7 Feelings

By Saturday evening, the charges had been set around Sekhmet’s tomb and the surveillance system was in place. Meanwhile Americ had confirmed that the body of one of the missing teens from the Greek fishing village was found, drained to the point of desiccation, in central Europe. But someone was apparently restraining Aethon, so there was no swath of destruction to pinpoint his path. ‘It’s amazing what you can come to hope for,’ Sebastian mused.

Later, James and Avery walked into Sebastian’s office laughing, returning from an intensive day of training with the ‘assistance’ of Sarah Light. James was bubbly as he recounted the highpoints of dueling the young major. “I did finally beat her,” he said. “It was so cool!”

Sebastian raised his eyes. “Major Light is a battle-hardened wizard…. It might not hurt to remind her that you bested even me!”

“And none too happy about losing to a newbie! But I’ll make it up to her,” Avery said.

Sebastian laughed and shook his head. “You like her!” Avery blushed and shrugged.

“So, we’re going to a birthday party tomorrow! We need presents…. I can’t even remember when we left the house,” James said. “Think we can hazard getting out for a couple of hours?”

“It couldn’t hurt, under the guard of the world’s oldest vampire and the world’s most powerful wizard,” Avery said.

“You can come too, if you want, Avery,” James said, teasing. “Steve and Chris are dying!”

“I don’t like it,” Sebastian grumbled. “We’ll have to drive into the city then…. We can’t risk them being seen! We’ll take some bodyguards to watch them.” James ran off to find the boys playing in the game room and tell them the good news. Fresh air!

“So,” Sebastian asked, “how’s it going, really?”

Avery shook his head. “Absolutely remarkable! He’s learning faster, and growing more quickly, than anyone know of, myself included…. And my teacher was even more exceptional than I knew,” Avery said, raising his eyebrow with a hint of appreciative accusation.

“Avery, I couldn’t tell anyone! Richard lived under my roof for almost two centuries and I never told him. The only person I ever told was James,” Sebastian said.

“You could have told me,” Avery said softly, stepping closer to the boyish looking ancient, over whom he towered, running his fingers through the familiar black hair.

Sebastian put a hand on Avery’s chest, laying his head on the opposite shoulder. “I know! I knew then…. But I didn’t want to burden you!”

Avery slipped his arms around Sebastian, and the two stood that way for a few minutes, comforting each other as they had so many times over the course of centuries of war and terror, all of which paled compared with the present. Neither of them noticed the footsteps retreating from the door, and heading for the stairs.

James, who was walking down from the second floor with Chris and Steve, bumped into Sarah, who bore a strange look.

“What’s wrong Sarah? You’re not still sore about today are you?” James asked.

“Hmmm? No,” she said, distractedly.

“What’s wrong?” he asked again, letting the other guys go.

“Oh…. I guess I just walked in on something I wasn’t supposed to see!” He cocked his head questioningly. “Avery and Sebastian….”

“Oh!” He laughed and now she was looking at him curiously. “No, no, I don’t know anything…. They’re really close, so I can imagine what it might have looked like!”

Sarah blushed at her own spark of jealousy, particularly in light of James’s lack. “Sebastian had a head on his shoulder and a hand on his chest, and Avery was just … holding him….”

“They’ve been friends twenty times as long as I’ve been alive, Sarah! Avery likes you, and Sebastian … well, I’m not worried! Though they must have had some fun when Avery was a teenager,” James added with a naughty smile.

Sarah shook her head and couldn’t help but smile. “I come from a very different world than most humans … wizard and all … but you guys? Biblically old vampires, rogue consuls, conspiracies and murdered immortals: I feel really small! Never mind that Avery is in my world nearly what Sebastian is in his!”

“ I know how you feel,” James laughed. “Sebastian is one of the most powerful beings on earth! But for some reason I don’t understand, and he doesn’t fully either, I’d imagine, we were brought together. Do you believe in fate?”

“No, I don’t” Sarah said, “I believe in destiny!”

“What’s the difference?” he asked.

“Fate is a mindless march toward a hopeless end. We’re just cogs in a machine! Destiny, the way I think about it, means there are certain things we’re meant to do, roles we’re meant to play, but we have to play them our own way. We can ignore it and turn our back on it. Sebastian could wake up tomorrow and take you to Tahiti to enjoy the rest of eternity together, leaving the rest of the world to fall apart!”

