5 Confessions & Prophecies

A young female wizard stood by Sebastian’s bed, unsure what to do. “High Consul…. Sir!” Sebastian’s eyes snapped open and he looked at the woman, who seemed very nervous. “Sir, the humans you asked for are here, and your prisoners are awake.”

“Thank you,” he said, staring at her insignia for a moment, “Major?”

“Yes sir,” she said with a weak smile and a salute. “Major Sarah Light, sir….”

Sarah, please call me Sebastian,” he said, as he stood up, careful not to disturb James.

“I couldn’t, sir,” Maj. Light replied.

“Consider it an order!” he said, smiling. “Please, come with me, Sarah….”

“Yes sir,” she responded.

Sebastian descended to find Steve and Chris standing in the living room, flanked by strangely dressed wizard commandos. “Sebastian,” Steve demanded, “what the hell is going on?”

“I’m very sorry, but there’s precious little time to explain! My home was attacked overnight—Avery and James are wounded, and Peter … well Richard is seeing to him and that’ll be explained later!” Sebastian sighed and turned to the guards: “Leave us…. Sarah, stay, please?”

“Who are these … soldiers? What is this?” Steve demanded.

“These,” Sebastian said, shaking his head, “are battle wizards serving the Queen of the Witches. Currently, they are commanded by the High Consul of the Shadow Council!”

“Who?” Steve asked, his perplexity growing.

“Me…. Steve, Chris, you’ve been brought here because of your relationship to James, and to me. Last night, Peter was abducted because he was observed coming and going from this place, and I was worried the same would happen to you,” Sebastian explained.

Steve looked frustrated, but Chris’s inquisitive eyes bore down on Sebastian. “What are you?”

“Very good! I … am a vampire,” Sebastian said simply.

“Vampire?” Steve demanded, incredulous.

But Chris asked, “James didn’t survive the gunshot, did he?”

“How did you know?” Sebastian asked with a gentle smile.

“He’s skin, when I touched him, was almost cool,” Chris reasoned.

“Very good,” Sebastian smiled wider.

Steve burst out, “This isn’t real! Wizards and vampires aren’t real!”

Sebastian responded, “Steve, I’m sorry. You were never meant to know this! We exist, and we have tried our best to make sure that humans never know what lurks in the shadows. Vampires, wizards, strega, zombies, werewolves, dragons, demons, and angels—that’s just what we’ve been dealing with for the past few days! The old rules are breaking down, and someone is trying to reveal what the darkness holds. We’re trying to hold back the tide, and in the end we may need your kind to fight back!” Sebastian looked lost in thought. He had one major point of contact in the human world, but the thought of reaching out left a bad taste in Sebastian’s mouth.

Steve stood looking blank as Sebastian finished, but Chris again surprised him, asking, “What can we do?”

Sebastian smiled and put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Thank you, my friend! Could you boys run upstairs and wait for James or Avery to wake up? They can fill you in…. I have some prisoners to attend to. Sarah, make sure that they have what they need. If they need me, you come get me….”

“Yes, sir!” she said, saluting before remembering with a smile, “Sebastian!”

Steve looked surprised at her response to his command, while Chris remained quite curiously calm.

‘Later,’ Sebastian thought to himself, as he descended the stairs to find Jean-Philippe sitting and watching Chang’s mercenaries. “Jean-Philippe, how long have our guests been up?”

“A half-hour, sir,” Jean-Philippe replied solemnly.

“So, Martin, Vanessa, is it? Would either of you like to chat for a while, or shall we begin? Perhaps you could tell me what happened in the hangar before my men arrived? Tell me about Sammael, perhaps?” Sebastian asked.

Martin glared over at Vanessa then spoke. “We were alone with Chang! He blamed us and was gonna let us dangle in the wind! A man who wasn’t there before spoke from the shadows. He said he held Chang responsible, stepped up behind him, and before Chang could even react, this fellow just twisted his head off, waved his hand over the body and it burst into flames!”

“What did this fellow look like?” Sebastian asked.

Vanessa jumped in. “The flames blocked his face, but….”

“But?” Sebastian demanded.

“His eyes,” she said. “His eyes were red like blood….”

Sebastian nodded. “Can either of you tell me about Chang’s plan?”

“We don’t know anything! Take the boy, he said,” Martin said.

“Tell me,” Sebastian said, lifting himself up onto Martin’s table like a kid sitting on the kitchen cabinet to talk to his mom. “Did Consul Chang say anything about turning the boy?”

“No,” Martin said, “he said we should kill him! Knowing how much Chang hated you … we thought he’d like our gesture! It was Vanessa’s idea….”

“You bastard!” she barked at him.

“Oh, now? I believe him…. But tell me, Martin, did she rape my friend?” Sebastian asked.

The man glowered at him, and spat, “I may have fucked the boy, but the whore sucked him dry by the nozzle! Now just get it over with….”

Sebastian smiled and hopped off the table. “If only it were so simple!” Grabbing a pair of scissors, he cut off their clothes, so they were both naked. “I thought I’d let Peter decide what I should do to you!” Both of them looked concerned at that thought, but positively blanched when he added, “But not before I let Richard have a go!” Then he laughed a little, “But until he feels up to it, I’ll be making an example out of you….” He ran a hand up Martin’s muscular thigh and squeezed a little, playfully. But again, his smile was perhaps more chilling than anything he could have said.

“Jean-Philippe, give me a hand?” With Jean-Philippe’s help, he pinned the man’s leg to the table and took a large spike, driving it through the vampire’s knee, before repeating the procedure on his other leg. Again, the man passed out, and Sebastian ran a hand across his tight abs, through the light soft hair dusting his chest. “It’s a shame, Jean-Philippe,” Sebastian smiled sadly, “he is a beautiful creature, but … inside….” He shook his head, before moving on to Vanessa. “They aren’t going anywhere, Jean-Philippe. Please, come with me?”

Sebastian stepped into his office and sent a few alerts, notifying the council of Chang’s death and the capture of the kidnappers. He also ordered that the Hong Kong consul’s office occupied by a task force of trusted council operatives and battle wizards. It would take a while to sort through everything, but perhaps they could uncover the moles, or even discern what plans were underway.

***

When William woke, Chase was already long gone. William resumed his morning routine, telling Steve he was going for a run.

“Don’t push it,” the man called after him. William did cut back on the running, as well as the weights, that day, and he spent the better part of the morning reading on the couch. He was having lunch with Steve when the doorbell rang. The UPS man had a package for William.

Steve looked at it suspiciously, and almost handed it to the boy, but William took out his wand and contained the package before taking it to the inner room of his shed. It could have been from his uncle, but the man knew not to send something like that to him through the mail, for fear of his being discovered. From a distance and behind a shield, he opened the package, and a powerful explosion blew past the shield on both sides, reddening his skin.

Before he left the shed, he picked up his cell phone and called his uncle. “Montrose Gallery,” the man answered.

“Uncle Xavier?”

“You shouldn’t call me here!” the man said.

“It doesn’t matter. They know,” William said, breaking down in tears. “There was a bomb….”

“Are you all right? Is everyone alright?” Xavier asked in a panic.

“I took the package into an inter-dimensional room and exploded it,” William said.

The man smiled in pride but was obliged to say, “That was foolhardy!”

“Hmmf…. I saved the house and no one got hurt!” William said.

“Thank God…. I’ll be there in an hour or so,” Xavier replied.

“Thanks…. Call Aiden and tell him not to take any packages,” the boy said, worrying that they’d all be in danger now. His fear was confirmed when, as soon as he hung up the phone, he got a call from Rabbi Roth.

“Are you alright William?” the man asked.

“How did you,” William began to ask.

“I got a package,” Sam said.

“Me too,” William sighed. “Uncle Xavier is on his way; Aiden will probably come tonight, I imagine! Can you come over too?”

“I’m going to beef up security here and then I’ll be along…. Be careful,” the man said.

Running up to the house, he told Steve, “It was a bomb…. A big bomb! Rabbi Roth got one too!”

“Shit!” Steve exclaimed.

“Now let’s go to the school and get Chase,” William said, and the man looked confused.

“We got a bomb, the rabbi got one, I think Aiden will get one at home—I already warned him—I think whoever is behind this might not be after just me anymore,” William said.

The man grabbed the keys and drove like a wild-man, calling Sarah as he drove. Neither of them could breathe when they arrived at school and cops had the building blocked up. There was an ambulance out front.

“What’s your business here, sir?” a cop asked at the gate.

“I’m Chase Abernathy’s father!” The man radioed up to his superiors and let them pass after a few minutes. That did not bode well. They ran to the school and were stopped a couple of times more. Inside, they spoke to a detective, who directed them to the library, which was, again, full of cops. They both breathed a heavy sigh when they saw Chase sitting in a chair talking to the police.

Running past the policemen, William called “Chase,” and fell to his knees at the boy’s feet, “You’re alright!”

“Yeah,” Chase smiled, but with tears in his eyes, “but they don’t know about Edward….”

“What happened?” William asked.

“That’s what we’re trying to get to, young man…. You are?” a policeman demanded.

“I’m,” William began.

“He’s my boyfriend,” Chase said, trying to help.

“I am his boyfriend, but I am also William Jennings…. I’ve been in hiding since my home in D.C. was bombed two months ago!” Now all the attention was on him.

“That kid died in the explosion,” the detective said skeptically.

“No, I didn’t! I was on my way back from my friend’s house when the explosion happened…. Since then, I’ve been hiding out! I only came here last week!” A flurry of questions and phone calls followed, and finally a radio call came through.

“There’s a man at the gate—an Xavier Montrose,” the man on the other end announced.

“That’s my uncle,” William said. “He can tell you which cops were on my case….”

A few moments later, Xavier entered the library and put his arms around both boys. The police questioned him extensively too, but at last both he and Steve had had enough. “We’re taking the boys home,” Steve said.

“We’ve got more questions,” the detective said.

“Well, when the boys are rested and calm, I’ll bring them to the station to talk to you—on their own time….” The cop didn’t look happy, but he nodded and the police let the two men and the boys go, while they continued to investigate the scene. Outside, William and Chase got into Steve’s car, and Xavier followed them home. They found Rabbi Roth sitting inside with Sarah, trying to calm the woman. Steve had explained briefly in his phone call to her, so she took a cab home, rather than risk her car.

“Alright, Chase, exactly what happened at school?” Steve asked.

