Maxie was a perverse vampire. He got his rocks off in the strangest ways. I think it amused him to steal Josef away from his royal family and bring him into the Alexei “family”. As for me… do I admit I’m glad he did it? Through the centuries that followed, we both had one constant. That which never changes and it always there. There’s a human expression, “Home is where the heart is.” We are each other’s home.
--Shane Alexander, "Bonnie Prince Josef"
Castle Alexei, Leningrad Oblast, Russia 2010:
It was like stepping back in time.
With the modern parking lot at their backs and a discreet distance away, the building in front of them seemed untouched by the centuries that had passed since the two vampires had last been there. Even after Sara had gone inside with the baby, they remained standing before the imposing fortress. They didn’t speak. Being there again was both strange and familiar. They could almost hear the echoes of old ghosts; cries, of pain and passion; screams, of the undead and the dying. This was history, and it was theirs.
When the sound of tourists walking the gardens and relaxing in the Great Room finally broke through the spell woven, they went inside.
Castle Alexei was built under the exacting specifications of Maximilian Alexei, just outside of what used to be known as Ladoga, Russia, a once thriving multi cultural trading village. When Peter the Great founded the nearby town of Novaya Ladoga, the name was changed to Staraya Ladoga – old Ladoga. The grandeur of the old homestead far eclipsed that of its neighboring castle, the Fortress of Ladoga, having avoided war damage and remaining remarkable untouched through the centuries. The castle had passed down to Shane and Josef after Maximilian’s death, although they’d avoided going back ever since escaping and the ownership could not be traced to them. Nowadays it was a fairly profitable Bed & Breakfast. Its guests were strictly human though; this B&B was not vampire friendly. As part of their security measures of secrecy about their past and who they were, they wanted no one to know of its vampire heritage.
Home sweet home.
Now, after over three hundred years, it was time to lay old ghosts to rest forever.
Dawn. Almost no light filtered into the dungeon area, it was cool and dark. This part of the castle was currently off limits to all, guests and staff alike. It held too many memories; more than any other part of the castle, this was hallowed ground. The lavish bedrooms upstairs had been for fucking, overnight human guests, and just for appearances. When the sun came up, it was here the vampires had retreated to.
It was there that Shane found Josef, with the echoes of the past bouncing off the stone walls, and the smells and sheer feel of the place bringing it all back again. They spooned together on the simple pallet that had once been his bed, the elder vampire throwing a protective arm over the younger one. Just like they used to, long ago.
Josef willed himself to relax in the embrace. He’d been feeling off center since arriving, a bit vulnerable. “Being here again… it almost feels like Max is still here, like I’m going to turn a corner and there he’ll be,” he admitted.
“He’s not. He’s gone forever,” Shane said firmly, tightening his arm. They were silent for a time, just soaking up each other’s presence.
“Do I get a bedtime story?” Josef asked after awhile, in a teasing tone.
“Why not,” Shane responded in a voice that tried for nonchalance but failed. “Once upon a time…”
Max was a depraved, raving lunatic. He went and got himself a Viking, and he thought he was going to make him into one of his “boy toys.” Man, that was his first mistake. It ain’t happening. Lund was what we know nowadays as a freshie. Six centuries or so later Maxie had his eye on yet another young man, whose blood he predicted would be sweetest of the sweet. He told me over ‘breakfast’ one morning, “I think we need another Lund, don’t you?” I was pretty fed up with it at that point, so I suggested he just turn the boy instead. So he tried. The rest is, as they say, history.
--Shane Alexander, Songs of the Past
Ladoga, Russia. 1624:
Sean sat at the long dining table, waiting, trying to curb his boredom. He’d only just returned to Castle Alexei, after all, it should have taken longer for the urge to flee to come over him. He’d been feeling out of sorts of late, adrift for some reason he could not fathom. Or perhaps it was honesty whispering that he did know. He supposed it was habit that led him back here time and again. Certainly there was no need to put up with his avaricious sire anymore.
Finally Maximilian swept into the room, making his usual grand entrance despite the fact that it was just the two of them there and he didn’t impress Sean these days (if he ever really had).
Max trailed a hand over Sean’s face in a caress as he drifted past the chair, taking his seat at the head of the table. “My apologies for the delay. Some plans…did not go the way I had expected.”
He shrugged, although he could tell by Max’s demeanor that he had a surprise awaiting. That always made Sean nervous. He would not have to respond, nor wait long for his sire to continue.
