15 Insight

When William awakened, he found himself lying in the lush grass at the heart of Eden’s garden, no longer filled with throngs of angels. It was just an ancient forest, lit by a supernal light. The pain in his hand that had awakened him: he grabbed his wound and applied pressure as he sat up to look around. It appeared he was the first to come to, and he crawled as best he could to Chase’s side. The boy’s hand was also bleeding, and the dagger had fallen from his other hand.

“What did you do?” William wondered aloud to himself as he used the knife to cut two strips of cloth from his shirt, one to bind up his wound, one to bind Chase’s. Suddenly William noticed for the first time Sammael’s robes lying on the ground, the demon—the man, he guessed—nowhere to be seen. Then the pile rustled. Tentatively, he reached for it, not knowing what he’d find. He half expected it to be a serpent, but never expected what he did find.

A beautiful baby boy reached out and grabbed his finger. “Dear Lord,” William murmured.

“Indeed,” Gabriel said from behind him. “Sammael couldn’t be dealt with the way Peter was, I’m afraid…. He was never human, and to allow him to keep his memory, well, that would have been disastrous….”

“Is he?” William asked, his eyes tearing up. He’d be seventeen in a month.

“He is yours,” Gabriel nodded. “Your flesh and blood. Your son.”

“I … I can’t,” William gasped, choking up. “It’s too much!”

Gabriel laughed, and said, “After all of this, a baby is too much? You have Chase and his parents, your uncles, and a not inconsiderable fortune….”

William’s shoulders sagged and he reached out for the bundle of baby and took it into his arms. Looking down into the little face, he felt his head spin. Then he looked around, and he had no idea why, but he handed the baby to Gabriel and said, “Take him to Sarah, and introduce her to her grandson….”

Gabriel looked at him peculiarly. “You don’t trust your friends?”

“Not everyone here,” William said, his eyes flickering first to Peter, then to Avery. “They’re good men, I think, but I’m not sure what they’d do if they knew….”

Gabriel smiled, and nodded, and then he was gone. William lay beside Chase and took him in his arms, and he fell asleep again before Chase woke up. A few hours more passed before the men in the garden began to stir.

William woke again as Sebastian knelt over him, shaking his shoulder. Chase reluctantly opened his eyes then too. “What happened?” Sebastian whispered.

“It’s all over,” William said, catching Chase’s eye and nodding almost imperceptibly. “There will be some things for the Council’s operatives to clean up, a few fires to be put out, but … it’s over….”

“How do we get out of here?” Sebastian asked. And then it occurred to him. “Sammael?”

“Taken care of,” Chase said. “And we can get home after we get outside of the gates….”

It took about thirty minutes to get all the men up and on their feet. Xavier was supporting Aiden. Matt was groggy but okay. James and Avery were helping Peter. Chase tried to stand, but his right hip and leg screamed in pain.

“What’s wrong?” William asked, hurrying to his side.

“My leg’s hurt bad,” Chase said, tears in his eyes. After a minute, he asked, “Get me a walking stick to lean on?” Beneath the tree Sammael had been leaning on, a largish branch lay on the ground. William snapped off a few twigs and tested it. It was plenty strong enough to bear Chase’s weight. The slight boy rose, leaning heavily on his cane, and led the way out of the garden and opened two gates, one to Sebastian’s and one to William’s workspace.

As Chase hugged Sebastian, he whispered, “Come see us soon…. You and James….” Sebastian nodded and led his little contingent through the gate, which Chase closed behind him.

***

Sebastian and James, Avery and Lieutenant Spencer, and, last but not least, Sam and Peter, staggered through the portal with a few others. Out of Eden, they could smell the taint of sulfur on the clothes of those who had ventured into the pit. But there wasn’t time to shower and change just yet. Not with Peter back in the house.

They ushered Peter into Sebastian’s office and closed the door. Sebastian looked at Peter and said, “Peter, I don’t mean to push, but we need to figure out the direction you want to take, right now…. Frankly, I don’t know how Richard is going to respond to you being back. Hell, he hasn’t left his room for a few weeks…. Someone has to force him to take blood!”

“God,” Peter said, putting his head in his hands. “What have I done?”

