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Fealty and Family (Sixth Arc FGR)

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Part 1

Xander could still feel the anger and distress flowing through the link.

They rarely kept secrets from each other, but whatever had been said in the phonecall from the United States had sent the High Master of Europe, William Aurelius (alias Spike) into a rage that had lasted for hours. The vampire had fallen into game face before the end of the call, growled at his confused and increasingly terrified Consort then taken off into the night. All Xander could discern were the feelings of ‘family’, and ‘threat’, and ‘grief’, and the over-riding anger.

The Master Vampire needed to kill, to fight, to vent. Whatever the issue was, Xander knew he was unable to follow.

Instead, the Consort distracted himself by finishing up the minor affairs of the night, answering various Emails and flagging others for discussion/attention the following evening. He replied politely on behalf of the High Master and Consort of the European Clans to the general update on the progress and activities of the Council of Watchers from Andrew’s new liaison officer. It was a heartening (if a little floridly written) report but did little to curb Xander’s worry.

It was more than a year since the signing of the treaty, and Xander was well aware that the alliance of the Watcher’s Council with the vampiric nations across their territories had been a huge success – even providing much needed corrections to the more public aspects of vampire lore and historical accounts to the Council.

The age old enemies were genuinely attempting to work together for their mutual benefit at an ever increasing pace. The Council recognized the importance of the clans of the north first, but now even the most skeptical of the watchers and slayers accepted that the European High Master and Consort had the full support of all their regions as the push to comprehensively ‘manage’ clan feeding grounds had spread to encompass the whole of the Aurelian court’s territory. It made the Slayers’ jobs easier as they were able to simply focus on eliminating vampires violating the agreements (be they renegade fledges or simply minions with a bad attitude), and deal with other even more dangerous demons.

It was almost fourteen months since the Council had signed the agreement with the Aurelian rulers of the European Clans, and gradually the eyes of other courts around the globe fell to Europe to provide the lead for their own regions. Whenever the opportunity arose, the ruling couple had worked to assist other High Masters to repeat the European success in their own global regions. Already South East Asia, Canada, Eastern Africa and the South Pacific courts seemed to have adopted the collaborative approach to the new Watchers’ Council (with its flow on benefits) with many adjacent regions beginning to negotiate also. Some Court’s were slower to adopt the European model simply because of lack of cohesion between the clans under their rule.

The reputation of the ruling couple in Europe was growing as it was noted that the efficiency and intelligence with which they lead their Court garnered a fierce loyalty from those under their rule. It was apparent to those ‘looking in’ that internal political squabbles were always dealt with swiftly and with a fair hand, and the innovative management of resources gave the region a new stability and prosperity that was the envy of many a High Master across the globe.

Of course the fact that the Immortal had taken on the role of surrogate Sire to William and his consort Alexander was not lost on the world’s High Masters either. Anton’s reputation leant enormous weight to Spike and Xander’s status in the global Vampire community. It now seemed that there was a genuine chance for a meeting of High Masters from all courts across the globe if only that they might satisfy their personal curiosity regards the fast becoming legendary, ruling Aurelians. If the meeting did eventuate, it would be the first time in over a millennium that all the High Masters had met, and had a very real chance of rekindling the Global Alliance of Vampiric Courts. Anton counseled that it would still likely be many months before *every* High Master agreed to literally ‘come to the table’, however the Aurelian rulers were hopeful as support for the idea was gaining momentum.

…………

Xander finally ran over some detailed reports from his own managers on the building projects but struggled to maintain his concentration. He was simply too worried, so began to tidy the desk and pack up for the night.

Without knowing who had made the call to Spike, Xander was at a loss. He knew the High Master of the Chinese clans had been very difficult of late, but could not imagine that Spike would have reacted to anything ‘political’ so violently. He reread the report from the Council, but it seemed all was running to plan there too. Spike’s own business interests were traveling extremely well, and besides, they had always shared any frustrations on that front. The clans were quiet – with aught but a few minor squabbles about territory breaches that would be dealt with easily. And though the Initiative might again rear its ugly head in the future, intelligence indicated there was no such threat at the current time.

Xander tried again to reach Spike through the link but with Spike so upset, it was impossible to process the garbled images along with the excruciating levels of emotional pain and anger.

Xander shut down the computer and flicked off the light, before dragging a small settee into the entrance hall and curling up miserably on the ornate, rather uncomfortable piece of furniture. After rising briefly to retrieve a throw rug from another room, he finally managed to snooze lightly waking periodically to watch the door for Spike’s return.

Mere seconds before dawn, Spike staggered in the door covered in blood, dirt and what appeared to be demon entrails. Xander was instantly on his feet and rushed to Spike’s aid, catching his mate on the way down as the vampire’s legs gave out. He was about to call for one of the staff to assist but noticed the tear tracks and knew that the High Master would not allow minions to see any weakness, if he could possibly avoid it. Instead, he simply hefted the filthy, now unconscious figure into a fireman’s carry and took him upstairs directly to their private bathroom.

He placed his lover gently on the floor before beginning to fill the bath and turning back to examine the damage done to the vampire.

Xander flinched as he pulled back the badly torn sweater to find a set of three huge gashes across Spike’s right shoulder and a bloodied arm that was most definitely broken. He reached for the first aid supplies, and grabbing the scissors, made short work of the already ruined clothing. There were so many bruises blossoming across the pale skin that Xander could not help but wonder what or how many Spike had found to fight.

Stripping himself, he then lifted his charge into the steaming bath, positioned himself behind the vampire and began to gently clean him of the gore. As he added shampoo to the matted blonde hair and began to massage Spike’s scalp, he was horrified to find two claws embedded in the tangle – apparently they had penetrated the flesh deep enough to become stuck in the skull. He reached awkwardly for the first aid kit with a dripping hand, grabbing for the pair of forceps, and carefully extracted what looked like two talons from a ‘big cat’.

Spike mumbled something incoherent as Xander dabbed some disinfectant on the wounds then proceeded to finish untangling the long locks. But the vampire remained unconscious and blissfully unaware of his consort’s distress, whispered chastisements or quiet words of endearment.

Both dry and Spike’s wounds dressed as best Xander could manage (he hoped desperately that the broken arm was now properly aligned in its temporary blowup splint), the consort carried his mate to bed, flicking the electric blanket onto low and climbed in next to him. Settled in the warmth, he lovingly offered the semi comatose vampire his wrist and felt relieved as the familiar sting and pull on his bloodstream signalled Spike would be alright. Xander desperately wished he could ask what triggered the whole disastrous evening, but resigned himself to having to wait and fell into a restless slumber.

………….

Spike woke near sundown the next day. His naturally speedy healing had rendered minor scratches and many surface bruises a mere memory, but the still painful arm and shoulder, and surprisingly tender scalp pulled him from his contented sleep with the bitter thoughts of the night before.

Xander rolled toward his lover as the vampire surfaced to consciousness, and sent love and devotion through the link reaching out to stroke Spike’s chest and lean in to press a chaste kiss on still swollen lips.

“I’m sorry Pet… I just…” Spike rolled onto his back and lifted his good arm to hide his eyes under the bruised forearm for a moment. Xander gently coaxed it away, and softly touched Spike’s far cheek urging him not to hide from his lover. Slowly the vampire turned his head, wincing as the wounds from the claws rubbed against the pillow again.

Pained blue eyes met a chocolate brown full of love and concern.

“Can you tell me yet Spike? I am here for you… always, you know that don’t you?... I’ll always be here for you… let me share the worry… Please my beautiful, courageous mate… let me share your burden… What made you so upset?” Xander moved closer then rose up, exposing his neck.

Spike accepted the offer, taking care to take from the mating mark. Xander groaned and closed his eyes, relaxing into the wonderful sensation of renewing their bond and comforting his partner. All too quickly for Xander, the wound was laved closed, but he was offered a wrist in return and the ambrosial flavor of Spike flowed over his tongue.

Pulling off, they both lay exchanging gentle caresses and thoughts of adoration. Some minutes of silence and stroking later Spike finally spoke in a near whisper.

“It was one of Anton’s men. He’s been keeping tabs on Angel’s son. Our Sire promised to keep ‘im safe as part of the deal… ‘Cause I promised…” Spike took a deep breath before continuing, “I *promised* to keep ‘im safe no matter what… I gave my word Xan! Promise of a Master Vampire, commitment of ‘is favorite Childe, word of a gentleman. Lad was fine ‘til yesterday, lived under everyone’s radar. Now the bastards have found ‘im they won’t let him go again. I promised his Da, Xan, I promised!”

“Who’s they?”

“Bastards at Wolfram and Hart.”

“But I thought you destroyed the Black Thorn and their offices… everything… didn’t you?”

 

“Not the Senior Partners pet. No one gets to them… no one, ‘sides it was only the LA office we took out. They figured I was dusted and lost track of Connor, thought we were home free for a while but it was only a matter of time. Dead super bitch turned up in Chicago office, all scarves and perfect heels, askin’ the boss for the boy by name at ‘is work. Told the poor bugger that her ‘new company’ has some special project they want ‘im to work on and made all sorts of noises about how they’d heard of ‘is reputation through a friend… rot like that. Bloke we had watching out for the boy said the boss was right chuffed when she offered twice the usual so’s he’d agree. Boss reckoned he was happy to put the lad on her project in a fortnight’s time.”

“Xan… He *is* the project!! And that bitch…” Spike fell into game face again, “We’ve gotta get ‘im out of there *now* Xan! *Now*!! I can’t lose another one… and I *promised*… I… kissed ‘im and promised…” The last part came out as barely a hissed whisper around extended fangs as a single blood tinged tear fell from golden eyes onto the pillow below.

“Geez Spike… I’m a bit confused with the whole dead super bitch reference... she’s a vampire?”

Spike fell back to his pretty features once more and lifted desperate blue eyes up to Xander, “Nahh pet… *much* worse. Dead lawyer, former Wesley’s squeeze and the slipperiest snake in the grass you’ll ever find. Cordy killed her, but the Senior partners don’t let their top managers go all that easy, brought ‘er back as a kinda negotiator. She *knows* Connor Xan – knows his history and what ‘e looks like and… she would be the only one bar me as would know ‘im! No wonder they bloody well had ‘er on it.”

Xander kissed Spike soundly, calmly brushed away another tear and dragged his partner up to sitting then stood and offered his hand. “Come on, let’s fix this.” And Spike loved his mate just that little bit more.

Xander noted that Spike was still very stiff and sore from his previous evening’s activities as he struggled to pull a warm silky dressing robe over his still splinted arm.

Xander took over, tying a neat knot in the belt and running his hands up the front of the torso, enjoying the solid form under the garment before tugging on his matching robe and leading Spike down to the study.

A desperate call was put to their Sire, who had already been informed of the issue and was expecting the call. It was swiftly decided. Anton’s ‘man on the ground’ arranged for Connor to receive an all expenses paid trip to London for four days, apparently ‘winning’ a competition that he couldn’t remember entering. His boss grumbled that it would have to be two days’ leave without pay and the weekend, and that he would need to go that very week, due to the new project starting thirteen days hence. It was perfect timing.

Connor promised to put in two extremely late nights to try to cover the days away.

…………………………

A chauffer driven car picked him up from his stylish apartment and drove him to the airport. They took a service road Connor had never seen, and he began to worry, only to be immediately stunned as they rounded a hanger and drove onto the tarmac to stop in front of a large private jet. The information had said ‘first class’ travel, but he certainly had not expected this!

His small amount of luggage was stowed and customs and immigration officers politely checked his passport at the steps of the plane and he was ushered aboard.

There was another person on the plane already, he looked up and smiled at Connor but said nothing. He was by far one of the most stunning men he had ever seen, piecing light green eyes with a ring of emerald on the outer edge of the iris, raven hair and what could only be described as a regally beautiful face.

Connor realized he was staring and quickly dropped his gaze, “Do we ummm, do we just sit anywhere or are there like… allocated seats or something.”

A deep resonant chuckle was the response before Anton stood and moved to shake Connor’s hand. “No, no dear fellow! There will just be the two of us. I’m Anton by the way. I hope you don’t mind the company.”

“Oh… I thought there must be others who won… you know since it was a ‘singles’ competition.” Connor looked a little worried as Anton simply waved him to a broad leather seat and indicated the seatbelt sign. The door was closed and they were already starting to move.

Once airborne Connor relaxed a little but could feel a prickling sensation, like the air was charged with energy. There was also a faint but very familiar scent that he could not quite place. He’d felt it before and filtered old memories in silence. It was only when the other man reached over and touched him on the hand that he recognized the sensation and his eyes went wide.

“You’re not human! But….” Suddenly panicked he realized that he had nowhere to go, nevertheless he voice raised to a fevered pitch as he accused Anton of abduction and fraud, screamed his protests and threatened the other with death by his own bare hands. “I’m the Destroyer you know?! And everyone knows I’m coming… I’ve got very powerful friends, *demon* and magical friends who will be looking for me, so if I don’t turn up at Heathrow to meet them they’ll know.”

Anton smiled enigmatically at the tirade, knowing for a fact that Connor had not contacted anyone in London. But instead of commenting he simply stood, lifted his wrist to his mouth, let fangs drop, opened his wrist and reached out to his smaller fellow traveler. “The truth is in my blood.”

Connor fell silent immediately as he smelt the blood, then in a daze, took the proffered wrist and accepted a mouthful. The effect was overwhelming, a maelstrom of memories, images and extraordinary sensations of family and tenderness and strength and… Connor passed out against the broad chest and Anton lifted the slighter figure onto one of the broad white couches just as the plane banked a little. The result was Connor coming to seconds later, prone with Anton leaning over him, bracing himself against the wall.

He still had the taste of Anton’s blood in his mouth, but managed to grind out, “Who the hell are you?”

The remainder of the trip was spent explaining the true reason for the rescue mission. Though rather than overload the now stressed looking man, Anton stuck to some more simple facts. The threat from Wolfram and Hart – which Connor understood completely, and remembered Lilah, so was unsurprised by her return; Spike’s promise to his now dead, real father and the fact that Spike had survived – something Connor found profoundly moving ; and the status of the Aurelian line as leaders of Europe – which was just plain weird. But a few significant ‘pennies dropped’ for Connor, not least of which was the realization that the ‘trust’ funding his education and affording him a more than generous amount of income from the investments of the same, were all managed by Spike.

He expressed his fear for his parents and sisters to Anton, worried that he couldn’t go home to pick up some special things he wanted, and was confused as to his new status. But he did understand the risk and resigned himself to his sudden change of lifestyle – even if to what he was not sure.

He knew they weren’t headed for London now, though the plane’s log would reflect that they did indeed land refuelled and let Connor off.

Anton simply took Connor for early morning sight seeing then shopped before the plane took ‘Connor Aurelius, Swiss citizen’, and companion – Anton, resident of Italy and businessman - took off for Basel and his new home in the early afternoon.

…………………….

A rather bewildered Connor took a deep breath and straightened as he stepped out of the rear of the chauffeured car and followed Anton, “the Immortal”, into the grand building.

He was ushered to the High Master’s study by an elegant man, introduced as Anton’s personal assistant, Gregor, and they were admitted immediately. Connor ‘felt’ Gregor. He was a vampire… but not a minion by any means. He felt old and very powerful – yet obviously served Anton, which tugged at old instincts. Something about Anton… demanded respect even from the oldest Masters. Connor still wasn’t clear about him, nor did he understand exactly what he was, but was oddly pleased that the girl his Dad liked, “Buffy”, was now the permanent partner of the man that felt strangely like home.

Connor was made no more comfortable as he saw that the ruling couple upon entering the sumptuous room. They were deep in conversation, seated in matching antique ornate, eighteenth century chairs behind an exquisite and quite enormous, mahogany study table (that now sported a laptop, printer and huge plasma screen, along with modem connections, phones and various other technology).

Both ceased their conversation immediately as Anton and their guest appeared at the door. They looked up with welcoming smiles, stood, and moved swiftly to greet their Sire, then the boy (now man) Spike had only ever seen once at Wolfram and Hart as he stood beside Angel in the training room, a decade or so before.

Connor noted the handsome couple and did not miss the soft brush of the brunette’s hand over his smaller partner’s, as the two men rose to give him a warm greeting. He knew the taller man must be the Consort Alexander and the second, his father’s Childe, the High Master of the European Courts, William Aurelius. He was aware of their mated status courtesy of Anton, though was still struggling with the Master/Consort relationship and the whole court concept. He knew he should recognize Spike, as Anton had explained who he was, but neither man looked familiar.

He was looking for someone he vaguely remembered. Someone with Billy Idol white hair, dressed in black leather and sporting black eye makeup and nail polish. Yet he was facing a slim individual with the physique of an endurance athlete, sporting a strapped arm and with long strawberry blonde curls tied back in an elegant fashion. Alongside that individual was his obviously confident, handsome one eyed companion in his early to mid thirties, with chocolate hair and one eye to match (the second covered by an elegant bejewelled piece. Both were dressed in complimenting designer jeans and obviously expensive cotton knit sweaters. They also sported matching exquisite diamond earrings and expensive gold jewellery on wrists and fingers. All spelt money, success and ‘fashionably casual’. Nothing about either sparked any memory for Connor.

Connor remembered clearly that the Spike, at the time they met, had been a ‘fired up’ warrior with short platinum blonde hair standing next to his father. He recalled the slim man’s hands planted firmly on the hips covered by black denim and pushing back an old leather coat, the stance defiant in front of the stunning ancient demon and their audience. Yet here was a very controlled, very calm, very powerful president of a company or … whatever, with an obviously ‘outed’ partnership that they were so comfortable with as to be unworried by showing small affections.

Despite Anton’s reassurances that he was to meet his real father’s favourite childe and the last member of the Aurelian line, Connor was convinced that he was in the presence of corporate Switzerland, not someone he knew, much less was related to.

That was… until the smaller man looked directly at him and gave a wicked grin. Connor recognized the unforgettable blue eyes and saw the flash of gold. Those eyes sparkled with the same love of the fight he remembered seeing on that day. It reproduced his own instinctive feeling from that day in his own gut… the thrill of the violence. He also smelt like family. All present smelt the immediate rush of arousal and adrenalin, and Connor blushed then scanned the features of his last true remaining vampire relation.

He slowly began to recognize the refined features that he had witnessed in the training room all those years ago and instinctively he scented the air and smelt… family? He gave a puzzled smile.

It was years since he used his ‘gifts’ for anything more than tracking down his (now former) girlfriend when they were separated in a crowd, or detecting fear, anger or resignation on opponents in a business negotiation. Now he found himself deliberately seeking out information: only one heartbeat – very slow; scents - *all* family; magical feelings – all of them; instinctive feelings – fealty and family.

Connor frowned a little as he noted the splinted arm, but took Spike’s offered handshake, then Xander’s, before following them to a large room, obviously the library, and was directed to a classic leather arm chair. Anton took a matching chair opposite, while Spike and Xander relaxed easily together on the couch facing the other two.

Spike was first to speak and in Anton’s presence, respectfully using his original upper class accent, “I imagine this is all a little sudden and confusing for you… being brought here I mean. Please understand, you are free to leave at any time.”

Spike sized up his ‘little brother’ as Connor gathered his thoughts before replying.

The man was in his early thirties but had a definite timeless boyishness about him. Spike remembered the piercing blue eyes and sandy blonde hair from a decade or more ago, but the hair was now cut in the latest style, and the eyes reflected a combination of self confidence that came with personal success, along with a wariness and weariness that gave away his history. He was slightly taller than Spike but had much the same physique - lean yet muscular - and the same ‘bigger than life’ feel of contained power. He was the image of success, handsome, sure of himself and had an unmistakable vampiric, magical signature for those able to detect it.

As Connor entered the room, Spike had heard the man’s heart beat and breathing race, then calm, as if on command. The vampire was impressed and reassured as Connor moved to address his hosts. As always, Anton had made the right decision.

“Welcome Connor. We trust you had a good flight and apologise for the slight deception in order to have you here – I gather our Sire would have filled you in as to why it was necessary.”

“Well, Anton did explain a little of it on the way here… something about my being ‘at risk’ if I stayed in the US at this time? Which is weird on a whole lot of levels – but yeah … before you start to worry – yeah I *do* get the whole Wolfram and Hart and Dad and the kid of a vampire thing… But I thought I’d made another life now… which is… anyways… You know more about me than I do about you … but I *do* get it… Destroyer Pure Childe blah blah. And… I know I met you Spike (?) before at the law firm that killed Dad, and that you were on his team… well and now I know Favorite and all that... Umm… and I know you’re a vampire and you guys are together - which I’m cool with by the way.”

Connor gave both Spike and Xander a nod after catching their eye for a brief moment. They both gave warm smiles in return before he continued.

“And I kind of know what you’ve done with your investments – pretty hard to miss with the dividends – figure *I’ve* got a lot to learn!! Oh and Anton told me about Alexander with the construction consortium here in Europe, impressive.” Connor leaned forward a little and dropped his voice, “Oh and William? Don’t think I’m not grateful for the dividends you’ve been sending to me – now I know it was you… Jeez I was the envy of my frat house – and now the office…! Gotta say… I was one of only two in my Honors year that had to have a personal accountant expert in managing a global share portfolio income. I figure it *was* a deal that you made with my real Dad to look out for me – you know… manage it without me worrying… ‘cause… anyway… I did try to find you a couple of times. All I had was a note from a ‘W’ saying that I was to be looked after financially after… well, after Dad was… dusted…” Connor’s voice dropped to a pained whisper and he let tears of fear loss and frustration, finally fall as he attempted to continue.

“But I’m still confused… what *am* I to you… now… you know? I’m a little lost?!” The mature Connor, the confident professional, the ‘Destroyer’, trailed off. Spike, Xander and the Immortal all saw clearly the worry and distress in the younger man.

At the mention of Angel’s demise Spike had grasped Xander’s hand and waited tense and uncomfortable, until his full blood ‘sibling’ ended the worried diatribe. It was the contact the High Master needed to be calm for what had to be said, and as he saw the desperate expression at the end of Connor’s speech, he steeled himself to do what Anton had previously informed him he must.

Xander sent love and loyalty through their link just before Spike stood before he began to speak. He walked around the back of the leather lounge, stood behind Xander and took his consort’s hand.

Spike began to speak in the quiet baritone Xander so loved, “We will all protect you to the end of days little brother. You already know your status as unique in the vampire world and that you a human child, a full blood of Angel and Darla … Both of the *House of Aurelius*. So your place is *technically* and *magically* here.”

Spike waited for a moment until the full meaning of the words sank in.

Connor’s eyes went wide, “But Aurelius… William Aurelius… that means you…?”

“I’m a Childe of the line. I assumed you knew that Angelus was my true Sire though Anton now holds that honor, and I bow to him in all things.” As if to illustrate a point Spike leaned forward and held up an open wrist which Anton laved politely and then moved to kiss his surrogate Childe – the High Master of all Europe before returning to his seat.

Spike continued, “We (you and I) are the last two true descendents of the old Master, the last two remaining of the most powerful vampire line on the planet. You are the first full blood son of a Master Vampire – of any ruling family – in close to three thousand years. It was your father’s dying wish that I keep you safe, and yes little brother, I was with him at the end. His thoughts were with you…” Spike’s tone and gaze dropped and his hand joined with Xander’s as his voice broke. He allowed his own grief and pain to be heard and seen – even after all this time it was a raw wound.

Xander squeezed his partner’s hand, letting love and strength flow through their link as Spike took a moment then continued, “He was so broken, Connor. There was nothing anyone could do. Dragon poison… He was so…” Spike’s voice hitched again before he dared continue, “He died like he lived, a bloody champion… hero to the end savin’ the world. So now we – you, and I, and my consort – are the dynasty that leads Europe – and before you ask – yes the *whole* of Europe.”

Connor was saddened, then confused, and finally utterly incredulous at the last statement, “That’s just a load of … well whatever!! You expect me to...”

Spike cut him off, “Yes… because you *are*part of all this, as is our surrogate Sire.” Spike nodded pointedly at Anton.

Connor shot an angry look toward Anton, “OOOOK… F#@$!!! Part of what exactly? I’m an American! People – bad people are chasing me and I’ve got a Mom and a Dad and sisters and… I know that I’m different… but this is… this is…??? Ahhh Geez… this is B.S.!!”

Spike squeezed his consort’s hand and was particularly calm as he answered, “No it’s not ‘B.S.’ It’s real. We *must* protect you. We will get word to your folks as soon as we can, but for now… please stay. You are safe here.”

Spike instinctively opened his wrist and Xander held his up to be sliced by the beloved incisors then both allowed their blood to mix on Spike’s arm before the youngest Aurelian accepted the offer. And he knew, without a doubt, that this was, indeed his place too.

The initial meeting had concluded positively (despite the difficult start to the day) but all concerned were exhausted. Gregor led an overtired and overwhelmed Connor to his rooms while Spike and Xander both thanked Anton in the time honored Vampiric fashion - the exchange of blood.

An hour or so later found Xander relaxing back on the small settee and Spike had on his knees resting next to Anton, his head on his Sire’s thigh, “Thank you, Sire, for tonight and the boy… and your assistance. How might we repay you?”

“By being happy and safe for a time, my dear William. Keep Alexander close and Connor hidden as best you might – we have yet to determine the fallout.”

“Can you stay… just for tonight Sire… Will you stay?” Spike’s hopeful, almost childlike gaze of longing and loss melted the Immortal’s resolve.

“I’ll stay.”

Gregor had only just rejoined them but smiled and immediately departed to prepare his Master’s usual rooms.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Part 2

Xander woke rather earlier than usual, “Just past the yard arm” as Spike would have put it. He edged up the dial on the electric blanket and left his lovely partner to sleep on. He smiled lovingly as the blonde snuggled toward the middle of the bed then sighed in his sleep as his Consort sent love through the link.

Spike always looked like a small child when sleeping alone in their big bed. Xander contemplated, not for the first time, that a large soft teddy bear would be a natural addition… and wonderful for the ‘extortion’ value considering their new digital video would even record the purring should the vampire really take to the snuggle toy. He had seen Spike hugging a pillow in the past… the possibilities were endless and the payment for his silence regards teddy hugging would be… he hoped… very private and quite delicious. He grinned at the thought, resolved to purchase said soft toy on his next shopping venture to Basel, then quietly departed the room leaving his lover to sleep on in the warmth of their shared bed. It had been a hard few days.

Xander, now clad in a simple pair of old jeans and loose knit old cotton sweater, padded down the hallway en route to obtain an early afternoon snack, but stopped as he spied the door to Connor’s suite being opened tentatively.

Surprisingly he ‘felt’ Connor – not a strong pull like their Sire, Anton, or the absolutely addictive pull of his mate, Spike, but it was still unmistakable. It was a magical signature, it was ‘family’, and there was no denying it. He wondered if Connor felt it too. As the young man turned and stared wide eyed at Xander he had his answer.

“Morning… well just afternoon really.” Xander stopped himself before babble mode took full hold. For some reason this younger man set him on edge, yet there really was no reason for the nerves. It just seemed that it was terribly important that Angel’s son felt ‘at home’, and Spike’s angst over the last few days had touched hard on his own old insecurities.

Xander was normally comfortable in the knowledge that those around him viewed the High Master’s Consort with a sense of awe and admiration, but at some level could never really internalize the impression he gave others, so new comers of the Connor variety were somewhat daunting. Academically he acknowledged his rather extraordinary reputation in the vampire community, and his success in the business world, so many years of change, but at times, like now, *that* Alexander Harris felt like another person.

But for all Xander’s discomfort, Connor looked far more disorientated and nervous.

“Um… Hey.”

“Sleep well?”

“Yeah… Yeah sure… bed was great and um… Nice view… from the room, I mean.”

There was an awkward pause before Xander the confident host, ‘reentered the building’. “You hungry, ‘cause Jon always makes sure there’s something for me in the early afternoon – Spike too usually, but I’ll let cook know the Master is still sleeping.”

Xander ushered their guest down the stairs and toward the sun drenched first story balcony. He nodded to Gregor as they passed Anton’s office, the loyal assistant moving forward to quietly inform Xander, “Master Anton will join you shortly.”

They wandered through a pair of enormous french doors to find a fully laden luncheon table waiting.

“Help yourself.” Xander handed Connor a white china plate then held up the pot of freshly made coffee, “You want…?”

“Umm yeah, thanks.”

Xander poured a cup for his guest then himself, and proceeded to pile his plate high with fresh fruit, cold meat, cheese and his favorite heavy sourdough rye bread.

Connor took a couple of strawberries and a thin slice of bread and sat facing the scenery as they ate in silence (Strictly speaking Xander eating while Connor picked at his food and made furtive glances toward his host).

Xander was a puzzle to the young full blood. For ten plus, long years, Connor had deliberately ignored/denied his vampire heritage. But it never truly went away. There had been times when he ‘felt’ individuals in nightclubs or simply walked home from a late night lecture and chose to ignore it all. Yet now he could distinctly *feel* another human… on a visceral level. He had expected to ‘feel’ Spike, but Xander was something he struggled with. He had assumed that on the previous evening, it was the blood of the Immortal and the tug of Spike in particular that had caught his particularly honed senses – assuming that Xander’s ‘feel’ was to do with his relationship to Spike, rather than he as an individual.

But as Connor sat to take luncheon, his own vampire nature had responded to the Consort so strongly that the young man was utterly confused. Xander’s magical signature was virtually as strong as Spike’s.

The silence that ensued at the dining table was rather awkward so Xander was relieved when Anton joined them. “Sire!” Xander’s extreme relief and deference was not lost on ‘the Destroyer’.

The Consort stood to welcome the Immortal and Connor did not miss Xander’s automatically offering his neck, the reciprocally opened wrist of welcome from the ‘Sire’, nor the easy exchange when both accepted a quick sip of welcome and familial comfort. What surprised Connor even more was that his own mouth was watering, and the gut level longing that had been ever present in the background for as many years as he could remember, now seemed to be a burning need.

As Anton and Xander released each other, the young man stared ever more confused, “Sire? But surely?? You’re… oh… I’m… sorry. I know you explained it all but it’s still a little…”

Anton was about to speak but it was Xander who answered, “’S OK, Connor – took me a bit to deal as well – but Anton here is our Sire – adoptive or surrogate Sire if you like.

“Spike is only a century and a half old, he adored his Sire, your dad Angel, but he is still young and needs someone older to support him especially in the new role. He and I would very much like you to accept Anton’s role also – it will make you so much stronger! But hey realize you may need time.”

Connor turned directly to the now seated Anton, and in the process spied Spike standing at the doors to the balcony trapped inside by the sunlight and too far away to comment. The vampire condemned to watch powerlessly as his full blood relative made a critical decision. If he could not accept Anton, Spike was at a loss as to how the Court would view the young ‘freak’ offspring of the Aurelian line.

Anton had opened his wrist as the Consort concluded his worried explanation. The young man answered the blood and something more, feeling a familial instinct tugging him toward the figure that had already been accepted as Sire by the High Master and Consort, by the favorite Childe of his true father. Connor moved with all the preternatural speed Xander had come to expect of vampires and knelt by Anton’s chair then surprised even himself by whispering words that came to him without effort, “I, Connor, full blood of the Aurelian line accept you as our Sire in all things.” before latching on and beginning to take three long drafts. Connor’s own arm snaked up to offer his wrist to complete the exchange and Anton accepted, “I welcome you, Connor of the Aurelian line, as my Childe in all things, to guide and protect you as best I might.”

Immediately the exchange was complete, the High Master and Consort felt a shift in their links to both Anton and Connor. It was suddenly a clear connection between all four. Something that was expected but still surprising when it occurred for the first time. Connor’s eyes went wide as he felt the love and devotion to family flowing freely.

Anton had to depart by late afternoon, but even so, a definite calm had descended the castle – all the tension of the previous night seeming to have dissipated as Connor now felt the profound connection with family and knew he truly belonged. Unlike his ‘dual memories’ or the confusion and terror of the last time he saw his father at W & H, he felt that this was a very real opportunity to forge his own way in a life that straddled demon and human worlds comfortably, embracing his special status in the Aurelian court.

Following Anton’s departure (which included promises of his return within the month and ongoing updates re Wolfram and Hart), the next few evenings found Spike and Xander introducing Connor to the general day to day business of the Aurelian Court, and allowing him insight into their own rather vast business dealings.

Connor had not yet been introduced at Court, but was privy to a couple of meetings with their local canton clans and was initially surprised by the formality of the encounters, and the deference given the Consort.

Connor was fascinated by the closeness of the Consort and High Master – even when not working on the same project or issue, they seemed able to swiftly switch to an advisory or supportive roll for their partner in the blink of an eye. Almost as though they knew what the other was thinking. It wasn’t until the fourth night that he discovered that his perception was all but true. Over dinner the other two grinned when Connor commented then Spike admitted that in such close proximity the mating link coupled with their now intimate knowledge of all aspects of each other made it a naturally fluid process of give and take without needing a great deal of chit chat,

Angel’s son felt extremely connected to Spike and genuinely enjoyed any time spent with his… brother, in particular working out – honing sparring skills, and testing his own vampire abilities. Spike also tutored him in some of the Vamire Lore and customs – particularly as it pertained to Europe and the various international Courts. But it was Xander who took him quad bike riding and advised on the ‘touristy’ things for daytimes – occasionally accompanying him and keeping up an easy banter more akin to one of Connor’s old college buddies than the revered Aurelian Consort with a worldwide profile in vampire society and in the business world.

There was no word from Anton regards Wolfram and Hart – though Spike was a little suspicious that if his Sire was using the Rome branch of the law firm there would be little reliable information anyway. On one of their regular calls Spike expressed his reservations and his reasons. Anton dismissed the ‘incident’ with Spike and Angel regards the Cappa di
Familia’s head as ‘unfortunate’, the mirth in his voice evident when Spike growled a little as he was reminded that it was in fact, Anton who had delivered the head to LA in the end. Spike realized he was being rather precious about an incident over a decade ago and in the end he laughed sheepishly, and affectionately added, “Bloody hell, how things change ‘ey?”

Connor tendered his resignation from his workplace on the tenth day of his visit. He was glad he had brought his laptop – even though intending to use it on his journey for little more than a convenient way to access his Email. Now he used it to complete as much of his current project as he could manage prior to resigning - virtually handing his replacement a guaranteed bonus for tidying up some of the grammar and reviewing a couple of details that Connor was concerned were still needed checkinge. He then forwarded the entire report digitally along with his letter of resignation.

He listed one of Anton’s UK company’s PO box numbers and a Swiss cell phone number as the contact. He expressed his thanks to his old boss and disappointment at giving such short notice. In the letter he stated he had been given an offer he simply could not refuse and was to start immediately. He also added that clearly he did not expect any severance pay or the like given the short notice and wished the company and all staff well.

Twelve days later the regular bi monthly meeting of the Masters of the European Court was extended to two days – the second to include delegations from the Watchers’ Council and European covens and a variety of friendly demon nations. Connor was rather concerned that the ‘fuss’ was all about his arrival in the Court, but quickly learned that the primary reasons were a regular six month convening of the full Court and the long awaited eighteen month report and review of the progress of the Alliance.

 

Spike arranged for some ‘appropriate’ attire for Connor. The full blood pleasing the High Master immensely by choosing a traditional, black, long leather duster with a high collar and ease of movement, dark grey leggings and black calf length boots. The exception to the ruling couple’s outfits being the color variation of the pants, lack of claim mark flaps and the striking blue/silver lining of his coat.

It was well past midnight on the night before the meeting and Connor was busy worrying that he would not remember all the delegates, so was busy ‘swotting’ with a full list of names, locations and bio’s complete with digital photos when Xander knocked on the door of his private suite.

“Hey buddy… you OK?”

Connor looked up from his studies with a rather glazed expression, “Huh?? Oh, sorry Xander, just kind of… brain overload you know? I *so* don’t want to screw this up – not just for you guys but, you know… for Dad too – both of them really. Although I figure both might struggle with all the formality and Hoo Haa don’t you think? And do you really think they’d like the earring I mean Anton gave it and all but it’s still – then again I guess… Jeez Xan I am *never* going to remember all these names and stuff by tomorrow!” It was babble almost worthy of Xander of Sunnydale fame… almost. But Consort Alexander was currently in the building.

“Just came to make sure you *don’t* worry. Gregor, Anton, William aka Spike, and I will be with you all the way… no feeling inadequate for you! There’s a meet and greet, then all you need do for the meeting (s) is to be polite and introduce yourself formally if asked to do so.

“If there are any challenges (which I cannot imagine there will be), they will be addressed by all of us as a unit The Immortal – the Surrogate Sire, the ensouled Aurelian High Master of Europe, his deadly Mate - the Consort, and the legendary full blood Aurelian – the Destroyer”

“Sh#&! We sound like cartoon heroes!”

