “You are usually so lazy, and I was preparing to come and toss you out of bed.”
“Don’t make fun, Genji,” Jack pretends to pout. “I can’t help that I don’t have all your puppy energy.”
Genji laughs merrily at this and Hanzo smiles serenely (which is as good as a full belly-laugh from him).
“Jack,” Hanzo says gravely, as the three seat themselves on cushions. “I am afraid I must risk offending you by the offer, but if there is any service our physicians can provide for you, I urge you to take advantage of their expertise. They are the finest in Japan.”
“Thank you, Hanzo, and I’m not offended at all,” Jack replies, bowing respectfully. “I do appreciate the offer, but there’s really nothing they can do. The concoction the witch prepared for me works very well. I’m not suffering.”
“I will not press the issue out of my own selfishness, then,” Hanzo says. “It is a comfort to hear that you do not suffer. We will see to it that your days here are easy, and filled with rest and companionship.”
“I hope not too easy,” Jack says, with a sly smile. “Or I’m afraid I’ll get dreadfully bored.”
Hanzo’s black eyes flicker over Jack’s face, then away.
“We will not allow you to become bored here,” he says tranquilly. “And should you require entertainment outside the castle, we will send our personal bodyguards with you. Though your own will not likely need much assistance.”
“Will is a perfect beast, isn’t he?” Jack laughs. “But he’s so good and kind. I’m very fortunate to have him.”
“He has been with your family for many years, has he not?” Genji puts in.
Jack nods. “Yes, he was my mother’s security man after one of my father’s rages finally put her in the hospital. She refused to divorce him—appearances, you know—but she never let him near her again. Will has been our fortress ever since.”
“He reminds me of a heroic knight in the old tales,” Genji says musingly, puffing on his pipe. “I like to imagine him in a full suit of armor, riding glorious into battle. Though, I wonder if there is any horse large enough to carry him.”
“If there is, it has probably eaten its owner into bankruptcy by now,” Jack laughs. “But I doubt he’d need a charger to be glorious in battle.”
“Indeed,” Hanzo says, with another graceful smile. “I think perhaps a horse may hinder, rather than aid him in such a venture. It eases my mind to know that you have such a man to be your shield. You place yourself in many dangerous situations.”
“Well, I’ve survived all of them,” Jack shrugs. “And I’m dying anyway, so I suppose the gods are not devoid of a sense of humor.”
Genji frowns. “I thought Catholics believed in a single god.”
“Oh, I’m not Catholic,” Jack says. “My parents were, and they raised me strictly Catholic, but I never really believed any of it.”
“But you know of the power that prevents our kind from harming their truly devout priests, and stops some even entering their sanctuaries,” Genji says. “You have seen it.”
“Well, yes, but that same rule applies to the sanctuaries and holy men of all faiths,” Jack replies. “So, logically, all of the religions could simply be varying interpretations of one universal constant.”
“But what is the constant,” Hanzo says. “That is the question.”
“Hence theology,” Jack says. “Theology done properly is like science. Descriptive and investigative. Where it fails is when its adherents begin to believe that they alone have been privy to the divine truth, and start killing everyone who sees the truth differently.”
“But theology also imposes rules for right conduct and rigorous observance,” Genji says. “That is not like science.”
Jack shakes his head. “No, no—well, that is like science actually—but you’re talking about religion. Theology is just the study of the nature of the divine. People have been doing it since Taxila and the Platonic Academy. Then religions got a hold of it and started a lot of wars over it.”
“So, you are saying that religions cannot be trusted with theology,” Hanzo smiles. “I am inclined to agree with you.”
“Exactly,” Jack laughs. “They should stick to patronizing the arts and helping the poor and needy, and leave the philosophy to the philosophers.”
“I think I would have liked to be Catholic, nonetheless,” Genji says. “Their music and art are very beautiful, and I find their sense of solemnity and ritual quite moving.”
“Yes, but the price is all the Catholic guilt. And I don’t think it quite works out, on balance.”
“Have you experienced this Catholic guilt?” Hanzo asks.
“Well, no,” Jack admits. “But I never believed I was a sinner in that way. I have felt shame and self-loathing. My inability to control my bloodlust, the suffering I have caused people who didn’t deserve it, those things are a torment to me. But that’s my own natural sense of right and wrong, not any sort of religious burden.”
“I see,” Hanzo says, gazing attentively into his face. “So, despite the unconventional nature of your morality, you are a deeply moral man.”
“I suppose…moral by default is closer. I don’t have a sense of morality by choice. I just…see the truth.”
“A gift as well as a curse, perhaps.”
Genji rises and bows. “If you will excuse me, I must eat soon. I will return later.”
“Oh, bye Genji,” Jack says. “Good luck!”
Hanzo dips his head by way of farewell, then returns his attention to Jack, as Genji trots off into the shadows beneath the sakura trees. “Forgive my discourtesy, Jack. You have not eaten, either. I will send for a servant to bring something.”
“No, please don’t,” Jack insists. “I had some little cake things with my tea. I don’t feel much like eating, anyway.”
Hanzo’s black eyes stay fixed on him a fraction of a second too long, and just a shade too intently. He’s hungry. Jack’s scent is probably affecting him strongly by now. The idea sends a cold thrill up Jack’s spine.
“Perhaps you are fatigued from your journey,” Hanzo offers. “You are welcome to use the onsen. It can be quite therapeutic for such things.”
“That would be lovely, if you don’t mind,” Jack says, not feeling the slightest bit fatigued. “Will you be joining me?”
“I will,” Hanzo says, as they get to their feet. “Unless you would prefer to relax alone for a while.”
“Not in the least.”
Hanzo bows, then gestures for Jack to precede him down the lantern-lit walk to the bathhouse. The gigantic natural mineral bath sits sunken in the center of the bamboo floor, around which benches line the walls. There are racks with fresh, folded towels outside the shower room, where the two go to rinse before entering the bath.
Jack skins out of his yukata and underwear, hanging them on a peg, and turns on the water. He’s just had a shower, but he waits until he hears Hanzo shut his off and exit before he does the same. He does like to make an entrance, after all.
When he ambles out, rubbing his blonde hair with a fluffy white towel, Hanzo is already seated in the steaming bath. The semi-opaque, mineral-rich water covers him from the sternum down, but his arms are stretched out along the side of tub, and the roaring dragon and lighting storm stand in vivid relief against the creamy skin of his pectoral muscle and arm. He maintains flawless poise, neither looking away from, nor looking excessively at Jack’s golden-tanned, finely chiseled body, naked and dripping with water from the shower.
Jack comes over to the edge of the bath and sits, smiling sheepishly as he dips his feet in. “The water is so hot. It always takes me a minute to get used to it.”
“And you turn very pink, as I recall,” Hanzo smiles. “Like a boiled prawn.”
“You’re just comparing me to food because you want to eat me,” Jack retorts, letting his legs dangle in the water.
“Perhaps I do,” Hanzo says.
Keeping his brilliant blue eyes trained on Hanzo, Jack scoots forward to the edge of the bath. He drops his head insouciantly to one side and leans back on his hands, letting his legs fall apart. His dick is half-hard already. It thickens and swells as Hanzo gazes at it, till it stands rigid and veiny against Jack’s taut abdomen. Jack shifts his weight to one hand and palms lazily up the shaft.
Hanzo’s perfect nostrils flare, and a flush rises in his pale-ivory cheeks, but he remains where he is. Jack wraps his hand around the base and strokes it slowly, pausing to circle his thumb over the leaking slit. He lifts his thumb to his mouth and touches it with the tip of his tongue.
“Mmm, I do taste good,” he says, with a wicked grin. He continues to lick and suck his thumb clean, gazing at his host.
The water around Hanzo sloshes about as he stands abruptly and crosses to Jack. He pushes Jack’s legs apart with his body and takes him by his golden hair, pressing their mouths together in a forceful kiss, probing Jack’s mouth with his tongue as if chasing his taste. When he pulls back to look into Jack’s face, his normally black irises gleam amber-brown, and Jack can see the elongated points of his eye-teeth through his parted lips.
Jack’s heart pounds with mingled fear and excitement. Hanzo is not like Genji, whose wolf and human are largely the same. His wolf is buried deeper, and is far stronger. Having drawn the predator out of the courteous and reticent nobleman is no small feat, and is certainly no safe one.
“Tell me you want it,” Hanzo says huskily. “Tell me now, because I will not be able to listen to ‘no’ after this point, no matter how you may scream it.”
“I want it,” Jack purrs. “Fuck me.”
“Show—show me your runes,” Hanzo rasps. “I will bite you, and I need to be sure you are safe.”
Jack holds out both his wrists. Hanzo inspects the freshly-cut circles of symbols, then nods. He straightens his back and breathes in sharply, letting his eyes rolls shut. He remains physically unchanged, still perfectly human to an untrained eye, but Jack sees the transformation as clear as day. He is looking at the wolf now.
When Hanzo’s eyes open again, they are brilliant amber-gold, and appear illuminated from within. Jack stares at him wide-eyed, chest heaving with shallow, panting breaths, waiting for his cue.
“Pretty,” Hanzo growls, low and deep. His perfect lips curl back in a snarl (or smile, Jack can’t tell), baring his long, white fangs. “On your face, bitch. Show me your hole.”
Jack turns over clumsily onto all fours. Strong hands close around his hips and drag him backward, so his knees rest right at the edge of the bath.
“I said on your face,” Hanzo snarls, grabbing the scruff of his neck and forcing his head down. “Spread your legs.”
Jack lowers his upper body to the bamboo floor, inching his knees further apart, till they are as wide as they can go, presenting himself to his ardent wolf. He gives a yelp as a ringing slap stings the wet skin on his ass, then Hanzo’s hands grip him with bruising force, spreading him open. Jack gasps and bucks his hips involuntarily, as a hot, wet tongue laps roughly over his exposed asshole. He moans and his eyes flutter shut as Hanzo’s tongue laves circles around the sensitive rim, alternating with teasing flicks and upward sweeps, growing more searching and ravenous, until it pushes in through the tight opening.
Jack reaches down to stroke his leaking dick, but Hanzo catches both his wrists and pins them behind his back. Jack arches his spine, whining and begging as he is tongue-fucked into an oblivion of pleasure and aching want. He can feel Hanzo’s saliva running down over his tight, heavy sack and dripping onto the floor. Abruptly, Hanzo releases his wrists. His hot hand grips Jack’s rigid shaft and strokes it hard and fast. Three or four is all it takes, and Jack comes with a strangled cry, jerking his hips and spurting into Hanzo’s hand, cupped over the swollen head of his cock.
Hanzo draws his hand away before the spasms have subsided, and drops it in the cleft of Jack’s ass with a warm, wet slap. Jack shudders as he feels Hanzo’s fingers slicking him with his own come, slathering it around the opening and working it into his tight hole. Hanzo shoves him forward and climbs out of he bath to kneel behind him, drenching the floor with hot water. Jack moans as he feels something warm and blunt pressed against his slippery asshole.
“You wet yourself like a whore,” Hanzo sneers. “You want to be fucked now, too?”
“Yes, fuck—fuck me,” Jack pants.
“Beg me, bitch. Beg me to fuck you.”
“Please,” Jack whines, tilting his ass up wantonly. “Please, fuck me, please.”
He gives a broken wail, clawing at the smooth, bamboo floorboards as Hanzo’s rock-hard cock sears into him like hot iron, impaling his insides in one long, slow slide, till it’s buried in him to the pubic bone. Hanzo doesn’t stop to let him acclimate to the stretching burn. He pulls out and thrusts harder, slamming into Jack’s ass with a wet thud. Jack whimpers and shakes as he is held down, split open and fucked like a bitch in heat. Hanzo bends over him and Jack feels teeth clamp down on his neck like a vise. The bite is certain to bruise, but it doesn’t break the skin. Hanzo snarls as he pulls his mouth away, leaving the spot cold and damp.
“Do it,” Jack chokes. “Fucking—bite me! Bite me!”
He feels the heat of Hanzo’s body pressed against his back again. This time the teeth sink into him like the points of spears, puncturing his skin and hooking deep into the muscle. Jack screams hoarsely, twitching and spurting white streaks onto the floor as he comes on Hanzo’s cock, still pistoning into him like a machine.
Hanzo drives himself in to the hilt and holds it. He bites down hard as his body goes rigid. Blood gushes from Jack’s neck and splashes onto the floor, as he feels Hanzo’s cock pulse and throb, and the warm flood of his ejaculation spewing into him, filling him up, and spilling out around the shaft of Hanzo’s dick to run down his trembling thighs.
Hanzo relaxes his jaws and withdraws his teeth carefully, then pushes Jack down on his stomach. Jack hisses as Hanzo’s warm tongue laps over the ring of puncture wounds, making them sting and throb.
“Be still,” Hanzo says gently. “It will heal the bite.”
He pushes himself up and sits beside Jack, who rolls onto his side and smiles dreamily up at him.
“You are so lovely, Jack,” he says, stroking his wet, pink cheek. “I apologize for hurting you.”
Jack gives a hoarse, fucked-out little laugh. “I liked it. I asked you to, didn’t I?”
“Yes, but you also screamed quite a lot.”
“Sorry, I was really in the moment. I didn’t mean to freak you out.”
“You did not freak me out. But I feared perhaps I had gone too far.”
“No, it was perfect,” Jack says, through suddenly chattering teeth. “But…I’m fucking freezing. Can we get in the bath?”
Hanzo actually laughs. A soft, musical sound that floats through the air like delicate petals and caresses Jack’s ears.
“Yes, Jack,” he says, smiling down at the beautifully wrecked blonde. “We can get in the bath.”
Gabriel and Jesse’s travel to Dublin, as it turns out, has to be postponed for two days, since the pilot must register his flight plan with the Dublin air traffic authorities, and be assigned a landing time and harborage. Max is not around the next day or the following evening, but he’d left instructions with his staff that they are welcome as long as they wish to stay. This easy hospitality only seems to irritate Gabriel, which amuses Jesse immensely. He makes little attempt to conceal the fact, so Gabriel punishes him by dragging him out to some clothing boutiques directly after sunset to, as he puts it, “get some goddamned grown-up clothes.”
Jesse huffs and pouts, but finds that he does rather enjoy being fawned over by the Italian shop girls, who are delighted with their handsome American customers. Particularly when it is discovered that the older gentleman speaks fluent Italian, has excellent taste, and is apparently very wealthy. Jesse emerges from the ordeal triumphant, bearing a variety of excellent clothing items, and the distinction of having made three shop girls blush and giggle at the same time. One had remarked that his father must be quite an important man or someone famous perhaps.
Jesse had replied with a wink and a languid drawl, “Oh, he ain’t my father. He’s my daddy,” which had sent the girls into fits of astonished merriment.
When they are finished amusing the salesgirls, Gabriel calls and instructs Max’s housekeeper to send someone to retrieve their purchases and to acquire some simple luggage for Jesse, then the two go their separate ways to hunt. The stalking and killing of prey are solitary, private things for vampires, and they do not hunt in company with others if they can avoid it.
Gabriel returns to Max’s townhouse later to find that his orders have been carried out, and Jesse is now the owner of a set of fine, Italian luggage, into which his things have already been helpfully packed. A servant shows him to his room, where he finds Jesse sprawled out on the massive four-poster bed, smoking a cigarette and playing with one of Jack’s throwing knives.
The sight and scent of the gorgeous, naked boy, freshly showered, warm and flush with blood, is far more than Gabriel has the will to withstand. He strips without a word, then falls into bed and wraps his body around Jesse’s, grinding his achingly hard cock against his ass, and pressing kisses into the back of his neck. He pulls away abruptly, startled by the sudden tears running down his face into Jesse’s silky hair.
“Hey, you ok?” Jesse asks, turning over to face him.
“Yeah, I’m—fuck,” Gabriel says gruffly, shielding his eyes with his hand. “I’m fine. Sorry.”
“Gabriel, cut that shit out,” Jesse says. He sits up and pulls Gabriel’s hand away from his face. “Quit bein’ the tough guy with me. I ain’t scared a you and I ain’t havin’ it anymore, so talk to me.”
“I’m just tired and worried about Jack,” Gabriel says evasively. “That’s all.”
“Oh, right,” Jesse nods. “I forgot I asked you give me some bullshit instead of the truth.”
Gabriel bridles. “Jesse, you don’t get to tell me what I’m feeling. I know why I’m upset.”
“Ooh, some more dumb bullshit,” Jesse retorts. “Let me know when you got it outta your system, then I’ll start listenin’.”
“Fine,” Gabriel growls. “I’m hurting, Jesse. I’m in pain. Is that what you want to hear?” He wishes he could stop talking, but now the dam has burst and the hot words just keep pouring out. “I am in pain because I am in love with a human boy who would rather die than be with me. Than be what I am. I am in pain because I’m not going to force this curse on him. I love him too much and I won’t be able to do it, so he’s going to die. I’m going to lose him for—forever. Because I’m weak.”
The tears are pouring down his dusky-bronze cheeks now. He doesn’t even attempt to wipe them away. He just turns over and buries his face in the pillow, letting deep sobs rack his large, powerful body. He feels one of Jesse’s hands on his back, while the other gently strokes his long waves of silver-streaked black hair. The boy’s soothing touch and steady, reassuring presence is a balm to his lacerated soul.
It occurs to him suddenly how very strong Jesse is. Not physically, he knows that, but Jesse himself. His calm and steadfast courage, his inexhaustible patience, his enduring love and loyalty. Jesse is and always was a far better man than his former master, even when they were servant and master. Gabriel’s sobs have subsided by now, and he turns his head on the pillow to cast an eye on his young companion.
“Why do you do this, Jesse?” he asks. “Why do you put up with me like this?”
“Well, I reckon no one else will, so I better,” Jesse grins. “Plus, no matter how hard you try and be a bastard, you never could get it just right. You’re a good man.”
“I’m not even a man,” Gabriel says wearily. “I’m just an old monster.”
“I never said you was a saint, but you are a good man, monster or no,” Jesse insists. “I knew you wadn’t ever gonna be able to turn that kid against his will. I’m glad you worked it out sooner than later, though. Saves a lotta time pretendin’ you are so you can hate yourself for it.”
Gabriel feels an odd twinge at Jesse’s choice of words, but he is enormously grateful for the sentiment, and he reaches out and squeezes Jesse’s hand. “Thank you, Jesse. Sorry I’m such a mess.”
“That’s alright. You can be a mess with me,” Jesse says softly. He leans down and kisses Gabriel’s scarred, muscular back between his shoulder blades. “How you feelin’? You need me to fuck you?”
“Yes, please,” Gabriel says, sounding immensely relieved.
He sighs deeply and arches his back under Jesse’s caressing hands, spreading his legs as Jesse kneels behind him. He had never trusted anyone but Jesse to penetrate him, until Jack. He smiles to himself at the thought. He’s had thousand of lovers over the centuries, and the only two men who he has ever allowed inside him are these two boys, both of whom he loves. And neither of whom are boys, really. Though Jack is very much a child in some ways, with his lively curiosity and frivolous whims.
Jesse wasn’t a child even when he was one. A grown man at seventeen. Unheard of in this day and age, but not so uncommon back in those rougher years, before the taming of the American west. Gabriel had waited five years to turn him, and even then he was still too young. By modern vampiric standards, that is. The generally accepted guideline is thirty for fledglings now. In his day, people were a lot less likely to survive to that ripe old age. Poor Jack. Living in this soft, modern world, surrounded by every comfort and advantage, and yet dying at twenty-five. He forces the thought away and concentrates on Jesse.