“He would never,” James began.

“But he could. It’s up to him!” Sarah said.

“Maybe fate made him who he is, took that choice away?” James said.

“James, do you believe that Sebastian is a great person?” He nodded. “Because he got lucky and fate made him that way? Fate is an excuse, and it robs us of all our worth! Destiny gives us a direction and values what we do….”

“A warrior and a philosopher,” James said with a smile, the arm he put around her slight shoulder making her seem smaller.

“Actually, all battle wizards are trained in philosophy,” she said with a laugh.

“Listen, Sarah,” James said, changing the subject slightly. “Sebastian, Avery and I, Chris, and Steven, and, if you like, you will be going down to Richmond tomorrow for a party. So tonight we’re doing some shopping…. Could you to organize a few wizards to go along? We need some low key sorts who can blend with a bunch of teens. Can you handle that?”

“Will do…. And thanks!” Sarah said with a smile.

“Thank you, Sarah,” James smiled back before walking off toward Richard’s room.

He knocked softly. “Come in,” Richard called.

James stuck his head in, asking, “How’s it going, guys?”

Peter smiled weakly, but looked comfortable propped up on pillows.

“Pretty tired,” Peter answered after a moment.

“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Richard said, soothingly. “Not that you’d know it from your friend here….”

“James was always special,” Peter nearly whispered. At James puzzled smile, he continued, “We all knew you didn’t want to play ball, but you were the best! The most sportsmanlike, the most inspiring, the best student…. The only thing I ever wondered about was why you never warmed up to Chris, at least ‘til recently….”

James smiled and sat next to Richard. “I guess I could sense in him what I wasn’t ready to admit about myself?”

“Makes sense. You really opened up to him after Sebastian. Speaking of Chris, he and Steve are here?” Peter asked.

“They’re here…. We’re all being protected by Sebastian’s men,” James said.

“Sebastian’s men? I know he’s rich and all but,” Peter began.

James gave him a quick run-down on Sebastian and their current situation. “But Richard can give you all the details as you feel up to it….”

Peter’s mind was buzzing. “So I was … this all happened to me because I was at the wrong place at the wrong time?”

“They were hoping to get their hands on someone close to Sebastian to hurt him,” James sighed.

Biting his bottom lip, Peter whispered, “If I’d never come here….”

Richard flinched and looked away, while James’s hurt look couldn’t be masked. “I’m sorry, Peter…. I know this is my fault, and I hope you’ll be able to forgive me someday,” James said as he stood and walked to the door. “Richard, I’ll just be … upstairs if you need me!”

In his room, James sat and grabbed the violin Sebastian had given him. Doing exercises, he’d found, cleared his mind, so he began to play scales and the like, before playing the few simple songs he knew. “You sound sad,” Sebastian said from the doorway.

“You can feel my emotions,” James said with an almost bitter grunt.

“Only when you open yourself up, not right now….” James looked up at the concerned look on Sebastian’s face, feeling again almost taken aback by the sharp beauty of his form. The elegant black pants and white shirt, the pale skin, dark hair and eyes. James looked at him and let go, just a little, just a taste, and he saw the sadness in Sebastian’s eyes as he felt it.

In almost a blink, Sebastian stood over him, running a hand through his honey colored hair and softly whispering, “It’ll be alright, sweet boy! Let him blame me! I’ll gladly….”

“I blame myself too,” James whispered, again finding himself in tears. “If I’d never….”

“None of us knew this could ever happen! If anything, given my position, this should have been the safest place in the world for any of us to be,” Sebastian said.

“I know…. It’s just,” James began.

“Do you blame me? After all if we’d never met,” Sebastian countered.

“If we’d never met, I’d never have been happy! But I feel guilty, because I wouldn’t change that, even knowing that Peter would still be alive if,” James said.

“Well, if it makes you feel better, the world would probably have been destroyed anyway, so Peter would definitely have died in that scenario! But in this scenario he lives again, and with you by my side, the whole world might just make it,” Sebastian said.

James smiled and wiped his eyes. “But … what do you mean? You’re not serious?”