“Better – We’re the real deal. Now come on shut the books and get some shut eye. Booked a round of golf for us mid morning tomorrow – get our minds off things before lunch – meet you at ten downstairs?”

Connor swiftly followed instructions, sheepishly grinning at his golf partner as Xander watched him snuggle down into the bed in a fashion so reminiscent of Spike that the Consort had to wonder just how deep family traits really ran.

Golf game had, Anton greeted and preparations made for the evening, they all relaxed just a little, focusing on making a good impression.

The Consort and the Full Blood flanked the High Master on the way down the stairs to greet their guests for the traditional refreshments before the meeting. Even those in the room regularly in contact with the strength of the ruling couple were still taken aback by the addition of a third extraordinarily powerful, magical signal, and the image of the three powerful beings greeting their Sire at the bottom of the stairs with all the deference expected of a traditional vampire dynasty.

As always Anton made the perfect host, introducing his youngest ‘Childe’ to all in the room save the Mistress Minna – he left the High Master to guide Connor over to meet the extraordinarily beautiful and capable ruler of the Aurelian clans of Northern Europe.

Unlike the other clan leaders – Minna seemed instantly at ease and struck up a jovial conversation with the young American full blood. She too had studied in the USA, was well traveled and blindingly intelligent. Anton smiled at Spike and Xander from the opposite side of the crowded meeting room, indicating with his eyes the result of the first greeting. Connor and Minna were in deep conversation regarding the clan issues in the north, with Connor asking numerous questions – obviously attentive and full of deserved praise whilst trying not to stare too obviously at the stunning blonde female vampire with whom he spoke.

The meeting of the full court went without a hitch – all clan masters acknowledging Connor’s right to a place at Spike’s left hand, and rejoicing in the prestige that a full blood afforded the Aurelian line – and by default their own.

General business was tabled and the representatives for the following day’s meeting with the ‘alliance partners’ selected – it seemed vital that the areas still struggling to ‘keep the peace’ were able to be heard, along with the most successful regions. In the end there was little debate.

The ensuing meeting with the Watchers, wiccans and demon groups seemed equally amicable. All were still struggling with a few recalcitrant members but the consensus was that the alliance was strengthening not waning after eighteen months – and that other areas of cooperation were fast being explored and the alliance terms broadened.

The High Master William wrapped up the two days by personally congratulating all present, then announced figures for the previous year’s economic growth in all the clan regions directly attributable to their actions, along with the human population statistics and glowing forward projections that even accounted for the erratic global climate conditions.

Willow and Andrew approached after the meeting to greet Connor, the young man remembering the witch vaguely from the before life at the hotel when she arrived to restore his father’s soul. He didn’t remember the white hair though. That was new but not unattractive. She exuded power but was so obviously good friends with Xander and Spike that he forgot the magic ‘prickles’ within moments.

The following day began for most guests with a late brunch, then short private audiences or activities whilst waiting. Xander guided the other sunlight resistant guests around the property on a leisurely walk for an hour or so. Eventually the last of the guests departed.

……………..

Lilah Morgan had her spies. It took but three days following the meeting of the Aurelian Court for Wolfram and Hart to have reports of Connor’s whereabouts. But Lilah knew better than to threaten Connor or ‘draw him out’ directly. To challenge the full European Court or move against the Immortal who never really fitted in any comfortable category of good or evil (and seemed utterly incorruptible), would be foolish to say the least.

Instead Lilah decided on patience and a rather delicious plan of lies, jealousy and treachery in the extreme. She engaged a few renegade vampires to ‘stir up’ trouble with the members of the Fl’aath demon clan in the Bernese Oberland (specifically Lake Thun) region. Allegedly they were from the Aurelian clan in that area.

Despite regional rulers of both the Fl’aath and the vampires agreeing that it was an anomaly, trouble continued to escalate. Master Pepe who controlled the western cantons of Switzerland dealt with the problem, but the F’laath were being ‘advised’, so continued to agitate to make a finite agreement with the High Master.

Initially Spike resisted the proposition that he ‘sign off’ on such a trivial matter but after a desperate delegation including Master Pepe himself appealed in person to the High Master, Spike agreed and the meeting was set to occur in a neutral venue near the Fl’aath’s territory.

Closer to the day the Fl’aath reduced their demands from a full meeting of clans to one of simply meeting with the ruling couple and the ‘prince’ as observer, just as they would send their two supreme leaders along with an interpreter/negotiator.

It seemed a reasonable compromise and Willow recommended the Interlaken Coven might have an appropriately neutral meeting venue. It was accepted.

>>>> Chapter 3

A week later Anton had been consulted and a reasonable set of parameters, arguments and possible compromises established.

The High Master, the Consort and the Destroyer traveled across to Interlaken by private car.

Both Xander and Connor enjoyed the trip immensely despite Spike’s intermittent complaints at their ooh-ing and aah-ing over the scenery. Due to the timing of the meeting and consequent drive, the Master Vampire was unfortunately condemned to the cover of a sunlight proof, purpose made ‘body tent’ on the back seat, for almost half the trip.

A coven representative greeted the car at the base of the mountain and directed the vehicle to a side entrance where there was shade from the sun, and another wiccan led them through a series of tunnels and into the meeting rooms.

The labyrinth of tunnels was best described as the entrance to a series of aircraft hanger sized catacombs, it was the perfect ‘neutral’ meeting place. The construction was one of many such structures dotted around Switzerland and generally buried deep in the mountainsides of the pretty Alps. Most of the man made caves were built in the early nineteen sixties and seventies as shelters for Swiss citizens in the case of nuclear war.

As the meeting place was owned by the powerful Interlaken Coven and often used to resolve matters of a ‘delicate’ nature amongst the magical community, it was strongly warded to protect negotiators from any outside attack. It was also accepted that diplomacy was the only way within the walls of the Coven’s ‘keep’ and all negotiations were monitored closely. Spike knew that even the Senior Partners of Wolfram and Hart would be unwilling to risk attacking the meeting place. The High Master was confident of their safety – and so just past midnight, the three entered the meeting room.

Spike, Xander and Connor were directed to seats on the opposite side of an enormous boardroom table directly across from the two green demons and their interpreter. The aggrieved demons put their case with the young Fl’aath demon politely nodding to the interpreter as various points needed to be translated. Just as the ‘interpreter’ seemed to finish the last part of the statement, he surprised them all by rising and leveling what looked like an ornate walking at Connor, and uttered “desiderium ut vestri orsa” (regress to your beginnings). Spike and Xander saw the magical staff rise although Connor was slower, still focused on absorbing ‘the case’.

The youngest Aurelian was abruptly thrown from his chair by Spike and promptly covered by the High Master and his Consort just as a blinding flash of orange energy whizzed overhead. The flash rebounded from the ward – something none of the Wolfram and Hart people or the warlock had expected. Consequently the warlock was hit and instantly vaporized by his own power in a terrifying explosion.

Red energy engulfed the other side of the table and the two demons who had been negotiating on behalf of Fl’aath had apparently disappeared. Then as the energy hit the ward again behind the Aurelians it dissipated and instead showered them with golden sparks. Connor blinked as he took in the resulting bizarre scene.

…………………….

Connor had indeed been protected but despite the dissipation of most of the energy, the High Master and Consort bore the residual effects of a deadly regression spell designed to take the three - and in particular Connor - back to their newborn state. Had it worked, it would have rendered them all helpless and allowed Wolfram and Hart to complete their plan of raising Connor from birth as a perfect instrument for the Senior Partners.

Instead however two small boys were now draped over Connor in their original positions, almost completely engulfed by their own previously fitting clothes.

Connor sat up slowly allowing the two dazed youngsters time to move off him and recover also. He adjusted the leather coats on both of them then stood to look tentatively over to where the young demons had been. There were obviously two figures inside the clothing but instead of babies, when Connor lifted front of the jacket one of them had been wearing he found an egg around the size of an ostrich egg but soft to the touch. He found a similar thing on the other chair. Apparently the exploding warlock had corrupted the energy of the spell, leaving the poor demons with the unfortunate fate of being regressed to pre hatching. Connor carefully picked up the two mottled pale green items and gingerly wrapped them in one of their jackets. He then tied the bundle carefully to the end of a slightly charred warlock’s staff and placed it on the table.

Despite his years out of the ‘magical world, he remembered enough from the ‘before’ to know that identifying the staff and the spell might allow it to be reversed. Returning the eggs to the demon clan with a full explanation – and the closed circuit tape the coven was always so careful to take whenever mediation was occurred - would hopefully appease the clan and lead to discovering the origins of their ‘interpreter’.

Connor heard a whimper from one of the youngsters he’d left on the floor, so swiftly moved and dropped to his knees beside the two now teary eyed and terrified little boys, both hugging their respective leather coats desperately. Neither could have been more than four or five years old.

“Hey… Um… Are you OK… I think… Um…” Neither lad moved, instead both simply continued to stare wide eyed and breathe far too quickly, before giving simultaneous distressed whimpers and passing out. He checked their vital signs – belatedly realizing that the smaller blonde lad had a pulse, which in itself was a relief as it would make their lives easier if the youngster could walk in the sun.

Connor made a nest of the various bits of clothing before placing the two little boys in the centre and lifted the entire bundle. He paused briefly to pick up his second ‘prize’ before hurrying as fast as he dared toward the exit and the car, where their personal driver still waited patiently.

Seeing the young master with the two unconscious small human boys but no High Master or Consort, the driver did not immediately recognize the seriousness or urgency of the matter. It was only Connor’s state of panic as he gently lowered the two sleeping figures on the back seat and fastened a seat belt around both as best he could, then reached over to place an odd looking bundle on the front passenger seat, that clued the driver that something was dreadfully wrong. “Back to the Coven now – fast… And pass me the cell phone!”

………………………………

Connor rang Anton, the Interlaken Coven, then Willow en route. He unconsciously petted and adjusted the positions of his small charges. Whenever they stirred he broke his phone call to quietly encourage them to return to slumber.

Stopped outside the Coven headquarters in an ancient farmhouse on the western outskirts of Interlaken, the two adults alighted and carried their precious charges inside. Gently easing both now oversized t-shirt clad boys onto the High Mistress’s enormous bed, Connor settled them under the covers then placed their leather dusters over the top so they might wake to a familiar smell.

By the time he was happy the boys were settled, Anton was in the air and on his way. Willow was ready to take a conference call as soon as needed and would meet them back at their home if the situation did not resolve itself. And the Demon Clan leaders had agreed to an immediate meeting at the coven itself – being told of events via a series of digital images taken from the closed circuit footage. Anton was fluent enough in the Fl’aath language to act as interpreter – and was highly respected by the clan, despite his recent role in the Aurelian Court.

An hour later Connor had spoken to Anton briefly then departed to attend his charges, leaving the Immortal speaking quietly to the last of the Fl’aaths.

A little figure stirred. He approached the bed quietly, “Hi there… I’m Connor… I’m… Ummm… You were in an accident but you’re safe… You’re safe now.”

Connor could not help but compare the little blonde boy, to what he had always imagined ‘Christopher Robin’ might look like as the lad raised his head to reveal impossibly long lashes, framing enormous tear filled crystal blue eyes set in a pretty pixie-like face. The little fellow began in a frightened small voice but perfect upper class diction (and the occasional unintentional residual hiccup courtesy of crying). “My name is William, William um… [hic] I’m sorry sir [hic] ohh…”

Connor stepped in “Aurelius?”

The little lad looked hopeful for a moment then his face fell, “Oh… I’m sure that’s not right [hic] Sir. I’m William Bartlett…” He trailed off then blinked slowly, something about the man in front of him felt like he should know him, and he was in a big bed he did not recognize. He decided he must have bumped his head very hard when he fell from his tricycle this time, but wondered why Nanny wasn’t present. Perhaps she had gone to inform Mother. He did hope she wouldn’t be too cross at Nanny, or worse, tell Papa.

He didn’t mind being scolded by Nanny, but if Papa were to find out he would have to stand in front of Papa’s reading chair in the drawing room and wait until his father looked up from whatever he was reading. Then there would be that disappointed look again. He didn’t mind the sting of the two strikes of the cane, or even not have pudding for weeks, but the disappointed look was terrible.

Last time he had fallen, he tore the knee of his pants and skinned his leg, but Nanny told him she didn’t have to tell if he could be brave. Then she stitched his pants so well they looked just like new. She really was ever so nice, but where was she? He began to cry again.

Connor sat quietly watching all manner of emotions wash over the expressive little face and could smell the fear and worry. But when William began to sob once more, Connor threw caution to the wind and hauled the little fellow onto his lap and hugged him tight whispering nonsense words to the little lad until he calmed again. “Are you [hic] a doctor?”

Connor was about to answer when Xander stirred for the first time. As Xander’s chocolate ‘puppy dog’ eyes opened. Connor noted for the first time that Xander’s missing eye had been restored.

Xander blinked a few times then rolled onto his back, rubbing his right eye with a tiny fist before his expression turned to one of panic at the odd surroundings.

He managed a squeaked “Mommy?” before a louder wail “Mom?!!!” signaled the start of a flood of tears before the little boy flipped himself over and buried his face in the pillow

Connor gave William a small squeeze and whispered, “Will you be OK for a minute?” William nodded hesitantly, staring wide eyed at his brunette companion.

Connor slid off one side of the bed and rounded the other side of the classic design double four poster. He squatted down and reached out calmly with one hand, placing it on top of the covers and the leather coat and rubbing the little boy’s back in soothing circles until he felt him calm. The young man eased himself to sitting onto the bed beside the little fellow never once breaking the reassuring caress.

Finally Xander rolled enough to look fearfully at Connor and whisper, “Was I bad? Did they give me ‘way to v’ gypsies?”

Connor kept the back rub going and answered in the softest tone he could manage, “No sweetheart, you’ve um, your both just…” Connor scrambled to come up with a plausible story that did not include inducing more panic in the little boys. “You were both um… sick… and your parents thought you should come for a holiday until you are quite rested and well, OK? I’m Connor by the way – and this little man next to you is William.”

Xander sat up a little and turned to William with a shy smile, then looked worried, paled completely and just had time to say, “I think I si…” before convulsing and rolling toward the outer edge of the bed while vomiting violently - mostly onto the rug on the floor below but some in the bed as well. There was little Connor could do but hold the boy’s clammy forehead until the storm passed then ignore the mess, scoop up the limp little body and carry him to the bathroom.

Connor propped Xander up beside the basin, cradling the boy’s upper body and head with his left arm and letting the legs dangle over the side of the bench. He was just in the process of wiping Xander’s face with a cool face washer, when a wide eyed little blonde appeared at the door. The straw blond curls, and over sized Tshirt (obviously being gripped and held up so as not to trip when walking), and rather forlorn look, reinforced the Christopher Robin image.

Connor’s preternatural hearing was sometimes a blessing (though his oversensitive olfactory system was no advantage right now). He barely made out the terrified whisper, “Is he going to die??”

“No sweetheart he’ll be fine.”

“…baby Eliza got sick an’ she died.”

“He’s just got an upset tummy, he’ll be fine you’ll see. Tell you what, could you sit with Xander for a minute while I clean up in the bedroom.”

William seemed to rally to the suggestion that he might be useful and even smiled a little as Connor settled them both on a bath mat positioned so the little boys could lean against the wall. William put his arm around the much larger, still rather smelly, new friend and smoothed dark wet curls away from the other boys eyes with his other hand, like he remembered Nanny doing whenever he was ill. Xander relaxed into the small boy’s touch, too tired now to question who or why it felt nice, then pushed himself down until his head was in Spike’s lap.

Connor flew out of the bedroom, found two of the resident witches and arranged for new linen and the rug to be removed and laundered, then mopped the minor amount that had spilled onto the polished floor. He returned to the bathroom to the touching sight of William yawning widely, adjusting his sitting position a little, then carefully examining the boy snoozing on his lap with a look of genuine concern.

Connor eased Xander up and dressed him in a borrowed shirt (kindly offered by one of the smaller women in the coven) before thanking William for his help and carrying the brunette back to bed. He was just settling him again after a few sips of water when he spotted a set of blonde curls and small hand on the other side of the very tall bed. The little boy was attempting to scramble up but impeded by the need to keep one hand free for hitching up the too long Tshirt. Connor could smell the distress rising rapidly, so in a move of preternatural speed, rounded the bed and lifted the boy with an arm around his waist, and plonked him down on all fours with an over dramatic “Ummpff” that finally elicited a delighted giggle from William.

A soft knock on the door signaled the arrival of a young witch who rather shyly handed the handsome, full blood Aurelian, two soft toys. “We thought the boys might like these – they’re welcome to keep them if they like.”

William’s eyes lit up as he spied the beautiful brown teddy bear – so very plush and soft compared to his rather worn one at home. There was also a beautiful Panda – both toys wonderfully suited to cuddling.

Connor didn’t miss the expression of joy on the boy’s face, “Which one would you like William?”

“Oh… well… um” William was obviously enamored by the brown bear, yet paused and suddenly looked very serious. “I really think I should let Xander pick first, after all he has been very ill tonight.”

“Wow, that’s really nice of you,” Connor smiled at the blonde who was still eyeing off the brown bear but had obviously resigned himself to letting Xander have first pick.

Xander had been half asleep but opened his eyes to Connor standing at his side of the bed – bearing… bears. “William is giving you first pick Xander.”

Xander turned his head toward William and grateful brown eyes met blue as he said in a rather croaky voice, “I have always wanted a panda, if that’s OK?” William’s smile could not have been wider. The two little fellows needed no encouragement to snuggle down with their prizes firmly held and fall easily into slumber.

Connor left the room wishing he might just fall into bed with the two, so was utterly relieved to see Anton striding up the hallway toward him. The Immortal opened his arms and took Connor into a warm hug that almost had Connor in tears of exhaustion and relief.

“Sire… Thank you… thank you for coming.” Anton said not a word, instead he opened his wrist and offered it to Connor. At the first taste of the ambrosial fluid of family Connor sighed and relaxed a little then felt the incredible boost of energy that always came with the taking from an elder. Anton pulled his wrist away and Connor bared his neck as was expected.

“Thank you but I will wait my youngest, for now let us focus on the problem. I would see my altered Childer then the other information we have to assist us”

Connor turned and led the way back to the Mistress’ bedroom.

 

Part 4

 

Anton had barely peeped in the door of the boys’ temporary bedroom before retreating. Connor had thought he would want a full inspection of some sort, so was grateful when his ancient Sire turned with an enigmatic smile and squeezed his hand on the way past.

The arrival of the Fl’aath elders later the next day was an extremely tense moment, and it was up to Connor to present the rather distraught parents of the Fl’aath negotiators, the eggs he had so carefully rescued. But the elders of the demon clan had all seen the tape of the so called ‘negotiations’. The violence, the result, and the gentle reverence with which the full blood Aurelian had treated their now yet to be hatched sons, gave credence to the rumors regarding the ruling house of Europe. Magnanimous, just, noble and enduring.

There was no need for explanations regards the vampire clans in their region, the Fl’aath trusted the Aurelian Court now above all others. And Connor’s promise that any vampire agitators would be dealt with by either the clans of the Court, or the Slayer in the region was taken to heart. And the presence of the ethereal Immortal as the youngster’s surrogate Sire leant even more weight to the pledge.

Connor also explained the fate of his own High Master and Consort, expressing his distress at the extreme regression suffered by the Fl’aath two. He also gave his word that *when* a reversal spell was found, the Fl’aath would be contacted immediately.

After the last statement, a rather squat, aging female Fl’aath stood. She cradled her egg, her - until the previous day - grown son, in her arms. She addressed the group through Anton for those not fluent in Fl’aath. “My adored son is not lost to us, for he is here as he was when I first tended him in his first hatching. I thank you, Connor Aurelius, and feel for you, as you too have lost two brothers to time. Those touched were innocent to this plot.

“Should you restore our sons we will rejoice all the more, but regardless, you have our ruling family and our entire clan’s pledge of allegiance for all time. You saved our two favorite sons when you might just as easily have walked away. We honor you and the Aurelian Line.”

Connor stood and gave a polite bow to the Fl’aath elder, not missing her cooing and petting of the egg as she sat back down at the end of her speech.

“I thank you for your kind words Madam. Indeed our Aurelian household grieves for your sons’ plight along with our own. We have been ‘played’ by external forces it seems. Forces that would have the balance of our nations destroyed. Over the last couple of months, I have come to understand the extent to which my dear brothers and my Sire have worked tirelessly to build and maintain such a balance across all Europe, indeed the world. I am honored that you will join us in this more local struggle for peace and urge you to share what you know.”

Connor looked to Anton after his speech, and registered the immense pride in the Immortal’s face.

What ensued was a watershed of information. The Fl’aath confirmed that their interpreter had come from Wolfram and Hart, and had agreed to work for them gratis on the grounds that he ‘believed in their cause’. They knew he was a warlock from the outset (the magical signature unmistakable) yet thought little of it. In hindsight, it had seemed rather odd that there was such a high level negotiation required for what was in essence a simple case of territorial rights, and particularly that there needed to be such a fuss about venue.

Master Pepe arrived late in the day and was extraordinarily relieved to find that the hostilities were not just over, but that all concerned were working together to prevent any such misunderstandings in the future. He brought news that one of the renegades had been captured, and that, under careful ‘handling’ by a couple of enthusiastic young vampires, he had confessed to being recruited by a Wolfram and Hart, Paris Office – special branch representative. There was only one name the outlawed minion could recall before he was dusted, “Morgan.”

It was all Connor, the Immortal and Willow needed to hear.

Images of the staff wielded for the spell and every known detail regards the case flashed through the secure Wiccan network. They sought the name of the warlock capable of this level of black magic, his name and his acolytes. Alas it would all take time.

Connor and Anton walked toward the Mistress’ bedroom resolving to transport the young ones home the following day. They had discussed the possible destabilization and implications for the Court should the situation drag on, but the Clans had stuck by the leading couple after their accident so there should be some time to ‘play with’ with regard to organizing that. It was more the original perpetrators of the current plot that the two were worried about. I was too dangerous to keep Spike and Xander at the coven despite the wards and numerous magical protectors. Both Destroyer and Immortal realized that W & H now had two new very young and vulnerable targets to ‘play with’ should they be so inclined. And there was no doubt, Lilah would always be inclined.

It was decided that a quick trip in Anton’s private helicopter was the quickest way to transport the boys with just over 100km to cover – via road taking a number of hours due to mountains and narrow country roads. The vehicle arrived the following morning.

………………….

It was almost thirty eight hours since Connor had slept (and he couldn’t really remember when he had last eaten) as he eased open the door of the Mistress’ bedroom, Anton hard on his heels. He felt strangely ‘jetlagged’ and swayed worryingly. Anton caught him around the waist and maneuvered him to the end of the bed.

Connor’s head throbbed with a fierce headache but he managed a smile and a ‘thanks’ nonetheless.

As they seated themselves, two sleepy little boys emerged together from under an enormous pile of rumpled bed clothes, discarded pillows, and recently hugged soft toys.

Anton seemed to have the same influence on the boys as he had on their larger – and somewhat less human – versions. The pair smiled innocently at each other then slid off their respective sides of the enormous bed and sidled up rather shyly to stand in front of the Immortal.

Anton moved to squat down on the floor and wait for them to approach him. William had the thumb of the hand that also held up the edge of his enormous T-shirt, firmly planted in his mouth, and dragged his bear by one paw with the other. The rather bewildered little lad forgot to remove it as he stood examining their guest with wide blue eyes.

Xander rounded the corner of the large bed with his stuffed bear firmly grasped against his front, Panda caught in a solid double armed hug.

Anton’s warm baritone quashed their nerves, “Well hello William… Alexander. I don’t imagine either of you remember me, but I am hoping you will very soon. I think Connor has told you that you have both been rather ill of late, so I thought you might like a bit of an adventure and a holiday in a lovely big house in Switzerland. Do you know where that is?”

Anton’s perfect upper class English diction put William instantly at ease – he sounded like Uncle Richard, who was ever so nice. The tiny lad pulled his thumb from its safe haven and gave Anton and Connor a broad smile. “Switzerland is over the channel and has lots of mountains and Uncle Richard went skiing once. And… But… will Mother and Papa know where we are?”

“Oh, they won’t be worried I’m sure.”

Xander looked decidedly confused and more than a little concerned. The panda was let drop to the ground, to be held only by one monochromatic paw, “Is that near Disneyland? ‘Cause if it is, then that’s a long way, and I’m not sure my Dad will let Mom come get me if I’m far…”

Anton pulled the worried brunette to him by his free hand and hugged him close, then freed him a little to look into the deep chocolate eyes. Anton conveyed his sincerity and pledged his protection in a way the young boy understood, even before the words were said, “We will take care of you Xander. And will be sure to deliver you home afterwards. So, are you happy to join us?”

The young chap looked as though a weight had been lifted, hauled up the panda for another hug, then brightened even more and asked “Will there be pony rides?” then looked immediately doubtful, “Ummm… I don’t mind if… I can just watch… but…” Anton hugged the young lad and panda close again and whispered, “I’m sure we can find a pony for you to ride.” A teary young boy settled into the embrace and simply said, “Oh. That would be… really good.”

William was still standing a little distance from Anton and as ancient kindly green eyes raised to meet baby blue, the small boy, still clutching his new stuffed toy to his side, put his free hand on his hip in a resolute gesture and addressed the Immortal most seriously. “Well I hope we can go soon… Sir… he has been very sick and… and… I could help him with his pony.” The little lad had been so forthright and serious to that point that it was all Anton could do not to smile… but he refrained, as he noted that at no time had little William requested anything for himself.

Anton held out his right hand and addressed the preschooler most seriously, “I give you my word as a gentleman. Xander will have a daily pony ride, should he wish it, at your new venue. And your generous offer to assist him is most welcome.”

The very serious little boy held out his hand – which Anton took. They shook hands ‘as gentlemen’ and William said, “Agreed” while Anton simply nodded and smiled.

……………

The following day saw the delivery of two outfits for each of the boys plus a set of pajamas each. The young wiccan, Sabini, who had arranged the purchases was pleased at her judgment of their sizes – William was wearing a size recommended for three year olds whereas Xander was most definitely a size four to five. The tiny shirts, sweaters and jeans were comfortable and practical. Xander took it all in his stride but William was utterly thrilled that he was allowed i99oilong pants (though fussed a little with the strange underwear). The shoes were a bit more problematic – but both eventually sported small, practical walking boots, Williams jeans puddled a little at the tops of his.

Two rather over excited little boys (bears in tow) were finally strapped into their places on Anton’s helicopter and squealed their delight as the rotor started. Connor did notice however that Xander went very quiet and looked somewhat queasy as they took off. He leant forward and put a large hand on the lad’s knee. Xander pulled Panda in a little tighter, managed a rather rueful smile and rallied as William began a commentary of all the things he could see below.

The flight was over all too soon but as they landed on the lawn in front of their enormous home two sets of eyes went wide and Xander whispered in awe, “It’s a castle!”

They were guided across the lawn and wide gravel driveway and both still too busy staring up to say much more. But as the front door opened William (who had been holding Anton’s hand while Connor held Xander’s) looked up at Anton for a moment, and catching his eye said, “Is this your home?”

“Sometimes, little one. This is the home of my closest relatives and that includes Connor over there.”

“Is he a duke or something?”

“I suppose you could say something like that or perhaps you could call him a prince really, as his half brother is one of the rulers of Europe. You are related to them both you know… and to me too.”

“I am? But Mother says we don’t have anyone royal in our family?”

“Ah well… she could not have known.”

William frowned a little and did not join his little friend as Xander bounded ahead of Connor and up the sweeping staircase. Then his eyes lit up, “Is it because you are foreign?… Connor talks strangely.”

“Indeed we are both ‘foreign’ little one, Connor grew up in America and I here on the continent for the most part.”

William’s eyes narrowed a little, “So is Xander from America too? ‘Cause he talks like that too.”

“Yes dear heart, he was born in America. But he is here now with you. Now why don’t you follow him up the stairs and find your room while I arrange some luncheon for us.”

Satisfied with the answers William raced after his small companion, his bear bumping its way up the stairs behind him.

......

Anton watched the scene and smiled, then turned to toward the study. Gregor would arrange the food while Anton set about assuring the protection of his three Childer now they were home... He and Connor would have much to do that evening.

He sighed as he settled into Spike's leather office chair and booted up the computer, it never seemed be an easy life for the ruling couple...

 

Part 5

 

Connor settled the boys in their older selves’ room, with strict instructions not to break anything.

As an afterthought he hit the controls on the panel beside a large picture on the wall opposite the bed. Like in his own room, it rose to reveal an enormous screen.

Two little boys, now perched on the end of Spike and Xander’s enormous bed, now sat wide eyed as Connor fiddled with the remote, finally finding one of the fifteen ‘for children’ channels in English offered by the global networks.

An ancient rerun of the film ‘Mary Poppins’ was playing. Connor groaned, but turning toward the bed, noted that the two little fellows were instantly enthralled. Particularly William, though Connor could also smell fear. He sidled up beside William’s side of the bed and put his protective adult arm around the little lad.

“You OK with this?”

William’s replied in a whisper, “Can they get out of the wall?” Then yelped with fear and immediately buried his face in Connor’s chest (with teddy pulled tight too) as the movie depicted the Admiral’s gun firing its shot to mark the hour. The surround sound gave it a rather overwhelming reality for young William, who barely managed to peep over Connor’s protective arm to view the ensuing scene.

Xander was whooping with joy at the ‘movie experience’, it was even better than when his Aunt Agnes had taken he and his mom to the Care Bears Movie for his fourth birthday! But paused, mid ‘whoop’ as he noted his new little friend’s distress.

He carefully set Panda up to keep watching while he crawled over the bed to where William was trembling in Connor’s arms. Xander could see that Will had his bear with him but also noted that the blonde was not watching the movie.

He knew that feeling.

Willow’s older cousin David had been in town and was given the task of looking after them for a night while Willow’s folks went out for a meal. They had seen ET on video, causing Xander to be so frightened that both he needed the light on all night and leading David to find an infant’s feeding bottle at the back of the cupboard, filling it with warm milk and pushing it into Xander’s grateful hands some time around midnight. (David careful to strike a deal – Xander would join Willow in sleep in exchange for David not telling anyone about the bottle). Xander didn’t remember it as all bad. David was big and strong and gave his young charges all the reassurance they needed at the time.

Concerned brown eyes met adult blue, “Is Will OK? ‘cause he can have Panda as well if he needs to, I seed this movie afore lots of times an’ *really* like the horses an’ the kites.”

“Thanks sweetie but I think it’s OK. Will just hasn’t seen TV or movies before.”

Xander’s eyes widened in shock… No TV??? Inconceivable!
Connor saw the amazement and worry in the face of the little boy so simply included Xander in the hug, and they sat for a while. As the Mary Poppins, the new nanny, arrived on the scene in the moving, William sat up and focused hard on the screen, before turning back to Connor to announce with pride, “*My* nanny’s much prettier than her and real name’s Nancy…” then added in a conspiratorial whisper, “She told me that when we were at the park!”

William saw bits of London that he knew – though the hats the men were wearing were odd, as were the dresses the Mary Nanny wore (Nancy *never* had *her* ankles showing!). But the household was rather familiar and Connor felt little William finally relax.

He eased himself away, grabbing the pillows and cushions to construct a back rest for the boys. Both little fellows were utterly engaged in watching the movie, so did not even gave him a passing glance as he handed Xander the panda then watched as William clutched his bear tighter, before a thumb unconsciously made its way back to the little boy’s mouth as a rather ‘scary’ part came up.

…………..

Connor thought he would find Anton in the study room but instead he found him wandering in the conservatory, cell phone planted firmly to his right ear and speaking in rapid Italian. The Immortal noticed his Childe and beckoned him forward, and took him in a warm one armed hug whilst concluding his conversation with a number of rather abrupt instructions.

Connor returned the embrace and looked up into the calm visage as Anton finished an obviously emotional phone call.

“Is everything OK, Sire?” And in that moment, Connor really did feel like a true Childe and realized just how comfortable he was in the Immortal’s embrace. Anton felt like stability and home… in every way… ‘Sire’… and another part of Connor was reconciled.

“It’s not really, dear Childe, but I am hopeful it will be soon. It seems that Wolfram and Hart in Paris and in Rome were not directly to blame for the debacle with the Fl’aath – indeed are as distressed as we are that this obsessive dead middle manager for the senior partners has, in the process of targeting you, compromised the entire balance of the region. The repercussions, if the outcome of this ridiculous wraith/woman’s plot cannot be redressed, will have a ripple effect worldwide that will seriously damage the Senior Partners and Wolfram and Hart for years.

“Needless to say – they were quite pleased that we have the children safely home here – but Senior Partners are apparently still tight lipped regards the movements of or their intentions for their renegade employee Ms Morgan. The Italian office is attempting to contact them. In the meantime we will need to be vigilant.”

Connor saw the concern and knew that it was not just the boys at risk – it was a balance of power, stability, prosperity, for not just themselves but all those living under the jurisdiction of the ruling couple.

“O…K… but surely the reversal…” Connor was cut off before finishing.

“Is not a possibility at this time, and even if the spell is found, The High Wiccan Lady Willow is adamant it is still best performed at the full moon, which has just passed.”

“But the court…?”

“… will survive with your guidance and my assistance until then, as will the business interests of our family.” Anton pulled the worried Connor in for a reassuring hug before briefing the High Master’s full blood brother on a few matters that needed attending to urgently.

Connor was a fast study and Anton was quietly relieved as he observed the well educated and poised Connor managing a number of difficult clan issues with thoughtful competence. He certainly was not the High Master, but Anton could see that the choice to pull Connor back to his Aurelian family was the right one.

 

Connor was pouring over some of the documents regarding the Aurelian interests globally – increasingly amazed by the comprehensive spread and extraordinarily well managed complexity. Anton was just finishing a brief phone call to Buffy in Italy when Gregor arrived at the door.

“Beg pardon Masters but I thought the children might be ready for some late lunch.”

Both Anton and Connor looked a little guilty. They had been so engrossed in the current concerns of the Court and the Aurelian interests (plus Xander’s building industry responsibilities), that they had all but forgotten the little lads upstairs. It was over two hours since they had been left to their own devices.

Connor thanked Gregor, nodded at Anton who gave him a kindly smile, then took off up the stairs now desperately worried regards the two small boys and his lack of attentiveness.

What he found was a little unexpected. The television was still on but the two lads were sitting on the floor with their backs to the entertainment.

The two lads had migrated onto the floor and were happily drawing pictures for each other. Little William had obviously found a few pieces of writing parchment, and some sketching pencils in the bureau next to the right of the television. It was obvious that the blonde boy had clambered onto a chair to obtain said prizes. Though Connor noted with some relief that Spike’s Mont Blanc granite & diamond fountain pen, the laptop, and various very breakable antique pieces remained untouched.

William looked up rather apologetically but it was Xander who flinched away as Connor approached the boys. As Connor squatted down to the boys’ level and moved closer, Xander whimpered a little and moved behind William, beginning a mantra of, “We didn’t we really…, ‘cause the show was over and we… we… I…”

Connor saw fear, then could not fail to notice the smaller blonde’s resolute face and hand snaking behind to touch his distressed friend, before William noticeably swallowing and stood to look Connor bravely in the eye.

“I got the things down Sir. I know you said we shouldn’t touch anything, but the people in the box finished after the kites and usually nanny lets me draw if cook is late with…” William’s eyes suddenly went wide as he seemed to come to some inner conclusion, before continuing with quiet stoicism, “Please don’t punish Xander any more. He is ever so hungry, and it’s my fault we touched the drawing things.”

It was Connor’s turn to look surprised and more than a little distressed, he opened his arms and waited while two rather worried little boys sat riveted, unable to decide what was afoot. Connor patiently waited whilst explaining in low tones, “I am *so* sorry! We didn’t mean to leave you so long. We are both sorry. Anton and I… well, we just got caught up with some… matters of business and… Gregor has organized a lovely meal for us all… You did the right thing William – a lovely thing. Can you show me your drawings?”

Both four year olds grabbed their art from the floor and dove into arms that were both welcoming and reassuring, and proceeded to explain their illustrations. Connor could not help but notice William’s beautiful script even for a child twice his age, his initials perfectly penned in the bottom right hand corner of his picture and the word “Wills kit” at the middle top. The little blonde enthusiastically explained that this was his “best drawing of the kite and the people ever”. Connor smiled at the round bodies and enormous faces, with hands and feet in stick formation, but did not fail to notice that little Xander waited quietly, looking rather forlorn on Connor’s other knee.

Connor noted the withdrawal, “Can I see yours?”

Xander failed to look up simply thrusting Connor a paper crumpled in a tiny fist.