“Ah…ah, fuck,” he pants, as the head of Jesse’s big, pierced cock presses against the sensitive rim of his asshole. “Where did you get lube?”
“I had it under the pillow.” Jesse holds Gabriel’s ass apart with his thumbs and begins to push himself inside. “You never fuckin’ remember to bring any.”
“That’s be…ha—ah! Because you—you always remember for me,” Gabriel says, gasping and stuttering as each barbell pops through the tight ring of muscle. “Your cock feels—so fucking good.”
“I know it does, darlin’, I got all this steel in it for a reason.”
“Don’t fucking—call me darlin’,” Gabriel manages to choke out, as Jesse’s thick shaft fills and stretches him to the breaking point. “I’ll fucking—kill you.”
Jesse bottoms out and takes Gabriel by the hips, holding his pelvis flush against his ass. “Ok, sugar. Now hush your mouth. I’m tryina fuck you.”
Whatever Gabriel had been about to say in protest dissolves into a shuddering moan as Jesse begins to thrust. His head spins with the sensation of the rough, girthy slide, punctuated by the barbells, which rake over his prostate and thrum across his rim as Jesse’s cock moves in and out. His own cock is drooling all over the bedspread, aching and neglected. Jesse pushes him flat on his stomach and presses his chest against his back, fucking him in steady, rhythmic strokes. The friction against the mattress and the thumping on his prostate are twisting him on the blinding edge of climax. Gabriel’s insides constrict on Jesse’s cock and his legs begin to shake. His balls feel tight and heavy, as if they are about to burst. He can come without having his dick touched, but the need for contact is excruciating. As if he has read his mind, Jesse works his hand beneath him and wraps it around his shaft, fucking him into his fist with his thrusts.
Gabriel reaches back and grabs hold of Jesse’s hair as razor-sharp teeth sink into his neck. “Jesse—Jesse…fuck! Fuck!”
He comes hard, throbbing and spurting into Jesse’s hand in the tight space between his stomach and mattress. Jesse takes his blood in deep, sucking swallows, pounding his cock into him until he suddenly tenses up all over, and Gabriel feels it spasm and spew inside him in warm bursts. Jesse releases the bite and collapses panting onto his back, burying his face in his long hair.
“Jesse,” Gabriel says hoarsely. “Don’t fucking call me sugar, either.”
“Anything you say, honeybun.”
“That’s it, get off me,” Gabriel grumbles, writhing beneath Jesse’s solid weight.
“Naw, I just fucked you till you yelled my name, so I’m the boss right now,” Jesse croons, as he wraps his arms more tightly around him. “Quit squirmin’ around ‘fore I give you a whoopin’.”
Gabriel sighs. “I knew I was spoiling you too much. You’re mad with power.”
“That’ll learn ya,” Jesse chirps. “Now you gotta stay in bed with me all day and let me snuggle up on you. Them’s the rules.”
There is a long pause. “Well…it was worth it.”
“Shut the fuck up and snuggle me.”
“I can smell ‘em all over the place,” Jesse says, gazing down at the spire of St. Kevin’s Church. “They was here together, few days ago.”
“You think they’re still in the city?” Gabriel asks.
“I don’t reckon. Trail’s pretty cold and I ain’t getting any tugs on the line. The scents was strongest at the airport, so they probably ain’t even in the country no more.”
“Where would they have gone, is the question. And what the fuck were they doing in Ireland? There’s no way the wolf lives around here.”
“Naw, if he did, someone woulda found out. None of my contacts here know anything about this. They say the local wolves is riled up, though. They got rules about how they work and they don’t hunt in the city.”
“How many are there?”
“Maybe fifty on the whole island. No natural wolves means it ain’t easy to hide the kills, so most of ‘em fucked off to Russia or wherever.”
“Wonderful,” Gabriel mutters. “And Max didn’t give you anything else?”
“Nope,” Jesse says, but he looks away and shifts uncomfortably.
Gabriel crosses his arms. “Jesse.”
“Hm? What’s up, boss?”
“Yeah, you only call me ‘boss’ when you’re hiding something. Spit it out.”
“Alright, but listen,” Jesse says reluctantly. “You gotta promise you ain’t gonna flip out.”
“When have I ever flipped out?”
“Ha, yeah. That’s funny, jefe. Promise.”
“Fine, Jesse. I promise I’m not going to flip out.”
“Ok, well, remember that whole…blood witch thing?”
“I might recall something about it, yes,” Gabriel says.
“Well, that blood witch kinda…lives here. In Dublin.”
“I see,” Gabriel says, managing to maintain a calm tone of voice. “And why did you not tell me this before?”
“Cause she’s a fuckin’ real-ass witch and from what I hear, she’s scary as fuck. I didn’t want to go messin’ around with her unless we had to.”
Gabriel snorts. “I’m not afraid of this witch, Jesse.”
“Maybe you should be,” Jesse says, with an exasperated gesture. “You pretendin’ it ain’t real didn’t stop that kid usin’ her spell to knock you on your stubborn ass. I was kinda thinkin’ we could just go back to the airport. Sweet-talk some people. Find out which private jets took off in the last few days and where they was headed. Damn sight less dangerous’n gettin’ ourselves tangled up with a witch.”
“Ok, look. I appreciate what you’re saying,” Gabriel says patiently. “But if she knows anything useful, I have to try. You don’t have to get yourself tangled up in anything. Just tell me where to find her and I’ll go by myself.”
Jesse shakes his head. “Naw, I don’t think so. You’re gonna need me to try and calm things down if shit goes south.”
“I know how to talk to people, Jesse,” Gabriel says indignantly. “I don’t need you to babysit me.”
“Yeah, bang-up job with Max, jefe,” Jesse smirks. “I was just gonna tell you how impressed I was with how you got him talkin’ like that.”
“Fine. Christ,” Gabriel says, walking toward the edge of the rooftop upon which they’ve been standing. “Were you this mouthy before I turned you?”
“Yup. I always reckoned that’s why you done it.”
“Because I like being sassed out of my fucking mind?”
Jesse grins. “Cause you like folks as ain’t scared to tell you when you’re bein’ a ass.”
With that, he turns and hops off the side of the twelve-story building. Gabriel follows, landing lightly on his feet on the sidewalk, with a puff of black smoke whirling out beneath him.
“Looks way cooler when you do it,” Jesse says, shaking his head dolefully.
This makes Gabriel laugh out loud and catch him in his arms, pressing a kiss to his pouting lips before they turn to head down the dark, rain-slick street. The witch, as it turns out, is located practically on the other side of Dublin. They hail a cab as they walk through the city, which produces an amusing incident, whereby Jesse and the cabbie cannot be made to understand one another’s accents by any means, but the ride is otherwise uneventful.
They exit the vehicle several blocks from their objective, as is their habit, and walk the rest of the way. Finally, they stand across the street from the place Jesse has been leading them. A large, Victorian-style building that looks rather like a church, but for the rectangular floor plan and numerous small, square windows, brightly lit by institutional-looking fluorescent lights. Gabriel blinks up at the illuminated white sign, which bears the name of the place in large red letters, then looks at Jesse.
“Sisters of Mercy—Jesse, this is a charity hospital,” he says dubiously. “Funded by nuns. Why the fuck would a blood witch work at a Catholic-affiliated charity hospital?”
“I don’t know her life story, jefe,” Jesse says defensively. “All’s I know is this is where she does her day job.”
“Fuck,” Gabriel says under his breath. “I’m not going in there.”
“Yeah, I ain’t too keen on it, neither.” Jesse squints up at the white sign and gives a shudder. “I reckon we could try her house, but she’s probably here.”
Gabriel glares at him. “You fucking know where she lives?”
“All’s I know is she lives somewhere close by the hospital. Shouldn’t be too hard to find, though. I reckon she’s got wards up and shit, and we’ll feel ‘em if we get close.”
Gabriel massages his brow, as if he’s laboring under a sudden headache. “Right. Wards. That we’ll feel.”
“Fuck’s sake, I ain’t gettin’ into this with you again,” Jesse mutters. “Come on. Get walkin’.”
“How do you know it’s this way?” Gabriel says, hurrying to catch up to Jesse, who is already walking briskly down the dark street. “You just picked a direction at random.”
“It was left or right, so it’s pretty much fifty-fifty. You got a better idea?”
“Ok then, quit your bellyachin’ and pay attention. You ever felt a ward?”
Gabriel shakes his head.
“It’s gonna feel like…a little push. Like there’s a breeze on you when there ain’t no wind.”
“You’ve felt a ward before?” Gabriel says doubtfully.
Jesse stops at the corner, looks both ways, then turns east down a residential-looking street. “Naw, but I read plenty about witches.”
“You’ve read plenty—where, Jesse? The young adult section of Borders?”
“Borders?” Jesse laughs. “Christ, you are an old man. Max got a huge library fulla books about every religious, occult, and mystical thing you can think of. You should try readin’ ‘em sometime.”
“Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind.”
They turn right at the next intersection, for no particular reason, and stroll along under flickering streetlights, past ugly, low-roofed apartment buildings with weeds grown into the chain-link fences, and small houses with warm light emanating from the windows.
“What’s your plan for talkin’ to this witch,” Jesse asks. “Better if I know ‘fore we get there.”
“I’m just going to tell her the—” Gabriel breaks off and stops dead in his tracks. “What the fuck.”
“You feel somethin’?” Jesse asks excitedly.
Gabriel shakes his head slowly. “No…I don’t know. Maybe. Let’s just…keep going.”
The walk in silence until Jesse suddenly gives a sharp hiss. “I feel it for sure. Holy shit, it’s just like in them books. You feel that one?”
Gabriel nods mutely, as if he’s still unwilling to admit it, but they speed their pace and walk with more purpose. Gabriel can feel the “ward” as Jesse calls it, like a magnetic force pushing gently on his body from the northeast. They turn and cross the street in that direction, till Gabriel begins to pick it up like an audible vibration.
The odd disturbance is coming from a small, white, two-story bungalow style house with pretty yellow trim and a long porch. Behind the little water-stained wooden fence, there is a lush herb garden and flower-boxes full of brilliantly colored flowers. The gate stands open, and there are lights on inside. In one of the upper windows, Gabriel can see a fat tuxedo cat, blinking sleepily and looking generally pleased with itself.
“Well, if I had to guess what a witch’s house looked like, this would be it,” he says to Jesse. “It looks like it’s made of fucking gingerbread.”
“Huh,” Jesse says. “I guess I thought it’d be more like…one of them evil witches’ lairs from Disney movies and shit.”
“I think we’re the evil ones in this story,” Gabriel says. “You ready?”
Jesse swallows. “As I’ll ever be.”
The two pass through the gate and up the little stone walk to the porch, where there are two rocking chairs and a table with a rather full ash tray. Beside the welcome mat, there is a pair of rubber gardening clogs. Jesse rubs his hands together uneasily as Gabriel rings the bell. After a moment, they hear footsteps and a female voice, apparently scolding a cat.
The door swings open, revealing a woman who looks more like a witch than anything Jesse had been remotely prepared to see. She is very tall, thin to the point of gauntness, and has a shock of almost sarcastically red hair, which she wears in a short, severe cut. Her eyes are two different colors, the left one being a brilliant blue, and the right an almost reddish brown. She raises an arched eyebrow and looks them up and down with these unsettling eyes.
“How very interesting,” she says, in a smooth Dublin brogue. “You must be Gabriel. But who are you, little one? I’ve never heard of you.”
“Howdy, ma’am,” Jesse says stiffly. “I’m Jesse. I uh…I work for—”
Gabriel interrupts. “I am Gabriel. If you know who I am, then you know why I’m here.”
“I can think of two reasons,” she says, with a rather malevolent smile. “Information, or revenge.”
“It’s not revenge,” Gabriel says, keeping his black eyes fixed on her. “If it were, you’d already be dead.”
To his discomfiture, the woman throws back her head and laughs. “Well now, I think I like you, Gabriel. But I’m in here and you’re out there. So, unless you had a firearm, I don’t think you’d have got your revenge just yet.”
Gabriel rolls his eyes. “We don’t need to be invited to go into people’s houses. That’s a myth.”
“Is it?” she asks, backing up a step or two. “Go ahead and try.”
Gabriel strides into the doorway, but just as he reaches the threshold, he staggers back, as if he’s been struck.
“What the fuck,” he says irritably. “What is this?”
Jesse reaches out and puts his hands into the open doorway. He can’t feel them touch anything, but they are gently repelled, as if by a springy surface.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he laughs. “How’d y’all do that?”
“Simple ward against creatures of the night,” she replies smoothly. “Nothing too complicated. But why do you say ‘y’all’. Is that some southern custom? To pluralize a stranger?”
“No ma’am,” Jesse says. “Beggin’ your pardon, but there’s two of y’all here. I can, uh…not to be rude or nothin’, but I can smell you both.”
“Ah, a tracker,” she smiles. “Hired to hunt down this one’s little friend, no doubt.”
“What are you all doing standing around with the door open, darling,” another female voice calls out from somewhere within the house. “Mr. Tubbins will get out. Let them in.”
The red-haired woman makes a rather sarcastic welcoming gesture. “Please, come in.”
Gabriel and Jesse step cautiously inside, glancing about them, as the red-haired woman scoops up a sleek, grey cat that had been slinking toward the open door, and shuts it behind them. The place looks like a normal, homey suburban dwelling, complete with a television and sofas, and curio cabinet packed with odd little knickknacks. Across the living room, there is a warmly-lit little dining room with a round table, upon which two places have been set.
The aroma of cooking wafts out of the kitchen and assails their nostrils. It is not unpleasant, but it is extremely strong for vampire senses. Jesse recognizes sausages and potatoes, and some kind of bread, among the mingled scents of garlic, onions, thyme and sage. In a moment, a very pretty, very blonde woman in a white t-shirt and calf-length black leggings steps out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her red apron. Gabriel and Jesse take an instinctive step backward as her presence washes over them.
“You’re the witch,” Jesse breathes, looking at her wide-eyed. “Holy shit, I never felt power like that.”
“Well, he is smarter than he looks,” the blonde woman says, with a musical little laugh. “I am the witch, yes. I suppose you may call me that, but I do prefer Angela.”
“Angela,” Gabriel says, in a tight, strained voice. “Angela, how is this possible.”
Jesse looks at him quickly. He is gazing at the blonde woman, arms slack at his sides.
“So many things are possible, Gabriel,” Angela says. “You know this by now. Or have you forgotten.”
“I don’t…I don’t know,” Gabriel says, clutching his head. “What is happening to me? Why do I know you?”
“Hey, what’re you doin’ to him,” Jesse say sharply, instantly defensive of his friend. “You tryina put some kinda witch whammy on him, or what?”
Angela laughs her tinkling laugh again. “You are such a good boy, aren’t you. You love him very much. I can see the bond between you two like little shining threads. I am not doing anything to your master, Jesse. He feels the effects of the enchantment very strongly, here in my presence.”
“What enchantment?” Jesse demands. “What in sam-hell’s goin’ on here?”
“It’s ok, Jesse,” Gabriel says, laying a hand on his shoulder. “It’s nothing she’s doing to me now. I think…I think she did something to me before. In the past.”
“Somethin’ like what,” Jesse says warily, looking between the two of them.
“That is not for you to worry about, my dear,” Angela says sweetly. “You are so weary from your travels. You should lie down and rest a while.”
Jesse opens his mouth to reply, but a wave of drowsiness like he’s never felt in his immortal life washes over his entire body. His eyes feel gritty and sandy, and when he tries to blink, his eyelids fall heavily closed. He fights them back open and takes a lurching step.
“I’ma…I’m just gonna…lie down a spell,” he mumbles, as he falls down onto the sofa, instantly and thoroughly unconscious.
Gabriel looks at him with a frown of concern, but no real anger. He doesn’t even feel surprised, in fact. This all seems like something he should have expected. He turns back to Angela.
“I need to find Jack,” he says. “He’s dying and I need to see him.”
The red-haired woman’s face hardens at the name. Her eyes narrow and she turns away, with a look of pain on her angular features.
“I know you don’t like it, my love,” Angela says, hooking her arms about the woman’s neck. “But he is not like those before him.”
The redheaded woman reaches up to stroke Angela’s silky blonde hair, looking tenderly into her face. Gabriel notices a spiderweb of deep-purple, inkvine scars on her left hand. She sees this and lets her hand fall again, concealing it in the long sleeve of her black sweater.
“What are you talking about?” he asks gruffly. “Who is not like who?”
“The inquisitor,” the redheaded woman spits, casting a sharp eye on him. “My wife believes he has turned.”
“He has never served them,” Angela corrects. “Not willingly, at least. That is why I helped him.”
“Inquisitor?” Gabriel says, with growing impatience.
“I will explain in a moment,” Angela says, turning toward the kitchen. “Moira, darling, you had better eat your supper before it gets cold. Gabriel, can I get you something? A cup of tea? Blood?”
“That’s very funny,” Gabriel says icily.
“She’s not joking,” the woman who is apparently called Moira says, with a dry smile, as she follows her wife into the kitchen. “My dear, I can get my own supper. Stop bustling about like a honeybee and attend to your guest. I’ll be fine.”
“Well, alright,” Angela says reluctantly. “Gabriel, nothing for you?”
“No,” Gabriel says, as politely as he can. “Thank you.”
“Very well, then. Come with me.”
She removes her red apron and hangs it on a peg by a door in the kitchen. She opens this door and switches on a light, then beckons to Gabriel, who follows her down a flight of basement stairs. He smells the blood before he has gone three steps. Not fresh, and not rotting. Burnt and dried. He looks about him as they step down the last few stairs. But for the rather ordinary boiler on the far end of the room, and a modern, white washer and dryer beside a deep basin sink, they have entered what appears to be an ancient alchemist’s laboratory.
There is a small stand with a massive and weather-beaten book on it, a shelf containing various jars and bottles with little labels, and in the center of the concrete floor, a massive, black, granite slab, at least seven feet long and three feet wide, and standing waist-high on his blonde host. The top is polished smooth like glass and has various runes carven all around its edges. At each of its four corners, there are larger runes, which are connected by deep grooves that radiate out from a bizarre symbol in the center. Something about this altar, for he can think of no other name for it, chills him and makes him feel nauseous.
“I don’t…understand,” he says numbly. His head is spinning with the strongest sense of déjà vu he has ever experienced. “What does all of this have to do with Jack? And why did you say those strange things about him?”
“Gabriel, your friend Jack is a true seer,” she says. “A natural born diviner. He did not ask for this power, nor does he understand it, but it is very real. Normally, his parents would have taken him to a priest when he told them he had seen visions, and the church would have had him tested and then taken him away to be educated and trained as an inquisitor. To have his gift warped and mutilated to serve their purposes. But the circumstances of his life were somewhat…different. His mother, who was not a seer, but from whom the power was passed down, had forsaken her faith entirely before his birth. I believe it was she who taught him to conceal his sight, lest he be taken away from her, which he would have feared greatly. Whatever the case, he remained free of the church, and his sight hidden from them. But now he has openly used his power against them. They will come for him. I hope his friends are strong.”
“He’s dying, Angela,” Gabriel says angrily. “What does all this old religious nonsense matter when he’s going to be dead in less than a year?”
“They will not allow him to die,” she says, with a bitter laugh. “If they need a holy miracle to save his life, they will procure one. Some of the church may be false and mercenary, but not all of it is so. And it is not without its power.”
“Is that why you work as a doctor at a charity hospital funded by the Sisters of Mercy?”