Sebastian sat on the bed across from James, his head in his hands. “This situation … only you and Avery really know about Sammael. But only Avery grasps the full significance of that name, of who this is!”

“So you’ve been bearing the burden alone,” James said disapprovingly as he moved to Sebastian’s side. “Tell me!”

“James,” he whispered, “you and I are playing a part in the last great battle of a war that began before this planet was formed, before life existed in the expanse of space and time…. Sammael has been known by many names: the angel of death, ha-satan, Lucifer, the prince of darkness, the deceiver, Iblis, the destroyer! He is the sworn enemy of order, of peace, the enemy of the God of the universe, with an ego to match! Though significantly weakened by operating directly in our world, and by being cut off from his angelic root, he is to me, what I am to Peter, in terms of strength and cunning!”

“You make it sound hopeless,” James said.

“It would be if I had to face him alone, but with the Council at my command, with you at my side, a long lifetime of allies … we might just still be able to foil his plans. And I still don’t yet know what to make of the boys, William and Chase,” Sebastian said.

“Well if now is what we’ve got, we’ve got to make the most of it!” James kissed Sebastian on the cheek sweetly, and added, “But first, let’s go shopping!”

In a small caravan, James, Sebastian, Avery, Chris, Steve and Sarah left with an elite escort of young wizards dressed for town. They were really just getting out of the house, since only Sebastian had met the boy. Chris and Steve got him a bottle of cologne, sweet but masculine. Avery was about to pick out a Kama Sutra book, but Sarah directed him toward a high-end mp3 player. “What?” he asked her. “They’ve got technology to help the blind read books!”

“Avery, the boy is sixteen! He’ll have friends over,” Sarah said.

“Yeah, so? Show me a sixteen-year-old who knows enough about sex! The fun parts, anyway….” She smacked him on the head as she led him away.

James and Sebastian, meanwhile, were browsing, when James began to feel something nibbling at the edge of his consciousness. He smiled, and Sebastian asked, “So you can feel it?”

“Yeah,” James laughed. “Somebody’s checking us out….”

“You, specifically! We’ve neglected this aspect of your training: hunting. One way to tell an easy mark is to go after someone who wants you as much as you want them! You should only feed off of these people once you’ve gotten control over your appetite. Your control is pretty good, especially for your age. Still, accidents will happen; that’s why I prefer to go after the bad element. In any case, who’s checking you out?”

They looked around, and James was able to pinpoint the target because, when they made eye contact, her heartbeat went through the roof. She was kind of cute, maybe on the border of cute and plain, brown hair, glasses, maybe twenty-four, and apparently had a thing for the young jockish type though she lacked the confidence to approach a guy like James.

“She’d definitely give herself willingly,” Sebastian said, picking up on some of her stray thoughts. “Hunting my prey takes more concentration, as the targets are wilier! You have to probe them individually for stray thoughts that give away their true natures, then deeper ‘til you find what you’re looking for. You seem to have a particular taste for child molesters, but murderers, rapists, and the like are all around us. The world looks amazingly dark from the inside of the minds of the average mall crowd.” Pointing to one woman, he said, “She’s afraid to go home to her drunken husband. And him—he’s lost his job but doesn’t want his parents to find out. What about sketchy ball-cap guy?” Sebastian asked the last, nodding in the direction of a man in his early thirties.

The man was eyeing the crowd for something. Sebastian felt James tense as the man started toward an unkempt and somewhat strange boy in his early teens, but he grabbed James’s arm, shaking his head. “Concentrate,” Sebastian whispered, and he felt James relax. “Outer impressions aren’t what they seem! We must act on deeper insight….”

James shook his head. “He works for the homeless mission?”

Sebastian nodded, the lesson learned. Changing the subject, he asked, “So what shall we get for our young friend?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we should invite them up some weekend?” James suggested.

Sebastian smiled. “I like that idea, and I have a little something else in mind to go with it….”

“Do tell?” James asked, and his smile widened as Sebastian filled him in. “Perfect,” James pronounced.