Connor opened the page and smoothed it a little. Xander’s signature was a series of scribbles and his people were little more than blobs with expressions, fingers and toes. What struck Connor was the angry/sad looks on the faces of the people, then noticed off to the right side - another blob. It was much larger than the rest and was smiling a broad grin and seemed to be carrying something, another large scribbled ball.

“Who’s this?”

“My Aunt Agnes, and this is her cat John. She’s like the lady who fed the birds and she’s nice and brings me candy for Christmas. My dad is scary like the one in the movie.”

“It’s a lovely picture Xander!”

The little lad let out a breath he had been holding and looked so relieved that Connor gave the two a warm hug. Finally released Xander pushed the page toward Connor’s chest, “You can have it ‘f ya want.” Almost begging, chocolate ‘puppy’ eyes looked up at their guardian from under impossibly long lashes.

“I would love to… and can I have yours too, William? We can put them up somewhere so everyone can see them.”

It seemed crisis over. Connor gentled the two up to standing, tucked the two pictures under his arm then held hands with the two and proceeded down to a delicious (if somewhat late) lunch on the breakfast patio. The only glitch being the need to find extra cushions for the boys so they could reach the table.

Anton joined them after a short delay and the lunch was swiftly followed by a short adventure on the quad bikes, William in between Anton’s strong legs and Xander riding with Connor. The half hour drive to various spots on the property finished at the stables where a surprise awaited the two young boys.

A pint sized pony was standing, already saddled and ready with a young woman controlling him, bridle in hand. She did a slight curtsey as the adults entered then addressed the group.

“Bonjour Monsieur Anton, Monsieur Connor, je suis Chantelle et c'est Fusée.”

Anton answered in perfect French, thanking the girl for her services – and her pony’s - at such short notice, then introduced the boys.

William said a shy but polite “Bonjour Mademoiselle”, while Xander mumbled a “H’llo” as he stood transfixed by the sight of the rather stocky black pony.

Connor squatted down in front of the brunette, “You ready for a ride Xander?”

“But… but… it will cost too much and… and… I can just watch if you want… it’s OK I can just watch.”

Connor pulled the little boy in for another protective hug. “It’s OK Xan, the pony is here just for you and William. Chantelle has brought him over just for you, and she will lead you if you would like a ride?”

Xander nodded and tiny voice said “Yes please”, into Connor’s shoulder, before the destroyer heard “Can Will ride wiv me?”’

An hour later Chantelle had the pony’s lead in hand and was on her own horse. The last part of the afternoon was spent with her leading Fusee (Rocket) and his two tiny riders (resembling red topped mushrooms in their rather oversized riding helmets) all the way to the bottom of the property and back. Other than the bit, saddle and the lead to the other horse, the pony might as well have been simply exercising for all the weight he was carrying.

Upon their return, Chantelle was engaged three afternoons a week for ‘Kindergarten riding lessons’ followed by a bit of ‘hacking’ on the property. Initially it was for two weeks – with an option to continue. Connor saw the flicker of a worried expression pass over Anton’s face as Chantelle agreed to the conditions, the Destroyer knew full well that they were no closer to changing the boys back and that the option looked likely to be needed.

 

Later that evening, following supper, a bath and story (courtesy of an ancient volume of Faerie Tales by Brothers Grimm – happily translated ‘on the fly’ from German into English by Anton), the situation was brought into sharper relief. Anton raised the need for a Nanny.

Connor was shocked then relieved to find that his new ‘Sire’ had already engaged one of the local wiccans. She came highly recommended and was to arrive the following day along with Willow. The senior witch wishing to be on site to assure the boys’ safety and determine any particulars that may have been missed regards the regression spell.

 

As Willow and the young Stephanie arrived, Anton and Connor received the news that the Fl’aath eggs had both hatched successfully and two beautiful new male Fl’aath had emerged to aging but relieved parents.

…………………

Lilah was livid, one of the Senior Partners had the audacity to chastise her for her obsession with Angel(us), but she *knew* her focus on the vampire – and his line - would bring the Partners dividends… Why couldn’t they realize that!??

There was a yellow slip under the door when she rose that morning. “Dear Ms Morgan, Your current focus on the vampiric ruling line of Europe is misplaced. The need for balance defines our future. You must cease and desist your pursuit of the inheritors of the Aurelian line.

Should you choose to persist in your vendetta, we will find you duties in alternative… dimensions that would perhaps better suit your nature. Have a nice day, T.S.P.”

Lilah took the memo, screwed it up, and threw it into the shredder. The whirring sound gave her a boldness that would perhaps have been best spent on reorganizing her shoe cupboard, nevertheless…

She immediately employed a number of contractors and gathered them on the eighth day following the bungled warlock incident, “I want those two little bastards in our custody by the end of today. Kill anyone who gets in your way.”

Two Wolfram and Hart mercenaries looked at each other with concern. They had done their research, the entire Paris branch knew of the manifesto from the Senior Partners and there was no indication that the Senior Partners were backing the venture.

Just before they were to move out, their own commanding officer, Jean, pulled them aside and was adamant. They were to do as Mlle Morgan asked, however their instructions from the Senior Partners’ liaison in Paris was clear- take the assignment from her, and keep track of the Mlle Lilah and her plans, but under no circumstances injure the small boys currently on her agenda, or any of the ruling line – particularly not the Immortal!

Lilah’s instructions were clear. “Capture them and kill anyone who gets in your way.”

The young captain neither nodded nor denied the order, simply indicating to his men to move out. Lilah was almost bouncing with glee. Soon the Senior Partners would see just what she was capable of when she worked independently.

 

Part 6

 

Willow and Stephanie arrived with little fanfare. Instead, the welcome was rather that which might be afforded favorite cousins. They were ushered into the study by Anton in the early afternoon.

Willow remembered Connor a little from their brief encounter in Angel’s hotel some fifteen or more years ago, and had seen a rather worried looking Connor somewhat obscured by shadows during their video conference, a week previously. But that seemed to have little relation to the confident man she was now facing. He was obviously just over the cusp of thirty and had a calm and presence that made the white haired wiccan relax and smile broadly. She did not hesitate in breaking all protocol and move forward to give a warm hug to first the Immortal, then Connor in turn.

And Willow certainly wasn’t what Connor had expected.

As soon as she entered the room it positively prickled with the magic flowing from her. White haired and extremely attractive, she had a serene timelessness about her that gave the impression she would carry her true age as a secret for many decades to come.

Connor followed Anton’s lead as the Immortal formally took the witch’s proffered hand, and pressed the back of it to his forehead, then heart and finally kissed it. “High Mistress Willow, we are deeply grateful of your presence and welcome you to our home.” The formality was repeated by Connor as a rather overawed Stephanie was also graciously greeted.

The dialogue between High Wiccan Willow, soon to be ‘Nanny’ (the acolyte Stephanie), the Immortal, and the Full Blood, Connor Aurelius, was surprisingly easy. All in the room were concerned for the balance, the future… and restoring the boys, but in the meantime, ensuring that their time was spent in a stimulating and loving environment.

Stephanie was a trained early childhood teacher and spent much of her time (outside her wiccan responsibilities and studies) as the director overseeing the Berkshire coven’s childcare centre and kindergarten – it was one of the English covens’ five facilities. She was also being personally groomed by Willow to become a High Mistress.

Stephanie was a natural born witch with mixed heritage. Her father’s twin had been made werewolf at the age of seventeen, and her mother was a lay healer – sadly never schooled in the arts of magic, but as a natural earth mother, was able to heal many regardless. Sadly for the thirty something wiccan, motherhood eluded her and her efforts on behalf of the children of the coven increased tenfold as a consequence.

Stephanie had a pixie sweet face, raven blue-black hair, classic red ‘bow’ lips and near black eyes framed by lashes that were impossibly long. She was petite but exuded a strength and kindness that had a presence of its own. Connor and Anton knew instantly, the woman was a perfect choice for their boys’ Nanny.

 

To the visiting wiccans, Anton was most obviously the patriarch – his extraordinary age, experience and imperviousness to elimination something that gave him a perspective unavailable to the others. And his benevolence and role as surrogate Sire to the line also apparent as he and Connor explored options for reversing the spell with Willow, and discussed Stephanie’s role in the interim.

As the adults discussed some of the most worrying aspects of the current challenges faced by the Aurelian Court, the little boys were having their mid afternoon ‘quiet time’. The term more a euphemism for William’s trying *very hard* to stay still and rest, than for Xander who napped easily at any time of the day or night.

The hour had been instigated after day four when a full blown tantrum by one small brunette had followed the misplacement of Panda. After much sobbing, the beloved soft toy was located by Anton when the laundry staff found a rather soggy black and white bear amongst the already washed, bed linen.

Following the discovery and a very restless night, William and his teddy were allowed to keep a patient vigil with Xander the following day. They seated themselves on the ground under the clothes line for most of the morning while Panda (pinned by his ears) swung in the wind and dried.

Despite the reassuring discovery of the beloved bear, there was still the issue of the ‘mid afternoon moodiness’ until Jon – their lovely human cook and father of five – identified near exhaustion as the key factor regards the ‘aberrant’ behavior of the two boys. Two days later, all was calm again, with the youngsters encouraged to sleep following luncheon and before their afternoon activities.

And so it was, on the day of Willow and Stephanie’s arrival, William had been instructed to simply stay lying down to ‘rest and read’ if he couldn’t sleep in the afternoon.

Expecting guests made the idea of slumber all the more difficult, so Connor sat with the little lad for a time while the sleeping Xander snuggled into his restless friend’s side. Connor was rather surprised when he queried the small blonde about one or two of the books William was looking at, realizing belatedly that the little lad really was reading a significant number of the words, and not just looking at the pictures.

Connor whispered, “You read very well.”

William positively glowed with pride, “That’s why Mother and Papa gave me ‘The Fairy Shop’ for Christmas. It has wonderful poems and pictures, and it’s bound!”

William was too busy describing the treasured tome with his hands and expressions to notice Connor’s amusement.

“Nanny has me read it to her if it’s too wet to go to the park, and Papa says if I am really clever and work very hard at my studies, I will go to University just like he did.” Connor looked down at the little lad, noticing the half worried expression on the boy’s face. He decided to comment, “You’ll be much older by then. I went to University too – I loved it… Living in the house with other students, it’s lots of…” Connor realized he wasn’t helping so leaned over and took the petite form in a loose hug before inquiring, “Why the sad face Will?”

William’s tone had dropped its enthusiastic edge, “Well… Who will look after Nanny and Mother if I have to go to University to live?”

Connor noticed Xander stir a little but continued to focus on the concerned blonde boy, “Oh, I’m sure it will be fine William. A clever boy like you? I’m sure it will all work out.”

Connor was just about to say more when Xander sat up bleary eyed and little William seemed to completely forget about the previous worry or conversation. He dove across the bed to his waking friend to sit in front of the still blinking Xander, and began a rapid monologue.

Connor could not help but smile. One minute the weight of the real world seemed to be bearing down on the small boy, and the next he was entirely ready to fight dragons, lead daring explorations and ride wild horses, with the obligatory caveat “…so long as we’re both home for tea of course!”

Sadly for the boys, their afternoon adventures were to be temporarily curbed. “That’s lovely William, but I need you both to come and meet someone – well two people really. One of the ladies is a very good friend and the other lady is a person I am sure we will all like.”

And so, a few minutes later, two hastily groomed small boys entered the sitting room hand in hand with Connor.

“Mistress Willow Rosenburg, Mistress Stephanie D’Arth, I would like you to meet Alexander Harris and William Bartlett.”

Xander looked wide eyed at both women then quickly dropped his gaze pushed himself firmly against Connor’s leg and staring at the floor. William knew he was expected to be polite when meeting adults, so released Connor’s hand and gave as good a bow as he could manage, whilst saying, “Please to meet you, Mistress Rosenburg… Mistress D’Arth…”

Willow’s heart skipped a beat. William was just adorable, all enormous blue eyes and white blonde curly hair, but she was even more overwhelmed by the sight of the very young Xander.

He was just as she remembered from old photos of the two of them at kindergarten and daycare all those years ago. Big chocolate brown, innocent eyes, thick auburn hair with just enough curl to guarantee it was never quite neat, and a friendly smile that had remained across the years she knew him – nearly always able to disguise the often trying life he led.

She immediately rose from her chair and knelt down in front of her lifetime friend, not missing the little blonde’s immediately protective move, shuffling around the back of Connor so he might stand shoulder to shoulder with his friend Xander as the white haired woman came closer.

Willow found herself rather emotional but finally managed, “Well hello there Alexander… William… It is lovely to see you… I … um… I used to live in Sunnydale so I’ve met you before Xander… although you might not remember…” Willow saw the confused look, “Oh… it’s OK honey… Anton here tells me you’re learning to ride?”

Xander’s fear instantly dissipated and within moments he had released Connor’s hand and stepped forward with William in close pursuit, as he explained their wonderful pony rides and how they had “… gone all the way down to the gate and I even had the reins with *no lead* the o’ver day! An’ Will was wiv me – but he just had to hold on, ‘cause it wasn’t his turn! An’ Chantelle said I was really good, and Fusée (that’s his name) even licked some salt from my hand after! ”

William quickly jumped in, palm extended as though to feed a pony, adding, “And mine too… he licked mine!” Willow didn’t miss the two little lads exchanging a glance before Xander added, “And he licked Will’s too.” before commenting, “But he licked mine first!”

William looked at the ground for a moment then conceded the point, “He did… He licked Xander first… but that’s fair. Xander was really good with the reins. Do you think Fusée will lick me first next time?” Hopeful blue eyes were raised to Willow’s emerald green as the witch tried hard not to giggle at the innocent babble.

“I’m sure Fusée just takes in turn don’t you think?” Apparently Willow’s response was perfect, as two little boys grinned then settled on the floor cross-legged in front of the senior Wiccan. At that point Willow took the opportunity to introduce Stephanie less formally.

The young wiccan was ideal – in her late twenties, the dark haired woman seemed to have an instant affinity with the small boys. The boys took an immediate like to their lovely new nanny and were soon heading outside to “Show Nanny S around…”

Willow watched the two excited boys lead a beaming Stephanie to meet Chantelle and Fusée, barely hearing the end of the explanation by an increasingly confident Xander, “You might be too big to ride wiv us… but we could do walking couldn’t we, Will? … And there are the big bikes. But you will need Uncle Connor to come then, ‘cause they’re too hard by yourself… But maybe Chantelle can…” The conversation petered out as the trio disappeared into the late afternoon sun. And the ‘elders’ turned to more serious matters.

Anton addressed the still smiling wiccan, “She is ideal. Thank you Mistress. But I must address more urgent matters. Correct me if I am wrong but… it will be nineteen days at the earliest until we can change them back?”

Willow sobered instantly and faced the Immortal, her elder by at least two millennia. “Indeed Master Anton, though our research has revealed a complication in the reversal process when it comes to the High Master.”

Connor saw a measure of anguish and sadness grace Anton’s usually unreadable, handsome face, before the old one quietly answered their guest. “Dear Lady, I feared as much. You must know that I hold you and the coven in the highest esteem, and hope that you will agree to restoring Xander at the end of this month – along with our Fl’aath friends, but I also entreat you to stay on. The restoration of the High Master William will, as you have indicated, require a more difficult process…”

Willow was just about to comment but was stayed by Anton’s kind hand resting on her knee and silenced her by the near whispered, baritone address. “I know we must restore the man and the demon… and as you realize that includes his age and status as High Master. My resources are vast, dear lady, but for the restoration of the true leader of the vampire world – and his consort… I trust you dear Mistress Willow. I entreat you to restore my Childer. You have my full support. It is well that you are with us High Mistress, as I, like you, know it will be a process requiring *all* our resources and *much* resolve.”

Willow simply nodded then added in a rather small voice, “As you are their Sire in all but origin, I respect all that you ask, and am honored that you request this of me. Your Childer may need some of your blood in the interim, and that of the full blood Connor. I realize your responsibilities are vast but wonder if you might be available for the full moon so we might proceed with William’s restoration. The coven will have completed all necessary ceremonies prior to the full moon.”

Anton smiled, “You have my word. Indeed it is my intention to stay on until the day. Oh and note also that I have arranged for you to fly to our home for a day or two after the High Master’s restoration – as I believe you owe Buffy a ‘mocca and a chat’? She did say to call.”

Willow all but squealed her delight, and gave in to rather uncharacteristic, impetuous glee as she kissed the Immortal on the cheek and all but danced from the room, mobile phone in hand and a thousand questions ready for her old friend.

 

…………………..

“She is very nice.”

“I know”

“She’s nothing like my real Nanny.”

“So?”

“Oh… nothing really – they’re both nice… I just… I just miss Nanny… and Mother… and… and… I’ve been *ever so brave*, so where are they? I … I just thought if I was brave… Cousin George said that school is when you have to go away to learn. Do you think that we’re in school – ‘cause I was good and I tried to learn my lessons and I am sorry the chalk broke… and the board got wet… but it dried later... so…”

The two little boys were in bed after supper, allegedly attempting to settle for the night, but William was on the point of hysteria. The High Mistress Willow ‘gave him prickles’ and was still putting him on such an edge that he could not begin to process the confusion, so simply gave in to the lovely warm cuddle from his Xander shaped friend.

Stephanie came to check on her two small charges some half hour later and grinned as she spied the two small bodies intertwined. She tucked the covers up to their chins then flicked off all but the night light before retiring herself.

……………….

The mercenaries struck ten days after Stephanie’s arrival, as she and two small boys were spending a joyful afternoon on a large rug near the swing Connor had hung from the broad branches of the ancient oak close to the house. The boys had exhausted themselves with countless turns on the swing followed by a few bouts of rough and tumble, and an aborted attempt to climb the enormous tree.

Eventually their lovely wiccan Nanny had convinced them to draw a picture of their tree for Uncle Connor and Sir Anton. William had insisted that the older relative was Sir Anton after hearing Connor referred to him as “Sire, Anton” over dinner on their second day at the house.

It took Xander almost a week before the concept that it was possible to have a knight without armor sunk in. But the presence of swords, shields, and artifacts of war displayed around the mansion, along with witnessing Anton and Connor fencing one afternoon, convinced the young lad that Anton’s chain mail and horse must just be hidden somewhere.

 

Before she even realized what was happening, the dart that hit the young witch’s arm had delivered its anesthetic and she was on the ground in black oblivion. Xander saw Spike grabbed from behind as he reached for a red crayon. Fortunately for both boys, he screamed his alarm and kept screaming for William, even as he was pulled from the ground by an individual clad in a balaclava and army fatigues.

William kicked and struggled for several seconds then went limp, just as his old Nanny back home said one should do if ever attacked by the gypsies.

Pleased that his charge was compliant so quickly, the young private relaxed somewhat, and William struck. The tiny blonde kicked with all his might, managing to get his little boots to strike the large individual’s groin with enough force to cause a yelp, then took advantage of the few seconds of shock to wriggle out of the man’s grip, and begin to make for the stranger holding a struggling Xander.

The terrified little Xander had managed to keep hold of his red crayon and by a mere stroke of luck, and a lot of flailing arms, had struck his captor in the eye with the writing implement – hard enough that he was dropped unceremoniously on the ground.

William grabbed his friend’s hand and they began to run for the house – but there were more mercenaries emerging from a black van that had sped across the lawn toward them.

Xander cried out a second time as the now angry individual he had escaped from, caught him again. This time the man had help. Xander was held firm as his mouth was taped followed by his wrists and ankles. William had the same treatment.

As they were tossed unceremoniously into the van, William saw their lovely Nanny Stephanie sprawled on the ground and began to cry silently. He was sure they had killed her, he had seen a dead person in the street once, and that lady had been sprawled too.

The soldiers were speaking in rapid French. Sadly William knew only enough words to know something even worse than the tape was about to happen.

“Just give them a quarter of the usual – anymore might kill them.”

“But Sir, is it really necessary? They are restrained now, surely…?”

The lead mercenary growled back, “It’s an order Cherloitte, not a discussion point!” The soldier’s eye was still visibly red from the ‘crayon incident’.

“Sir, yes Sir.”

William felt a sharp pain in his right leg and all went black.

The young soldier was leaning across to Xander when a commotion in the front of the van signaled they had trouble. Then their whole world stilled. Frozen in place, even the drip of anesthetic from the syringe refused to obey gravity.

 

Connor had heard Xander’s initial cry of distress and though it wasn’t unusual for the boys to rough house or yell out, something of the tone put him on edge so he did a quick check out the window, expecting to see some minor hurt, only to view all their nightmares. Stephanie was on the ground and he could see the boys being manhandled by men in fatigues.

Anton felt his distress before any words were even exchanged, so simply cried out to Willow who was in the library researching, before following Connor. Vampiric speed and agility saw both launching from the balcony to the ground then all but flying toward their boys.

Connor pulled the driver from the vehicle, knocking him out with a single punch in the process. He was about to tackle the other four mercenaries when Willow’s spell hit the scene. Anton looked back to the house and could just make out the witch standing on the first storey balcony, arms extended and hair flying as if in a wind tunnel.

Lilah’s attack squad were all aware but unable to move of their own free will, so had wrists and ankles bound and mouths gagged before being neatly piled into the back of their own vehicle. The unconscious Stephanie and William were gently eased into the rear of the van also, while a now freed but sobbing small Xander was cradled in Anton’s arms as Connor drove the van the few hundred meters to the house.

 

The men were moved to the winter barn where the animals resided during the frozen months of December and January. Still groggy from the spell, they were stripped of their equipment then shackled together in a single stall. They had water and a toilet bucket but no food since both Connor and Anton knew it was only temporary. Neither had any desire to hold prisoners for longer than was absolutely necessary.

 

Stephanie came to first, crying out her belated alarm before the disorientation of being tranquilized truly began to lift. She recognized Willow but did not relax until her elder whispered, “Sweetie, the boys are fine… they’re fine… Rest now.”

Connor and Anton flanked the two tiny figures in Spike and Xander’s bed. Both boys had been freed of their restraints and Xander given Panda and cup of warm milk by Connor with reassurances that if he had a bit of a sleep, William would be awake when he roused.

Anton’s hand remained on the little blonde’s chest and a worried look firmly in place. It was obvious that the dose of anesthetic had been a hefty one for such a small person, William’s breathing too shallow and erratic to oxygenate the blood properly, and his heart failing to compensate. The boy’s lips and fingertips were slowly taking on a blue tinge.

Gregor arrived seconds later as though by magic. He handed Anton a small oxygen mask and twisting the key on the bottle. It hissed as the precious contents began to flow.
After several minutes and a gradual restoration of pink to William’s color, Anton lifted his free wrist and bit down hard. He then removed the mask from William’s face for a few seconds and allowed a mouthful of his own blood to drain into the boy’s mouth.

William gagged a little but eventually swallowed the precious fluid. Anton returned the mask and proffered the still dripping wrist to Connor – who accepted gratefully before laving the wound closed.

 

……………..

Lilah stormed impatiently around her luxury suite. It was hours since her team was deployed and the last time they had checked in, the report had been that they had captured the targets and were about to return.

She was aware that she had stepped a little out of line regards the Senior Partners but still couldn’t wait to begin negotiations with Angel’s full blood son, and was sure Connor would see the ‘advantages’ of working for her… and perhaps, one day, even for Wolfram and Hart. The Senior Partners would be impressed.

 

*Crane, Walter, (1870) The Fairy Shop, UK.

 

Part 7

William did not return to consciousness, and over the ensuing hours his breathing became more and more erratic as his tiny system struggled to eliminate the huge dose of anesthetic from his body. The local doctor was summoned and Anton sent urgent word to his personal friend and internationally renowned pediatrician, Prof. Jan H Wildhaber.

Anton’s deepest fear was that the huge dose of anesthetic had damaged the little boy permanently. Anton and Connor took turns acting as nurse to the young female physician, Dr Illiffe. A native of Nigeria, the brilliant young Edwina had seen far too many children die. Her lovely Swiss husband (podiatrist Jean) was called to warn that their two toddlers needed care as she was required to monitor her patient - the unconscious William - through the wee hours and likely needed to travel with him to a larger hospital.

Jean heard the emotion in his dark, statuesque wife’s voice and knew that she would not ask to travel with a patient unless absolutely necessary. Learning that it was a child, he knew why. They had met in a hospital in Mozambique, she tending a ward of small children dying of AIDS, he working for the UN. No child would be left to die if Edwina could possibly help it.

…………..

 

Little Xander was unable to sleep, so was permitted to visit his little friend around midnight as it became evident that William would have to be transported to a major hospital as soon as possible. Xander was not told the reason for the permission, just that his friend was still ‘very sick’.

Xander arrived at the door, one arm tightly around William’s bear and the other holding the white haired Willow’s hand tightly.

Willow lifted her young friend up so he could place the teddy beside the inert figure, whispering most seriously to Willow as they left only minutes later, “Now he can wake up, ‘cause he will *know* that his Teddy is there.” Willow squeezed the boy’s hand affectionately and whispered, “I’m sure he will sweetie”, at the same time shooting a worried glance back at a rather exhausted looking Connor holding vigil beside William’s bedside.

Ten minutes later an unconscious William, accompanied by Anton, Connor and Dr Illiffe, were transported by ambulance to the emergency ward of the main hospital in Basel.

Arriving at around two in the morning they were grateful to find Dr Wildhaber waiting.

Anton hovered as his friend performed a similar battery of tests to the local doctor, praising the young woman as the initial blood tests she had conducted enabled he and his team to assess their challenge swiftly.

It transpired that the tranquilizer used was not designed to be human specific, and it certainly was not intended for children. Dr Wildhaber, himself a father of a litter, growled (literally) and allowed Anton to see his eyes change from their normal grey blue to an eerie black as his wolf came to the fore.

In their haste to satisfy Lilah’s dictate (had the team been successful), the two boys would most certainly have died in the back of the van from a combination of asphyxiation and organ failure. It was also apparent that the mercenaries were either incredibly ignorant or simply not particularly worried by that fact that the subjects of their raid would be ‘DOA’.

According to the blood tests, William’s tiny body had been assaulted by a tranquilizer designed for ‘cross breeds’, a combination animal and human sedative with a magical element that would bring down any demon or individual of magical heritage. Sadly the little lad was all human.

Nanny Stephanie had fared better due to the strength of her natural magicks, her age and adult size - plus, it was surmised, the dose she was given was only aimed at disabling her for minutes, not for the hours of transport expected for the boys. It was welcome information for the coven but no more reassuring for the House of Aurelius.

By five in the morning, Dr Wildhaber had called in two specialist anesthetists – both regulars in his own operating room, one for human and the other specializing in ‘unusual’ patients. The boy’s little body was failing.

William had not regained consciousness and despite the excellent combined efforts of Dr Wildhaber’s staff, his condition continued to wane over the ensuing hour. An emergency breathing tube was inserted as his lungs ceased to work automatically and catheters, drips and additional monitoring equipment piled up around the tiny body. He was still alive, but only just as the rest of the household arrived.

Willow, Connor and Xander were led into the ICU in silence. Gregor had seated himself silently on a chair in the hall opposite the door, ever watchful, another of Anton’s men was positioned at the emergency exit giving him a full view of the hallway. Willow paused briefly to create a ward around William’s room.

Nurse Liebentisch looked up from her book then vacated her seat and moved out of the way in deference to the family. Connor and Anton were already flanking their tiny relative and the white haired woman looked on the edge of collapse. The nurse had seen far too many families trying to cope with critically ill children before. It was never easy, particularly for the other children.

The supervising nurse found her throat tightening as she reflected, the little lad in the bed resembled her own first borne, her beautiful boy - a wonderful sportsman and gifted scholar who was struck down by Hodgkinson’s Disease at age nineteen and died four months later after as his body destroyed itself for no apparent reason.

It tore their family apart, the anguish involved was still raw for her even ten years on. But she would be there for others whenever needed.

The kindly nurse edged out of the door as she watched a little brunette boy that could not have been more than four or five run forward, only to be stayed by an adult worried that the enthusiasm of a child might dislodge the life-giving tubes. The seasoned pediatric nurse was still moved as she departed the room to a small boy repeatedly calling for his friend Will to wake up before being collected into a warm hug by his ‘Aunt Willow’.

She left the small group to their initial greeting but returned to guide the distressed group to their hospital's family assistance section. Even this late they had arranged accommodation right next door to the hospital and found something to ‘nibble on’ as a late night snack.

Willow had been watching little William for hours as he fought body and soul (literally!) for his life. He had been injected with a serum to reverse the affects of the physical tranquilizer, but it was up to Willow to provide an antidote to the deadly magical mojo without damaging the little boy.

An hour after it was confirmed that the serum had done all it could, the white haired wiccan sat in a deep trance, encircled by candles, and remained lost to the physical world for nearly thirty minutes. The glow that had surrounded William as Willow’s magic began to work ended in a blinding flash after which the Wiccan collapsed, William convulsed violently, then began to breathe on his own.

Connor and Anton both fed the little boy tiny amounts of their own blood in the ensuing hours as William began to recover, their contributions exacting a swift improvement in the patient though the critical change was credited to Dr Wildhaber’s team and the wonderful witch.

Anton and Connor had taken a break and were outside in the hospital gardens as the morning sun peeped over the horizon marking the fourth day of William’s stay in the hospital. Anton lit a clove cigarette then leaned over to Connor with a silver hip flask. Connor took a long draft of fine brandy and noticed that Anton had lines of exhaustion marking his otherwise timeless features.

Venturing that the fatigue was not just sleepless nights, Connor commented as he handed back the welcome drink, “We’ll be going him home in no time, Sire.”

Anton took a long pull on his cigarette and blew the smoke skyward after a meaningful pause. “We have missed the moon and he will still likely be too weak to withstand the restoration even next month. I will not risk him again.” Then added, “My wonderful strong William… He really *is* my Childe now in all ways, and I failed him, my dear Connor, I failed all of you. You are all mine to protect and I failed...”

Connor moved forward and wrapped his arms around his senior’s slim waist then tilted his head to the side, offering his neck. “You failed none of us, Sire! Please Drink, you are tired and need this. Take what is yours.”

He felt Anton stiffen then relax a little, and gave a slight groan as the Immortal slid his fangs delicately, and almost painlessly, into Connor’s flesh. Barely two mouthful’s later the wound was licked closed. The two remained in an intimate embrace for some time, Anton’s head resting on the smaller man’s right shoulder until Connor felt Anton waver a little and realized that his elder was nearly asleep on his feet.

“Come Sire, let us see to some proper rest for you.”

………………

Three days later the family was home, though William was still very weak and slept for much of each day. Xander was his constant companion, the little boy insisting that if William was in bed then he should be there too. He chatted to his friend when Will was awake and lay quietly watching the television, looking at picture books or drawing whenever his blonde companion slept again.

If he did venture outside at Stephanie’s insistence, he made sure to report all exploits back to William as soon as he returned – even waking his little friend to extol his own expertise on the swing or explain some new game that he had planned for when Will was well enough to join him.

Stephanie was fully recovered and attended to the boys’ daily needs from the moment they came home, helping William to the toilet when necessary, bathing, dressing and arranging meals, and any other entertainment she could devise.

Xander went riding with Chantelle – though now Gregor accompanied them at Anton’s insistence. Xander quite liked Gregor – he was quiet and looked very strong, plus always had a smile for the little brunette. Gregor, for his part, had always admired the Consort and now quite enjoyed seeing just how much of the boy’s loyalty, strength of character and good nature was evident even at such an early age.

 

The tension in the house increased as full moon approached some seven weeks after the ruling couple’s initial regression. The cause? Xander’s return to adulthood was looming.

The coven was contacted and the Fl’aath formally invited for the event that would see their infant sons restored as promised.

Reluctantly, a decision was made a week before the event. William would be forced to stay a child for at least another month as he had only just begun to play outside again, still required morning and afternoon naps, and took the daily recommended boosts of Anton and Connor’s blood disguised in some grape juice.

On the night before the ceremony, the Fl’aath families arrived, two females at the back cradling their tiny green babies. They were settled into the guest wing and a supper of their traditional chilled nettle and raw liver (animal) soup, accompanied by a roulade of bacon, herbs, chic peas and thinly sliced raw kidney and washed down by a cocktail of mulled red wine and the cream of goat’s milk. The meal was a triumph with chef Jon being called for at its conclusion to be congratulated by all the Fl’aath elders. The Aurelian court had demonstrated, yet again, its willingness to extend not only assistance, but a warm welcome and respect for traditions to the peaceloving demon species in its domain. The ‘nobless oblige’ would not be forgotten.

…………….

Connor and Anton slipped into William and Xander’s room just after dinner on the evening of the reversal. Collecting the boy was bound to upset both little lads as it had to conclude with Xander leaving. It had been preempted by several conversations and much anticipation in the days before Xander’s stay finishing. Stephanie had deliberately only packed a small backpack, with Panda poking his nose out the top so as to ‘see everything. She made sure both boys saw that Xander’s clothes and favorite things were still in place as they were to be ‘reunited in a month or two’.

Xander had said his farewells to Chantelle and Fusee, and was pleased to learn that William was to have some individual lessons while he was away since his blonde friend had missed so many when ill.

Xander drew Will a special picture and had Stephanie write a long letter on the back to William it started “To my best Friend William”, and ended “From your Friend Forever, Love Alexander”.

William was dressed in his pajamas, sitting cross-legged on the bed next to a dressed and backpacked Xander, William letting Xander hold Teddy “Just ‘cause…” The two boys held hands for a short time before William turned to the Immortal,“Sir Anton, will I be here when Xander gets back?”

“Oh I’m sure you will be William. Now we really must get going, so why don’t you give each other a big hug. You will be together again in no time, I promise.”

Teddy was momentarily forgotten as the boys embraced, Xander whispering, “You are my bestest friend ever!” before kissing his little companion hard and jumping off the bed to take Anton’s outstretched hand. He turned momentarily at the door, grinned and said “Seeya later alligator!”, William attempted a cheerful smile and waved back as Xander allowed himself to be led away.

William pulled Teddy close and sat silently for a moment. Stephanie gave him the time then moved in, worried that the parting might have proven all too traumatic for the little lad. She was understandably surprised, therefore, when perfectly clear crystal blue eyes were leveled at her moments later and the blonde asked, “Do you think Uncle Connor might take you and I to the town on Friday?”

Stephanie, quite taken aback, looked a little puzzled before asking, “Why would you want to do that sweetie?”

“Oh, I just thought we could buy some stamps, ‘cause I have to write to Xan a lot. Chantelle said that’s what she does with her best friend.”

Stephanie simply nodded her approval and smiled. She helped the little boy under the covers of the enormous bed (taking care to tuck Teddy in too) before replying fully, “I’m sure Connor will take us to town, and perhaps we can see a film or a play together in the afternoon. Would you like to do that?” She stroked the pale blonde curls affectionately as an already drowsy William yawned and snuggled into Teddy a little before adding quietly, “I suppose… Umm… Can you stay Nanny S?...”

“Of course I’ll stay, honey.” Stephanie flicked off the main light and lay down beside the little figure, tugging a comforter over herself in the process. She put a protective arm over the boy and teddy, and waited for sleep to claim him. The covern was present, and she could feel the ceremony begin, but her duty was to the little one whose blonde tufts poked from under the duvet.

……….

Thankfully, Xander too was in the ‘Land of Nod’. After being led from the room, he happily trailed after Anton down to the study where Willow and some other ladies stood. Willow had kissed him and sprinkled him with some sparkling dust that made the tiny brunette’s nose itch a little. But the instant she pulled him into a hug across her lap, he fell into a deep sleep.

The two Fl’aath babies and Xander were placed on a broad blanket that lay in the center of a circle of candles and the chanting began. The Fl’aath parents of the two and Connor and Anton also formed part of the circle, silent until Willow nodded and they entreated the benevolent powers to reverse the spell borne of ‘ill intent’.

A flash of light and blast of hot wind marked the restoration and the blanket was suddenly covered with three large bodies, still all unconscious, but certainly in the form they had been on the fateful day almost two months previously.

The respective families lifted their still unconscious, restored relatives and took them to their rooms to recover. Members of the Inverlaken Coven also retired after much praise and thanks from all present.

An exhausted High Mistress Willow followed the Aurelian family to Anton’s private quarters to await the awakening of her dear friend, the Consort Alexander.

 

Part 8

It was well into the morning of the following day when a very disorientated, once more one eyed adult Consort awoke.

Xander groaned and rolled toward the middle of Anton’s large bed, and reached for…“Ssssspppiii… hmm… Sspike?”

Anton was at his bedside in an instant, immediately assaulted by the re-established, emotional link he had with the Mated Consort… his other Childe, the blonde, was still a preschooler, and was without a Sire/Childe link while awaiting restoration the human child’s physical recovery from near death. How could he explain the events of the last two months to Xander?

The Immortal stretched to touch the Consort’s shoulder gently. “Xander? Xander… it’s Anton… do you know where you are?”