“I’d so hoped to have a brother for you today. I know how much you wanted one.”
Sean stiffened at the words, a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach. “What have you done?” he hissed.
“As you asked,” Max replied, inclining his head toward the younger vampire. “The boy was indeed delicious, as I predicted. I did try to turn him afterward, but alas I was not successful. These things sometimes happen, as you know,” he brushed the announcement off like a spot of lint from his cape.
Sean cursed to himself. How could he not have known that Maximilian would take his flippant comment about turning young Josef Konstantin seriously? He had assumed Max would toy with Josef for a time, prolong the anticipation before making a move. He’d never expected Max would act so swiftly. He had hoped to have time to intervene, not wanting the boy’s fate to mirror Lund’s, but Sean was suddenly uncertain which was the lesser of the evils. He had grown accustomed to the way his sire could twist things in your mind if you were not vigilant. Max was always trying to lure Sean back and keep him there, but after Lund that had proved impossible. Sean knew Max was seeing this potential new “family member” as a way to accomplish that. Putting the blame on Sean for Josef’s fate was yet another part of the game.
“And you left him there?!” he snarled.
Even dead, he didn’t deserve to be discarded like trash. Besides, it was not good for the locals to come across the remains of their meals, it would attract dangerous attention. Sean had no doubt Maximilian did not behave in that manner when there was no one to clean up after him, the elder vampire was not stupid. Sean hated how well Max knew him. He would take care of it. The guilt though, that would not be enough to hold him.
"You’re only ninety. You’ve never been chased by a torch bearing mob.”
--Josef to Mick, "No Such Thing As Vampires"
The body lay in the tall grass at the side of the road. Far enough away to be fairly concealed but not hidden enough to erase possibility of detection.
Sean sighed. He dropped to his knees beside it, eyes taking in the pale features that only last night had been animated, the cheeks ruddy with color as he’d blushed. There was no heartbeat. Seeing Josef like this was his undoing; guilt flooded him. This was his fault. The young man didn’t deserve to die so young, not when his whole life was still ahead of him.
Something like desperation washed over Sean. He had to try. Something, anything. Without thinking, Sean shoved his sleeve up and ripped open his arm with his fangs. He forced Josef’s mouth open and let the blood from the deep wound drip in. Endless moments passed as he knelt there, willing it to work.
Then he was distracted by a sound that chilled him, one that all vampires feared in those days. He heard the mob in the distance, combing the countryside in the dark with their torches, hunting for his kind.
At first Sean thought he was just seeing only what he wished to, but soon realized that throat muscles were indeed working as Josef began to swallow the blood. Relief flooded him when his arm was grabbed by a hand, pressing it closer to the mouth that was now sucking strongly.
Josef’s eyes flew open and he watched the expressions flash in them rapidly. At first they were blank, then confusion crowded in, then panic, staring up at Sean with incomprehension. Sean took advantage of his confusion to pull his arm away, slapping Josef’s cheeks to spur awareness.
“What happened to me?”
“I know you are confused, but we don’t have time. We must leave now,” Sean insisted urgently. “They’re coming this way.”
“Who’s coming?” Josef asked, eyes darting around the dark landscape anxiously.
“The mob that’s going to kill us if they catch us,” Sean replied, pulling Josef up.
They ran, Sean holding tightly to the hand of the fledgling. In his weak, newly turned state, they were not going to be able to make it far. Luckily, the caves were close and he headed for them, knowing they would provide concealment.
They managed to stay out of the notice of the mob, and soon entered the safety of the caves. Sean navigated the inner depths easily, not stopping until they were far back into the caverns, beyond any point a human would dare to enter at night.
When he finally deemed them relatively safe, Sean dropped the hand he’d been clutching. Panting with exertion, Josef wrapped his arms around his middle, crouching down against the wall of the cave.
“We’ll have to stay here till almost dawn.”
“What happened to me?!” Josef demanded in a feigned bravado that faded instantly as a strange shudder ran through the entire length of his body. "I feel…odd…”
Sean crouched in front of him, resting a hand on his shoulder to comfort. “What do you last remember?”
Josef struggled to make order of the chaotic jumble that was his mind. “I was on my way back to the village. My horse frightened, tossed me off. I thought I heard something as I picked myself up, but…then there was pain…” His hand flew up to his neck at the memory, coming away covered with a drying stickiness that had him fighting down panic. “I struggled but the creature was too strong for me.”
