6 The Corrupter of Souls

James threw himself onto Peter, across from Richard, as they worked together to hold the boy down. Peter’s muscular frame was thrashing, his dark brown hair tossing wildly. “Peter! Peter, it’s James and Richard! You’re at Sebastian’s! You’re home!”

“No,” Peter shouted, softer now, still struggling. “Stop! Leave me alone!”

“Peter,” James said, closing his eyes, “listen to me! Remember when we were seven and you found that turtle? You called him Mr. Whiskers…. When I asked you why, you said, ‘It’s a turtle! What the hell do you name a turtle?’ It’s James! Listen to me, Richard is here with me! Richard has been with you every minute since we got you back!”

Peter was still tense, eyes shut tight, but he had stopped struggling. James nodded to Richard, who put his head on the boy’s chest, whispering, “Peter, come back to me…. I don’t know what I’d do without you anymore!”

Suddenly, Peter’s began to cry, and Sebastian and Richard could tell he was back. Slowly, he grasped at Richard, and James backed away. Peter’s eyes had always been startlingly blue, but now they were almost radiant. James and Sebastian stepped outside, leaving them alone. “Richard will call if they need us,” Sebastian said. “You did well, you got through to him…. It’s more difficult than you might imagine!”

Back in their room, they crawled back into each other’s arms. Neither would sleep any more, but there was nowhere else they’d rather be.

As the rest of the house began to stir Friday morning, Sebastian and James dressed and made breakfast for their crew. Chris and Steve came down first. “What was that last night?” Steve asked.

Sebastian looked at James, who looked away and said, “Peter….”

“So he’s … alive?” Chris asked.

“In a manner of speaking,” Sebastian replied.

“Can we see him?” Chris asked.

James looked at Sebastian, who shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. James was very strong, and the circumstances were … different. Neither of you should spend any time alone with him, or be physically close to him. Young vampires can be driven to frenzy by proximity to a living human: the heat, the smell of blood oozes from you! He wouldn’t mean to, but he could hurt you badly, or kill you, before he even realized….”

The boys looked scared and nodded. “Don’t act scared of him, guys,” James added. “None of this is his fault, and eventually, he’ll be fine!”

When Avery and Sarah came downstairs, Sebastian couldn’t help but shoot them a knowing smile that made the young woman blush. “Come, come,” he said, laughing. “We’re all friends here! I’d not noticed until now, you both have the same light brown hair and those hazel eyes…. You look good together!”

Horatio, stolid Englishman that he was, joined them looking neat and fit beneath his tweed armor, and then took Chris, Steve and James off to begin their lessons.

Sebastian asked, “Avery, could we speak privately downstairs?” The man nodded and followed him, after giving Sarah a quick peck on a still-blushing cheek. Sebastian sealed the room’s magical defenses behind them as they entered his office. “We have to talk, my friend…. Have you remembered that I woke you?”

“No,” Avery said.

“I needed some information. Our enemy killed Chang with his bare hands and burned him to ashes with a supernatural fire,” Sebastian explained.

“Chang might not be you, but that is a … dubious story,” Avery said.

Pointing to a bag of ashes and teeth on a shelf, Sebastian mused, “Tell that to Consul Chang…. In any case, the being sent his regards.”

“Being? Why do you keep calling it that?” Avery asked.

“His name was Sammael,” Sebastian said.

Avery went white. “No, that is not… It’s some upshot claiming to be the man! Some low-level flunky demon at most! That’s like a person claiming to be Adam!”

“Avery … I don’t want to believe it either, but what kind of being would have the balls to awaken ancient vampires with the confidence he could control them, to drag the supernatural into the light, to provoke a war between … everyone?” Sebastian asked.

“What kind of being could awaken a sleeping ancient whether he liked it or not?” Avery asked with a nod. “Aethon…. Sebastian, I feel like it should be obvious, and I’m just not getting it!”

“We’ll figure it out,” Sebastian said.

“Sebastian, if it’s Sammael, it won’t matter! There is nothing we could do!” Avery shouted.

“So what? We give in? We serve Sammael and march off to the apocalypse? Avery, for fuck’s sake!” Sebastian replied.

Avery rested his head in his hands. “No! I’ll follow you…. Of course, I’ll follow you!”

Sebastian put a hand on Avery’s muscular shoulder, his finger gently tracing where he knew the scar was hidden, and sighed. “I know, my friend…. But remember, all is not lost!”

“The child of love? Who the hell knows what that means?” Avery asked.

“I met with some of the others last night, and I think it might be James, a being with the power of my kind but born of love, a pure soul! Gamaliel came for him, after all…. And besides him, I can’t wait for you to meet these boys in Richmond! They play a role in all of this,” Sebastian said.

“James! Of course, it makes sense! He was sired by one of the old ones,” he paused when Sebastian gave him a look. “What! You’ve been alive now as long as any of them before they went to sleep, probably…. You are what you are!”

“Avery, this means that I need you to begin training him immediately. I’ll assist as I can,” Sebastian said.

“Train him how?” Avery asked.

“Basic magick, offensive and defensive: as much as you can, fast! Work with him on the advanced abilities of vampires. Basically, teach him how to be an ancient vampire,” Sebastian said, with a laugh, as Avery shook his head. “This is where I will be of the most help, as you’ve so delicately pointed out….”

“When should I begin?” Avery asked

“Work with Horatio to schedule a couple of hours during the day, then get him after his lessons are finished for a couple more! While he’s in lessons with Horatio, be sure to get with Sam about opening a portal to Richmond,” Sebastian said.