For dinner, they went to a very nice restaurant Sebastian frequented and got a private room for their little crowd. They enjoyed a nice meal together and sat around talking, including the young wizards, some of whom were getting conspicuously examined by Steve. In particular, Steve was flirting with a tall, dark-haired young man with a gracefully muscular figure. About twenty one, his face was ruggedly handsome, and his unnaturally royal blue eyes shined when he smiled. And he was smiling, enjoying the attention of a member of Sebastian’s household. Chris, however, was not enjoying it at all.

James noticed, but he couldn’t just correct Steve in front of everybody. Besides, he was having a quiet conversation with Sarah, who had talked with Avery and was feeling a lot better about everything. Avery had also told her about his still-raw loss. When Chris got up with a dark look on his brow, however, James followed him, excusing himself. He found the boy sniffling in a bathroom stall.

“Chris?” James asked.

“What?” Chris replied.

“Are you okay, buddy?” James asked.

Chris cleared his throat. “I’m … fine!”

“Come out here and talk to me.” Slowly Chris opened the door. James reached out and wiped his face, pulling him into a hug. “What’s wrong?”

The boy shrugged in James’s arms. “Usually, I’d talk Peter about this kind of stuff….”

“You can talk to me,” James said.

“I’m a little jealous…. At school, you know, there aren’t so many guys like me. But in this circle, there’s a lot of guys, and even if they aren’t gay, everybody’s so cool. Steve just feels free! After we got comfortable around Sebastian’s place it started…. He flirts with any guy; he’s real nonchalant about it! But tonight he’s going too far!”

“Have you told him how it makes you feel?” James asked.

“Yeah…. He says he’s just kidding and all, but I don’t know! I don’t know if … if a better offer came around, whether he’d say no…. I want something more serious,” Chris said.

James squeezed him tight. “Chris, there is no better offer, and if Steve doesn’t get that, he’s an idiot!” Chris squeezed him back and relaxed a little bit. “I just told Peter today, the reason I never warmed up to you before is that I saw in you what I wasn’t ready to admit about myself. But to tell you the truth, it was more than that…. A part of me wished I had what Peter had, with benefits,” James added with a laugh. “If I hadn’t met Sebastian, if I had ever come to my senses…. Just don’t ever doubt that you deserve the best, and that you have a right to demand it!”  Turning Chris to face the mirror, he asked, “What do you see?”

“A skinny, nerdy boy looking out of place standing next to you!” The easy way he demeaned himself angered James.

“Let me tell you what I see!” he said perhaps a little forcefully, taking Chris by the shoulders and turning the boy to face him. “I see a thin but handsome young man, with a brilliant smile and a good heart, who’s stronger than anyone realizes! Your brown eyes are perfect, and your shaggy brown hair really is awesome! I wasn’t kidding, if I wasn’t with Sebastian and you weren’t with Steve, you’d have my undivided attention! Now, look at Sebastian! When you’d describe him, would you say skinny and pale?”

Chris looked at the ground, blushing and shaking his head, “No! He’s beautiful….”

“Look again, then, Chris, because most of what you’re putting down about yourself are characteristics you share with him! And, by the way, one thing I didn’t mention…. The first time I mentioned you to Steve, he commented on how hot your ass was!” James confided.

Chris blushed hard. “Really?”

“Really! And I wasn’t disagreeing,” James said, giving him a swift pat on the ass like he might a teammate. “Do you want me to talk to Steve?”

“No!” Chris said.

“Well, I don’t know if it’s a good idea or not, but it might get the point across,” James thought out loud.

“What?” Chris asked curiously.

“Well, have you ever flirted with a guy in front of Steve?” James asked.

NO!” Chris said.

“Well, maybe now’s the time. He might decide he doesn’t like how it feels either!” James said.

“He’ll just think it’s funny. Besides,” Chris trailed off.

“Don’t even say it! They’ll be interested! Hell, steal the attention of the guy he’s been all googly over,” James said.

Chris smiled and shrugged. “I don’t know….”

“Me either,” James laughed, “but Steve needs a lesson, but if that guy is anything like me, and I think he might be, you’ll be just his type….”

“What type is that?” Chris asked.

“Cute little fellas who’re all man!” James smiled.

