03 Never Easy

After school the next day, Matt drove to Xavier’s and tromped inside, just as he always had at Chase’s house. He found Chase playing with Alex, while William was nowhere to be seen.

“Hey,” Chase said, smiling.

Matt climbed onto Chase’s bed and leaned against the headboard. “I wish you were at school! It sucks without you!”

“We’ll be back in the fall,” Chase smiled, noticing again that the boy was as physically beautiful as he was his heart. Chase was secretly glad sometimes that he’d not been able to see it before.

“How’s little stink factory?” Matt smiled, leaning over Alex and tickling him.

“Adorable, as always,” Chase said, as Matt picked him up and baby-talked to him for a few minutes.

“So, where’s William?” Matt asked.

“He’s in San Jose,” Chase said.

“California?” Matt asked, incredulous.

“Costa Rica,” Chase laughed.

“Why?” Matt wondered aloud.

“He just popped down for a few hours of training with Avery,” Chase laughed.

“You guys are so weird. Some time you guys have to take me to lunch in Paris, or something,” Matt insisted. “I earned it!”

“You did,” Chase laughed. “How’s everything else?”

“Well, it kind of sucks that you moved, but Daniel’s just down the street. Amy’s definitely going, and I think she’s going to break up with me. I want to try long-distance, but … I think she just wants to be able to have fun and see what happens.”

“I’m sorry, man…. But you had fun,” Chase added.

“Yeah, I just thought it might last longer,” Matt pouted. “I really liked her….”

“Well, you’re hot! You’ll meet someone who wants to stick it out!” Chase tried to reassure him.

“Yeah, well,” Matt said, and turned his attention to the baby in his lap. He laid back in the bed and put Alex on his chest and made silly conversation with the baby while Chase watched him with a smile.

“I’m gonna run to the bathroom,” Chase said. “You want something to drink?”

“Yeah, whatever you got is fine,” Matt said.

When Chase returned with the sodas he’d gotten out of the refrigerator, Alex was asleep on Matt’s chest. “You want me to take him?” Chase whispered. Matt shook his head and took his soda, so Chase crawled into bed next to him and they talked quietly for another hour before Matt had to go home.

William got home just as Alex woke, so he gave the boy his evening bottle, and he and Chase joined their uncles downstairs for dinner. While everyone ate, Alex played happily with a little mobile in the floor. Just as they were all getting ready to pop in a movie, Sarah called to check in.

“How’s everything?” she asked.

“Fine,” Chase said with a laugh. “We went out with Sebastian and James, and some of the guys last night, and William was training in Costa Rica this afternoon….”

“Are you trying to make me feel better or worse, Chase?” the woman asked with a laugh.

“How’s vacation, mom?” Chase asked.

“Fun, we’re just lounging by the beach and having great food all day long. All this relaxation is getting on my nerves! I’m ready to get home and get back to work,” the woman laughed, only half serious.

“Missing Alex?” Chase teased.

“Missing all my boys,” she said sincerely. “Be good, sweetie! Put Xavier on the line?”

Chase held the phone up and Xavier smiled and took it from his hand. “Hi, Sarah! How’s Steve?”

“You know Steve! As soon as he hit the beach, he was in full vacation relaxation mode! How are the boys?” Sarah asked. “Really?”

“FINE, Sarah,” he said. “Everything is fine!”

“They went out with Sebastian?” Sarah asked.

“Yes, Sarah! You know they were perfectly safe with him,” Xavier laughed, speaking quietly so the boys didn’t hear.

“I know,” she allowed grudgingly. “It just gives me the heebie-jeebies still! I mean, vampires and all….”

“Sarah, you know Aiden and I, and William and Chase for that matter, qualify as ‘and all…,’” Xavier reminded her.

“Sorry,” she said, laughing, embarrassed.

“Just remember, it was our kind who put those babies in your belly!” he added.

“I know, Xavier, I know,” she said with a smile. “Just watch out for our boys….”

“Always! Enjoy your vacation!” Xavier said.

“Thanks. See you soon!” Sarah answered.

The following morning, William was off to Avery’s compound in San Juan early for a long day of training, so Xavier took Chase out to see the progress at the gallery.

“The building looks amazing!” Chase exclaimed. “What did your tenants decide to do?”

“One opted to move out early, and I let him out of his lease; the other agreed to move into a renovated office and make a new lease with me. The second floor—don’t tell him I told you—the second floor will be office space for your dad and Dan, with smaller offices on the third and fourth…. They just finished installing the new elevator last week.” Xavier rattled off excitedly.