“Anything else, master,” Avery asked with a cheeky spark.

Sebastian cocked his eye and said, “You wish,” wrapping an arm around the man’s shoulder. “It really is good to have you back, Avery! I’m sorry it took so long and it wasn’t under different circumstances!”

Avery turned, wrapping both arms around the boyish vampire, staring into his brown eyes, almost losing himself in the golden flakes that made them so unusual. “There is nowhere else I’d rather be under these circumstances!” After a lingering embrace, Avery went to make a call to Richmond and talk to his old friend and student, a man who looked twenty years his senior, leaving Sebastian to begin the long task of responding to queries received overnight from agents around the world, and distributing orders to the same.

***

Friday, Chase and Matt walked into school just as Susan and Edward arrived. A lot of people tried to talk to him, but Edward, flanked by his friends, smiled weakly and let Chase and Matt do the talking. They all made plans to hide in the library during lunch. Meanwhile, back at the house, William got ready for his morning run, but Steve stopped him.

“I don’t know if I’m comfortable with you exposing yourself to danger, William!” Steve said.

The boy looked at him with an exasperated expression but Steve gave him a hard look. “I guess I can just work out with weights, then…. Can you drop me at the synagogue later, though?”

Steve nodded and watched the boy walk down to his shed. William did lift weights for a while, but then he got out the piece of willow he’d been working on for a wand. Taking out his knife, he split the tapered end into four quarters and grabbed a point of amethyst, pressing it into the wood and lashing it in place with fine copper wire. Then, with a fine tool, he hollowed out the thick end about two inches deep. He selected a mix of herbs and minerals, which he powdered and funneled into the hole, which he sealed with the help of a little sand and a magical fire, creating a thin layer of glass to hold the magical elements inside. Setting up a little target at the far end of the room, he practiced a few simple offensive spells and found he was able to use the hand-made wand more accurately and to deliver more powerful blows. Satisfied, he put the generic wand away in case it was ever needed again and slipped the new wand into his waistband.

After showering, William got Steve to drive him over to the synagogue. Steve instructed him to either get a ride home or call him. “Yes, dad,” William said, rolling his eyes boyishly at the man, earning himself a playful shove out of the car.

Pushing the button, William spoke into the box. “Irma? William Jennings here!” The door buzzed and he pushed inside. He walked up to the desk and asked, “Is Rabbi Roth available?”

She pulled up his calendar. “He’s not got anything scheduled,” she said, “but he’s not here…. Hold on, I’ll call him at home!” She dialed his number and he picked up quickly. “Rabbi? … Yes, fine thanks…. No, no…. William Jennings’s here to see you…. Alright, see you in a bit!” Hanging up, she turned back to the boy. “He’ll be over in a few minutes if you want to wait in the library?”

William walked down to the library and waited for the man, thumbing through the books, paying little attention to the pile on the table. “Sorry to keep you, William, but I was working at home this morning, trying to put a word or two together for tonight and tomorrow….”

“Oh, I’m sorry to interrupt,” William said.

“Not at all! Forty years in the saddle, I ought to know what to say!” Sam laughed.

“Forty years?!” William asked, amazed. “You don’t look much older than Steve!”

“Well, you see, wizards’ power affects their physical bodies too. The more powerful the wizard, the more slowly the effects of time affect his body.” Sam explained. “Now, how is it going otherwise?”

“Other than an international supernatural cabal that would like to see me and my loved ones dead? Peachy,” the boy said.

The man laughed. “My! Aren’t we saucy today? You’ll come to services tonight?”

“I’ll check with Chase, but definitely in the morning,” William said.

“So was there something in particular?” Sam asked.

“Can you tell me what to expect? Sunday night?” William asked.

The man smiled and nodded, motioning for William to sit at the table. He grabbed a book out of the pile, which he had clearly prepared for this occasion, and opened it to a large diagram of the Temple’s interior. “Our portal opens to a large open room of unimaginable beauty. In the middle of the room will be an altar. That is where you will stoke the fires, offer the incense and the Bond will be forged. Behind the altar is the Holy of Holies, veiled by a large curtain embroidered with the figures of angels. It is absolutely essential that no one approach the Holy of Holies! Just being too near to it can cause confusion, disorientation…. To touch its veil can kill a man.”

“Understood,” William said with a grim laugh indicating Sam’s point was well taken. “So, the Bond…. What will happen when we exchange the signs? What will the signs be?”

“It is my understanding that the fires forge the angelic gold into whatever sign suits the lovers, so time will tell! As to what happens, I’ve never seen, or even heard. It is a mystery!”

“What should I tell everyone on Sunday night?” William asked.

“I’ll leave that to you,” Sam said.

“Will you ask Sebastian and James to stay after?” William asked.

“Of course, and actually, my old teacher, Avery Salazar, will be joining them! He’s helped me open a portal between here and Sebastian’s home, so we can go back and forth as necessary. If you don’t mind, I’d like him to join us as well. He’s the most powerful wizard—good wizard, anyway—I’ve ever known….”

“Sure,” William said.

“Oh, and here is the name I promised you! Dr. Victor Sibelius. His clinic is in Bern, Switzerland. By all accounts, he’s the best in the world. But William, I’m afraid there is nothing he can do for you,” Sam cautioned.

“Why?” William asked.

