The king strode down the elegant staircase that led into the foyer. It wasn't so much a staircase as it was a showpiece. It was constructed based solely on the instructions that Talbot wanted it to spiral heavenwards. The stairs were spectacular enough to impart a sense of daylight and energy into their comparatively dark home and it certainly left a grand impression whenever they greeted guests.
Russell was slipping on his snug riding gloves when he noticed the strong scent of pine. He looked up and realized that the entire first floor was covered in garlands and winterberries. He glanced back at the stairs and saw that the railing had been wrapped in white pine and poinsettias. He wondered how he could have missed that, but he had always left the decorating up to his partner.
Russell put it out of his mind as he followed Talbot's voice into the library, where the younger vampire was scolding one of the servants. He watched for a while, enjoying the sight of the servant squirming under Talbot's scrutiny. He didn't know what he had done, but he was most certain he deserved it. At this point, Talbot had a hand on his forehead as he released an exasperated sigh. That usually meant his rant was coming to an end.
If Talbot was in a mood already, that meant he would be moving onto his next target. So, Russell quietly turned around to evade any confrontation, but he had to stop when he saw the giant tree sitting at the entrance of the library. The Christmas tree was decorated in oversized ornaments and wrapped in garlands of ribbons, beads, and pearls. On the branches sat silk poinsettias in pink, gold, and red. And while the tree was highlighted in fresh blossoms of white magnolias, their scent was overpowered by cinnamon and pine.
When Talbot noticed Russell standing in the doorway, he spat one last instruction at the servant in Greek before he shoved him away. He then turned to his king, his disposition now suddenly bright.
"What do you think?" he asked eagerly.
As Russell stared silently at the tree, the corners of his lips pulled back into a sneer. He had of course celebrated Yule when he was human, but Christmas was a mutation of that holiday. And since Yule celebrated the rebirth of the sun, the tree was just taunting him with what he could not have.
"I wanted a contemporary tree with some sparkle," Talbot explained as he folded his arms across his chest. He could stand there as long as necessary until he received a reaction from Russell.
Russell still had his eye on the tree. The ornaments were crafted from old sheet music and paperback novels – probably items that had been long abandoned in storage. Textured ribbons were twirled around the tree and a snowy owl was tucked deep inside the branches.
It was unusual that they celebrated Christmas, especially since the AVL started encouraging vampires to observe the holiday after the Great Revelation. Russell didn't want to coexist with humans, let alone share their holidays. He had far greater things to bother himself with, but he knew Talbot took pride in their home, so he wouldn't say anything to ruin his efforts, especially since he wanted to avoid an argument.
Talbot chewed on his cheek until he finally decided Russell was not going to answer him. "Well, I see you're on your way out. I guess you'll have to ignore me later."
With that, Russell faced his progeny slowly. Silence wasn't always his greatest tactic. He sighed before he finally offered Talbot a smile. "You've out done yourself as usual."
In truth, he wondered how long it would be before his young consort complained about fallen pine needles. Live evergreens were a pain to care for and he knew Talbot would regret his decision before tomorrow night. But instead of saying so, he focused his attention on buttoning his jacket.
"Let me do that," Talbot insisted as he joined Russell at the doorway. He fastened each button and firmly pressed each one, ensuring that they laid flat against him. He could smell Russell's cologne, so he leaned in closer to catch the heavier notes of the woodsy musk. He would simply have to remember that scent while Russell was away.
Talbot then smoothed down the king's red jacket and admired him in his elegant riding clothes. The snug tan breeches, knee high boots, and jacket were tailored to a close-fit. They accentuated the hidden power in his small frame. It was a shame that Talbot probably wasn't going to see him for the rest of the night.
"You're always late when you take the horses," Talbot observed nonchalantly as he ran his hands down the warm wool of his jacket once more.
However, Russell was not fooled by the casual tone. He had been expecting an argument, so he decided to stay silent yet again in order to avoid fanning any flames. He would simply let his raised eyebrow do the talking.
"No bother," Talbot said quickly as he fussed over Russell's collar. "I know better than to make plans with you."
This time, Russell responded with a worn-out sigh. "I'm not about to have this discussion with you every time I go out. You know what responsibilities I have being king."
"Oh, I know." Talbot offered a sly smile before he turned away. "Are you taking the werewolves with you?"
"Whichever are on hand. They're all equally incompetent. I didn't think you cared."
"I don't. Here," the younger vampire grabbed a tin from a nearby table and offered it to Russell. "Try some of this holiday bark before you go. It's made from caramelized blood. I wanted to try something different."
Russell looked down at the blood that now resembled broken pieces of hard candy. Talbot no doubt spent some time experimenting with temperatures; boiling down the blood in a saucepan until it thickened, constantly stirring so the blood would not burn. Now the harden blood caught the light perfectly, almost like shattered pieces of stained glass. The king wondered if it were possible to chip a fang.