“I don’t know, for sure! I was walking in the hall with Edward, and suddenly I heard screaming and a man’s voice call my name. I turned, and before I knew it, I felt Edward push me hard into the wall. Then there was a shot! A few seconds later a gun fired at him and he shot a few times as he ran away…. Edward was shot; I stayed with him until they took him to the hospital!” Chase narrated.

Sarah gasped on hearing about how her son was nearly shot, and William couldn’t help but feel to blame. “I’m sorry, I should never have come here,” he said, putting his head in his hands.

Sarah looked at him and said, a little sharply, “Don’t be silly!”

“It’s my fault! Chase could have been killed!” William cried.

“But I wasn’t! Now we have to stick together, and somebody has to help Edward!” Chase declared.

“Is there someone at the hospital we can call?” William asked, looking at Rabbi Roth.

“No one I know,” the man said.

“You could help him,” Chase said. “You helped William….”

“I’m afraid not, Chase…. William just needed a transfer of energy. Mystics specialize in energies, but this young man needs healing,” Sam explained.

Xavier picked up his phone and called Aiden, who was not yet on his way. He asked him to see if a doctor friend of theirs in D.C. could visit the boy, and Aiden said he’d get on that.

William stood up and paced for a minute, before exploding, “Who the hell is doing this?!”

Xavier sat for a minute and said, “What about the Council?”

“Do you think they can help?” William asked.

“He means he thinks they’re involved,” the rabbi responded, “which is ridiculous….”

“Is it? My brother-in-law may not have gotten wise about the Council when I left, but he left the Council, he turned his back on them and told them he wanted no more! They forced you out, Sam, by association with us!”

The older man put his hand on his head and said, “You knew he was thinking of going back?”

“Not true!” Xavier yelled.

“An official begged him to return, and they corrected some old wrongs, and made promises! It was Consul van der Meer himself!” Sam replied.

“Someone didn’t want those promises kept, or didn’t want Alexander back at the Council, then! But it is still a Council problem,” Xavier said with a hint of self-satisfaction.

Grudgingly, Roth admitted, “Perhaps a faction! All the more reason to seek their help—they would deal most harshly with the responsible parties….”

“Who can we trust?” William asked, letting his uncle know he had decided. The man shrugged his shoulders at his nephew.

“Consul van der Meer is a friend,” Rabbi Roth said. “I trust him.”

“With all our lives?” Xavier challenged.

Sam looked hard at William, who nodded. Roth took out his cell phone and called an old number.

“Who’s calling?”

“Who is this?” Rabbi Roth asked.

“Colonel Robert Fisher, Central Command….”

“I’m sorry, I was trying to reach Consul van der Meer,” Sam replied.

“Yes, sir…. Who may I say is calling?” Fisher asked.

“Sam Roth, code name Viper.” William couldn’t help but giggle, causing the older man to shoot him a look, though even he couldn’t stifle a laugh.

“General!” Fisher responded.

“Not any more, boy! Now what the hell is going on? Why is Central Command at the consul’s residence?” Sam asked.

“There was an assault on his home last night.” Colonel Fisher filled him in on the recent events that had rocked the Council.

“He’s alright?” Roth didn’t miss the sharp jerk as Xavier’s eye’s filled with fear, before his mask returned.

“Yes sir!” Fisher answered.

“Thank God,” Sam whispered.

“However, a friend of his, a human, was taken and turned. His … companion was injured. And Avery Salazar was nearly killed,” Colonel Fisher reported.

“Salazar is back?” Sam asked, and again Xavier’s face flashed, this time unrepressed.

“Yes, pardoned in exchange for seeking the Oracle’s advice on behalf of the Council. We’ve been betrayed and the Oracle was killed,” Fisher reported.

“A friend of mine was killed in an attack a couple of months ago. His son has been in hiding, but today received a bomb, as did his uncle. His boyfriend was nearly assassinated, his mother’s car was probably car-bombed, and I just was able to save my synagogue from yet another bomb….”

“That’s disturbing news, sir! Highly coordinated! Were all the attacks in Richmond?” Fisher asked.

“No, in D.C. too…. Can you put me on with him, Colonel?” Sam asked.

“Let me see,” Fisher said, putting the phone down and walking to Sebastian’s office.

Sebastian was taking a brief break from work when Colonel Fisher hurried announced he had a call from Rabbi Sam Roth reporting that a young couple and their family had been targeted in a coordinated bombing campaign.

“Hello?” a young-sounding male voice answered Sam on the phone.

“Sam Roth, sir,” Sam responded with a smile.

“How are you, my dear rabbi?” Roth filled him in and could hear the ancient vampire thinking over the line.

“I’m sorry, my friend. I’m saddened that they are going after allies who aren’t even active anymore! Why the boys?” Sebastian asked.

“No clue, but you know—knew—his father: Alexander Jennings.” Rabbi Roth noted the gasp on the other end of the line. Sebastian had, months earlier, tried to recruit Alexander Jennings back to the Council, and he was left to wonder how that, and now this attack, was related to the present crisis.

Sebastian replied, “Jennings…. They said that was an accident!”

“I think not. And you should know, William is far more gifted than either of his parents in some ways,” Sam whispered.

“Hmmm…. Let me consider what assistance I might offer. I’ll get back to you soon,” Sebastian promised.

“What’s going on Sebastian?” Sam asked.

“Chang sold us out, and the whole organization is riddled with spies. We’re only using secure channels and dealing with absolutely trusted agents. They’ve made me High Consul, you know? Everyone is scared. I don’t suppose you’d consider?”

“Say the word, master,” Sam said with a somber nod.

“Thank you Samuel! And don’t call me that…. I’ll be in touch as soon as possible! And Samuel?” Sebastian asked.

“Yes, my friend?” Sam responded.

“Pray for us all.” Sam sat stunned and sat back, aimlessly shoving the phone into his pocket.

Xavier looked at him expectantly before asking, snidely “What has his highness commanded?”

Sam narrowed his eyes and said, “Yesterday and last night, the Oracle was killed and Avery Salazar almost died trying to escape whatever killed her, and renegades working for Chang attacked Sebastian’s compound, injuring his companion and killing a dear friend….”

Xavier turned white and looked sick. “He’s … alright?”

“Yes, Sebastian is fine…. But he’s been terribly burdened! They’ve made him High Consul, and he’s fighting back. Would you rather be fighting such a force with him or separately?” Sam demanded.

Xavier looked at the floor. “With him,” he muttered, before raising his voice, “of course, with him! It’s Sebastian, for fuck’s sake!”

Sam nodded. “Glad you’re not going to let your … history get in the way.” Xavier frowned and walked out onto the back deck to call Aiden, but couldn’t get through.

“What are we going to do?” Sarah asked after a long silence.

“We’re going to weather this thing out,” Rabbi Roth said, sounding more certain that he was. “We’re stronger together, and we know more about what’s going on. It’ll take a while for them to regroup for another wave and we’ll be ready!”

“What about our everyday lives?” she asked.

“Everyone is going to have to be very careful,” Sam said. “School will be the most difficult thing to manage, but we’ll see what help the Consul can offer….”

***

As Sebastian sat in his office, thinking over his conversation with Sam, Pedro appeared on the terminal. “High Consul!”

“Pedro, don’t try me!” Sebastian said.

The man laughed heartily. “Is my brother … alright?”

“He’s fine, Pedro…. The healers are taking good care of him…. As soon as he’s up,” Sebastian said, letting his words trail off.

“Thank you, Sebastian. I’m sorry about your friend,” Pedro said, and Sebastian nodded.

“I’ll have Avery call you, Pedro…. I must go!” Sebastian stood, walked to the far corner of the room and picked up an illuminated manuscript from the 12th century. It was written by one of the greatest church theologians of the day, a man who had delved deep into the darkest arts. Sebastian opened the book, a terrible who’s who. On a certain page, even the name Hesed ben Nahor appeared, but Sebastian quickly found the section he was looking for, and shuddered.

“Sir?” a voice interrupted.

“Yes, Jean-Philippe?” Sebastian asked.

“What is it?” Jean-Philippe asked.

“I know who Chang was working for,” Sebastian answered.

“And?”

Sebastian slammed the book shut and shook his head in silence. “I need to talk to Avery!” He handed the book to Jean-Philippe and swept out of the room with Jean-Philippe hot on his tail. The wizards watched him with interest as he burst through the door and ran up the stairs. Taking a quick peek and finding James still asleep, he opened the door to Avery’s room and found two healers still working on him.

“How is he?” Sebastian asked.

“He’s doing well, sir! He’ll be fine! We’ve made a lot of progress….”

“Can you wake him?” Sebastian asked.

“Sir, we’re keeping him under…. Healing this way is extremely painful,” the elder healer replied.

“When can he safely be awakened?” Sebastian demanded.

“We could wake him but only for a short period of intense pain…. Perhaps twelve hours and he would find it bearable.” Sebastian clenched his fist and closed his eyes. He loved Avery like a brother.

“Wake him,” Sebastian ordered, anguish in his voice.

“Yes sir…. You’ll have about five minutes then we’ll have to put him back under!” Sebastian nodded. The healers closed their eyes and their hands glowed blue: Avery’s agonized screams brought Chris to the door.

Sebastian knelt and took the man’s hand. “Avery! Listen to me! We only have a few minutes and then they’ll take the pain away, again, I promise!”

Avery, a complex man of stoic resolve, looked at him with a face distorted by unimaginable suffering, and for the first time since Avery was fourteen, Sebastian saw him cry. “Please, make it stop,” he whimpered into Sebastian’s hand. A sob caught in Chris’s throat as he watched.

Sebastian squeezed. “Avery, focus! I’ll make it go away, but tell me! What does it mean that Chang was working for Sammael?”

Avery clenched his eyes and gritted his teeth and struggled to loose a bitter laugh. He drew Sebastian close with a trembling hand, whispering in his ear. Sebastian kissed him on the head gently, indicating to the healers that it was time.

Sebastian knelt by the bed for a long time, and only Chris heard his whisper, “My God, my God!”

Chris knelt at his side and put an arm over his shoulder. “Come on, Sebastian, come with me!” Sebastian stood numbly and walked with the soft-spoken boy, who led him down the hall to his own room. The healers were gone and James was resting. Chris sat him on the edge of the bed and squeezed his hand, whispering, “Rest with him for a little while.” Sebastian squeezed back and lay down, cuddling into James and laying his head on James’s muscled chest.

James wrapped an arm tightly around him and moaned through his artificial sleep, mumbling, “Sebastian?”