“What’s wrong with Chase feels like part of the order of things. I can’t explain it, but the energy he exudes … feels perfectly in order. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with him,” Sam said.

“Except he’s blind,” William said.

“That’s the thing,” Rabbi Roth nodded, shaking his head. “In any case, in your position, I’d follow every lead….”

“I’ll see what Chase thinks,” William said.

“Always a good course of action,” Sam answered with a nod.

“I’d better go. He’ll be home soon…. Could give me a ride?” William asked.

“Sure,” the man smiled. A few minutes later, he dropped William off and went home to rest. William looked in on Steve, who was meeting with Dave and going over some research he wanted done.

“Hey, Dave! I’m home dad!” They waved to him and he tromped up stairs, lying back on the bed to read.

***

Around lunchtime, Musa hailed Sebastian, his dark, handsome Arab face looking tense. “My friend, we have reached the tomb! My men are ready to break the seal, if you wish?”

“Do it!” Sebastian said, sitting back and watching the live feed from deep within the temple complex. The huge stone sealing the tomb was covered in hieroglyphics, and vivid depictions of Sekhmet’s darkest atrocities. A group of wizard-scholars stood before the seal holding an ancient papyrus, and began to chant the incantation. “Prepare yourself, Musa! You are about to see the warlike Egyptian goddess of destruction!”

As the seal broke, a toxic cloud rose, but the wizards dissipated it with a carefully timed spell. A large onyx sarcophagus stood in view. The men puzzled over the engravings, and at last their leader put his hand on the center of its lid and read a few lines, causing the lid to swing open.

Musa gasped at the figure—a tall, shapely woman, with elegant arms and shapely breasts, perfectly preserved after two-and-a-half millennia, the last time Sebastian had seen here. Her body was lovely, but her hands bore hideous claws, and her face bore feline features. “When she’s in a more pleasant mood, her face looks almost human with only feline elements, but when she is in her normal, foul mood, her face looks something like a deranged, demonic tigress,” Sebastian said. “Thank God she’s still there,” he said. “Can we install monitors in the tomb and seal it back up? And I want the whole tomb rigged with explosives, maybe thermite, just in case….”

“Why not destroy her now?” Musa asked.

“If anyone comes for her,” Sebastian began.

“A trap,” Musa said with a smile. “Still, it’s risky!”

“Well, if someone goes in there with the intent to destroy her, she’d know at once…. We’d risk waking her up! Our intent is not to destroy her, but to protect the complex from unwelcome guests! Or at least, that’s how the man placing the charges will understand his orders, so when she reads him, that’s what she’ll get,” Sebastian explained.

“Understood…. I’ll relay that order to a trusted agent right away!” Musa said.

***

“Sir,” a cute, wiry young man at a computer monitor called out. “I think we’ve got something….”

Sammael, straightening his dark suit, walked up behind the man, Andrew, who trembled. “What?”

“There has been a spike in Council communications between Sebastian and Musa al-Kisai, as well as a dramatic increase in the number of international agents in the Egyptian desert, about ten miles from the Valley of the Kings. Perhaps this is where they’ve hidden the head?”

“Perhaps,” Sammael mused. Unlimited power matched with only very limited knowledge was a frustration for him. In essence, Sammael was an angel, and angels only know what they are told, or what they learn on their own, like humans. But given Sammael’s disobedience, he no longer had access to divine knowledge. “We can’t go in now…. I don’t want them to know how closely we’re watching them! Early next week, I’ll take a team and investigate the site! Good work,” Sammael said, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder softly. Sammael’s smile made the man’s blood run cold, but that was okay. Sammael liked that in a man.

“Come along,” Sammael said, still smiling, leading Andrew back to a well-appointed living space. “Have a seat,” he added, pointing to the bed. Putting his coat on a hanger, his tailored shirt hugging every curvy muscle of his chest and arms, Sammael smiled almost sincerely and asked, “Don’t you find me appealing? I was once called the most beautiful of all creatures!” Sammael watched Andrew, who kept his eyes averted, curiously. “Come now! No secrets here! I was whispering in your ear long before you started beating off to your older brother’s naked body!” Andrew looked ashamed and terrified all at once.

But as Sammael began to unbutton his shirt, Andrew sat transfixed by Sammae’s perfectly crafted human form. Tall, tan and gorgeous, Sammael’s upper body combined the best elements human athleticism. His chest and abs were tight and perfect, his arms curvy with muscle. His bubble butt and healthy package drew Andrew’s eyes again and again. “In some ways,” Sammael whispered, laughing as he walked up to the man, “this would be more fun if you were straight! I love the fight!”

Desire overcame fear as Andrew raised his blue-gray eyes up, drinking in every inch of the body looming large over him, to Sammael’s milky blue eyes hidden beneath the strawberry blond hair bangs hanging boyishly in his face. Andrew couldn’t help himself: his long delicate fingers reached for Sammael’s zipper.

Sammael slipped his pants off, draping them over a chair and showing off his handsome backside to the entranced young tech. Leaning against his desk, naked and confident, the demon demanded, “Come here,” moving Andrew instantly. “And strip!”

Andrew did exactly as he was told, and soon stood naked before his master. Sammael grabbed him roughly, yanking on a handful of soft, boyishly unkempt brown hair with a menacing grin. Before Andrew knew what was happening, his chest was pressed into the wall, Sammael’s powerful forearm across his back. “Is this how you always thought it would be?”