“Gabriel, I am the Sisters of Mercy. We are. When the Catholic religion spread throughout the world, my foremothers simply exchanged the robes of the priestess for the veil of the nun. That is how we survived. A witch is not a silly hag that rides about on a broomstick with a pointed hat. We are female saints and miracle workers, nuns and physicians and scientists. Very few now, are aware of our origins, and the old wisdom has fallen by the wayside, but there are those of us who keep it. I am the only one left with so much real power. Or, I was.” She lays her hand on her abdomen with a soft smile. “My daughter will inherit it from me now.”
“I’m sorry, daughter?” Gabriel smirks. “You’re married to a woman. How good a witch are you?”
“I see that a thousand years of existence does not make a man any less a man,” she says, arching a blonde eyebrow. “How do female-female couples usually have children?”
Gabriel winces visibly. “I’m so sorry. I’m a fucking idiot.”
“Well, that remains to be seen,” she says. “By the way, if you only met me tonight, how did you know I was a doctor?”
“I don’t…I don’t know. It just seemed…true.”
“Ah, well, that is because we did not meet tonight. We met many years ago in another place. Do you remember?”
Gabriel looks searchingly into her lovely face. There is something in his mind that he can’t quite grasp, like a word on the tip of one’s tongue that one simply cannot recall, though it floats just barely out of reach.
“I don’t remember,” he says at last. “I know your face and your name, but I can’t remember anything else about you or how we met.”
“That is well, because it means I have done my work thoroughly. You asked me to do something for you. Or, rather, you asked me to take something from you.”
“Memory,” Gabriel says. “I asked you to take some of my memory. But why? What?”
“Something so painful that you could not bear to live with it any longer,” she says flatly. “It nearly drove you mad.”
Gabriel shakes his head slowly. “I remember so many painful and horrifying things. What could be so bad that I’d come to a witch to have my mind erased by enchantment.”
“Perhaps it was not horrifying,” she says. “Perhaps it was so painful, because it was something you had lost, and could never retrieve.”
“I can’t play this game with you anymore, Angela,” he says, grasping her little hands and holding them tightly. “You don’t have to give it back to me, just tell me what it was. Please.”
“It was your humanity,” she says softly. “The man you were before you were changed. I took him and locked him away, deep down where he could not trouble you any longer.”
The words hit Gabriel like a thunderclap. He reels as if he’s been struck, takes two staggering steps backward, and sits down hard on the ground, panting and shaking.
“No,” he says hoarsely. “No, no, no. I wouldn’t have—I didn’t—”
He clutches his head, as if he is trying to press his thoughts into order. He racks his brain apart and comes up empty. Nothing. Where there should have been a life, a childhood, a family, a moment of death and transformation, there is a black void. He does not know who he was. Does not remember anything but the monster. How has he never questioned this before? How has he not tried to recall…in a blinding flash, it all becomes suddenly clear to him.
“Ignacio,” he whispers, looking up at her in wide-eyed dismay. “Ignacio de Oña is…me. I was the mad saint who wrote the Apologia. My scars…they’re self-inflicted flagellation marks, oh Christ.”
He covers his mouth with his hand and bursts into tears. Angela kneels beside him and wraps her delicate little arms around his neck.
“Hush, my dear,” she says gently, stroking his hair. “It is alright. It does not matter who you were. You are who you are now, and that is a good man.”
“I’m not a man, I’m a fucking monster. Why do you and Jesse keep insisting that I’m a good man.”
“Because you are. Despite being a predator, you have made yourself a good man. And to be fair, you were a saint. They do not canonize just anyone.”
“A disgraced saint and a heretic,” he says, laughing through his tears. “That sounds about right for me, actually.”
“Well, you were only disgraced because the church is bigoted against vampires,” she shrugs. “There are worse things to be.”
“But, Jesse doesn’t know, so…that must have been more than two hundred years ago,” he says, looking up at her suddenly. “How could you have been the one that helped me?”
“Ah, those with my power live long,” she says. “I am well over two hundred years old. We do not live forever, though. Once our power is passed to another, we age normally and eventually die. So, when my daughter is of age, I will hand over the power to her, and from that day, I will begin to age like any other human. Correcting for good genes, of course, which I certainly have.”
“Angela, I don’t—I don’t want the memories back,” he says shakily. “They won’t come back, now that I know, will they?”
“Please, Gabriel,” she says, with a toss of her blonde curls. “You have been watching too much television. Knowing that you are an amnesiac does not cure amnesia. My enchantment will last until I withdraw it, which I never will, unless you ask. You can go and learn all about your old self, if you like. It will be just as if you are learning about someone else, but you will know logically that it is you.”
“Good,” he nods, wringing his trembling hands. “Good. I don’t want to remember. I…I want to be who I am now.”
“That is, I think, all that any of us can hope for,” she smiles. Then she takes his scarred, handsome face in her hands and looks gravely into his eyes. “Now, my dear, about Jack. You have an important choice to make. I cannot tell you what I think you should do, only what you may choose to do. The rest will be up to you.”
Jack wakes early, for Jack, it being only just past ten when he opens his eyes. He yawns and peers groggily about him in the clear, morning light. Hanzo is not there, but he hadn’t expected to find him. He’s always busy attending to his many duties as head of his family’s empire, as well as Master of the most ancient and powerful werewolf clan in existence. Jack finds a note on the night table explaining that there are spare toiletries in the restroom, and inviting him to make himself perfectly at home. On a low, mahogany table across the room, he can see that tea and pastries have been set out for him.
This morning finds the coastal Japanese town cool, but balmy and bright. The windows of the Master’s quarters are open, admitting a fresh breeze that wafts through the gold and crimson tapestries, making them dance and swirl about. Jack hops out of bed and goes to avail himself of the restroom, to relieve his bladder and brush his teeth, then pads over to the table and sits down on one of the cushions. Just as he is pouring his tea, there is a knock at the door.
“Come in,” he calls out, in his uncharacteristically gravelly morning voice.
The door slides open to reveal his white-maned bodyguard, whose towering frame fills the doorway. He has to duck slightly to enter, which makes Jack smile behind his teacup.
“I hope you do not mind my intrusion, master Jack,” Reinhardt says, “but Master Shimada’s secretary told me that I was welcome to attend to you here.”
“I don’t mind at all, Will,” Jack says agreeably. “I’m just about to take a little breakfast.”
“Master Jack,” Reinhardt tuts, observing his master’s casual nudity. “You really should ask who is knocking when you are not decent.”
“This is the Master’s chamber, Will,” Jack chirps. “The staff all know where he is, so anyone knocking had to be looking for me. What’s that you’ve got?”
“Ah, I have brought you fresh clothing and shoes and your sunscreen,” Reinhardt says, patting the leather satchel he’s carrying. “I could not find your hair pomade, though. I will pick some up for you today.”
“Oh, Genji borrowed it,” Jack says. “I told him it wasn’t meant for his hair type, but he said he wanted to smell like me. It was so adorable, I couldn’t help lending it to him. But yes, do get some more. He may have forgotten already, and it’d be tacky to ask for it back.”
Jack rises to his feet, yawning and stretching lazily, feeling the cool wind coming in from the sea wash over his naked skin.
“Alright, Will, I’ll get dressed,” he laughs, hearing Reinhardt cluck disapprovingly again. “You are an old prude, aren’t you.”
“I am not a prude, master Jack,” Reinhardt says, with a stiff bow. “I merely wish to prevent you catching your death of cold.”
“I’ve already caught my death of brain tumor. I think the ship has sailed on the rhinovirus doing me in.”
“But you do not wish to spend your remaining time ill, do you? I have brought your light grey Burberry and brown oxfords.”
“I’ve abjured suits,” Jack says, waving his hand dismissively. “From now on, it’s yukata or nothing at all.”
“Well then, I hope yours has been laundered, or you will be going to lunch in the nude.”
“Lunch!” Jack exclaims. “I forgot. I’d better wear the suit for that. Westerners look so pretentious wearing traditional Japanese garments in public. But I’ll want a few more yukata and some hakama pants to wear around the castle grounds. Add that to the shopping list, would you?”
“Very well, master Jack,” Reinhardt says. “Have you bathed?”
“Not this morning,” Jack grins, at which his bodyguard rolls his eyes.
“Come and bathe first, then,” he says. “And no fussing about my assistance. You recall what happened when we arrived.”
“I do, and you were right,” Jack says obediently. Then he smiles up at him and tugs coyly at the lapels of his black suit jacket. “But I expect you to get in with me.”
“None of that,” Reinhardt says, catching his wrists in his gargantuan paws and prying him gently away. “If you want to be a naughty pest, I will cuff you and scrub you down with scouring powder.”
“You could just cuff me and scrub me down,” Jack says eagerly. “I don’t need the scouring powder.”
Reinhardt shakes his leonine head. “Absolutely not.”
Reinhardt puts a hand on his hip and points to the Master’s en-suite bathroom. “Shower. Go.”
“Aw, boo,” Jack pouts, doing as he is told. “You’re no fun at all.”
“I am very fun,” his protector says patiently, as he starts the water and checks the temperature. “But as I have told you, I do not like boys that way.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Jack says, laughing merrily. “Everyone likes me that way.”
“Heilige Mutter Gottes,” Reinhardt grumbles, taking Jack’s hand to help him step into the shower. “Master Jack, I am an old man. Do not worry me into an early grave with this nonsense. Besides, there are more than enough handsome young men here to satisfy your overactive libido. If not, I will call in reinforcements.”
Jack looks delighted at the idea. “Ooh, what kind of reinforcements?”
“I would say supernatural, since we don’t want to make a mess in the castle,” Reinhardt muses, as Jack lathers his hair and body. “But I wouldn’t want to offend the Shimadas by inviting other kinds into their home either.”
“They really should try just getting along with each other, like Maximilien makes them do at his house. It would make things a lot more convenient.”
Jack rinses thoroughly, lingering under the steaming water for a moment or two before he shuts it off.
“I’m sorry I keep pestering you, but it’s your fault for being such a handsome old bear,” he pouts. “Don’t be growly, papa-Will.”
Reinhardt chuckles at this as he holds out a big, plushy towel for Jack to step into. He rubs Jack’s golden-tanned body vigorously dry with the towel, then wraps it around him, embracing the boy and letting him rest his head on his broad chest. This is a custom which has not changed since Jack was little and afraid of the dark, and had thus needed plenty of papa-Will hugs to entice him out of his nightly bath and into bed. At least, he had claimed to be afraid of the dark. His fascination with caves and crypts belied this. Indeed, Reinhardt had always suspected that the boy was simply lonely and starving for parental affection, and unable to articulate this need.
Before he’d worked as his mother’s security man, Reinhardt had been assigned specifically to the young master Morrison, who’d had a few incidents with the staff and guests, and needed to be watched fairly vigilantly by someone large and strong. He found the boy intelligent and free of malice, but unable to explain or control his inclination to do harm to others. Tiny, golden Jack had quickly won the heart of his titanic protector, with his earnest curiosity and sheltered naïveté, which coexisted in bizarre disharmony with his fits of violence.
These were mitigated by Reinhardt’s presence, but by the time he’d undertaken keeping Mr. Morrison away from Mrs. Morrison, Jack had already been sent off to boarding school, and there was nothing he could do to protect him there. However, after two incidents involving serious injury to other students, Jack was sent home anyway, and Reinhardt had gladly resumed his guardianship of the strange boy and his quietly alcoholic mother.
When he went off to college, Jack’s violent episodes had been under control for some time. Reinhardt had to stay with his mother, who was very ill, so he simply hoped and prayed for the best. After her death, Jack had opened his mind to Reinhardt, no longer having his mother to confide in. It was then that he told him of his visions. He explained that he was never without the urge to cause pain to, or even kill other humans. The sight, as he called it, simply showed him who were the innocent and who were the guilty.
But he had found a third type of being, he said. Wolves walking undetected among the sheep, clad in their skins. Things that hunted and killed because it was natural to them, and not the product of any evil or malicious design. Vampires and werewolves, and other creatures of the night. These things, he said, had noticed him, too. They seemed to be drawn to him like moths to a flame, in fact. Several times, when he’d slipped out of his dormitory and gone walking alone at night (a habit of which Reinhardt could not break him by any means he tried) he’d been stopped and investigated by such creatures, but none had shown any inclination to harm him. They seemed rather to wish to be near him and speak to him. Some liked to come close, to breathe his scent and touch him. He allowed this, fascinated equally by the predators and by their fascination with him.
One night, he’d been approached by a human in company with a vampire. They had invited him to come to a party. A special party, where he’d meet more of their kind, and his safety would be guaranteed by the host, who had strict rules regarding such things. However, he must meet with the host first, and be given a rather rigorous interview, before he would be admitted.
His curiosity piqued and his instinct for self-preservation nearly nonexistent, Jack had agreed to meet this man at his posh, Tribeca flat. He had liked Maximilien right away, and the feeling had been enthusiastically mutual. Max was positively bowled over by the fearless, beautiful, nineteen-year-old blonde with the seer’s eye, and Jack was charmed by Max’s aristocratic good looks, highly cultured taste, and genteel urbanity. Before two hours had passed, Jack had allowed Max to taste his blood, which he’d found to be intensely arousing, and they’d fucked right there on his antique Cherrywood desk.
Jack hadn’t been a virgin since he was fifteen, but he’d never had sex with a vampire before. He found it infinitely preferable to sex with humans, which usually ended in either horribly awkward disappointment for both, or in Jack paying a large sum of money to cover their silence and medical expenses. Jack had finally found his own kind. The monsters that preyed upon humans and thirsted for their blood the way he did.
Then he met Gabriel. At his first party, Max had put them together, insisting that Jack was too good for the rabble. Gabriel was a tall, scarred, utterly gorgeous man of some vaguely Spanish extraction, and what the others called an elder. Jack assumed this meant he was old. It did mean that, but there also seemed to be some difference of power he did not quite comprehend yet, but could feel palpably when Gabriel interacted with any other vampire besides Max, who appeared to be his equal.
Gabriel did not fawn over Jack, nor did he talk down to him. He treated him with easy courtesy and spoke with him intelligently of Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, and many other historical and religious subjects, of which Gabriel was an almost inexhaustible source of knowledge. This was a miraculous oasis in the desert of intellectual insipidity in which Jack had been crawling at school and with social acquaintances. Not only this, but there was something in Gabriel’s being that compelled and captivated Jack’s interest. Some hidden flame beneath the black armor of the predatory demon. When Gabriel had finally bitten him, Jack had experienced an intense and visceral ejaculation from the bite alone, with no other physical contact.
Gabriel, the others said, never saw a client more than once, lest the human grow attached to him and the matter become an inconvenience. However, at the next party, Jack went boldly to him and asked him to be his partner again. Gabriel accepted and the rest was history. Jack never saw another vampire for a bite, and they stopped meeting only through Max’s parties, opting instead to play Jack’s torture games and fuck each other senseless whenever they could. They still attended these parties, however. Jack as a simple voyeur and guest of Max, and Gabriel whoring bites, as Jack called it. But when they were both in attendance, they always left together.
The more Jack was with Gabriel, the less he found himself inwardly tormented by the thirst to draw blood from other humans. Gabriel seemed to need the release of pain as much as Jack needed to inflict it, and since the damage Jack did could not destroy or even permanently mar Gabriel’s immortal body, the two found relief in each other, and a sense of security in the arrangement. It was more than this, though. Their interchanges were intimate, familiar, tender at times, if always bloody. Over six years of meeting this way, they became linked by some bond that Jack could feel tugging at him when Gabriel was not with him.
One night, as Gabriel lay on his back, blood streaming from wounds that Jack had sliced all over his moon-silver hide as he fucked him, he had declared his love. Jack had responded by carving his name deep into the flesh over Gabriel’s heart, then pressing his chest against the wound and whispering his own confession of love to his crimson-soaked paramour.
Some time after that, Jack had received his fatal diagnosis. Knowing from close study of his beloved that he would find none more deserving of his vast wealth, Jack had set to work having the papers drawn up for the bequest of his family’s extensive assets and fortune. The few relations who should rightfully expect some part in the inheritance were properly seen to, so that the will would not be contested, and the remainder (which was most of it) would go to Gabriel, under the executorship of Jack’s faithful and trusted bodyguard.
And thus Jack had prepared himself to die. Readily and with no regret. Or so he had thought.
“Master Jack, are you alright?” Reinhardt asks gently, feeling the tremor of weeping in his young master’s body. “Is your head troubling you?”
Jack shakes his damp, golden-blonde head, keeping his face buried in his protector’s burly chest.
“Ah, I see,” he says. “It is your vampire gentleman.”
Jack looks up at him, sea-blue eyes rimmed with red, and long eyelashes wet with tears. “I hurt him, Will.”
“He will be alright,” Reinhardt says soothingly. “The staff reported that he came up, bathed, took his refreshment, and departed in good health. I am sure he is not angry with you.”
“I don’t mean that—though he was a tad miffed over the abduction—I mean…he loves me. He was extremely distraught about my condition. He begged me to stay, but I left him. I left him weeping and in chains.”
Reinhardt studies his face. “You are distressed because you have caused him to suffer?”
“Yes…no,” Jack says confusedly. “The fact that I am still causing him to suffer distresses me, yes. He is very passionate and he feels things so strongly. I worry that he’ll take my death badly, and that he’ll make himself suffer much more than is necessary over it.”
“Grief over the loss of a loved one is natural, and not unnecessary. He will grieve because he loves you, master Jack. So will others who love you.”
Jack pulls away and looks perplexedly up at him. “Will, are you talking about you? Why would…why would you grieve for me? I’ve been nothing but a burden to you since I was a child.”
“Pah! You have never been a burden to me,” the old lion says, squaring his shoulders resolutely. “I know what you are, master Jack. I am not so sure you do, but I do. I have considered it an honor to protect you and guide you. Besides, without you to look after, I would have grown bored and restless, and would have gone off to be killed in a war, if I could find one.”
“I’m glad you didn’t do that,” Jack frowns. “But I know I’m not an easy person to please.”
“You are, perhaps, a bit capricious in your moods and desires, but it is nothing outrageous for a man of your age and wealth.” He sighs. “I have always regretted not having a family of my own. But you and your mother gave me a family. Ever since I first saw your chubby pink face and yellow curls, and your big blue eyes peering up at me from behind your mother’s skirt, I have loved you like my own son. But I—I will say nothing else, now. I do not wish to distress you. Come, let us get you dressed, or you will be late for lunch.”
Jack follows Reinhardt from the bathroom and meekly submits to being dressed, far too wrapped up in his own thoughts to squirm and fidget as he usually does. By the time they go down to walk out with Genji to lunch in the town, he has still not successfully worked through whatever he has got on his mind. He thoughtful and subdued during lunch, and Genji teases him for being dull as a result of having had too little sleep. But there is an undertone of genuine concern in the jest that only adds to Jack’s current perplexity.
They had planned to take a car to Tokyo and do some shopping, but Jack pleads fatigue and returns to the castle to rest. After Reinhardt steps out to run his errands, Jack strolls out past the temple to the tranquil meditation garden, where he climbs up to sit on a massive boulder, shaded by sakura trees. He gazes out over the high wall of the castle, at the endless blue sky above the greens and golds of the trees, and the bustling city in miniature far below. Towering silent and majestic above all of this, is the snow-capped peak of Mt. Fuji. As he contemplates the lofty mountain, whose ancientness is beyond his comprehension, his chest is suddenly gripped with icy-cold uncertainty.
