06 Artists and Students

Soon they pulled out in front of a building not far from Xavier’s gallery, an old brick warehouse that had been converted into trendy lofts. Xavier pushed the button and a silky-soft masculine voice replied, “Yes?”

“Xavier Montrose and my nephew Chase,” he answered.

“Oh, very good,” the voice replied, and the door buzzed open. They took a big lift up to the sixth floor, and both were surprised when it opened not into a hallway but a huge open room. A tall young man, perhaps twenty-two, in a painter’s apron approached them with a brilliant, dimpled smile and held out his hand. “Dorian Brandt!”

For a moment both Chase and Xavier were embarrassingly silent before Xavier took the man’s hand. Dorian was shirtless beneath his smock and his smooth, dark skin and rolling muscles cut a captivating image, particularly smeared, as he was, with various colors of paint. “Excuse me,” the man laughed. “It’s just cheaper than burning through smocks and shirts, plus there’s less laundry….”

Chase nodded and at last took his hand. “I’m Chase….”

“Indeed,” the man said appreciatively. “Well, thanks for coming. It’s always nice when a professional takes an interest in your work….”

Xavier looked around and said, “You seem to be doing well for yourself….”

Dorian laughed, seemingly unembarrassed and said, “My father owns this building. When I moved to Richmond for college, he bought it as an investment, rather than paying rent to ‘maintain me in my accustomed lifestyle….’”

Chase’s face wrinkled up, and Dorian unselfconsciously put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t think badly of my father. He’s a good man, he just … doesn’t get me. But he does his best to be supportive,” the man added, indicating the huge apartment. There was one large open work- and living-space, a closed off kitchen and a big bedroom suite. The open area must have been over 1,500 square feet.

Changing the subject, Xavier stepped between Chase and the young painter toward a group of paintings sitting around in the corner and said, “I’m having a grand opening gala in a few weeks and I wanted to add something fresh. I saw a painting of yours at the university’s art department when I was meeting with the department chairwoman, and I was intrigued. I believe it was called….”

“Sacrifice,” Dorian said, leaving Chase behind and following Xavier.

“Yes,” Xavier said. “I’d like to take ten of your paintings on consignment. Of course, if we can work that out, I’d like you to come on Friday and Saturday night to meet the patrons!”

“Of course…. Well, let’s see if we can find ten that you think are worthwhile,” Dorian said.

It took about an hour for Xavier to find the ten that he thought would be perfect for his show. Chase just stood by, examining the paintings and observing. Dorian was an extraordinary artist, though his painting was a bit dark for Chase’s taste, and the man was incredibly handsome, but there was something else.

As they were leaving, Dorian shook Xavier’s hand, then Chase’s, and he held on a little longer than he should have. Xavier put his hand on Chase’s shoulder and gave the boy a little shake. As they stepped into the elevator, Xavier said, “I’ll send some men by to pick up the paintings in a few days. I’ll call to work out a time….”

“Thanks again, and very nice to meet you,” Dorian smiled, and the door closed. As it did, both Xavier and Chase sort of let out a breath they’d been holding subconsciously.

“Wow,” Xavier said with a laugh.

Chase laughed too and said, “YEAH!”

Xavier laughed again and, as they stepped outside, said, “Dorian was seriously in to you, Chase….”

“Nah! He was just being nice to me to get on your good side,” Chase laughed.

“You have an effect on people, Chase, especially guys,” Xavier laughed. “Just watch out when he’s around you. You don’t want to get in an awkward situation.”

“Well, I won’t be around him that much,” Chase said.

“There’s the opening,” Xavier replied. “And I imagine he’ll find a reason to come around, now,” the man added, knowingly.

When they arrived at the gallery, Chase was surprised at all the activity. Crews were carefully putting the finishing touches on the store space, while others where tromping up and down the stairs working on the offices. “Well, it sure is busy around here!”

“In a few more days, all the workmen will clear out of here and we can start setting everything up.” Xavier showed Chase around, indicating the store-room, the updated office and the little staging kitchen for events.

“It’s very impressive,” Chase said.

“Yeah, it’s much nicer than my space in D.C., and it’ll pay for itself. Most of my business is still with established clients via internet and shipping, but maybe I’ll develop a new clientele here,” Xavier said.

“Will some of your friends from Washington come down for the opening?” Chase asked.

“Yeah, a few will. It’ll be nice to see everyone,” Xavier said.

“Thanks for moving,” Chase said seriously. “I don’t know what I would have done….”

“You’re welcome, but I wouldn’t have made William move, not after everything that happened. The move was more for me than anything else, and I’m just thankful Aiden agreed to it…. He knows what makes me happy!” Xavier said.

“You’re lucky,” Chase said with a smile.