"After, pumpkin, I promise. I have to assemble the wolves and you know how long that can take."
"But look," the younger vampire interrupted and pointed to a leafy bushel of wide leaves and white berries that hung above the doorway.
Russell examined it closely and sighed. It was unlike Talbot to bring a weed into their home.
"It's mistletoe!" Talbot replied harshly, knowing instantly what Russell was thinking.
"I know what it is. I remember when it was used for arrows and spears."
"Hmmm. In Greece we hung it to ward off demons." Then he added with a smile, "…but it never seemed to keep you away." And then that smile faded. "…until now, that is."
"I won't be long," Russell assured with a gentle pat on Talbot's shoulder. "Keep dinner warm for us."
"Us?" he called after him, but was silenced with a quick kiss. Having seen the mistletoe, Eric surprised Talbot with the kiss he was hinting for. Mr. Northman knew such a simple request could keep the royal consort in his favor.
However, it didn't pacify Talbot. "You're going, too?"
"I have orders," the blond Viking answered flatly.
It was to be expected that the king would be busy, which was why Talbot welcomed the company of the Louisiana sheriff over other houseguests. But a dark cloud now overshadowed Talbot's elegant features as he watched his alternative entertainment for the night follow after Russell.
Talbot leant against the mantel with his arms folded tightly against his chest. He narrowed his eyes as he watched a servant crouched on the floor, carefully picking up each pine needle. He looked over his shoulder when he heard the sounds of boots stomping furiously against marble tiles. When he turned back around, he saw that the servant had fled. Talbot huffed at his insolence, but before he could follow to reprimand him, Russell stormed into the room.
"No, no, no…" Talbot greeted with annoyance at the sight of his king. "It is far too early for you to be home!"
"I know!" Russell growled. He ripped off his gloves and threw them onto the floor.
Talbot raised an eyebrow as he watched the gloves smack down against the marble. They landed right on top of the abandoned pine needles.
"What happened?" he asked before he went to retrieve the gloves and shook them off. He then folded them neatly in his hands.
"Those fucking werewolves!" Russell continued to pace across the room, flicking the riding crop restlessly against his boot. "They stopped in their tracks and immediately turned around!"
Talbot ran a hand through his hair and muttered an exasperated Greek curse. Werewolves were a brainless class. No one could rely on them for anything. But Talbot immediately composed himself and decided it was best to reassure his king. "They were probably frightened off."
Russell laughed with growl that was somewhere between rage and disbelief. "Incompetent, thick-headed, drooling morons! That's what I think!"
Again, Russell snapped the crop against his boot. Talbot flinched; not at the crack, but at the horrible slash it left behind on the leather.
"Your boots," Talbot fussed, leaning in close to examine them. Distressed leather was fashionable if it were purchased that way, but not if it resulted from abuse and neglect.
"Leave them," Russell huffed. He couldn't care less about his clothing, so when Talbot grabbed the riding crop, Russell snatched it back. He didn't want to lose the one object that was letting him blow off steam, even if it was ruining his boots. But ultimately, in situations like this, Talbot would win. So Russell released the crop with a groan. Talbot gathered it with the gloves and set them together on the mantel. Then he turned to Russell with a small smile.
"You're tense," Talbot said softly as he slowly led Russell over towards the couch. "Come. Sit down."
Russell sat while Talbot stood behind him and gently massaged his back. And he had been right. Russell's shoulders were tense and tight. He needn't worry about tender touches now, so Talbot kneaded his back harder as Russell continued to grunt and grumble about werewolves and other idiots.
But Russell was interrupted mid curse as a blaring noise rang at his ear. Talbot immediately slapped his hand over his wrist, muffling the alarm on his watch and taking a step back from the couch.
Russell now stood only a short distance away, his booted feet braced stiffly in place. His mood had the uncanny ability to impact the emotional climate of an entire room and the library now became a place of forbidding energy.
Talbot rubbed his neck, certain he felt himself blush even though that was not possible. But it was unfair that his king could make a connection between him and those insolent wolves.
"You have no reason to look at me like that," the younger vampire insisted.
Russell answered with an awful softness, "You and I both know that wolves follow an internal clock, especially when it coincides with their feeding habits."
Talbot lifted his chin up and shook his head condescendingly. Russell could not have gotten all that from one simple alarm. "It is just like you to jump to conclusions."
Just then, a volley of werewolves stormed into the library and gathered around Talbot. They halted when they saw Russell; stunned but not apologetic. Talbot crinkled his nose, torn somewhere between disapproval and complete revulsion towards the wolves.
"Leave us," Russell ordered quickly. "I wish to speak to my progeny alone."