“I’m here, baby! Just rest!” Sebastian shut his eyes as he felt Chris leave, closing the door behind himself. ‘What are we going to do?’ he wondered. He had lived too long as it was, but after what he had already done to keep James alive, he knew he would do anything not to lose him now. But as his hand caressed the soft skin of the boy vampire’s tight belly, his mind drifted to pleasanter things, and he did nod off for a bit.

***

Sebastian was awakened by a soft hand on his cheek. “Are you okay?” James asked, looking concerned.

Sebastian laughed. “I’m not the one who passed out and hit his head!”

“That’s not what I mean,” James said.

Sebastian sighed. “I know…. No, I’m not!” Lying in James’s arms, Sebastian told him all he’d missed, excluding almost nothing, including how he banished a vampire to Ashaer and how he was torturing the two in the basement. But he did not yet mention Sammael.

“I’m so sorry,” James said, stroking his cheek and kissing him softly. The kiss grew more passionate as his hands embraced the ancient vampire’s tight body. “I hate to mention it, Sebastian, but I’m … hungry.”

“I’ve got to keep my strength up as well,” Sebastian said. Then he smiled grimly. “Come with me….”

Sebastian led James to the basement, where they found their two captive vampires. “He is hot,” James said, immediately zeroing in on Martin.

Sebastian stood at his side and advised, “Drink your fill, James! You won’t kill him, but he’ll be tremendously pained.” For his part, Sebastian roughly pushed Vanessa’s head to the side and ripped into her throat. James teased Martin, lowering his mouth to the man’s muscular thigh and drinking deep from the femoral artery. Martin groaned through the pain and would have run his fingers through the boy’s hair if he could. The pleasure passed as Martin weakened and his sensation heightened.

Satisfied, James leaned in, his lips grazing the man’s ear. “I hate to cause pain; I get sick when I see a dead animal in the road! But I’ll see you suffer endlessly for what you’ve done!”

Sebastian led him to the office. “I’ve got to go to Richmond and check in on the situation there….”

“With all that’s going on here?” James asked with a frown. But then he nodded, with a laugh. “Go, but hurry back!”

***

After a tense afternoon, the phone rang. Steve answered, “Hello?”

“Steve, it’s Aiden! Is everybody alright?”

“Yes, we don’t know about the boy at the hospital yet,” Steve answered.

“He’s going to be fine! I checked into it…. Flesh wound. He’ll need some rehab, but he’s all clear,” Aiden confirmed.

“Thank God! You’re coming up?” Steve asked.

“As soon as we finish our sweep…. Security’s going through the house and the cars. Once the jet is cleared, I’ll be on it,” Aiden said. Then he asked, “Can I speak to Xavier?”

William fetched the man who rushed to the phone. Aiden filled him in on his preparations and Xavier whispered, “Be careful, babe!”

“Always,” came Aiden’s confident reply. “I love you, sweetie!”

“Aiden…. Sam’s called the consul,” Xavier reported.

“Hmmm…. Can’t be helped I suppose,” Aiden replied.

“You don’t think that’s dangerous,” Xavier asked.

“You don’t seriously think Sebastian,” Aiden began.

“No, it’s just,” Xavier interrupted.

“You’re still on about that? Should I be jealous,” Aiden joked.

“Aiden,” Xavier warned, clearly not amused.

“I love you! And I’ll prove it to you tonight! Bye for now, my love,” Aiden replied.

Xavier put the phone down and sat down heavily, feeling sorry for himself. Chase, as always, sensed that something was up and crossed the room, put his hand on Xavier’s shoulder and used that as a guide to lower his slight form onto the man’s lap. “You always know how to make me feel better,” Xavier whispered with a laugh, hugging him tightly. Chase lounged on him comfortably while a silent tension hung over the room.

At last Chase stood and shouted, “What’s wrong with you? We could all be dead right now, but we’re alive!” he trailed off, sounding almost happy. “We’ve got William, I’ve got friends, mom’s working on number two, and we’re together! You’re acting like this is a funeral, but I’m feeling like we’ve all come to life again!”

They all jumped at a boyish voice from the doorway. “You should listen to the beautiful one,” he said with a smile. “He’s very wise!” Xavier’s jaw fell open as a smile spread over Sam’s face. “Please don’t take offense, William, but you surely don’t disagree,” he said, feeling the boy’s jealousy like a storm. “I should have introduced myself. I am High Consul van der Meer, head of the Shadow Council.”

William restrained his feelings somewhat, but said, “I’m afraid that doesn’t mean much to me!” Xavier put his hand on William’s shoulder to indicate he should not speak such things. When Sebastian smiled, William couldn’t deny that Sebastian, too, was a great beauty, rivaling even Chase. For him, Chase would always rise above all others, but it was still hard to remain hostile in the face of such perfection.

“It’s quite all right Xavier,” he said, looking deep into the man’s eyes. “There are people who have cause to … be wary of me.” The apology in his eyes was palpable.

“William,” Sam said, “Sebastian is the most powerful person in the world. As High Consul, he is the leader of all the magical beings who take part in the Council!”

William looked at the slight teenager in front of him with a new respect, but still shook his head, doubting. “You want me to believe….” But in a blink of an eye, Sebastian was at his side, causing him to shake his head. Sebastian took his hand and he tried to pull away, but couldn’t. Sebastian’s hand was cold. His skin was milk white. “Vampire?”

“The oldest in the world,” Sam announced, causing Sebastian to look at him wearily.

“For now,” Sebastian muttered glumly. Then he let go of William’s hand and smiled again. “You remind me of Alex,” he said, speaking of the boy’s father. He took one step in Chase’s direction, however, and a loud noise crashed in the room. An imposing shadowy figure stood between Sebastian and Chase.

“Enough! What are you doing here, vampire?” Gideon demanded.

“You,” Sebastian exclaimed, his curiosity mixed with disgust. “It’s been a long time,” he began, but Chase cut him off.

“Gideon, what are you doing?” Chase asked.

“Gideon, is it?” Sebastian said with a curious look. “I only meant to offer my assistance to your charges, guardian….”

“Beware,” Gideon growled. “I’m not Gamaliel….” Gone as quickly as he came, Gideon left William to wonder why he had reacted so violently to Sebastian’s approach to Chase, even after he had let the vampire take William’s hand.

Sebastian considered Chase carefully. At last, he stepped forward and reached out with his elegant hand, noticing that the boy didn’t flinch at his cold touch. As if he could read Sebastian’s mind, Chase said softly, “William and Gideon would never let you near me if I had anything to be afraid of.” Sebastian smiled and rested his hand on the boy’s cheek, feeling an instantaneous charge. He felt something like this when he touched James, but this was charged with unadulterated power.

Sebastian took a step back, almost involuntarily, nearly stumbling. Xavier and Sam looked at one another, confused, as the ancient vampire looked at Chase with something like awe. “Remarkable! I….” Chase took a step forward in concern, but Sebastian took another step back and no one could understand. Sebastian cleared his throat and said, “I’m sorry, Chase. It’s just; I’m at a loss…. I can read people with a touch, but that was just overwhelming! I get nothing from you beyond pure indescribable,” he stopped breathless.

Chase stepped forward again, and Sebastian held his ground. “Can I see you?”

Sebastian cleared his throat and said, “Yes,” and as he felt the boy’s hand on his face, the energy rushed over him. As the seconds passed, Sebastian began to feel lightheaded, and if it had lasted a moment longer than it did, he would have had to pull away. As it was, Sebastian collapsed into a nearby seat and caught his breath.

“Are you alright, Sebastian?” Sam asked, sounding concerned. Chase relaxed as he felt William’s arm snake around his waist possessively.

“I’m sorry,” Chase said.

“No,” Sebastian said with a laugh. “Overwhelming. My head is spinning. It makes me long to get home to James…. William, protect him at all costs!” William nodded, knowing they understood each other. Sebastian took out a communication device and typed in a few orders. Looking around the room, he explained. “I’ve ordered a detachment of battle wizards to Richmond to protect all of you…. They’ll blend in, you won’t know who they are, but they’ll screen your mail, your water and food. They’ll neutralize any threats! Still, be careful and report any strange activity….” Reaching into his pocket, he took out a handful of amulets. “Wear these at all times and if you feel threatened—even you, William—grab the amulet between your fingers and call for help. It will come!”

Before he left, Sebastian took William aside. “Don’t take risks, William! Let us help you if you need it…. Chase needs you!” Surprising William, Sebastian hugged him. “You do remind me of your father,” he whispered. “Some time soon, I’d like for you and I to sit down and talk.” Before stepping back, he softly kissed William’s cheek, squeezing his shoulder.

“I’ve got to get back. Please let me know if you need anything else,” he said to the group. “Check in with Sam regularly.” With that he walked to the door, beckoning the rabbi to follow him. He whispered, “I am reactivating you, General. You are my man in Richmond! If you need more wizards, send me a message, whatever you need! I want the threat to this family neutralized, as soon as possible! With extreme prejudice.” Sam nodded. It was a command he knew well; he wasn’t the Viper for nothing. In a softer tone, Sebastian asked, “Is ‘Gideon’ who I think he is?”

“I believe so, Sebastian! Have you ever heard of such a thing?” Sam asked.

“No … yes, once, but I’ve come to see that there is much I never thought possible!” Seeing the man’s question, Sebastian explained, “I recently had a close encounter with Gamaliel. Let’s just say, it’s changing my perspective….”

“How in the world did you come across him?” Sam asked.

Sebastian looked guilty. “I fell in love…. It’s a long story, but he was shot. To save him, I had to turn him…. Gamaliel had come for him, Sam.”

“Oh,” Roth said, his face white. “I’m … sorry.”

Sebastian shrugged. “Love? It’s a miraculous force…. Just look at these boys!”

“Sebastian, why the interest? I mean, in these times! I’m glad, don’t get me wrong,” Sam whispered.

“You saw what happened when the boy touched me?” Sebastian asked. Sam nodded. “I’ve only ever felt something like that a few times. There is a power in Chase that I know but cannot place! He’s important….” Sam nodded, but Chase, hurrying their way, interrupted.

“Sorry, but … I’m having a birthday party this weekend, if you and James can get away,” Chase said with bubbly excitement.

Sebastian looked at the boy, again taken aback by his purity, sincerity, and innocence. “I … it would be our pleasure, my young friend.” With a wave, he joined the group of wizards escorting him.

Xavier’s laughter, at first soft, then almost cackling, broke the silence that had fallen over the room. Aiden walked through the front door and looked at his partner as if he’d lost his mind. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Sebastian!” Xavier laughed.

“He was here?” Aiden asked, almost awed.