“Peter, the question isn’t what have you done!” James exclaimed. “The question is, what are you going to do? Do you even want to try to repair things with Richard?”

YES! YES! But how could he ever,” Peter wondered.

“Peter,” Sebastian said, “I’m going to be honest. I really don’t get it, but Richard fell for you fast and hard … and that’s why I think he’ll take you back. BUT … he got really hurt, so it’s not going to be easy….”

“I know, but I’ll do whatever it takes,” Peter said.

“Then, I can’t hide from him the fact that you’re here,” Sebastian said with a sigh, standing.

“Now?” Peter asked nervously.

“Now, Peter,” Sebastian said slowly. “It’s time to begin facing the music.” He placed his hand over Peter’s heart and said, “James asked for you to be healed. I know this is going to hurt, but it’s time for you to be a healer.” With that he motioned for everyone to leave except for Peter. “Go get cleaned up and relax, everybody! You’ve earned it…. And tomorrow we begin again,” he added heavily.

Sebastian followed the men upstairs and made his way to Richard’s room. Knocking, he heard no response. He opened the door and found Richard sitting at his desk in his robe staring off into space. He looked as if he hadn’t moved in days. “Richard, it’s over…. Sammael’s defeated!”

Richard barely registered, and Sebastian reiterated, “Richard! Did you hear me?”

“I heard you,” he mumbled. “Is there anything else?”

“Richard, take a shower and get dressed. We have to talk….” The man didn’t move. “Richard, that was not a request. I COMMAND YOU to take a shower, freshen up and get dressed. I want to see you looking like yourself in thirty minutes.” Richard looked over, surprise registering in his eyes, and his body immediately sprang into action. In two hundred years, Sebastian had never given him a directive command.

Sebastian stepped into the room and stood waiting for the man to return from the shower. When he did, he was cleanly shaven, with a towel draped across his hips. “You look weak, Richard…. You’ll need to feed….”

“Yes, master,” the man replied a note of sarcastic bitterness in a voice that once held only admiration.

He dropped his towel and began to get dressed, totally unconcerned with his audience. “Richard…. We defeated Sammael and his forces!”

“And?” the man asked, steely.

“And … aren’t you going to ask?” Sebastian asked, nearly pleading.

“He’s dead,” Richard replied soullessly.

NO, YOU DAMN FOOL! He’s in my office! His punishment was put in James’s hands, his soul was healed, but he still remembers all he’s done!” Sebastian explained, shortness in his tone.

Richard looked over at Sebastian, tears rising in his eyes. “I don’t know if I can forgive him, Sebastian,” he whispered, a little of his old self returning.

“You say that,” Sebastian smiled gently. “But wait until you see him….” Sebastian took him by the elbow and led him downstairs. At the bottom, he merely nodded to the door to his office and walked back upstairs.

After a long hesitation, Richard stepped uneasily in the direction of the door. What would he say? Would he be angry? Would he demand penance? He had no idea what he would do when he opened the door, but at last he did.

When he saw the boy, handsome and physically strong, sitting in the big armchair, slumped over and looking defeated, childlike with tears in his eyes, all he could do was close the door behind him and fall to his knees at the boy’s feet.

Peter tried to hide his face, but Richard took his hands and looked up into his red eyes. “Peter?” he whispered as if it might not be true.

“Richard,” the boy whispered, his face in agony. Richard craned his neck and kissed the boy on his head and smiled.

“I missed you,” Richard whispered, putting a hand on his cheek. Suddenly, his eyes widened. “You’re alive?”

“Of course I am,” Peter said. Then he realized what Richard meant. “Yes, I’m human. I was given a choice and I chose….”

“I see,” Richard said, his face falling. He read the response as a rejection.

“Richard, I asked to be made human again because, when the time comes, I want it to be you who changes me…. I want you to be with me!”

All the resistance Richard had left inside of him melted as he drew the boy into his strong arms. He couldn’t stop his fangs from extending at the smell of the warm blood coursing through Peter’s veins, and the boy laughed. “You’re hungry….”

“I’m sorry,” Richard said, backing away.

“Please,” Peter said, stepping into him and pulling his collar aside. “Please?”