The wolves exchanged glances, but none made an attempt to move.
Russell's voice was far too quiet as he made a blatant observation. "Talbot, dear, the werewolves are not obeying my orders."
"What's wrong with you fools?!" Talbot hissed around him. "Listen to your king!"
Immediately, the wolves scattered and Talbot was left standing alone with his maker. Russell took a couple of steps towards Talbot, the soles of his boots echoing terribly against the stone floor.
"I'm the one who wanted them stabled," Talbot reminded defensively. "They wouldn't even be allowed in this house if it were up to me."
"Don't tell me that you were feeding the werewolves your blood."
Talbot met Russell's glare and was determined to defend himself. Unfortunately, he knew the king could sense if he was being dishonest. However, instead of admitting it, he just lowered his gaze to the floor. That was enough of an answer. Talbot then tightly shut his eyes. He could actually hear Russell clenching his teeth.
"I did ask which wolves you were taking," Talbot reminded. "This all could have been avoided."
"Avoided," Russell repeated harshly through his teeth. "You mean you thought you could hide this?"
"I didn't think they'd be stupid enough to desert you."
"They're addicts, Talbot! Where else would they head when they need their next fix? I offer these traitors my blood. For centuries! Why would they even want yours? Even think they can have it!"
Talbot huffed. "Apparently they are more interested in quantity rather than quality. You would have noticed if you spent more time at home."
"Talbot – you're supposed to be safe here! In our home! All this time I thought you were secured!"
Talbot folded his arms tightly against his chest and stared down at Russell. He should have known better than to try and gain the favor of werewolves. However, he was sure they would come in handy when he needed Russell's attention. Unfortunately, he underestimated their lack of control and exposed his scheme too soon.
Russell expected the wolves to deceive him. They were animals after all and barely had the brains to match a dog. However, he never expected Talbot to be the one who worked against him, even though he was sure his young consort didn't mean it that way.
Regardless, Russell paced around Talbot as he thought the situation over. His consort was usually very forthcoming. If he was unhappy, he would simply voice it in the loudest way possible. This display of insolence meant he was seeking a very specific reaction. So Russell paced around Talbot once more before he spoke,
"It seems to me that you are holding my werewolves hostage."
The younger vampire tilted his head away arrogantly. Russell was a very clever man, but Talbot was stubborn, so he would admit to nothing.
"What are your demands?" the king asked tensely. It was the quickest way to put an end to all this mischief.
Talbot instantly dropped his defenses. His arms fell to his sides and his narrowed eyes grew in disbelief. That was a response he did not expect. The werewolves had spoiled his plans too soon, but it seemed that the situation was still salvageable yet. Nonetheless, Talbot was still doubtful of Russell's intentions, so he bit his cheek and tried to read the king's body language as he paced.
"Demands!" Russell barked as he suddenly halted his steps. "I know you have them. Say what you want and it's yours!"
Talbot jumped at the tone, but then he sputtered the first thing that came to mind. Hating that he forgot his poise, he quickly stilled his mouth with his palm. Once he gathered himself, he cleared his throat and repeated his request more clearly.
"When you go out on business, you take me. Not Eric Northman. Not your fucking werewolves. Me. Finally get me out of this bourgee tomb."
Russell narrowed his eyes; biting back the urge to just say no. Business wasn't simply business. When his repertoire required kidnapping and murder, it was best that his only fatal flaw remained hidden from his enemies.
Russell wouldn't jeopardize his progeny's safety like that, but he could manage to find something harmless for him to do. So he countered firmly, "I'll take you once. What else?"
Talbot thought for a moment. He felt awkward standing there as the king glared up at him. He was used to being scolded, but it never resulted in gifts. Anything he ever wanted, Russell would either buy or steal, but all he was really after was undivided attention. It wasn't easy sharing his king with the whole world. Russell was spread too thin already, and since he always stood beside him unconditionally, he always felt like an afterthought.
"I want two weeks," Talbot said firmly this time. It was the one thing he wouldn't budge on. "Absolutely no guests. No more Lorenas. No more Bill Comptons or telepaths. No business, no politics, no chaos! I want two weeks of peace and quiet in our own home."
Russell pursed his lips, but thought it over. He couldn't even remember a time when he put his business plans on hold. He certainly couldn't take a break now that things were beginning to move forward.
The initial discomfort Talbot felt from being admonished quickly disappeared as he realized Russell would not give in. Through tight lips, he hissed, "Two weeks is not a lot to ask! In three thousand years, what is two weeks to you?"
The growl Russell stifled still vibrated low in his throat. Talbot was right. He could sacrifice two weeks if it would soothe his greatest love. However, he was still furious that his consort had gone through extreme measures for such simple requests.
"I chose which two weeks," Russell responded reluctantly, but firmly. It would be his final offer.