“We’re lucky,” the man answered. Xavier took Chase back to the store room and showed him some of the pieces from D.C. and told him more about his plans for the show. After about an hour, they returned home. Aiden was in the living room with Alex and William.

“Shorts and a t-shirt?” Chase asked with a laugh.

“I decided to call it an early weekend and spend some time with my guys!” the man exclaimed, bouncing Alex on his knee. He shot a strange look at Xavier and smiled brightly.

After dinner that evening, Xavier was holding Alex and William dragged Chase out onto the porch. He pulled him into a bear hug and whispered in Chase’s ear, “I love you….”

“I love you too, silly,” Chase said with a sigh as he melted into the boy’s arms.

“Chase, I just don’t know what I can ever do to…. I’m so sorry!” William exclaimed.

“I know,” Chase answered. “I was mostly joking about finding a way to make it up to me. I just wanted you to think…. But if you wanted to move the crib into the guest room for tonight, I can think of some things you might do to get started,” Chase said, arching his eyebrows and making William laugh.

“Yeah?” William asked with a big smile.

“OH YEAH!” Chase laughed.

Meanwhile, watching Xavier with his grand-nephew, Aiden declared with a gentle, deep laugh, “The whole world’s going baby crazy!”

“Don’t you start,” Xavier chided with a smile. “I saw you with him earlier!”

“I wasn’t making fun,” Aiden said more softly. “I was thinking….”

“Yeah?” Xavier asked expectantly.

“Well, I know we talked before, and decided the time wasn’t right, but,” Aiden began.

Xavier grabbed his hand. “I think we should talk about it again. Tonight, maybe….”

“Maybe in the morning,” Aiden winked.

***

“Avery was angry,” James said as he lay in bed with Sebastian that evening.

“He’ll get over it,” Sebastian said, stroking James’s chest. “We’ve been through this before. Invariably, he oversteps some boundary with a student…. With Xavier, it was sexual, with William it was foolhardiness. I could tell you stories!”

“Has he ever lost a student?” James asked, sounding concerned.

“Yes, but not like you mean…. In the 1930’s, when the Nazi’s were preparing for war, they were scouring the earth for weapons, including supernatural powers. One of Avery’s students got jealous of the affection Avery had for a new young recruit, so when he was approached by the Nazis, he went over to the other side. Because of his association with Avery, the Nazis got access to too much. The council was forced to enter the war on the side of the Allies. We very nearly didn’t succeed, because the Reich was devoting so much energy to magickal research and to breeding vampire squads. That’s when I went to consult the Oracle…. She gave me the information we needed, but she injured me. So when I faced Avery’s dark protégé in my weakened state I was severely hurt—the most nearly fatal attack I’ve ever suffered. It took me nearly three years to recover, during which time I was relieved of my command. I spent my time convalescing with friends—Americ and Pedro, especially. Musa always wanted me to come stay with him, but I dared not return to Egypt … for obvious reasons.”

“What happened to Avery’s student?” James asked, stroking his partner’s hair.

“His name was Balthazar Schilling. He caught up to me in 1944 as they were moving me to Pedro’s compound in Central America. He killed all the men with me but one….”

“Richard?” James asked.

“I told you once that Richard had killed precious few and those he did kill deserved it…. Balthazar was a formidable sorcerer, and I was still VERY weak. He had me, and he had dealt Richard what he thought was a fatal blow. But he turned his back on a dying man to kill me. With his last burst of energy, Richard launched himself at Balthazar and tore into his throat before the man realized what was happening. In a poetic turn, his blood was enough to sustain Richard until Pedro’s men could come to our aid. And with my last energy I conjured a great fire around Balthazar.”

“Were Avery and Balthazar…?” James began.

“Lovers? Oh, yes, and so much more. Balthazar was Avery’s—how to say this without sounding grotesque—legacy. He was the most gifted young wizard I’d met since Avery, but such a dark heart. He preyed on Avery’s every weakness like any natural predator would.”

“Wow,” James said.

“Yeah, until her, Avery’s love life was a series of terrible mistakes, with the occasional pleasant interlude,” Sebastian added with a smile.

“A lot of those interludes were with you?” James asked.

Sebastian smiled softly and patted his chest. “Yes…. A lot of them were with me. Things were always simple between us.”

James sighed, and said, “I know you’ve been … with a lot of men, and boys, and for the most part, that doesn’t bother me. You’ve lived a long time. But Avery’s different….”

“No, James,” Sebastian said with a smile, rolling on top of James, “You are different! Avery is my best friend, my misguided, childish, brash best friend. I don’t know what I’d do without him. But I could. It’s hard for me to say that. But James, I love you. Every time we make love, it’s special to me, it really is! And I couldn’t do without you.” James embraced him with a big smile after wiping a tear from his eye.