Sean met his anxious gaze. “It wasn’t a creature, it was Maximilian,” he explained. “He is a vampire. And he turned you into a vampire.”
Vampires were not fantasy to these people and this time, they were quite known and feared. There was no disbelief at the news, only a slowly evolving realization that his life would be forever changed.
“If I am now a vampire, why are you here alone with me?”
As one of his first questions, it was one Sean hadn’t been expecting. He was impressed that the lad’s quick mind was already working. He smiled, showing his fangs.
As another memory came to him, Josef grabbed Sean’s arm, eyes taking in the torn shirt and the arm that now bore no mark. He glanced around the dark space they were in. “You have no wound. I should not be able to see this far inside the caves at night.”
“We heal fast,” Sean said, a bit amused that Josef seemed to have forgotten that he was still holding his arm. “And see better than humans. We do everything better than humans,” he added, wanting Josef to know from the beginning that there were amazing advantages to what they were. “I’m sorry it had to happen to you this way, though. Everyone should have a choice.”
“A person would willingly choose this? Did you?”
“Yes,” Sean answered. “I was dying, and it was the only way. I was not ready to leave this earth yet.”
Josef struggled to take in all the new information that was bombarding him, both mentally and physically, and to make sense of it all. He gazed intently at the man in front of him, the one he now knew to be not man but vampire. Or was he both? There was so much new to learn suddenly, despite the shock and confusion he felt a tingle of excitement move through him. The vague gnawing in his stomach was growing slowly stronger too though; he could feel it building and something instinctual told him it would get much, much worse, until it drove him mad with the demanding to be fed. The pain and the hunger together brought another memory to the surface as two kinds of ache merged into one.
“After the pain,” he began, his voice gone low and husky. “There was pleasure.” Before Sean could formulate a response, Josef suddenly lunged forward and took his mouth in a kiss. Unused to the fangs that he hadn’t yet learned to keep retracted, they got in the way, pricking the other vamp’s mouth as they kissed. “Hungry…” he murmured against the enticing lips.
“That’s not what you’re hungry for,” Sean answered with a trace of amusement in his voice.
“You,” Josef said, resisting the half hearted attempts to dislodge him. “Captivated me since I first laid eyes on you.”
“Your quick mind is going to get you in a lot of trouble,” Sean muttered against the cool skin he found under his mouth. The conversation reminded him of the one they’d had at the party so much he couldn’t help responding in similar kind. It wasn’t just blood lust newly turned vamps often found hard to resist. It was going to be a chore teaching this one impulse control.
“Nothing new,” Josef replied cheekily. He found the enjoyable sensations a welcome diversion from the clamor of other things that demanded his attention, things he wasn’t ready to deal with yet. The neck so close to his mouth drew him like a siren, and he abruptly recalled the taste of the blood from Sean’s arm earlier. He realized he could smell it. It overwhelmed him like a heady perfume and before he quite knew what he was doing, he’d broken skin and was sucking on the blood from the wound he’d made. The minute shudder in the body under him was all the encouragement he needed. It should have been strange, getting drunk on this red ambrosia rather than fine wine, but as his head spun he decided human food and drink was just a meager substitute.
Sean captured Josef’s head in his hands, but allowed him to drink for a bit longer. He really needed to get control of the situation. The reasons were many, not the least of which that Max would kill them both if he let things go too far. His sire would demand to be the one who ‘initiated’ his new turn. It was not Sean’s place. “Have you been with a man before, this way?” he asked Josef, who was now practically in his lap, his excitement as unmistakable as Sean’s own.
“No,” Josef answered impishly. “Caught two of the stable hands going at it in the horse stall one day. Father took them out and beat them both. I used to watch them from a crack between the boards. It looked like they were enjoying themselves.”
Sean couldn’t help but laugh out loud. “You are going to fit right in.” He found the youth delightfully enthusiastic, his eyes took in the world with a freshness totally unlike so many of the stuffy royals he had met in his time.
“Will you do that to me?” Josef asked quietly, looking searchingly into Sean’s eyes.
Sean knew it wasn’t meant as a request he wanted immediately fulfilled, but as a general question about the future. The words caught in his throat, almost choking him. He couldn’t give voice to a promise he probably would be unable to keep, but at that moment… he vowed to himself to try. He couldn’t bear the thought of this innocent young man (yes, innocent, no matter his worldly words and cocky attitude) having the same experience he himself had gone through, of his first time that way being with Max.
“What about women?” Sean asked hoping to distract him with conversation.