They walked out together and returned to their seats, and James shot Sebastian a smile, along with a lightning fast update, earning a laugh in return. Meanwhile, Chris returned to his seat between Steve and the cute wizard, Marcus, and joined in their conversation. Soon, Chris was making eye contact with the big man and lightly brushing his hand when they spoke. Marcus locked on Chris almost as soon as he joined the conversation.

At first, Steve redoubled his efforts, nearly making a fool of himself, before sulking poutily and talking to a young woman across the way. James noticed Chris lean in and whisper something to Marcus, making the man laugh and quickly look to Steve, before returning his gaze to Chris. As they all finished and got up to go, Marcus told Chris pretty loudly, “Hit me up if you want to hang some time, Chris! See you later Steve….” Steve nodded disinterestedly and James smiled, realizing that Chris had let Marcus in on the fact that he was trying to make his boyfriend jealous.

On the way back to the estate, Steve and Chris were riding with James and Sebastian. Steve sat with his arms crossed, saying nothing.

“What’s wrong?” James asked, repressing his laugh.

Steve fumed, responding, “That guy, Marcus! He was hitting on Chris! You heard him!”

“Which one was Marcus?” Sebastian asked, as if he was still in the dark. Steve described him and Sebastian got a look of recognition. “Oh! But I thought you were flirting with him!”

Steve’s face turned red. “I … well … he was cute!”

“So, when you flirt with him, it’s okay, but when he flirts with Chris,” James asked, letting the question trail off.

“Well, but … he was alone, but Chris is my boyfriend! He knew that!” Steve protested incoherently.

“You knew that, when you were flirting, too! How do you think that makes me feel? Maybe you think that he should have been flirting with you because … because you’re better than me?” Chris asked with deep feeling, taking them all aback. “Is that it? You’re the hot, beautiful jock, and I’m the loveable, geeky sidekick? Does it hurt that he liked me better, even though it’s obvious you should be the one? Is that it?”

Steve’s face turned purple, but none of them could tell whether it was from rage or embarrassment. In either case, he said nothing, and when they arrived back at the house, he stormed out of the car off to who knew where. Chris sat in the car, stunned, until Sebastian reached across and put a hand on his knee. “Chris, come inside? You had every right to be upset: you need to remember that.” As they climbed out, the second car was arriving.

Marcus walked over to Chris and put a hand on his shoulder. “I know you said you only wanted to show Steve how it felt, and I do hope things work out for you guys, but … I meant what I said. I do like you,” he said, blushing cutely, as the expression of uncertainty looked so out of place on his perfect and masculine face. Chris blushed but felt a rush of confidence.

Inside, Chris found his room empty. A few minutes later Steve stood in the doorway and watched him for a few seconds before clearing his throat. Chris looked up but kept going about his business silently.

“Can I come in?” Steve asked.

“I suppose, if you feel like you need permission,” Chris said, a little coolly.

“Can we talk?” Steve closed the door behind him, anticipating an affirmative response.

“What do we have to talk about?” Chris asked.

“I wanted to … about what you said in the car…. I,” Steve paused and Chris looked up at him expectantly, expecting an apology, something, anything but what he heard. “You were right.” Chris sat down and looked up at him slack jawed. “Partially…. When James first told me about you, I thought you were pretty cute, hot actually, but in the sort of geeky cute sidekick kind of way, and I thought about me as the leading man hottie. You were right, I thought about myself as able to get whoever, whenever, and I guess I thought of myself as doing you some kind of favor, subconsciously. Now I know I was wrong, but I never did anything to change the way I approached us! I know you could get most any guy you want! You’re beautiful and sweet, and you’ve got character! And, the truth of the matter is, I don’t deserve you! I don’t deserve you, and I got you and treated you like I was doing you a favor! How fucked is that?”

Chris looked up at him, trying to hide some of what he began to feel. “What now, then?”

“I was gonna ask Sebastian if maybe he’d send me somewhere else, maybe to another consul, for protection. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable … if you want to see somebody else,” Steve said.

Chris laughed, a little bitterly but mostly at Steve, and shook his head. “You’re a moron, you know that?” Steve looked at him, unsure of what he meant. “All I wanted was for you to realize that you were going overboard with the flirting and that it really hurt my feelings! I wanted you to say you’re sorry and that I’m important enough for you to do better, to say you love me and you’re sorry! But instead, you’d just throw it all away for my own good! You’re a fucking moron!”