Richard nodded and gently kissed his neck, running his tongue along the firm muscle. “I missed you,” he repeated in a faraway voice as he gripped Peter tightly and sank his fangs deep into the boy’s neck.

***

When they were alone with Matt, Xavier and Aiden, Chase hugged William and asked, “The baby?”

“Gabriel…. I sent him to your mother. You’re going to have some explaining to do! You knew this would happen?” William whispered, as their uncles and friend looked on utterly confused.

“It was the only way,” Chase said. “The only way to save him! He never had a chance. He’s not all that different from Peter, only his wounds have had an eternity to fester….”

“So he won’t remember who, or what, he was?” William asked.

“Never…. And it’s our job to protect him!” Chase whispered.

“So … he’s ours?” William asked.

“Ours…. To be a real human, he needed a human form, a natural human body. Our blood, our genes, mixed…. Yes, he’s our son,” Chase said.

“I never thought we’d have to worry about that,” William commented wryly.

“I’m sorry,” Chase replied. “I know it’s a lot…. You don’t have to….”

“Shut up!” William exclaimed with a laugh. “I can’t let you be an unwed teenage mother, can I? It’s just … not what I expected!”

“What’s he like?” Chase asked with a smile.

“Perfect,” William replied softly, kissing the side of his head.

As the boys made their way up to the house, followed by Xavier and Aiden, Chase hobbling but in less pain, the back door opened and Sarah and Steve rushed out to meet them. “Thank God,” the woman cried, as she ran down to her son. Seeing him flinch as she hugged him, she asked, “What happened?”

“Nothing,” Chase said, putting off the narration until later. “My leg’s hurt. How are things here?”

“There’s been a strange light in the sky for hours now…. Things are … different. Can’t you feel it?” she asked.

“Of course he can,” William smiled, wrapping an arm around Chase’s shoulder. “Where’s the baby?”

“Where’s the baby, he asks!” she said crossly. “That angel shows up here with my ‘grandson’, telling me you’ll explain! And you boys are a little young to be parents!”

“Well, you’re a little old to be parents,” Chase giggled at his mother. “Now, where’s my baby?”

“Gideon, or Gabriel or whoever, is with him inside…. Steve went to get formula and diapers and some basics earlier, but we’re not ready for a baby! Come on,” she said, and William followed her, helping Chase all the way.

“Chase,” Gideon said, a soft smile carrying in his voice. “Come sit!” Chase hobbled over as best he could and William saw Gideon eyeing his walking stick carefully. “Your leg….”

“It’ll be fine,” Chase said. “I’m sure I just hurt it when I fell….”

Gideon paused and said, “No….”

“No?” Chase asked.

“Your injury is … metaphysical…. You don’t walk away from a close encounter with the Divine unscathed, child…. When Jacob wrestled with the Presence alone, he was left with just such a debilitating hip injury. You should count yourself lucky….”

“So there’s nothing?” Chase asked.

“It will never get any better,” Gideon confirmed. Chase’s throat became dry as tears rushed to his eyes again. But he choked them down and reached for the baby, which Gideon placed in his arms. Slowly, gently, he ran his fingers over the little figure. Chase smiled. “He’s beautiful,” he whispered before the tears did overcome him and he clutched the little form to his chest. “How can I take care of a baby, Gideon? I’m blind! I can barely keep myself straight!”

“I’m sorry,” Gideon answered as the boy’s lover and mother looked on helplessly. “I….”

“You promised,” the boy said, breaking. “You said I’d see William’s face…. Now I’ll never even see my son! I know, I know I traded in my own hope to save the world, but it all seems a little hard now that it’s over!”

“Chase,” William said, kneeling beside Chase. “Would you love me any better if you could see me?”

“No,” Chase sobbed. “I couldn’t….”

“Do you trust me to help you?” William asked again.

“Yes,” Chase answered, rubbing his face.

“Then we’ll be fine….” William said, sounding surer of himself than he was. Gideon looked away, ashamed at himself before the two boys, one of whom held the human form of the only being he’d ever truly loved as an equal.