How wonderful is death, death and his brother sleep. To die, to sleep, perchance to dream…
But what if there should be no dream. No heaven nor hell nor transcendence nor reincarnation, but simply an end. A cessation of existence. Relief of the burden of consciousness. He supposes it won’t matter much to him after the fact, since he won’t exist anymore, but at this moment he finds himself hesitant to leave this ugly, cruel, wondrous, heart-crushingly beautiful world, and to go alone into the blackness forever. Never before has his calm sense of single-minded purpose been shaken. Never before has he questioned the rightness of his actions. And now, at this dire need, the eye of the seer is of no use to him. He must parse this tangle of thorns for himself, and he is finding Jack, the young man, woefully underprepared for such a task.
It suddenly occurs to him how very young he is, and how very little of the world he has seen, well-traveled though he may be. Gabriel has seen so much more of it. Could have taught him so many things of which he would have treasured the knowledge, purely for its own sake. Gabriel. He wonders what he’s doing right now, and if he’s already forgotten him. Ticked him off as another dead man, lost in the archives of his ancient memory, as vast and lofty as the mountain itself. In his trouble of spirit, his heart cries out for his beloved, upon whom he would have relied to show him the right path, were Gabriel’s judgment not so clouded by emotion.
He gives a start, feeling a gentle touch upon his shoulder, and realizes he’s been weeping again, much to his embarrassment. He wipes the tears away hastily, attempting a cheerful smile at Hanzo, who has managed to scale the boulder undetected and come to stand beside him.
“I apologize. I did not mean to startle you,” the Master says, with a bow. “May I sit with you for a little while?”
“Oh, it’s alright,” Jack sniffles. “I expect to be startled once or twice a day at least, in a house full of werewolf ninjas. Please do sit with me. I’d be grateful for the company.”
Hanzo seats himself gracefully, and gazes out over the city toward the mountain. Jack stares at him, making his bright-blue eyes as round as possible, till Hanzo gives him a sidelong smirk, and holds out his arm. Jack nestles his head happily in the crook of Hanzo’s neck as his arms settle around him, breathing deeply of his subtle, aromatic scent, like a whisper of cedar and orange blossoms.
“Hanzo, may I ask you something?” Jack says, after a few minutes have passed.
“Of course you may,” Hanzo says. “But beware, I may choose to withhold counsel if the matter is very grave. Some things must be left to one’s own judgement, for good or ill.”
“I see.” Jack pauses, biting his lip. “How grave a matter would you consider my life and death to be?”
Hanzo laughs softly. “A very grave matter, little one.”
Jack looks up him. “Hanzo, I’m like, five inches taller than you.”
“Yes, when I am in this skin, you are taller than me,” Hanzo smiles, reaching down to brush a stray lock of golden hair from Jack’s forehead. “But you are a still only a child to me. Come, tell me what troubles your mind. Even if I cannot offer wisdom, it may give you some relief to confide in a friend.”
“Well, I…I suppose I’m having second thoughts about this whole death thing, is what it boils down to,” Jack says. “Isn’t that silly and rather cowardly of me? I’ve put everyone to all this trouble making my last days comfortable, and here I am getting cold feet about it.”
“You have put us to no trouble,” Hanzo says tranquilly. “We are honored and pleased to host you here. But it is a comfort to me to know that you are not a madman, at least. Your indifference regarding the idea of your death has troubled me and my brother greatly.”
“Indeed. We have lived long in this world. To live long is to become acquainted with death. All men face their mortality in different ways, but a good death, when one faces the final horizon resolutely and with open eyes, is a thing to be desired and striven for.”
Jack looks down and fidgets with his hands. “But…you don’t think that’s what I’m doing.”
“I cannot say, for I do not know what is in your heart,” Hanzo says. “But if I may venture an observation…you seem to me like a man who labors under some burden of conscience. Some important duty left unresolved, or perhaps, an attachment that has not been properly closed.”
“You mean my vampire lover. He won’t be a problem, I promise. Even if he came after me, I wouldn’t expect you to deal with him.”
“If he came with the intention of doing any harm to you, then your expectation would matter little. We do not allow our friends to stand alone against any threat, great or small.”
“He wouldn’t, though,” Jack say earnestly. “I know how their kind have treated yours in the past, but he’s not like that. He’d never really intend to hurt me, but he may try to change me against my will. That’s why I sought the safety of your castle and clan. To deter him from doing anything rash, more than from actual fear of him.”
“To change you against your will would be to harm you,” Hanzo says. “It would be the same to me as if he intended to kill you. But, if you were to…turn from your purpose, and wish to be transformed, we would not oppose him.”
“I—I don’t mean to turn from it,” Jack falters. “I think I don’t mean to. I don’t know what this uncertainty is. It doesn’t feel like fear. It feels like what you said. Something nagging at me that I’ve left unresolved. Something I’m not seeing, for whatever reason.”
Hanzo looks at him thoughtfully. “Jack…may I ask you something very personal?”
“Sure,” Jack smiles. “I don’t have anything to hide from you.”
“Do you believe that you deserve death because of what you are?”
Jack sits up and draws away to look at him. “I deserve death because I’m a monster.”
“I am a monster,” Hanzo says serenely. “Do you believe that I deserve death because of what I am?”
“Of course not!” Jack says, taken aback. “Hanzo, you are a wonder of the world. You and Genji are what you are by nature and heredity, not malice or some absurd idea of collusion with devils.”
“That is correct. We were born hunters and predators. Perhaps the same is true of you.”
“No, I—I’m not like you, Hanzo. I kill because I’m weak and can’t control the urge to do it, not because I need to do it for basic survival. I want to do it and I enjoy it.”
“The fact that we must do it does not mean that Genji and I do not enjoy the hunt and the kill. We take great pleasure in it. The joy one derives from fulfilling one’s natural purpose is not something of which to be ashamed.”
Jack gazes searchingly into his black eyes. “But…it’s not my natural purpose.”
Hanzo takes Jack’s hand in his and presses a kiss to it. “Jack, when we were in the onsen together last night, do you recall that I bit you twice?”
“Well, you gave me a sort of play bite without your fangs, and then you actually bit me.” Jack touches his shoulder, where it meets his neck beneath his grey suit jacket, and smiles. “I still have the bruise from that first one.”
“There is no play bite,” Hanzo says, shaking his head. “I cannot choose not to use my fangs when I have them. I intended to bite you, but I could not pierce your flesh until you asked me to.”
Jack’s face drains of color and he swallows hard. “What—what does that mean?”
“I do not know. I will see you tonight for supper and we will speak more, but I am afraid I must take my leave, for now. I have many more duties to which I must attend before the day is done.”
“Of course,” Jack says, rising as his host does and properly returning his bow. “Thank you for talking with me. I’ll see you tonight.”
“And Jack,” Hanzo says, turning back at edge of the boulder. “It is not only this vampire who loves you, and would sorely regret your loss. There are others.”
With that, he steps lightly down from their perch and glides away across the meditation garden. Jack stands looking after him until he disappears beneath the temple arch. This is the second time today someone has told him others besides Gabriel would grieve for him. He’s not sure what to make of it, unless the point is meant to be that he is being selfish by choosing death, when others wish him to live. He considers this as he clambers down from the boulder (far less gracefully than Hanzo had) and heads back to his own room.
He finds that Reinhardt hasn’t returned yet, so he goes to the closet and digs something like a little silver saucer out of one of his suitcases. He sets this on the tea table, then takes a pitcher of water from the dresser and sits before the saucer. He fills this to the brim with water, then reaches into his breast pocket and draws out a silver phial, similar to the one Reinhardt dispenses the witch’s elixir from.
He unscrews the cap, and lets a single drop fall into the water in the silver dish. This drop, rather than being black like the elixir, is brilliant crimson. Instead of sinking, it spreads over the surface of the water, all the way to the edges of the saucer, in a very thin, transparent membrane, so the water appears just barely crimson-tinted. He carefully reseals the bottle and returns it to his breast pocket, then places his hands on the table and sits peering down into the silver saucer.
After a moment, the surface begins to scintillate and shimmer, like a living mirror. After another moment, the color changes drastically, turning from pale crimson to dark browns and blacks. These colors, however, rather than being on the surface, seem to whirl and coalesce somewhere impossibly deep in the shallow saucer, until they have resolved into a moving image, small and crystal clear, as if from a high-tech security camera, though with more dimension and reality to them. Jack frowns. The image, apparently, is not what he expected to see.
“Who have we here?” he mutters softly.
He is looking at a large and luxurious bedroom, with a massive four-poster bed. On this bed, a naked, lithely muscular boy is lounging. He looks vaguely familiar, and is clearly a vampire, so Jack assumes he must’ve seen him at one of Max’s parties. In fact, the room looks very much like one in Max’s Venetian townhouse. He leans closer, and as he does, the image draws closer to the boy.
He is gorgeous, whoever he is. His skin is pale and smooth, and his hair is a shaggy mop of deep brown, glossy and attractively disheveled. Jack runs his eyes over his well-made torso, down to his exposed cock, which lies erect against his taut abdomen. It is long and thick, and pierced through with a ladder of barbells, as well as a ring through the head. He realizes suddenly that this boy must be Jesse, the younger vampire Gabriel had spoken about often over the years. Jack had always imagined him differently. Smaller and skinnier. Less absurdly beautiful, at least.
In his hand, Jack recognizes one of his own knives, which he’d had custom made for Gabriel. Jesse is twirling and hefting it, when another person moves into the frame. Jack’s heart skips a beat. It’s Gabriel. He is naked, too. His silver-streaked black hair is loose around his large, muscular shoulders, which gleam like burnished bronze in the low, gold-tinted light. He lies down behind the boy and draws him against his chest, burying his face in the back of his neck. Jesse turns and says something to Gabriel, though Jack can’t hear what it is. Gabriel’s back is to the mirror’s perspective and Jack can’t see his face. The blood mirror does not provide sound, only sight, so Jack can’t tell what his response is, either.
Gabriel lies down on his stomach, while the boy speaks to him and strokes his back. The tender familiarity between the two is sweet and poignant. Jack feels as if he has happened upon long-accustomed lovers in an unguarded moment. That is exactly what they are, after all. He watches, entranced, as the boy kneels behind Gabriel and spreads him open, then slowly penetrates him as Gabriel’s back arches beneath him. At this moment, the door to Jack’s room slides open, breaking his concentration and disturbing the water. The image vanishes instantly, leaving Jack blinking into a silver saucer, filled to the brim with clear water.
“Damn it,” Jack whispers. “Just when things were getting interesting. Hello, Will. How were the shops? Did you get everything?”
“Yes, master Jack,” Reinhardt says cheerfully, setting down his armfuls of shopping bags from various boutiques on the bed. He catches sight of the saucer and smiles. “Ah, you have been spying on your vampire, I see. How is he?”
“Well, he’s currently being fucked by one of the most gorgeous boys I’ve ever seen,” Jack pouts. “So I suppose he’s doing just fine without me.”
He flops despondently onto the bed beside the shopping bags and watches idly as Reinhardt begins to unload them.
“Now, master Jack,” Reinhardt chides. “You cannot be jealous of his other lovers when you have so many of your own.”
“Yes I can!” Jack insists, stretching out in a tragic pose. “He’s supposed to be wasting away of grief over me, not having amazing sex with beautiful men.”
“That is what you get for spying. Eavesdroppers never find out anything pleasant. Here, put on one of your new yukata so I can have your suit pressed. You’ve got it wrinkled lying around in it like a lazy cat.”
“Fine,” Jack huffs. “But then you have to listen to me whine as much as I want.”
He chooses a charcoal-grey yukata from among the pile and strips out of his suit, handing each piece to Reinhardt to hang up as he removes them. Then he wraps himself up in the loose linen garment, and Reinhardt helps him secure the black sash about his trim waist.
Reinhardt smiles approvingly. “Very nice. You look quite comfortable now.”
“I suppose I am, but I don’t care,” Jack says. “I’m determined to be miserable now, and you have to pet me and pity me.”
“Alright, master Jack,” Reinhardt chuckles. He sits on the bed and spreads out his massive arms. “Come here and be pitied.”
Jack trots over and climbs into his lap, as if he is still a little child, and not an athletically-built young man more than six feet tall. He snuggles into his chest and gives a deep sigh, freighted with all the woe of his twenty-five years.
“If you are so distraught about your lover, perhaps you should speak to him,” Reinhardt says gently. “He cannot do anything to you over the telephone.”
“I can’t, Will,” Jack says miserably. “He’s got someone else already. It would be selfish and horrid of me to push this burden of grief on him. I made my choice and I have to let him move on. That’s the way it is.”
“But you are so very sad, master Jack. You are breaking your heart for him. Surely he would not want that.”
“It’s too late,” Jack sighs. “I really should have thought all of this through more carefully. Who knew dying would be so much trouble.”
Reinhardt cradles him more tightly and kisses the top of his golden-blonde head. “There is still time. Perhaps you will change your mind.”
“Still, I will be here with you, no matter what you decide to do. I will always be with you.”
“Jesse, why the fuck are looking at me like that?” Gabriel says to his young companion, who has been staring at him for some time now.
“You’re smokin’,” Jesse says. “And you just said a cuss.”
Gabriel gives an exasperated sigh. “And I’m a vampire, Jesse. I’m not a priest anymore. I don’t even remember being one.”
“I can’t fuckin’ believe it was you wrote all that shit,” Jesse says, shaking his head in bewilderment. “You don’t sound nothin’ like that when you talk.”
“No one sounds like that when they talk.”
“Wadn’t you always into dudes? Like, how did that work out with you bein’ a priest?”
“I assume I was under a vow of chastity. I don’t think it would have come up.”
“I just can’t imagine you in a church. You so surly and grouchy. You’da scared folks away who come to get baptized and shit.”
“I wasn’t that kind of priest,” Gabriel says testily. “I was a monk and a scholar, not a parish curate.”
“I guess,” Jesse blithely persists. “I still can’t tally you up with the man as wrote all them fancy words. Makes sense you took to his way of thinkin’ though, seein’ as it was yours all along.”
Angela, who has been listening to all of this as she pours the tea, sets down steaming mugs in front of them both.
“That is exactly right, Jesse,” she says sweetly, as she seats herself across the little dining room table with her own mug. “The fact that Gabriel is fundamentally the same man is important to remember. His personality and natural inclinations are intact. All that was really altered was his memory of the very first part of his life, and he has lived many lifetimes since then.”
“I’ll say,” Jesse says, scratching his chin musingly. “If he was him, then…that makes him more’n fifteen-hundred years old.”
Angela smiles. “Yes, a little bit more.”
“Also means if that shit you wrote was all true, you was sired against your will,” Jesse says, turning to Gabriel. “Can’t be though. You was a holy man, and they can’t get bit without they give permission. Unless you wadn’t really faithful.”
“I was,” Gabriel says. “But there were some who that rule didn’t apply to.”
Jesse frowns. “Who?”
“The ancients,” Angela answers.
“C’mon, the ancients?” Jesse says, with a nervous laugh. “They’re a myth, right?”
Angela shakes her head decidedly. “They are most certainly not a myth. But I should allow Gabriel to tell you of them, since the history rightfully belongs to him.”
“I’m sure you remember it better than I do,” Gabriel says, staring fixedly into his mug. “Be my guest.”
“Alright, but please do correct me if I err in my facts,” Angela replies, clearly pleased by the opportunity to share her knowledge. She pauses to gather her thoughts, then begins. “This is the history, as it has been passed to me. There were, long ago, powers that walked unclothed in the void. They could not create new things of their own, but they could bend and shape matter to their will and according to their whims.
Some set black holes spinning amid the innumerable stars, which gathered systems about them and made order from the chaos. Others sought to free these things from the bonds of order and return them to the tumultuous cosmic nebulae that they preferred. None of this was any matter of grave conflict, but merely play to them.
Then something strange occurred. The universe awakened and became aware of itself. They felt the dawning of consciousness other than their own resonate in the fiber of their being, at the very moment of its birth. Many went to investigate this new thing. What they found became the first matter of contention between the powers, for the form of awakening the universe had undergone confounded them.
On a little, blue world orbiting a mediocre star, intelligent creatures had evolved and had begun to question the nature of being. Some of the powers believed this to be an abomination, and a vile parody of true awareness. Some were filled with love for these tiny, fragile things and wished to aid and guide them. The vast majority, however, did not think it a matter of any great significance, and soon returned to their own pursuits.
The few who remained debated the matter for long centuries. At last, coming to no accord, they decided that any who wished to do so would enter this realm and do what they might, some seeking to destroy and some seeking to preserve this self-aware species. Those who took physical form and entered this little planet became the primeval demons. They made themselves gods, both malevolent and benevolent, and some neutral, who sought only to maintain balance.
Before they were cast again into the outer void, and stripped of their ability to enter the material realm, some of these primeval demons fathered children with the daughters of men. One of these, a demon of bloodlust and drunkenness, produced seven sons before his exile. As far as I understand it, Gabriel, they were called sons because language reflects its sexist culture, but they appeared as male or female by their mood or inclination. Is this accurate?”
Gabriel nods. “If what de Oña—if what I wrote was true, that sounds right.”
“Excellent,” Angela smiles. “In any case, these hybrids were what vampires called the ancients. They were beautiful and powerful, but they were little more than demons in humanoid bodies. They hated humanity for being the weakness in themselves which bound them to the corporeal world, and divided them from their father. They hated humans for their undeserved place in the favor of the light, and most of all, they hated religion in all its forms, since it promised these pathetic mortal creatures of flesh and bone a transcendence that they themselves would ever be denied.
They attempted to suppress religious practices and discredit faiths of all kinds. Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, and many others. They burned temples and tormented priests and monks, and yet these faiths spread and grew. There were simply too few of them to stamp it out on their own. So, they conceived a plan to create an army which would aid them in eradicating this menace of hope beyond death, and return humanity to its proper fear and worship of the void.
They were sterile, but their father’s blood was powerful. They found they could corrupt humans and turn them into lesser demonic beings, by making them drink varying quantities of their blood. These mongrels would subsist on the blood of the living, and would be blessed with immortality and some small demonic power of their own. They would also have the power to transform other humans with the demon blood. These were the first vampires. The elders. The bloodthirsty destroyers who would descend upon humankind like a plague, till no living man remained.
Since they had so much of the demon’s undiluted power, the ancients were not affected by the light of creation, which shone faintly through the veil of mortal flesh in the truly devout. Their vampire children, however, were bound and repelled by this light, as the demon blood in them was too weak to withstand it. No matter, the ancients decided. When there were enough of them, their vampires would lay siege to the strongholds of the faithful and simply starve them out. So, after long study and experimentation, they began this work in earnest. To show their contempt for humanity and its insolence in daring to grasp at the divine, they chose their firstborn children from among the highly educated and the clerics of the faithful.
But this is where their design went astray. Contrary to their intent, the elders retained a large part of their native humanity. Rather than becoming willing servants, they loathed their sires and only submitted to them from fear. Being wise and learned men and women in life, they saw the ancients’ purpose for the brutal and primitive folly it was. They maintained obedience on the surface, but they plotted in secret, and one day, they rose up against the ancients and took them unawares.
Many were destroyed, but in the end, they prevailed. Together, they bound and buried the demon’s seven sons, deep in the frozen and dust-scoured wastes of the uninhabitable corners of the world. Those who had survived hid all knowledge of the ancients and their locations, lest they be discovered and brought back to begin a new reign of terror on the earth.