Andrew could feel Sammael’s large member probing his backside. “Please,” he whispered, half begging to be released, half begging for what must be coming. Sammael slathered Andrew’s hole with precome, probing at the tight orifice. “No!” Andrew’s cry was wasted, as Sammael put an inhuman pressure behind his invasion, at once stretching and tearing at the young man’s ass. Sammael drove into Andrew in one long steady push, and Andrew nearly passed out from the searing pain. He was given no time to adjust before Sammael began fucking him full-force. Then, before pain subsided to tolerable levels, Sammael finished off inside him and allowed Andrew to slump, unconscious, to the ground.

When Andrew woke, he was in bed next to the demon who remained, watching him curiously. When Andrew began to cry, Sammael just shook his head with almost as much curiosity as disgust. “Humans!”

***

Sebastian was feeling good: No new attacks or developments. The intel indicated that most of Chang’s operation had been uncovered, most of his spies identified. Sebastian slipped past a few wizards congregating in his living room around maps and into Richard’s room. Peter seemed to be sleeping again, so Sebastian knelt by Richard and communicated wordlessly, ‘How is he?’

Richard’s eyes were pained. ‘Some minutes, he’s glad to be alive, other minutes he wishes he had died.’

‘It’ll pass…. Show him your love, and that the rape wasn’t his fault and doesn’t change how you feel!’ Sebastian projected.

‘He’s a man’s man,’ Richard thought with a note of discord, ‘built to overpower…. To be violated like that! He feels powerless!’

Sebastian sighed, thinking, ‘Richard, I’ve kept something from you, but it might help. There are two prisoners in the basement. They’re the ones….” Sebastian felt a wave of rage flow from Richard that rivaled only that he’d felt when Avery lost his lover.

‘They’re here?’ Richard demanded.

‘Yes, I didn’t want to distract you, but they are awaiting your, or his, judgment,’ Sebastian informed.

‘Take me to them,’ Richard replied.

‘You can’t leave Peter alone…. Hold on!’ Changing his target, Sebastian thought, ‘James? Where are you?’

‘Working with Avery,’ James answered.

‘I need you to sit with Peter,’ Sebastian said.

‘Is everything alright?’ James asked.

‘No, but … yes. I’m taking Richard to visit our guests downstairs….’ A few moments passed and they heard heavy footfalls as James nearly ran downstairs. He quietly entered the room and slipped into Richard’s spot next to Peter, sending the boy a little burst of loving warmth as he did naturally with Sebastian. Peter responded by rolling over into James, wrapping an arm around his chest. It was strange for James to see his friend so exposed, so fragile. Peter was the rough-and-tumble fighter, the macho icon, among James’s set. James sighed, running his hand through the boy’s dark brown hair.

Sebastian led Richard downstairs, where the sight of the captives made him gasp. “You didn’t expect that they were receiving VIP treatment, Richard?” The kidnappers were drifting into consciousness only rarely, now, their bodies drying out from being drained again and again. “I can revive them if you’d like to talk to them?”

Richard nodded and Sebastian pulled two bags of blood from the refrigerator. He tossed one to Richard, who began pouring it slowly into Vanessa’s mouth, while Sebastian did the same to Martin. Slowly, the captives began to move, prodded by the pain that coursed through them as blood again flowed through their veins.

“What is this?” Vanessa asked, her voice hoarse.

“Pig,” Sebastian said, squeezing the thick, cold liquid into her mouth. “It won’t make you strong, but it’ll help you feel…. I’d like to introduce you both to Richard!”

Richard looked at them, and any pity he might have felt for them vanished beneath the weight of the memory of Peter, curled up in tears in his arms, recounting how he felt during the last minutes of his life. “I thought,” Richard began, haltingly, “I’d ask you why. I thought … I’d want to kill you!” After a long pause, he walked to a shelf and grabbed what looked like a pair of surgical shears. “But really, all I want is to make you suffer….” Carefully, he used the shears to cleanly disarticulate the left pinkie of each vampire. Their screams were less satisfying than he had hoped: in fact it sickened him that he had caused them and that he wanted to continue. He wore a hard mask as he walked up the steps, but when he exited the basement, he ran to the toilet and threw up.

Feeling Sebastian’s hand on his shoulder, he straightened up, crying. “I can’t do what they deserve, and I can’t … let Peter do to them what he ought to do!”

“When he’s well … we’ll let him see what we’ve done to them, and I will assure him that they will suffer things he cannot fathom! I’ll do what must be done when the time comes,” Sebastian promised.

Richard put his hand on Sebastian’s without looking at him. “Thank you…. I’m sorry to put this on your shoulders too, especially now!”

“I’ve done terrible things, and if God can bring himself to forgive those, then I can live with having this on my conscience,” he said, helping Richard back to his room, where James had fallen asleep holding Peter. “Young vampires,” Sebastian whispered, wistfully.

“Leave him,” Richard said. “I’ll take Jean Philippe out and find a few humans to drop in. I think we’re all running on empty!”

“Remember the rules, Richard, and teach Jean Philippe! Only a bad element…. Of course, Jean is welcome to bring anyone who finds him sexually appealing for himself, but only food for the rest of us!” Richard nodded at Sebastian’s moral commandment: don’t dominate a human who isn’t dangerous society. Jean Philippe’s exception was simple: as a single person he could use his natural charms to draw in a willing partner who would be nearly as satisfied by their encounter as he. The young vampire, a twinkish reddish-blond with penetrating hazel eyes, would find that particularly true of any woman, or man, he brought home.