“I AM sorry,” Steve said.

“I believe that,” Chris responded.

“And I do love you,” Steve continued.

“I think you believe that,” Chris answered. Steve looked crestfallen and turned to go, but he felt Chris’s hand on his arm. “Steve, I’m not giving up on us just yet! I’m afraid I want something more serious than you do, but … I’m willing to find out whether I’m right.” Steve turned slowly and wrapped his arms around Chris.

“Are you sure?” Steve asked.

“Shut up and look pretty for a little bit,” Chris said, laughing, and Steve soon joined him.

They talked for a while, really opening up to each other about their hopes and dreams in a way they hadn’t before, though things got awkward briefly at bedtime, when Chris had to tell Steve that, yes, they would still be sharing a bed. When Steve crawled beneath the sheets in his boxers, Chris cuddled up to him and put his head on the boy’s chest. When Steve smiled down at him, Chris rolled over on top of Steve, between his legs, feeling the boy pressing against the soft skin of his smooth belly.

Chris licked playfully at Steve’s nipples and felt Steve’s response. Steve leaned down and kissed Chris with passion. Chris lowered himself down Steve’s body, teasing the jock’s abs with his tongue. Kneeling between Steve’s knees, Chris removed Steve’s underwear and leaned over to tease him with his tongue, working his way down until Steve begged, in a whisper, “Do you want to fuck me?”

“Really?” Chris asked, huskily, sounding excited.

“Really!” Steve said, preparing to bottom for the first time. The tough football player cried out as more pain than he expected accompanied his first invasion. Steve continued to gasp and groan, grasping at Chris’s thin frame as if holding on for dear life as Christ tried to be gentle. Chris leaned in to kiss Steve, apparently hitting just the right angle, because as they kissed, Steve embraced him tightly and nodded that he should begin. Chris began slowly, never breaking the kiss, as Steve began to moan into his mouth. Steve’s grasping embrace was very exciting to Chris, who was torn between immediate pleasure and wanting to make it last.  He held out for almost fifteen minutes before finishing, collapsing on Steve.

“How was it?” Chris asked, smiling cheekily at the boy beneath him.

“Fucking awesome,” Steve gushed. “I can’t believe I didn’t want to do that!”

“In the meantime,” Chris smiled seductively, reaching between them and suggesting, “ready to take your turn?” Steve grinned, feeling happy to oblige.

“I guess they are making up,” James said, smiling at Sebastian as they lay in bed. “Kind of makes me horny,” he added, bringing a smile to Sebastian’s lips, as he leaned in hungrily for a kiss. Sebastian rolled over onto his stomach and presented himself, and as James rolled into position on top of him, James again looked down at the one imperfection of Sebastian’s body. Caressing it with his fingers, he asked, “Why do you have a scar? When we feed on them, they don’t even have a scratch, but you have a scar here….”

“That’s where Resheph took me, killed me I mean…. I always figured that when you’re turned your body didn’t regenerate the death wounds,” Sebastian said.

“But?” James asked.

“But I’ve examined your body,” he said, adding with a wistful smile, “every inch of it from head to toe! Not a single one of the gunshots that killed you left a scar…. You’re the only vampire I ever met without a scar!” Sebastian trailed off, feeling the pleasant pressure of the weight of the muscular boy laying on his back, as well as the pleasing pressure James was applying. He shivered as James kissed the scar on his shoulder, licked his neck and nibbled his ear. Soon all was forgotten but the two of them, lost in a love that kept their hopes alive.

***

Chase and William woke up in the morning needing a shower. “I’ll have to try to slip a load in the laundry this morning while your mom is busy! Even a mom couldn’t miss these stains,” William said with a laugh. The boys did manage to slip across the hall and shower together unnoticed. When they finished, William stuck his head out the door and ran across the hall to the bedroom with a towel around his waist. A moment later, he made a noise, giving Chase the signal to head across as well.

Chase came in giggling, “That was exciting!”

“Probably what your mom thought as she walked around the corner downstairs and looked up your towel,” William teased.

Chase’s face turned red and he looked scandalized. “She didn’t!”

“No, but I love when you blush!” William said.