“You seem to be enjoying your role as businessman!” Chase smiled.

“More than I thought I would,” the man nodded. “The new storefront is looking great—I got this special glass to protect the art from the sun while still giving a nice view from the outside.”

“So when will you open?” Chase asked.

“Two weeks, I’ll move everything down and get it all set up. My assistant is relocating, so that will make everything easier. I’ll have a grand opening gala in about a month, I guess, after we’ve been open a little bit,” Xavier said.

“Sounds fun!” the boy smiled. “We’ll help you advertise!”

“Just dress up and look cute,” Xavier winked. “Nothing gets my clientele worked up like hot blond dudes!”

“Yeah?” Chase asked.

“Sure, older guys and middle-age Southern women eat that up,” Xavier smiled. “How do you think I got to be such a success?”

Chase laughed and shook his head. “Have you been checking out any of the local artists? Found anyone new?”

“Funny you ask! I’m meeting a guy tomorrow afternoon. Why don’t you come along? I assume William will be off training some more?” Xavier asked.

“Yeah,” Chase laughed. “He’s taking it really seriously. I teased him that he’s got a complex because I rank so much higher than he does. If he doesn’t rank general by the time he’s 18 it’ll eat him up!”

“You know that’s not it?” Xavier asked seriously.

“I know, but it’s fun to tease him,” Chase laughed. “He really just wants to be able to protect us!”

“Never mind that you need protecting least of all,” Xavier nodded.

“I could do worse than having William at my back, and that I do need. Then there’s Alex, and my parents, the new babies! He won’t allow history to repeat itself….”

“So, changing subjects, have the wizards been trying to contact you much?” Xavier wondered.

“No,” Chase replied. “Why would they?”

“I’m surprised they don’t come running to you with every little thing! It has been a long time since there was a grand marshal,” Xavier explained.

“Oh,” Chase said.

“You understand, Chase, that you outrank the queen in all but spiritual matters? She is the spiritual and legal head of all who are part of her organization, but there are matters in which she answers to you, now! In August, there will be a World Congress of Wizards, including those who serve the queen, the Society, and other organizations under which our kind band—including Druids, Streghe, Wiccans, Kabbalists, and the like. You will preside over that meeting,” Xavier said.

“WHAT?” Chase asked.

“Chase, as grand marshal, you are the most powerful magickal practitioner in the world known today!” Xavier replied.

“I … I guess I never really thought about it,” Chase stammered.

“Hmph,” Xavier laughed. “I guess we need to get you into that outfit to make sure it fits….”

“You just want to see me in it,” Chase laughed.

“I do love a man in uniform!” Xavier teased.

“William does look fantastic in his,” Chase mused.

“Hush now! That’s my nephew you’re thinking about over there!” Xavier said with a smile.

“You brought your father’s book?” Avery asked. William nodded and took out his family’s most powerful volume, a charmed book that duplicates the knowledge of any book it contacts. He sat it on Avery’s desk and slid it across to him. “It’s a remarkable thing! I’ve only ever seen two. This one,” he said, lifting William’s book. But then he reached into his desk and pulled out another. “And this one! With your permission?”

William nodded, and Avery put them together. Normally, you might hear an almost static crackle as one of the books absorbed knowledge. But these two books, in a massive exchange, made a noise like thunder, and William could feel the shock wave. Avery smiled. “It seems as if your ancestors were nearly as busy as I! Thank you, my friend. You will discover in my library there are many books of a … darker nature. If there is anything you want to understand better, come to me. The dark arts are not to be experimented with lightly.”

William shook his head. “What are we working on today?”

“A village near here is suffering from a plague of cryptovamps,” Avery began.

“Cryptovamps?” William asked, confused.

Avery laughed and nodded. “I know! Cryptovamps are neither pure vampire, nor human. We know next to nothing about the process of becoming a vampire, but sometimes, things go wrong. A vampire might come back feral, having lost its mind completely. The results of it spreading its infection are often ghastly, as if some mutation that occurred in a ‘wrong’ vamp gets passed on and further mutates. These creatures are as strong as vampires, but are entirely wild and driven to ravage. Reasoning with them is futile. We must eradicate them, as well as any human who has had contact with cryptovamp blood, before one of them reaches the city. Ready for a little field action?”

“Yes, sir!” William grinned.

“Then you’d better warn Chase that you may not be home for a couple of days.” William grimaced before picking up the phone and placing the call.

“Chase? We’re going on a training mission. It might take a day or two,” William announced.