***

William woke to the sounds of Chase, Matt and Edward talking downstairs. Groggily, he made his way downstairs, and the guys laughed at him.

With a groan, he hugged Chase, then Edward, and Matt said, “Hey, what am I, chopped liver?” William went to give him a hug too, but Matt threw up his hands in feigned disgust. “No! I know when I’m not wanted!” They all laughed as William tackled him to the floor and gave him a noogie, Matt surrendering upon the threat of a wet willy.

Laughing, William asked, “What are you guys doing here?”

“Slumber party,” Chase said, excitedly.

“If you don’t mind, Chase, that sounds a little gay! Sleepover!” Everybody laughed at Matt’s comment.

“Sounds great…. I’m gonna go out for about an hour tonight, if you don’t mind Chase? Down to the synagogue,” he said, wondering what the boys would think, but nobody said anything.

“Sure! We can order pizza and grab some movies while you’re gone,” Chase said.

“I gotta go take a shower, guys. Be back in a bit!”

He was pulling on his underwear when he heard an “Oh!” at the door. Turning, William found Edward standing paralyzed at the sight of him in a pair of tight briefs.

At Edward’s awkward silence, William smiled and asked, “Were you looking for something?”

“Uhm…. Bathroom?” Edward squeeked.

“It’s across the hall,” William laughed. Edward nodded but still didn’t move. William shook his head and pulled on a white shirt and black pants. “Here, let me show you,” he said, taking Edward by the arm and leading him across the hall. William finished getting ready, noticing that Edward was in there for a long time. William called for Edward when he heard him come out. William hugged the boy warmly and said, “I’m glad you’re here!”

“Thanks! I hope we’re not in the way…. You didn’t have plans, did you?” Edward asked.

“Nope…. And you’re never in the way!” He gave Edward a squeeze and let him go, popping his wallet and cell phone into his pockets and leading the boy downstairs.

“Where’ve you guys been?” Matt called as they walked downstairs.

“Making out,” William answered sarcastically. William and Edward piled up on the couch with Chase and Matt, William positioning Edward between Chase and himself. William casually wrapped an arm around Edward, who lay back on his shoulder, breathing softly.

They were watching television when Dave and Steve came out laughing. Dave waved, “Hey, guys! I’m Dave!”

“The goon on the end is our neighbor, Chase’s best friend Matt,” Steve began. “And I don’t believe I know the young fellow cuddling with my son’s boyfriend….”

Edward blushed and stood up. “Edward Boyle, sir,” he said, holding out his hand.

Steve grabbed his hand and pulled him into a tight hug. “You’re the boy who saved my son?” Steve asked with a thick voice. Edward nodded, and Steve whispered, “Thank you, thank you!” When Steve let go, he wiped his eyes and laughed. “You’re in trouble when Sarah gets home, my boy! Dave, you remember I told you about the school shooting? Edward here pushed Chase out of the way and took a bullet in the process!”

“It was really just instinct,” Edward said, blushing, as Dave shook his hand. Soon, Dave was gone, and William got Steve to drive him down to the synagogue, leaving the boys laughing on the couch.

Making his way inside, a number of the people William had met the previous week recognized him and said hello, a few of the older ladies asking him where “that cute little blond” was.

William laughed and said, “He’s got some friends over tonight…. It’s his birthday this weekend!”

“Well, tell him his girlfriends said happy birthday,” the older of the three women said with a wink as they took their seats.

Before services started, Rabbi Roth came in and sat next to him for a moment. “Try to clear your mind tonight! The Sabbath is a day of rest, a day of peace! Let the words wash over you and carry you to another place! Do you understand?”

“Not a word,” William said with a laugh.

“Good,” the man replied, patting him on the knee before taking his own seat at the front. When services began, William let the chanting of the congregation pass over him and tried to clear his mind. Finally he laughed at himself—concentrating on freeing his mind?—and just let go. After a while he just felt like he was floating in a great body of water, spiritually speaking. Weeks of tension he didn’t know he still held onto seeped away in those moments. Suddenly, he could feel them all around him, Chase a pulsing beacon of light in a dark, stormy night, Matt the warmhearted, Edward the gentle, Steve and Sarah the parental love, Sam Roth proud and grandfatherly, Xavier and Aiden lovebirds always! And like a whisper in the wind, his father and his mother, hovering unseen above it all. For a moment, it was almost as if he could reach out and grasp them. Alas….

“Mourners and those observing yahrzeit, please rise for the mourner’s kaddish.” William struggled to his feet, receiving an approving nod from Sam, and began to repeat after the man, along with a handful of others, “Yitgadal v-yitkadash, sh’mei rabbah…”[Exalted and sanctified is your great name….].

After the service, a number of people he recognized from before approached him. They had, of course, noticed he joined in the mourner’s kaddish. One elderly woman put a hand on his arm, “Who did you lose?”

“I … my father and my mother, and the twin babies she was….” He stopped and cleared his throat, wiping the mist from his eyes, and felt the old woman squeeze him tight as many of those nearby quickly dabbed their own eyes. “I felt like … tonight … for the first time … no one’s ever really lost. Not really.”

The woman nodded and wiped her own eyes on a handkerchief. “I … my Harry died two weeks ago, and I still look for him every day,” she whispered.

William laughed softly and said, “I nearly had a nervous breakdown last week when I called my boyfriend’s dad … dad.” She patted his shoulder softly and squeezed, smiling, before grabbing her cane and hobbling off. Once he had spoken to a few more people and the place had cleared out, Sam walked up to him and nodded. “How was it?”