Gideon took his leave then, and Matt hurried home to face the music with his parents. The family gathered around the television to watch the events unfolding, which had been initiated by the boys’ actions. Slowly, they told their story from beginning to end, filling in Sarah and Steve, as well as Xavier and Aiden, on the origin and identity of the baby Chase was cuddling.

“And he won’t ever remember?” Sarah asked. “He’s really human, just like the rest of us?”

“He won’t, mom,” Chase said with a smile, “but given his heritage, he might be a little more than your average human….” When the baby got fussy, Sarah hurried to mix some formula.

She returned with a warm bottle and handed it to her son, who fed the baby like a natural. “We can’t just keep calling him ‘the baby’“ Xavier noted, “and we sure as hell can’t call him Sammael, so….”

Chase said, “I had a thought for a name, but we haven’t had a chance to discuss it….”

William smiled, “What were you thinking, baby?”

“Alexander Abernathy Jennings,” Chase said, and he felt William’s arms around his shoulder squeezing.

“That’s wonderful,” William said, beaming.

“Agreed,” Xavier smiled. “Your father would be proud, William!”

When evening came, Xavier and Aiden retired to their own house, and Sarah and Steve made the boys a light dinner. Steve sat quietly and let Sarah do most of the talking. Then he suggested, “In the morning, why don’t you and I go and pick up a crib and a few things for Alex, William?”

“Sure! That will be great,” William nodded. “What are we going to do with him tonight though?”

Steve thought for a moment and then called a neighbor across the street whose children had a baby that sometimes visited, and asked to borrow the travel crib they used for such occasions. Not surprisingly, the neighbors, who had always been friendly, were in an exceptionally generous mood. Mrs. Busch arrived at the front door toting the crib momentarily.

“I could have come to get it,” Steve protested.

“But then I wouldn’t have gotten to see the baby! Where is he?” the woman asked.

“In here, Mrs. Busch,” Chase called.

“What a beautiful boy,” she exclaimed, but then looked puzzled. “He looks just like you did when you were a baby!” She looked around smiling, confused.

“The baby is mine,” Chase said, smiling apologetically at his parents. The neighbors would love that!

“Oh, dear,” the woman said. “Well, that’s … congratulations?” Sarah smiled and nodded to let the woman know it was an appropriate occasion. “I thought you and he,” she began, looking at William.

“We are,” William answered.

“Well,” she said, looking thoroughly confused but smiling, “you have a beautiful baby! Let us know if there’s anything else we can do!” Then she hurried off.

“This is going to be confusing,” William laughed. “We need some sort of story….”

“That can wait,” Steve answered, carrying the travel crib up to the boys’ room and setting it up. William took the baby and helped Chase up the stairs to their room and lay the sleeping bundle in the crib. Then both boys stripped to their shorts and crawled into bed and fell instantly into a deep sleep. When Alex woke at 2 a.m., William hurried down to get a bottle warmed up and returned to feed the baby, which felt incredibly smooth against his bare chest. “You are cute,” he whispered, “baby Alex…. Will you ever forgive us for being so weird?” he asked with a soft laugh. After he burped the baby, he held the little guy until he fell asleep before setting him softly into the crib and returning to his own deep slumber.

***

Upstairs, Sebastian found James sitting at the window playing his violin, having showered and changed.

“You’re doing well,” Sebastian smiled. “It’s been a long time since I heard you practice….”

“It’s been a long time since I practiced. Maybe you can start giving me some lessons again now that things are getting back to normal,” James suggested.

“Normal,” Sebastian said with a smile. “Yes, perhaps in a few days. There is some business left to handle….”

“How’s Peter?” James asked.

“He’s with Richard just now,” Sebastian said.

James looked alarmed, but Sebastian waved his hand. “Richard was, and remains, madly in love with him…. I have no doubt it will be bumpy, but I’d be surprised if they weren’t already hugging….” Sebastian took a quick shower and returned toweling himself off.

James smiled and slipped up behind him, sliding his hand beneath the towel. Sebastian laid his head back on James’s broad chest and sighed. “Mmmm…. Sorry babe, but there are things to be done….”

“I won’t forget that you promised me a vacation after this,” James laughed.