"Fine," Talbot spat.
"So we're in agreement?"
Talbot nodded hesitantly. He fought back the urge to request more time to compile a list, since he was saving this scheme for another night, but that was an opportunity lost thanks to the werewolves. However, he was sure Russell wouldn't see it his way.
Suddenly, Russell's hand was on Talbot's wrist and the younger vampire jumped as he was pulled towards the cameo-backed sofa that sat in the middle of the library. When Russell sat down, Talbot knew what he intended and he immediately tried to snatch his wrist back before he could be jerked over Russell's knees.
"This wasn't part of the agreement!" Talbot argued, still tugging his wrist away.
Russell matched his hard stare and spoke slowly, but sternly. "You mean to tell me that you thought you could hold my werewolves for ransom, feed them your blood, and I wouldn't have anything to say about it?"
Talbot stiffened; instantly cursing himself for not trusting his initial instincts that Russell would never give into his demands without any repercussions.
Talbot jumped again and tried to squirm away when Russell started to unfasten his trousers.
"Russell!" he shrieked as he grabbed the king's wrists and tried to tear his hands away. "This isn't necessary! I won't do it again!"
"You ransom my wolves and got everything you wanted," Russell said bitterly, not letting Talbot's hands slow him down. "Of course I believe you when you say it won't happen again."
"I mean it!" he shouted desperately this time, since twisting in Russell's grip was getting him nowhere.
Russell paused for a moment and simply held Talbot in place by the hips. Talbot always complained, but he never actively interfered with business. Of course, it didn't really matter if a plot failed because he could always move onto plan B. However, everything relied on Talbot staying safe. He couldn't have his lover actively seeking trouble when trouble was already so easy to come by.
Russell spoke as if the thought suddenly came into his head, "Do you realize that this is the first time you ever put our trust at risk?"
"…oh, no…" Talbot's hands that were protecting the buttons of his fly, slowly rose to his mouth to cover a whimper. He did lure the king's wolves away, but he only meant it to be a tiny inconvenience. "Russell, I only meant to cause a little trouble."
"I know," the king grumbled when he was finally able to unfasten Talbot's trousers and let them drop to the floor. "You just failed to look at the situation from all angles, which we will be discussing."
Since Talbot was still, Russell didn't have to take advantage of his heightened strength or speed. He easily guided Talbot across his lap with his backside exposed and his upper body resting against the cushion. Once Talbot accepted the position, he buried his face in his arms with a moan.
"Oh, Russell…" Talbot groaned miserably. "Not in front of the Christmas tree…"
The king eyed the evergreen suspiciously. "…I don't think it cares."
"No. Someone could walk in." He didn't care about the guards. Or the werewolves. He was mainly concerned about Eric, who was still roaming somewhere on the premises.
"Good. Let them see what happens to insolent vampires who disobey their makers."
Talbot stifled a gasp as the first swat fell. It already left a terrible sting that did not get the chance to heal before Russell proceeded with more force. The caramelized blood he fed on earlier now raced to the point of injury. It would be mere seconds before his backside was darkened completely with red, angry handprints.
Talbot managed to keep his yelps down to a small squeak. The sharp sound of Russell's hand spanking his exposed skin echoed horribly in the library. That awful noise alone was enough to draw attention. Talbot would not let his howls cause more of a scene, so he tried desperately to think of anything to say that would put an end to this terrible night.
"You… f-feed werewolves b-blood all the time!" was all he could point out. Talbot once again tried to swallow his gasps, but the slow buildup of Russell's hand was finally getting to him. Since he couldn't shout as he so desperately wanted, he instead kicked his filettone oxfords against the fabric of the sofa. At least with the thickly padded armrest, Talbot wouldn't have to worry about scuffing his leather shoes.
"I have been collaborating with werewolves before you were even born," Russell reminded with firmer swats. "They fear me!"
"P-precisely why they would n-never t-touch me!" Talbot's accent thickened as it became a strain to choke out sentences, but Russell never seemed to have trouble understanding him. He could even hear Talbot's soft voice over the deafening sounds of the swats.
"You overestimate their attention span. These wolves are no better than addicts. They've already overstepped their bounds by accepting blood from you. They'll keep pushing and pushing to see what they can get away with. And you kept their little secret because you initiated it!"
Fueled by displeasure, the heat built up rapidly on Talbot's backside. He did not think it was possible to burn more painfully, but Russell now spanked lower, hitting the under curve of his backside and catching the top of his thighs. That was skin previously untouched, so now it was a fresh pain that scorched through his body. Talbot willed himself not to throw a hand back to shield his backside. Instead, his arm snapped down and tightly gripped Russell's boot by the ankle. He brutally dug his fingers into the leather, but if Russell felt any discomfort, he did not say a word.