Xavier nodded, still laughing. “Chase invited him to his birthday party!” Aiden’s mouth fell open and everybody started laughing. “And he’s going to come!” Aiden ruffled Chase’s hair.

“What!?” Chase laughed.

“Chase, that’s kind of like inviting the Emperor to lunch. Sebastian is nearly four thousand years old, if the rumor mill can be trusted!” Aiden explained.

“Well, he’s nice,” Chase said.

Aiden chuckled and ruffled his hair again. “He can be.”

“By the way,” Xavier said, controlling his laughter, “here is your amulet,” he said, handing it over and explaining the security arrangement. Aiden was impressed and surprised by the consul’s response.

When Matt burst through the door, all other conversation halted. The boy, unaware of anything but the school shooting, ignored everyone and ran to Chase, grabbing him. In tears, Matt whispered, “You’re alright! They wouldn’t tell us anything….”

Chase squeezed his best friend tight and said, “Edward saved me…. He got shot!”

“Is he going to be alright?” Matt asked.

“Yeah, he’s gonna hurt for a while, but….” As the boys talked, Sam made a mental note to have some men watch Matt as well. Finally Matt looked around, surprised to find that he had completely blocked out the presence of Aiden and Xavier, as well as an unknown older man.

“Rabbi Sam Roth,” the man said, extending a hand. “I’m a family friend of William and Xavier.”

Matt looked confused and William explained, “Xavier is my uncle….” Matt stayed a little while then stood to go, leaving the group again to their own devices.

Sam prepared to go as well. “Everyone has an amulet?” They all nodded. “Xavier, Aiden, you’re welcome to my guest room!”

The men shook their head in thanks. “I’ve booked a room a few miles away,” Aiden said.

William followed him to the door and whispered. “Tomorrow? I still want to finish by Sunday….” The man shook his head, laughing, and nodded.

“Tomorrow then….” When the man was gone, William rejoined the quiet group and they all had a bite to eat, with little chit-chat. Aiden and Xavier soon left for their hotel, and William and Chase retreated upstairs.

***

Snow swirled in the wind outside the arctic outpost. A scientific outpost, it had been purchased by a private corporation years earlier. The Thorpe Corporation was a subsidiary of Taft Pharmaceuticals, whose majority shareholder Shujang International Holdings, the major financial vehicle of the deceased Consul Chang. Sammael stood in immobile in the arctic winds contemplating the world, looking every bit the dashing young executive in a fashionable modern suit. A man wouldn’t have survived minutes in those clothes.

Inside, the outpost had grown down into the ice, housing scores of dark wizards, guards, and prisoners. By and large, the prisoners were the missing strega, medicine men and women, seers. The Oracle had put up too much of a fight. Many men had been killed before Sammael had done her in himself, leaving a few feral dragons behind to greet Avery.

“Silly mortals,” he muttered, holding in equal contempt those who served and opposed him. If anything, he respected those who opposed him more, for fighting a hopeless battle. Those who had any inkling of his designs and served him nonetheless were, to the last creature, dupes. They did not yet understand that they sealed their own fates by their actions.

His mind drifted to the creature they called Sebastian. A pleasing form, to be sure, he was perhaps the single most powerful the ants who populated this earth, if only he would harness the will to power. But he was weakened through his worldly attachments, sentimental as any human. Sammael hadn’t intended to be revealed so early. “So be it,” he muttered, walking toward the door and stepped inside.

Sammael demanded of his project manager, “Progress?!”

The man could not, or would not, look at him. “Wwwe have it all, sir, except the head…. We have all the necessary…. But we need….”

“The head,” Sammael shook his head. “Where the fuck is his head!?!” The lights throughout the complex flickered, and the manager flinched. But when he opened his eyes, Sammael was gone.

***

James found Steve and Chris. They talked for hours while Sebastian attended to his business, James bringing them up to speed on the world of shadows. When they had heard as much as they could handle, James made dinner for the expanding household, the battle wizards providing their own sustenance and eating in their little military encampment in the yard, hidden from passers-by with an advanced cloaking spell. After dinner, Steve and Chris cuddled in their guest room. Spending their nights together, doing what they wanted where no one would care, was a definite benefit for them.

Sebastian returned to his office to read incoming reports and send orders and plot with his allies, so James wandered around, watching all the new people—the wizards, Jean-Philippe, Sarah—but at last he went to the place he had been avoiding.

James knocked softly, pushing the door open. Richard scarcely looked up at him before his eyes returned to the face of the dead boy, so peaceful, washed and nude, beneath white silk sheets. Richard hadn’t moved in hours and his mind was still mostly blank. James sat down next to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

Richard shuddered, before collapsing back into James’s arms, his tears renewing. James held him quietly for perhaps half an hour, before whispering, “Go, take a shower, feed. You’ll need your strength when he returns.”

Richard wiped his eyes and nodded. “You … won’t leave him?”

“I won’t leave his side…. I promise!” The man nodded and smiled weakly as James stretched out on the bed next to his friend, taking Peter’s cold hand. Richard left the room and presumably went looking for his next meal.

James felt Sebastian calling to him and tried to project the thought, “I’m with Peter. I convinced Richard to get out and feed….’

He heard in the back of his mind, ‘Good,’ and felt warm feelings of love washing over him. ‘I’m back from Richmond…. Join me in our bed when he returns?’

Rather than answer, James concentrated on the feelings he felt, and felt ever stronger waves wash back over him. He stared over again amazed at the peaceful look on his friend’s face. Peter had always been one of the most handsome of the rugged boys he had known, and he looked almost angelic now. It pained him deeply to imagine that his friend would return not to the sweet memory of his lover’s embrace, but to memories of a painful violation.

He put his head on the boy’s chest and his tears fell on the cool skin, rolling along the ridges of muscle, as he wrapped his arm around him. Suddenly, he felt another warming wave of pure affection, and the thought, ‘We’ll be with him….’

When Richard returned, he smiled at James and stripped naked, stepping into his small bathroom and turning on the shower. Shortly, he emerged toweling himself off, and James had to admire his physique. ‘I am surrounded by beautiful men,’ he thought with an inward chuckle. When Richard sat down next to him, he was still naked.

“Thank you, James,” he said. “I’m feeling … better….”

“Good…. We all have to be strong!” James leaned in and kissed him softly on the lips, intimate but in a brotherly way. As he stood, Richard slipped beneath the sheets and cuddled into the young man he so tenderly attended.

***

As they held each other in the bed, William softly began to cry. “What’s wrong, sweetie?” Chase asked feeling him trembling.

“Your mother was right, when I first came here! I’ve put you all in danger!” William said.

“Shhh! This is the way things are supposed to be, William!” Rolling over onto William’s chest, Chase smiled up at him. “If there’s anything to be upset about, it’s that it took the powers that be so long to get us together! And, of course, the how…. But to think, our families were always this close to being connected and only now! For years, Gideon has been talking to me about the boy I’d meet, and I can’t….”

William kissed him, wiping the hair from his face. “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered. Kissing the Chase’s face, William stroked his cheek with his thumb, before running his hand down to Chase’s chest. “And you have the heart of an angel….”

Chase scrunched his face up and grabbed the much bigger boy’s wrists, teasingly restraining him, “We’ll see about that….”

William played along, letting Chase pin him to the bed, but he still shook his head. “I don’t know what I would do without you!”

“Well then let’s not find out,” Chase said, planting a soft kiss on his lips before snaking his way down the bigger boy’s body, initiating a night of lovemaking fueled by their desire to be as near one another as possible and the fears they were avoiding.

***

James hurried upstairs to find Sebastian naked in bed, and began ripping his own clothes off immediately. When he climbed into bed, Sebastian was on him instantly. They made love for hours, enjoying their supernatural stamina, nipping and nibbling at each other, passing blood back and forth through passionate bites. When they at last collapsed under the weight of their pleasure, James wrapped his arms around Sebastian and they relaxed, enjoying an increasingly rare moment of peace.

“How were things in Richmond?” Sebastian filled him in on his encounter with old and new friends in Richmond, William’s recent tragedies, and his suspicions about the relative importance of the two boys in the grand scheme of things. “William could rival Avery one day, but Chase? He’s just a boy, best I can tell…. However there is something about him, something familiar but something I can’t place…. He’s the one to watch out for!” Sebastian explained what happened to him when the boy touched him, and thought he caught a hint of jealousy at first, but it passed quickly. “In any case, you’ll meet them! We’re going to Richmond on Sunday….” James raised his eye, questioningly. “He invited us to his birthday party!”

James didn’t know what made it funnier, the innocence of inviting Sebastian, knowing who and what he was, to a birthday party, or that the ancient vampire had been entirely powerless to refuse the invitation. In any case, they laughed in each other’s arms for a long time.

***

The next day, school was closed and the Abernathy house was swarming with police. Steve’s lawyer, as well as Aiden and Xavier’s also showed up to control the scene and also to ensure that the boys were taken care of. Sebastian’s men were also on the scene to make sure the cops were under control. By lunch time, however, Chase was demanding to visit the hospital and see Edward, but it was two before the police would allow them to see each other.

So in the middle of the afternoon, William and Chase walked into a hospital room and found Edward was sitting up watching television. “Guys!” Edward exclaimed, and Susan smiled at them.

Chase carefully made his way to the bedside and hugged Edward as best he could, tears springing up spontaneously. “I’m sooo sorry, Edward!”

Edward smiled at William and gently stroked Chase’s back, letting the boy lay on him for a while. “You wanna go grab a drink, Susan,” William asked.

“Sure,” she said. “I need to get the blood pumping to my legs again…. Be back in a minute, Edward,” she said, and he silently waved with a smile.

“So, how’s he doing?” William asked Susan.

“He’s fine: a little jumpy, but I think he’s also kinda flying high! It’s not every day you get to save someone’s life, and everybody will know,” she explained.

“Well, he’s my hero!” William laughed. “I’d have rather died than….”

Susan looked at him seriously and knew he wasn’t lying. “You should tell him that sometime! It’ll mean a lot to him….”

“Why is Edward so fond of Chase?” William finally asked.

“Jealous?” she asked, laughing. He shrugged, embarrassed. “I told you he’s had a hard time, and … I really can’t say anything other than talk to him….” William nodded and they talked for a while. When they returned to the room, they found Chase up in the bed, his head on Edward’s good shoulder, laughing with the boy.

“We’ve got to get going soon, Chase,” William said. “When do you get outta here?”

“Tomorrow morning,” Edward replied. “Back to school on Friday…. I’ll just have my arm in a sling for a while!”