“Actually, I declared I was leaving the Council,” Sebastian replied with a smile. “You made me promise to take a trial vacation first….”

“So are you going through with it?” James asked.

“With the vacation? Yes! With leaving the Council? No,” Sebastian answered, and James nodded. “I’ll need you and Lt. Spencer to prepare for a special assignment early in the morning. I’ll be sending Avery and Sarah out as well….”

“And who will you be going with?” James asked, raising his eyebrows.

“I’ll be traveling alone, as will Sam Roth, Christen, Americ, and Musa….”

“What’s going on, Sebastian?” James asked.

“We were this close,” Sebastian said, holding his fingers a few centimeters apart, “to seeing our world destroyed! Not by Sammael, but by madmen in positions of power. Ages ago, I helped broker the withdrawal of the shadows from the mortal realm. We all took a position of non-interference. But … well, this once, we’re going to violate that agreement. We’re going to clean the slates…. We have a unique opportunity to improve the situation of billions of people….”

“Sebastian,” James hesitated.

“James, I’m sorry, but think of what almost happened! The North Koreans, the Chinese, Syria, Iran, Libya…. We can change things…. We have an opening, people are ready, there’s good will!”

“We can’t take these things into our hands, Sebastian,” James said.

“These people are mass-murderers!” Sebastian exclaimed. “Remember that man, the one who was abusing his son? Remember what you said? I made the same arguments you’re making now, but you were right! We have these powers for a reason.”

James sat down and thought for a moment, nodding. “Alright, but we do it my way,” James said. Sebastian looked at him with a bemused smile and nodded.

***

It took around three hours to arrange the global teleconference. In addition to convening the Shadow Council, all UN member states were requested to have a representative on the line. By the appointed time, leaders of over 145 countries were present, and the rest were represented.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to formally announce and verify what you all may have already surmised. The threat is over. Sammael, the mastermind of the recent difficulties, has been vanquished….” Cheers could be heard from many of the nations. “However, so much of the devastation was our own fault…. We have allowed our divisions, our corruptions, to penetrate too deeply. The ambitions of nations, the repressions of the common man, have degraded us all…. Things must change….” Sebastian looked at James and nodded.

James was dressed in the navy suit Sebastian had tailored for him and nodded into the camera. “Good evening gentlemen, ladies. My name is James van der Meer, and it is my duty to inform you all of the end of the Shadow Council’s policy of non-interference in human affairs….” Suddenly, there was a clamor among the human representatives and applause from many of the non-humans.

“You know we’d have no choice but to end our policy of toleration?” the president of the United States said gravely.

“Mr. President, human- and shadow-kind stand on a new horizon, where peace and prosperity, and a new age of freedom are just at hand. We shall return to our policy of non-interference permanently, once the mortal world negotiates a just and lasting order for itself, as we have for ourselves,” James replied. “Mr. President, world leaders, members of the Shadow Council, tomorrow morning, the leader of a repressive regime and his top lieutenants will die…. Many of you will rejoice at the loss. But know this! If you fail to act to remedy your own troubles, we will continue to solve them for you. And one day, perhaps one of you will be an obstacle to human flourishing. Please, for everyone’s sake, act!”

“This is a declaration of war,” the premier of China declared angrily.

“Premier,” Sebastian leaned in, “that is your sentiment, not ours. But consider this: just this morning, the world was on the brink of universal annihilation. Missiles from your country, Mr. Premier, were the scythe of the angel of death. But a power greater than yours destroyed your missiles! Will you make us your enemies, we who fought off the end of all things, or will you bow to the inevitable course of history?”

“This is absurd,” the man proclaimed angrily. “The people of China will not be threatened!”

“You are the enemy of the people of China, sir,” James replied angrily. “You are a criminal! This morning you nearly perpetrated the greatest mass murder in the history of humankind. In a just world, you’d be arrested, tried and executed. You will accept our terms, or we WILL make this a more just world,” he ended with a none-too-subtle threat.

“We will not be cowed into submission,” the premier began again, but he fell silent as a man appeared at his side.

“Premier, for crimes against humanity, you are hereby sentenced to death,” Avery said, calmly, and put his hand on the man’s shoulder. It was over as quick as that. The premier’s head bounced off the desktop as he keeled over.