Still trying to make sense of where he was and why, the brunette turned slowly, his remaining eye filled with panic and brimming with tears. “S…Sire?? I can’t feel him, Sire! Why can’t I feel him?? Oh Ggg….hhh”. Xander’s distress increased exponentially as he frantically sought the link with his mate. Even asleep he could always feel Spike… yet now? Nothing.

A hitched series of anguished sobs almost disguised the desperate words, as Anton sat and gathered the now grieving Consort into his arms, “Noooooo!!!.... He… he *can’t* be! We… we… He… Ohhh Sire!” Anton could hear Xander’s heart racing beyond what was healthy and could smell the terror and grief rising.

He immediately pulled the man close, let his fangs drop, and opened his wrist. Pushing the precious fluid past his boy’s lips, he bit down hard on Xander’s neck. It was enough to cause pain and not something he was comfortable doing – but knew it was necessary.

The act and the blood had a threefold effect. It grounded and calmed the Consort instantly; renewed the connection with his ‘Sire’ Anton; and … triggered a flood of memories from the previous weeks as a young child. Xander fell back into a semi-slumber as his mind attempted to process the maelstrom within. New memories had been inserted as a somewhat confused, yet lovely, holiday into his rather fuzzy recall of a miserable ‘first time around’ as a four and a bit.

The original had no family holidays as his father was retrenched when Xander was two. Xander remembered his mother crying a lot and always being tired. His mother had taken a secretarial job and did ironing and cleaning after hours to try to keep their household afloat and Xander eventually went to a long daycare centre where he met Willow.

His father did odd jobs and was finally offered a menial ‘starting’ job as a mechanic’s assistant by a friend. It eventually saw his father as head mechanic, but close to a year out of work and then having to ‘start again’ had already done the damage. His mother was given promotion… and was earning twice as much as her husband by the time Xander was four. It didn’t help the family dynamic.

The senior Harris started drinking, his wife buried herself in work, yet also began to console herself with the occasional ‘Zinfindel’ – initially to keep her husband company, but ultimately it was joined by valium and a combination of other remedies - their purpose - to blot out reality when at home and… to endure.

Some time when he was around five, after close to six months of screaming matches and angry silences, his parents made the decision to ‘stay together because of the child’. It saw Xander become the embodiment of their unhappiness and a reminder of what they had apparently lost. As an adult Xander realized that their anger and alienation was not due to him, nor was it directed at him particularly.

The contrast between his loving memories of his time at the Aurelian house and his own ‘real’ recollections from the same age were almost laughable. The love and strength of Anton and Spike… and the extended household, the sense of family, was absolute, whereas the unhappy individuals in his original home were unable to rescue themselves let alone a child.

Xander’s eyes fluttered open as he turned to his Sire, but was still only able to express two mumbled words in amazement, “Unconditional Love!”

Anton added a few of his own as the statement, “Yes my dear Childe. Unconditional Love… then, now and forever.”

A tear tracked down Xander’s cheek, finding its way to his chin, and joined by two more as he allowed a confusion of emotions wash over him. His desperate feelings as a then four and a half year old; the delights and worries of the recent joyful ‘holiday’ with his (now) family at that age; his love for Spike and the regressed William; and everything in between. Xander finally gained his composure and plucked up the courage to ask, “ So… Spike… or William…???”

“Is still regressed, dear heart. He was not strong enough, and I would dearly have liked to change you together, but we needed you to return. The court needs you, and Spike will need you all the more when he returns.

“Connor and I have done our best, but it is you and the High Master who keep the balance of power. We will restore William as soon as we can… but the quarterly meeting of clan leaders is to be in a fortnight. I am sorry Alexander, but you must carry the mantel once more.”

Xander nodded resignedly, “I understand, it has been done before, Sire.”

Anton all but breathed his reply, “I dearly wish you did not have to do it again…”

They both contemplated the previous time he had deputized for the badly injured Spike and just how very close both Spike and Xander too, had come to final death in the car accident… so much pain for so many months.

“The Clans will be satisfied with you at the helm. So let us focus on William and make his return to health and this special time with us a joyous one…” Anton saw the worry in the Consort’s face, and gently brushed away a tear that had begun to track down from Xander’s good eye.

“Dear one, he, like you, will remember. And he, like you, has loved his Mate for *far* longer than either of you could possibly comprehend… ” There was a moment of silence as the message sunk in before Xander addressed his Sire in an emotion filled whisper. “I know…I have loved him forever – even as I fought against my own feelings as a teenager, I know I loved him… May I see him Sire? Please?? Can I see William?” Xander’s tone was so reminiscent of the little boy he had been until so recently that Anton hugged the man just a little bit tighter before answering.

“Of course – but at the moment he’s out on a riding lesson.” Xander seemed to slump for a moment against Anton, then took a deep breath and seemed to be trying to gather his thoughts again.

“Come, he will only be an hour. We may even spy him from the balcony.” Anton eased them both to standing, supporting a still very unsteady Consort, and walked them both onto the sun drenched patio of the late autumn morning.

Xander was still for a moment, attempting to process the scene of the small William on the pony he remembered so well, accompanied by the lovely, patient, Chantelle and protective Gregor. He could still recall all the French words Chantelle had taught him as they went for the long ride at the end of each lesson, though now Xander was fluent anyway, courtesy of the years in their current location and some very deliberate study and practice.

Anton’s gaze lifted as he saw Willow and felt Connor, his new Childe, standing on the broad balcony, belatedly noting the witch’s pallid visage. It was obvious, the restoration spell had been costly and it was not just William who would need another month to recuperate. He smiled his welcome, then caught Xander as the man’s legs faltered. He lifted the brunette easily and carried him back to Anton’s own bed. Within seconds, Willow followed and had her old friend in a warm hug.

Connor waited until Willow remembered where she was before moving toward the bed. Willow moved to sit along side her old friend, continuing to hold his right hand and stroke her friend’s hair – no doubt more to reassure herself than comfort Xander.

Connor leaned forward and took Xander’s left hand, raising his other wrist to Anton as he did so. Anton bit down to open the wrist but took nothing. The open wound was pressed wordlessly against the mouth of his restored ‘brother in blood’. Xander took it and felt Anton’s fangs on his own left wrist. He groaned with the familiarity and the wonderful flood of ‘family, love, relief, worry, love…” flowing through the restored link with Connor along with the link intensifying as Xander’s blood was passed on to both relatives.

Willow kissed her old friend again (accusing him cheekily of ‘blood breath’) then settled onto the bed with the other two to spend the remainder of the hour discussing matters of the Aurelian Court. There was little to report, other than the fact Mistress Minna and Connor seemed to have established a strong friendship and found that they were very much kindred spirits in terms of their professional interests, business practices and loyalty to the ruling couple.

It was almost two hours before they heard tiny William racing up the stairs to his room calling for Stephanie, and followed by the ever watchful Gregor. Anton choosing to let the little boy keep to his regular schedule of luncheon with Nanny Stephanie and an afternoon nap before introducing an ‘older relative’.

Xander was nervous, to the point of feeling quite ill, as the door of the study opened to reveal Stephanie and his little friend, William. Xander was struck by how very small the boy looked – and how pretty, even at such a young age.

Connor, Anton and Xander all stood as the pair entered the room, before Xander was formally introduced by Anton as the “Esteemed Aurelian Consort, Alexander”.

Xander squatted down in front of the boy and held out his hand, noting how clumsy and huge he felt as his friend’s tiny pale hand slipped into his for a ‘manly shake’. But it was the wide eyed William’s innocent awestruck question that eased the tension, “Are you a pirate? Because Nanny S says that pirates all have patches and beards and a peg leg…and… Do you have a peg leg?” The little boy leaned forward a little to stare hard at Xander’s dark casual pants. Xander looked up to Anton a little unsure of what to say but grinned as he saw a very bemused Anton holding back laughter.

Xander belatedly realized that his ‘Robin Hood’ goatee and moustache, eye patch and classic collarless, white button-up shirt might well fit the impression of pirate to the small lad. Xander would have argued that he had no bandanna or gold teeth, however realized that his shoulder length brunette locks pulled back in a leather tie probably counted as almost the same to the four plus boy.

When Xander smiled at the little lad rather than answering, William seemed to gain confidence, “Do you have a sword? Uncle Connor has a sword. Are you going to fight Sir Anton – just for pretend… you know… ‘cause he does fencing like this!!” William thrust forward his rear hand up in a rather good parody of a fencing move, before all but bouncing on the spot as he asked conspiratorially, “Do you have a buried treasure?...” After the last of the rapid fire questions, William was gently shushed by Nanny Stephanie.

The little lad silenced immediately, looked at the floor and blushed with embarrassment and distress. He worried that he would be sent to his room – even at four something, he knew his place, and in adult company he should not have spoken out as he did. But this Alexander had such a friendly face, and William felt like he knew him already.

Xander smiled up at Stephanie before reaching out to the obviously worried William. “It’s OK, William. No I’m not a pirate, though I have seen my share of action. Yes, I do have a sword – several in fact and look forward to training with Sir Anton and Connor. But for now, would you like to show me around?”

The crestfallen look disappeared instantly as the little boy nodded profusely and Xander stood to garner approval from the other adults present. The others smiled their encouragement as William’s hand found his large friend’s.

“Oh yes please – we can start in my room, and I know nearly everywhere good for playing!”

“That would be lovely William, thank you, but you should check with Nanny Stephanie?”

The little boy turned begging blue eyes toward his lovely carer, “Please Nanny S, may I show Alexander around? Please??”

Before the hour was out Xander had been dragged through almost every room in the enormous house and half the gardens besides. They visited the swing under their favorite tree, Xander now far too big to fit in the narrow tyre seat, but wonderful at pushing.

William all but dragged him to the stables where Fusee had taken up residence when not needed by Chantelle, before racing back inside to introduce him to Teddy, and proudly show off a number of new drawings and a letter he was about to send to his friend Xander, “Who is away at the moment – but he’s coming back because we are friends.”

Late afternoon found them sitting on the floor of his own suite – Spike and Xander’s suite – though now filled with toys, activity materials, and children’s books. William was sitting on Xander’s right thigh, enthusiastically helping his new friend read a poem from AA Milne’s, “Now We are Six” called “King John’s Christmas”. It seemed that little William knew most of the words, and added sincerely after the poem, “He needs a friend to play with too… If I were king I would make sure everyone got presents and had lots of friends!”

Xander gave the little lad a quick hug, “I’m sure you’d make a fine king.” William beamed then fell serious again, “What’s an Esteemed Consort?”

Xander swallowed hard and hugged the little boy, “He is the partner of the High Master.”

“Is it the High Master who owns this place?”

“Yes, but he’s away at the moment.”

“Do you miss him? ‘cause I miss Mother and Papa – and my other Nanny… oh and Xander… Is the High Master your best friend?”

“Yes William, I love the High Master and miss him very much. But he will come back soon… And until he does I have you don’t I? Hmm?”

Little William jumped up to hug the big man around the neck “I think we can be good friends…” He stayed for a quiet moment, then released Xander and exclaimed excitedly “Now… Can you play pirates with me?”

 

Part 9

William was collected by Stephanie for a bath before supper. The young witch adored her young charge, but also appreciated the afternoon off her Nanny duties thanks to the distraction that was ‘Captain Alex’. She had been able to attend Mistress Willow, returning to William’s rooms drained but far more relaxed as she knew her own healing spell and gift of energy for the senior wiccan was appreciated.

Xander spent the hour in the study with Connor and Anton. It was but days before the Aurelians would be playing host to the Clan leaders again, and Xander had a power of work to catch up with in terms of his own projects. He was amazed at how easily Connor had ‘covered’ for him in his absence – though admittedly the two major projects were well underway and superbly managed on site by individuals hand picked by Xander (with Jim’s advice).

Anton went out for a smoke and quiet sherry before supper while Connor and Xander caught up properly regards a new project in central Prague. The demolition of the existing building (complete with one of the only facades to survive from the seventeen hundreds in tact) was not an option. The entire block was owned by one of the oldest Czechoslovakian demon clans who could trace their line back to the human lines of the Hapsburgs and ….

The project was complex with many caveats on the design – but the chief consulting architects were known to the Aurelian court, and had a fine track record. They were also keen to have the Consort’s company engage in the work having seen some of their projects in Helsinki and Bonn. Connor had begun the project tender but was relieved when Xander stepped back in to his professional role. Connor only belatedly realized how very passionate (apart from how talented) Xander was regards project management on this scale.

The brunette threw himself into a barrage of swift phonecalls and concurrently shot Emails to a number of different contracting groups that might be used. Within the hour the tender was to the Aurelian lawyers for final review and would be on the table of the Szoeke Group before their Executive meeting in the morning.

The two men were still in deep conversation regards timing and some of the more mundane aspects of the Prague Project when they noticed a little bear toting figure join Anton on his balcony chair to receive a pre supper hug, so paused their dialogue to simply smile and watch the interaction.

Anton was deep in thought when the little pajama and dressing gown clad lad arrived and stood politely within the adult’s line of sight. Anton’s almost empty sherry glass was immediately placed on the ground and clove cigarette flicked over the balustrade before he opened his arms and William raced over to Sir Anton for his nightly hug and ‘daily report’.

Connor smelled and saw Xander’s emotions playing openly as the Consort watched the little boy gesticulating excitedly, hugging Anton and demonstrating the various events of the day using Teddy as one of his props. Loving adoration, sadness and longing, plus a mixture of joy and… hope flowed from the newly restored brunette.

Even after these several months with his Aurelian family household ‘The Destroyer’ was still coming to terms with his own vampiric instincts coming to the fore so easily where family was concerned, but had also learned to follow his natural responses. Feeling Xander’s distress, he opened the tiny Swiss army knife on his key ring and made a deliberate cut across his wrist. Connor then offered it to the Consort who absently fixed his mouth over the wound and took two slow drafts before pulling off with a sudden awareness of what he was doing. Xander laved the injury closed before pausing for a moment to settle his thoughts.

“I’m umm… Gahh sorry… Why did you…??”

“You needed it… I know I’m not him… but I figured you needed… the connection.”

A choked, “Yeah” was Xander’s only reply and the two watched for several minutes before returning to the task of packing up the office for the evening.

……………..

By the time Xander and Connor entered the dining room William was seated in his usual place swinging his legs a little waiting patiently while Stephanie, Willow and Anton were quietly discussing the upcoming clan meeting and the participation of the coven and other demon clans, and the possible attendance by a representative of the Wolfram and Hart Paris office.

Xander was directed to the chair beside William – the chair that so recently had sported an extra cushion like William’s – so both boys might reach the dining table with ease.

The meal passed easily with the adults all engrossed in conversation regarding the coming Court gathering. Finally William leaned over and politely asking Xander if the man would mind cutting his veal into bite sized pieces. Xander obliged immediately, realizing belatedly that William’s fine table manners had caused him to be all but ignored, and that he was looking somewhat sad.

After slicing up the food he leaned over and whispered, “Is something wrong Will?”

“Oh… not really… but might you read me a bedtime story later? I’m sure Nanny Stephanie won’t mind just this once, and I know she marked where we finished last night.”
When Xander nodded his agreement, William brightened, “Can you read Peter Pan – you know the bit where Peter fights Hook - it’s very exciting! There’s Tinkabell – she’s a fairy and there’s a crocodile with his clock and there’s ever so many pirates…And if you like we can play…”

Stephanie leaned over and cut him off quietly, “William, sweetheart, I’m sure Xander is happy to read to you, but how about you eat a little more of your dinner before it gets cold. You can plan for tomorrow after OK?” She gave the little boy an affectionate pat on the knee, though William’s face fell and his cheeks fired red.

He’d done it again. Perhaps Papa was right, he should not come to the adult table until he had long pants, but they had given him long pants, so now he was unsure of the rules. He had just been… He took one more mouthful of the veal Xander cut for him, before the lump in his throat suddenly curbed his appetite. He knew that he should have simply answered the question nicely then been good.

Xander noted the instant change and surmised the reason. He could not help thinking that they were both, in a sense living the Peter Pan life, and loved the little boy all the more whilst yearning desperately for his Spike.

He leaned over, cupped and raised a rather wobbly chin then locked his brown eye with William’s baby blues, saying sincerely, “Peter Pan it is. I’m sure he’d love to have you on his side.”

William looked a little hopeful. “Like Michael or John?”

“Of course… like Michael or John.” Xander smiled then took another mouthful of his own meal, and focused back on the adult conversations.

William immediately remembered his place again and pushed around the meat again, making a valiant attempt at one more piece before pushing the remains neatly to the side and placing his knife and fork parallel. He knew he had not earned pudding, so sat with his hands in his lap and head down, desperately wishing that his friend Alex might come back soon. It was so easy to be good with him around.

Stephanie had not missed the change in William’s behavior, and had really not been trying to reprimand the little lad, rather, she knew William needed to keep up his strength and eat well.

When she saw the effect of her comment, she surmised the reason and without the others noticing sent a message to the kitchen, organizing with the wonderful Jon, that her own, William’s and the Consort’s dessert (crème brulee) be delivered to William’s suite rather than the table.

She excused herself and William from the adult table, and invited Xander to join them. William politely said good night to all present, but was really still too miserable to notice the extra person following them up the stairs.

Xander flashed a quick look to his Sire and apologies to Connor and Willow – and Anton at the door – but all knew that the time was precious and needed, and that Xander, so newly restored, probably needed the sleep as much as his still small friend. Anton squeezed his Childe’s hand and whispered “Embrace your time with our young friend, and sleep well. There is much to be done in the coming days.”

Two hours later, after dessert, teeth cleaning and a story, Stephanie entered William’s bedroom, carefully took the book from the sleeping Consort’s hand and smiled as Xander rolled to place a protective hand on William’s side, before she spread an extra duvet over the sleeping man and retired to her room.

…………………….

Apart from an hour or so after William’s morning ride and a regular story reading engagement after dinner, Xander had little time to spend with his pint sized friend over the following four days. And the ensuing three day lead up to the convening of the court left no time for interaction with the ‘youngster’ as the older Aurelians all adjusted back to vampire hours.

William sat under the old oak of an afternoon. Nanny Stephanie offered to push the swing, but for the last few days he had politely declined her offer. Preferring instead, to sit on the swing and let it gently sway back and forth as he drew pictures and wrote hopeful letters to his friend Alexander. He was lonely and wished he too could go home but knew he must be patient and stay out of the way.

Little William remembered the feeling of ‘being in the way’ all too well. Mother and Papa were ‘not to be bothered by small children’. He knew that… but Xander, Sire Anton and Uncle Connor had always seemed so pleased to see him before, yet now he was not even invited down to dinner. Like at home, all meals were taken in his rooms (the nursery) before he was ushered downstairs to bid a polite goodnight to all present.

Despite Alexander warning William that there were some family and business matters to be dealt with, the tiny blonde was sure that his exile was to do with the outburst at the first dinner with Alexander. That was until the first of fifty or so limousines and taxis arrived at the front entrance of the castle on the following night. Then he understood. Mother had talked about big parties at the houses of royalty – she had attended them as a girl, though he knew she had always gone in a carriage – not these new horseless vehicles.

Nanny Stephanie had gone downstairs, so he took Teddy, eased off the bed and out the door to sit looking through the first floor landing’s banister. He could see them from his vantage point. As the guests arrived and were greeted by Sir Anton and Alexander before moving on to Uncle Connor. They all seemed terribly polite, and kissed Alexander on the hand like he had seen people do to Priests and the Queen in paintings.

Some of them seemed to be in costumes, others had masks on, one group made William giggle a little – they had dressed up like lizards! He wished he could stay up to watch the dancing (Mother said there was always dancing) but yawned and resigned himself to another lonely night with Teddy.

But as he crawled back into bed, Sir Anton slipped into the room.

 

The older Aurelians had been so engrossed in the lead up to the clan meeting, that it was only when a rather nervous Stephanie touched Anton on the arm as he made his way to luncheon late afternoon, that the Immortal realized his error.

“Master Anton, I wonder if you might talk to William. He has no understanding of what is going on and is missing his family and Alexander dreadfully and pines for your attention – and that of Connor. I know it is difficult with the Clan meeting tonight, but it is a confusing time for him… and he misses you too.”

 

Anton sat on the edge of the bed, then leaned down to kiss the little boy’s blonde curls. “I’m sorry we have been so busy of late William. Nanny Stephanie said you were feeling a little out of sorts. Is there something I can do?”

William was so relieved to receive some attention from Sir Anton that he almost embarrassed himself by crying. Instead, he bit his bottom lip hard, took a deep breath then cleared his throat like his old Nanny used to advise should he ever feel tearful.

“I… I just got a little umm…” William paused and worried his bottom lip. If he said too much he might seem ungrateful, or Nanny Stephanie might be reprimanded in some way, or he might be seen as too naughty to be bothered with and sent home in disgrace like Cousin George had been from school that time. His father had told him about Cousin George!

Anton sat quietly, wondering what on earth was going on in the little boys head.

William picked at a loose cotton poking from the bed sheets for a time, until finally the little boy raised his eyes enough to look at the elegant belt buckle on Sir Anton’s pants. Despite his best efforts to speak clearly, all he could manage was a rather broken whisper as he begged for a second chance, “I’ll be good Sir Anton… I just got a bit… sad… But I’ll be good! Please… Please! May I just wait to see Xander again before you send me home?” With the last statement William finally let a tear fall as he raised his watery baby blue eyes to meet Sir Anton’s warm green gaze.

Instead of the disappointment William expected to see there, however, he found only love and contrition on the part of the adult before being pulled into a wonderfully warm hug.

“Oh my dear William, I have been *so* remiss… *We* are all so happy that you are here, and far be it that you have done something wrong! It is we who have hurt you by our absence!” Anton shifted the little boy until William was cuddled close against a powerful chest, then continued, “We have been so busy with matters of Court … I am *so* sorry that it had to be so – as, I am sure, so are Alexander and Uncle Connor. But it was certainly not your fault. We are hoping to arrange for you to be reunited with your best friend Xander in around two week’s time. Will you agree to stay with us until then do you think?”

Now nestled in the protective arms of Sir Anton, William finally relaxed but blinked wide and whispered, “Oh yes…” then added with more than a little amazement, “Court? So… You *are* a king!”

Anton smiled magnanimously as the little boy blinked wide eyed up at him, “Me?? Oh no dear heart, it is the Consort Alexander and High Master’s court. I am merely an… advisor – like an older uncle.” He swiftly decided to distract the little lad for a time, “Do you have an uncle?”

The remainder of the hour was spent talking about relatives. Anton drew from ancient memories of his original family (though editing carefully) after which William cheerfully related stories of his dear Aunt Mercia’s attempts at spinet playing; Christmas at the house of his Great Uncle Charles; and his adventures as he and Nanny sat on the landing at the top of the stairs when there was a dinner party, just so they could hear his mother sing (she was ‘very good’ apparently).

Finally the little lad was all talked out, and yawned widely. Anton eased the tiny blonde under the covers and stroked the curly locks as William snuggled down to hug Teddy and give in to dreams of home.

……….

The meeting of the clans was surprisingly easy – particularly considering that the Covens of Europe, a contingent from the Fl’aath and representatives from Wolfram and Hart Paris were present on the second day.

The High Master was missed but the clans more than impressed by the presence of the Consort Alexander, the Immortal and the Full Blood Aurelian, Connor. Also the report from Willow had Spike returning in under two weeks.

Apart from the usual clan matters, the dilemma of Lilah Morgan was one concerning all at the table, and most particularly the Fl’aath. It was not just their clan at the table. Other groups owing them allegiance stood alongside as they expressed their concerns regarding balance of power – and then pledged their ongoing support and practical assistance to the Aurelian Court. The gesture was graciously accepted – as was the apology to all present from two extremely nervous young lawyers from the Paris branch of Wolfram and Hart.

What had not been foreseen by the Clan leaders, was the presence at court of one of the senior officers involved in little William and little Xander’s attempted kidnapping. The rest of his hapless team had been ‘disposed of’ by Lilah as their failure became apparent, but Corporal Carlos had given himself up to the three Wolfram and Hart operatives that cornered him in a Bayern beer house one evening. He expected a swift and painful death, but instead had been ‘kept’ - delivered to the vampire Court as a gesture of apology from the Paris branch.

The apology was accepted as the hapless Carlos was drained and turned by the Paris Master. As a relatively intelligent minion, his knowledge of the clandestine workings of the militia of Wolfram and Hart would be useful.

The message from Wolfram and Hart was that there would be no further assistance given her by the Senior Partners. Indeed a there would be a debt created were any other group to effectively rid this plane of her presence.

The three senior Aurelians all heard the last statement as it was intended and immediately knew what needed to be done.

………..

As the Fl’aath prepared to depart at the conclusion of the Court proceedings, one of the restored Fl’aath demons, Treth, remained behind with an interpreter. He cornered the High Wiccan, Willow, “Mistress, a moment of your time?”

Willow smiled and moved toward the Fl’aath.

“I wished to privately thank you. Without your assistance, I… we… would not have been restored.” A cool green scaled hand stretched out to grasp Willow’s warm human one, and the young demon held her gaze with an impassioned stare before continuing through his interpreter. “The thing is… I do not regret the experience. Indeed, I am grateful for my new memories as an unborn and hatchling. I now carry *clear* recollections of the love of clan for one so young. I remember my mother’s heartbeat as she held my egg, and my father’s strong yet gentle caresses and constant attention after I hatched.

“Mistress Willow, my female and I have eggs about to hatch… We would ask that you do us the honor of blessing them as they emerge… And if there is a girl, we request that you allow her entry into the coven for her education when she is of age.”

Willow was extremely moved. Treth’s touch warmed against her skin, and in doing so conveyed his gratitude and hope for the future with no more need for words.

She lifted his hand to her forehead, then kissed it as was Fl’aath custom, before replying, “I am humbled by your request. Of course, your children will always be welcome in our covens should they wish to learn with us.”

She watched them depart then turned to find rather worried expressions on Anton and Xander’s faces. Connor was to one side speaking in rapid Russian to Minna’s beautiful mate and PA Anna but paused as anguish flooded the link.

They all knew, it was but ten days before William would need to make the change.

 

Part 10

 

As the day of William’s reversion approached, tension in the household rose once more.

The adults all knew the little lad had been fed increasing quantities of blood from Anton, Xander and Connor over the last fortnight in order to prepare his system for the change. But the resulting dreams had been disturbing and required much hugging, presence of Teddy, and distractions during the day.

William had been reassured by Anton’s visit, but also felt something was amiss as each of the significant adults in the household tried to ‘do things’ with the little boy.

Uncle Connor took him around the property on the quad bike twice, then drove Nanny Stephanie and Little William into town to see a puppet show at the town hall. The traditional fairytales were worrying enough for the little boy to end up in Connor’s lap (along with Teddy) as the Big Bad Wolf approached the third pig’s house. Stephanie was quite amused as William relived most of the stories, and with the utmost sincerity, confessed to her that he thought Goldilocks was rather naughty, and that he felt sorry for the baby bear.

Willow spent two afternoons playing with William and modeling dough and crayons under his favorite tree. He was doing yet another illustration to send to his friend Xander when the Consort Alexander joined them. Willow and his big friend sat on the blanket opposite him and they all drew in silence for a while until Willow and Xander both reached for the yellow crayon at the same time. Gales of laughter ensued. William decided that sometimes adults were just too confusing – and really rather silly!

His regular riding lessons on Fusee continued and he was thrilled to jump a small log while Sir Anton looked on in the training paddock. William felt a little guilty about the fuss made – it was really Fusee who was the brave one!

Sir Anton’s early evening chat with the small boy continued and William enjoyed being welcomed into the man’s arms for a pre-dinner snuggle, reveling in the exclusive attention from *his* elegant knight. Yet it was Alexander who sought him out most often.

The Consort played endless hours of pirates and all manner of pretend games and had taken to riding along side him when Chantelle and the ever-present Gregor took their little charge for his regular lessons. Xander took him for long walks – the larger brunette regularly returning home with the little lad atop his shoulders whooping with delight as the rather exhausted adult tried a parody of a canter as they crunched up the gravel driveway toward the front door.

Xander was everything a favorite older cousin, or cherished uncle might aspire to, even offering to help William push when a giggling Nanny S agreed to ‘have a go’ on the swing under the big tree. But despite all the adults’ efforts, William sensed that there was something amiss and rounded on Xander the night before he was to be restored.

William became more and more nervous as the evening progressed. Nanny Stephanie had said “Goodbye” rather than “Goodnight” as she tucked him in after dinner ready for Alexander’s story reading. Gregor had shaken his hand after their ride in the afternoon and told him how much he enjoyed their time together. Chantelle was keen to tell him how well he had *done*; and Fusee had nuzzled his hand as though to say farewell.

Even at slightly less than five years of age, William decided that a direct approach was best and cornered Alexander on (unbeknownst to the tiny lad) their last afternoon together.

 

“Consort Alexander, am I sick?”

Xander was utterly thrown and his panic flowed freely through the link to his Sire and less strongly to Connor. “Umm… Pardon?”

“Is there something wrong with me? When Cousin Emily died, everyone had to be extra nice for weeks! Mother even made us learn her favorite song – and it was *very hard*!”

Even as the Consort tried to form a reasonable answer, Anton and Connor were sprinting toward William’s suite. The two relatives stood at the door, unwilling to break the moment, Connor lifting his wrist to his Sire moments after Anton offered his own blood to his full blood Aurelian charge.

Xander’s answer was a rather choked whisper, “No! No… nothing like that. Things are going to change for us but I hope we will still be dear friends…”

William turned to face Xander and held his gaze, “But everyone is worried about something to do with me aren’t they? If I’m not sick, am I going home? Can I ask Mother and Papa for an extra few days… *please* - otherwise I will miss Xander – you said we would be together again soon… Please Alexander, can you ask?”

 

They all knew that reversing the regression spell would involve draining the tiny boy, turning and re-ensouling him all in the matter of seconds that were involved in chanting the reversal. With the absence of his original Sire, the only Aurelian blood would be that of Xander and Connor, and that the roll of Sire would ultimately fall to Anton. Despite their plans and consultation with the Wiccans and (surprisingly) the Paris W & H contingent, all were terrified that their careful preparations might result in an out-of-time human, or a fledgling vampire, rather than restoring the High Master with all his memories and skills in tact. At least the issue of the soul was settled – it would be permanent regardless.

Despite all the planning, none of the adults had been able to bring themselves to explain the future to their young human charge in any way that really made sense.

Though surrounded by Alexander’s strong arms, William hugged his teddy tight and his trusting and tearful blue eyes met Anton’s gaze as the older man entered the bedroom. Despite Connor’s blood, the expression on the small lad’s face very nearly ‘undid’ the Immortal.

Anton sat on the bed and placed a gentle hand on the boy’s knee. “Dear heart, we are going to help you to return home tonight. We would love you to stay, but know that this is for the best. You are always in our hearts and will be with us again soon… And be assured, that you will see your dearest friend again.”

William’s eyes went wide, “Xander is coming to see me?”

“You will be together again, yes. Now… it is a long journey so we must begin soon and it’s late so we will wait until you are asleep before you start your journey. Alexander will hold you of course, and when you awake you will be home. We will be here – we will all be here when you return.”

Anton stroked the beloved boy’s face and met the blue orbs with his (now slightly swirling) green. Thrall really wasn’t something the Immortal used often, but the little push allowed William to fall into a light sleep and relax back into the brunette’s arms as Willow’s coven joined them. The witches set up the candles and pentagram swiftly and began to chant.

Part way through Anton leaned over the tiny figure, and eased fangs into the soft warm neck, allowing all the love he felt for his Childe and for William to flow through the tenuous blood link as he did so.

The only indication of the little boy’s departing life was his Teddy dropping onto the mattress beside Xander as the little arms lost all ability to grip. As the beloved bear fell Xander’s tears began to flow freely. He grieved for little William and for his beautiful Spike, and he prayed to every deity he could think of to make process succeed.

Anton and Connor could both hear the faltering heart and the three Aurelians opened their wrists and joined hands as they dripped the combined blood into the little mouth and massaged the throat until the unconscious figure swallowed.

Xander barely had time to think that he was never more pleased to see someone swallow, before a blinding flash and accompanying energy surge rendered all in the room unconscious.

 

……………

Xander felt like he had been hit by a train as he returned to consciousness and attempted to roll over.

He was aware that there was a large inert body on the bed beside him and a hive of activity in the room. He tried to open his eyes and say something, but only managed a whimper before a dripping wrist was pushed against his mouth. He drank from Anton gratefully then rolled toward the cool inert form beside him and gave in to sleep.

Two hours later, the Consort was sitting hand in hand with an exhausted looking Anton waiting, while Connor and Willow gave the coven members supper and sorted their sleeping arrangements for the night. Anton as they waited for the certainly physically larger Spike to regain consciousness, or rather rise – as the life signs were most definitely missing.

Xander insisted that the electric blanket be turned on, knowing that Spike and his earlier persona William both loved the warmth. Xander understood that it could be hours before there would be change, yet his distress grew as the link with his beloved partner remained silent and the vampire unmoving.

………………..

Well after midnight on the following evening found Xander seated beside the ‘deathbed’, his head on the mattress, hand holding the artificially warmed one of Spike’s and sleeping restlessly.

The only warning was the twitch of the pale hand in his before the psychic equivalent of a scream across the Mating link blasted him awake and barely preceded his own very real one as the newly risen vampire forced him off his chair in a flash of speed and planted deadly fangs into the Consort’s neck.

 

Part 11

Hunger… Blood… Mate… Blood… Claimed… Hunger… Mark… Blood… Sire… *Sire* … *Where is Sire?*... Mate… Mine… Please Sire?*… Blood!!! Family… Family… f…a…m…i…l...y… S…i…r…e… S…i…r…e… and…

And… Black …

Anton was seconds too late to save Xander from the savage claiming, but managed to drain Spike swiftly enough that the newly risen vampire fell out of game face, released his Consort and collapsed limp and compliant into his Sire’s embrace. Anton returned the fluid by slicing neatly through his shirt and skin on his chest with a razor sharp nail then pressing his restored Childe’s lips against the crimson flow.

Connor was fast on the heels of Anton and seeing the game face and savagery was about to find a stake but was staid by the Anton’s quicker action and focused instead on Xander.

Connor immediately knelt beside the fallen Consort and pulled the semiconscious and now extremely pallid, barely breathing Xander into his lap. The bite had been lower down than was usual and hard enough to puncture both jugular veins and partially damage Xander’s esophagus *and* pharynx. Miraculously his carotid seemed to have been missed by the deadly fangs.

Connor sliced open his right wrist and slammed it against the mouth of the now fading Xander as he fixed his own mouth over the bite to both stem the flow and lave the wound with his own healing saliva. He could feel the jagged edges and messy slicing of the torn throat under his tongue and found his gorge rising as memories of Holtz’s training him to hate of vampires seeped unbidden back into his thoughts for the first time in years.

Long minutes later, the full blood pulled his mouth away from Xander’s now healing wound and looked across to Anton in confusion, his disgust and distress obvious to the older man. Connor could still feel the brunette in his arms continuing to feed weakly from his wrist and watched with fascination as the Consort’s neck gradually knitted itself together – though the scarred flesh would remain raw for some time.

“Why did he do that?!! Anton?! Why did he attack Xander? Did he come back wrong? I mean did we…? F$#% Sire! That attack was pure animal!!”

Anton still cradled Spike to his chest as one might a small child. “Dear heart, he is barely with us, and is calm now. I surmise that it was as simple as his Mate being near. And remember, the demon has been banished from his Consort for months. We should not make hasty judgments until both are fully conscious and calm.”

Connor felt anything but calm himself, so focused on the slow pull of the feeding Consort then looked more carefully as the human faced vampire gave the occasional sigh and moan, as he stroked his Sire’s arm and continuing to gently suckle.

High Master and Consort both ceased feeding within seconds of each other, and Anton silently signaled Connor. A reluctant full blood lifted Xander onto the bed and Anton gently eased Spike onto the covers beside the brunette. Neither ‘invalid’ was really conscious, but still managed to roll toward each other, entangle limbs in a loose embrace and relax into much needed sleep.

Anton encouraged Connor to find some rest, and despite his own fatigue, sat with the two until consciousness began to return.
……….

Xander woke to hands desperately caressing his face and arms, cool tongue gently licking over an incredibly sore spot on his neck and the sound of rather broken, quiet begging. But most of all he felt… Spike.

The tingle that was his Mate, the profound link with the other half of his existence that had been missing while the dear little William was still around, was now excruciatingly strong. There was extreme anguish present, but it was followed by relief as his good eye fluttered open and Spike sent heartbreaking levels of love through the link to his beloved partner.

Xander remembered little of the previous seven hours but could taste Spike’s blood and felt both Anton and Connor clearly in addition to his beloved.