“Can you come Sunday? I’m sure Chase’s parents would love to meet you,” William said.

“Sure,” Edward smiled, hugging Chase, who slid out of the bed.

William walked over to the bed and leaned down, wrapping an arm around the Edward’s neck for a hug. Kissing him on the cheek, William whispered softly, “Thank you for Chase!”

Edward returned his hug and they quickly parted, waving bye to each other. As the boys walked downstairs to find Xavier, Chase said, “I like Edward….”

“I noticed,” William said, gently poking him.

Chase blushed. “You know what I mean!”

“I do! He clearly likes you too…. Not everybody would take a bullet for you! Or let a gay boy crawl into bed with him, either!” Now Chase was really blushing.

“It felt like the right thing to do,” Chase said softly.

It was, sweetheart,” William said, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and kissing the side of his head. When they got back home, Chase went to work on homework while William called Sam for help him with the final preparations he had to make. When the man arrived, he escorted William to the workshop, and they stepped inside together.

“You’re quite sure about this, my boy?” William raised his eyebrows to let Sam know he wasn’t interested in a discussion. “You can finish at any time!”

“I’ve nearly been blown up twice; Chase was almost shot…. If not now, when?” William challenged.

Sam laughed and the boy looked at him like he’d lost it. “It’s nothing! Hillel used to say, ‘If I am not for myself, who will be? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?’ Don’t forget, I’m a rabbi!” William laughed and nodded, leading him through the interdimensional door. “So, you are prepared for the spell?”

“I have all the ingredients I need for the potion,” William replied.

“The potion is the easy part, William! You’ll need to use absolute concentration as you say the blessings, and watch carefully over the mixture until it evaporates into a perfect state. The incense will look like drops of amber on the bottom of the cauldron. Overdone, it’s useless; underdone, it can put out the fires when you’ve kindled them. It must be … perfect!”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” William said, as he built a fire beneath his cauldron and began to measure out the ingredients, Sam watching over him.

“Now we wait,” Sam said, having inspected and approved the potion. They sat talking while the brew boiled, about Jewish tradition and community, as well as about the magical community, and their shared parts in both. Occasionally, Sam would point and William would stir, testing the thickness of the mixture. At last, it was thick and syrupy and William had to sit over it constantly stirring. Sam instructed him to remove it from the fire and let the rest of the liquid evaporate as it cooled. When it was done, William scraped the little beads from his cauldron into a jar, and the amber-colored dots clinked against the glass. “Perfect,” Sam proclaimed. “We’ll finish Sunday night after the party! It has to be done at night, and it’ll take a while. Have you thought about who your witnesses will be, or where you want to do it?”

“I hadn’t thought of it, actually. There are options about places?” William asked.

“It’s easy to forget, because you’re so powerful and skilled, how young you are! There are an infinite series of mystical realms and mystical places, existing beyond our space and time, a place for all….”

“What is our place?” William asked, bringing a magnificent smile to the old man’s face.

“The Beit ha-Mikdash, the holy Temple,” Sam explained.

William looked confused. “But the Temple was destroyed….”

Smiling, the old man shook his head. “My dear boy, the Temple is beyond human power…. The Temple in Jerusalem, a worldly symbol of the holy Temple, was lost and with it a very tangible connection to the sacred. But the Temple is always there, and our connection to it remains very strong….”

“Then, the Temple,” William said.

“And who?” William wondered out loud.

“This ritual is a mystical marriage, of sorts, William, you know that. But it’s so much more!” Sam said.

“Xavier and Aiden,” William said.

“And what about Steve and Sarah?” Sam asked.

“Are you sure that would be a good idea? Can they even…?” William wondered out loud.

“They can, and it will surely be a lot for them, especially Sarah, but how will they feel if they are left out of one of the most important events of their son’s life?” William nodded. “And then there are Sebastian and James….”

“Surely they’ll have more important,” William began.

“You have no idea! This kind of thing happens rarely, even in a life as long as Sebastian’s! Anyone would consider it a great honor! I must tell you, Sebastian thinks a lot of you two. He’s devoting extraordinary resources to protect you,” Sam explained.

William nodded and thanked Sam for his help. “My pleasure, young man! I’ve never even seen a Bond, much less seen one forged! Honestly, you couldn’t keep me away….” William laughed and accompanied Sam through the house, the man waving to Chase’s parents and Aiden and Xavier as he hurried on his way.

“What’s this all about, William?” Xavier asked, looking amused.

“It’s a surprise,” William smiled at him. “By the way, did Sam ever tell you about the research he did on your family tree?”

“Yeah…. What of it?” Xavier asked

“So, you aren’t … interested in the least,” William asked.

“No! Are you?” Xavier laughed.

“Kinda,” William replied.

Xavier looked at him curiously and shrugged. “To each his own….” William waved him off and ran upstairs, flopping down on the bed to read until he and Chase were called for dinner.

Aiden and Xavier discussed their plan to relocate to Richmond. They could accelerate that process since William was now known to be alive, and a nice house two blocks over had just become available, so they invited William to tour it with them the next day.

“You’ll have a room there,” Xavier said, looking at him with a funny smile, “in case the two of you want a getaway from the new baby and the crying!”

Sarah looked at them all with a cross look. “Let’s not count our chickens…. And don’t be taking away my babysitters!”

“Oh, come on mom! Dad’s been a trooper, so you should be pregnant in no time,” Chase joked, causing Aiden and Xavier to burst out laughing and his parents to blush. For the first time, some of the gloom lifted.

After dinner, William pulled Steve aside. “Do you have an hour or two tomorrow or the next day?”

“Sure, what do you need?” Steve asked.

“I’ve found a guy I want to be my financial manager and to look after my investments…. I’d like for you to meet with him and feel him out, talk to him, give him some advice,” William said.

Steve laughed and shook his head. “Where did you meet this guy?” William explained about their encounter and how he just had a good feeling about Dave.

“Normally…. Well, there’s nothing normal about us, is there? Sure, set it up for tomorrow afternoon if he can!” William ran off and did just that, after spending a few minutes shrugging off Charlotte’s professions of undying devotion for his and Chase’s wedding gift.

He told Chase all about it as they snuggled in bed that night. “I wish you were coming to school with me!” Chase said.

“I will…. I told you, I’m starting next week!” William laughed.

“I know! I just hate to be away from you all day,” Chase replied.

William snaked his hand under Chase’s shirt and rubbed his stomach gently. “I love you….”

***

Chase didn’t wake William the next morning and when William woke up to the empty bed, he grumbled and went to shower. He had breakfast with Steve and told him when Dave would be arriving. Then Aiden and Xavier picked him up to tour the house they were looking at, a beautiful old Georgian with five bedrooms and a massive library and a walled garden. Though a little overpriced, Xavier loved it and Aiden bid on it right away.

On the way back to Steve’s, William asked them to drive him by Edward’s house. A nice looking woman with a thick English accent opened the door. “Can I help you dear?

“I’m a friend of Edward’s. I wanted to see if he’s alright…. We saw him at the hospital yesterday,” William explained.

“Come in, come in! He’s a little down, with Susan back at school, you know! And how come you aren’t?” she asked.

William laughed. “I’m not starting school ‘til next week….”

“If you’re new, how do…. Oh, you must be the poor dear who lost his parents! Your boyfriend told Edward yesterday!” she said.

William nodded with a smile. “Chase….”

“Well, Edward is the first door down the hall…. I’ll be along in a few minutes with a cup of tea….” William followed her directions and knocked on the door.

“Come in!” William walked in to find Edward propped up on pillows, wearing only gym shorts. He was cute, with a light complexion and a slender but firm body showing little muscle definition. Edward’s full-body blush made him cuter. “I thought you were my mum!”

“Clearly, you were mistaken!” William added with a smile, hopping up on the edge of the bed. “How’re you doing?”

“Lonely…. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ll be glad to get back to school tomorrow!” Edward laughed.

William laughed. “So, every time I ask Susan, she says I should talk to you….”

“You don’t beat around the bush, do you?” Edward smiled.

William shrugged. “I just want to get to know you better, especially after what you did! You’re my personal hero,” he added with a laugh.

Edward blushed again and looked away. “I’ve been bullied a lot, though not much worse than Matt. Chase has it easier, but not much….”

“Why? I mean, you don’t seem like the kind of guy that normally…. What I mean is, Matt is friends with a blind gay guy, so you kinda expect,” William bumbled.

“I’m shy, I’d blush when people talked to me, especially guys…. Talking to guys makes me nervous…. You can see that gives people the wrong idea,” Edward tried to explain.

William nodded and reached out, putting his hand on Edward’s, feeling him flinch almost imperceptibly. “But you’re not shy with Chase….” Edward shook his head, blushing fiercely, as William was Chase’s boyfriend. “So, you see, I’ve got to wonder….”

“I’m not gay!” Edward blurted.

“Edward, that doesn’t matter! I was going to say, I’ve got to wonder why you wouldn’t be nervous with Chase. He’s the gentlest person I know, but it’s more than that. Is it … because he can’t see you?” Edward looked shocked and sat frozen for a moment.

“How did you know?” Edward whispered almost inaudibly.

William shook his head. “What happened?”

Edward motioned for him to come closer. “My dad died when I was pretty young, and my mum worked all the time. She thought I needed a father figure around … so she started having my uncle Billy watch me in the evenings when she worked.” William looked away, knowing where this story was going and that he could barely take it. Feeling Edward’s hand on his forearm, William smiled back at the boy sadly. “It went on for a couple of years…. I wanted to tell, I really did! He didn’t threaten me or anything, but … I was so lonely, I missed my dad, I missed my mom! He held me, kissed me so softly….” Edward could barely hold back the tears. “Mum came home early one night and caught him naked in my bed. She didn’t press charges, but we left England to come here. Her company gave her the transfer….”

Edward’s tears were heart-wrenching and William stretched out, letting the boy roll into him. He wrapping his arm around Edward, stroking his bare back. After a few minutes, Edward’s mom started to open the door to bring the boy his tea, but William raised his free hand to his mouth in a silent ‘Shhh’ and she backed out. “Chase,” Edward whispered, “can’t see what a monster I am!”

“How can you say that? You’re brave and kind and, I hope you don’t mind my saying, quite handsome,” William replied.

Edward sobbed again, and whispered, “I let him do those things to me! By the end, I wanted him to! When mom stopped it, I thought I was going to die! How screwed up is that?”