William smiled, shaking his head and shrugging. “I don’t know what to say….”

“Then don’t,” Sam laughed. After a moment, he added, “Tonight was the first time I’ve seen Edna smile since Harry died! Can I ask what you said to her?”

“She asked who I lost, and I told her, even about the twins,” he said, pausing as Sam’s eyes went wide, an uncontrollable sob rising in his throat and bringing tears to his eyes.

Sam coughed and asked, softly, “Twins?”

William nodded and swallowed hard, “We’d just found out a couple of weeks before….”

Sam sat in the nearest seat and rested his forehead on the back of the chair in front of it, closing his eyes. “Some things … make your soul feel tired, too tired!” Looking at William, he said, “I’m so sorry!”

William sat down next to him. “Tonight, I did what you said…. It was like I was floating, and I could feel … everyone around me! And I could feel them too, my parents…. Just a little, but it was real! So I told her, that tonight, I felt like we don’t ever really LOSE anyone….”

Sam wrapped an arm around the boy and squeezed. “Are you okay to get home?”

“Steve’s gonna pick me up,” he said, looking at his watch, “ten minutes ago! I’ve gotta run! See you in the morning….” The man smiled weakly and nodded. As the boy left, Sam put his head down in his hands and cried. The twins would have been the closest things to grandchildren he’d ever have enjoyed.

***

James awakened to find Richard had returned. “By the way, dinner is served in your room! Sebastian’s waiting on you….” James thanked the man, who still had that warm pink in his cheeks.

James found Sebastian chatting on their bed with a man in his thirties, wearing a suit and a wedding ring. “You really have a way with the pervs, little boy,” James said to Sebastian, wagging his eyebrows, as he closed the door.

“I was just telling Luke that he reminds me of my daddy,” Sebastian said, playing along, putting a hand on the man’s thigh. Luke had kept in good shape. “Do you ever play with your own little boy, daddy?”

The man smiled at the game, and that smile would have given him away even without their psychic abilities. James could see the man’s thirteen year old son naked, the things the man had made the boy do, on lust pouring off the man. Sebastian saw James’ look a moment too late: the young vampire delivered a sickening blow to the man’s jaw.

James’s fangs ripped into the man’s thigh, right through his pants, a moment later, so Sebastian went with it and began feeding from his neck. There was little use in keeping the man alive at this point, so they drained him completely until he lay dead on the bed.

Sebastian looked at James, who surveyed the aftermath of his actions. “I … meant to save you from ever having to kill,” Sebastian said, sadly. “I’m sorry….”

“Don’t be,” James said, simply, straightforwardly. “I wish I didn’t have to do it, but I’m not sorry I did! You saw what he did to his own son! It might be,” he began, looking deep into Sebastian’s eyes, “it might just be that, without beings like us, justice would fail in the world! Maybe there ought to be a better way, but there might not be.” Sure enough, Sebastian could feel not hatred, but indignation, flowing from James.

“We aren’t gods, we aren’t,” Sebastian began.

“No, we aren’t…. But he was never going to stop, you saw that! We aren’t God, but maybe he crossed our path at just the right time? Sometimes a heart attack that kills a bad man at just the right time!” James retorted.

“I don’t know! I think you’re … in this case I can see…. We shouldn’t get too comfortable thinking about ourselves in those terms,” Sebastian said.

“I won’t,” James said. “But I don’t think I could have lived with sending him home this evening!” Sebastian hugged the big boy tightly and felt the unmitigated flow of emotion. No corruption here, Sebastian thought to himself.

Given the hour, James returned to Avery to continue his training, rather than return to his lessons. Sebastian joined him, standing aside and watching as Avery demonstrated some very basic defensive techniques. Sebastian had his doubts about how effective they’d be against a demon, but still it was their best chance. In his long, long life, Sebastian had only faced off directly against an embodied demonic power once, though he had run afoul of numerous possessed souls. Generally speaking, the host body of the possessed limited the power of the invading force; but demons did it anyway because only the most powerful could manifest themselves directly. Luckily, the act of manifesting was nearly as draining as controlling a human host.

James did exceptionally well, as expected, managing in one day to begin to deflect some of Avery’s more slowly cast spells. “We’ll work on speed next,” the man said, patting James on the shoulder. “But before we break, I want to see something. Sebastian, will you help?” He stepped forward and nodded. “Given the extraordinary development of your mental powers, I’d like you to try on Sebastian what you did to me and Richard! But with a twist…. Sebastian will be trying to do the same to you in return!”

James looked at him and said, “I couldn’t…. Not Sebastian!”

“Don’t be concerned for him! Knowing you, you won’t be making him do anything he wouldn’t want to do anyway! Just have at it, with as much power as you can manage! Gentlemen?” They nodded. “Please begin….” The both smiled as each sensed what the game would be: who could make the other take off his shirt.

Sebastian was instantly shocked, because he was accustomed to controlling the mind of human or vampire alike with a glance. His inability do so with James intrigued him, piquing his competitive nature. Feeling he had been holding back, Sebastian freed himself. And yet nothing. James, meanwhile, probed and prodded, finding he could make the slightest inroads by enticing Sebastian’s own desire, suggesting that Sebastian really did want to take his shirt off. As Sebastian redoubled his efforts to overpower the boy, he failed to notice his own body responding to James’s suggestion. Avery stood slack-jawed as the weeks-old vampire defeated his sire’s will. Only when James smiled and kissed his cheek did Sebastian look down and find his own chest bare.