Ignacio de Oña was one of those first chosen. He was taken by an ancient, held captive and tortured for nearly five years. When he still could not be made to renounce his faith, the ancient who tormented him took it from him by force. Made him one of the children of Satan, as he would have considered it. Cursed to live in eternal anguish, hating the light from which he was banished, as well as the darkness to which he was constrained, and forever torn between the two.
Being the most powerful of the elders, it was de Oña and his brother by the blood of their sire, who lead the rebellion, and they who studied the means by which the ancients may be subdued and imprisoned. Their plan succeeded at great cost to their kind. Few were left afterward, but they were unburdened of the yoke of their fathers, and free to live as they wished.
To de Oña’s vexation, however, he saw that most soon returned to cruelty and ruthless oppression. As wise as they were, greed and lust for power were native in them by their lineage, both human and demonic. He rejected their company and condemned their tyrannical practices, choosing to wander the world alone, afflicted in spirit and grieved for the viciousness of his kin, as much as his own.
At long last, he returned to his old monastery, to find it ruined and desolate. This was when he wrote the massive work that was eventually distilled into the Apologia Sanguinaria. He made seven copies by hand, and sent them to those he considered to be the most reasonable among the elders. To his surprise, some turned back to this path, swayed by the wisdom of his words.
His brother was one of these. They were reconciled, and he urged de Oña to return and take counsel with the others. He refused. He never forgave them, but at his brother’s entreaty, he relented to leave them in peace, and did not harass them with bitter words when they met by chance. Those who had not adopted his philosophy, he ignored. So long as they kept the young ones in their territory under control and did no more damage than they were entitled to do for survival.” Angela pauses and takes a breath. “And that is all I know from the history. Gabriel told me more, long ago, but I do not think it is my business to share those things.”
“I’d say that’s pretty damned thorough,” Jesse says, looking somewhat dazed. “So, uh…the other kinds, they get here the same way?”
“Indeed, we did,” Angela says. “Since the powers manifested in different ways, according to their purpose and preference, our abilities and manner of receiving them are different, but we all have in common that we are the descendants of the primeval demons.”
“Ain’t that somethin’,” Jesse breathes. He reaches up to push back the brim of his hat, realizes he is not wearing it, and rakes his fingers through his hair instead. “Hey I got a question, Gabriel. Who was your brother? The one who riled up the mutiny with you?”
Gabriel swirls the tea in his cup and takes a sip, though it has gone quite cold. “Back then, he was called Maximilianus.”
“Max?” Jesse says, astonished. Then he makes a face. “Hold up a sec. Y’all was like…romantic, though.”
Gabriel rolls his eyes. “We were only brothers by the blood of our sire, Jesse. Vampire kinship doesn’t work that way. If it did, that would technically make me your father.”
“Right,” Jesse says, with a sheepish laugh. “Let’s forget I said that dumbass thing. So, what’s the plan, then?”
“The same as it was. I’m going to find Jack. I have to at least see him one more time, before…I—I have to see him.”
“Before you go, I have something for you, Jesse,” Angela says. “I hope you do not mind, but I borrowed a little of your blood while you slept.”
“My blood,” Jesse says, tensing visibly. “What for?”
“To make you this,” Angela says, holding out a small, black satin bag, tied with red cords.
Jesse looks questioningly at Gabriel, then back at Angela, before taking the little bag. He unties the cords and turns it over into his hand. In his palm sits a pendant or amulet of some kind, on a thin silver chain. He holds it up to inspect it more closely. The pendant is a rounded disc of glossy silver, with seven points radiating outward like the rays of the sun. In the center is set a deep-crimson gem. The faceted surface glints, but its inside seems to have some opacity to it, which prevents it from catching the light entirely.
“It’s real pretty, ma’am,” Jesse says, confused. “Thank you. But, uh…what is it?”
“It will restore something that you lost undeservedly,” Angela says. “I have used your blood and Gabriel’s to enchant this gem. Wear the pendant, and you may walk unafraid in the full light of the sun, as has been the dearest wish of your heart for many years.”
Jesse looks up at her, blinking back the tears that have sprung suddenly into his eyes. “I don’t understand. Why would you do this for me?”
“You are a good and faithful man, Jesse,” she says, reaching out to touch his handsome face. “You have sacrificed much for love. It is about time that love gave you something in return.” Then she laughs her musical little laugh. “Go ahead, put it on.”
“But it—it’s so precious,” Jesse says. “What if I lose it or break it or somethin’?”
“The chains I enchant are not easily broken. It will cling to you unless you should give it to another of your own free will.” She stands and lifts it from his palm. “Here, let me help you.”
Jesse sits very still as she clasps the chain around his neck, then he picks up the little pendant to look at it again, before he tucks it carefully into his shirt.
“I can’t thank you enough, ma’am,” he says, his voice still tight with emotion. “I wish I had somethin’ I could give you in return, but I don’t.”
“That is not necessary,” Angela says. “I have a few ounces of Gabriel’s blood in my collection now, which is quite a valuable thing to me. Older vampires are difficult to obtain that particular resource from. Now, unless you have any more questions for me, you two had better be on your way. You have a long journey ahead of you, and I am afraid we have been keeping my wife awake with our chatter. She is a terribly light sleeper.”
Gabriel and Jesse rise from the table and follow Angela to the front door. Before they step out into the cold, rainy night, she takes Jesse’s hands and kisses him on both cheeks.
“Goodbye, Jesse,” she says. “I hope you will come to visit me again sometime.”
“Goodbye, ma’am,” Jesse says, replacing his hat on his head. “I will, I promise. Thank you again.”
“Remember what I have told you,” she says, kissing Gabriel’s cheek as well. “You may think on your decision carefully, but it is your heart that will guide you to the right path.”
“Thank you, Angela,” Gabriel says, with a bow. “I’ll come and visit again, too, when I can.”
“Perhaps,” she says, looking up into his eyes. “I hope that you will. Goodbye, Gabriel.”
Angela stands on the porch, silhouetted in the warm, golden light from the door, waving as her two guests depart and vanish into the deep shadows. Then she scoops up a fat, grey cat and goes back into her cozy little house. When she lies down in bed at last, her wife turns over and wraps an arm around her.
“Are you alright, my dear?” she says groggily, hearing Angela sigh.
“I am alright,” Angela replies. “I hope that they will be. I cannot yet see their fate.”
“You’ve done all you can,” Moira says, pulling her closer.
“I believe that I have,” Angela says, with another sigh. “I hope it will be enough.”
“Boy howdy, jefe,” Jesse says, when they are well away down the street. “I had witches all wrong. I mean, I ain’t so sure about the scary one, but that Angela’s a standup lady.”
“She is,” Gabriel replies, keeping his eyes on the road ahead.
“Hey, so where we goin’ anyhow? She tell you where to find Jack and them wolves?”
“We’re going to Japan. To Shimada Castle.”
Jesse stops in his tracks. “Shimada fuckin’…jefe, the Shimadas ain’t just wolves. They’re a yakuza clan. That means we’re goin’ to a fortified castle fulla ninja gangster werewolves. Real old, real powerful ones.”
“It’s dangerous, I know,” Gabriel says, turning to face him. “It’s probably suicide. That’s why you’re not coming with me.”
Jesse’s eyes harden. “The fuck you mean, I ain’t comin’ with you? We’re doin’ this together.”
“No. I hired you to track them, and you did. That’s the end of our arrangement. When we get back to the hotel, I’m going to give you the rest of what I owe you, and—”
Gabriel’s sentence is interrupted midway by Jesse’s fist, which has collided with his face like a cannonball. He staggers backward, glaring at him with glowing, red-black eyes.
“What the fuck, Jesse!” he snarls.
“Fuck you, is what!” Jesse fires back. “You think you can just pay me my money and I’ll let you go off to face the wolves alone? That what you think of me?”
“That was our agreement,” Gabriel says icily. “What did you think this was?”
Jesse lunges forward like a blur, aiming another blow at Gabriel’s face. Faster than even Jesse’s preternatural sight, Gabriel shifts his position, sidestepping it with ease. Catching Jesse’s fist in one hand and grabbing the scruff of his neck with the other, he twists his arm behind his back and pins him to a nearby wall.
“Jesse, I will not risk your life for this,” he growls in his ear. “Don’t make me chain you up somewhere and leave you. I don’t want to do it, but I will.”
“Fuck you,” Jesse says again. “Let go 'a me.”
Gabriel pauses. “Are you going to try to hit me again?”
“Naw, I ain’t.”
He cautiously releases his grip and steps back. Jesse turns around slowly, then leans on the wall and draws out a cigarette.
“Y’know what,” he says, as he lights it. “I been a whore for a hundred-odd years, but you’re the first man ever made me feel like one.”
The words hit Gabriel like the blow Jesse had missed, and he takes a moment to recover.
“No,” he says, shaking his head. “No, Jesse. It’s not like that. I love you. I love you so much.”
“Only you ain’t in love with me,” Jesse says bitterly, through his cloud of blue-white smoke. “How original.”
“I am in love with you,” Gabriel says hoarsely. “I always have been. I just never understood it.”
“That ain’t—that ain’t gonna work on me, Gabriel,” Jesse falters. “You can’t just tell me what I wanna hear so’s you can get rid of me.”
“It’s true. I love you, Jesse. I love Jack, too. That’s why I can’t let you come with me. I can’t risk losing either of you.”
“You really love me?”
“Alright, then.” Jesse flicks his cigarette away and straightens up. “You gotta start treatin’ me like you do. That means trustin’ me to make my own decisions. I ain’t lettin’ you go this one alone, Gabriel. Cause I love you, too. Ain’t nothin or no one I’d rather risk my life for, so deal with it.”
Gabriel sighs and lifts his hands in resignation. “Fine. You can come with me.”
“I know I can,” Jesse retorts. “I just told you I was comin’, didn’t I.”
Gabriel stares at him for a moment, then bursts into laughter.
“You stubborn son of a bitch,” he says, pulling Jesse into his arms. “You said you weren’t in love with me that way anymore.”
“Yeah, well I lied. Lucky for you.”
“And you’re ok with the whole Jack thing?”
“Yup. That don’t mean he’s gonna be, but you know I ain’t jealous like that.”
“I know you’re not,” Gabriel smiles. He leans down to kiss Jesse’s forehead, then his lips. “You’re so good, Jesse. I never deserved you.”
“Nope,” Jesse grins. “Now, come on. Let’s go get your pretty blonde psycho away from them gangster werewolves.”
As tranquil and lovely as Shimada castle is, Jack, as is his custom, has grown quickly restless and bored shut up within its walls. As Hanzo had promised, he is free to go out and to do as he pleases, provided he does not mind the extra security presence that accompanies being an honored guest of the Shimadas. This is a personal courtesy, and due to the fact that their enemies, hearing that he is held in such high regard by the Master, may attempt to abduct him and use him as some kind of leverage. It is unlikely, as Hanzo has assured him, but safe is preferable to sorry.
Tonight, Genji takes him to an extremely hip nightclub in Tokyo, called the Rifle Range. Jack can see the Shimada security men about, but they maintain a respectful distance, watching the area and keeping an eye on the young master and his American friend. Reinhardt, however, is less easy to shake off, insisting upon remaining near him, in case he should have one of his fainting spells.
“No one is going to ask me to dance with you hovering, Will,” Jack pouts, when Genji has excused himself to the lavatory. “They probably think you’re my boyfriend.”
“Master Jack, they probably think master Genji is your boyfriend,” Reinhardt says patiently. “You two have been very affectionate tonight.”
“Well, that’s true,” Jack grins. “But he’s the hottest guy in here. I can’t help it.”
“Why don’t you go and dance together, then? I will sit here at the table and watch you.”
“I suppose,” Jack says, casting his eyes over the packed dance floor. “I was kind of hoping for something different tonight.”
“No, no, master Jack,” Reinhardt says firmly. “If you want that, we must go somewhere less visible. There are security cameras all over the place.”
“Pooh,” Jack says, slumping against the back of the booth. Genji returns at that moment and Jack smiles up at him. “Hey, Genji, any chance you’re getting hungry? This place is kind of a drag.”
“I am always getting hungry,” Genji says, with a wicked grin. “Shall we go hunting?”
“Yes, please. Will’s being a mother hen and won’t let me find someone here.”
“That is wise,” Genji nods. “There are many surveillance cameras.”
“So I hear,” Jack says, rising from his seat. “Shall we?”
Genji nods to one of the security men, who taps his earpiece to signal the others. The black-suited men precede Jack and Genji, clearing a path for them as they make their way to the entrance, where two large, black Shimada SUVs are pulling up to the curb. Genji and Jack climb into the back seat of the first. Reinhardt takes the front seat beside the driver, and the rest of the entourage pile into the second. Genji says something to the driver in Japanese, and the convoy pulls away.
“So, where are we going?” Jack asks eagerly.
“Kabukicho,” Genji says. “It is a more accommodating area for our purposes.”
“Ooh, the red-light district?” Jack says. “I’ve never been, but I’ve heard it’s dangerous and full of criminals. I mean…lowlife criminals. Sorry.”
“You are very funny, Jack,” Genji laughs. “I am not offended. My family empire does much that skirts the bounds of the law. We own several businesses there, in fact.”
Jack’s stomach turns as his vision lurches abruptly. For a disoriented second, he thinks he’s having one of his fainting episodes, but the thunderclap of impact and the whine of twisting metal rapidly disabuse him of this notion. It seems as if a meteor has fallen from space and pinned the front of the vehicle to the street. His seatbelt digs into his collarbone as the inertia throws him forward. The sudden change in momentum raises the tail end of the vehicle into the air, where it lingers for a second, then drops heavily back to the ground. Jack hears Reinhardt calling out to him through the ringing in his ears.
“I’m—I’m ok, Will,” he stammers, wincing from the pain in his ribs and collarbone. “I’m ok.”
Just as he is saying this, the door beside him is ripped from its hinges and hurtles away into the empty street. Jack stares open-mouthed, in blank incomprehension of what he sees. It appears to be a mass of black-feathered wings, hundreds of them, and it is covered in eyes. A voice, low and deep, almost musical, speaks from inside the roiling mass.
“Hello, young one,” it says. “I have been looking for you.”
Black tendrils of shadow snake out of the mass and curl around him to unhook his seat restraint. He tries to lunge away, but they seize on him and begin to lift him, to draw him from the vehicle. Jack struggles and cries out, looking frantically about for help, but Reinhardt and Genji appear to be frozen in place. Panicked, he writhes and strains, but the harder he fights, the more tightly the black vines coil about him, drawing him toward that indescribable horror. Just as he seems about to be swallowed into it, utter blackness blots out his vision. His body goes slack as his consciousness slips mercifully away.
For Reinhardt and Genji, the scene had played out somewhat differently. They experienced the impact the same way, and saw the door being ripped from the hinges, but to their eyes, Jack had simply vanished. Blinked out of existence, to leave his stunned and horrified friends staring at the empty seat where he had been. This lasts only a moment before they leap into action.
Reinhardt, though sick with distress over his master’s safety, jumps out to help the injured driver from the vehicle. The second vehicle had stopped just in time, narrowly avoiding a collision with theirs, and the men are already swarming about them with weapons drawn. Genji sends them to scout the surrounding area and report back, as he places a call to the Master.
Get the whole house on alert and send an extraction team to airlift them home. A convoy bearing Shimada Genji has been attacked and Jack has been abducted. May the gods have mercy on the perpetrators, when the Shimada okami get a hold of them.
Jack’s wandering mind drifts gradually back to consciousness, and to the awareness of pain. His collarbone throbs and aches horribly. He takes a breath, and his ribs stab him with razorblades of agony. With a great effort, he opens his eyes and looks dazedly about. He is lying in luxurious, white linens in a massive bed. A gleam of moonlight falls on the bed through an oculus in the center of the high, domed ceiling. Otherwise, it is mostly dark, and all he can tell about this room is that it is very large.
He gives a yelp of pain as he pushes himself up to a sitting position, which echoes in the cavernous chamber. The silky sheet falls away as he does so, and he realizes that he is naked. It irritates him to think of his suit being removed and just tossed somewhere. It’s a gorgeous, wine-colored Italian silk, and he’d worn it for the first time tonight.
“You are awake,” a voice says from somewhere in the inky darkness of the room. “Good.”
It’s the same voice that had spoken from the winged horror, or nearly the same. It should terrify Jack, but fear is a thing he is not accustomed to feeling in any circumstance. He’d been overwhelmed by the creature’s presence before, and his mind had reeled with incomprehension of it, but he hadn’t been what one would call afraid.
“Where—where are my clothes,” he demands, wincing at the pain in his ribs.
“You have nothing, here,” the voice answers.
“I’m pretty sure I at least have a suit,” Jack says, as sardonically as he can between shallow breaths. “Not that I wouldn’t go out naked for the evening, but I’d remember.”
“Clever,” the voice says. “You will see what that will earn you.”
Jack rolls his eyes. “Listen, asshole. No one is going to pay a ransom for me and I’m not going to play your stupid games, so whatever you’re going to do to me, get it over with or shut the fuck up.”
There is a flicker of movement and the darkness alleviates somewhat. Jack studies his captor as he steps into the light. He is a man…sort of. He almost looks artificial, for lack of a better term. His head is clean-shaven, and he is very tall and impossibly muscular. He is shirtless, and his deep, dark-brown skin is far too smooth and flawless to be human. His face would be handsome, but it bears some aspect of malice that slightly twists its strong features, making them hard and forbidding.
“You are in pain,” the man says. “You were injured when I stopped your vehicle.”
He reaches out and touches Jack’s chest. His hand is icy-cold, like it’s made of some kind of metal. Jack shudders visibly. The chill from the touch seems to be seeping into him and spreading out from where the man had touched him.
“S—so what,” Jack chatters. “What do you care?”
“I wish your body to be whole. Accidental hurts are not useful to me.”
Jack draws up the sheet instinctively, pulling it around his trembling shoulders as the chill soaks deeper. As it does, however, the pain in his broken collarbone and ribs begins to lessen and fade, till it has vanished entirely. The chill dissipates with the pain, and soon his teeth stop chattering. He takes a cautious breath, then a deeper one, keeping his eyes fixed on his captor.
“That is better,” the man says, with an almost cruel smile. “I have healed your injuries.”
“Thanks,” Jack says flatly. “I mean, you caused them, too, so pardon me if I don’t call the mayor to have a parade thrown in your honor.”
“You have no fear,” the man says. “I admire this. But you will learn to fear me.”
“That’s not very likely,” Jack chirps. “I mean that as no insult to you. I’m sure you’re very terrifying and all that. I’m just not sure I’m capable of it.”
The man reaches down and wraps his gigantic hand around Jack’s neck. The chill doesn’t spread into his tissues this time, but the icy touch makes his skin prickle up in goosebumps.
“You are insolent because you know no better,” the man says. “That is the only reason you still live.”
“You’re—very cold,” Jack chokes out. The man releases him and stares down at him as he rubs his throat. “And the reason I’m still alive is because you want something from me that you can’t get if I’m dead. So let’s not waste our time with idle threats.”
Before Jack even sees him move, the man has dealt him a whip-fast backhanded blow across the face, that knocks him onto his side. It feels like being hit with a slab of stone. He lies there for a moment, stunned, with his ear ringing and cheekbone throbbing. Then he turns laboriously over onto his back, kicking away the sheet that has become tangled about his legs.
“Fuck,” he breathes, turning his blue eyes up to his captor. “You hit so hard. But you were holding back, weren’t you. So much power.”
The man runs his eyes over Jack’s naked body. “I could break you with a breath. Your mortal flesh is weak. Fragile.”