        “Actually, I’m not surprised! You were starved for affection and attention, and he made you feel like he was providing both of those things! He used you, yeah, but he also saw to it that you felt that he filled your need: he made you need him! There’s nothing wrong with you, Edward! And I’ll tell you a secret…. Chase sees everything, more clearly than you or I! The only things Chase can’t see are outside crap. But what matters, what’s inside, he sees it all! If you were a monster, he’d be the first to know! But he had no hesitation about hopping right up in that bed with you!” William whispered.

He felt Edward relax in his arms. Edward whispered sadly, “I feel … bad, sometimes. Susan, she’s great, and I think I might love her. But sometimes, I just….”

“Does she know?” Edward nodded his head. “Everything? Even that there are times you’d rather be with a guy?” Again, he nodded. “She’s a pretty understanding gal…. My advice is never do anything without talking to her first. But you’re sure you aren’t gay?”

“Pretty sure…. I guess I’m bi,” Edward replied.

William smiled as he felt Edward poking him through his gym shorts. “Well, just always be honest about it,” he said, squeezing Edward. “And whenever you want to just cuddle, I’m sure Chase and I would be happy to oblige. But we are together.”

“I know,” Edward said sincerely. “I would never….”

“I know,” William said with a smile. “But I do want to thank you properly for what you’ve done for me,” he said, lowering his lips to Edward’s softly, an intimate but brotherly gesture, and rolling to wrap both arms around the boy. Before he broke their embrace, he whispered, “I really don’t know if I could have gone on without him, Edward!” In a few minutes William sat up. “I’ve got to meet a guy about some money,” he laughed. “Sorry, I have to run,” he said, squeezing Edward’s hand. “Thanks for sharing with me…. And you should talk to Chase, tell him all that you told me! He can help more than I can….”

“You helped, a lot,” Edward said, squeezing his hand in return. On his way out, William waved to Edward’s mom, who grabbed the tea and headed toward her son’s room. He called Steve, who picked him up and took him to grab some lunch on the way back to the house.

***

Thursday Sebastian met with his fellow consuls, as Chang’s spies began to be uncovered. Some, like Jean Philippe, were largely innocent of wrongdoing, but scores would be sent to Ashaer prison, or executed summarily. Additionally, various financial records were revealing the locations of secret compounds Chang had established, and strike forces of battle wizards, vampires and shape shifters were being dispatched to take control of these facilities.

For the most part, the locations they had discovered were only slowly revealing their secrets. One was clearly dedicated to academic research, as the place was filled with books and computers, while another was a satellite-imaging center. Sebastian already knew what they were searching for, and he doubted that Sammael would find it soon. ‘Sammael is going to be pissed when he does find it,’ Sebastian thought to himself with a grim laugh. But what would Sammael do then. ‘Little humor in that,’ Sebastian thought, running a hand through his coal-black hair.

Sebastian was sitting at his desk reading from another ancient volume, trying to learn all he could about Sammael, when he was hailed on his computer monitor. “Musa! Any progress?”

“Yes! We uncovered the entrance to the complex, and the facility seems to be intact,” Musa announced.

“I’m not surprised…. It was the most advanced construction in the world until the Renaissance! Both magical forces and supernatural strength went into its construction,” Sebastian announced.

“What is this place, Sebastian?” Musa asked.

The boyish-looking vampire sighed, his brown eyes looking tired. “It was a temple to house an incarnate deity: Sekhmet….” Musa gasped in shock at the name. “I remember when word reached me that Sekhmet was withdrawing to her temple for eternal slumber. I’ve never felt so relieved! She’s the most frightening being I ever met! But my relief is limited—when the old ones sleep, they remain aware of the world around them. Their massive power, honed over the millennia, allows them to sort of passively monitor things. When you told me of the tremor, I worried it was the rumbling of Sekhmet. We must uncover the tomb in the heart of the temple, and ascertain whether she’s still there!”

“Do we not risk awakening her if we open the tomb?” Musa asked.

“No…. She will not awaken unless she wishes. She will not fear the men you send down, so she will not react as to a threat. When can you open the tomb? I’d like to be online and have the images streamed,” Sebastian said.

“We’ll open it tomorrow, if there are no developments. Tell me, Sebastian, with all of the intact old ones around, why put Resheph back together?”

“The others chose to withdraw, so they must choose to return, but Resheph has a will to return, if only for vengeance. Which leads me to my second point: don’t think me egocentric, but it’s all about me. He’s my sire, and I killed him, so he’ll come for me. If I represent the most significant threat to his plan, then that will be paramount,” Sebastian said.

“Unleashing a being too powerful to control to defeat one’s enemy, one risks creating an even more powerful enemy,” Musa replied.

“Musa, I suspect … that the person behind the scenes of this plan may be more powerful than Resheph…. Significantly more,” Sebastian said.

“When will you make this public?” Musa asked.

“Only when the situation is stabilized. Right now, it would only cause chaos if the others were to discover who the real threat is,” Sebastian said.

Musa nodded. “Very well. Peace be with you, brother!”

“And also with you,” Sebastian responded.

Sebastian walked upstairs and looked in on Richard, who lay dutifully by Peter’s side. Stretched out, Richard’s trim figure would have been alluring in other circumstances. Richard barely responded to his nod, so Sebastian backed out of the room, and made his way upstairs. He had decided to keep Avery asleep until he was fully healed, and when he looked in this time, the healer, at last, nodded. Sebastian sighed in relief and walked into the room as the healers prepared to awaken the man.

Sebastian squeezed Avery’s hand as the man’s hazel eyes fluttered open. “Sebastian?”

“I’m so sorry my friend, I’m so sorry…. I had to do it!” Sebastian apologized.

“What are you talking about?” Avery asked, rubbing his eyes.

“The healers were keeping you in a coma to control your pain…. I forced them to wake you to get information about … the entity behind the attacks,” Sebastian explained.

“I don’t remember,” Avery said, trying uneasily to sit up, straining the powerful muscles in his arms. “What’s going on? Healers?” Sebastian filled him on quickly on Chang and the attacks on Sebastian, as well as those in Richmond. “James is alright?” Sebastian nodded. “And Richmond? How’s Sam?”

“Sam is the same as always! He’s agreed to come back to the Council, and he’s looking after Alex Jennings’s son…. We’re going down on Sunday. You’re welcome to come along,” Sebastian said.

“Alex’s son?” Avery asked in a panic.

“While you were in prison… They killed Alex and his wife a couple of months ago….” This brought an involuntary sob to Avery, as Alex was one of his closest friends, closer than Sebastian or anyone knew.

“Of course I’ll go…. And Peter?” Richard asked.

“Richard’s been with him, but no signs as of yet. When he wakes, if he wakes….” Sebastian shook his head. Sebastian leaned over and kissed the man on the cheek, pushing the light brown hair out of his face. “I remember the first time I saw you playing, a blossoming teen,” Sebastian said with a sad smile. “Rest up and call me when you feel like talking. Try to remember everything from the Oracle’s temple….”

As Sebastian turned to go, Avery grabbed his arm. “There was a message. She scrawled in her blood, ‘Mundus senescit…. Aethon awakens…. The child of love shall ascend, all is not lost….’“ He sighed heavily from the effort, adding, “I’ll try to remember more….”

“What happened to you there?” Sebastian asked.

“Whoever killed her … left feral dragons to guard her temple,” Avery replied.

Sebastian stood and punched a wall, knocking a hole in it, yelling “Damn it! Damn it!”

“What is it?” Avery asked.

“Ivan Breslov!” Avery’s eyes went wide. Dragons were rare, and the man was one of only a few prominent members of their community.

“Call your brother when you feel up to it, Avery, he’s been driving me mad! But don’t mention anything we just talked about,” Sebastian directed.

Sebastian stormed down to his office, calling a private conference with his most trusted fellow consuls: Pedro Salazar, Americ Bellanuova, Christen Wheeler, and Musa al-Kisai. When they were all online, he began, “I’ve just received some disconcerting news, and I need your advice!” They all nodded, and he continued, “I have new information about the attack on the Oracle….”

“My brother is awake?” Pedro asked.

Sighing, Sebastian said, “Five minutes ago, Pedro…. Give him some time? He’s FINE!” The man shrugged with a smile, and Sebastian continued, “Whoever killed the Oracle left feral dragons, presumably to kill Avery!” He sat back and let them draw their own conclusions.

Americ leaned in. “Sebastian, you can’t think, just because….”

“Of course he can,” Pedro said angrily. “How many dragons are there in the world? A couple of thousand, maybe less? If it wasn’t him, he knows who they belong to….”

“But that makes all the difference,” Sebastian said. “If they’re his, I’ll see him dead…. But if they aren’t, well, it’s a different story….”

They all sat a while, until Musa spoke. “May I propose a test? Tag the dragons with trackers then announce that we will send in a team to eradicate the dragons in a day or so. We’ll get to see how he reacts, and if someone removes them, we’ll know he is at least complicit.”

Sebastian nodded. “Christen, can you have a team handle the tracking?”

“It’ll be done by evening,” she said.

“Good, then I’ll make the announcement tonight.” Sebastian left satisfied with the plan and walked to the recreation room to find Steve, Chris and James working on schoolwork.

“You know, when you abducted us,” Steve said, seeing Sebastian, “I thought at least we’d get to spend our days just lounging around! I didn’t realize we’d still have to do schoolwork, just locked up in this place!” Horatio, who had been drafted as their tutor, laughed out loud at that, earning a look from Sebastian.

“Well, eventually, hopefully all of us can return to normal, so you don’t want to get behind…. Besides, you’d get bored,” Sebastian smiled.

“Yeah, thanks! I’m not bored by the history of England!” Steve responded, and Sebastian and Steve both rolled their eyes at each other, causing James and Chris to laugh.

“Well, that’s about enough for today, anyway,” Horatio said, releasing the boys.

“Thank you, Horatio,” Sebastian said with a smile.

Chris and Steve went back to their room to study, and Sebastian gave James a big hug. They sat in the window-seat in their bedroom and Sebastian brought him up to speed on the new developments in the world. “Who is Aethon?”

“What?” Sebastian asked.

“Part of the message from the Oracle, ‘Aethon awakens’…. What does it mean, who is Aethon?” James asked.

Sebastian looked out into the darkness, searching his memory. “Aethon was a Greek god … famine was his special gift, I believe….”

“Aethon awakens,” James muttered darkly.

“Don’t spend too much thought on it. The Oracle’s messages are obscure,” Sebastian said. James nodded and grabbed Sebastian’s arm, drawing him into a tight embrace. “I could stay like this forever,” Sebastian admitted softly.

“Me, too! Unfortunately, we have other concerns,” James said, giving him a squeeze. “But some day….”