“James, Sebastian?” Avery asked.

“Thank you, Avery, please come home,” Sebastian replied across the net and he appeared moments later to James’s right.

“This is outrageous,” the German chancellor complained.

“Madame Chancellor,” James said levelly, “this morning, that man and his cronies nearly killed every man, woman and child on earth. Clean your houses…. You have a little time….” Then the humans were put offline.

Sebastian announced, “In the morning, I’ll be announcing replacements for Consuls Chang and Salazar. I need everyone to maintain highest readiness in case the humans decide not to negotiate…. Please reconvene at 10am EST. Thank you all, and good evening….”

Sebastian looked at James and said, “I hope this works….”

“Humanity does its best work when it’s between a rock and a hard place,” James responded with a smile. “Besides, there’s a lot of feel-good energy left in the air….”

***

The next morning, a huge explosion rocked a bunker in Pyongyang, killing the top military leadership of North Korea. Simultaneously, two young, western-looking men walked into an upscale shop in the Chinese gambling center, Macau. Witnesses reported that the younger of the two men electrocuted a man in a dressing room. By evening, international news agencies were reporting the murder of the Korean dictator’s likely successor. Given the nation’s long history of repression, little civil unrest was reported, and council agents were in touch with surviving members of the ruling elite. The path to freedom in the North would be long and slow, but it would come under its new leadership. If they valued their lives.

When James and Lt. Spencer returned, they met Avery, and Sebastian, and the other consuls soon arrived from their missions. Sebastian smiled and said, “The human’s seem convinced, the free world at least…. The remnants of the United Nations will begin meeting today, and every indication is that the Chinese will come begging…. Good work, my love,” he added, giving James a soft kiss on the cheek.

“The dirty work isn’t finished,” James said gravely.

“But your plan is much cleaner than mine was,” Sebastian assured him. “Now let’s go to our conference….”

As he logged on, his loyal friends gathered around the camera. “Good morning,” he began. “If you’ve watched the news, you know we’ve begun our offensive in order to establish a new order…. The humans are responding admirably, and I believe hostilities will soon end….” There was a measure of applause. “Now I’m going to announce a few promotions…. I’m asking Avery Salazar to resume his responsibilities as consul and oversee his late brother’s provinces.” This time, surprisingly, there was a more rousing applause. “Second, I am asking Horatio Vickers, the young vampire who first revealed to me Consul Chang’s treachery and who has remained in my household, to assume the duties of consul…. I know he’s young, but he’s loyal and intelligent. His second will be his partner, the streghe, Roman Sylvano….”

“High Consul! The Streghe are not party to the Council!” one representative objected.

“Just this morning, I negotiated with the Streghe court for their admission to the council. Their archon will receive the title of consul without province, just as the queen of the witches does. And Roman will be vice consul of Asia….”

While there was grumbling, there was also the recognition of the achievement of bringing the last major group of practitioners under the banner of the council.

Ivan, the Russian consul, asked, “Now that Sammael has been defeated, how long do you plan to remain in your present office?” The question silenced everyone.

“Until we come to terms with the humans. Then I will step down,” Sebastian said.

Ivan nodded and smiled. “Thank you for all you have done for us, Sebastian….” This received a roaring applause, to which Sebastian nodded humbly.

“Thank you,” Sebastian said. “Good day….”

With that, he bid his friends farewell and they began to return to their posts. Then he went to find Horatio and Roman, who were upstairs with Chris, Steve and James, continuing their lessons. Horatio was nothing if not devoted to his duty. Sebastian smiled at James and called, “Consul Vickers, Vice Consul Sylvano, may I have a word?”

The men looked at him confused, then shocked. “I’m honored, High Consul,” the mild Englishman said softly, “but I couldn’t accept! There are many more qualified, and aged, than I who….”

“I chose you, Roman,” Sebastian said, cutting him off. “You know China, plus you are wise beyond your years and loyal to the Council….”

The man nodded humbly and said, “And to you….”

“There is that,” Sebastian smiled. “Roman, the Streghe are joining the Council, so you have no concerns there. Go with your partner and rule at his side….”