Clutching Russell's boot was a small comfort, but it could not distract him from the scorching pain in his backside. It did allow him to remain somewhat still; hold onto some composure as he lay in that uncomfortable position across his maker's lap.
Talbot's face was buried in the crook of his other arm, silencing his whimpers and gasps. He knew he had to hold back the tears, or else his jacket sleeve would never survive the night, but he could not shake the memories away from his mind. He saw himself draining his blood into chalices and watching the wolves shamelessly feast on it. Then there were the looks of hunger and anticipation on the mongrels' faces whenever they passed by. He forced the wolves to rely on his blood without realizing that the wolves, in turn, probably felt that they owned him. Russell would punish them by withholding blood, but Talbot offered them as much as they wanted to lure them on his side. But the werewolves saw him as no more than a meal. The thought made his stomach churn.
Russell's hand slowed, now only landing light swats against his lover's backside as he studied the other emotions wafting from the younger vampire. Past the discomfort from the spanking, Talbot felt shame and a complete disgust within himself.
Russell rested his hand on the younger vampire's sore backside. The heat was slowly dying down now that the skin was given a chance to heal. Russell's other hand that held Talbot's back pinned was now at his shoulder, giving his progeny a reassuring squeeze.
Talbot deserved some shame for giving his blood willingly to werewolves just to turn them against his husband. But Russell didn't want him to be disgusted with himself. Disgust should be left for the werewolves.
"Don't put your trust in werewolves," Russell muttered softly. "They're not worthy of it and your blood is far too precious to be used as a bargaining chip."
Talbot's apology was muffled as he hid his face in his arms. "…I'm s-sorry, Russell…"
Russell landed the last ten swats quickly, but they still reignited the heat and pain in Talbot's backside. Talbot clenched his teeth and bore through it, tightening his body to stop his squirming and the involuntary shifting of his hips.
Again, Russell paused to see the skin begin its healing process. When the redness started to lighten, Russell pulled Talbot's trousers back into place and gathered him in his arms. Then he readjusted him on the couch beside him, taking care not to place any pressure on his backside. Talbot sat mostly on his thigh, the pain finally dying down. He tried to sniffle back a tear, but one, cold streak of blood slipped from his eye. He immediately had his pocket square out, removing it from its three-point fold.
"Let me," Russell insisted, grabbing the fabric and using it to dab his face and find Talbot's beautiful, youthful glow beneath the tears.
Now that they were face to face and the house was quiet again, Russell took the opportunity to see how well he got his message across.
"Can you tell me why it's so wrong for you to feed your blood to werewolves?"
Talbot turned away with a groan, but Russell pulled him back down against his shoulder. He kept a hand on his forehead until he was sure Talbot would not budge, then he began to comb back his hair to keep him settled.
Talbot decided not to struggle further since he didn't actually want to leave the comfort of Russell's arms. But he knew his maker would demand an answer, no matter how embarrassing he found it.
"Russell, it's humiliating to say it. I've been punished enough."
"Let's just reiterate for my benefit."
Talbot cringed, but sunk closer to Russell. He hated admitting his flaws and he knew his maker was aware of that. That's why Russell would always insist. So Talbot buried his face against his king's neck and groaned again as he tried to think of a way to word his errors without sounded completely foolish.
"Alright, I'll start…" Russell sighed when he felt Talbot tense. "Werewolves are unpredictable. They have no concept of consequences. They will not back down even when their lives are threatened."
"I know," Talbot said softly as he listened; thankful that Russell was taking over the conversation. He still cringed though, hating to be reminded of his misbehavior. Hearing his maker say it was almost as bad as having to say it himself.
Russell gathered Talbot's left leg and pulled it over his knee so he could caress his thigh with small, comforting circles before he continued. "These werewolves are patrolling our home. They're supposed to keep you safe when I'm away and all this time they've been craving your blood." His voice became strained as he thought about those hairy imbeciles. "These idiots barely share a brain cell! What if they challenged you and I couldn't get here on time? Talbot, I don't want to see you hurt."
Talbot winced. It wasn't often Russell expressed concern for his wellbeing, but he always knew his king cared. So he only defended himself quietly, "I'm surrounded by guards. I'm always safe."
"Wolves were feeding on vampire blood and you taught them to crave yours. One or two or even five would be no challenge for you, but a pack of werewolves on V could rip you apart."
Talbot whimpered softly against Russell's neck. He thought his blood could keep the werewolves obedient, but he knew he wasn't the one they feared. He was no threat at all to a pack of wolves.
"Russell, I already said I was sorry."
"I know." Russell grabbed his progeny's chin firmly and forced him to look him in the eyes. "I just want to make sure you understand."