“Someday, you and I are going to go off and be alone together for at least a week,” Sebastian promised.

“Make it a month,” James suggested. Sebastian nodded and kissed his cheek.

***

William was upstairs reading when he heard the doorbell ring. He ran downstairs and opened the door, forgetting to look and finding himself lucky it was only Dave. “Come in, buddy,” he said to the smiling young man.

“William, I don’t know what to say, man,” Dave said as he came inside. “Thank you….”

William nodded with a smile. “No problem! Just convince Steve that you can handle my money! He’ll have some good advice for you too…. You two have a lot in common!” Steve was sitting in his office when William led in the fresh looking young man.

“Steve Abernathy,” he said, standing to shake hands with Dave.

“Dave Swanson, sir!”

“I’ll leave you fellows to get acquainted! I’m going to go check the accounts and see how much we’re talking about here.” William got his card and got on the phone, jotting down numbers as he checked the accounts, and found there was way more than he expected. When he returned, he found the men laughing like old friends and chatting about nothing much. “Well?” he asked Steve.

Steve sat back in his chair with a smile. “We’ve been talking, and I’d like to propose a slightly different plan…. I’d like young Dave here to work for me, with me! I like your plan of starting him light so he can go to law school, and I think your pay plan was a fair one…. But this way you won’t bear the brunt yourself. I can use the help, and Dave here could use an old dog like me to bounce ideas off of. What do you think?”

“Sounds great, dad,” William said, earning a grin from Steve. “Because it’s a little more than I expected! Too much for one man, even you Dave!” They both looked at him expectantly. “There’s around two hundred million euro in the Swiss banks…. Then when I’m twenty-five, there will be the remainder of my parents’ estate….”

“Shit!” Dave exclaimed.

“It looks like we’re gonna be busy, young man,” Steve said to Dave with a laugh.

“Make me and Chase billionaires and we’ll see to it that you end up in a good retirement home,” William teased and Steve threw a pen at him.

“Now, come fill out some paperwork so we can put that money to work,” Steve said.

As William signed papers, Steve and Dave talked about some strategic options. As soon as possible, William left them to their fun, having other business to attend to. He called the young delivery guy, Robert, to invite him to Chase’s party so he could introduce him to Derek, the young limo driver, as he had promised.

Chase and Matt arrived to find Steve and Dave still chatting away about Steve’s business and what Dave could do for him. “Hey, Dave,” Chase called, with a bright smile.

“Hey, little man! You know how to make a guy feel welcome,” the young man laughed in response to the enthusiastic greeting.

Matt jokingly replied, “You don’t know him so well, do you Dave?”

“How’s that?” the man asked with a smile.

“Because you didn’t get a hug and kiss to go with it!” Matt teased.

Chase blushed. “So I’m affectionate!”

“Nobody’s complaining,” Matt said, elbowing him.

From behind, William made the boys jump by adding, “That’s right! Edward certainly wasn’t kicking you out of bed!” Now Chase was positively crimson as William hugged him from behind, kissing him softly beneath the ear. Smiling at Chase’s full-body shiver, William then leaned over and kissed Matt on the cheek as well.

Matt wiped his cheek exaggeratedly and yelled, “I’m not your tart!”

“Well if you ever change your mind!” William teased then asked, “Everything go okay at school today?”

“Yeah! Everybody wanted to talk to us about Edward. He’s going to come back to a big surprise!” Chase said.

“What?” William asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Well, it’s hard to tell the story without making him look like a hero, and … I told the story a lot today,” Chase replied.

“He’s really shy! He might not want the limelight,” William cautioned.

“I’ll look after him,” Chase said with a smile.

“Alright then…. In any case, will you do me a favor?” William asked.

“Anything,” Chase said, squeezing him tight.

“Talk to him in private, spend some time alone with him?” William asked.

Chase nodded, looking curious. Matt excused himself, and soon Dave took his leave, with plans to meet with Steve the next day after classes. When Chase went upstairs for homework, William headed out to his workshop.

Steve followed him into the back yard. “You have good instincts, William,” Steve said before he got too far. “I’ve needed some help for a while, and we can help you…. Thank you!”

The boy smiled back at him, looking every bit the free spirited boy he may once have been. But the look in his eyes betrayed the unnatural aging the boy had undergone in the last months. “I’m gonna lift some weights…. I’ll be up in a couple,” he said.

Steve grabbed his shoulder and pulled him into a tight hug, giving him a quick peck on the cheek. “You know you can talk to me, if you ever need to?” William choked up but nodded.

“Thanks, dad, I know!” Steve squeezed his shoulder and watched him walk away.

Inside, William sat heavily on the weight bench and sighed. He wished he didn’t have to be so strong, that he could let others take care of him, but he couldn’t. His parents were gone and he had to take care of himself. ‘You’ve got to be strong,’ he repeated to himself, over and over, as he pumped the weights. ‘You’ve got to be strong!’ But his face was streaked with tears.

When he was exhausted William ran up to the house, avoiding seeing anyone, to grab some fresh clothes before heading to the shower. Chase turned his head as William bustled into the room. Chase made a funny face and asked, “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” William laughed, and Chase immediately heard the tears that were still in his voice. Chase was up in a minute and grasping for William, who slumped in his arms.

“They’re gone!” He cried on the small boy’s shoulder. “They’re gone!”

“I know, sweetie…. I’m so sorry,” Chase whispered.

“What am I going to do? I’m trying to be strong,” William said.

Chase kissed him on the neck and whispered, “Sometimes, to be strong, you’ve got to let go! Let others in, let them help, let them do their part!”

“I’m so afraid to let go! I’m afraid if I let go of anything, I won’t be able to get it back…. I’m afraid that anything can be taken away from me,” William whispered earnestly.

Chase took his hand and led him deftly to the bed. He took William’s hand and placed it on his chest. “Do you feel it?”

“What? Your heartbeat?” William asked.

Chase smiled and nodded. “As long as it beats, you have me! Even after the end, you’ll have me!”

William’s tears began to flow again, more than before, as he lay down and put his head in Chase’s lap. He knew that his gift for the boy, however dangerous, difficult and rare, was perfect. There was one place in the world where he didn’t have to be strong and put up a front, and he was there.

***

At dinner, the table was crowded, with Horatio and Roman, Chris, Steve, Jean-Philippe, Avery, James and Sebastian, as well as a few of the wizards that Sebastian had befriended, including Major Sarah Light and Colonel Fisher. Despite the dark times, the group had grown friendly, so the conversation was light and amicable.

“Colonel Fisher, Avery, James and I will be going to Richmond Sunday evening, so we need to arrange travel,” Sebastian said.

“I’ve got a better idea,” Avery announced. “Why don’t I call Sam Roth and open a portal between his sanctuary and our location? We can secure it so that it will open only when both sides activate it! Then we can travel there, basically at will….”

Sebastian smiled at him. “That’s fine! You just want easy access to Alex Jennings’s son…. And Aiden and Xavier are moving to Richmond too!”

Avery smiled. “What can I say? I’d like to be in touch with my former students, and perhaps a future protégé!”

“I think Alex would really appreciate you taking the boy under your wing…. Especially since he has a committed boyfriend,” Sebastian teased.

“What are you saying Sebastian?” Avery asked, playing up acting offended.

“How long did it take you to offer Chris and Steve a threesome?” Sebastian asked, and the whole table broke up laughing.

After dinner, they broke up into little groups, and Sebastian smiled as Avery cornered Sarah Light and really turned on the charm. The young woman was subconsciously responding, sending all the right signals. “Poor girl,” he whispered to James. “She doesn’t have a chance!”

“Lucky girl,” James whispered softly, laughing. Sebastian raised his eyebrows smiling. “What? You’ve seen him without his clothes on!”

“I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes,” Sebastian answered, rolling his eyes. “I’ll meet you upstairs in a couple of hours?”

James winked and made his way upstairs alone, slipping past the others. Sebastian likewise slipped down to his office, past the two unconscious prisoners, who were nearly completely drained of blood. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! I have some news…. In addition to the intelligence coming in from Chang’s facilities, I have had an opportunity to talk briefly with Avery Salazar about his encounter in the Oracle’s temple. It seems that whoever killed the Oracle left a number of feral dragons to attack Avery when he arrived….” The news sunk in and naturally suspicion was turned to Breslov, who Sebastian felt looked genuinely surprised.

“Are you sure?” Ivan asked, carefully, his already unpleasantly angular face contorted into a grimace. The man’s face made Sebastian think of why there were so few dragons in the world but so many werewolves, men of the woods, and other shape shifters. His face, clearly human, reminded Sebastian, for good reason, of the gargoyles on Notre Dame Cathedral. Plus, there was the universal feature of the dragon, however diluted the blood: eyes with oval irises surrounded not by whites but by blood red, as if a vessel had burst.

“Quite! I am dispatching a team to neutralize them tomorrow so we can investigate the Oracle’s death more carefully,” Sebastian explained.

The tension they all felt rose, and Ivan sat back and sighed. “If I could see them, I could perhaps identify their family,” he declared.

“I’m sorry, Ivan, it’s too dangerous! I cannot risk the life of a consul…. Perhaps after they are dead,” Sebastian replied.

The man nodded, clearly unhappy, his iris narrowing, almost catlike. “Sebastian, High Consul…. There are so few of us left … and these feral dragons haven’t killed anyone! It is a shame, a waste! Perhaps they could be rehabilitated?” This was not going as planned. They had not expected Ivan to plead so openly, and Sebastian believed him.

“Ivan, to be honest, I was more concerned about you than these dragons! Given the possibility that a high-level dragon might be involved…. Well, this was to be a test, but I believe you! Your people know best how to capture and transport them, so I leave it to you. I am putting a good deal of faith in you: discover who put your people in such a compromising position,” Sebastian said.

Ivan looked a little angry, and a little relieved. “Thank you, Sebastian…. I will report to you on this matter as soon as possible. I can assure you that I want to know as badly as you do who has betrayed us! We have not always seen eye-to-eye, you and I, but … thank you!” The man logged off, missing the last few moments of planning.

As the consuls began to log off, Sebastian had Christen, Americ, Pedro, and Musa stay on. “Well? Do you think I did the right thing?”

After a general silence, Americ leaned forward. “I think so…. He’s an ass, but he’s no traitor. Besides, he risked openly pleading for their safety! A guilty man wouldn’t do that!”

Pedro looked dissatisfied but grudgingly nodded, “I agree…. Took guts!”