“Thank you, Sebastian,” the young Italian smiled. “My king is very fond of you. I’m not sure anyone else could have convinced him….”

“Now for you gentlemen,” Sebastian smiled, turning to Chris and Steve. “The war is over for all intents and purposes…. You can return to your lives, your school without fear…. I’m not telling you you have to leave, but your families….”

Both boys were silent for a long time, but at last Chris said, “Okay, and thanks…. But Sebastian … I was wondering…. All this magick…. Now that I know that world exists…. I’d like to study it. Could you help me?”

Steve looked at him strangely, and then Sebastian said, “Yes…. Understand, anyone can learn magick and practice it to a relative degree of success, but one must have certain inborn abilities to truly harness the powers of the universe….”

Chris nodded. “I understand….”

Steve spoke at last, slowly, sadly. “I just want out…. I would love to stay friends but I don’t want any other part of this world in my life,” he said.

He and Chris looked at each other for a long time and Chris hugged him tight and kissed him softly on the neck. He whispered, “I told you we might not be looking for the same thing…. I love you and you’ll always be my first.” He felt Steve squeeze him tightly and he felt the tall boy’s tears on his shoulder.

“I love you, too…. See you at school?” Steve asked.

“See you at school,” Chris said, smiling despite his red eyes.

Steve looked at Sebastian and Sebastian said, “I’ll call a car to take you home. When you see your family, say ‘Kaboom’ and the spell on them will be broken….”

Steve laughed and wiped his eyes, hugging Sebastian and James. “See you around, guys….”

“Don’t be a stranger,” James said, patting him on the shoulder as he headed for the stairs.

When he was gone, Chris’s tears multiplied. But when he calmed down, Sebastian gave him a look, and Chris shook his head. “Can I stay here a while? Get my head straight?”

“Of course…. I figured you’d want to in any case, since Peter is here,” Sebastian said with an enigmatic smile.

“Peter’s … here?” Chris said, a real sob swelling up from his surprise.

“Peter’s healed,” James nodded with a smile. “He and Richard have been getting reacquainted, but I think he’d love to see you, now….”

Chris hopped up and ran downstairs, leaving James and Sebastian alone with Horatio and Roman. Chris knocked softly on Richard’s door and got no answer, so he went out to the garage and found the two men polishing the Ferrari, laughing and talking. Peter looked up and saw Chris, and they both fell silent. “I was wondering if you were ever going to see me….” Peter said softly.

Chris frowned, and said, “I just found out you were back, asshole….” Then he laughed and said, “I missed you!” and ran over to his friend, who gave him such a big hug he lifted him well off the ground.

Richard smiled and said, “Let me give you guys a few minutes….”

“What happened?” Chris whispered into his shoulder, and Peter sat him down.

“James and Sebastian, and those other two guys, they saved me…. It’s like … my heart … healed! But I still remember everything, it still hurts…. I’m so ashamed!”

“Shut up,” Chris said with a smile and laid his head on the big boy’s chest. Then he looked up at him in surprise.

“I’ve been getting that a lot lately,” Peter smiled down at him.

“How?” Chris asked in awe.

“God, I think…. You’ll have to ask the little blond one,” Peter grinned.

“Chase…. But why?” Chris asked. “Wait! For Richard….”

Peter nodded. “I knew you’d understand…. Where’s Steve?”

Chris sighed. “He left…. He wants out of all of this, and I want in,” Chris said. “I’ve known for a while we were on different tracks, I just … I wanted it so bad I wasn’t willing to admit it to myself. He’s not ready for the kind of relationship I’m looking for, and though he’d never admit it, he’s just too vanilla for me….”

“TMI,” Peter laughed, squeezing him tight.

“Not like that…. I’m definitely too vanilla for him beneath the sheets! I mean in life! I want in to your world, I want to stay here, learn magick, get into it!” Chris said. “He just wants to play ball and fuck boys until he settles down and gets a day job….”

“You guys were the worst match ever,” Peter laughed. “But you were good together….”

“For a while,” Chris admitted.

“Anybody you’ve noticed that has your interest?” Peter asked with a grin.