Talbot bit his bottom lip to still more sobs from escaping. He did understand, but he knew if he tried to talk now, it would only lead to more sobbing and he didn't want his face to be a bloody mess again. So he nodded his head, then quickly ducked for safety under Russell's chin.
"It's horrible," he managed to mumble. "They all stare at me with this hungry look in their eyes."
"It's alright," Russell assured as he hugged Talbot closer. "I'll take care of it."
Talbot pushed himself as close to Russell as he could. The Christmas tree had an overwhelming scent of pine that he could not escape, so he had to press himself hard against Russell to find the comforting scent of his maker. But once he found it, his lungs breathed it in as if they were dependent on air. Russell's riding jacket was tailored for warmth. It hugged him with a heat that felt almost human, but this warmth was more comforting because it came from his king.
Talbot sensed someone enter the room. He was used to footsteps following him around the mansion, but he knew the footsteps that approached now did not belong to any of the guards. Talbot pulled away and saw Eric Northman standing in the doorway.
Even in his own home, it was neither appropriate nor professional for a king to display this type of affection in front of his subjects. So Talbot stood up and began to tuck his shirt back into his trousers as he made his way into the foyer without a word. After all the trouble he caused Russell, he would let him conduct business in peace for the rest of the night. It would also give Talbot the time to collect himself and once again become the epitome of grace and elegance.
Russell rose as if Eric had not witness that tender embrace with his progeny.
"Mr. Northman," he greeted with a smile. "Exactly the vampire I wanted to speak to."
"Can I be of service?" the blond asked ever so diligently.
"Actually, no," the king answered lightly. "I made a promise to my boy Talbot, so we will not be requiring your services for the next two weeks."
"WHAT?" Talbot screeched as he reentered the library; the anger returning to his eyes.
Russell held his hands up innocently. "I am merely giving into your demands. This is what you wanted, isn't it?"
"You know very well this is not what I want!" Talbot stood in front of Russell with his hands on his hips. Eric was currently the only vampire in the mansion that had kept him occupied while Russell was away. He didn't want his maker taking away any of his toys, especially when Eric had been teasing him with slight touches and suggestive gazes for the past several nights.
Russell started to chuckle. "Aw, poor Talbot. What did you think? You could hold my wolves for ransom and still be rewarded?"
"You already punished me for that!"
"No. I punished you for feeding your blood to werewolves. This is for turning them against me. If you wish to play tricks on your husband, you're going to have to learn to handle the consequences."
Talbot stared at Russell, his mouth hanging to the floor. "I don't believe this!"
Russell knew the situation would only get worse and he did not want Eric to witness any more than he already had. "Talbot, dear, why don't you head upstairs to our bedroom?"
The younger vampire gasped in disbelief. "I will not be confined to the bedroom! It's bad enough I can't leave the safety of this fucking house!"
"Well, now you can enjoy the safety of your room. I can keep a better eye on you there. I know even you wouldn't dare invite a werewolf into our bedroom."
Talbot's eyes darted towards Eric, even though he would find no protection there. But he was rendered completely speechless. Still heated, he smoothed down his jacket and spat out a harsh "Fine!" before he stormed out of the library and back up the stairs.
Russell turned to Eric, with a reassuring look on his face. "I could use the quiet time to reformulate my plans."
But suddenly, Russell and Eric's eyes were drawn towards the ceiling as a flurry of Greek curses shook the entire second floor. It was followed by a large crash. Russell pursed his lips, but managed to smile back at Eric.
"He'll quiet down once he expends his energy," the king assured.
"I don't know." Eric winced at a particularity loud crash. "He sounds determined."
"He always does," Russell sighed as he headed into the foyer.
"See you in two weeks, Mr. Northman," Russell called out as began his long journey up the staircase. Then he added as an afterthought, "That is, if I survive that long."
The door from Russell and Talbot's bedroom had a crystal doorknob set within burnished gold. It was style popular when they originally purchased it in the 1800s, but it never went out of fashion. It had a way to seamlessly coordinate itself with Talbot's ever-changing tastes. No matter how many times they redecorated, those doorknobs seemed to have a permanent place in their home.
Of course, Russell felt little attachment towards the doorknobs, especially when they refused to budge to grant him entrance into his own bedroom. He shook his head, knowing he should have expected as much from his younger consort. But he sighed and knocked politely nonetheless.
"Go away," came the harsh reply from the other side of the door. "You sleep in the guest bedroom. You are not welcome here until further notice."
Russell scowled at the door, but made a show of jiggling the doorknob once more. "Come on, Talbot. It's been a long night for me, too. Take pity on me, sweetheart."
For a moment, there was silence. Russell waited patiently for Talbot to make up his mind. He had complete faith that the younger vampire would comply. Unfortunately, his consort made a surprise decision. "I want to be alone."