He tried, but was unable to utter a sound… and his breathing and swallowing hurt. Instead he mouthed “Love You” and Spike returned the feeling with a passionate kiss, then pushed a bleeding wrist followed by more blood, but it was the tearful kisses across his neck and desperate hugs that followed which found Xander wishing for his voice again.

Anton moved to the door as Connor felt the angst through the link arrived at the door with preternatural speed only to be staid in his flight into the room by a quiet hand. They stood together for a moment and silently observing the High Master and Consort as the ruling couple exchanged desperately worried, gentle caresses, tearful apologies and exchanged unmitigated relief through the link at finally being together again.

Anton led a still rather confused Connor to his own suite. The Destroyer and the Immortal had spent almost an hour talking before Anton led the ‘little brother’ back to reunite with Spike.

Connor had been visibly still thrown by the clear evidence of the vicious demon inside Spike – it was a harsh reminder, and not something that should have surprised the man but the shift from little William to the savage vampire was all too much. It was a shocking reminder of his own heritage for Connor. He had been taken so very young and like any child growing up in a hell, was traumatized, had been indoctrinated and forced to survive on his wits and talents. His training was that of a mindless killer, calculating and astute perhaps – but hardly one to consider both sides.

New memories helped, as did the final few meetings with his father – indeed even his own arrested attempt at suicide was part of the healing… but there would *always* be something. Like the children of warzones he would always react to certain sounds or images, though thankfully the worst nightmares were now only once every month or two. Familial blood had seen to that. So now he was left puzzling again.

Anton counseled patience – easy for someone who has seen in two millennia… but not so natural for the son born but thirty plus years prior in ‘miraculous circumstances’, then survived various other involuntary ‘adjustments’ to his life. But despite all that, Anton’s words *did* resonate for Connor and he found himself feeling like one more chunk of his childhood hurt had been let go.

Anton felt as much as saw the change in the man, “Accepting self is the hardest thing any of us will ever do dear one, we all struggle with it and all have our demons.” They were sitting opposite each other, Connor staring at his own hands, but looked up just in time to see Anton deliberately let his fangs drop and eyes flash yellow – the wicked grin easing a more sober moment.

Connor snorted a little and gave the now normal faced Anton a rueful smile, “Point taken *Sire*.” It could have been a brush off but that Connor’s hand reached out for Anton’s, lifted the slender fingers to his lips and kissed them.

“I forget sometimes… you know… that you’re… that everyone here is changed too… that you didn’t choose, that none of us did, really… I guess no one really chooses… I’m sorry… but hey… Thanks.” His voice trailed off for a moment before he looked up, somewhat resolved and offered a hand to Anton. “Shall we go see how your other ‘boys’ are doing ‘Sir Anton’.” Genuine mirth was in Connor’s eyes as he pulled his elder up and though there was still much to be resolved, he felt… better.

The concept of the demon within made sense, the impact of life and dramatic shifts in the same also, the talk of honor and responsibility, and of complexity… it all made perfect sense on an intellectual level. That being said he still ended up standing beside his Sire at the door of the bedroom of two people who had done nothing but welcome him back as cherished family… and he was just a little terrified. Despite knowing via their familial link that the restored ruling couple were both fine, he found himself worrying irrationally about what he and Anton might find when they entered the room.

Connor leaned into the squeeze of a strong hand on his shoulder, and Anton felt Connor slowly relax. They paused for a moment and just before Anton pushed the doors open, the Immortal gave the Pure Blood Aurelian a quiet kiss on the forehead and whispered, “Never forget your heritage, nor that you are loved by all of the line.”

Connor took a deep breath at the statement and let it out with an obvious hitch but held his composure as they entered the Spike and Xander’s suite.

……………….

It was almost an anti-climax. They were met with a surprisingly domestic scene.

Both men were tucked up in bed, Spike leaning slightly against his lovely mate’s shoulder and gently stroking his beloved’s arm as Xander, still voice challenged but rasping out some words, gave Spike an overview of the renovation (and some restoration) blueprints the building he had planned for their large home, including the timelines, costs and anticipated inconveniences involved in the project.

As always, Xander had been most thorough, and though Spike was only interested in passing, regards the details, he was watching with intent as his adored partner pointed out particular choices – pausing to look quizzically at Spike – only to feel love and praise flowing through their link.

As Anton and Connor joined them, all three adults (including the near voiceless Xander) felt the distinct ‘small boy William’ in Spike’s thinking. And they all realized, dear William was still there and even brighter, as Spike now carried acute memories of interacting with family as a small boy … recently.

Connor forgot his own inner conflict easily as the call of a small William seemed to come through the link.

Connor watched as the blueprints fell to the floor and Xander pulled the smaller Spike over him so the blonde’s head was resting on his strong partner’s chest and they both smiled up at their visitors. Anton moved to spoon Xander’s side of the pair, Connor the Spike’s (all trepidation forgotten).

 

The three heard Spike’s distinctly happy sigh as he wriggled just a little, just as four year old William had done so often before sleep.

Anton threw his arm over the ruling couple meeting Connor’s hand mid way. There was no need for more words, as the four rested snoozing on and off until first Anton, then Connor, left the pair to find their own suites and sleep until well past noon.
…………………..

PART 12

The following afternoon was spent quietly. Spike still having vivid memory flashes from his recent smaller state, and though understandable, his rather emotional state threw Xander and to a lesser extent Connor and Anton.

At various stages during the ensuing week, all fed the High Master two or three times. For Xander it was an exchange that guaranteed his recovery and provided reassurance; for Connor it was his own giving in order to accept and heal; but for Anton… the feeding was to ground the complexity that was High Master William – to give the tiny boy a familiar figure ‘Sir Anton’; acknowledge the grown man; the newly restored demon; and give the Master Vampire the reassurance of his surrogate Sire once more.

Melancholy… it was the only word Xander could think of to describe his beautiful Mate.

Spike took solace in private but seemed to have thrown himself headlong into court matters and his Aurelian financial dealings, and seemed to be operating at three times his normal pace. But Xander saw it, and felt it… Twice on the second day Xander spotted him standing motionless and staring wistfully out of the heavily shaded windows of the study toward a sun-drenched paddock he had so recently ridden around as a child. And that night, Teddy and Panda made a miraculous appearance, seated side by side on the bed as they had always been when the boys were small.

Spike had kissed Stephanie’s hand in public and thanked her, but in private, one afternoon, had asked politely if she might accept a hug from a Master Vampire. She smiled and returned the gesture initially rather awkwardly, but as Spike sighed and placed his head on her shoulder for a second she relaxed and hugged him close.

Just before the embrace became embarrassingly long, Spike moved, kissed her on the cheek and whispered, “Never going to be forgotten Nanny Steph… Never… but for now…” He pushed a piece of paper into her hand. It had the name of a bank in Geneva, an account number and a security code.

Stephanie had no idea how much money was in the account but automatically blushed with embarrassment and immediately began to protest. Spike countered before she even said a word, “Not up for negotiation Pet. Never had the chance to thank the first one – not gonna let the chance go with you. Figure you’ll still want t’ work an’ all – but at least this way… well… Xan and I both say thanks… and you are under the protection of the Aurelian Court for all time…”

 

It was the evening of the third day after restoration when Xander and Spike picked their way past the ever increasing pile of building materials and scaffolding to visit Fusee. Spike hugged the small pony who initially pulled away at sensing the demon, but calmed when William’s still familiar scent was detected and a salt lick produced.

Xander also petted the noble little steed before refreshing his water, and picking up the grooming brush to give Fusee a proper groom before bed. Spike initially stood at the head of the friendly little pony (who was genuinely enjoying all the attention) while Xander brushed and spoke of the various aspects of their home renovations that were still a concern. It was only as he rounded Fusee’s rump to begin the other side that he noticed Spike had wandered off.

He finished the brush down quickly, tossed the brush onto its shelf then went to find Spike. He worried as he noticed the High Master standing motionless at the door of the stable, staring unfocused into the early evening, the last remnants of the spectacular sunset had distant clouds glowing a dull pink on their farthest edges. He could feel his mate and there was the definite feeling of grief flowing through the link.

Xander sidled up behind Spike and slid his arms around the slim waistline, pulling his partner back to spoon him from behind. “You OK?”

A rather hitched, unnecessary breath signaled an answer to the negative before the vampire almost whispered his reply. “I miss it Pet. All of it… the sun, the riding, the hugs… you… and more than that… I miss them… it’s like they were right here – even though they weren’t really… I never even said goodbye to him you know? Never really got to know him at all… Didn’t remember her when she was well either… Don’t know what happened to Nanny, figure she went when he died… just... she was so important but don’t remember what happened to her.

It was obviously not just his rather extended duration as a pre-schooler and the experiences over the past four months that had the High Master hurting, but also the return of some very distinct childhood memories from his first five years in London with family.

All Xander could do was hold on to his partner a little tighter, kiss him on the cheek and signal his support by rocking them both slowly for as long as he needed.

Lights went on in various houses further down the valley and the street lights of the nearby village could just be seen peeping over the next set of hills. The first stars of the evening began to twinkle as Xander held his lovely mate close, Spike’s fingers intertwining with his own as silent, slightly blood tinged, tears tracked down the handsome features of High Master William. They continued hold on and rock gently. It was human comfort for the grief the human William felt - grief for his father, his mother, his lost innocence, for everything that had been forgotten in the passing of time.

Finally Spike turned in his Consort’s warm embrace and leaned up a little to deliver a chaste kiss then began to lave the still raw claim mark on Xander’s neck. The whispered, “Need you now Pet… please… take me now… it’s been so long…” had Xander move from protective concerned partner to highly aroused lover in seconds. It had indeed been such a long time since they coupled.

He kissed Spike again then whispered, “Think Fusee would mind if we take the next…”

Xander was rewarded with an almost gleeful grin, “Ahhh Pet, reckon just he might enjoy your beggin’ and moanin’.”

The sad mood evaporated as Xander was tugged back toward to large pile of hay in the final stall of the stables. “Hey… back door needs…”

“Fully my intention Luv. You, me, back door question is whose??” The wiggled eyebrow left nothing to the imagination – or plenty in Xander’s case – yet he still pulled away from the iron grip and closed the rear door, giving Fusee a pat on the forelock and delivering a cursory “Apologies in advance for the noise”, before returning to an already nude and reclining Spike.

Xander tortured his partner for a few moments by simply standing and admiring the view.

High Master William’s clothes and thick evening coat had been spread over the straw, their dark colors complementing his alabaster skin. Spike’s pleading look, legs akimbo and prudently placed pile of straw under hips had given the clear message. The vampire was already aroused and chose the moment of ‘pause’ on his Consort’s part to stroke himself to fullness before turning to desperately search for something that would do as lubricant. ‘Crabtree and Evelyn - Gardener’s Hand Cream’ it was.

Xander was stripped in seconds but was careful to throw his own warm coat over them both as he lowered himself to blanket his mate, his lover, his friend… his everything. Copious amounts of hand cream, hastily spread, meant that it was mere seconds before they were together face to face, as one again. Both men sighed as they finally let the last months and all the other worries slip away. It was just Xander and Spike, and they were making love.

Xander’s shaft was perfectly positioned and pressing Spike’s prostate as he moved with just the smallest, teasing thrusts gradually increasing (as demanded) to a frenzy of activity, of kisses, and of bites, and blood, and change of position, and of acute mating link and of coming again and again until neither knew where they finished and the other started.

The two slept sated for a time, rising sometime near eleven to simply throw on their coats, collect clothing in a bundle and run toward the house, giggling like the two little boys they had so recently been.

………………..

Connor had felt the sadness then passion through the blood link, as had Anton, and they both grinned as the kitchen door slammed and they heard the two sprint upstairs.

Preternatural hearing picked up the ensuing shower as the link filling with passion once more. But a desperate phonecall from the Chinese court and a confirmation from the High Master of Southern Africa required urgent attention. Anton and Connor shut down the link and turned to the business of the evening. The ruling couple deserved at least one night of peace.

It seemed there had to be a Convening of the Courts globally. It was a necessary measure, and one that had not occurred since the early days of the Spanish Inquisition. High Master, Consort, Full Blood, and Immortal… they would all be needed, as would their clan leaders and alliance partners. According to other courts, the Europeans had the answers.

By the end of Anton’s conversation, in some language Connor had no access to, the level of frustration was almost tangible and the urgency obvious.

Anton looked at him with a resolve Connor had never seen from his ‘Sire’ before. “Get the Ruling Couple … *now*. I need to ring Willow… and Buffy.”

………………………………………………….

 

Part 13

Anton had not wanted to, but was now compelled to knock on the High Master and Consort’s door.

The two had felt the extreme levels of worry, despite both Anton and Connor attempting to lower the power of the connection, but the matter was too serious.

By the following afternoon Willow was on the doorstep – having spent the past two nights at the local coven recuperating from Spike’s restoration.

Despite her petite stature, she entered their home like Bodeccea ready for battle, power rolling off her and her eyes flashing black. She was flanked by twelve of the most powerful High Wiccans in Europe. This wasn’t a normal gathering of the forces.

Andrew, and four senior Slayers also arrived from England, along with the F’laath and representatives from nineteen other demon clans.

The surprise? The human representation – A promise that members of big business and government from all across Europe – many associated with Wolfram and Hart – would travel to the meeting in Beijing also… admittedly there to protect their own interests… but there nevertheless.

Anton vaguely remembered a first convening of the Vampiric Courts– somewhere around the reign of Julius Caesar. During the second that included the wiccan community had been at the height of the black plague and Inquisition, though he had been in Tibet on retreat. It was perhaps only Anton that knew the gravity of this particular event – this convening was profoundly different, the threat was truly global.

It would be the first time the Combined Vampiric Courts included the Watcher’s Council, representative Slayers from all over the world (many now, extraordinarily, in their thirties!), the heads of all Gaia’s Covens; and a significant number of leaders of demon clans and influential humans ‘in the know’ globally had agreed to meet. The matters threatening were too serious for exclusivity or prejudice.

For years, The Powers and Wolfram and Hart had walked a fine line of balance between good and evil, treading carefully, choosing champions, abandoning the same, allowing black and white to mix always. But of late the balance was being threatened – and for no better reason than there was renegade employee and her followers, all now aligned with one very disgruntled Senior Partner, the Wolf, who had timed his move for dominance, the human race’s squabbling and their rape of Gaia largely responsible for the window of opportunity.

The Wolf had even managed to recruit a junior member of the Oracles – who was of course immediately dismissed but not before some serious damage had been done via a number of false prophecies and ensuing deaths of champions.

As the Aurelian rulers prepared for their flight to Beijing, all recent events and their personal concerns seemed to melt into the background.

The emergency ‘war meeting’ at the home of the European Master was swift and to the point. The alliance sealed with a toast, the humans in the room happy to consume the fine red liquid – all ruling parties offering their blood and others tasting the slight copper of Court, Wiccan and Slayer blood. The demons in the room felt deeply honored. It was the very first time…

They all departed the following evening, commercial and private flights… whatever it took.

Anton’s personal plane took Willow, Anton and Buffy plus several of Europe’s Ruling household including Gregor.

A separate chartered flight carried Mister’s ‘Willem, Connor and Alexis Hauser’ of Switzerland and one Christof Connelli late of Italy, plus an entourage of beautiful women from Russia, the ladies all carrying papers appropriate - Minna Petrovskya, Anna Bruslevski and Tatyana Ivanovich.

The attending French customs official drew breath as the three ladies moved to board the plane. The men he’d questioned were handsome but the women utterly stunning, all beautifully coiffed, and decked out in the finest couture with long fur adorned coats and exquisite jewelry. When the last woman Tatyana smiled at him, he felt quite weak at the knees.

Despite their apparently varied nationalities, all six passengers spoke impeccable French, were extremely polite and had the unmistakable air of wealth, influence… and ‘old money’. Their purpose for travel was listed as a business conference in all cases – and the duration in China ten days. Tatyana chatted easily to the official as the others boarded, her penchant for thrall not needed on this occasion as the young man was already enamored by the stunning woman.

They departed without a hitch.

Despite the ease of exit, as soon as the plane was in the air the strategizing began.

Minna, Anna and Tatyana were present at Connor’s request – not something that particularly surprised anyone.

Minna seemed to have a natural rapport with the Aurelian full blood, and the Mistress of Northern Europe was a particular favorite of the ruling couple though not so well known on the world stage. It would be an advantage. Anna was Minna’s partner and extraordinarily organized PA, and Tatyana, an astute political analyst and financial tactician. They were a formidable addition to the team.

The fact that the three tall women also exuded an extraordinary, classic, ethereal beauty did not hurt the overall image that the Aurelian court was taking to the momentous meeting either. The three women (under their furs) all sported the latest ‘ready to wear’ couture. Their thigh length boots with narrow four inch heels in tight suede and antique animal skins to match accentuated the height and elegance of the three.

 

Connor had been briefed and despite his several months at the helm of the Aurelian Court, as it were, still felt a little like the ‘kid brother’ somehow. The reality was, that unfortunately, this was a problem on a scale that none of them had faced previously.

The discussion on the plane was grave and twice blood was shared as one by one the members of the group expressed their worries.

Globally the issue of balance was being ignored on so many fronts that a response to at least the top three was critical as the consequences were fast being felt in the most desperate of ways.

The three key issues were water management/ownership and a sudden escalation in cloud seeding, robbing some countries of even the most basic of natural supplies; the manipulation of finite fuel resources – both nuclear and fossil based – and the recent ‘bleeding’ of the resources from the North Sea and former Soviet Union and consequent weapon sales; and finally, the apparent scaling up of systematic abductions of demon and human children for military purposes.

The last issue was now in (safe to say) pandemic proportions and the most worrying as the escalation over the past three months was astounding - a militia of deliberately brainwashed/desensitized, under-aged individuals, armed and ready to infiltrate and kill at their masters’ instructions (whoever the master might be).

The scattered (yet no less organized) groups were ready and able to deploy the traumatized, pint sized soldiers immediately their services were purchased by the highest bidder worldwide and in every war zone. It was abhorrent to all attending the Convening, regardless of species, gender, nationality, race or religion.

The human habit for the underaged militia had a long history – as did human upon human violence but the demon races generally kept to themselves. The ruling Aurelians had their suspicions. Wolfram and Hart were one thing, but this had the stamp of one or two senior partners… Demons who had worked with the Law firm confirmed as much. There had been innuendo as they had their own interviews.

All species were threatened if the trend continued and the general balance of the earth would be compromised. All the magical and demon communities knew that if Gaia was so violated, she would retaliate and not in a mild way. The humans had already had warnings with tsunamis, droughts, floods and earthquakes, but that would all pale if she really let loose her full power.

……………….

Their arrival in Beijing was marked by the lack of fuss or ceremony. They simply got into a small bus hired for the purpose and drove through the night to the venue in the hills near the Chinese capital.

The venue was a very traditional palace, now ‘resort’ but owned by two Xiepa demon families who were most excited that their venue had been chosen for the momentous event. Two other hotels were also requisitioned as the thousand or so representatives poured into the area.

The Chinese ruling court were officially hosts but the decision was quickly made that The Immortal should chair the meeting. There was swift agreement that the language translators available to the various delegates were not suited to all demon languages. Connor stepped forward and asked permission of Anton, then nodded at Willow and the result was that every delegate could *read* the translation of the speaker in real time on the Powerpoint presentation. In itself it was an extraordinary way to begin to the meeting – with respect and solidarity.

There were so many issues! Concerns re Human violence against humans generally but escalating at a frightening rate. As far as the demon community was concerned the recent history of the European Court was seen as a model. The South East Asian court suffered difficulties due to fragmentation with their many islands. The African and South American courts were the worst hit by the abductions and human turmoil. In former case much was due to AIDS reducing their food sources, but also destabilizing the whole region – plus general wars in the middle east re oil. South American delegates were very worried by drugs and general mayhem though child abductions were new. Certainly some concerns were expressed over the health of their humans in Ecuador and neighboring Peru.

Their dilemma was how to quell the humans’ determination to self destruct, driven and encouraged by the vicious senior partner and his lackey, the deadly Lilah.

They adjourned the meeting at the conclusion of day one with an agreement to work on the problem with their own teams that night and come to the table with proposals the following day – the first and foremost being the removal of Lilah and the incarceration of the renegade Wolf in some way.

That night, to the Ruling Couple’s interest, Connor chose to sleep in the arms of the three Aurelian women from the Russian court. Both could smell it the next morning, there had simply been friendly comfort. Anton on the other hand, had Buffy’s scent.

Spike nudged his Sire and winked as they met in the corridor, and grinned as he was returned a smile and “Well you had yours!”

The following day was essentially a strategy meeting. The AIDS issue would take longer to address as it required some pure human input but they would do their best.

The drugs issue, like the wars over oil control, would need time to resolve as it even involved some of the demon clans’ moneys.

But the very recent abduction and use of the demon children (and human) was most concerning. The destruction of innocence and murder that ensued was beyond comprehension.

The groups all rallied to the cause and the meeting concluded with an extraordinary show of solidarity by all present. The F’laath even agreeing to shake hands with several of the older slayers.

It would be weeks not months before every splinter group stealing children was eliminated, and the children either rehabilitated – or in the worst cases, ‘put to sleep’ with a lethal injection.

Sadly even after a month, Lilah and the senior partner were still at large.

 

PART 14

 

There were three more convenings of the main courts in the following six months.

Enormous progress was made but none of the participants could tell whether their efforts would be enough. The participating non-magical/community humans did their best but their fellow humans often influenced by fiscal &/or political demands to the point of inaction.

The Esteemed Consort took the leading role in funding and coordinating running life saving drugs to treat HIV patients into countries by demons with a vested interest and where the food supply for demons was becoming too low. In all the third world however, there was only ever a skimming policy due to the health of the population, the vampires from Sub-Saharan Africa noticeably taller and slimmer than their Northern American cousins.

They had just had the reports… the water crisis was far from resolved as was the fuel abuse, though with both demon and some humans working together, there was some hope. The drugs issue was a trickier one with as many demons as humans involved in both the trade and the using.

However there were inroads in all areas and with the combined efforts of all concerned.

It was nearing midnight and the European Vampire Court Master and his Esteemed Consort were lying on a broad blanket on the gentle grassy slope of the luxury conference venue just outside Nairobi. It had been yet another hard meeting. The two tasks in Africa were monumental.

The AIDS issue really only affected the feeding grounds of the sub-Saharan territories the worst – but really had to be dealt with through human channels. All the combined magical community could do was help regards obtaining and delivering contraband drugs where possible.

It was the task of recovering the child soldiers that had proven most distressing as they gradually rescued human and demon children. Thousands of dead eyes, owned by small bodies clutching deadly weapons, left all concerned with the worry that for some, there was no possible return to normality.

Child soldiers were not a new phenomena, Anton had seen it in every era. Children had always been used in wars, though the age definition seemed to shift depending on the culture and the era… But the deliberate abduction and *brainwashing* was something different, as was the modern day weaponry, including suicide bombings by the children.

The reality was, however, that in the past they would have gone into battle at the Master/Ruler/Father’s behest, or as servant/slave feeding and carrying for the troops, or as page to the nobles or volunteer to protect their country or as resistance fighter because they were ‘small’ But this global trend … this one was insidious and indicative of a human race returning to the slave days. And yet this was worse. Now ‘owning and breaking’ meant ‘breaking’ emotionally and psychologically.

The children no longer considered their targets anything more than objects to be eliminated and were conditioned to value their own lives as less. They would kill entire villages without emotion, not caring for their own safety, then return to their leader at the end of the night with no more remorse that one might have for mowing the grass in suburbia in a quiet English town on a Sunday.

A facility was planned, built swiftly, then the rescued children flown to a pretty spot in Tunisia where they were contained and treated with respect, some even ‘moving on’, with help. But most just happy to be fed and confused as to why they had not been ‘deployed’ of late.

Some of the demon children were able to be saved swiftly, as their heritage meant exchange of body fluids and ritual managed to redress at least a part of the trauma. Sadly for most humans there was little going back, though special schools were established (with a slight prison feel as there was need to stop the resident ‘students’ from escaping to do more carnage. By the end of the seventh month it was obvious, some of the inmates would never recover.

Regardless of attempted rehabilitation some of the demon clans chose the kindest option placing the pint sized soldiers into servitude, retraining them to follow a different set of orders (suitable for domestic servitude), then placing them with their clan families that the broken children only vaguely remembered.

 

Before the final meeting Spike had opened his wrist to his Sire, as did the Consort. They then did they same for Connor, who had been a tower of strength in the last six months, single handedly setting up the Tunisian facility. The four Aurelian leaders shared blood then offered to Mistress Minna and her two companions. The women knelt and took the offer with respect before being ushered into the ‘war room’ for the last session of the evening.

It was a reasonable result but after the meeting Spike and Xander took time out from everyone – Connor went for a run, and Anton retired to bed. The ruling couple worried, he had never looked quite so tired.

………………………….

 

Xander and Spike ceased discussing business as they lay on a rug and Xander pointed out the constellations not visible from Europe. The southern hemisphere stars so much more visible due to fewer city lights. It had been their last evening of business.

Spike listened to Xander explaining the various star configurations but eventually his consort’s quiet voice and surreptitious caresses slipped into full blown love making. All thoughts of astronomy were forgotten as they sought their own heaven, joined and consummated their love for one another again and again. Xander began on his front, his rear now always pulsing and ready if the pair became amorous, then taken face to face with passionate kisses and adoring strokes, followed by Spike begging to be filled himself, Xander obliging joyfully. Blood was exchanged and the two relaxed. Xander eventually tugging his lover up, wrapping the rather sleepy High Master of Europe in their picnic blanket, before collecting up their clothing as his own ‘protection’. The two then wandered back inside hand in hand to tangle limbs again on the soft bed and snuggle into the warmth of the duvet to sleep away the day.

There was still much to be done, but the two still had their own interests, Anton and Connor too (when home the full blood happily working with the other two to bolster the family finances).

Connor’s adoptive parents and sisters were due to arrive the following month. They had learned of his business success and recent philanthropy via an anonymous phonecall, and were incredibly proud. But the father’s day present of four around the world business class tickets was extraordinary (and happily accepted). Connor planned it, Anton arranged it, Xander did the accommodation (with protection built in) and Spike bankrolled it.

It was to have been a joyful return home, but the assassin had done his homework and as they stepped from their car to alight Anton’s jet in Nairobi, a strange thud was followed by Xander’s surprised “Spike? Oh….Ssssssss……”

 

………………..

It was unbelievable!

 

He usually healed like a vampire but the sniper’s bullet had found its mark and no amount of vampire blood could heal a direct blast to the heart from a high powered military rifle.

Anton and Connor were both in shock and Anton openly crying, but still managed to tear off their upper clothing pressing it to the gaping exit wound to try to stem the flow at the back.

Anton looked desperately to his surrogate Childe. There was no choice. If Xander departed for all time, Spike too would dust. There was simply no way to save him but to turn him. If he took the Consort as his Childe they would both survive. Willow wasn’t present so Anton sent a silent appeal to his dear goddess Artemis, to the Powers and one to Gaia for good measure. All answered.

Spike was near hysteria and on his knees. It was their own actions that had brought this about. They had threatened the world’s most corrupt powers, and now he had to turn his lover, the lover that would have been immortally warm had this not occurred.

As Xander began his final struggle, his body bleeding out, Anton grabbed Spike’s wrist hard and said “Hurry we’re losing him.”

Spike was kneeling in a pool of Xander’s blood as he sobbed and tore open his wrist.

Anton added, “Not just this… You *must* drink from him…”

Spike sobbed as he fell into game face, “Oh Sire! No!!!”

As he felt his lover begin to suck from the so familiar wrist, he simply placed his mouth over the hole in Xander’s chest and drained his beloved. The Earth shook and grieved a lost son, and Anton prayed again to his goddess, requesting her help for a personal reason for the first time ever… and Artemis answered bestowing her blessing though the ruling couple would take some months to determine the real effect of her kindness.

The gaping wound in Xander’s back healed as he was turned and she breathed a message of hope into her favorite son Anton via a gentle breeze, and he knew at that moment, that the Powers had fixed Xander’s soul.

Spike and Connor watched in wonder as the now dead flesh and bone repaired and looked to their Sire. Anton leaned over the now dead body and took each of the men gently by the face and kissed them on the forehead with an enigmatic smile.

“All will be well.”

Spike lay with his consort, grieving and keeping vigil, Anton and Connor both fed him on the second day, worried by his silence and keen to reassure, but when Xander had not moved by the third night, even Anton began to worry.

As the evening of the fourth day approached, Spike was unable to stem his grief and where there had been silent crying, he now begged his partner to wake, kissed the cold lips repeatedly and desperately stroked the stiff, cold body.

He was rewarded around midnight on the fourth night of his lover’s turning, as the form suddenly lost its stiffness and within moments a game faced Xander latched onto Spike’s chest, just over his right nipple. Spike was utterly unprepared for the amount of blood taken, all but fasting as he waited in the hope that his lover might rise, yet had the wherewithal to bite deep and hard into his fledgling Childe’s neck as Sire to claim back some of what was his and reassure the newborn demon.

Xander immediately stilled, his game face disappeared and he rasped “Sire? Spike?” before collapsing into his beloved’s arms.

“Here Pet … will always be here for you… always.”

Xander was crying a little, he couldn’t really articulate the reason, just felt teary and said on instinct. “Sire, I’m cold.” Then pulled himself away a little to stare in wonder at Spike, having realized the implications of what he had just said.

He noted the new feelings and the night vision and… *Sire* who was still holding him so tenderly, who had claimed him and chosen him and loved him and… he gave in to tears again as his Sire struggled out the words “Oh Xan, my mate… Oh Xan I just couldn’t lose y……”

Xander instantly felt his demon rise with his Sire’s distress and ran on pure instinct. He stripped the thin sheet from them both, rolled Sire onto his back, then tugged the still upset Spike to stiffness and sank onto him easily with all the confidence of a professional hooker.

He rode his Sire with enthusiasm and adoration, and was thrilled when Sire accepted his proffered neck, Spike renewing the claim mark and taking of the young vampire. A flash of blinding white light acknowledged their joining.

Artemis had done as her wonderful Anton had asked, blessing the two and binding their souls. But she had also done more appealing to the Powers, requesting that she might have them if they were ever to leave the realm. The Powers agreed and added that she might have the entire Aurelian line in her care. As a consequence, they bound Connor to her as well, something that made ehr immensely happy since he had so graciously prayed to her along with her lovely Anton. Artemis instantly decided to be, literally, ‘Godmother’ to this extraordinary group.

When Connor woke bleary eyed and tired to the wonderful news that Xander had risen, he failed to notice the strange new adornment at the base of his spine, a tiny tattoo of a beautiful woman in flowing robes hugging one side his father’s original ‘A’. What the turn of events for the whole clan would mean was yet to be determined.

Artemis rejoiced as the Consort rose. There had not been an Esteemed Consort turned in a millennium and certainly never one blessed by the goddess. The implications were *huge*. Already powerful in his human form due to the partnership, Xander soul may have been tied directly to his Sire but that was not the only thing Artemis had gifted them. She used her power to help alert her new earthly champions.

High Master, now Sire… woke from sated sleep to bright morning sun warming the bed and his form, and light streaming into their room. The blackout curtains had collapsed (apparently silently!) sometime during the night.

Spike began to scramble for the covers before realizing that he and Xander must have been lying in the sun for some time, exposed completely. His skin was warm and he wasn’t on fire or dust. His Childe too was warm to the touch and slept on oblivious.

The implications were almost beyond comprehension. Spike had always missed the sun *so* much, particularly after the minor sojourn as ‘a minor’ earlier the previous year. He rolled away from his darling, lay on his front and simply felt the warmth. He couldn’t help it. He began to cry into the pillow quietly. Every gift of such magnitude came with a price, he knew that, but for now…

He eventually rolled over again and pulled his dear one into a spooned hug and loved him all the more, sending a message of thanks to the Powers and to Anton’s Artemis, somehow knowing they were all now tied to her. As the sun continued to warm the loving tangle of undead limbs, the new Childe opened a bleary chocolate eye and smiled whispered, "Nice..." then fell asleep again.

 

PART 15

Xander woke slowly rolling into his Sire again and rejoicing as his Sire offered his wrist to the fledge, latched onto his neck, then hauled one leg up slicked his Consort thoroughly and entered him to the great joy of them both.

This time they had left the familial link open and both Anton and Connor felt the joy.

They had experienced Xander’s rising through the strong familial link and both Connor and Anton detected the difference between the newly risen vampire and the live Xander. A profound difference. Xander was now truly one of the Aurelian line.

What stunned both Anton and Connor was watching with amazement as Spike and his new mated Childe came onto the sunbathed balcony to join their Sire (now Xander’s Grandsire) and the full blood (very bizarrely both Xander’s inlaw brother and now apparently some sort of uncle by blood!).

Anton rose and moved toward the hand in hand Sire and Childe in wonder, Connor too stood and began to move. All ended on their knees hugging and touching and exchanging blood… on their knees *in the sunshine*.

Spike allowed his tears flow and Anton’s loving hug enveloped him, “Thank you Sire… thank you… Your prayers did this… We… We have the sun! And Xan…”

Anton held on to his Childe and smiled. His William was stunningly beautiful bathed in the afternoon light, his pale skin and long blonde locks framing stunning features, and piercing blue eyes matching the color of the sky (though admittedly marred at the moment by tears). “I am so grateful to my mistress Artemis and to the Powers, and so happy for you, my darling William. You deserve at least this… you *deserve* the gift of the sun.” He kissed Spike on the forehead and the hugging began anew.

Connor was the one to break the mood, pulling away from Xander’s hold a little and smiling then simply saying, “C’mon let’s take the fledge for a run.”

It was the perfect salve. Running shoes were swiftly donned and in the late afternoon the four sprinted the full length and breadth of the property. Xander’s demon rose with the excitement of the chase and he was amazed at his new speed and lack of need to breathe. He did not realize until later that he had been in gameface as he ran, but did know he ran with family, as they all reveled in the impromptu exercise.

For all his unique strength and that of the family group, Xander’s demon was still but a day old. Their return to the home saw him consume two bags of warmed human blood without slowing, then, seated with his (now even Connor) elders he relinquished all pride and accepted his Sire’s chest once more, accepting the hug and suckling like the youngster his demon really was. He felt utterly complete - loved on the most profound level. He had felt loved as Consort… and perfectly content. But now! Sire was Mate and Master. Sire had made him so strong and Grandsire and the Full blood uncle had fed him.

An odd thought occurred as he fell gradually asleep in Spike’s lap, listening to family talk. Angel was now a relative in the true sense. His demon now flowed through Xander. He knew it literally on a visceral level. He felt sad for his Sire, the pain of losing family still raw enough to feel through the link… He fed again a little and drifted off in his darling Sire’s arms.
………………

The news of Xander’s turning and the reason, had spread like wildfire through the European clans. And now the Consort had risen, Spike quickly called a meeting of the clans loyal to him, also sending word to the other demon nations, the European covens and Watcher’s council.

This time as the ruling couple of *vampires* descended the stairs flanked by Anton and Connor, to greet their guests on the traditional social evening of the first night, the power flowing from the four was completely overwhelming, thrilling and wonderful but beyond comprehension for those present. Regardless of age or status, every vampire was in awe of the four.

Xander knew he was a fledge but in this room and felt utterly different to when simply in the presence of family. As a group, the four now embodied a strength and leadership that every demon and magical being of the Court would defer to. His demon felt it. He was now the youngest Aurelian, the Esteemed Consort and newly turned Childe, and he squeezed his Sire’s hand hard as he struggled (successfully to the immensely pleased Spike) to keep his game face quelled even given the emotion of the moment.

The whole room had silenced the instant they descended the last stair, and even Anton was surprised as, without exception and as though on command, every guest fell to their knees and offered their necks. Even Minna who had been comfortably seated, pushed off and knelt.

None were taken, but the High Master took the time to stroke over the mark on every one, thanking each vampire and demon for their loyalty and accepting the offer for what it was, and what it meant.

Following their ‘walkabout’ amongst their Court members, his Sire took his hand and squeezed it in a small sign of pride and Xander worried for a moment that he might burst with joy. But there were bigger things afoot. They needed to address the clans and to continue their work… and Connor’s parents were due in three days.

Once everyone settled Anton began proceedings then Spike addressed the group. Though standing in his usual black leather, he looked different to all present. The slightly sun touched skin left none in the room doubting. They were in the presence of something different from before.

“I ask you, brothers and sisters, in this meeting… grieve with me for the heartless murder of our dear Esteemed Consort, my partner in all things, my lover, my all!...” For the first time in a public forum Spike began to breathe in an attempt to calm grief that was still raw, “We exist in difficult times. And the forces that killed my Consort…”

All in the room felt the flow of pain. Anton and Connor stood and pushed their bodies to contact the High Master as he reached for his new Childe and the four stood together as one, “The forces that killed the Esteemed Consort of this Court have erred. We are all now graced by an Esteemed Consort, who is now my mated Childe, and has been blessed by the Powers and the Sire’s Goddess Artemis herself.”