“I’m not ready to move on just yet,” Chris said with an impish grin, “but there is one guy I know is interested in me!”

“Who?” Peter asked.

“One of those wizard warriors, his name is Marcus…. When we all went shopping for Chase’s birthday gifts, Steve was flirting with him shamelessly, but he liked me better….”

“Good taste,” Peter replied and patted him on the back. “You might not want to wait too long on that, though…. With things finished, he might be headed back to Fort Doom, or wherever they keep those dudes locked up for battle!”

“Good point,” Chris said, a look of mild panic on his face as he moved to hurry off.

Peter grabbed his wrist and said, “Sit with me a while, first…. Tell me what I missed?”

Chris smiled and sat on the steps next to him, as Peter wrapped an arm around his shoulder, and Chris filled him in on everything that had happened since they had stopped really talking, since Peter had been so cruelly abused.

***

William and Steve drove to the Wal-Mart to buy an inexpensive crib to go in Chase’s bedroom at the foot of the bed, as well as a diaper disposal container and more diapers, bottles, and formula. Then they picked up a few changes of clothes to tide Alex over until Sarah could go on a shopping spree. Steve also picked up a new digital camera.

Seeing William laughing at him, Steve asked, “What? Isn’t this what grandpa’s are supposed to do? Not that I was expecting Chase to get knocked up so soon,” the man added with a twinkle in his eye. William laughed and they shopped on.

“We need more room,” William said after a long pause.

“Well, I suppose I can clean out my office for the time being,” Steve began, but at the look on William’s face he paused. “That’s not what you meant, I guess….”

“Not exactly…. And in a few months you’re going to need a lot more room. Room for three growing babies, for grandchildren to visit…. And, well, we need more space too….”

“You’re too young,” Steve began, and William laughed.

“I hid alone in the mountains after my parents were killed, I outdid much more powerful magickians to prove my love for your son, and together we turned the tide against the devil…. I think we’ve earned some credit!” Steve nodded for him to go on. “I don’t mean we’d want our own place. Not exactly….”

“Spit it out, son!” Steve exclaimed, laughing.

“What if we bought some land just outside of town and built a place…. Two places, maybe, right together? Close but a little privacy? We could share a pool or a lake or whatever, have a compound like the Kennedys,” he added with a laugh.

“There is one problem,” Steve said. “Chase would never want to move away from Matt….”

“Matt’s old enough to drive…. Maybe he’ll get a car?” William suggested.

Steve shook his head and rolled his eyes. “We’ll talk about it,” Steve said with an exasperated smile. William smiled, too, knowing what that meant.

***

Chase was upstairs with the baby when the doorbell rang. Shortly, Sam Roth appeared in his doorway, smiling. “Is that who I think it is?” the old man asked.

“You can’t tell anyone,” Chase said, confirming his suspicion.

“My lips are sealed. May I?” he asked, and Chase held the baby out for him. Sam rubbed the baby’s belly. “Let’s see…. He’ll need to be circumcised in six more days…. I’ll ask a friend of mine if you’re willing.”

“Sure,” Chase said. “How are things going back at Sebastian’s?”

“Sekhmet, Resheph, and Aethon have disappeared…. The Council has been tracking down some of our remaining enemies. And then we’re helping the humans … clear the slates, you might say,” Sam said grimly.

“Assassinations?” Chase asked.

“And coups and revolutions,” Sam said. “Everyone sees now that some things have to change…. And change isn’t always pretty.”

Chase nodded thoughtfully and said, “I know…. They say he looks like me,” he added, sadly.

“He does,” Sam said. “I’m sorry … for what you had to give up!”

“And I’m crippled now,” Chase said, patting his hip. “I just don’t get any breaks, huh?”

“Chase,” the man began, but he could think of nothing to say. He handed the baby back to the boy and said, “Did you ever think you’d have a baby all your own? A baby with your husband?”

“No,” Chase smiled. “No, I never did!”

“Call me to set up the ceremony?” Sam asked.

“Sure, we’ll come by and visit in a day or two,” Chase said with a smile down at the bundle in his arms.

“Tell William I said hello,” the old man said as he bade the boy farewell.