A growl escaped low in the back of his throat. His eyebrows knit close together. Too many things had gone wrong that night already. He could handle little more resistance. Russell tried to constrain his anger, but when he jiggled the doorknob for the final time, the golden handle crumbled in his grasp. The strength behind the tug tore off half the door and the wood fell into splinters on the floor.
"We both know that's not true!" was Russell's strained reply as he stomped over the broken shards. "You went to a lot of trouble to keep me here tonight!"
Talbot had shot up from the mattress. He barely heard Russell's response as he stared down at the mess of splinters and shattered crystal. He placed both hands across his mouth as he tried to restrain his shock, but Russell had just brutally massacred their beautiful lacquered Victorian door.
"That door was reconstructed from our garden gate in 1837," Talbot explained slowly so his king would understand its importance. "Tell me where we are going to find another one?"
Russell grunted in disbelief, but decided to just ignore that question and ask one of his own. "Have you forgotten what went on downstairs? You embarrassed me in front of Mr. Northman!"
"I embarrassed you?!" the younger vampire blanched. "Now he thinks I'm no better than a baby vampire!"
Russell closed his eyes and took an unnecessary breath; however, it did help to calm his frustration. When he did open his eyes again, he looked up at his progeny who had been so wound up for the past several weeks. Russell approached him slowly and placed his hand on Talbot's cheek.
"Talbot – you will forever be my baby vampire." He smiled when he saw the younger man soften at his touch, so he continued to caress his chin. "I hate to see anyone, let alone werewolves, take advantage of your generous nature. The idea that those dirty, flea-bitten beasts fed from you…" Russell sighed and decided it was better not to carry on with that thought, or else his anger would just return. So he added simply, "Talbot, I never wanted that for you."
"Me neither," Talbot agreed with a pout. "Don't you see what you put me through?"
"Oh, pumpkin," the king nearly laughed. "You did that to yourself. Don't even try to blame me."
Russell raised both eyebrows as the younger vampire suddenly tore himself away from his gentle touches and stormed to the opposite end of the room.
"You're completely disgusted with me now," Talbot accused, keeping his face turned away from his maker. "Knowing that those mongrels are full with my blood."
Russell once more joined his progeny and embraced him from behind. "Talbot, I can never be disgusted with you. I'm disgusted with them. They unwarrantedly abused the generosity of my royal consort. How dare they think they deserve a taste of such imperial blood!"
The king then drew Talbot's head downward and drawled a raspy promise into his ear. "We won't let them get away with that. How many do I have to kill?"
"Twenty?!" Russell growled.
"I needed enough to make a dent!" Talbot snapped, raising his voice to match Russell's. "But I could have had them all!"
Russell studied Talbot for a moment before he responded. "You don't sound very repentant anymore." Then he turned around and headed towards the door.
Talbot did not like that one bit. "Where are you going now?"
"To fetch my riding crop."
Talbot immediately blocked his path, bracing his arms between the broken door frame and staring down at his maker. "You're bluffing."
Russell raised an eyebrow and let the threat linger in the air. He had never hit Talbot with anything other than his hand, but he knew the empty threat would get his point across. Twenty werewolves was too great a number to simply ignore.
Talbot held his glare for a long time before he finally gave in and walked back into the bedroom with his head lowered.
"I have twenty pesky wolves to deal with," Russell announced slowly. "When I come back, we can figure out what we are going to do with ourselves for the next two weeks."
Talbot sat down on the mattress with a wince. "It will take some time to track them all down. Those werewolves always find a way to occupy all your time. Who knows how long you'll be gone."
"No," Talbot cut him off quickly. "This isn't an argument and I'm all out of schemes. It's just probable that I may not see you for the rest of the night."
The younger vampire leaned down and pulled out a small two-tone gift bag that was hidden between the bed and the nightstand. He handed it to Russell with a small smile.
"What's this?" the king asked.
"It's your Christmas present. I know we don't normally celebrate something so human, but this tradition does go with the decorations after all…"
Russell pulled out the small black box that was buried beneath layers of scented tissue paper. The velvet box cradled a shiny signet ring baring the Edgington crest.
"I know you prefer yellow gold," Talbot acknowledged. "But I thought white gold would add a variation to your apparel. Plus, no one will suspect the silver inlays hidden between the crest. It may not be as fun as snapping necks or opening veins, but I know my king packs a powerful punch and if you ever wanted to strike a vampire in the face, this will leave behind the sizzling imprint of your coat of arms."
Russell slipped the ring on his index finger and admired it with an approving nod. Talbot stood at his back and rested his chin on his shoulder as he pulled him tight against his chest.
Talbot kissed his husband's cheek before he continued. "The silver inlays are deep, so you'd have to lay one pretty hard, but I couldn't have my king accidentally scorching himself."