“I had the best courtesans in the land,” he boasted. “They taught me all the skills to please a lover. I can show you…”
Sean grabbed the hands that were reaching for him in a firm grip. “We have no time for that distraction now. You need fresh blood to strengthen you, and I must replenish what you’ve taken from me.” He hadn’t wanted to leave the safety of the cave just yet, but in order to avoid temptation he knew he needed to get out for a bit and clear his head. “Stay here and be silent. I will return with something that will make the pain stop for awhile.”
Josef leaped to his feet as Sean turned, grabbing his arm to stop him. “Don’t leave me here alone!” he pleaded, fear making his voice rough.
Sean held him by the shoulders. “It will be fine, you’ll be safe in here,” he promised.
“What about you?” Josef asked, worry for the other vampire in his expression.
“I have survived six hundred and eleven years as a vampire; I have all the skills I need to look after myself.” He drew Josef closer and gave him a long, gentle kiss. “Trust me,” he said softly when he released him again. He didn’t leave until Josef had nodded assent.
The luck that was with him this night held, and soon Sean was returning with a body slung over his shoulder. Josef jumped to his feet as Sean dropped the man to the ground, staring down at the body.
“He was a highwayman,” Sean explained, unsure if the new vampire was feeling any moral unease or not. “He was given a quicker death than the hanging would have been. Come, drink,” he urged. “The blood is still warm.”
Josef licked his lips as he scented the air, and then pounced with total blood lust enthusiasm and no finesse.
“There are always choices, once you’ve learned the control needed to make them,” he told Josef as he watched him feed, thinking he was going to be a natural. These words were going to go in one ear and out the other right now, but Sean wanted the ideas to be there, subliminally. “We can spare the innocent and kill the evil ones. It is not necessarily to kill everyone we feed from either; we can stop before making a glutton of ourselves.”
Josef looked up at him guiltily, as if caught being just that. “I seem to have misplaced my table manners.”
Sean grinned, waving him to continue. “Enjoy.”
Josef raised a hand to the older vampire, feeling a strange electric charge go though him at the thought of the two of them feeding, together.
Sean didn’t try to instruct Josef on where the arteries were, or the best place to puncture for optimum results, he just let the new vampire enjoy his first meal in wild abandon. It was a state that would become an all too rare treat as he redressed himself in the cloak of respectable society to walk among humans. He merely joined him, and they both had their fill.
As they waited for the long night to pass, they talked. Josef asked his endlessly curious questions and Sean answered them. He told Josef of his past, regaled him with adventures from his glory days as a Viking. Explained some finer points about being a vampire that he suspected Max might ‘accidentally’ forget to mention. As a beginning, it was as good as one could get.
Just before dawn when the sky was barely beginning to lighten and the vampire hunters would have put aside their torches and returned to their homes, they slipped out of their hiding place and made the trek back to the castle.
Toward Josef Konstantin’s new life.
Castle Alexei, present:
Shane came back to the current century to the feel of kisses being rained over his face. Forehead, cheeks, lips, over and over. “Good memories?” he asked the one bestowing them with a grin. It warmed him in a special way, to know as they reminisced that while it was without consent, it wasn’t too traumatic. Good memories. They had thought there were so few of those, but perhaps they had more than they’d realized.
“You were so hot that night,” Josef told him without pause. “I was a goner.”
“Hah!” Shane contradicted. “You were the one attacking me, as I remember.”
“Oh yeah, and you were really fighting back,” Josef scoffed with a grin. “Then you had to go and distract me with food.” He smacked Shane on the arm to express how he felt about that.
“You were the first person I ever turned,” Shane admitted to Josef, who stopped and gaped at him at the admission. “In the beginning I wasn’t ready to be a sire, and then for a long time I didn’t feel I could subject someone to this life. There was a…difficult time after I realized Max had tricked me when I didn’t know how to feel about what I was. Then when I finally came to realize my turning was part of the God’s plans, I decided I’d have to see a ‘sign’ first so I’d know the person was meant to be turned, that it was Odin's will.” And after that, came the more modern notion of forever being too long to make that kind of commitment lightly.
“What was the sign with me?” Josef asked quietly.
“With you…” Shane shrugged helplessly. “I didn’t think about any of that. I just had to save you.”
“You saved me,” Josef told him, gazing intently into his eyes the way he had all those centuries ago. “You’re my savior.”
And then, it wasn’t the past they lost themselves in, it was each other’s bodies.
End part one.