“Oh, I know,” Jack sighs. “I’m dying. Can you believe that? Twenty-five, in perfect health, and just…poof. Dead. It’s kind of funny, really. Only the joke is on me.”
The man stares at him, silent and impassive.
“Look, pardon me for pressing the issue,” Jack says, struggling up to a sitting position again. “But if you could just tell me what you want from me, I’d appreciate it. I mean, you’ve gone to all the trouble of wrecking my friend’s car and spiriting me away to this, uh…”
“Temple, thank you. So, what are you getting out of it? What do you want from me?”
“Do you not know what you are?”
“I know a lot of things that I am. I just don’t see how any of them relate to you.”
“You do see.”
“Oh. That,” Jack says, looking away. “Well, I guess that’s obvious, now you say it. But it’s really nothing all that special.”
The man laughs at this. Low and resonant, like distant thunder. “You see with the eye unveiled, and you say it is nothing special.”
“Wait, you know what this sight is, then? And why I have it?” Jack says, more eagerly than he’d intended.
“Your mother and the old crusader hid you well. Protected you from the idiot clerics, who would have twisted your gift to their own purposes. But even your mother did not know what you truly are. The descendant of a god.”
Jack laughs outright. “The descendant of—oh, please. Which god? Odin? Zeus?”
“You cannot hear his true name, for it is beyond your comprehension. But in this world, he was sometimes called Apollo.”
“Apollo, huh?” Jack says musingly. “God of truth and prophecy…and sunshine. I mean, it makes sense. You know, with the sight thing and the blonde and all.”
“You are very like him, as he was in his physical form. Only…smaller.”
“But Apollo was a protector of mankind, not a killer.”
“In one aspect, he was a protector. But he was also a judge. Bearer of the eye of truth and interpreter of the sacred law. In his wrath, he was terrible. And his judgements were…severe.”
“And you know this from personal experience?”
“I knew him, yes.”
“Really,” Jack smirks. “Are you a god, too, then?”
“The son of a god. You are but a descendant, and yet you see with his eyes. You see the reality behind the veil. The rot and corruption of the foul, degenerate species called humanity.”
“Oh, come on. I’m human. We’re not that bad.”
“Your flesh is human. Your spirit is not. That is why it is so easy for you to judge and condemn them.”
“What? What do you mean my spirit is not?”
“For what reason, I do not know, but your ancestor’s power lives more strongly in you than any before. I slept long beneath the stone, in the silent darkness, until the song of your birth awakened me. A true son of Apollo, after all these generations.”
“Cool, but, if you were awakened by my birth or whatever, why’d you wait twenty-five years to…do whatever you’re doing?”
“My children betrayed and imprisoned me. I spent many years calling out in spirit. At last, some of the weak and the young among my descendants heeded my call and came to me. I consumed them and regained enough strength to break free.”
Jack makes a face. “Is that exactly what it sounds like?”
The man does not answer this, but the question had been rather rhetorical.
“You know my children,” he says. “The creatures of the night that you call vampires.”
Jack attempts to swallow in a suddenly dry throat. “I…may have run into a few of them. They’re, uh—they’re your children? The ones who betrayed you?”
“Some. They have sought you out and have not attempted to harm you, is this not true? They do not know what you are, but they are drawn to you. Intoxicated by your presence. By your forefather’s light.”
“Well, I have had a higher than average number of sexual partners who are supernatural creatures. And none of them have ever really tried to hurt me,” Jack says, biting his lip. Then he shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter. I told you, I’m dying. If I was the descendant of some god, then shouldn’t that have protected me? Gods don’t die of cancer.”
“Your mortal flesh revolts against your power,” the man says, carding his icy fingers through Jack’s sunny-blonde hair. “It has turned against you, attempting to terminate the abomination before your body is consumed by the fire of your spirit.”
“Consumed. Ha. There’s that word again. But that would kill me anyway, right? So why go to the trouble of a brain tumor?”
“If your flesh were to be consumed in this fire, you would rise from the ashes a god. The gods are forbidden to enter this realm in physical form. Doing so, you would unmake the law, and the fabric of reality would be torn apart.”
Jack blinks at him. “Um…forgive me if I sound a tad dubious, but is there any chance you have me mixed up with someone else? I’m Jack. I’m twenty-five and I’m dying, and I’m sad because I miss my boyfriend. I know supernatural creatures seem to like me a lot and want to have sex with me, but that’s because I’m hot and charming and absurdly wealthy. I’m not the descendant of Apollo and I’m certainly not a reality-destroying god.”
“You will not be a god, no,” the man says, with another of those cruel smiles. He kneels on the bed and pushes Jack down onto his back. “I have another purpose in mind for you.”
“A—another purpose?” Jack pants, beginning to be frightened for the first time since he’s been talking with this strange person. “Does it have anything to do with why I’m naked? In this bed?”
“This is not a bed,” the man says, leaning down over him to speak softly into his ear. “This is an altar.”
Jack attempts to reach up and push him away, but he finds his arms and legs leaden, as if held down by some invisible force. As the man stands over him, his humanoid body shudders and begins to dissolve in the air, growing and spreading outward like a black storm cloud, until it has once again transformed into the horrific, mind-unraveling creature that took him from the vehicle. From somewhere in its roiling mass, it draws out a wickedly curved, black-bladed knife.
Jack looks at the knife, then back into the hundreds of glittering eyes. All at once, he knows with sudden, perfect clarity that he is about to die. This knowledge fills him with a sense of calm bordering on transcendent. He feels no fear. Only the tender ache of grief for his beloved, who he will never see again. His eyes drift up to the oculus, high above him in the top of the dome, where the silver-white disc of the full moon is just moving into the center.
The razor-sharp blade slips across his throat, but he hardly feels it. Warm tears roll down his cheeks, as the hot flood of his life spills over his chest in a crimson torrent, pooling around his body on the snowy white linens. Just before his consciousness slips away to be swallowed into the everlasting dark, his mouth moves, forming his silent final word.
Jack wakes suddenly, sitting bolt-upright, to the awareness that he has been screaming. This dream, this nightmare, whatever it was…it was so real. So vivid that he can still feel the thick, sticky blood pooled around him. He reaches down, feeling about frantically. The linens are spotless and smooth, with no trace of blood. He takes a few deep breaths to calm himself, but he can’t shake the bone-chilling horror of the dream.
He fumbles in the dark for his phone to check the time, but he can’t find the nightstand. As he blinks about, however, he realizes there is some light source somewhere in the room. Soft and very dim, but useful. Only he can’t tell where it’s coming from. It almost seems to shine wherever he’s looking, which makes no sense at all. Only then does it occur to him that he has no idea where he is. At last, he locates the nightstand, which is over on the other side of the wide, king-sized bed. There, he can see his phone and a lamp.
He grabs his phone and switches on the lamp, which momentarily blinds him, making him curse irritably. He rubs his eyes and checks the time. It’s nine fifteen in the evening, but the date can’t be right. He is contemplating this, when the telephone on the dresser rings, startling him nearly out of his skin. He hops up and hurries over to answer it, hoping for some clue to where he is.
“Mr. Morrison,” a cheerful female voice with a pronounced Japanese accent answers through the receiver. “This is Yuna at the front desk with your courtesy wakeup call, as requested.”
“Ah, yes,” he says, a bit hoarsely. “Thank you, Yuna.”
“You are very welcome,” she replies genially. “Have a wonderful evening, Mr. Morrison.”
He hangs up the phone and opens the leather bound guest services folio. The inside cover proclaims “Hotel Chinzanso” in gold-embossed letters. So he’s still in Tokyo. And he picked a good hotel. He’s naked, though, so he hopes he also brought some clothing. He finds the closet and slides open the rice-paper door, to find his suit hanging neatly, with his shoes on the floor beneath it and his socks and underwear folded on the shelf beside it. Whatever he’s been doing, he at least had the presence of mind to care for his garments properly.
He recalls leaving the Rifle Range with Will and Genji, but he can’t make anything else come into focus. Just hazy snatches of that horrid dream, which are fading rapidly anyway. He thinks there was a big man, or maybe some kind of monster? And a temple? The harder he tries to remember, the more it slips away. He realizes he’s been staring absently at his suit and shakes himself. His mouth tastes awful, so he goes to the bathroom to brush his teeth.
He catches sight of himself in the mirror and his blood runs cold. He stands frozen in place, staring at a reflection of a thing that is him, but not as he knows himself. His golden-tanned skin is nearly luminous, as if there is very finely ground actual gold mixed into it. His pale blonde hair seems to catch every bit of light and shimmer as he moves. But his eyes. His eyes are afire. His irises gleam like two pale-blue gems, lit from within.
“Holy fuck,” he gasps, gripping the counter to steady himself. “I’m beautiful! And I’m a vampire!”
He leans close to the mirror and parts his pouting lips. Sure enough, his pearl-white eyeteeth have become elongated and drawn out to razor-sharp points. He finds himself overcome by an instant, tremendous sense of relief, so potent that it brings tears to his eyes. He does not have to die. He does not even have to choose whether or not to die. The decision has been made for him. Fate, or whatever it is, has set him on the path and all he has to do is walk it.
After a moment, he dries his eyes and takes another look at himself. As pretty as the fangs are, they could pose a problem for interactions with humans. He tries a few smiles, though, and is relieved to find that they are not too noticeable. Then he opens the courtesy toothbrush and squeezes toothpaste from the travel-sized tube onto it. He puts it in his mouth to brush his teeth, but he instantly gags on the sickly-sweet, unbearably minty flavor of the toothpaste and spits it out into the sink. He makes a face and checks the tube, wondering of this is some odd Japanese brand, or if it has something to do with his enhanced vampire senses. He vaguely recalls Gabriel having mentioned something about smells and flavors being intensely amplified.
He smiles. Gabriel. Gabriel!
Gabriel still thinks he’s dying! He’ll be so excited to hear about—wait…then who transformed him? It couldn’t have been Gabriel, because he didn’t know he was in Japan. And he never would have left him alone like this. But what if he’s upset that someone else turned him? No matter. What’s done is done and his lover will have to accept it. He’ll be happy that Jack isn’t going to die, at least. He has to get a hold of him immediately. And the Shimadas. They’re probably wondering where he ran off to. He hopes they won’t be repulsed by him, now that he’s like this. And Will. Oh god, Will. He’ll be…well, he’ll be relieved Jack isn’t going to die, too. He may be ambivalent about the vampire thing. Though Jack can’t imagine things proceeding much differently than they always have.
As he brushes his teeth with water and a micron of toothpaste, he wonders vaguely what he can and can’t do now. He knows they burn in the sun. Well, most do. Gabriel and Max don’t. He knows they’re incredibly strong and fast. And that they have to drink blood. At this thought, his entire being resonates with a single, deep chord of animal desire. Blood. It aches and keens in every cell of his body, wanting, craving, screaming, demanding, blood, blood, blood. This must be the thirst.
“Holy shit,” he mutters. “No wonder Gabriel flipped out when I did this to him.”
It’s like his own bloodlust, but amplified and made urgent and ravenous. No longer lust, it is a need, pure and clean. He must kill to live. He laughs giddily, lightheaded at the idea. Now he is a killer by right, divested of the need to burden himself with guilt over killing. It will be the fulfillment of his natural purpose. And he is already very good at it.
Urged by the thirst, he dresses quickly. He is pleased to find his wallet in the breast pocket of his suit, still containing everything he’d put in it (cash in several currencies, his identification and credit cards, and such things). He picks up his phone, but decides he’ll call Gabriel once he’s outside. He slides it into his pocket and heads for the door, eager to try out his new role as a creature of the night.
To his surprise and annoyance, there are two men—vampire men, that is—outside the door. He doesn’t recognize them, but it is clear they’ve been posted there as some sort of security.
“Mr. Morrison,” one says, as they both bow. “The master awaits you upstairs.”
“The, uh…upstairs?” Jack says, confused.
“Yes, sir,” the other smiles politely. “You are invited to dine with him. We are to escort you up when you are ready.”
Jack’s immediate instinct is to tear out both of their throats and get out of the building as quickly as possible. But this is likely a side-effect of the transformation. And this master must be the one responsible for all of this. He decides he had better go and find out.
“Of course,” he says, trying to sound as if he knows exactly what they’re talking about. “After you.”
He follows these two vampire gentlemen to the elevator, where they touch the button for the top floor of the hotel, then stand a courteous distance away from him, looking at the marble walls as the elevator climbs upward. They disembark and the men lead Jack to the end of the hall, where there is a double-doored entry to what must be the equivalent of a presidential suite. One slides his card in the lock and opens the door for Jack. He steps hesitantly through, and they close it behind him, remaining outside in the hall.
Jack looks about the extremely posh living-room area. There is a fire on in the fireplace and soft music coming from speakers somewhere. On the left and right, there are doors leading to what must be the bedrooms, and at the end of the room, there is a sliding-glass door leading to a large balcony, with a spectacular view of the hotel’s famous garden, with its thousand-year-old pagoda.
He stands there not quite knowing what to do with himself, and with an increasing sense of alarm. Something is telling him that he is well out of his depth, and needs to run. He has almost made up his mind to do just that, when the door on the right opens, and a man steps out, dressed in a white tuxedo jacket and black dress pants. He is very tall and handsome. His skin is a rich dark-sable, and his head is clean-shaven.
He smiles. “Hello, young one. You are awake. Good.”
Jack’s memory comes roaring back like a storm cloud bursting. He staggers backward a step or two, staring at the man wild-eyed, as the events of that night whirl and roar in his head in a jumble of confused snapshots. The horrific creature. The temple. The knife and the moonlight and blood. His blood.
“You,” he pants. “Who are you? Why…why did you do this?”
“I have had many names,” the man says coolly. “You may call me Akande. Your other questions, I will answer in good time. I hope you slept well.”
“I—I don’t know,” Jack says, caught off-guard by his very different tone. “I suppose I feel rested.”
The man who is apparently called Akande laughs. “I hope so. You slept for three days. Please, sit.”
Jack walks unsteadily to the sofa and falls into it. Akande seats himself in a large easy-chair, facing the sofa diagonally at the end of the coffee table. He steeples his fingers and studies Jack for a long moment. Jack tries to maintain his gaze, but he can’t quite sit still. The thirst is tormenting him now. A hollow ache that gnaws in his chest, and makes his teeth clench and unclench involuntarily.
“This suits you much better,” Akande says at last. “You look strong. Not so…human. How do you feel?”
“Thirsty,” Jack rasps, shifting against the cushions. Just then, some gorgeous, divine, utterly heavenly scent hits his nostrils. He sits up straighter without intending to.
Akande leans back in his chair and smiles. “Good. Tell me what you sense.”
“Blood.” Jack points to the door of the bedroom behind him without looking at it. “There. A girl and a boy. Young, healthy. I hear their hearts beating.”
“Well done,” Akande smiles. “You must be very thirsty, indeed.”
Jack nods, fighting with all his will to stay put, rather than leap over the back of the sofa, kick in the door, and devour whoever he finds.
“Come here,” Akande calls out.
The door opens, and the scent overwhelms Jack’s senses before the boy and girl have even stepped into the room. They are in their early twenties perhaps, both Japanese. The boy is well-built and handsome. The girl is pale-skinned and delicate, and very lovely. Their hairstyles and clothing suggest that they are involved in the fashion industry, but Jack knows prostitutes when he sees them.
They wait, looking to Akande for instruction. Akande nods. Jack watches as they make a show of stripping each other naked. Then the boy takes the girl’s hand and they come over to kneel before him. Jack digs his fingers into the sofa cushions, struggling to maintain control. Vivid images of slicing their throats and fucking them while he bathes in their blood flash insistently in his mind.
“They are for you, Jack,” Akande says. “Take them.”
The girl leans her head on the boy’s shoulder, looking up at Jack from beneath her dark eyelashes. She gives a soft gasp and bites her pouting bottom lip, as the boy cups her breast in his hand, thumbing over her pale-pink nipple. The motion is rote and the gasp rehearsed. They are professionals, who have performed this little enticement many times, but it doesn’t matter in the least to Jack. The predator has control.
He isn’t aware of using his thrall until it’s done. Their eyes go hazy and listless, and they stare off into the middle-distance. Without being told, the girl climbs onto the sofa beside him as the boy moves to kneel between his legs and undoes his fly. Jack grabs a fistful of her hair at the base of her skull and pulls her close, breathing in her warm, sweet scent. Operating on pure instinct, he sinks his razor-sharp fangs into the right spot in her milky neck.
Her blood pours into him like molten gold, hot and brilliant and scintillating with life. He swallows it ravenously, hardly aware that the boy is stroking and sucking his cock. She begins to make soft, mewling little sounds, then suddenly she goes rigid and lets out a strangled cry, beating at him with her pathetically weak hands. Jack hangs on until he feels the death-spasm of her heart, which splits like a thunderbolt through his own chest.
Her arms fall limp to her sides, and he pushes her body carelessly away. She tumbles off the sofa and crumples lifeless to the ground, between the coffee table and Akande’s chair. Drunk with ecstatic euphoria, Jack puts both hands on the boy’s head and fucks hard and fast into the back of his throat, till the aching tension explodes in intense spasms. The boy gags as Jack comes, but he recovers and manages to swallow it.
“Good boy,” Jack says, low and husky. “All of it. Careful. Don’t want to spoil my suit.”
The boy obeys, then looks up at him and smiles. Jack pulls him up and kisses his pouting lips, then bites viciously into his neck, taking his life in deep, sucking swallows. The boy’s body seizes and convulses in his arms, and finally goes still. Jack discards him just as carelessly as he had the girl, letting him fall backward onto the coffee table with a sharp thud. He sits back, dazed and panting, and carefully tucks in his shirt and refastens his fly.
Then he turns to his host, who has been watching the scene play out with an amused half-smile. “Thank you for the lovely meal, Akande. Terribly sorry about the mess.”
“No apology necessary,” Akande says affably, rising from his chair. “My men will see to it. Join me on the balcony for a smoke.”
Jack rises and follows him, stepping over the girl’s body without a thought. They go out onto the balcony, where Akande draws a long, black cigarette from a gold case, and offers it to Jack.
Jack hesitates, then accepts it. “I didn’t smoke when I was alive, but I guess they can’t kill me now, so…carpe diem.”
Akande laughs warmly as he lights Jack’s cigarette, then his own. Jack is surprised at how smooth and pleasant he finds the taste of the tobacco. He’d never been bothered by cigarette smoke, but he had assumed his new senses would revolt the way they had against the toothpaste.
Akande sees his curious expression and smiles. “The tobacco is burnt.”
“Pardon?” Jack says, looking up at him.
“Your senses are not simply enhanced, they are different. Things that signaled danger to you as a human are not dangerous now. Your body perceives them differently. Things like smoke and blood, decay, they will not be as bothersome.”
“How interesting.” Jack draws on his cigarette again and lets the smoke out slowly. “I suppose that makes sense.”
He turns, seeing movement inside. He leans casually against the balcony railing, smoking and watching idly, as one of the vampire security men from earlier carries the bodies of the young man and woman into the bedroom they had come out of.
“You did very well,” Akande says. “Quick, clean, no hesitation. An excellent first kill.”
“Oh, thank you,” Jack says, awkwardly. “But, uh…it wasn’t exactly my first time.”
“So far ahead of the class. Perhaps you are already prepared to move on to more challenging material.”
“Akande, what do you want from me? You said you had some purpose for me, and I don’t particularly like the sound of that. Also, you kidnapped me and made me into a vampire without my permission. I’m not complaining, it’s just that those are the types of things villains do.”