There was a long silence on the other end of the phone. “Be careful,” came Chase’s response, with enough feeling behind it to give William pause. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” William replied. “I’ll call you as soon as we’re through.”

“You better,” Chase said.

“Bye,” William said, putting the phone down.

“Everything okay?” Avery asked.

“Fine,” William said softly. “I’ll go get into my fatigues….”

A few moments later, Avery’s phone rang. “What the hell are you doing?” an angry voice demanded. “Where are you taking my nephew?”

“Calm down, Xavier! I took you on more dangerous training missions than this when you were weaker than William,” Avery replied.

“Avery, you be careful with him!” Xavier barked, and Avery tried not to laugh.

His smile faded when he heard a soft voice on the other end say, “If anything happens to him, I’ll hold you personally responsible….”

“Chase,” Avery began.

“That’s Grand Marshal Abernathy-Jennings to you, today,” Chase said calmly as he handed the phone back to Xavier.

“Good Lord,” Avery muttered into the phone to Xavier.

“Just be careful, and everything will be fine,” Xavier responded.

Avery sat the phone down, deep in thought. Before William could return, Avery called Chase back. “Chase, I know this upsets you and you’re worried, but my job is to train William, to make him into the most capable wizard he can be! I can’t do that with you second-guessing me….”

“I’m not. That’s why I didn’t ask him not to go, which is what I really wanted to do. I didn’t ask him to come home to me and his son. I didn’t ask him to take Sebastian as his teacher. To be honest, I’d be more comfortable with all of those things. I just want you to know that….”

“So we understand each other?” Avery asked, cutting him off.

“Yes, Avery, we understand each other. Be safe,” Chase said.

“We will…. I’ll be sure he calls you as soon as we’re finished,” Avery promised.

“He will,” Chase replied as he hung up the phone a second time.

That afternoon, Sebastian returned to Richmond alone. “Back so soon?” Sam asked as he welcomed his friend.

“I keep busy, Sam. Marcus is going to train and test Chris and the local boy, Carl, so I’m here to set that up with them,” Sebastian explained.

“Ah, I thought you might be here about William. Chase is very unhappy,” Sam said.

“Why?” Sebastian asked, his mission temporarily forgotten.

“Xavier called me a little while ago. Apparently, Avery is taking William on a multi-day training mission,” Sam explained.

Sebastian sat down and thought for a minute. “Oh, shit!” the vampire exclaimed as he reached for his cell phone to call Avery. The man was offline.

“What is it?” Sam asked. “Xavier sounded upset, but….”

“If he knew what I know, he’d be more than upset! A code came across the Subnet at the Consul level last night: Cryptovamps, a full-on infestation,” Sebastian explained.

“What is he thinking?” Sam asked in a panic.

“He’s probably thinking William is a very capable warrior wizard, which is true,” Sebastian defended.

Sam was a student of Avery’s, like Xavier, but he wasn’t so forgiving. “Still, CRYPTOVAMPS?”

“I know,” Sebastian sighed. “I’d better drop by Xavier’s! Damn!”

“Would you like me to come with you?” Sam asked.

“Sure, meet me there at 7 o’clock?” Sebastian asked.

“I’ll see you then,” Sam responded, squeezing his shoulder.

Sebastian left and made his way to Edward’s house on foot, covering the distance quickly, though working in the light was draining. The boys were expecting him when he arrived.

Edward’s mother, Clarice, opened the door when he knocked. “Hello?”

“Mrs. Boyle?” Sebastian asked. “I’m Edward and Carl’s friend, Sebastian….”

“Come in, dear! The boys are up in Edward’s room. One moment,” she said, ushering him in. “Edward, dear, your friend is here!” She called.

Edward opened his door and motioned for Sebastian to come on down. “Thank you, ma’am!” Sebastian said with a smile.

When he stepped into the room, he explained, “Everything is set for you to go out to the cabin with Marcus and Chris. You’ll go down on Monday morning and return Friday evening….”

“School is taken care of?” Carl asked.

“And your parents, Carl. I’ll speak with your mother before I leave, Edward,” Sebastian explained.

“It won’t hurt her,” the boy asked uneasily.

“No, not like this. It can, depending on how forcefully you invade someone’s mind. This is just power of suggestion, advanced hypnosis if you will,” Sebastian said, putting him at ease. Edward nodded. “Marcus made this list of supplies. Edward, just prepare for a nice vacation to the forest. Bring plenty to read. While the boys are training, you might get a little bored!”

Edward smiled and nodded, grabbing Carl’s big hand excitedly. “We’ll get to share a bed for a whole week!”