Russell rubbed the arms that tightly hugged him around his waist. He admired the ring once more before he laid his hand against Talbot's and compared his rough skin against his lover's smooth hands. After showering Talbot with gifts for nearly 700 years, the younger vampire was really only ever after one thing.
"I've been too harsh on my boy," Russell conceded. "Why don't you head downstairs and start a fire and I'll join you in ten minutes? I still have to take care of a few werewolves that don't deserve to live the night."
"Don't fill up on werewolf blood," Talbot warned with a smile as he eased himself away from his king and headed out the door.
The fireplace was an impressive focal point for the room. It had been redecorated with a carved wooden mantel to provide a warm contrast to the smooth marble around the hearth. The crisp marble gave the room a feel of superior elegance and created a true showcase for a burning wood fire.
A mirror was added to the opposite wall to reflect the light from the fire back into the room. It not only emphasized a warm glow, but also made the room appear more opened and airy. It was hard not to feel trap sometimes in a dark, windowless home, so Talbot would focus on what little touches he could to prevent every room from appearing completely isolated.
Talbot knelt on one knee before the fire, rearranging the logs with a wrought iron fire poker. It had a wonderful patina and a comfortable grip. And like every other object in their home, the logs had to be perfectly arranged.
The lion-legged coffee table sat just a foot behind him. Talbot had set out a couple of glasses of carbonated blood infused with peppermint sprigs. The hand cut crystal sparkled as it caught the light from the fire. It was the perfect holiday treat for a couple of vampires.
Talbot heard the ragged heartbeat and smelt the raw, wild scent of animal sweat even before a lone werewolf rushed into the room.
"The king's pissed off about something," he said through a hastened breath as he blinked the sweat away from his eyes.
Talbot didn't bother to turn around. "Russell knows, you idiot."
"Shit," he panted; his heart racing now more than ever. "That means he's going to cut me off from his blood!"
With an open smile, Talbot thought about this poor werewolf's fate. Then he answered with a laugh, "I think he's going to cut off a lot more than that."
"Fuck!" the werewolf paced around the library with several clumsy stomps. "This is your fault!"
"My fault?" Talbot kept his eye on the fire and concentrated on the placement of the logs. "You pack of morons abandon the king while on a quest. No wonder you always have him so aggravated. You can't stave off your compulsions for a single moment."
"You put us on a feeding schedule!"
"But I was biding my time! Now my efforts are wasted because you wolves know nothing about the art of concealment. Can't train you idiots to do anything right."
Talbot did not regret his remark. But he did roll his eyes, knowing what would happen at that response. As the werewolf lunged through the air, Talbot turned around and pierced the iron poker through the beast's abdomen. The werewolf clutched the offending object as blood gurgled up his throat. He fell back onto the carpet and choked miserably until all the life escaped from him.
Russell entered a moment later and Talbot greeted him with a heated stare.
"What?!" Talbot held out his blood splattered arms. "Your damn werewolf ruined the sleeves of my jacket!"
"Well, it's not the end of the world. We'll hire a tailor and have the sleeves removed and you can have yourself a lovely vest."
Talbot's only response was to widen his eyes in shock and anger at the insensitivity.
Russell sighed. "I try to salvage the situation and you resent me for it."
"Because you missed one, Russell! What happened? Your Majesty forget how to count?!"
Russell pointed a finger at his progeny. "This is exactly what I warned you about earlier. Imagine what would have happened if there were twenty werewolves? They would have had you pinned and be feeding from you right now."
"What is this? Another lesson?" Talbot spat. "I was promised a relaxing night at home. I'll have no more of this!"
The younger vampire tried to push his way past his king, but Russell pulled him back by the shoulders.
"Wait, wait, wait," Russell moaned as pushed Talbot back towards the body. "I left him for you. See?"
Russell kicked the dead werewolf and it rolled over limply. Talbot leaned over and looked at his rugged face. There was a small red welt on his cheek, no more than half an inch round. The wound was slightly swollen, so the details were somewhat obscured. But the wreath, the helm, and the shield of the Edgington crest were still visible.
Talbot hummed softly as he darted uncertain eyes between Russell and the welt. He bit his cheek as he debated how please to let himself be about the situation now. He was looking forward to seeing how the ring would brand a vampire, but the bruise on the werewolf's face gave him a pretty clear idea.
Finally, he smiled back at Russell and nodded his approval. He loved that Russell could enjoy his Christmas gift with such violent exuberance.
Russell returned the smile and went to embrace his lover.
"Don't," Talbot responded with a firm shove. "I'm covered in blood. I'll ruin your jacket."
"Now, Talbot," Russell chided gently. "A little blood is not going to keep me from hugging my husband on Christmas. Now come here."
This time, Talbot allowed himself to be pulled into Russell's arms as he mentally made plans to settle there for the next two weeks.