“On another track, the Oracle left us a message in her own blood on the floor….” They all waited for Sebastian to continue. “This is private, until otherwise noted. She wrote, ‘Mundus senescit…. Aethon awakens…. The child of love shall ascend, all is not lost….’ Any thoughts?”

“Mundus senescit? This describes the dilapidation of the world in what were viewed as apocalyptic times…. Grows old and then dies! The end of the world? The apocalypse? Armageddon? Not very cheery, I must say,” Americ said, thinking out loud.

“Be of good cheer, my friend,” Musa proclaimed. “After all, all is not lost! Perhaps just the end of the world as we know it?”

“Easy for you to say,” Pedro charged. “You still believe….”

“Perhaps he’s not wrong to believe,” Sebastian said, earning gasps from some of his oldest friends. He proceeded to tell them about his message from Gamaliel. “Besides, something has brought love into my life, something is working for love in the world: I can feel it! I felt it in Richmond too…. I’ve just done for love what I only thought could be done for hunger. I turned a human. He was bleeding to death, and I did not feed on him when I turned him, not for hunger but to hold onto the love we share!”

“You certainly seem satisfied, Musa,” Americ charged as his Egyptian counterpart leaned back and grinned.

“It is good to see a friend come to the light…. I should see you all do the same! But, if I might suggest, given little Sebastian’s recent poetics, ‘the child of love shall ascend?’ Tell us Sebastian about the young man you have sired?”

“Absolutely confidentially,” he asked, and they all swore. “A few days after he woke up, he was able to control the mind of a human.”

“Impossible,” Pedro charged, causing Sebastian to laugh. “What’s so funny?”

“The human was Avery Salazar!” Sebastian replied.

WHAT? He was weak from prison, but…. Wow!” Pedro said.

“Upon further testing, he was able to dominate Richard, a vampire of nearly two centuries,” Sebastian added. “And not at all weakened by prison.”

“He must enter extensive training at once, with both you and Avery,” Americ announced. “If it pleases,” he added more modestly.

“You are quite right,” Sebastian nodded. “He is fully recovered now, so we will begin at once…. Aethon?”

They all shook their heads. Musa suggested, “Well, they seem to be trying to awaken Resheph. Why not Aethon?”

“He’d have to want to wake up! It’s hard to imagine, but if the Oracle’s vision is true, we have to be prepared to fight an enemy willing to raise two of the old ones, an enemy who thinks himself able to use such beings to his own ends. Please, send out requests that all vampires of a century or more be prepared for battle at a moment’s notice!” Sebastian commanded.

“How did you do it before?” Musa asked.

Sebastian sat back and sighed. “Long story short, I arranged a small army of two hundred vampires, all battle hardened! We ambushed him in a mountain pass, and fought him day and night until we wore him down. While five of my strongest men held him, I wielded the sword. He fought for minutes after the head was removed. But soon, even he had to succumb….”

“Do you think they have assembled all the parts?” Musa’s follow-up question brought nervous glances.

“No, I am rather certain they have not!” No one dared ask, though they all knew what it meant. Sebastian alone knew where the last piece was.

Americ asked, “What is their next move?”

“Search, regroup, and retaliate,” Sebastian announced, certainly.

“What’s our next move?” Americ prodded.

“Purge our ranks, get our men into training, and prepare for the worst! Unlike our enemy, there are things we cannot do to achieve our ends…. I encourage you all to consider my confession to you tonight. We must all reconsider our old prejudices about who we are and what our place is in the grand scheme of things. Mundus senescit…. We stand at the brink, and for whatever reason we fight on the side of the angels! Who knows why?” Sebastian said.

“God knows why!” Musa exclaimed, with a hearty laugh. “And what an unlikely prophet he has in you, little Sebastian….”

Sebastian laughed. “Funny you should mention that, old friend…. I never filled you in on my family tree, but my real name, my human name, was Hesed ben Nahor of the Chaldees,” he said, enjoying the sight of his friend’s eyes widening in recognition—old Bible scholar that he was—just before he turned off his screen without bidding his comrades goodnight.

With a degree of weariness, he began to push back from his desk but stopped and just slumped in his seat. The pressure, the stress! He felt the room start to spin as he grabbed his head. ‘What am I thinking?’ he asked himself. ‘Even if we can hold back the tide, keep Resheph and the others from rising, there is the matter of Sammael!’ A wave of hopelessness washed over him, and he could only walk to the opposite wall and stare at the countless volumes and scrolls of ancient knowledge. ‘Is the answer here?’

He took out the book and read it again: “Sammael is the angel of death and the evil inclination…. Sammael is the angelic name of the being known more commonly as Satan, or Lucifer…. He is the accuser, the seducer, the corrupter of souls and the destroyer…. Woe to the man who faces him, for he shall go down into the pit in tears….”

His mind wandered to Gamaliel and his story of the love of Gabriel for Sammael, and then to two boys in love in Richmond who shared a guardian angel named Gideon, and how fate had so cruelly drawn them into this intricate web! Now prophecy seemed to tie James to the center. “Woe to the man,” he said with a deep sigh, putting the book down. “Where is your God, cousin, when the world needs him most?” A gentle breeze bearing the subtle scent of myrrh and roses moved through the room, making Sebastian look around, but of course he was alone.

He mounted the stairs with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and almost knocked on Avery’s door, but the soft sound of a woman’s voice stayed his hand. The soft strains of a violin in a beginner’s hand returned the smile to his face, and drew him toward his own bedroom. Standing in the door, he said, “You’re getting better!”

“I’ve got a good teacher,” the boy smiled, turning to face him.

“I love when you play like this…. There’s nothing sexier than a naked, athletic man with a violin!” Sebastian smiled.

Setting the instrument aside, James wrapped his arms around Sebastian’s thin form. “How about a tall, naked, athletic man making love to you all night?”

“That’ll do,” Sebastian said, grabbing James’s firm ass with both hands before James lifted him off the ground and carried him to the bed. Settling him gently on the bed, James pulled Sebastian’s shirt and pants off, then his underwear and socks. Then he knelt between his knees and leaned in to kiss him softly.

“Mmmm,” Sebastian moaned, wrapping his arms around James’s muscular torso, holding him tight and returning his kiss vigorously. James kissed his way down Sebastian’s pale body, taking him in his mouth. When Sebastian was fully hard, James straddled him and eased himself down onto it, slowly rocking back and forth, riding him gently.

Leaning in, James whispered, “Oh yeah!?”

Sebastian smiled and, in what would have been a surprising show of strength to an outsider, flipped the young vampire onto his back, entering him with long deep strokes. When he finally began to pick up the pace, Sebastian quickly tensed and peaked.

James pulled him down for a kiss, then slipped out from under him and dragged Sebastian to his feet. Standing behind the shorter form, James pressed into him and put his palms on the back of Sebastian’s hands, pressing them into the wall. Arching his back and swiveling with his hips, James probed Sebastian deeply. Sebastian pressed back onto him, letting James slip in easily. James began to thrust into him roughly, making Sebastian groan with the pleasure of being dominated. James noticed for the first time the single imperfection on Sebastian’s perfect body, the scar Resheph left, where Sebastian’s neck met his left shoulder, the sign of his sire. In a moment of sexual frenzy, desire, and, yes, jealousy, James drove his fangs into Sebastian’s right shoulder, opposite Resheph’s mark, their minds intermingling and memories, hopes and dreams flowing between them like streams overflowing into one another.

“James! Oh my God!” Sebastian groaned, meeting James’s every stroke. “Oh my God!”

Driven over the edge, James pulled out and spun Sebastian around, pinning him to the wall with an unabashedly passionate kiss. Sebastian wraped his legs around James’s waist without using his hands to hold himself up, stroking James’s face and neck as they kissed hungrily. With his other free hand, Sebastian ran his fingers through James’s honey-blond hair, holding the boy’s head in place.

James carried Sebastian to the shower and they washed each other attentively, feeling the warm water wash them clean and carry away the tension of the day. With a grin and a wink, Sebastian sank to his knees, the water streaming over them, and took James in his mouth. With only a second wink’s warning, Sebastian smiled up and sank his fangs into James’s penis. James immediately felt his knees weaken and settled onto the bench at the far end of the shower, as Sebastian took a full measure of blood through his manhood. James’s orgasm was nearly endless. At last Sebastian rose and planted a sweet kiss on his lover, giving James a taste of himself. Exhausted and spent, they dried one another’s backs and slipped beneath the silk sheets into an intimate embrace.

James still slept as he built his strength, and while Sebastian rarely did, this night, the mixture of tension and sexual exhaustion carried him to a place he had not been in a century, the land of dreams.

Looking around, he knew the place, but the time? Gazing up to the temple mount, there was no Dome. In fact, there was a temple, the Temple! First or second he wondered as he made his way through the cramped streets of the ancient city—he had, after all, seen them both. He tried not to be short with the vendors and charlatans that blocked his path occasionally as he weaved his way toward the Temple complex. Throngs of people surrounded the Israelites’ courtyard. Immediately Sebastian recognized the features of the Second Temple.

“A holiday?” he asked someone in Aramaic.

“A foreigner’s question but a native’s tongue,” the man responded.

“I learned from a master,” Sebastian said, lying. “I am from distant Elephantine….”

“Is it true there’s a Jewish temple there?” the man asked.

Sebastian shook his head. “It was destroyed…. What’s going on here?”

“The High Priest is about to bring out the goat for Azazel! There, you see,” he said, pointing to a figure emerging, leading a goat by a rope. He weaved his way through the crowd, praying, toward the Nikanor Gate. He was short and slightly built, with extraordinarily light hair, and Sebastian couldn’t help but feel he must be young. Indeed, Sebastian couldn’t help but feel he knew the priest. For some reason, Sebastian couldn’t make out his face, though it ought to have been clear as day.

The High Priest came to a stop in front of him for a moment. “This is the goat appointed for Azazel…. He bears our sins and distracts the enemy, while we make our atonement and seek forgiveness before the One! Forgiveness is as near to you as this….” The young priest began to move away. When he reached the gate, he paused and made the confession over the goat, as the individuals present made their private confessions. Then, all assembled fell to their knees and placed their foreheads to the ground, as the High Priest lifted up his voice to pronounce a name Sebastian had not heard in two thousand years. “Aghhhhhhhhhhh,” a deep-voiced, throaty cry emanating from the first floor penetrated deep into Sebastian’s sleep, drawing him back. James was already at the door, tying his robe at the waist, and Sebastian followed a few steps behind. They ran at full speed toward the origin of the screams—Richard’s room.