It was to be no normal meeting. In a show of vampiric speed and power, Spike took his Childe’s throat in the presence of all. As Xander’s claim mark was opened with a savage bite in front of the entire Court, even Anton gasped. And for some reason, the instant Xander reciprocated the bite, taking of his Sire’s wrist, the ripple through the magical fabric was so extraordinary that vampires who had considered themselves impervious to their old human emotions were moved to tears. Blood was exchanged by delegates throughout the room in a sign of unprecedented solidarity, and the ruling couple continued to hold their loving embrace.

As others calmed, they noticed Anton and Connor were in a father-son embrace, tears streaming down faces that looked of similar age and yet so… not. They assumed the full blood was taking solace of his adoptive Sire. If only they had known. The fact was that Anton was taking comfort from Connor, not the other way around. Held in the arms of what was now his true family, Anton allowed himself to grieve for all those he had loved and lost, and gave thanks to his dear goddess for her gift… his boys.

She heard him and smiled.

Eventually the room calmed and the meeting continued, all present not failing to notice the young fledge fall into game face several times, quietly taking proffered wrists from Spike, Anton and Connor during the meeting. They all understood, though the bond and the circumstances were unique, and the magic unbelievably strong, the demon was still effectively a newborn. All were sympathetic to the situation and were in awe of the now undead Consort as he slipped from new-risen feeding back to his usual ruling role without missing a beat. Indeed many in the room gasped as the Consort shifted seamlessly from needy fledge to capable leader, since all knew that normally Childer spent months, if not years, utterly reliant upon their Sire to guide them in all things, to learn the vampiric laws and ways and very gradually build their strength. The Mated Consort now Blessed Childe was obviously very, very different.

In the break in proceedings, Xander proved as confident, capable and charming as ever, chatting with the clan leaders and their assistants just as easily as he had always done, almost as though nothing had changed. But everything had. This was a High Master’s Consort turned and blessed, and that made him a Master in his own right *instantly*.

As they returned to the meeting room, clan leader after Clan leader approached the ruling group and proffered their necks, re-pledged their fealty to their High Master William and the House of Aurelius, and were rewarded by a cursory bite and reciprocal offering from one of the four. It was reassuring for all, but as Minna, Anna and Tatyana approached, it was different.

They were closer to the ruling group than any other vampire leaders in the room, and had borne witness to Connor’s distress after Xander had been shot and turned. They had also been graciously and generously treated by the Consort in every situation and seen the amazing strength of their two rulers, thrilled by what they had become.

Minna was humbled as first Spike then his Childe and finally Connor all offered her a blood exchange. Graciously they also took and gave tiny amounts from Anna and Tatyana also.

The meeting reconvened, and encouraging reports regards the child abductions, attempts to put healing drugs where they were needed, and improved weather conditions, were conveyed.

The Tunisian facility was a great success, and although the European Court could not mandate the installation of such facilities in all regions, they could at least use it as a model.

Several new strategies were proposed, one including the now well established Youth Network that spanned the globe via an organization (TiG.com) and had worked tirelessly to fund and encourage young people from every nation to participate in their countries’ decision making committees.

 

In the end, the meeting was dismissed with (of all things!) a prayer of thanks to the Powers that Be and to Artemis for all in the room and their efforts in their regions.

The ripple of hope met its mark – but was also heard by a certain outcast Senior Partner of Wolfram and Hart. He immediately rang Lilah – she had failed him yet again.

 

PART 16

 

Despite his imperviousness to the sun, the High Master rose late morning – though his dear fledgling Childe still struggled to get up before noon. In private his fledge, though unusually strong and already with full knowledge of vampire lore, was still as needy as any newly turned Childe. Spike made every effort to exchange blood whenever possible, allowed Xander to sleep on, and touched his turned Consort lovingly as much as possible.

He remembered the feeling of his new demon being denied that in his own history. Even as a human, it was only Nanny and Mother who provided affection. Following his turning, Dru was the needy one, and too infrequently, his true Sire Angelus would bestow a kind touch. He played up just for that touch – even if hitting him, it was better than nothing. He was determined that his new Childe would have no such concerns.

Spike had taken to working a little in the bedroom, their wireless network providing any required access and often more boring reviews of financial statements or Clan matters requiring his attention. He usually sat up in their bed quietly reading and taking notes whilst Xander slept on. Inevitably Xander would roll over, blink open his good eye and smile with such adoration that there would often be a crash of papers on the floor and his poor tablet laptop would be slammed onto the side board prior to Sire taking Childe once again in their morning passion.

They now both rose to a breakfast of human blood and for the fledge, the blood of relatives if present.

Unlike Xander’s early days as a human, this was a joyous upbringing - one full of familial love, careful instruction and encouragement. He delighted in each day and blossomed in the circumstances provided. Anton noticed the change in Spike too. He was calmer, happier, and the High Master took his role as Sire extremely seriously. He sparred daily with Xander, pushed his limits of speed and trained him to hunt, demanding that he learn how to use all his new senses fully, and Xander was the model student.

On his monthly visit, as Anton watched the two silently speed up the mountain in a practice hunt, he could not help but smile. The renegade Senior Partner and his undead bitch Lilah had made a *grave* error by killing the Consort. He sent another prayer of thanks to his Goddess Artemis and the Powers for Xander’s undead life.

 

Connor’s parents and adoptive sisters arrived the day after Anton. Their global tour was truly a once in a lifetime experience, everything from the Great Wall of China to the geothermal areas of New Zealand; from the Great Barrier Reef to the wonders of India; then on to Madagascar and Egypt then up the Greek Islands; then on to Rome, Tuscany and finally flying by Anton’s private plane to Basel. To be honest they were very tired and more than a little nervous. They knew the truth about their dear son Connor, but loved him dearly anyway. He picked them up at the small airport in a limousine – the quick transfers through customs and deference to the obviously important four (word had gone ahead!) noted by his parents.

It was just after three in the afternoon, so his two sisters (who had ‘read up’ on vampires and particularly on their adopted brother’s history) were utterly amazed as the ruling couple and Anton greeted them outside in the sunshine. All had obviously had some sun before, though William was noticeably naturally paler than the other two.

Connor’s sisters both giggled a little as they were greeted graciously by the three handsome men they knew to be Connor’s relatives. They assumed the one with the eye patch was the elder Anton, so were rather surprised when the stunning raven haired, apparently younger man introduced himself as the same.

The guests were ushered inside and settled into their luxurious suites. A large bowl of fruit and jug of iced water complete with lemon and mint was a welcome addition to both the girls and the parents’ rooms.

 

An hour or so later they joined Connor, Alexander, William and Anton on the pretty western balcony for afternoon drinks. A large cheese board boasted locally produced fruit, cheese, breads and condiments.

Initially the conversation was rather strained, but as Xander started to talk about the construction business with Connor’s father – including Connor’s contribution of course, everything relaxed. The girls giggled and flirted with Anton and asked him all sorts of questions about Italy, while Spike charmed Connor’s mother, eventually taking her for a walking tour around their gardens.

Spike really did adore the gardens and of late (given the sun) had taken to spending a little time each day with their full time gardener. He offered his arm to Connor’s mother before introducing her to Fusee and collecting the snips and an open basket from the small shed near the stables.

As he began to cut roses for the vases inside, Connor’s mother articulated her curiosity.

“So you are keen on gardening?”

Spike cut three enormous, apricot colored roses then turned and smiled, “I am afraid I am not so much the gardener as an admirer of gardens… and my mother always loved arranging flowers… We always had fresh flowers when she was…”

Connor’s mother was touched by the obvious sadness of her dear young host and on a whim, slid her hand down his arm and took his free hand, squeezing it gently, “We all lose people my dear, I am sure she would be so proud of you now.”

Spike had not felt so close to anyone approaching a mother figure since Joyce Summers, and held on to the hand for a little longer than perhaps he should. “Maybe… Thank you… I’m sorry to…”

She smiled and patted his arm affectionately, “No need to be sorry. Just show me this orchard Connor has been telling us all about.”

They wandered the grounds for another hour, and were eventually joined by Anton and the girls. It was a wonderful sunny afternoon and the precursor to a glorious week with the family.

Connor was amazed by the rapport between his father and Xander, the two both from fairly challenging backgrounds yet ‘making it’ both professionally and personally; and both loving, loyal and devoted to family.

The week of their stay was filled with shopping trips to the local village, long walks, sight seeing (whilst the ruling four worked) and delightful mealtime discussions.

Connor’s mother did mention a couple of times, that ‘you boys need to eat more’, forgetting that three at the table had different dietary needs. Connor simply smiled and assured her that they had eaten earlier (which was the truth - just did not involve human food!).

…………..

Lilah learned of Xander’s turning and began to try to redeem herself. She planned another attack on Connor but fortunately had no idea of the gifts bestowed on the Aurelian house by Artemis or the Powers.

Initially she had planned an attack on his parents as she discovered they were holidaying with him, but the information came too late and she was also finding that the various Wolfram and Hart offices to be rather bureaucratic and unhelpful of late.

She was just about to launch another attack when given the information that the other two Senior Partners were unimpressed by her boss’s antics. The Wolf advised her to lay low for a time. She did so without question but used the time to plot.

…………..

 

It had been three months since Xander’s changes and the implications of Connor’s changes were unclear, but according to a dream he had been graced with nightly since his adoptive parents departed, he *had* to partner. It was an imperative – to the point of disturbing. Spike consulted Anton and it was decided that perhaps it was just all the stress of the Tunisian project the family issues and the stress of all but managing Xander’s project in Sweden whilst the new vampire adjusted to his circumstances.

The following night Spike spoke to his brother in blood and it was decided. Connor headed north on ‘clan business’ and for a break. Minna was always so welcoming and the two very close. On the second night he told her of the dream, which she took for what it was, a demand from the Powers.

Within hours she had a person in mind that might suit but did not even have to introduce the two. As she had reconfigured her estate to accommodate the suffering slayers, a young wiccan and fully trained architect had joined her team and stayed in her Court even after the debacle with the Council. Helle Svensen had consequently also become a welcome asset as consultant to the Esteemed Consort’s construction company.

Helle was commissioned to consult on the Gottenburg project.

Connor was overseeing the project. They met in a meeting, and he was utterly smitten and asked her to have a drink after work.

Helle was from Mikkeli in Finland. She spoke perfect English and French, and was just a little taller than he. Her tanned skin and dark softly curled hair perfectly set off the pale blue-grey eyes that fell into half moons and positively sparkled when she smiled.

She tugged at her long locks as she chatted rather shyly about the project to the new ‘right hand’ of her European Manager, the Consort Alexander, and as she also knew of his full blood Aurelian status… everyone did.

The endearing factor was that, as he invited her for a coffee and chat after hours the second time, her shyness could not disguise her attraction to Connor. And he scented her arousal when he led her to their waiting car to take them to dinner then a movie on their third ‘date’. As he admitted his particularly sensitive nose, in their very late night conversation some days later, she was not shocked but simply slid her hand into his and guided it to her inner thigh, then kissed him soundly. His pants were already *far* too tight and he worried that he might embarrass himself!

Connor was utterly besotted, as was Helle, yet for weeks they did no more than kiss, touch, and enjoy the movies, shows and café’s of St Petersburg and Gottenburg together.

Minna grinned as she was given gossip from one of her ‘staff’ that Helle had spent *yet another day* having a very long lunch (with the implication that she was abrogating her duties). Minna bit the vampire hard and explained as to a child, that it was part of Helle’s duties and all for the full blood Connor and the Court. The minion immediately prostrated herself and apologized. There was nothing more said as Connor and Helle continued to work together and court quietly.

Helle knew Connor’s status in the Aurelian Court, and could not really bring herself to hope he might continue their relationship after his time in the north finished, assuming that it was, sadly, ‘a stolen summer’.

As his day of departure for Switzerland approached, she became very quiet, just waiting for disappointment. Connor noted the change and as they sat on a low wall on Minna’s property in the pink glow of a late afternoon sun, he took both her hands in his. He kissed the back of each deliberately.

They sat in silence for many minutes before Connor finally spoke, it all came out in rather a nervous rush, “Helle, you know how I feel about you, I mean I… it’s… I… Oh bugger… and now I’m sounding like Spike! Um… I love you OK… just that I really do love you and… I was wondering if you…”

She cut him off with a passionate kiss before leaning back, eyes sparkling and simply said, “Ditto… Yes… I really do.”

“Then come back with me… Please come back to Switzerland with me. I just don’t know if I could bear living without you now… Please? If you want your own place I’m sure we can do that. The estate is so big, but you wouldn’t even have to do that the town’s just…” Connor trailed off, realizing he was babbling.

“Can I have the rest of the week?”

“Huh?”

“To get everything organized – you know packing and moving and finishing up things here … that sort of thing.”

“Oh Goddess *yes* Connor stood and lifted his statuesque friend off the ground in a passionate hug, then was stunned as she unconsciously proffered her neck. Connor’s small fangs dropped with the emotion of the moment, so when she whispered, “Please… take it.” He did.

He gently and lovingly bit and took where there had only been kissing before, opening his own wrist and allowing the woman to drink of him, where previously there had been coffee or chardonnay. And Connor knew as did Helle, in that instant. She was to be his Consort.

………………

He returned to their home and his vampire brothers in Switzerland more nervous than a sixteen year old with his first ‘girlfriend’ but was welcomed joyously.

She was a natural born witch with both father and mother of the magical community – but also had a mother who insisted she ‘fit in’ – hence the degree in architecture and getting a “real job”. Her wiccan studies had continued and she was almost relieved when called by the Mistress Minna when the young Slayers were in need of a revised venue. She was able to use all her talents *and* met the legendary Willow three times! She was ever so nice, and seemed to relate to Helle’s natural shyness. They had a wonderful chat for almost five minutes on their second meeting!

Connor had heard many of her personal stories over the weeks of their courtship, but as the girl nervously chatted to his vampire family on the first night over dinner, he adored her all the more. When she began to talk about her work that her confidence and prowess was obvious. Not only her architectural skills but also her wiccan experiences were familiar, particularly to the newly turned Xander.

He was now three months old and his demon still very needy regards his Sire, but Helle saw it as no more than affection for partner and smiled at the charming one eyed vampire as he snuggled a little into the man she knew was Connor’s brother.

The High Master was not only attentive but positively charming to the young woman, engaging her in conversation not only in French and English, but also in Finnish for a time (until he admitted he was ‘out of practice’).

At the end of the night she knew the protocol. She knelt at the feet of the Ruling Couple and offered her neck. The handsome High Master simply kissed it and said “Welcome to the family,” then threw his arms around her and hugged her like no-one had done since she was a six year old. To her own shame she kissed the High Master on the cheek, held on, then began to cry; and sobbed even harder as both Connor then Xander joined them in the hug.

Spike eventually pushed her into Connor’s arms as he whispered, “You are loved little sister. Our brother has taken you, his mark is on you. Rest and consummate your bond in your own time. Our Sire will celebrate your joining, as will the entire Aurelian Court in due course, but for now, let your love flow.”

“But I’m just…”

Spike caught her face with a now slightly sun kissed hand, “You are our little brother’s chosen, Pet. And my understanding is that you have agreed.” Helle nodded profusely but was on the verge of tears and did not trust herself to speak.

“There will be no pressure to join in our Court proceedings, though if you join for all time you will take an honored place at my full blood brother’s side… For now, just enjoy your time in our home, you are most welcome little sister, joining with Connor also makes it yours. I look forward to a discussion engaging your expertise at some time in the next few days as we seek extension proposals for the east wing.” Spike winked and Helle relaxed a little.

He opened his wrist, and before she thought through what was being done, she took of the High Master himself.

As she pulled off the wrist, she said of her own volition, “I have already pledged myself to your brother and the Aurelian clan, but… I thank you High Master and… I … I…” She licked over the Master’s wrist before adding, “I adore your brother… and… want to… ohhh… Master William, I love him!”

Connor caught her on the way down as the strength of the magical blood struck her suddenly, and she fell in a dead faint.

The High Master smiled as his rather worried full blood brother carried his bride in all but name up the stairs to their room

Helle woke in a glorious room on a massive four poster bed, with her dear friend stroking her forehead gently. She was unclad under the covers, and he lying on top fully dressed as an obvious sign of respect.

He took her hand as she returned to consciousness, then waited. He kissed her gently then chatted for a little time of nothing in particular before asking, in a noticeably more somber tone, “Will you be my Consort, Helle. Will you partner with me for all time.”

She breathed heavily, then rolled into Connor and simply said, “Yes. Oh please… Yes.”

Connor began to kiss the dear lady as he stripped and then slipped under the covers with her and they lay together for the first time with the intention of making love. Gentle touches and loving kisses were the precursor, until finally Helle took the lead and pulled him over her and guided him inside in a single smooth act.

Enveloped by her warmth and with Helle nibbling at his neck, Connor stilled for a moment to gain a little control.

Finding his centre, he started to slowly make love to his dear one and whispered a prayer of thanks to his Artemis and the Powers… and to Gaia for the beautiful partner.

Helle picked up on his quiet prayer and stilled him *mid stroke* for a moment and struggled to find the appropriate words in the intensity of the moment, but eventually whispered into his ear, “To whom do you pray?”

Connor, on the edge and trying for control, ergo surprised and mildly frustrated, simply said, “Sire’s Goddess Artemis and the Powers… and the Mother Gaia.”

She pulled him into her again and said, “Then let me too? Please? My darling heart. Please…” She lost her train of thought as Connor nodded then entered her again and again. Their prayers of thanks and plea that they might remain together always *were* expressed as they coupled. Just before he climaxed Connor sank his fangs into her neck and Helle bit him on the shoulder hard enough to draw blood. Both bodies released and the exchange was complete.

Their prayers were received and appreciated. And two days later in a ceremony that included Anton, the High Master and his Mated Childe, and her friend the Mistress Minna, Helle was formally declared Consort to the full blood Aurelian.

Connor and Helle had a video conference with his parents and sisters in the USA, announcing their civil marriage and reasons for keeping their partnership ‘under wraps’ – “Office romance and all that” being given as the excuse. His mother was utterly charmed by the woman, father impressed by her business prowess and obvious adoration of his son, and sisters just pleased to see that their brother had finally settled. Connor promised to visit when they could and his parents, not normally religious, finished the call with a solemn prayer for their future happiness.

A month after that, Helle had her first dizzy spell but thought little of it. She put it down to fatigue, she and Connor had been quite the ‘athletes’ horizontally, and the current Gottenburg project was fairly high pressure! But by week eight after their first night together, her breasts were swollen and painful, and she felt definitely different. She had thought little of missing her menses as it often occurred when she was stressed, so mentioned nothing for another fortnight.

It was Connor who picked it as her scent changed and she burst into tears for the second time during their lovemaking. It was confirmed when his open wrist was offered as was now their post coital custom, she latched on and began to drink desperately, so fast and hard that Connor wondered if she was capable of draining him. Helle eventually released just as Connor began to feel a little dizzy with the blood loss.

He fell forward into her lap his ear on her stomach, and preternatural hearing gave away her secret, their joy. She carried his child, Their first born was safely growing inside the woman he loved as much as life itself. It was now Connor who cried before tearfully, reaching up lovingly to kiss his Consort, his life partner in all things, his beloved, who was soon to be a mother.

…………….

The senior vampires had all smelt the change in her scent, but gave nothing away. It was up to the prospective father to find out and tell them. The family rejoiced and immediately began to strategize.

The decision was made that only the inner circle of the Court should know. Lilah and the now outcast Senior Partner were still at large, and the offspring of Connor and Helle’s union so unique that they would no doubt try to obtain ‘it’.

In month five, Connor told his human parents of their impending grandparenthood in a call that used an encryption code worthy of the CIA. His mother cried and he just knew his father would be wearing the widest grin. And happily the call was somehow missed by those who might threaten the family.
……………..

World matters did not slow down for pregnancies, however, nor did her Gottenburg project.

Both she and Connor were in demand with their various roles. It had been an exhausting few months and the two had often found themselves (to their distress) forced to travel to different cities for their work.

Helle was increasingly staying at what was now the family home, the Court in Switzerland, her belly becoming obvious on her slender figure, though until month six, able to be disguised by carefully selected suits and ‘sit down’ meetings. But the stability and safety of the Aurelian home felt right.

She quickly learned that Anton was a tower of strength and that his constant assistant Gregor had a quiet efficiency and protective kindness that could not be matched.

Xander was her favorite. She could see why The Mistress Willow adored him. Coming up for a year turned, he was still an extraordinarily capable leader – both in business and as Mate to the High Master. He constantly displayed familial love toward her and (when his demon was let loose) could also be very childlike and playful. In her sixth month, they were sitting on the balcony together one evening when he asked politely if he might listen to her child’s heartbeat because he ‘was missing his own’. Helle saw the genuine sense of loss and heard the statement for what it was. She nodded and smiled.

Given permission Xander had reverently put his ear to her belly, and inadvertently had the privilege of feeling the child move. He lifted off in wonder and took her hands in his, kissing each one in turn before staring at her with teary eyes. “Thank you… I could hear the little one Helle, It’s so wonderful… the tiny heartbeat… and then movement!... Oh Helle! Thank you… thank you.”

The High Master William was also loving and attentive but seemed more worried by her condition than anyone else; constantly asking if she was well and concerned that she didn’t work too hard; demanding that staff to look after her needs more carefully; and insisting that Connor remain home for her last trimester. The High Master and his Consort now fed the full blood twice daily so that he might afford his own consort accordingly.

Helle blossomed under their care.

In the last two weeks of her pregnancy, as all the Masters of the Clans of Europe came together at Court once more, she entered the meeting room and was introduced as the Full Blood Connor’s Consort, her claiming mark exposed and her belly obvious to all. The response was extraordinary. Many vampires in the room pushed to tears as they saw their High Master and Consort’s joy and realized the implications.

It was Connor who addressed the group.

“Rejoice with me cousins. With the blessing of our Goddess Artemis, The Powers, and Gaia, my Consort and senior wiccan, my darling Helle, will provide us with a son… and as she is my formal Consort and therefore he, another full blood to our line…” Connor was somewhat emotional and his fangs dropped without him realizing. Anton immediately offered his wrist and Spike took over the meeting.

“Our Court becomes stronger by the day, many of you in this room have new Childer and others are carrying responsibilities we have not encountered before. All this bears witness to your efforts and for that I thank you, but we must remain vigilant and continue our mission to make our realm safe for all. The new full blood will be the target of many, as was Connor as a newborn, therefore will be protected by both physical means and wards.

“My dear brother, soon to be a father, has earned our support. It is not an assumption on his part, but I urge you to oblige. We, as a group of clans, stand proud of our efforts not just here but globally. And Connor has proven himself time and time again on our behalf.”

Spike then opened his wrist and offered it, to the surprise of all present, not to his brother Connor, but rather, to the Full Blood’s Consort. The heavily pregnant Helle had become used to the blood exchange, indeed seemed to crave it more and more as her pregnancy progressed, so was both grateful and reverent. Something the vampires in the room appreciated.

She laved the wound closed and four hours later, just after the last of their guests left for their hotels or flights, she went into labor.

The midwife and doctor were called immediately and er cries were heard through the corridors of their home, the labor fast and painful.

Without medical intervention she delivered in three hours, semi conscious with pain for the last hour and enduring close to sixty stitches afterwards as the speed of delivery had surprised even her doctor and caused a serious tear.

But the child was… perfect.

Connor was allowed to wrap him after he had been cleaned. Helle was helped to the shower while the proud father wondered at the tiny bundle in his arms. Deep blue eyes opening to his father’s handsome face and a new world.

The newborn boy was quiet, apparently lying content in his Connor’s arms. A half hour later Connor watched in amazement as the tiny boy struggled to latch on to his now reclining beloved’s breast, eventually successfully suckling for a few minutes then falling asleep. His partner also fell into an exhausted slumber as Connor took his own sustenance from Spike then Xander before collapsing into a three way embrace.

The ruling couple lifted their tired brother onto the bed beside his partner then nodded to the attending nurse and departed with a parting look at the two sleeping parents, and the tiny miracle between them.

Later that night, lying in their own bed Sire and Childe in a lover’s embrace, Spike addressed his partner and a sense of immense sadness flowed through their constant link.

“Sire… Spike… Master??”

Spike immediately exposed his chest for his Childe, but the Mated Consort could not drink as he felt the grief, so instead simply offered his own neck with the words, “Oh Please Sire? What’s wrong???!!”

Spike took the proffered neck and stroked his Childe/Consort as he finally relaxed and drank, “My darling, my all, you… You might have had children… even as Consort you still might have..”

Xander cut him off, “As might you, but I am the luckier one… I had chosen you! My Sire! Master William… Spike… I had the chance, but nothing came of it… I ran instead and eventually chosen you and identified myself as… what was it you said? Batting for the other team! Oh Sire, please don’t grieve my turning any longer! I am happy, I *love* you Sire. *Please* let’s just rejoice in Connor and Helle’s son… *Please Sire… take of me!”

The Childe exposed his neck again and Spike took solace.

As his Sire calmed and withdrew his fangs, a rather lethargic, drained Childe asked, “Ssssire… No… Jussss LovvvveYou! ”

Spike opened his wrist and answered, “Oh my darling… I… You …”

For the first time since he had risen and though a little drained, the Consort exerted his power rather than acting as the submissive fledge, and regardless of his own power, Spike allowed it, was thrown on his back and pinned, though the fledge knew better than to penetrate in any way. Xander simply felt the full contact and relaxed…

Spike too relaxed and smiled, aware of a happy Connor and Helle at the edges of the familial link, and one extra contented little signal that had not been there before. It was like a whisper in a noisy room. There had been a tiny cry from down the hall some minutes before, but now the new tiny Liam must have latched on for another feed. His magical signature unmistakably strong.

Xander leaned forward to kiss his Sire before they both slept, the Consort happily lying over his Master, their limbs entwined.
…………………

PART 17

The announcement of the birth of another Full Blood boy to the Aurelian Court spread like wildfire. The worldwide vampire network was ecstatic with the news and all sort of rumors of the conception and the origins of Helle and the history of Connor… But all were reverent as the High Master of Europe and Consort, along with their Sire, his partner - the oldest *Slayer* in the world(!), and the now elected Global head of all the wiccan groups Mistress Willow, presented the tiny Full Blood, Liam.

After the first night Helle, Connor and the ruling family had all struggled, the little lad just would not settle, clamping down so hard on Helle’s nipples with his gums that she had to pry him off with her finger whilst sobbing in pain. Anton and the ruling couple felt the angst through the familial link as Connor tried to comfort mother and child, licked over the painful area and offered her his own blood. Both would speed her healing but the abused nipple was already raw from the inefficient suckling of a newborn. The bruise would be evident for almost a week.

Anton (as ever the Sire figure) suggested that the problem was that the child… indeed a full blood Childe… needed more than Mother’s milk. Helle immediately offered her wrist to her partner, Connor opened a vein as gently as he could. Their upset son latched on and immediately calmed. Connor opened his own wrist shortly after and the little lad settled and slept, mother’s milk and family blood, the perfect combination.

In the following days, the baby Aurelian took sips from all his senior relatives, oblivious to the status of the vampires from whom he took. Helle continued to feed him at breast but now he was calm, and certainly had not bitten her since.

The little lad was the focus of the house for a time but eventually the day to day matters of the Court saw Anton return home, and Spike and Xander required in other areas. Connor too was asked to travel north yet again. And it was not just Helle that was worried, so was surprised, humbled and relieved that two days later, on the eve of her partner’s departure, The High Wiccan Willow arrived along with the Wiccan Stephanie who – as she had learned – had been an absolutely brilliant nanny and stalwart during the ‘small boy period’ of the Ruling Couple.

 

Willow had not seen Xander since his turning, but had prepared herself as best she could for the change. She knew he still maintained his soul, and that sunlight was now safe for the entire ruling group, but she had not expected what she met at the door of the Aurelian home. Xander seemed to have grown two inches, and lost ten years! He stood tall at his Sire’s right hand, grinning in a way she had not seen since they were in high school together. She saw him squeeze Spike’s hand before he rushed forward to be accepted into a hug and spun his long time friend.

Willow gasped as she felt the strength of his magical signature. His demon had the strength of a Master – that was obvious – but there was more. When Spike too, embraced her, she felt the change in him also.

Later that night, after learning of the couple’s ability to walk in the sun, she tried to identify the exact difference in the auras. She wished for Tara yet again, she would have known. Years on, there was still no-one who could replace her as far as the now white haired Willow was concerned.

Stephanie and Willow’s role was to protect Helle and tiny Liam in the absence of the ruling group. It was just a matter of time before some group with a grudge, or the infamous Lilah, would make a grab for the child.

Helle woke and rose instantly as the High Wiccan entered the nursery. She had been feeding little Liam but the tiny boy had fallen off the nipple as both mother and child drifted into a light sleep. She instantly cradled Liam to her breast and she slid to her knees in front of the Mistress Willow. The little boy squeaked his protest as he felt the shift from his comfortable position.

Willow was overwhelmed by the gesture. The woman was now one of the most important wiccans on the planet – the Consort of Connor and the mother of the first progeny of a full blood vampire for over two thousand years. Willow knelt in front of the pretty woman and kissed her on the forehead. “It is I that should kneel to you, dear Helle. You are the mother of a true miracle, and the Consort of another. Be at peace. We all felt it. Our Lady Gaia rejoiced and has blessed your union and your son.”

Helle looked up gratefully then held up her son to the Mistress. Willow took the little lad and cradled him in her arms, then suddenly understood. His signature felt like Xander’s, and Spike’s and… the entire family were now bound and protected like no other. She felt her own Mother Gaia, but more there were signals she had never felt before entering the household.

When the little lad began to squirm, she remembered that the tiny full blood needed the same reassurance as a young fledge. She pulled out an earring and stabbed her ring finger. Liam latched on immediately, suckled and settled. Helle looked rather apologetic, “Sorry, he just seems to need…”

“It’s OK sweetie.” As she felt the tiny mouth continue to suck, she was graced with innocent blue eyes staring up into her own green with such trust, and felt a jolt of power that she was sure could not have come from one so small, and yet… Teary eyed she reached her free hand out to Helle and simply said, “He’s so beautiful… so beautiful…” then gently returned the precious child to his mother.

Willow openly blessed the two before quietly letting herself out of the room. Xander found her later that evening on her knees in the garden facing a full moon and praying to her Mistress Gaia for all in the house and thanking her for the blessing of Liam.

Xander the vampire was swift and utterly silent, but due to his and her status Willow *felt* him now, so turned with a teary smile as the vampire suddenly appeared at her side.

Xander nudged her shoulder to shoulder, “Penny for your thoughts, Pet?”

She grinned weakly, “You sound like Spike.”

“Well they say that about old couples… we’re coming up for eleven years… and we’ve got eternity… So…” Xander did a perfect impression of his Sire’s ‘rough English’, “What’s up Pet, c’mon Red? Give your ol’ friend Xan a clue.”

It was enough to open the flood gates. She turned and threw herself into his arms. It was almost as though they were back in Sunnydale on the day Xander pulled her back from the brink of annihilating… and she let him accept her grief, in return knowing such love and friendship that she cried all the more.

She held onto him so tightly that Xander was rather relieved he no longer breathed. Eventually he began to rock them both slowly, all the while stroking the white tresses and whispering loving messages.

Willow finally began to speak quietly into his chest. “I lost you. Ghaaahhh I lost you and now you’re… but it feels different and … Oh Xan! How could someone…? And now this? Are you… ?? Oh Xan!” She shed a few more tears then composed herself. “Mistress Gaia blessed the line didn’t she?”

“It seems like…”

“I’m glad… you… deserve that. There’s been so many…” She appeared to be about to cry again but was cut off by Xander’s kiss to her forehead.

“’S OK Wills… I have the best Sire in the world and… It’s family Wills… A *real* family! And I’m one and a half next week… how weird is that!” Xander grinned at her then let his game face to the fore, the single golden eye still carrying the same love for her as his human features.

All Willow could do was quietly say “Oh Xan… I will never stop loving you my dear friend… you know that.”

“Yeah go the memo a while back… C’mon Wills no more tears for the Xanman OK?!”

They chatted for some time about anything and everything until Willow began to shiver with cold and they both realized that Xander was incapable of providing warmth.

As they walked inside, his casual question, “How is Giles?” was met by a lengthy silence before Willow stopped in her tracks and turned to face him.

“Oh Sweetie, he’s not good Xan… really… um… for a while there it was all good. But… um… He’s not in pain… and at the coven we’ve… I’m sorry Xan! We were so hopeful but it seems… I was going to ask that you come for a visit… you know just to say… Oh Xan I’m sorry. They’ve said six months. And…”

Xander stilled to compose himself, motionless as only a vampire could be, then turned to her in gameface, his own emotions getting the better of the young vampire. Willow didn’t miss the slightly blood tinged tears tracking their way down the face of her vampire friend.

“We could turn…”

“No Sweetie… no we can’t. He specifically said no.”

“But…”

“Xan… he is going to die… He’s come to terms with that so… Let’s give him the time he has left and thank him for all he’s done, forgive him all his mistakes, hug him while we can, and just… Oh Goddess [sob] Just love him… Um… Oh… Xan! He has been my father too…. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do but it was too late… He told us too late. And now all I can do is hold him and take away the pain. Please!… please come with me back to England… he is *so* proud of all you’ve done and who you are… and … Please Xan!! As soon as you are back from your business trip… please come back. He can’t travel... not now… Please…”

Xander didn’t need to use his vampire senses to detect the distress, but heard the rising heart rate anyway. And as his own distress rose, the message through the familial link had his Sire Spike at his side within minutes. Spike opening not his wrist, but slicing his chest in front of Willow and taking his Childe to him then offering Willow an open wrist. She initially shook her head then took the offer and was amazed as she took two drafts before pulling off, feeling the immense strength of the High Master completely.

Shortly after, it was decided, they all had duties but the entire family would visit England at the beginning of winter.

The following day Connor embraced his dear Helle and Liam and entrusted them to the two witches and the family staff as all the ruling party departed for their various destinations and duties.

Willow warded the whole home, and as an afterthought, appealed directly to Gaia as she added an extra spell to Connor and Helle’s suite. The earth shuddered in response indicating that mother and baby would at least sleep safely.

 

PART 18

Spike did a two week whirlwind tour of the clans of Europe – visiting them in their own place to shore up friendships and reassure the Masters and Mistresses in each location that all was well for the time being. Unlike the more formal Court meetings it was an opportunity for them to air their grievances and display their triumphs privately to the now much revered High Master.

Connor visited Minna for a day then headed to Gottenburg, keen to finish and sign off the project and return to his dear Helle. Minna did not miss that he called his consort three or four times while staying with her.

She, like all the Court members, was thrilled by the news of the baby, but humbled and honoured as Connor asked that she and Anna agree to being “Protectors of the Line”, should anything happen to Connor and Helle. There would be a short ceremony at the next Court gathering. As he offered her a wrist, it was the first time Connor had seen Minna shed a tear.

Xander inspected the various building projects currently underway in Prague, Bonn and of course Gottenburg – as well as visiting a difficult site in Mains Germany. A company had gone bankrupt and left a half dug site in the middle of the city sector. Xander called Jim after taking numerous photos and short video of the site – plus all the specifications. It was a huge undertaking and a second opinion all that was needed. Andy arrived two days later and the two old friends inspected the site together.

The business side was so easy, so familiar, as was the friendship, but Andy thought he detected changes in his old friend. The paler look was easily the result of living in Europe through winter; more slender lines and tauter muscles probably through the extraordinarily strict diet he was on - hardly eating anything at meal times; but some subtle changes in mannerisms signaled that something was amiss. And yet, as they sat in a café on the ‘right side of the river’, Xander casually ordered a beer in perfect German and enjoyed the midday sun with his old friend. And Andy relaxed putting his worries down to changes natural as Xander had been living in Switzerland for close on nine years now.

One thing was for sure – Xander seemed to be able to hold his drink far better than when he was back in the USA! Andy felt the effects of the much stronger beer after only two glasses, while Xander seemed not to even feel it. As they sat and chatted, the reason for the change finally dawned on him, whenever William was mentioned, Xander looked wistful and a little anxious.

Andy leaned back in his chair and as casually as he could, inquired, “Don’t mean to pry, but everything OK between you and Will? ‘S cool if you don’t want to talk about it.”