Avery left without comment, leaving Sebastian to stare uncomprehendingly at James. “I … don’t understand….”

“I don’t know much about how this is supposed to work, but I can tell you how I did it,” James offered, and Sebastian nodded. “ I could tell immediately I couldn’t mentally overpower you, but your feelings were wide open….” James stepped up to him so he towered over him, stroking Sebastian’s cheek. “See, just now, I made something happen in your body,” James laughed, “not by grabbing your dick and yelling at it, but by stoking your desire to do what I wanted!” He leaned in and kissed Sebastian, gently stroking him through the silky pants.

“Mmmm…. You know, you make a good teacher and a good theorist! That was the best, and most enjoyable lesson, I ever had! By stoking the right feeling, you made me want to do what you wanted…. This could be our major weakness,” he mused, unknowingly echoing Sammael’s sentiments.

James squeezed him. “Take it from the recently human: our emotions are definitely a chink in the armor, but they can be a source of great strength….” Sebastian looked up at him with a question. “Well, like today, I was just able to produce a piddly little energy ball. I hit Avery with it and he actually laughed! But I bet that if I saw you in danger, I could incinerate an army of warlocks! I mean, what could you do if you had to save me?” Sebastian squeezed him and shuddered to think what he might do. “Exactly….”

Sebastian laid his head on James’s chest and said, “It’s funny…. I thought we were training you, but in the end, you might teach us all a thing or two!”

“It’s nothing,” James said.

“No! It’s not nothing…. It’s amazing what you can forget, or become jaded enough to ignore, over the endless passage of time! We’ve forgotten that we stand on earth like men, beneath heaven and the forces that rage around us! We’ve forgotten that some things are worth fighting for, we’ve forgotten that we are capable of love, what love can be!” He was almost bitter, “It’s like waking up and realizing that you’ve wasted 3000 years!”

James laughed, his eyes boring into Sebastian’s heart, and whispered, “Those were the 3000 years that carried you to the 3000 years we get to spend making up for it!” James smiled brightly as he felt Sebastian squeeze him tight.

***

Back home, William found Chase and Matt trying to remember who might come to the party, as Sarah tried to tally it up while fawning over Edward whenever possible.

“I see you’ve been introduced,” William said with gentle sarcasm. Sarah gave him a look, while Edward laughed.

Looking at Matt and Chase, Sarah said with a glance at her list, “We’ll definitely have to go get more stuff tomorrow, more drinks, more snacks, more cake….”

The boys groaned. Shopping! William laughed, and Edward rolled his eyes. They all ate pizza and drank sodas around the kitchen island, laughing and talking. Afterward, they all piled up on the couch, put on a slasher flick and managed, by a process of one-upsmanship, to freak each other out majorly. By the time they finished the second movie, Sarah and Steve had disappeared, and the boys were too scared to turn out the lights and walk upstairs in the dark. Even Chase didn’t want to do it by himself!

“Alright, you douches run upstairs and I’ll take care of it,” William said at last, shaking his head when nobody tried to talk him out of it. In fact, he got the better of himself and after they were upstairs, he ran up the steps and turned the lights off from upstairs with a quick flick of his wrist.

“That was fast,” Chase teased him with a knowing tone.

“Says the blind kid who’s afraid of the dark,” Matt retorted.

“That’s why I love you, freak,” Chase said, shaking his head, laughing. “I’m not afraid of the dark, I live in the dark! I just didn’t want to be down there by myself! So, how’s this gonna work?”

“Queen size! We’ll fit,” Matt said, kicking his shoes off and throwing his shirt on top of them, before flopping back onto the bed and climbing under the covers. Chase quickly crawled in next to him. William thought about taking Chase’s other side, but that would leave Edward on the outside. After a brief deliberation, he thought Edward might like to sleep between them, so he took the outside spot. Chase’s face bore a question, before William squeezed his shoulder and Chase nodded as Edward climbed over William, who held the covers up for him.

The bed was full, but comfortably full, of friends. Chase giggled a little, before managing to say, “Night Johnboy,” before he burst out laughing. Matt rolled on his side and gave Chase a noogie for his trouble, leaving his arm comfortably draped across the boy’s chest. Edward rolled onto his right side, facing Matt and Chase to get more comfortable, and soon felt William spoon up behind him and snake an arm around him, pulling him back into his warm body. Edward sighed softly, and William felt him relax instantly, melting back into him. Chase reached over and grabbed William’s hand, tickling Edward’s belly with his fingers, and squeezed gently. A few minutes later, they were all asleep.

***

Later that evening, while James practiced a few new violin techniques Sebastian taught him, Sebastian sat in his office responding to emails. When Avery appeared in his door, Sebastian looked up and saw his apprehensive expression. “Are you alright?” Avery asked.

Sebastian laughed and smiled happily. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I never … thought he could do it! At best, I thought he might resist you for a while,” Avery worried.

“Why would that bother me? I just hope we can teach him enough that we can all survive this battle,” Sebastian said.

“Well, it’s … been a long time since you weren’t the master,” Avery responded.

“Honestly, it’s liberating, Avery! In any case, it’s different with James, because his strength is my strength!” Sebastian said.

Avery nodded, and asked, “How?” Sebastian recounted James’s account and Avery sank into his chair, shaking his head. “Amazing….”