“Heroics and villainy are only relative to one’s perspective,” Akande says. “From one perspective, my actions were as you have said. From another, I saved your life, gave you tremendous power, and prevented a condition from occurring in which you destroyed the fabric of reality.”
“I don’t know if I agree with that level of relativism, but I do take your point. Still, you must have a reason. How do you benefit?”
“Long ago, I created my children. They disappointed me. I had such high hopes for them, but they were weak, and in the end, they betrayed me. It was the humanity in them that made them weak. You are different. You were already so much more than human. And now, so much more than they were. Descended from two gods. Invested with my power and your forefather’s. They hide in the shadows, you will walk freely in the light of creation. They are blind, flawed, filled with self-hatred and regret. You will see with the eye unveiled and your judgement will not falter.”
“Yes. You will be like Apollo in his wrath. You will help me drive out the filth and corruption and make this world clean again.”
“Make the world clean again,” Jack says musingly, knocking the ash from his cigarette. “You see, that sounds like another one of those villain things. When people get to talking about cleansing filth and corruption, there’s usually just good old-fashioned hatred behind it.”
“Hatred is sometimes justified,” Akande says. Then he sighs. “I hope you will learn to see things my way. It will make this easier for you.”
Jack’s spine tingles with the ominous sound of this. Like a quietly spoken threat. “It’ll make…what easier?”
“Agree with me or not, you will serve me, Jack.”
Jack opens his mouth to protest, but his voice stops in his throat, and he finds he can’t utter a sound.
“Hush, listen,” Akande says. “You will seek out my descendants. You will judge who is worthy, and who is doomed. But first, bring me the ones who betrayed me. My own sons. I must deal with them myself. It should be a simple task. You know them already.”
“I…know them?” Jack says, finding his voice has returned.
Akande smiles another one of those chilling smiles. “Intimately. Ah, and you may run into the Catholics. You have caught their eye, and they will be looking for you. Deal with them as you see fit.”
Jack frowns. “Vampires can’t harm holy men. What do you mean deal with them?”
“Vampires cannot. But you can, son of Apollo. Now, go. I will be watching.”
Jack gives a start at the sound of the elevator chime, informing him that he has reached his destination floor. He steps out and looks about the grand, marble-floored lobby. What ever had he been doing? Oh, right! Gabriel! He has to get a hold of Gabriel and tell him he’s not going to die after all. First, of course, he needs to go the concierge desk and check out.
Yuna, the young woman who had made his wake-up call earlier, informs him that his bill has already been taken care of, and thanks him cordially for choosing Hotel Chinzanso. She hopes he had a lovely stay and that he will visit again soon. Jack says he certainly did and he certainly will, and strolls out through the wide, glass double-door, held open for him by a uniformed bellhop.
He walks out past the awning that covers the guest arrival area, and takes out his phone. There are about a thousand messages and missed calls from Genji and Will. He laughs to himself. Those worrying hens. He’ll call them in a minute. He needs to speak to Gabriel first. He debates whether to call or send a text, then decides on a text, in case he is otherwise engaged at the moment.
Jack: Hello, Gabriel. I know I left things on a bad note and I apologize, but I need to talk to you. Would you please call me? Thank you.
He is about to put the phone back into his pocket, when it begins vibrating. He looks at the screen. It’s Gabriel’s number calling him back already. Huh. Maybe he’s been missing Jack more than it appeared.
Jack touches the screen to answer it. “Gabriel?”
“Jack, are you alright?” Gabriel’s voice says through the speaker. He sounds hoarse and frantic. “Where the fuck are you?”
“It’s nice to talk to you, too,” Jack laughs. “I’m fine. I’m at a hotel in Tokyo.”
“Holy fucking shit, Jack. I’ve been so worried about you. We all have. What the fuck happened to you?”
Jack is bewildered by this. Gabriel sounds like he’s going to cry. “You…why were you worried about me? And who’s we all?”
“Everyone here. Christ, Jack. You don’t know how much—”
“Everyone where?” Jack interrupts, quickly growing impatient with this game. “Where are you?”
“I’m at Shimada Castle with about a thousand stinking werewolves, your bodyguard, who is beside himself, by the way, and Jesse.”
“You’re at Shimada Castle? What are—how did—I don’t understand. What’s going on?”
“Jack…do you not remember? Three days ago, the Shimada vehicle you were riding in was attacked and you vanished.”
“Oh. No, I don’t remember that at all. How odd.”
“Maybe you were in shock. Are you injured?”
“No, but…I am missing some time, to be perfectly honest. I don’t remember anything before I woke up at this hotel an hour or so ago.”
“We can talk about that later. I’m coming to get you. Just stay where you are, ok?”
“Wait, Gabriel, listen to me,” Jack says urgently. “Don’t bring the Shimadas or their men yet. I need to talk to you alone. Then we can go back to the castle.”
Gabriel pauses for a moment. “Jack…are you sure you’re not in danger? Are you alone?”
“I’m alone and I swear I’m not in danger. I’m standing here looking at a bellhop, who has bowed to me three separate times while we’ve been talking, and there are rich Japanese people all over the place. I’m very serious, Gabriel. Please do this for me. Just tell them you’re going hunting or something. Please?”
“I’ve got to take the chopper, so I’ll have to tell Hanzo, but he’ll understand. Then we’re coming straight back here. Reinhardt is going out of his mind worrying about you.”
“Poor Will,” Jack says. “He’s so good. I hope he hasn’t made himself sick over it. It’s the Hotel Chinzanso. I’ll meet you in the lounge.”
“Got it. See you soon.”
“I am absolutely not doing that,” Gabriel says, crossing his arms.
“Well, y’are though.”
“Jesse, have you ever been in a werewolf den? Do you have any idea what they’re like?”
Jesse sighs. “Naw, but I reckon you’re fixin’ to tell me.”
“They are dank, piss-soaked warrens with bones lying around all over the floors,” Gabriel says, making a sweeping gesture to emphasize his point. “The stench is unbelievable. The last time I was in one I had to burn the clothes I was wearing. That was back in the mid seventeen-hundreds, and I still feel like I’m not entirely rid of the smell.”
“Uh huh. That sound to you like the kinda place your prissy rich friend would be stayin’?”
“Well…probably not,” Gabriel says, put briefly off balance by Jesse’s quick response. “But my point stands. I am not dressing up in my Sunday best and curtseying to a bunch of werewolves. They are animals.”
“Animals or no, the Shimadas ain’t street dogs,” Jesse says patiently. “They’re Japanese nobility, descended from an imperial house. The clan is old and proud and powerful. Not to mention, they’re blooded wolves. Which means they got the wolf thing by birth, not a bite. That’s a whole different sort than the ragtag packs as roam around makin’ trouble for local farmers.”
“Exactly! We’re dealing with a whole clan of powerful, dangerous animals, and you and Max think the best plan is to walk right up to the front gate and ask politely to be let in. How is that anything but suicidal?”
Jesse shrugs unconcernedly. “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
“That’s bullshit, flies love vinegar,” Gabriel retorts, crossing his arms again.
Jesse leans back in his chair and props a foot up on the coffee table, squinting at him through his cloud of cigarette smoke. “You better get all that outta your system ‘fore we go over there.”
“Bein’ smarter’n everyone. It ain’t gonna do nothin’ but rile them wolves up.”
Gabriel rolls his eyes. “I don’t give a shit if—”
“Start givin’ a shit,” Jesse cuts him off sharply. “They ain’t holdin’ Jack against his will, Gabriel. Like it or not, they’re his friends. If seein’ him is really as important to you as you say, you’re gonna have to swallow your pride and act like a fuckin’ gentleman. If you piss ‘em off, it’s my life on the line, too. So either you do like I tell you, or we’re both gonna die.”
Gabriel blinks at him in astonishment, then lowers his eyes. “Alright. I’m sorry, Jesse.”
“Don’t be sorry, just go get dressed,” Jesse says, jerking his thumb toward the bedroom.
Gabriel balks. “What, now?”
“Now. This whole town is their home turf and it won’t take ‘em long to find out we’re here. Max says we better head over and present ourselves at the castle ‘fore they come to us.”
“He would,” Gabriel grouses, heading for the bedroom to change. “He’s probably thrilled at the idea.”
“If you wearin’ your black suit, don’t wear a tie,” Jesse calls after him. “It makes you look like a waiter.”
Just after the sun dips below the western horizon, they exit the hotel and set out on foot toward the omnipresent castle, whose high walls and enormous pagoda can be seen from just about everywhere in the pretty little resort town. As they are passing through the lively market at the town’s center, they become aware that they are being flanked and followed by silent sentries. Behind them and to the right and left, but keeping well away and out of sight, the Shimada wolves are watching.
“Stay cool,” Jesse says, sensing Gabriel’s agitation. “They don’t smell like fightin’. I reckon they’re just makin’ sure we go straight to the castle.”
“Yeah, where they’ll have us surrounded,” Gabriel hisses. “I told you this was a bad idea. Did Max tell you anything useful when you spoke on the phone?”
“Naw, he said he was at some gala or somethin’ and couldn’t talk long. Oh, but he did tell me to remind you to bow.”
“Perfect. I’m sure that’ll save us from being torn to pieces and eaten.”
As they approach the massive, dragon-carved gates of Shimada Castle, their unseen wolf escort seems to fall away and disperse, rather than converge on them, as Gabriel had expected. Before the gates, stand four large, burly guards in traditional Japanese armor. They are carrying long spears, but these appear to be mostly ornamental. Werewolves would likely have no need of such weapons anyway.
Gabriel and Jesse stop a few paces back and bow, and Jesse opens his mouth to explain their errand, but the guards turn away immediately. The two look on in surprise as the guards swing the gate open, then stand with heads slightly bowed, in token that they may enter.
“Ain’t that peculiar,” Jesse mutters. “I guess they was expectin’ us.”
Gabriel extends his palm toward the open gate. “After you.”
They step warily into the spacious and tranquil grounds of the Shimada Castle complex and pause, peering about at the stoic buildings and delicate cherry trees. The walkways are lit with lanterns, and the soft notes of some stringed instrument can be heard wafting faintly through the air. On the wide stair leading to the gold and crimson doors of the Seiden, more ceremonially clad guards are posted.
There is no one else in sight, so Gabriel and Jesse head toward them. As they approach, two of the guards break away and go to open the doors. Gabriel climbs the steps with an increasingly heavy sense of foreboding. The history between vampires and werewolves is a fraught and bloody one, in much of which he himself had played no small part. He can’t imagine his presence here will be very welcome.
As they pass inside, a man Gabriel immediately recognizes as Jack’s titanic, white-maned bodyguard comes hurrying across the entry hall to meet them. He looks uncharacteristically tired and harried, and there is something almost frantic in his manner.
“Master Gabriel, it is most unfortunate that you are here,” he says, before he has even reached them. “I am pleased to see you, of course, but I had held onto hope that it was you. Tell me, have you heard anything from master Jack?”
A sick feeling of dread seizes Gabriel’s gut. “No. We had to track him down across three goddamned continents to find out he was here. What is going on, Reinhardt? What’s wrong?”
“Master Jack is…he is missing,” Reinhardt says, his gruff voice quavering with emotion. “If he had gone with you, then at least I would know he was safe.”
“What do you mean missing? How does a man go missing from a walled castle?” Gabriel demands, at which Jesse gives him a warning look. He amends his tone to a milder one. “What happened, Reinhardt?”
“We went out into the city with master Genji for some recreation,” Reinhardt says. “After we left the nightclub, our vehicle was attacked and he vanished.”
“You mean he ran away?”
Reinhardt shakes his leonine head. “No, no, he simply vanished. The vehicle was struck by something and stopped. Before we had time to recover, he had disappeared.”
“Jesus Christ,” Gabriel whispers. He puts a hand on Jesse’s shoulder to steady himself, feeling suddenly short of breath, though this is purely psychosomatic. “When? When did this happen?”
“The night before last night. The Master is devoting the resources of the entire household to searching for him, but we have found nothing.” Reinhardt looks at Jesse and blinks, as if he has only just noticed him, then hastily holds out his hand. “I beg your pardon, young man. I have not introduced myself. Reinhardt Wilhelm. I am master Jack’s personal assistant.”
“Jesse McCree,” Jesse says, shaking the man’s gargantuan paw. “I pretty much do the same thing for Gabriel, only I reckon Jack pays better. These Shimadas, they knew we was comin’?”
Reinhardt nods. “They were aware of you when you entered the town. But come, the Master wishes to see you right away. I will take you to him.”
Gabriel notes, as they follow the mountainous man through the hall, that the place seems to be deserted. Either they cleared their people in anticipation of he and Jesse’s arrival, or they really are all out looking for Jack. His stomach turns as he thinks of his sweet, precious Jack being held captive somewhere, in danger or in pain. Whoever did this will pay dearly. And if he has been harmed in any way, Gabriel will visit lifetimes of torment upon them before they die.
Reinhardt opens yet another set of doors for them, and they find themselves standing in a grand receiving room, with high ceilings supported by rows of ebony pillars on the left and right. In the center of the room, there is a raised dais, containing an ornately carved, gold-inlaid sort of throne or chair of state. Reinhardt bids them await the Master, saying that they may find him later in something called the security center. Then he hurries away, leaving them standing awkwardly amid crimson banners and gem-encrusted dragons, staring at the ancient weapons and suits of armor which adorn the walls.
Jesse shoots Gabriel a sidelong glance. “How’s this for a piss-soaked warren. I don’t see no bones layin’ around nowhere.”
“It still fucking stinks,” Gabriel says irritably. “There have to be a thousand goddamned wolves living here, judging from the smell.”
“I don’t mind it so much,” Jesse shrugs. “It’s a mite strong, but it ain’t bad. Kinda smells like cedar and leather or somethin’.”
“I am pleased to hear that you do not find our scent offensive,” a low, melodious voice says, from somewhere in the shadows.
Gabriel and Jesse’s heads snap toward the sound. Across the cavernous hall, partially obscured by the dais with the throne, they can make out an archway containing a small door, through which the owner of the voice has apparently just entered. As he steps into view, Gabriel hears Jesse draw his breath in sharply. He gives him a look and then returns his eyes to the extraordinarily beautiful young man—hardly more than a boy—who is gliding gracefully toward them.
His glossy hair is a jet-black frame about his pale and flawless face, and is worn in a long braid over one shoulder of his traditional kimono. He is accompanied by another young man, handsome but not quite as exquisite, who is wearing a slim, well-fitted European style suit. Though their modes of dress are very different, the resemblance is close enough to make them brothers.
Gabriel can only assume that this first boy is the Master Reinhardt spoke of, but he is not at all what he’d expected. Despite his apparent youth, however, his bearing is so stately and imposing, that Gabriel is in no need of a prompt to mind his manners. He and Jesse both bow, then stand silent, waiting to be addressed.
The two young men stop before them and graciously return their bows. As the first raises his eyes, they seem to linger on Jesse for a fraction of a second. His face is preternaturally serene, but Gabriel is certain he detects the briefest flash of something like surprise in his expression, as if he’d been caught momentarily off his guard. He makes no further sign, however, and Gabriel quickly forgets it.
“I am Shimada Hanzo, Master of the Shimada Clan,” he says, in meticulous, heavily accented English. “This is my brother, Shimada Genji. It is not our custom to invite those of your kind to enter our home. You are the first to do so in the thousand years the castle has stood.”
Gabriel gives another deep bow. “A distinction we are honored to hold, Master. Please forgive our intrusion.”
Jesse, frankly astonished by this abrupt alteration in his old friend’s tone and manner, can’t help but cast a dubious glance at him. He’d had no idea Gabriel was even capable of being polite in such a situation, let alone so smoothly diplomatic. He keeps this to himself, however.
“You have not intruded. If I did not wish you to be here, you would not be,” Hanzo says, pronouncing each word with the same measured precision. “I have heard much of you, Gabriel, and little to my liking. The blood of many of our kind is on your hands.”
The red flames in Gabriel’s eyes spark to life, but his tone remains cool and level. “The blood of many innocents was on theirs.”
For a long moment, the two stand silent, facing each other, Hanzo pale and graceful, like a figure carved in white marble—a striking contrast to the towering, black monolith of the elder vampire, who stands more than eight inches above him in height. But there is that about the young nobleman which warns Jesse not to mistake his beauty for fragility. This puts him immediately in mind of Yeats. Beauty like a tightened bow…being high and solitary and most stern.
“It is not for me to rule how a man deals with wild dogs who have run riot among his flocks,” Hanzo says, at last. “But a man must also take care that in seeking to safeguard his own territory, he does not himself trespass upon that which belongs to another.”
Gabriel dips his chin, holding Hanzo’s gaze as he does so. Apparently, some understanding has passed between them, but Jesse has no idea what it could be. He feels suddenly very young and out of his reckoning.
“The past being what it may, you have the favor of the blood witch. That is well for you.” Hanzo’s eyes flicker to Jesse. “I know nothing of your companion, however. Perhaps you would care to introduce him.”
“Of course,” Gabriel says apologetically. “This is Jesse McCree. He is my friend and Maximilien’s, who you know.”
Hanzo turns and looks Jesse full in the face with his keen, almond shaped eyes, glittering like black gems beneath their sooty lashes. Jesse’s mouth goes dry and he’s sure both these wolves can hear his heart thumping in his chest like a war drum. Despite Hanzo’s smaller stature, he feels dwarfed by him, as if he is being inspected by a god whose eye he happened to catch by chance, and who is now deciding whether or not to crush him underfoot.
“Jesse Mac-Cree,” Hanzo repeats, parsing the syllables of the name individually. “You are a friend of Maximilien?”
Jesse nods nervously, clearing his throat. “Yes sir, I am. Mighty pleased to meet you, Master Shimada. Thanks for lettin’ us barge in here and not havin’ us tore up and ate or nothin’.”
The barest suggestion of a smile touches the corners of Hanzo’s perfect mouth, and Jesse’s knees nearly buckle.
“We are not so ill-mannered as to devour our guests, Jesse McCree,” he says, then turns back to Gabriel. “We would normally observe more courtesy, and ask you to rest and be refreshed before attending to business, but we are in haste. Our mutual friend is missing and we fear greatly for his safety.”
“Yes. Jack,” Gabriel says, relieved to finally come to the point. “Please tell me what happened. There may be something I know that will help shed some light on this.”
“Genji can relate the details to you,” Hanzo says, gesturing to his brother, who steps forward. “I was not present when he was abducted.”
“I am afraid that what I witnessed will help little, but I will tell you what I can,” Genji says. His English is quicker and smoother than Hanzo’s, but his voice is far less melodious. “We left the Rifle Range—that is the name of the nightclub—bound for Kabukicho. We used a back street to cut through the warehouse district. Something came down from directly above and struck the hood of our vehicle. I do not know what it was. The damage suggests that it was large and heavy, but it left no trace otherwise. Jack and I were in the back seat. The moment the vehicle stopped, the door on his side was torn off, and he vanished. It all occurred in an instant, and I had no opportunity to attempt to prevent it.”
“From directly above?” Gabriel frowns. “Like, from the rooftop of a building or something?”
“There was no place from which to gain such a vantage point,” Genji says, shaking his head. “The warehouses in that area are one or two stories at the most, and well away from the street.”
“But why bother to rip a door off if you could just make a fella vanish?” Jesse puts in. “Maybe they was just movin’ faster’n you could see.”
Genji looks doubtful. “There are few things that can move faster than our sight.”
“I can,” Gabriel says flatly. “But there aren’t many like me. You don’t happen to have any enemies who are elder vampires, do you?”