“We’ve been doing a lot of that lately,” Carl smiled back. Then they remembered they had company.

“I understand,” Sebastian said with a smile. “Unless you have any questions, I have a little more business than I expected to attend to in Richmond today.” Both boys shook their heads. “My cell phone number is on that sheet, so if either of you do have any questions, please call. Marcus’s number is there as well!”

On his way out, Sebastian had a little “chat” with Clarice, and by the time he left she was happily assenting to having the boys go on a little trip. As the sun was still up, Sebastian walked casually through the residential streets to Xavier’s house, sticking to the shadows. Sam was already inside when he knocked.

“Sebastian!” Chase exclaimed, giving the vampire a tight hug. Sebastian realized he was hungry when he dwelt too long on the graceful, milky neck pressed against his cheek.

With an awkward smile, he stepped away, hoping the boy didn’t notice his excitement. “I came over because Sam told me you are concerned about the training mission William is presently on,” Sebastian said, still holding the boy’s hand.

“That was me. Chase set Avery straight,” Xavier said with a smile, explaining what the boy had said to the ancient wizard.

Sebastian smiled at Chase and nodded. “I am going to be monitoring the progress of this mission and will step in if anything even seems to be going wrong.”

Chase hugged him again, thanking him quietly, and Sebastian bit the inside of his cheek to help himself focus. Chase didn’t notice, but Xavier said, “Could I speak to you privately, Sebastian?”

Sebastian nodded and followed him into the study, noticing the man lock the door behind them. “When was the last time you ate, Sebastian?” Xavier asked, sounding concerned.

“It’s been a while,” Sebastian admitted.

“You’ve got to take better care of yourself. Going around in the sunlight, not eating right! It’s a recipe for trouble,” the handsome man said, rolling up his right sleeve and standing by Sebastian, extending his trim, muscular forearm beneath Sebastian’s nose.

Sebastian drew a deep breath, but looked up searchingly into Xavier’s eyes. Xavier nodded, and Sebastian sank his fangs into the man’s forearm. Sebastian drank deeply, and Xavier moaned from the pleasure of it. By the time Sebastian had his fill, the man had dropped to his knees and come in his underwear, glad he was wearing briefs. “I had forgotten,” Xavier whispered breathlessly.

Sebastian averted his eyes and said, softly, “I hadn’t…. Thank you!”

Xavier smiled and shook his head. “My pleasure,” he answered, winking. Sebastian smiled, and Xavier continued, “Sebastian, I’m sorry….”

“For what?” Sebastian said, taking his hand.

“For being such a dick to you about Avery. You did more good for him than any of us who protested, and I held it against you for so long!” Xavier poured out.

“Why did you hold it against me?” Sebastian asked.

“I was confused about why you sent me to Avery in the first place. And then … I thought you let him go because you were angry about what happened between me and him, before he met her. When I realized it wasn’t that, I felt like a fool, so it was easier to hold a grudge,” Xavier laid it all out.

“Thank you for being honest,” Sebastian said. Hesitantly, he leaned in and kissed the man on the cheek. “I was so happy that you finally made your way to Aiden, that you found happiness. That is all I ever wanted for you!”

Xavier hugged him, tears in his eyes, and whispered, “Let’s get back before they start talking!” Sebastian laughed and they walked out together. The scene of these two men emerging from a room together laughing brought Sam, Chase, and, now, Aiden, to silence. Indeed, Aiden’s mouth was hanging open until Xavier winked at him.

“Sebastian,” Aiden said, giving him a welcoming hug. “Can you stay?”

“I need to get home and monitor this crazy training mission Avery’s taking William on, and James is waiting,” Sebastian explained.

Chase smiled and nodded. “Go! You should be with your boyfriend,” he said with a little something in his voice.

“What’s the mission?” Aiden asked, making both Xavier’s and Sam’s eyes widened. They’d hoped that wouldn’t be discussed in front of Chase, because they knew from Sebastian’s response that it must be bad.

Sebastian hesitated and looked to Chase, before sighing. The boy indicated that he, too, would like to know. Now Aiden knew he had asked the wrong thing as Sebastian wrung his hands nervously. “A jungle village is infested with cryptovamps….”

“JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!” Xavier exclaimed, reaching for his wand to conjure a portal directly to William.

“Xavier!” Sebastian stopped him with a firm grip. “You’re weak now! Let me keep an eye on things. Avery can look out for him, and he’ll learn a lot.”

“Go! Hurry!” Xavier nodded, assenting. He wanted Sebastian back at his monitor as soon as possible.