As they sat talking, a message from Americ flashed on Sebastian’s screen. Sebastian clicked and the man appeared. Though he looked tired, he looked impeccably kept, and Sebastian laughed a little, thinking that Americ looked a lot like Anderson Cooper. Sebastian wondered if that worked as well on the women Americ enjoyed as it would on the scene boys looking for daddies. “Hello, Americ! Avery’s here with me…. What’s up?”

“Sebastian, you look like you’re thinking naughty thoughts! I’m not interrupting am I?” Americ asked.

“No, Americ! The naughty thoughts were about you,” Sebastian began, fessing up to the man who laughed and shook his head.

“Am I the one vampire over three hundred who hasn’t succumbed to a little experimentation with you?” Americ asked.

“Not only vamps over three hundred, Americ,” Avery said, announcing his presence and raising his hand as if admitting a secret.

“Avery, there was little succumbing in your case! More like weeks when I had trouble scraping you off of me! In any case,” Sebastian answered, causing both men to laugh, Americ’s bold blue eyes shining now. “As for all the other ‘so-called’ straight vampires over three hundred, I have no comment, in order to protect the innocent! Unfortunately for you, Americ, the window of opportunity has passed and you’ll never know the pleasures an old one can deliver!” Avery nodded sympathetically and laughed. “What can I do for you, my silver fox?”

Americ grunted again and shook his head. “Back to business! Since you told me about the Oracle’s message, I’ve been watching human message traffic for possible signs…. I’ve got something!” Sebastian leaned in. “It seems that there’s been an incident at a small Greek fishing village…. Nearly everyone is accounted for. Most of the hundred or so residents were found dead in their beds.”

“Cause of death?” Sebastian asked.

Americ laughed coldly, shaking his head. “Apparently, starvation….”

“Aethon,” Avery spat, and Americ nodded.

“You said … most,” Sebastian began.

Americ nodded again, slowly responding. “The handful of teens is gone, three boys and two girls, ages 14-19….”

Sebastian was seething, as Americ suspected he would be. “Are there any signs of his presence, or indications of where he’s going?”

“No, but I have a feeling he won’t be hard to track! He’s acting like an angry god, but this is the modern world! Follow the bodies and maybe we can get ahead of him….” Sebastian’s fist crashed onto his desk, but he struggled to control himself and nodded.

“Thank you, Americ. Let’s get some people tracking him! His energy shouldn’t be that difficult to find, unless his mastermind is able to cloak him….”

***

Sammael sat at his desk and read the same report that Americ had found. His fist, too, struck his desk top. “Prat! He has no inkling of the new world,” he said, looking down at the cowering Andrew disinterestedly. The man just looked at Sammael with terror in his eyes as he sat at the demon’s feet, arms wrapped around his knees. “Hmmf,” he grunted, picking up the phone to call the vampire’s escorts. “Keep the body count to a minimum,” he said, “and remind the ignorant fuck this isn’t the stone ages! It might have been hard to kill his kind in the old days, but now even the humans have the technology to burn him beyond repair! And if he continues to piss in my breakfast, that’ll be the least of his worries!”

“Yes, my lord,” came the quick reply, and Sammael slammed the phone down just as quickly.

Looking down at the cowering mass at his feet, Sammael smiled. “I’m bored,” he mused, and Andrew began to cry softly. Sammael rolled his eyes as he shook his head, grabbing the young man by the scruff of his neck. “Excellent! You know what I like!”

***

William woke in the morning desperate to go to the bathroom, but his arm was around Edward, whose head was resting on his chest. Rubbing the boy’s back lightly, he whispered, “Edward, I’ve got to go to the bathroom!” The boy grumbled in his sleep and rolled over, snuggling up to Chase, who was now sandwiched between cute boys. William grabbed some clothes so he could dress without waking them, and went ahead and showered before slipping downstairs.

Steve was sipping coffee and reading the paper. “You need a ride?” he asked.

“If you don’t mind,” William said.

“Sure thing, buddy…. Where’d everybody sleep?” Steve asked.

“Chase’s bed,” William answered.

“That must have been snug,” Steve laughed, choking a little on his coffee.

William shrugged and smiled. “I don’t think anybody minded,” he said. “Go take a peek!”

The man tiptoed upstairs and peaked in the door, returning shaking his head. “You guys! You’ve got good friends….”

After services, the four boys piled into Sarah’s van. They dropped Edward off on the way to pick up supplies. “See you guys tomorrow,” he called happily, hopping out of the van.

“See you tomorrow,” Chase said, waving.

Sarah spent most of the afternoon dragging them around town; then when they got home, the boys had to unload the car and help Sarah set up the house and the back yard for Chase’s first big birthday party, his sixteenth. They were all tired when they sat down to eat leftover pizza, and when they finished, Matt had to run home. At last, Chase and William were alone … with Chase’s parents of course. After a little TV, however, they excused themselves upstairs and piled into the bed, making out.

Chase asked, teasing, “Did you enjoy yourself last night?”

William shook his head, laughing. “Edward IS a hottie … but that’s not what it was about and you know it! I told him the other day….”

Tweaking his nipple to shut William up, Chase laughed, “I know what you told him! I got my turn this morning anyway…. Woke up in a boy sandwich!”

“I know,” William said, wagging his eyebrows. “If I didn’t love you so much, I definitely could have eaten that sandwich!” “Me, too,” Chase said, his cheeks dimpling cutely. Slowly, he slid beneath the covers….