Chase smacked him on the bare chest, commenting, “Mmmm, I like the sound of that! How many spankings do I get to give you for my birthday?”

“That’s not the way it works, Chase,” William said with a laugh.

“Could it be if I wanted it to be?” Chase asked, teasing.

“Absolutely!” They laughed and finished getting dressed before running downstairs. They started getting food out, but Sarah called, “No messes! We’re all set for the party right now!”

“We’ll be good, I promise!” Chase replied.

NO! We’ll go grab breakfast,” she said. “I thought we might go walk around the mall to keep out of the house….”

Over breakfast, they talked about random things. Sarah, of course, brought up Edward. “He’s a sweet boy,” she said, “and he likes both of you a lot….”

“He is nice, mom,” Chase said. “He’s very shy, though, so take it easy!”

“Hmmf!” she responded.

“SO,” Steve interrupted, asking with a cheeky smile, “what did you get for Chase for his birthday? Since I keep track of the check book, I noticed you didn’t purchase anything….”

“That you know of! I’ve got my ways,” William grinned.

“I’m sure you have! So no hints?” Steve asked.

“It’s very special,” William said, squeezing Chase’s hand under the table. “I’ll give it to him after the party! Only close friends and family can see it!”

Chase’s smile was indescribable. “I don’t need anything else,” he said softly.

“This … will be special, sweetheart,” William whispered into his ear, leaning in for privacy.

“Alright boys, enough of the secret lovey-dovey…. Let’s go shopping,” Sarah announced with a smile.

By the time they got home, it was nearly three, and Matt met them on the front porch before they got the door opened. “Excited?” William asked with a laugh.

“Yeah! It’s a party and … people are coming!” Matt laughed.

The boys went up to Chase’s room and watched television. Chase tried to decide what to wear and let William help him pick an outfit of navy pants and a light powder blue sweater over an undershirt, while William decided on a white shirt with black pants for himself. They had to kick Matt out of the room to change.

***

Sunday was relatively calm, as James continued his training with Avery and Sarah, while Sebastian administered the Council. But he couldn’t help himself: Every hour or so, Sebastian accessed the video feed of Sekhmet’s tomb, needing reassurances that she was still there. The face behind the myth of the goddess, so transformed by her cult that some began to worship her as benevolent, haunted him from his earliest days. As fierce and cruel as Resheph had been, Sekhmet’s bloodlust had threatened Egyptian civilization in its formative years. And whereas Resheph liked to go around in his pleasing human form, tall and seeping sex, with dark piercing eyes and wild curly hair, Sekhmet gloried in her inner demon.

When Sekhmet hunted, she would kill so many unnecessarily that blood literally ran in the streets of towns, or stained the sands of the nomadic encampments. Egypt finally made a cold deal with her: she would be treated as a goddess, brought regular offerings, and in return she would cease her random and awesome destructions. This brutal reality was transformed by her cult into the story of the anger of Ra at human injustice. The Egyptians taught that Ra, in his anger, had sent the goddess Hathor, in the form of Sekhmet, “the eye of Ra,” to punish the world. Sekhmet’s bloodlust was so great she nearly destroyed humankind. Only when Ra poured red alcoholic beverage into the river, turning it red like the blood she so loved and intoxicating her as she consumed it, did the destruction cease. The Egyptians reenacted this at the annual flood. In truth, Sekhmet’s cult did “reenact” this regular offering to the “goddess,” not alcohol but a steady supply of human playthings. She had plenty of blood and satisfied her sinister sadism. The dark cult of Sekhmet persisted until Sekhmet went into “hibernation.” Even then, some of her vampiric “priests” kept her memory alive, continuing to receive her offerings until the Egyptians got fed up with it.

Heaven forbid she should awaken! Surely Sammael didn’t need any of these ancient vampires to destroy the world, but Sebastian knew, whatever his plan, the reason was that Sammael found it more interesting to do it this way. Sammael was going to destroy the world, but he was intent on enjoying it in his own demonic way! Again, with a heavy sigh, Sebastian pushed away from his desk. Soon, they’d be away from all of this for a few hours, basking in the glow of a strange, happy little teen at his birthday party. Little did he realize he’d find there something stranger by far than what he was escaping.