Xander turned the beer glass slowly in his hand and struggled to control his demon as he thought of his Sire so far away. Staring at the glass at first, he answered quietly, initially wondering if Andy could stand the truth, but looking up, decided there was no need to burst the bubble of innocence/ignorance of the ‘other’ “Yeah… he… I… Oh look buddy… other than hospital… this is the longest Will and I have been truly apart since we left the States. And I know it’s soppy but I miss him... at a gut level… you know? He’s my everything And… I just…”

Andy now had a little family of his own and really did understand. His one year old daughter the absolute apple of his eye and his lovely pregnant again wife Kelly his rock of strength at home. He grinned ruefully at his long time friend and colleague. “Hey Xan… ‘s OK, know what you mean, you should try leaving the child and mother.” Then realized that was perhaps not appropriate but Xander simply looked at him with a grateful smile.

“Got any pictures of your ladies?”

Andy immediately went for his wallet and the rest of the afternoon was spent chatting easily and catching up with ‘gossip’ about Jim’s daughter (who had just ‘married well’) and various members of the business that were still around. When they finally returned to their hotel for the last night of their stay, both were feeling relaxed and their friendship utterly renewed.

The farewell at the airport was rather emotional and involved a lot of back slapping on Andy’s part.

The contract would be signed and the project started in the coming few months but for now all Xander could think of was Spike. He needed his Sire like he used to need oxygen.

As he sat on the airplane waiting to take off, he could feel his demon rising, screaming for release, begging for Sire. He was grateful for the spare seat beside him and business class. He turned to the window, allowed his face to change and bit his own wrist, taking solace from the blood that was as much Spike’s as his.

He had spoken to Spike everyday since they were apart but the connection with Sire, the feeling of Sire was absent, so when he felt Spike waiting for him on the tarmac as he alighted the plane at the tiny airport in Basel, he simply fell into his arms with relief. One of their new staff, a tall Swiss male wiccan called Lemar, collected the bags as the pair headed for the men’s room, closed the door and exchanged blood.

“Missed you Pet.”

Suddenly the capable business man reverted to a love struck Consort and young very needy Childe.

“Oh Sire… I… I *never* want to do that again… not even for a day… please let’s not…”

“We’ll see to that together don’t you think?” Spike then kissed his charge passionately with a blood filled mouth, his Childe tasted them both as the tongue entered and met his.

Too quickly his Sire released him from the embrace

“Now come on, let’s get us home…”

…………………

The new child Liam, was so shielded as to be safe even from the Senior Partners… testimony to Willow’s strength. But the glamour around his incredibly strong signature could only last a short time.

There had been three attacks on the wards whilst the ruling couple and Connor had been away. Willow and Stephanie – with the help of Helle – successfully repelling the threat to the precious Liam, but each one was stronger. It was as though whoever was seeking the Childe, was testing the strength of the protection. The family still had a few aces however.

Even the family had no idea of Liam’s capabilities, though all felt it. His magical signature was close to the strength of Anton’s yet he was only a few months old. The implications were unimaginable… But the family were clear on one thing, the protection of Artemis and occasionally the backing of the less reliable Powers. And all knew that the imperviousness to the sun of the ruling couple was still sequestered knowledge, privy only to the ruling family and the privileged few.

Happily the attempted photographs of Xander at his during his time with Andy and at leisure were all attempted at night, the deadly Lilah assuming that would be his time… now he was turned. (She grinned at the thought. Childer were always *so* loyal when put in a tight spot.)

Desperate times and desperate measures, but Baby Liam continued to suckle and began to reach for things and grew.

Willow went home to Giles soon to be followed by Xander and Spike, but Stephanie stayed.

She and Helle had become friends… firm friends as the gentle Stephanie cared for the mother as much as the baby in her role, once again, as Nanny to the ruling family. This time was so different and she had been counseled not to mention the reversion unless directly asked. But her nature hadn’t changed, and her natural ability to nurture small children a gift beyond measure.

Both wiccans also connected on a magical level and even though Willow had to return to England the two ‘girls’ continued to work on their magical studies together, thrilled to hone existing skills and even experiment with new ones as the two had had quite different experiences.

It was toward the end of the second month of Liam’s life, as the household had all returned and things were ‘back to normal’ – well, as normal as the House of Aurelius could be!

The two women noticed. Whenever they were practicing a spell or chanting and one of them was holding tiny Liam at the time, there was a prickle in the air and enormous boost of energy as they completed their spell, combined with a feeling of joy. Stephanie suggested it first. It was definitely coming from Liam.

They experimented with a few simple things, moving things about in the room was one, but even with this simple exercise, Liam at only just three months, became excited as the magic from his mother increased and within seconds his energy had them sitting in a whirlwind of toys, tissues, trash and treasure, all flying around at once and only stopping when Helle took the overly excited little lad to her breast. As he fell asleep everything dropped to the floor

When Connor returned from his trip Helle spoke of binding Liam’s magical energy, at least until he was able to understand, worried that he might inadvertently do harm, but Connor was adamant. Liam would grow up knowing his full potential. Helle worried until Stephanie stepped up. The young woman offered to stay indefinitely and support Helle in the training of her son.

Tiny Liam, as powerful as he was magically, was still, for the while at least, a normal human baby, content, affectionate and struggling to sit up independently, yet needed both mother’s milk and familial blood to survive. It was going to be a long haul and the infant still reacting to situations totally instinctively.

Connor had not been there when their child gave the automatic magical boost – one that could put them all in danger if there was a being close that could feel the power. Helle was hurt by Connor apparently simply dismissing her thoughts regards binding their son’s magic for a time. On the second evening of the ruling family all being together, she excused herself. When Spike joined her, a short time after, and sat on the wall shielding the library balcony from the extraordinary cliff drop, she simply leaned against the High Master and accepted a hug.

“C’mon luv… don’t need ta bear it alone… ‘sup?”

Her voice was high pitched and strained as though a young girl, “He said I was being silly! Protecting our child *isn’t* silly and … oh… William… we’ve never really argued before… not like that!”

“You love the little-un Pet… so does he… and he loves you desperately! Who knows what the right decision is, but like it or not, we’re all here for you and for Connor and for Liam… Family… what can you do?” Spike kissed her on the forehead then pulled back and gave her a warm smile. Helle said nothing, smiled weakly through yet more tears then accepted another hug.

Connor had felt his wife’s anguish through the natural link to his Consort, and heard Liam begin to cry as the whole family began to detect her distress… He was standing at the door to observe the High Master wiping away Helle’s tears and preternatural hearing allowed him knowledge of the dialogue.

At one level he felt hurt that she was still angry at him but at another he understood and was extremely grateful to his older brother (and that was truly how he now thought of Spike) for comforting and counseling. They were in such desperate times… but he wanted his son to grow up knowing his heritage and without a denial of his potential. He understood Helle’s misgivings but was certain the coven could help mask the signature somehow.

Connor’s reasoning was that those who sought to harm them, already knew their location and all they needed to do was to make it appear that the energy came from another. He was sure the coven could help.

Spike felt the full blood and knew he was listening, but let Helle have her time. He opened his wrist to her and allowed her to drink from family and calm. As he did he looked straight at Connor and the man took the hint. As Helle released the wrist and thanked the High Master formally, he relinquished his place to the full blood and smiled as he walked back into their family home. Little Liam was quiet again and the two expressing their love, concern, and Connor his apologies.

Spike smiled as his own Consort arrived at the door to greet his Sire. These days an occasional touch of assurance from his Sire was all that was needed when they were together but Spike’s open wound welcomed his Childe’s mouth, the slash knitting itself closed with Xander’s gentle laving. They embraced an kissed just inside the door as Stephanie brought the youngest Aurelian down in the aftermath of his utter distress.

Spike took the little lad from her, cradling him as he would have his own children were he ever given the chance and his lover, his consort and childe, threw his arm around his Sire. The boy was awake and squirmed a little, until Spike reopened the wrist wound with a single fang and allowed the lad to drink. Xander did likewise, and soon blissful blue eyes met the one brown and two azure blue of his uncles. Liam smiled, felt his parents’ happiness and promptly fell asleep.

The ruling couple stood for quite some time, Spike with the babe in arms, his beloved Xander with arms around the trim waist.

Tomorrow might bring all sorts of strife, but just now, life… unlife was *right*.

 

Chapter 19

 

Things were quiet for the following week.

Connor and Helle reconciled, their son reflecting his parent’s joy through the familial link. Xander and Spike had become used to feeling the little lad, his signal always returned with love regardless of its message. After the first few times the pair had sprinted Connor and Helle’s aid, as they felt extreme distress, they began to discern the subtle differences in the messages from their little relative. Hunger, tummy ache, need for a hug, puzzlement, frustration, all had their own slightly distinct feel.

The link, when they held their little relative, skin against skin, was simply extraordinary. It was as though Liam drew strength from the bond then doubled it! Even Anton gasped and looked in wonder at the tiny boy as he accepted a hug from Connor and was handed Liam to hold during the last hour of a flying visit to confirm actions regarding some of the international issues.

What was equally as extraordinary to Anton was the development of Master Vampire Xander.

In his day and a half with the couple, he watched them operate as they had for years now, the cool, capable, calculating leaders of an enormous organization; he watched them spar and sprint, Xander increasingly fast and strong, not quite matching his Sire yet but coming close. Anton couldn’t help himself and worked out with the pair on their second day together just before his departure.

Spike was thrilled by his Sire’s participation, always learning from the ancient individual. Anton’s style was more to do with patience, planning and accurate strikes, than flair and showy finesse. Spike sat back and admired the extraordinary elegance of his Sire as he easily countered every one of Xander’s ‘attacks’.

Anton was enjoying himself immensely and by the time he was ‘going the third round’ with Master William, he winked at the Childe Xander and the two of them attacked the High Master with the most effective of techniques – they tickled him into submission! In the end the three were all lying on the mats in a giggling heap and panting with unnecessary intake. As they calmed, blood was exchanged and the three lay in a quiet embrace for many minutes.

Anton eventually rolled away from the happy tangle of limbs and made to straighten his clothing.

“Will you come for the next meeting Sire? Please?”

The rather needy tone in Spike’s voice was not lost on Anton. The worry of Little Liam only added to the weight of concerns regards their worldwide involvement, European clans and business dealings of both he and his dear Childe.

“I will come, but only if you can provide my partner with a friend to shop with.” Anton grinned as did Spike.

“Oh I think Mistress Helle and Mistress Stephanie might just be able to oblige.”

Spike knew that if Buffy accompanied Anton, then the stay would be longer and, since Buffy had (in Email at least) accepted Xander’s new status, it would be enjoyed by all.

The High Master needed his Sire. The next Court gathering was but a month away, marking the seventh month of Liam’s existence and his presentation, yet Anton had a sneaky suspicion it would be Xander who would made the greater impact. His signature rivaled the High Master’s now and though still needing a touch and reassuring hugs and feedings in private, he exuded confidence and strength. And Anton could not but reflect… the killers of Xander *had* made a very grave mistake indeed.

As he stepped into his plane to return to his Italian home, Anton sent another prayer of thanks to his beautiful Artemis, then another to protect the family thinking of the trouble that might still come. As he did an odd phrase that his lover Buffy often used when heading out to support a fellow Slayer came instantly to mind… ‘Bring it on’. Apparently his goddess was more confident than he.

……………………

The Ruling Couple left for England the day following their Sire’s departure. The elderly Watcher Giles had taken a turn for the worse. He was now on a constant drip of morphine and in a hospice just out of London.

A tearful Willow met them at the airport, and held Xander’s hand tightly as they entered the final residence of their dear friend. Spike kept his arm around the now slimmer waistline of his Mate, grounding him and giving him the strength to stay in human form.

Rupert Giles had drifted in and out for the last three days as his body fought desperately to survive. There were times when the drugs were reduced a little and as the pain renewed, he was pulled from his comfortable haze to cry anew. There was no pride in the final battle. One cried and begged and… wished for a kind hand… and then it was there…

His boy… his Xander… the lad who was the *most* unlikely hero, yet had stepped up again and again… risking everything for… the benefit of the group. And now… at the end of his own life… In the bliss of morphine relief, he spoke quietly to the man he had always treated as a favorite nephew, a relation in the truest sense as it was a connection sought out and accepted by both parties…

Xander sat beside the invalid’s bed and held the almost ice cold hand. Giles felt the warmth and thought it odd as Xander was technically more dead that he. He made the effort to keep his eyes open for a while, even that now seemed exhausting.

The High Master rewarded his effort with a kiss on the lips and an open wrist. It prompted new tears but the rich fluid gave the old friend a little relief and a connection with the ruling Court. And still his tears flowed as he turned painfully to his dear Xander.

“Oh Xan!... I … Jussss” Giles gave in to his own grief and illness, then let two sets of cool arms envelope him and quiet his distress. Only later would he realize that the two were feeding from each other intermittently as they comforted him.

They visited and sat with him for the following two days, vampire blood gently trickled down his throat five times in his last days, easing the way as the tired body, wracked with cancer, gave up it’s fight.

The last struggle was horrendous to witness… according to the nurse, the distraught group of Willow, Xander, Spike and now Buffy, was told there could be days of it! Giles called for long lost relatives, then mourned as Buffy visited, sobbed for Tara with Wilow, and finally grieved for and with Xander even as Giles’ own body gave up. Willow took away as much of the pain as she was able, Buffy held his hand, and Xander did the only thing he now could. He kissed the old man and held him.

Spike stood quietly at the door of the room and simply sent love through the link to his Childe. There was nothing more to do.

In a few lucid hours of the same evening Giles cried and pulled Xander to him begging him for the end and to take away the pain. A tearful Spike asked the two women present permission to ease their dear friend’s way. After speaking to the physician, the choice was simple in the end. The much loved man might survive another two or three days struggling for breath and in excruciating pain that even his wiccan friends could not control, or he could choose to allow a beloved son to relieve him at a time of his choosing.

At Giles’ request, all the needles and catheters were removed and the emaciated figure was tearfully farewelled by all. The old man kissed each and whispered his love for each of them in turn… But even the short time without morphine began to bite, and by the time Xander kissed him his mind was again disappearing into the white agony.

He whispered, “Please Xander… Oh my dear boy… please! I love you as a son… Please… Take me… Finish this and let me move on.”

Xander sank to his knees on the floor by the bed of the man who had been so much of his life. Spike slid behind his Childe and held him, giving him the strength needed, “Do it for him Luv. He asked you… so do it for him… Ease his way like he’s asked, we both know… I’ll be here for you… Sire will be here…”

Xander rallied, stood and leaned over the bed.

The young vampire stroked the loved face, now so grey and lined with pain, eyes that begged him to be the one. Xander was the boy he had always cared for, the one Giles could not be prouder of.

Xander began to cry but still did as asked. Despite his own tears he took the now inert arm of the old man and kissed the wrist, then kissed the inner elbow, then the shoulder and finally the lax lips before looking directly into the eyes of the man who had been so much of his life and whispering, “I love you.”

Giles’ breathing was labored. Between pained inhalations he whispered, “Oh my dear… son… Loved… Please… let… be you… Now!!… please! Xan…”

Giles turned his head painfully, exposing his neckf and waited. Xander kissed the spot, took the old man’s hand and his Sire’s with his other. Spike bit the wrist of his Childe as Xander cried and gently bit the dry skin on an all too wrinkled neck. Giles sighed and whispered, “Thank…youuuu”

And as he left the mortal plane Sire and Childe both prayed to the Powers, their Sire’s Goddess Artemis, and Giles’ Christian Jehovah that he might find redemption and rest.

Xander took but three drafts of the blood poisoned by illness and painkillers, allowing the spirit of the man who had struggled so hard on behalf of others to slip from the realm quietly, painlessly, and in the arms of a man who had been the lost boy before an aging librarian allowed him to find a place in the good fight.

Willow and Buffy were crying, as were Dawn, Andrew and three young slayers, who had arrived that morning to take up the vigil at Giles’ deathbed.

The young nurse who had been so attentive and helpful in Giles’ last months called the doctor and the ‘family’ filed out. Some patients were harder to farewell than others, and for her Rupert Giles was certainly one of them. She wrapped the body with reverence and said a small prayer before calling the orderlies to help her lift.

 

Spike drained his Childe to the point of oblivion that night, his dear mate so distraught that there was not other option. Anton visited his Childe after comforting his own distressed partner. Buffy also, in the end, crying herself to sleep.

Both exhausted, the High Master collapsed into his Sire’s arms and offered his neck and took Anton’s for his own comfort. Anton accepted the embrace for what it was - an exchange and familial reassurance.

The funeral would be in three days. Meanwhile Spike had Court duties in England and Xander would be involved in preparations for Giles’ farewell.

Spike rested back on his Sire’s chest. A man who looked the same age, but was so much older, and had seen so many loved ones pass… He addressed Anton in his native Greek, “Oh Sire… how do I…”

Anton smiled at the courtesy, kissed ‘his William’ on the forehead and simply tightened the embrace. After some minutes the Sire whispered, “Honor them… our lost ones… all we can do is continue what they started and honor them. Look to the red of the sunset – for you have that now - and think of them.”

 

The funeral was extraordinary. Not advertised, the word had apparently spread. Slayers stood shoulder to shoulder with demons and vampires, all apparently distressed by the passing of a patriarch of their realm. It was a civil service, Buffy, Willow and Xander all too distraught to speak, but as the chaplain invited the audience to speak, a surprising number of people/demons rose and said a few words.

The final person who rose to speak was an elderly rather frail looking man that they all recognized later as Ethan Rayne. He walked forward and took the chaplain’s arm for support as he approached the coffin. Ethan’s prayer was not delivered lightly…

“Lord have mercy… So many years have gone by… but in your own passing, I ask your forgiveness… You were always the better man… I envied you your intelligence, your sense of nobles oblige, your love of others above all. It’s so hard to say goodbye… My *dear* friend… If I had just one more day… I would tell you… you were the best of us… the best… and I… You were so loved… by so many… and… by me… always. [hic] Vale Rupert Giles, a scholar, a gentleman, and a bloody hero for the people.”

The crowd stood as the elderly Ethan fell to his knees and finally let himself cry, having done his duty to his friend.

Later the congregation would learn… The two had been estranged for almost five years after the Fyarl demon prank but of late had reconciled, played golf regularly, then as Rupert’s health failed, in the last months, been to two shows in London together (one a rather average ‘new play’, the other a brilliant version of La Boheme). No one knew the true length nor the depth of their friendship, but Anton saw it in the grief expressed as Rupert Giles was put to rest.

Long after others had left the burial site, Ethan continued to kneel at the grave, finally hugging the freshly laid soil and sobbing for his old friend. Anton touched his shoulder, and Ethan felt the power, knowing immediately who it was, but was still too caught up in his own distress to react.

Finally, shortly after sunset, Anton simply lifted the elderly mage, cradled the grief stricken man in his arms and took him to his waiting car. He drove the old man back to his hotel, helped him to his room, then informed the concierge of the recent loss before returning to his own distraught partner and the comfort of his family. And they truly were his family.

For the first time he felt it completely, the Aurelians were *his* family. Part of the reason, he was sure, was the connection with, and the power of Connor’s little boy. Liam had only just started to crawl the day of his most recent visit, and the joy and love he felt through the familial link as the little lad made his way toward his GrandSire Anton was… extraordinary… just… wonderful.

 

PART 20

 

Two days later found the family at home in Switzerland, Buffy took an instant like to Helle and smiled at Stephanie as they met again. The older Slayer would never forget the kindness the woman had shown to Xander and Spike during their regression.

Liam was left in the care of Connor and the household for an entire weekend whilst mother, friend, and nanny, all availed themselves to a private car and a whole two days of a ‘girls weekend’ of shopping and rest at a five star hotel in Basel.

Connor was so used to having Nanny Steph and Helle around that he worried dreadfully, so Liam was never better attended. He was carried everywhere by his father, played with, over fed – both human food and father’s blood - and no doubt changed more often than he ever had been in his entire young life. But the love flowing between father and son was something that even Helle, a city away, felt at the edge of her mind.

The little lad was a happy distraction, particularly for the Ruling Couple. The various worldwide initiatives all needed attention and Spike and Xander’s ‘to do’ list seemed to get longer and longer. But little Liam was reveling in the full time attention of his father and his energy joined with his father’s, pushing such joy through the link that the two Masters seemed to need to show their affection for each other constantly. They sat side by side at the enormous desk in the library-come-office, each with a laptop and phone operating at the same time but still managing to touch knees, caress occasionally or exchange kisses – chaste, passionate or bloody depending on the opportunity.

Anton too benefited. He felt the joy flowing from his relatives and twice fell to his knees with a prayer of thanks to his dear Artemis and the Powers for the gift he had been afforded.

He had spent so long without direct connections and now… he had generations and an extended family that openly adored him. The Court all referred to him with reverence as the High Master’s Sire rather than some obscure ‘Immortal’. He had a human lover who was also the oldest surviving Slayer (with Faith only a few months behind!), and three loving Childer plus one consort… and now a GrandChilde. It now seemed worth the loss of loved ones, the millennia of loneliness, his search for ‘truth’, struggles for power, and numerous meaningless ‘relations’.

Xander was happy to give Connor the time with his child despite their Mains project – the full blood had been tireless with the work of the construction company and the Court since his arrival. Xander whispered to his Sire that they really should encourage the Helle and Connor to take some time for themselves too. And Spike sent a private message to Anton to that effect.
The Sire held much more sway with the High Master’s sibling and might listen to the counsel of Anton regards a holiday following the presentation of Liam at Court at the end of the coming week.

When Anton discussed it with Connor however the reaction was a flat, “No… Not without our son.”

Anton patted his Childe on the arm and simply said, “Then Stephanie travels with you, as does Gregor. One for nurture, the other for protection. You must take a break Connor. Please! We need you well and rested. Take your family and have a break. My… relatives have a place on the Greek island of Kimolos and would be happy to host you. It is secluded and warded so you should find safety and enjoyment. After the Court meets… Please, if only for my peace of mind.”

Even after Connor said, “Spike put you up to this didn’t he!?” and Anton may or may not have nodded, Connor took the proffered wrist. After a few sips of family blood, he raised bloodied lips and gave a grateful smile accompanied by, “That would be nice… thank you.”

 

The women returned the following day having enjoyed their time immensely.

The dinner that night was a jovial affair with the women showing off their various purchases and extolling the virtues of a ‘girls weekend’. Anton smiled indulgently as Buffy positively bounced, but also noted her distress as she saw Xander quietly (and as far as Sire and Childe knew, unobserved) take sustenance from his Sire.

“Go talk to him sweetheart. I know you worry.”

“Not so much worry… but will I have to…” Anton silenced her with a kiss.

“After all these years and you still ask that!??” He kissed her again then smiled indulgently. “Talk to him … privately… I’ll tell him his GrandSire insists.”

Buffy’s breath hitched as she realized for the first time, completely, the truth of the statement. Her old friend was a vampire. She had felt the ‘prickle’ as they met this time, but there were so many vampires in the household it was difficult to discern one signature from another. Xander was still his sweet self, and the powerful Consort of the European Court, and able to walk in the sun like Anton… Connor… and now Spike. She had all but forgotten his real status, but the game face and the needy drinking of a fledgling from his Sire…

She watched as her stunning partner move to the ruling couple, speak quietly to Spike, then touch his GrandChilde on the arm and whisper into his ear. She only realized later that he had taken a quick nip of Xander’s neck, and blood had been exchanged as he laved the tiny wound closed with his own bleeding tongue. It was reassurance for the vampire youngster.

Xander stood immediately and moved to take Buffy’s hand leading her out onto the balcony on the balmy early autumn. They stood for a time saying little, but Xander still holding the hand of the woman he had lusted after for a time, then followed as part of the Scoobies on and off for years. He instinctively rubbed his thumb back and forth over the hand he held in an effort to calm himself as much as the Slayer.

His young demon desperately wanted to sprint back to Sire… or anywhere, and he now understood why little Liam had cried hysterically when Buffy had tried to hold him. Some instincts don’t change.

Sire felt his panic as did Anton and Connor – all sent love and reassurance so he stayed and waited for Buffy to begin the conversation.

Xander heard the heartbeat rise and Buffy finally looked up to her friend. He never expected tears, not for him, and certainly not from Buffy.

“I… Oh Xan,” She pulled the cool hand to her own chest. “What they did… But I… oh Xan… you feel so different! My Slayer instincts want to pull out a stake for goodness sake!

“I already had the tingle with the whole Consort thing but now you’re… *cold* and *dead*, so what am I supposed to …” She trailed off but in usual Buffy style, her lament didn’t touch Xander as much as Willow’s as it was largely her own dilemmas that seemed to bother her. Still, he understood her calling and appreciated the angst.

“Leave it Buff. If you don’t want anything more to do with me then I get that… really I do. But we are family now if only through GrandSire,” Xander didn’t miss the hitch in breath as the title was used. “And nothing has changed, bar the fact that breathing… no longer an issue; the body’s in better shape than ever; and Christian symbols and churches… not so good. But then – my history was a once off with them and I ran away from the ceremony anyways!” The try for wry humor failed as Buffy fully processed the implications and simply looked horrified.

“Oh c’mon Buff – joke, yeah? OK Xanman here not always on target but…”

He waited patiently, begging through the link for some support and receiving a boost of love and reassurance before Buffy spoke again.

In the end she dropped his hand and said in a flat voice, “Xander, you do know you’re dead don’t you? Doesn’t that bother you?... I mean Xan, I know you and Spike…”

“Hey! I figured you were cool with Spike and I years ago Buff?! What’s changed exactly?”

“Xander you are a *vampire*. I’ve killed tens of thousands over the years – and now you’re one of *them*. I saw you at Spike’s wrist Xan! I saw the change, the bite! And with the Master feel… Oh God Xan! How am I supposed to…?”

Xander pulled away and Spike felt the flow of strength, it was as though Xander had stepped up another notch. Buffy was so caught up in her own upset that she really didn’t recognize the level of hurt. Xander knew his status; knew he had staked his friend Jesse years ago; knew how proud he felt to be Spike’s Childe and an Aurelian Master in every sense of the word; but was also still a vulnerable fledge and the sensitive soul who had acted honorably and selflessly for so much of his life… and unlife.

Xander tore opened his shirt, exposing his chest to Buffy, “Yeah Buff I’m one of *them*… You know it… You feel it! And I drink blood – I have to, just to survive, and if the demon in me bothers you so much, then just do it Buffy… Kill the Consort and your partner’s GrandChilde. Come on kill me… I’m *just* a vampire now… that’s me, you can feel it… a vampire and proud of it!” As Xander pulled open his shirt, he had unconsciously fallen into game face and deliberately bit hard into both his own wrists before standing face Buffy, blood dripping onto the floor from open arms like some macabre imitation of the crucifix.

Spike and Anton were in the room immediately, but Buffy was already backing off horrified as Spike grabbed Xander with lightening speed, open his own chest and pushed Xander on to feed, laving the torn wrists to close them as he did so before literally growling at Buffy.

Anton recognized the warning for what it was, and left his partner in preference to biting down hard on his Childe’s neck. Spike whispered “I’m sorry Sire, but I just… I apologize. I…” The last words were lost as his Mate rallied.

Anton accepted the apology, seeing Xander’s genuine distress, “No matter William – attend your Childe. His needs must come above ours, and I will counsel my loved one.”

Anton squeezed the arm of his Childe then left him cradling Xander whilst he turned to his own partner and took her into a loving, comforting embrace.

They spoke late into the evening. Anton knew it would always be hard, his dark magic and vampiric feel was masked by his unusual status, but the signature of a pure vampire and that of the slayer would always be in opposition, yet he was sure that it was not impossible to reconcile.

That night, for the first time in many months, Buffy took a draft of her lover’s blood and she understood. Her partner was now so connected to the other Aurelians that she felt them too.

The following day she sat next to a very nervous Xander after dinner, and leaned over to squeeze his hand, then simply said, “I… I’m sorry I upset you last night… love you Xan… as a friend… No slayer-vampire thing… I just… You are a friend OK?! And an outlaw too since Anton and I still are not officially married!!” She gave a attempt at a cheeky smile with the last statement and Xander relaxed a little. The prickle was still there but felt like pins and needles not daggers as her guard fell. He relaxed and his Sire and GrandSire exchanged a relieved glance as they felt the shift. One more family crisis averted.

………………….

The Court gathered for their quarterly meeting the following week.

This time their numbers had swelled as a members from international courts joined them – to the point that two neighboring chalets and a small local hotel were all taken over. Minna’s partner Anna was in her element as she organized blood supplies and various other special needs for the guests. It was becoming more and more like a conference meeting of top CEOs, something not lost on the Masters from each region.

They were met at the airport then transported either by helicopter or bus (depending on sunrise imperative), greeted with a package of information that included meeting agendas, times and all their accommodation details – plus the special dinner arrangements at the Aurelian Court.

The Ruling Couple, were now without a doubt, both Master Aurelians, a mated couple not merely Sire and Childe. Everyone in the room felt it – there were to be more surprises. Buffy a slayer and the Immortal’s partner walked down the steps with Sire Anton for the first time, but it was the final three Aurelians that caused the stir as they stepped into the room.

All magical beings present ‘felt’ the tiny figure held in the arms of a stunningly beautiful Helle as she descended the stairs on the arm of her leather clad partner, the full blood Connor. The woman, dressed in a long, fully beaded black, figure hugging dress gave off waves of strength. It was to be expected, she was Consort of the Full Blood Connor Aurelius and mother of Liam. The little lad in her arms was wearing a blue and white jump suit with a picture of a rabbit on the front and holding tight to a soft toy (a fuzzy rhinoceros, his favorite). He looked like any other small child approaching his sixth month, but the magical jolt felt by all as he entered the room caused even the most cynical of attendees to pause in wonder.

After giving guests a little time to regroup, Anton stood on the last step of the staircase with the three, put a reassuring hand on Connor’s shoulder, and tapped his ring on the rim of his wine glass. The room was instantly silent, “May I present to members of the Aurelian Court and honored guests, Liam James Aurelius. Son of our full blood brother Connor and claimed Consort, the wiccan Helle. We rejoice in the addition to our Court in this time of strife for our global clans and I ask that you raise your glasses and celebrate with us. To Liam.”

All in the room raised their glasses – regardless of contents and replied, “To Liam.”

Ceremony over the adults mingled, Helle happy to hand Liam over to Nanny Steph after a short time, as the little boy began to squirm and his rhino’s fur caught on her rhinestones several times! Liam was tired and Stephanie quietly made her way upstairs. One observer in the audience did not miss the act, or the fact the child was very human, and noted both for his new employer.

The rest of the event was wonderfully orchestrated to be both casual and yet allowing all present to have ‘their time’ with the relevant members of the Aurelian group.

The High Master Spike smiled gratefully to Minna and publicly offered both she and Anna his wrist toward the end of the night as acknowledgment and confirmed to all present that the following evening Minna and Anna were to be acknowledged as Liam’s chosen protectors. The applause supporting the High Master’s gesture and words caused both popular Mistress Vampires to hold hands and blush with the blood gift of their ruler.

 

Chapter 21

The Court meetings over and most issues addressed (though there was still much to be done) all present took their leave in good spirits.

But Xander felt it as did Spike… the ripple of ill will from one of the attendees as he accepted the farewell handshake. A vampire from London. They had issues before with that Court, but this was more.

As one of the guests left the final farewell meeting, Connor radiated mistrust through the familial link to all Aurelians present. There was something that put him on edge about the vampire.

The Master Fritz came with the Southern German contingent. Throughout the days Connor had notice him to be overly ‘attentive’ and interested in minor household details. A little due diligence swiftly found that even for a vampire he had a rather checkered past.

Fritz had been an ‘enthusiastic and decorated’ member of the Gestapo when he was turned by the Master of Insbruck late in World War II. The Master apparently appreciated the vicious nature of the human, particularly his penchant for torture and simply couldn’t resist. The fledgling Fritz was notorious during the last days of the war, after which he and his Sire made regular visits to the war torn Hungary to take advantage of the conflict with Russia. His rise in the Southern German Court however, was rather odd and apparently due to a series of unfortunate dustings of colleagues and vampire siblings. Others in the Court were not blind to the goings on, so much so that when the old Master dusted a decade ago at the hand of one the now numerous Slayers, his ‘guaranteed’ place heading the Court was taken, with the support of the Court, by a sibling who had escaped elimination by virtue of attending Minna’s court at his Master’s instructions.

By chance the now Master Fritz had heard of the Wolfram and Hart split and sought out the deadly Lilah, exchanging his loyalty and services for a guaranteed place at the head of the Southern German Court given the successful retrieval of the Childe by Lilah’s team – with his information pivotal to that occurring of course.

Master Fritz had reported the impending family holiday but not that Gregor would also be present. Nor did he realize the ruling couple’s status regards the sun. Yet his information was still dangerous, and the photos of the family home even more damaging. Entrances windows, stairwells, all were documented.

Lilah was ecstatic. They had two opportunities. Her teams could make a grab for the Childe while the small family were relaxing on holidays, the island close enough by military helicopter yet remote enough that any help from the Courts would come too late. And even if they had to abort, there was enough information about the family home to strike when the Immortal was absent and the Ruling Three otherwise occupied. Bringing down the wards would be tricky but she would simply appeal to the Senior Partner who was expectant of a result very soon. His power would break through the basic magic with ease.

Master Fritz reported the presence of Nanny Stephanie – a wiccan – but Lilah knew, they had ‘taken her out’ in the past and this time it would not just be a dart coming from the gun.

Happily, Fritz was also oblivious of the family’s *other* connections, and so Lilah planned the two assaults confident that they already had the day
………………….

 

It was a relief when the three days were over and all the various Court members had departed.

Anton and Buffy left the next day but not before Buffy had deliberately walked the estate in sunshine with Xander.

“It’s still kind of … I don’t know… odd … you with the blood drinking and the speed and …”

Xander had been quite subdued, feeling like he needed to do the ‘right thing’, but brightened as a thought occurred… “One eyed Mate challenges Immortal’s Consort to a race you around the property!” After which he grinned then took off at speed.

He was fit and lean and Buffy struggled, but kept pace until they came to a particularly steep section and his longer strides proved the better measure. She approached the peak panting desperately only to be scooped up in an indignant heap and carried half way down the mountain by a sprinting vampire before he righted her, yelled “Last one home is ‘It for tag’” then sprinted for the house. She was close on his heel but couldn’t match the pace.

Xander pulled up short at the back door of their enormous abode, and caught in the moment picked her up and kissed her soundly on the lips. But the kiss was chaste and the gesture appreciated. Lowered to the ground, she simply grinned and slapped him on the arm. “You cheater! I haven’t got my patrolling shoes on… I’ll have you next time! You know I will!”

Xander grinned, fell out of the gameface he had been in for the run, “OK… but first one to Sire Anton wins!”

Buffy pushed past him with a force that left the young vampire literally on his back foot and made it to the GrandSire of Aurelius first. She tagged the rather stunned Anton on the knee then stood back with her hands on her hips like some schoolgirl, turned and yelled a triumphant “Ha!!!”

Xander was on her heel but let her win the day. Had he employed his full speed he might have outdone her by several seconds, but it seemed polite as she was a guest. Spike smiled knowingly as he observed the scene. His Childe the gentleman… and the vampire… and love flowed freely through the link.

…………….

A week later the house was packed up and on holidays.

Anton and Buffy returned home for some quiet time but in the end, Spike and Xander decided to travel to Kimolos with the others, though took a separate villa.

Gregor was torn as they alighted the plane, his duty was to protect the ruling family and yet they were in two different locations. The High Master recognized the distress and grabbed his arm, before offering a little of his own blood from his wrist. “Stay with the GrandChilde Gregor. We trust you above all others, but also know that you are not alone in your task.” Spike gave him a knowing look then he and Xander picked up their luggage and sprinted to their abode three doors up the steep hill.

Spike knew that they could get to their relatives in seconds and could still feel all of them.

The younger Aurelians settled into a beautiful apartment owned by a Greek couple Aristos and Effitema. They also owned the apartment up the hill that William and Alexander were renting and were thrilled that a family of such standing would take their humble accommodation. Anton had rung ahead and the half Gresthdah demon pair had no problem making sure the food was right – particularly for the ruling couple. But they also took on board Anton’s concern and the fact that he had sent his personal PA to defend the new child.

Effie (as she was affectionately known throughout the village) was a grandmother herself and the tiny boy took to her on their very first meeting. Liam held out his arms and went to her so easily that the dear lady had tears in her eyes and barely restrained her short tail from rising with joy. The little love had such a strong feel! Before she embarrassed herself, she handed him back to his mother and fussed about their food arrangements and various entertainments whilst they were in town.

Connor had been upstairs in the bedroom when she had introduced herself, but now as he entered the room to greet her, his strength of magical signature simply overwhelmed the dear woman and she fell to her knees. Connor recognized the gesture for what it was… instinctive and so fell to his knees in front of their dear host and begged her to accept the family’s gratitude. He opened his wrist as an indication of their thanks, and though Effie declined she still returned to her husband that night adamant and found him in firm agreement.