“We do not,” Hanzo answers. “Despite our complicated history, we have attempted to maintain peaceful relations with your kind. Maximilien has been instrumental in this process.”
Gabriel smiles wryly. “No doubt. He always was the family diplomatist.”
“Regarding the matter at hand,” Hanzo says, either not understanding this, or not caring to address it. “We do not now believe that Jack was abducted by an enemy of the Shimada Clan. Our intelligence sector reports no whisper of it in enemy communications, and none have yet come forward to claim the deed and offer terms, as would be the proper procedure.”
“The proper procedure?” Gabriel repeats. “There’s a proper procedure for the abduction of houseguests?”
“Indeed. And if these forms were not observed, the transgressing party would risk not only the wrath of the Shimada Clan, but of all the others, as well.”
“I see. I wasn’t aware that the Yakuza clans self-regulated to this extent.”
“Rule of law must be maintained, Gabriel,” Hanzo says placidly. “Otherwise there is chaos, which benefits none. The clans are not now what they were in ancient times, when they were little more than noble houses vying for resources and position. We are interdependent commercial and civil empires. We live in symbiosis with our communities and cities. For example, my family funds the police and fire services in our prefects, as do the other families in theirs. We are predators who rely upon humanity as a resource. Thus, we cull the flock judiciously and preserve the health and safety of the majority, so that they may thrive.”
“That sounds a awful lot like what Gabriel and Max always sayin’,” Jesse remarks. “How ‘bout that? Y’all got some ideas in common.”
“Ah, yes,” Hanzo says, with a slight bow of acknowledgement. “Maximilien has discussed his philosophy with me at great length. It shares many similarities with the system I have labored long years to build for our kind.”
“But you can’t be much older’n twenty. How many years could you have been at it?” Jesse says, without thinking. Then he catches himself and goes ash-grey. “What I meant to say was, uh…I—I apologize, Master.”
“No apology is necessary, Jesse McCree. Gabriel is my elder, but I am yours by many years, I would guess.”
Jesse cocks his head curiously to one side. “Is wolves immortal? I always thought y’all aged like regular folks.”
“Not quite like regular folks, no,” Hanzo replies, with a hint of amusement softening his lofty tone. “Those turned by the curse do not outlive humans by a wide margin, but they live free of illness and infirmity, and are strong and hardy well into old age. Wolves of the blood, however, such as myself and my brother, are long lived far beyond the span of mortal men. But not even we are truly immortal, as are your kind.”
“I don’t reckon we’re truly immortal,” Jesse says. “If we was that, we couldn’t get killed near as easy as we can. Ain’t much more’n a strong ray of sunlight’ll do most of us in. I wish there was a better word for somethin’ that’ll live a long-ass time unless you take a mind to kill it on purpose.”
Hanzo bows to conceal an inadvertent smile. “I will attempt to think of one for you. In the mean time, we would be better employed devoting our attention to Jack’s safe return. Though, we have mobilized every resource at our disposal, and I fear there is little more we can do than wait.”
“If your people can’t find him, I don’t know what good I’m gonna be,” Jesse admits. “I can smell him all over the place, but I reckon my trackin’ skills is a damned joke compared to y’all’s.”
“You are a tracker,” Hanzo says, raising a pristine eyebrow. “I see then, why Gabriel has brought you along. Particularly considering that Jack did not wish to be found.”
“He said he didn’t, but he was behaving strangely when I saw him last,” Gabriel interjects. “He left documents willing the entirety of his property and assets to me. That is a bizarrely reckless move, even for Jack. I don’t think he was in his right mind.”
“Is any man who is dying in his right mind?” Hanzo asks, rhetorically. “But I am rather inclined to agree with you. Genji and I both attempted to counsel prudence, but I do not know how much good it accomplished. Jack is a very stubborn young man.”
Gabriel studies his host’s face. “Master, if you’ll indulge a foolish question…why do you and your brother care so very much about Jack? He means the world to me, but he is only a human man, and a very young one, at that. And yet he seems to have drawn the attention of so many of the old and powerful among the other kinds.”
Hanzo’s brow knits, and he turns away to gaze across the vast chamber into the middle distance.
“He is human, yes,” Genji answers for him. “But to say that he is only so does not do him justice. He seems, somehow, to be so much more than the rest of them.”
“I…yeah. I know what you mean,” Gabriel sighs.
Jesse glances around at the other three men, then throws his hands up in exasperation.
“Christ on a Sunday picnic, you’re all in love with him!” he exclaims. “That’s why you draggin’ me all over the world after him, and why you two havin’ your men turn Tokyo upside down lookin’ for him. All three a you old demons is ass over elbows in love with this kid!”
“I am not in love with Jack,” Hanzo says slowly, as if emerging from deep contemplation. “Not the way you mean. But when he is near me, I feel…young, and filled with life. As if I once again see the world with new eyes. I suppose it must strike you as romantic nonsense, but I am not often given to such fancies. There is something tangible in his allure, however difficult it may be to describe.”
“Well, we better find him, cause I gotta meet him, now. I gotta know what it is makes y’all so crazy to get him back.”
“He was under our protection when he was abducted. This, alone, is sufficient cause to make every effort to recover him safely. We do not abandon those to whom we have made such assurances.”
“I didn’t mean no offense, sir,” Jesse says, catching himself again. “It’s real honorable, y’all lookin’ after your friend like this.”
“It is merely what is expected of us,” Hanzo replies coolly. “If you will excuse me, I have other pressing business to which I must attend. Genji will take you to the security center. Our men will have questions for you, and are under orders to share what information they have gathered.”
“Thank you, Master,” Gabriel says, with a yet another bow. “You have been most kind to welcome us into your house and make time to speak with us.”
Hanzo returns the bow, then turns and glides swiftly from the chamber, his silk kimono rustling softly as he goes. Jesse stares after him, absentmindedly chewing his bottom lip, until Gabriel nudges him with an elbow and indicates to Genji, who is beckoning them toward the door from which they entered. Jesse smiles sheepishly and trots after them.
In the security center, an impressively high-tech, military-style complex built in concrete beneath the castle, they are introduced to the Shimada head of security, who questions Gabriel in a perfunctory manner, then details what they know, and what they are doing to find Jack. This chiefly has the effect of making Gabriel feel dispirited and helpless. Everything possible is already being done, and unless he has access to some power which might reveal the mystery to him, there is nothing he can do to assist.
This exercise in futility complete, Genji leads them back up to the ground level and across the courtyard, to what appears to be a suite of guest rooms adjoining the Seiden. Gabriel follows their host inside and immediately recognizes his and Jesse’s luggage from the hotel.
“We have taken the liberty of having your things moved here,” Genji says, in response to his questioning look. “Hanzo wishes you to remain at the castle, for the sake of expediency.”
“That’s…very kind,” Gabriel says uneasily. “I hope your people didn’t go to any trouble, though.”
Genji smiles. “None at all. The Tonbokiri Resort belongs to us. The hotel staff delivered them.”
“Ah. Well, thank you. You’ve been far more hospitable than we expected.”
“We are wolves, not animals, Gabriel,” Genji says, laughing merrily “We know how to accommodate guests.”
The faintest flush of crimson rises in Gabriel’s silver-bronze cheeks. “I—that’s not what I meant. I only meant to say that we expected to be extremely unwelcome, considering our kind and our previous dealings with yours. Mine, in particular.”
“That is…what is the expression? Ah! Water under the bridge,” Genji says affably. “So long as you do not intend us any harm, there is no reason we should not be friends.”
“I imagine the friendship of the Shimada Clan is one I would be wise to foster.”
“Indeed. We are steadfast in our loyalties, and stern in our enmities. As are you, I would wager.”
“You and your brother, y’all ain’t really the same kinda thing as them cursed wolves, are you,” Jesse says, looking at him closely. “I can see the wolf in you right now, plain as day, but you’re in control. There don’t seem to be any conflict at all. It’s like you’re…”
“At peace?” Genji offers. “I am very much at peace with what I am. I have never been anything else, though, so I suppose that is a distinct advantage. I am the wolf and the wolf is me. All that changes is my physical form.”
Jesse scratches his chin musingly. “Ain’t that somethin’. Why y’all blooded wolves so different from the other ones, though?”
“The cursed wolves are not descendants of the mother. They cannot sustain the demon blood, and so it torments them.”
“But you and Hanzo are?”
“Yes. We are descended in line unbroken from her daughters and theirs.”
“It was y’all’s mama who was the wolf?” Jesse asks, raising his eyebrows.
“Our mother was a wolf, yes. But we shall speak of this some other time. I am very hungry and must eat soon, or I will become quite an animal.”
Genji speaks these last words with a wicked grin, baring his elongated eye-teeth, which makes Gabriel smile.
“That’s gonna be a problem for me real soon, too,” Jesse says dolefully. “I don’t reckon we’ll be allowed out to hunt.”
“Of course you will be allowed out,” Genji says, laughing again. “You are not prisoners. I would ask you to accompany me, but I do not think vampires hunt in company with others.”
“Well, we don’t usually,” Jesse shrugs. “But we don’t usually hang around with wolves, neither. I reckon some things gotta change sometimes. I’d be happy to tag along with you, if you don’t mind.”
“It would be my pleasure. I will let Hanzo know we are going. Gabriel, would you like to join us?”
“Hm? Oh, no,” Gabriel says distractedly. “You two go ahead. I want to make a few calls, see if some friends of mine know anything that might help us figure out who took Jack.”
“Very well. If you need anything, pick up that telephone. It will connect you directly to the serving staff.”
After Jesse exits with his unlikely companion, Gabriel changes his stiff suit for his usual black shirt and jeans, and wraps himself in the protective layer of his heavy pea coat. He has no need for such insulation from the elements, and has not in many centuries, but he finds the weight and rough texture of the wool soothing. Despite its airy spaciousness, he feels claustrophobic in this room and can’t think. He needs to be in the fresh air and clear his head.
He opens the door and steps into the garden, intending to walk out under the cherry trees and call Max. If anyone on this godforsaken planet knows anything that could help them, it’s him. He goes down the steps and along a little walking path into the garden. When he’s a good distance away from the house, he stops and takes out his phone to dial Max. Getting no answer, he leaves a brief message asking him to call back as soon as possible. He tries Angela next. No answer there, either. He forgoes leaving a message and slides his phone into his pocket.
On sudden impulse, he pulls it back out and tries Jack’s number. It rings six times before sending him to voicemail, with the standard message from the mobile carrier, instructing the caller to leave a message after the tone. Not even Jack’s recorded voice to soothe the hollow ache in his spirit. He hangs up and stows his phone, feeling more miserable than he has since Jack left him in that dungeon.
The situation is much worse than he’d expected, and in none of the ways he’d anticipated. He’d been prepared for conflict with the Shimadas, or even Jack downright refusing to see him, but never this. Now, his sweet, sunny-golden boy is not only dying, but missing and certainly in danger. His life is slipping away so fast, and the reality that Gabriel may never see him again is beginning to sink its icy claws into his chest.
Rose-hued tears roll down his cheeks as he walks desolately back toward the guest room. He is wiping them away, when he hears a soft rustle. He looks up with a start, to see that Hanzo has appeared on the path a few yards ahead of him, and is standing with his hands politely folded, as if he has been waiting.
“Master,” Gabriel says, nodding his greeting.
“Gabriel,” Hanzo replies, mirroring the gesture. “I am sorry to disturb your meditation, but there is something of which I wish to speak with you.”
“You’re not disturbing me at all. I was just trying to get a hold of Max. What can I do for you?”
“I would like to know more about your young friend.”
“You want to talk about Jesse?” Gabriel says, surprised.
“If you will indulge me. Please, walk with me.”
“Alright,” Gabriel says, as they turn to stroll back down the path together. “What about him?”
“He is a tracker.”
“And this vocation, it is not common among your kind.”
“No, it isn’t. Jesse is one of the very few vampire trackers in the world, as far as I know.”
“I would venture to say that he may be the only one,” Hanzo says slowly.
“What makes you say that?”
“Do you know of any others?”
“No, but I don’t know every vampire, either. There are hundreds of thousands of us.”
“That is fair, I suppose. How did you come to know Jesse?”
“We met in the American southwest in the 1800s. He was hiring himself out as a hunting guide, and I hired him. The rest is history.”
“Ah,” Hanzo nods. “You are his sire, then.”
“What of his history before he was changed? His family, for example. Do you know anything of them?”
“Nothing of particular interest,” Gabriel says guardedly. “What exactly are you driving at, Master?”
Hanzo stops beneath the bloom-laden bows of a gnarled, ancient tree and turns to look up into Gabriel’s face.
“Gabriel, your young friend,” he begins, then pauses. “There is something about him that is…interesting to me. Something I have not seen before.”
Gabriel frowns. “I don’t understand. Something like what?”
“I cannot say. I am at a loss to explain it myself. I hoped perhaps there would be some clue in his parentage.”
“Possibly, but I don’t know it. He doesn’t even know it. Jesse was found abandoned by a wagon road as an infant. A Comanche woman took him in and raised him till he was of age, then he left the tribe and used what he’d learned to become a tracker and wilderness guide.”
“Comanche?” Hanzo says, looking at him keenly. “You are certain?”
“Yeah, of course. Why?”
“There are blooded wolves among the Comanche. A proud and ancient family line. How very fascinating.”
“If you say so,” Gabriel says, more wearily than he’d intended.
“I apologize, Gabriel,” Hanzo says. “This was perhaps an injudicious time to broach such a topic. I am afraid my curiosity got the better of me.”
“You don’t seem like the type to forget yourself, Master. You must be very curious about Jesse.”
“I am. It is not every day one encounters…such a remarkable person.”
“You don’t have to explain it to me,” Gabriel grins. “You’re right. Jesse is very remarkable.”
“It appears so,” Hanzo replies, his voice losing a degree of its smooth moderation. “I must go, but I meant to ask if you would be so kind as to speak with Reinhardt. He is in great distress and has been driving Captain Tanaka to distraction with his fretting.”
“Of course. I’ll go see him now.”
“Thank you.” Hanzo gives a brief bow and strides quickly away across the garden.
Gabriel stands watching him for a moment. Despite the series of bewildering blindsides he’s been dealt this evening, he can’t help but laugh to himself. In Japan for a few hours, and Jesse has already managed to attract the attention of a werewolf Yakuza boss.
“That fuckin’ kid,” he says under his breath, as he heads for the security center. “He better goddamned behave himself.”
The rest of the night and the next day pass in tense uncertainty, punctuated by bitter disappointments as reports filter in from Shimada agents, and no sign of Jack’s whereabouts nor information regarding his abductors has been found. Reinhardt’s tirelessness is a matter of wonder even to Gabriel, who doesn’t need to sleep more than once a year or so, but his anxiety for his master only serves to increase Gabriel’s own. He finds the man’s company oppressive, and he is exhausted by the constant bustle of apparently fruitless activity.
Finally, he slips off to the garden to smoke and think. He lights one of Jesse’s cigarettes and exhales a plume of white smoke, watching as it dissipates in the gentle breeze. This is a waste of time. Nothing is happening and he’s going to lose his mind penned up like livestock, with everyone else’s worry beating on him like rain in a tropical storm. He has just resolved to get out of here and see what he can find out on his own, when his phone vibrates in his coat pocket. It must be Max finally getting back to him.
“It’s about fucking time,” he grumbles, fishing it out of his pocket.
He raises it and taps the screen, then stands frozen, staring in utter disbelief at what he sees.
Jack: Hello, Gabriel. I know I left things on a bad note and I apologize, but I need to talk to you. Would you please call me? Thank you.
He blinks a few times, then reads through it again, unable to comprehend what this could mean. Jack goes missing for three days, and then this. Some casual message about giving him a call. Gabriel should be furious, but he’s too frantic with worry to think about it. His hand shakes as he taps Jack's contact again and holds the phone to his ear.
Hanzo inclines his head thoughtfully. “So it is a trap, and what they really want is you.”
“I believe so,” Gabriel says. “One I’m afraid I have no choice but to walk into.”
“But why would Jack participate in a scheme to lure you, even under threat to himself? That is very unlike him.”
Gabriel shakes his head. “I don’t think he has any idea he’s playing a part in whatever this is. He wasn’t lying about not remembering the past three days, and he certainly wasn’t in distress.”
“Let us hope not,” Hanzo says. “Have you any idea who may bear you this kind of ill will?”
“I don’t, but it doesn’t matter. If they’re willing to trade Jack for me, so be it. He’s worth ten of me.”
“I think you may err in your calculation, but I take your meaning. The aircraft is at your disposal. I will explain the situation to Jesse after you have gone.”
“Thank you, Master. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your help.”
“No thanks are necessary,” Hanzo says, with a stiff bow. “Just see that Jack comes safely back to us. Farewell, Gabriel.”
About an hour later, Gabriel is in the Shimada helicopter, preparing to land on the roof of a building owned by the family, which happens to sit twelve blocks or so from the Hotel Chinzanso. The pilot points out the high rise structure, looming like a fortress of steel and glass to the northwest, then the chopper leaps into the air again. The wind kicked up by the rotors whips Gabriel’s long hair about his face as he stands at the edge of the roof, gazing over the glittering lights of Tokyo.
The moment it dies down, he steps up onto the ledge. Black smoke whirls up and swallows his body, then collapses in on itself and pours over the side of the twenty story building. This vapor flies on its course silent and unseen, insubstantial as a whisper, riding the currents of the air with astonishing grace and speed toward its objective.
Gabriel rematerializes in the park adjoining the hotel, using the deep shadows beneath the trees to conceal his rather singular manner of arrival. He advances warily to the where the park meets the front of the hotel, and halts inside the treeline, watching. People are getting in and out of limousines and flashy sports cars, bellhops are trotting to and fro, carrying luggage and holding doors…nothing appears to be amiss.
Nothing, that is, that can be seen. But Gabriel can sense another vampire as surely as if it were standing before him. They can all sense the presence of others within a certain proximity, and can also tell somewhat about them—primarily how old and powerful they are. This one’s aura practically hums in his consciousness. No young one radiates power this way, so it must be another elder. Only one, though, which surprises him. If this is a trap, it’s not a very good one. He and Max are by far the strongest among the elders, and none could hope to withstand him alone.
He gives a start, suddenly keenly aware that it is aware of him, too. From this distance and before he made himself known. A shiver of alarm prickles up his spine. The animal survival instinct, informing him that this fight may be a deadly one. He ignores it and steps out of the shadows, striding boldly forward to meet his opponent.
A beaming bellhop opens the glass door for him, and he crosses the lobby toward the bar, every cell in his body on high alert. The presence of the other vampire pulses in his head as he slips quietly in among the lively throng of well-dressed patrons. The cacophony of mingled sensations—the din of voices and clink of glassware, the scent of hot, fresh, human blood, the overpowering aromas of food and liquor—briefly clouds his mind.
He stands near the wall, scanning the room as he adjusts to the close atmosphere. It’s here, but he can’t see it yet…there. About ten meters away. It must be seated at one of the tables on other side of the bar, obscured by the long, dark-wood counter and the people standing along it, waiting for drinks. He picks his way carefully through the crowd, turns at the end of the counter, and stops.
The world around him stops.
The clamor of the crowded bar is silenced. The pungent aromas of blood and liquor are snuffed out. All he can see, all he can feel, all that exists in the universe is Jack, lounging languidly in a deep-mulberry suit, swirling a martini with a black olive pick. An image of divinity, graven in living light, so beautiful that he quite literally takes Gabriel’s breath away. A brilliant, golden-haired, blue-eyed monster.