He had attended the Ruling couple, not even making it in the door before his feelings overwhelmed him. Not normally emotional he was overcome by the sense of power and benevolence directed at him and that rolling off the two he was to meet. The signature was one of magnanimous generosity and strength of will. Effie had *never* seen her husband so moved by a first meeting with guests in their thirty five years of marriage.

They were both determined. Effie openly declared that *nothing* would hurt nor interrupt the Ruling family of Europe as they holidayed at the Konstantopolos establishment! And Aristos simply nodded and smiled knowingly. Even if he ended up the first line of defense, Heaven or Hell help the person or demon that tried to go through his wife!

 

PART 22

Kimolos was delightful. And they had ten days in Chirio, the main town. Ten lazy days promised a respite from the constant pressure and responsibility of being a member of the ruling Aurelian household.

By the time the family, in two different locales, woke late morning, the rather exhausted leaders of both vampire and human based organizations truly let their wider troubles melt away, and just relaxed for the first time in literally years.

Stephanie and Gregor were both up early, but only in as much as they smiled at each other as they passed on the way to the bathroom. In the quiet, they decided to wander to the local café open for breakfast early morning.

Stephanie peeped into the master bedroom and noted that some time in the morning Liam had been taken into his parent’s bed and had obviously fallen asleep suckling his mother, his father spooning his back. Helle and Liam slept on, but Connor woke as soon as she pushed the door a little and rolled over. She mouthed “Sorry!” then managed to convey that Gregor and she intended to get a coffee locally. Connor simply smiled his approval then closed his eyes and returned to the family slumber.

Local bread, fresh goats cheese, figs and good coffee were on offer. Stephanie noticed that her breakfast companion only ate a tiny portion of their shared meal, then remembered his true status and suddenly understood why he had only wanted to go to the café two doors down; kept to the shadows as they walked to the café on their western side of the street; then asked politely if she minded them sitting inside.

Their conversation was rather minimal, the young wiccan trying to fill in some gaps with what she had been studying with Helle and stories of Liam’s antics, but eventually Stephanie’s curiosity got the better of her. “So I… It’s morning and you’re a vampire?”

“Of sorts”

“What sort of vampire is that? Um oh… sorry, I don’t mean to pry.”

“It’s fine. Of sorts means I was turned normally but then things… happened… circumstances, and of course … The Immortal Anton.”

Stephanie simply sat and expected her rather taciturn companion to summarize his circumstances in one or two sentences. She didn’t expect the floodgates opening, as the normally so quiet Gregor’s eyes glazed over and he began to speak, switching from English into French after the first few words… and then she understood why…

“I was a lieutenant in the French army during the reign of Catherine de Medici, and was turned one night in 1570 after a very drunken encounter with a prostitute. My wife had died not six months earlier… a fever they said - she was with child, it was to be our first.

“The prostitute was a vampire, but no Sire, she preferred debauchery of the basest kind and had little time for fledges or training a Childe. Still she dragged me with her for a time.

“We went to Paris where the pickings were easy. And I was happy enough, but the night of the marriage of the protestant prince and Margot De Medici… St Bartholemew’s Day 1572, Paris exploded with religious hatred… By the order of the Queen, every Huguenot in the city, including all the wedding guests of the now husband of Margot, were to be ‘purged’.

“My Sire thought it wonderful, rivers of blood and mountains of dead flesh, but even without a soul I could not countenance the bloodshed. By the end of the night my Sire who was still *gorging* herself on the bodies of the dying and dead, banished me from her, as I continued to beg that we left.

“The idea that humans who could happily walk into a Christian church with impunity, a Catholic church, with all its icons and holy water, when I could not, yet were able to massacre twenty thousand men, women and children in cold blood in one night for no better reason than an altercation about religious tradition… not even the actual religion itself!??? The mobs went about mutilating the bodies of their victims even after death and cheered as men were torn disembowled, children raped to death, and women impaled on a pike from their nether regions to their mouths. Not even the Scourge Angelus could ever have conceived of such as I saw that night.

“Unable to control my gameface with the smell of the blood, I simply ran all the way to the outskirts of the city. As sunrise came I found a stable and crawled into the loft were I found two tiny girls hiding and terrified.

“I took them into my arms and comforted them. I was as bereft as the children, first with the confusion of what I had just seen, but more with the banishment by my Sire.

“That evening I entered the house to find food and a blanket as the little girls were whimpering with hunger and clearly in shock. What I saw determined the rest of my unlife.

“Obviously the girls’ mother had been dismembered. Her *husband* was lying beside her mutilated form. He had been brutally violated, had every limb broken, his eyes gouged out and ears and tongue sliced off, and he had been castrated. Lying on his side I could still hear a heart beat, but felt I had no other choice. I drained him, though hope he only felt relief. As I held the dead body I recall praying to any power that might be listening to keep the two girls safe, and to guide us all.

“That night I put the girls on their plough horse with as many supplies as was feasible, and they slept tethered to the animal’s back as we made our way directly east, away from the warring French. Switzerland was out of the question as many of their Cantons had sent troops to assist in the murders, so I intended to head across Germany… to…? anywhere. Our only problem was finding shelter each day.

“As it happened, the approach of the seventeenth morning found our only option was to sneak into one of the outbuildings of the Heidelburg University… it was cold and old – established two hundred years prior, but I had learned along the road that it followed the Calvinist tradition – and hoped anyone discovering us might be sympathetic, though doubted a vampire would qualify.

“The little ones were so exhausted that we stayed an extra night in our apparently safe abode… and that was when Anton found me… us. He was at the University studying… with Martin Luther no less! He simply walked into our tiny hiding space, lifted up the girls in one arm and said, “The horse will be tended to. Follow me.”

“The little ones didn’t protest and were put in the care of a lovely rather rotund cook who scooped them up into her ample bosom and hugged them until both little girls began to cry. It was the first time. They hadn’t uttered a word nor shed a tear since the night I found them. That beautiful woman…” Gregor paused for a moment as he blinked back tears.

“She took them in as soon as she knew their background, and without being asked, as Anton took me in. He asked my story, and I felt compelled to tell him, such a strong signature gave one so young little option.

“I told him, then pledged my undying loyalty to him, and he did the most unexpected thing… he bit me hard, over my claim mark, draining me to near oblivion all the while sending prayers to his Goddess Artemis for clemency and a blessing for me… for *me*!” Gregor stopped again this time to take a sip of coffee but also to use his napkin to wipe his nose.

“So now you know, that night I was blessed. I have served my master ever since joyfully… and thank the day our paths crossed. I have the sun if I have taken from the Immortal recently but still prefer the shadows. It is where I belong.”

The tender hearted Stephanie couldn’t help herself, the napkin holder on the table was now empty as she had sobbed through the Gregor’s story. She stood and kissed a rather surprised Gregor soundly on both cheeks then the lips, before sniffing and wiping her eyes once more. “I am so honored that I know you, and have always felt so safe with you. And I… um … I really do thank you for trusting me enough… to um… you know… you didn’t have to…” Steph was still a little too teary to finish but Gregor took her hand and simply said, in English, “Mine to tell, and you seemed willing to listen.”

As they approached the apartment Stephanie reached for Gregor’s hand and squeezed it affectionately. Smiling sweetly, she asked, “Tomorrow morning?”

Gregor suddenly looked pleased, flattered and rather shy for a man who appeared to be in his mid thirties. Then he simply smiled and agreed, it was the first time Stephanie had seen him smile. There was no romance in the look nor the response, but genuine friendship, something they both needed.

 

………………………….

Connor and Helle were enjoying the late lie in. Liam had been fed in the wee hours of the morning and exhausted from the trip, slept on. Shortly after Connor heard Stephanie and Gregor leave, he gently lifted Liam into the cot provided, placed the beloved fuzzy rhino in his arms and tucked a rug over him. Liam snuggled down and Connor returned to his beautiful Consort who was now wide awake and grinning.

“If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, this is going to have to be very quiet and who knows when he’ll wake!”

Helle simply held out her hand and pulled him over her as she whispered conspiratorially, “Then you’ll have to make it quick and I dare you to make it silent!”

Connor felt like he was in the dorms at college again, but it was better than that … so much better… he pushed up and straddled his beautiful partner and began to kiss her. The passion was mutual, the expressions of love reciprocated and their joining reminiscent of their first joyous times together (though much quieter!) what seemed like eons ago but was only coming up for two years!

Just as Connor climaxed, Liam began to snuffle then cry. Despite her own rather sated state, Helle’s milk dropped immediately with the sound, and as her dear partner slipped from her passage to let her rise, he also took care to suck one of her now leaking breasts. Helle slapped him without malice, “Cheeky! Now let me get up hey?”

They began the morning at a leisurely pace, all ending up in the shower together. Liam sat on the floor splashing in the shallows and sucking on the face washer, oblivious to his parent’s passionate kisses and occasional fondling above.

Helle was so aroused that she could hardly bear the thought of going out for the day to the beach and as Connor massaged the shampoo into her hair then ran his hands down her body, she leaned forward and begged, “When Steph’s back…” Connor’s hands had found their way to her backside and were kneading the cheeks. “Gahhh, just … need you… Love you.”

Liam took that moment to do the most enormous fart that seemed to echo with the acoustics of the bathroom, and followed it up by weeing almost vertically, hitting his father in the leg with the stream. He grinned in triumph and his parents simply burst out laughing. The romance would have to wait, at least until the little man was dry, clothed, fed and looked after.

Up the hill their relatives had their own schedule – Sire and Childe taking advantage of the lie in and their sun resistant status. On the third floor Spike figured that no one would see them and that meant opening the traditional shutters on the eastern facing windows and letting the sun stream in.

They made love face to face, then game face to game face. Spike taking his Childe to dizzying heights over and over, until Xander had utterly lost track of everything but his Sire above him, the blood in his mouth, and his desire to come… again. Finally they lay side by side, petting each other’s sun warmed skin, and taking the occasional gentle kiss.

They rose around mid morning, showered, ate then wandered down the street at almost noon to find their relatives.

………….

Lazy days followed.

They walked to the beach at port Psathi, only a kilometer away each afternoon and Liam took to the water instantly. On the third day he was even happy to be repeatedly dunked all the way under for a second or so before coming up blinking then grinning at whoever was holding him. He splashed and kicked and sat in the shallows with only a Tshirt and nothing else, delighting in squeezing the sand, and distressing his mother by occasionally having a little ‘taste’.

Connor and Xander challenged each other to various swimming races… Connor having no hope at the underwater swim but only realizing after spluttering to the surface, that his competitor was both a very good swimmer *and* no longer needed to breathe! Much good hearted protesting was the result. But when Spike tentatively waded out into waist deep water to join them, Xander dropped the argument and instantly went to him offering safe arms for the still very nervous beginner.

“Bloody hell it’s *cold*.”

“Not once you get moving… anyway we don’t feel the cold.” Xander pulled Spike over him, causing his Sire’s face to go under and the blonde vampire to panic just a little. He quickly found his feet and shook the water from his eyes looking daggers at his Childe.

“Speak for yourself you git!”

Xander was laughing but quickly saw the distress and moved up to hug his partner then offer his neck, “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry! I just… didn’t think OK… I… Please Sire, I didn’t mean to upset you.” He led Spike gently back toward shore but didn’t expect the tackle. As soon as they were in knee deep water Spike tipped him over with ease and sat on his squirming Childe. Much thrashing from both parties later and they were on the wide beach towel taking unnecessary breaths and giggling like the little boys they had been in the not so distant past.

 

The number of adults present made the time for Helle quite joyous and she relaxed, working on her tan which for someone from the north of Europe, seemed all too easy to acquire! Xander and Connor too, seemed to tan effortlessly. Unlike poor Spike.

On the second day he returned to the apartment feeling decidedly strange. His skin felt tight and prickled, and he felt quite dizzy for the first time in years. Xander was worried, gave him a long draft of his own blood, then a glass of water, and two full bags of blood, and only then did the source of trouble became evident.

The pale English skin of the upper class William, then vampire Spike, really hadn’t seen the sun… ever! As soon as the blood entered his system, it rushed to the baked skin and radiated the oversupply of heat.

Xander had gone to the tiny kitchenette to wash out the mugs and was stunned on his return. His lover had gone from pale vampire to sunburned English tourist in less than a minute!

Spike was lying on his back groaning, “Gods Xan… I think… I’m just… Think I might… It’s so hot… So! Hot! And if I… Oh Xan… Hurts!!”

Xander grabbed a hand towel and wet it thoroughly, placed it on his Sire’s head then proceeded to bite his tongue, before beginning to lick with a cool, healing tongue over the full length and breadth of Spike’s body grinning at the very definite line where his shorts had been… but still licking his Sire where it wasn’t needed, just to see him squirm.

By the time he turned Spike onto his front, his Sire was utterly compliant and seriously contemplating getting sunburned more often, if the soft cool tongue treatment was the result.

…………………………

Lilah’s men’s first attempt to take Liam was on the seventh day of their stay. The attack was in the daytime and conventional.

Helle had gone to the beach early and alone – giving Stephanie and Connor some time to simply sleep and regroup. Liam was between her legs and they were making sandcastles (or rather she was and he destroying them with glee).

Three men on jet ski’s swished in and parked on the beach. They were pleasant enough and greeted Helle in English. She sensed something was not quite right as they gave her their full attention, but then Connor arrived along with Stephanie, and coincidentally another large group of tourists arrived at the port to wait for their ferry. The men departed immediately which seemed odd to Helle, but the rest of the day was so lovely she forgot all about the incident.

That night Lilah’s men decided on a raid of the apartment. Typical special ops. They had watched Connor leave the apartment and walk up the road to an unknown destination (Xander and Spike's for only a few minutes to plan the following day). Effie arrived minutes later but was grabbed as she entered with some fresh fruit for the family, and thrown inside. But as the three men entered, all *three* women begin to fight back and Liam’s distress call was felt by all the Aurelian vampires.

Fortunately no one noticed the small child hugging the floor, eyes closed and instinctively drawing energy from the ground, directing it to the people he cared for and who cared for him.

The attackers were stunned by the power of the women they encountered, and Effie surprised that when she turned to face her attacker, her own demon nature was boosted three fold somehow. She picked up a nearby chair and threw it with such force that it not only knocked out the man who would do her harm, but later they would discover shards of the shattered wood embedded in the plaster so deep it looked like they had been hammered in.

Helle too, was holding her own for a time, but their assailants pulled weapons, and she blanched as Stephanie was shot in the hip at close range and fell. Distracted and terrified, she was about to go to the woman’s aid when she saw the man with the gun heading for Liam.

She launched herself at him with all the ferocity of a lioness, convinced he was about to kill her son. Later she would reflect on the rather unconventional method of attack. She tackled him sideways, causing the gun to fire into the ceiling glancing her temple as it did so, but that merely seemed to spur her on. She tore at his face with sharp nails and bit down into the shoulder of his gun arm so hard that even the seasoned soldier was a little surprised.

He was just about to break free of her when a second set of teeth came from apparently nowhere, and sank deep into his neck. As his world went black, he saw that his two compatriots were already either unconscious or dead, he wasn’t sure.

The mercenary woke utterly spent but conscious enough to know that he was tied fast to a chair in a darkened room, legs bound and arms behind. And there were at least two vampires in full game face circling him. But he was more worried by the full blood Connor. The man had none of the usual vampire features that he could see, but prowled like a leopard on a hunt. Though it was his absolutely calm stare leveled on the man who had tried to take his child, the one now strapped to a chair, that made the seasoned soldier’s heart rate rise with fear.

Connor approached slowly and simply said, “I do hope you have children *dear* sir… so they too might learn the true meaning of the word *fear*. You have taught it to my son and partner so *very* well. But then *my son* doesn’t really matter to you does he. The six month old innocent is just another project, a meal ticket to money and glory in the eyes of your employer? Well isn't that just… swell…”

But it was the two vampires who had moved behind the man, and that licked his neck simultaneously just after the statement, that had the mercenary truly terrified.

The blonde rounded on him, opened the man's fatigues and began to trace a line down his front with a fang, though when it came to his underwear Spike tore it away using the hunting knife, then caressed around the brunette's nether regions with the deadly weapon, nicking the man’s scrotum just enough for him to know the consequences of his silence.

Spike was in his element. Soul or no soul, he had a hundred plus years of experience. And his Childe, and dear full blood brother, were quite in the mood for some blood play.

Spike addressed the man for the first time in slow seductive tones, “All you need to do Pet, is tell how we locate your boss, the bitch… and perhaps enlighten us to her plan B and ya get to keep your knackers.”

The man had studied hard and knew that Spike was ensouled, but miscalculated. He spat back “You and your demon spawn… go to hell.”

Spike's voice went hard and hissed from his instant gameface. “You first mate!”

The man obviously flinched as Spike slid the knife from base to tip of the exposed lax member – enough to draw blood but not dig in deeply enough to cause permanent harm. There was a heady smell of blood in the air as the Master Vampire placed the cool steel crosswise under the man’s penis.

“Nip and a tuck mate… Wha’dya say? Shall I lighten ya ‘round the nethers… before we start again elsewhere… Hmmm..." The vampire sniffed the air. "Now that’s better… that’s fear... Too right mate... Nowhere to go now is there little pawn. She’ll take ‘em sure as I will if ya go back, so how's about ya give us a hand to find your employer hmmm? What’s it to be?”

The soldier took a chance, “F@#$ you... Boy’s demon scum… y’all deserve to die, just doin’…” he never got a chance to finish.

Connor had been pacing the room increasingly quickly, even taken two drafts of Xander’s blood, but simply could not contain his rage at the statement. It was *his son* they were trying to kill.

Before either Sire or Childe realized, he was on the man, savagely tearing at his neck. The mercenary bucked in protest, causing Spike to slice a cut in the underside of the penis before he dropped the knife, and moved with lightening speed to pull Connor away, but it was too late. The force of the bite crushed the assailant's windpipe and the carotid artery was torn out.

Connor stood in the centre of the room in stunned silence. Xander looked a little overwhelmed... and both accepted Spike’s wrist. It wasn’t the perfect scenario, but it was obvious to Spike and his relatives, that they were very unlikely to have gained anything from the man anyway.

With no idea who the three now dead men were, the best they could do was to wrap them in sheets and place them on a broad expanse of flat ground near Prasa, then set off a distress beacon one of the soldiers was carrying. Three hours later a chopper was heard, and the next morning the bodies had miraculously disappeared.

The family had a crisis meeting half way through the next day.

Spike spoke solemnly, “We’ve known it was likely but they will now take a little time to regroup, let’s all just exchange blood and continue to enjoy."

The following afternoon the picnic basket was taken by Xander, Liam handed to his father and the rest of the entourage simply followed behind with wine glasses and champagne down to their beach. Stephanie was supported by Gregor, her hip wound painful but only a flesh wound, luckily no bones involved. Connor had licked Helle’s grazed temple with a bitten and bloody tongue – consequently it was well on the way to healed.

It was only one thirty in the afternoon, but they all felt they had deserved an early drink.

 

PART 23

Spike was right, the next three days were perfect… and despite the upset the family were in a relaxed mood as they boarded the helicopter and headed for the airport in on the main island of Mykonos where a private plane waited to take them home.

Half way, however, they were diverted to a small airport in Tuscany. Anton’s sources were concerned for their safety. They had somehow established that Master Fritz was the double agent and had him ‘in hand’. And that the Aurelian home was likely to be targeted in the next day or so.

Spike wondered, not for the first time, though this time aloud… just how far his Sire Anton’s influence and contacts truly reached. As he articulated it out loud, he noticed Gregor almost smile and send him a knowing look. As a response, he nodded to Anton’s loyal servant. The vampire was more than double his age yet willing to do his Master Anton’s bidding and serve the High Master and family with the same dedication. And for the first time Spike had an inkling of exactly why. His Sire’s very person seemed to make loyalty a given, and there was a history and love that flowed between the two. The adopted Childe of the Immortal understood the feeling and returned the look… they both knew what it felt to be valued by one so magnanimous and so old. Others less privileged would feel even more incline to ingratiate themselves with the unique and powerful individual.

As they landed at the small airport outside Florence, the family was decidedly worried. They were swiftly ushered into cars and taken to a boutique hotel for the night. The instructions were that Anton would be there for a debrief in the morning and in the mean time they were to ‘relax’.

They had been welcomed by the proprietor who was struck by the power flowing off the group and quick to let the vampire royalty know how very honored she was to host them. As she led them inside the rather portly woman with bulging pale blue eyes and graying hair added over her shoulder, “I have personally put a ward on the hotel for the duration of your stay – oh and if they happen to get past that, a few nasty surprises for anyone attempting to do you harm.”

As she rounded the reception to recover the keys she stopped in her tracks and stared in wonder as little Liam, who had been asleep in his mother’s arms now stirred and his magical signature ramped up as he woke. Xander noted the woman blink… with two sets of eyelids one set vertical the other horizontal in their action and her eyes took on a pinky red hue. All the vampires heard her say under her breath… “Blessed be… Honored… so very honored” before she shook herself out of the moment and ushered them to the three suites provided.

Despite the three ample suites, within minutes of settling, they all ended up in Connor and Helle’s room. They had all brought the bare minimum of luggage from the plane, hoping that their journey would continue the next day or at least the one after.

Spike and Xander ventured out to purchased bread, wine and various fruits and ready made hot meals as recommended by Senora Christina (and obtained blood from a source recommended by the Sire Anton in an encrypted text).

Sire and Childe were rather surprised to return to, of all things, a card game of ‘Go Fish’ in the family room. Stephanie was apparently winning and grinned at the pair, but Gregor was thoroughly relieved to see the ruling couple return. He threw in his hand and stood to assist the pair as they carried in the supplies.

Senora Christina arrived within minutes with a basket of crockery, cutlery and glasses and promised them a wonderful breakfast in the morning.

Xander grinned as Spike charmed their hostess in his inimitable style. He thanked the women with a kiss to the hand then handed her a small box of chocolates procured in the little shopping adventure. “With many thanks dear lady…”

Christina was utterly taken by the fine manners and elegant, timelessness of every one of the group, and again humbled by their gracious manner toward her. She a little overwhelmed when in the room with all the family but the mother of four could not help but focus her attention on the dear little boy who was only just crawling and apparently cutting teeth (if the drool and putting things to his mouth was anything to go by).

Helle saw the look, and grandmother to mother, understood. “Would you mind holding him for a bit?”

Stephanie looked up, worried she had abrogated her duty in some way, but Helle simply put a calming hand on the dear Nanny, and stayed her with a smile. Stephanie understood.

They would pay for their accommodation like any other guest, but this generous hostess had done far more than they expected and was a magical being and had children of her own.

The card game was adjourned for a moment as Helle stood, collected Liam and handed her recently fed son to Senora Christina. “Would you mind holding him for a minute while I get his bath ready?”

It was a contrived excuse, but the older woman beamed with delight as the tiny boy instinctively melted into her embrace and his left hand petting the folds of her triple chin and cheek resting on her shoulder in a relaxed hug. She began to coo and rock as she would her own grandchildren but was surprised when the babe in arms began to project his own pleasure. She stood at the door to the bedroom for close on an hour, her calming, soporific effect on Liam not lost on any present. In the end she was seated, still rocking gently as the youngest Aurelian sucked his thumb and heavy eyelids closed over the crystal blue orbs as the little boy went back to sleep.

Senora Christina had known the Immortal for nearly eighty years, and had been a practicing wiccan for longer. Her demon heritage dictated that at a hundred and ten she was only now entering the ‘twilight’ of her years. She had backed off the coven and many of her own family had died or moved away. Then out of the blue Anton had called her. He was brief but essentially *His* family needed, but this group… the Aurelian ruling house… suddenly she knew that all the rumors were indeed true! Genteel, attractive, and intelligent… they were everything the European demon community needed in their leaders. And now she had been trusted to hold the next generation!

The tiny blonde radiated such energy and sense of contentment in her safe arms that the grandmother Christina felt quite humbled as she stroked the downy soft white baby hair with tears in her eyes, all the time cooing and whispering endearments in Italian.

Eventually Liam stirred pulled back, touched her face with what she could have sworn was gratitude, then twisted in an attempt to see his mother or Nanny Steph. Helle felt the familial tug and moved to collect him.

Christina handed the boy over, and rather tearfully stated in rather teary Italian, “He is the dearest of children… I… Thank you Mistress Helle, Master Connor… I would never have presumed…”

Helle patted the soft, ample arms of the older woman and kissed her on the cheek, whispering in the same act, “He *only* goes to friends and only sleeps in the arms of the kindest of souls. Mistress we owe you a debt and thank you for taking us in when our dear ones are under threat.”

Senora Christina, almost floated back to her own small apartment in the hotel. The following day she set another seventeen hex traps for ill doers penetrating her wards – and appealed to several friends to boost her energy as she strengthened the wards.

Gregor stayed on watch duty with Stephanie, Helle and Liam, whilst Spike, Xander and Connor logged in on a secure line to do their own business and deal with clan matters and international issues that had been so easily ignored in the ten blissful days away. Only two laptops had been on the plane so the mail filters were appreciated. Connor and Xander worked on one computer – there were no secrets and many of the construction mails CCd anyway. But close on three hundred mails in now eleven days proved a challenge. Many could be ignored but some were urgent.

It was almost a relief when Anton arrived, but his strained look boded ill. They gathered in Connor and Helle’s room again.

They all stilled as Anton began to speak, “The Schloss was stormed by the Wolf’s forces last night.”

Spike stepped forward. “What do you mean ‘stormed’?!”

Anton simply looked tired as he answered, “I mean dear Childe, they would have subdued and taken our entire family if there… all of you and probably Gregor and Stephanie for good measure.

“The wards were destroyed, apparently with little effort, but we have all the infiltrators.”

The realization that their home had been violated added to the stress of the last few days, was enough that the fledgling demon in Xander emerged and growled with the anger, though all in the room mirrored his distress. His dear Mate and Sire bit down on his wrist and exchanged his own blood. They all needed to be strong, no matter the upset.

Connor was the first of the family to speak. “Do the *employers* of our attackers know where we are?”

Anton’s answer was blunt and honest, “I don’t know. But you are safer here than at home for the next few days.”

Spike was still feeding his Childe from his wrist but growled, “Not much of a guarantee!” then realized his error. His Sire looked exhausted and worried. He dislodged his own Childe and knelt before Anton baring his neck. “I am sorry Sire. Please… please take comfort from me.”

Anton took the offering gratefully and pulling away, hugged the High Master as though there were no tomorrow.

They all felt it through the familial link, the love, the worry, the tiredness.

In the end, the entire household had offered hugs and blood and comfort. The second night in Florence was spent as a family group on the floor of Helle and Connor’s suite. Hard as the floor was, various pieces of bedding cushioned slim hips. Whilst the huge cushions from the lounge and pillows from beds in three rooms were requisitioned for the 'nest'. The reassurance of family made up for any discomfort.

………………..

Lilah grinned as she boarded the helicopter. They had tracked the private plane finally, and had confirmation of location and the hotel. She was over using ‘the help’. This time she took a mage and one mercenary with her and would simply do the rest herself.

……………….

Senora Christina woke around four am. Someone was attacking the wards.

………………

 

Part 24

Senora Christina was surprised by the strength of the second attack, pulled on an rather ragged toweling dressing gown, donned her old sandals and without even fastening them, raced upstairs to the Aurelian family’s rooms. She banged on one door then another and finally came to Connor and Helle’s, almost falling in as the door was opened on her second knock.

Stephanie caught their wonderful hostess and had already felt the reason for her panic. The entire family was up.

It was Anton who addressed her. He stood in all his regal glory, flanked on the right by his Childe the High Master and Consort/Grandchilde Alexander, then Gregor; and on the left by his full blood Childe Connor and his Consort Helle and the infant grandchilde Liam, the wiccan/Nanny Stephanie.

Anton stepped forward and kissed her hand, “Your wards are strong dear hostess Christina. I believe we may help you…”

Anton took his Childer William and Connor’s hands and they in turn took their own Consorts’ hands, then Xander took Gregor’s, and Nanny Stephanie placed her hand on her dear seated friend Helle’s shoulder since the small boy had chosen that moment to suckle, and his mother’s arm supported him as he took comfort.

Anton then lifted a hand to Christina, and Nanny Steph joined hands with her as she completed the circle…

Anton prayed to his dear Goddess Artemis that she might bless their family; then bent his thoughts toward the Powers begging that they keep the balance and help the family; then appealed to the dark ones the Ram and the Hart requesting that they reign in their renegade sibling.

The Powers and Artemis heard, the Ram and the Hart had their own battles but understood. It was all about balance.

The Aurelians were more demon than human, yet continued to seek balance. They were forced to bow to the logic.

But the maverick partner and his lackey Lilah were still had no respect for that…

The wards held fast for another half hour with the combined efforts of the family group, then a huge charge hit and all in the circle simply blown backwards, thankfully Liam had finished feeding and landed on his mother’s chest, tiny face between her ample bosoms. The infant began to cry as momentarily all in the room were unconscious. His cry seemed to rally them, but it was too late. There was a team of commandoes streaming through the door.

All the family were on their feet in an instant. Connor, Anton, Gregor, Spike and Xander forming an instant half circle around the three wiccans and the child while the women gathered their strength once more, but it was too late.

The five protectors dropped as stun gun darts shocked all their systems, the soldiers sending repeated pulses and increasing the power of the shocks until it would have killed the average human. They were dragged out into the garden with an efficiency that spelt a thousand missions. The operatives’ information was that at least three of the five were vampires, ergo the lovely morning sun now gracing the courtyard should spell elimination. The problem with the information was that there was an ancient being and a very young full blood – yet all the males they had felled looked of a similar age.

“Captain?”

“Typical W & H deal. Just pull ‘em into the sun and we’ll soon find out who we need to down with a bullet… or whatever the hell the bitch says we need to use.”

Seeing their valiant protectors dropped with such ease, Helle, Christina and Stephanie began to chant but hardly made it through a single line before Christina and Stephanie were also dropped by a dart from a tranquilizer gun and fell into blackness.

Lilah stepped into view gun in hand and aimed it at Helle.

The soldiers were unsure of what to do, their instructions were to deal with the males, dusting the three males and trussing up the other two, but with no clear idea of who was to be dust, they simply bound them together their hands behind their backs, whilst the individuals were still incapacitated, then sat back to wait until the sun rose.

The bitch was confident she could take out the women. And the mercenaries really had no doubt of that after they saw a manifestation of her CEO, The Wolf, take down the wards with relative ease.

Lilah was standing in the doorway of the room as she aimed a conventional gun at Helle, she muttered “At last my prize… my promotion! Do it yourself… every time.”

Little Liam had been feeling the absolute distress from everyone across his familial link for many seconds but had not made a sound. Now as Lilah took one more step into the room and leveled the lethal weapon at his mother, the tiny boy recognized the deadly intent at an instinctive level and hugged his mother tight. Helle sent a silent prayer to Artemis to keep her son safe just as Lilah aimed at the woman’s temple and began to pull the trigger.

Then time seemed to almost… stop. The bullet being fired coincided with a blinding flash of white and bubble of energy enveloping mother and son so strong that the bullet ricocheted back to the woman firing it, hitting her square in the temple and causing her to fall backward landing across one of Christina’s hexes. Her evil intent was clear and the hex activated.

As the haze in the room cleared Helle sat up, cuddled her now utterly exhausted little boy to her chest and looked in wonder a the result of Christina’s clever spell.

Lilah Morgan was now Lilah Morgan the stuffed doll. She was sentient in her new form but in no way able to move or do *anything* about her predicament. The condition was permanent, Artemis had seen to that.

The following day she would be handed to a family of five local children to be pulled and tugged, dragged through dirt and left out in the rain, only to be repeatedly put through the washing machine and pegged upside down on the line. Eventually, missing an eye and woolen hair almost gone (courtesy of a ‘hairdressing’ session), she would be handed over to the new family dog as a chew toy.

Oblivious to the drama unfolding inside, the mercenaries watched in morbid fascination as the sun hit the courtyard full force. They expected flambé vampire, but instead found themselves trussed up like a brace of prize piglets with their own ropes in a matter of a second.

The four Aurelians and Gregor had recovered minutes earlier but bided their time until the soldiers dropped their guard. They had all felt the terror and then relief from Liam and Helle, and chose the latter moment to surprise their captors. Ropes and handcuffs were easily broken and the same used on their captors. Spike taking great delight in literally hogtying the four humans with the assistance of his Childe and brother.

It took almost six hours for Christina and Stephanie to fully recover, Liam also sleeping for an uncharacteristically long time. In the mean time the family debriefed and the day spent quietly as Anton arranged for a Wolfram and Hart helicopter to come and pick up the independently requisitioned mercenaries.

The Powers and the other two Senior Partners were tracking down the renegade Wolf. It was only a matter of time, but without Lilah, further attacks were unlikely.

Helle described feeling the power of the tiny Liam as he threw the magical barrier over them, and Anton smiled, “He is indeed quite unique my dear Helle. You must train him well. He straddles wiccan and vampire worlds naturally and both sets of talent must be schooled. But now I think you should attend your dear Connor… You have something he needs to know I think.”

Helle felt a little puzzled but as she stood to receive a kiss to the temple by her partner’s Sire, he put a hand over her belly button, pressed ever so gently and whispered, “Artemis has blessed you with a girl.”

Helle’s distress and worry of the last days dissolved into a flood of tears and buried her face in Anton’s chest… but now the tears were the result of relief, and of joy. She had felt different as they flew home from their holiday, in fact very queasy, but put it down to worry. And now… but it was still so early! She could not understand how Anton would know.

The Immortal eventually saw a rather puzzled Conner enter the room and eased her into the arms of her lover, her partner, the father to be… again, and smiled knowingly to his rather puzzled looking, surrogate Childe.

Later that night, with Stephanie and Christina both on the mend; the High Master and Childe out on a run with Anton and Gregor; and Liam sleeping after taking sustenance from his mother lying on their temporary family bed, Helle broke the news to her dear Connor.

The child would be born just over a year after Liam, all going well.

Connor looked at his beautiful Consort in wonder. Another child. He kissed her soundly then allowed tears to flow silently as he placed a trail of gentle kisses down her still flat stomach. He had nearly lost her… so very nearly lost them both. In his distress at the thought, the words *Never Again* permeated the familial link, and despite the others some kilometers away all understood and echoed the sentiment.

……………………………

 

Part 25 FINAL

The lovely Christina was quite tearful as the family made to depart, but was cheered as she was invited to visit the family at their home at a time convenient to her. She rushed out to the car as they were about to leave and handed Helle an exquisite patchwork quilt for the new baby’s cot.

Helle hugged her, protesting that it was too much, but the dear lady whispered tearfully, “Please take this, it was to be for my daughter, but I only had a son… Oh Helle, but your dear one… he is a *beautiful* man.”

Helle kissed their amazing hostess on the temple, “With you as mother there could be no other way. You are *always welcome* in our home – and I *do* expect you at the name day celebrations!”

Christina was quite overcome, but smiled through her tears as she waved them off. An athletic brunette approached her from behind as she watched the car disappear over the hill.

“Hey Mum… Hey??… what’s happened??”

She simply pulled him into a tight hug and buried her face around the mid chest of her beloved son, “Oh Jacques!”

He led his mother inside and tried to suspend disbelief as she related the events of the previous few days.

A year later to the day she visited the family and was feted for three days as a favorite Aunt. It became a biennial event.

……………………….

The return to the family home was rather anticlimactic after the dramas of the last few days.

Anton’s contacts had rid the family home of any intruders or evidence thereof, and he and Gregor stayed for three days following the return, enough time to find out that the renegade Senior Partner had been ‘pulled into line’, and that the humans were beholden to look after their own, but also due to recent efforts the situation with young demon abductions worldwide had reduced by a factor of ten in the last year.

The ruling couple returned to their other duties the day after their arrival home. The Court was convened for a month hence and the family settled back to normality… as much as normality could be for the ruling Aurelians.

The work worldwide was ongoing, their own business interests needing attention, Spike still wrote fiction for fun and the new vampire Xander read incessantly of architecture, and of late, began to draw recreationally; and the full blood Connor and consort Helle were plenty busy with their family – and their new status.

Xander, Spike and Connor took a last embrace before Anton left and all shared blood. The hugs and ambrosial exchange was that of brothers and uncles and fathers and sons… it was family.

They all smiled a little as, after thirty minutes or so of ‘quiet family time’ Connor was called for to help with his sons… Helle apparently too tired to change them yet *again* and Nanny busy.

Before he left in the helicopter with the intrepid Gregor, Anton kissed his three ‘boys’, “Be well… there is much still to be done.”

Spike spoke for all of them, “Thank you Sire, we will do our best.”

 

FIN for now