2 Back to School

When Matt burst through the door on Monday morning to get Chase, he found not a creature a stirring. Upstairs, Chase and William still slept in each other’s arms. “You’re going to miss school, Chase!”

“Ugh! No school today,” the boy groaned

“Dude, your birthday isn’t a national holiday, of course there’s school!” Matt announced.

“Matt! I’m not going to school today!” Chase groaned loudly.

“Oh! Sorry! I guess I’d better run! So what did William get you?” Matt asked.

Chase held out his left arm, as William stirred and did the same. “Cool rings! Weird…. How does the color change?” he asked as he looked at the rings, which were identical except for the engravings. Where Chase’s bore the symbol of a crown, William’s a sword and a lantern.

“Magick,” William grumbled, rolling over. “Do I hear the bus?” Matt ran downstairs and out the front door with a frantic wave.

“That’s not the bus,” Chase said.

“I know,” William replied, with a sleepy smile, as he curled up into Chase and wrapped his arm around the boy, slipping back into sleep.

A little over an hour later, Steve and Sarah woke up and started breakfast, which lured the boys downstairs, rubbing their eyes.

“Sleep well, boys?” Steve asked.

“Not long enough,” William grumbled. “And Matt woke us up!”

“Poor babies,” Sarah laughed. “After breakfast, run and get dressed. Xavier needs to take William finish the paperwork to get him enrolled properly. Then we can all go do some shopping, grab the school uniforms and all that!” Both boys nodded groggily and scarfed down some food. While Chase wasn’t normally offered coffee due to his sometimes overly peppy nature, that morning even he had a cup. William hurried so he could run get ready for Xavier. Chase, on the other hand, sat with his parents.

“It seems almost like a dream now,” Sarah said offhandedly, causing Chase to flash his left hand in her direction to say, ‘It wasn’t!’ This gave her the opportunity to see it for the first time in clear light and up close. “Goodness! I’ve never seen anything like it!”

Steve gave her a wry look. “Where do you suppose you would have seen anything like a ring forged on the altar of God of an angelic metal?” The way he said it, dryly and matter-of-fact, made Chase giggle.

“No more coffee for you, young man!” his mother said, pretending maternal severity and removing the cup from his grasp.

“So I was thinking about us going to visit Sebastian,” Chase said.

Sarah glanced at Steve with worry, but her husband just shrugged. Chase, who was used to his parents having these silent conversations, to which he had no access at all without sight, let it pass without comment. Now, in addition to hearing the voices, he felt as if all his senses were heightened. Somehow he just knew that his mother had shot his father a look, and that his father had responded with a shrug. He smiled, but at last he said, “Mom, you’re worried about me going off without you for a weekend, and dad is shrugging you off which is actually kind of pissing you off! But I’m not a baby, and I’m not helpless, and I won’t be alone! I’ll be with William, and Xavier and Aiden will go too!”

Sarah frowned at her son, who, after being so playful moments earlier, now seemed so grown up. She supposed she’d have to get used to that switch happening more and more often now, as the boy really was a young man. “Call me every night! We’ll figure out a date with Xavier and Aiden.” Chase smiled, having fully expected getting what he wanted. “And don’t you shrug at me!” she said somewhat crossly to Steve.

Rolling his eyes surreptitiously, Steve thought to himself, ‘MOODY!’

A knock at the door brought Steve to his feet, and he opened the door for Xavier. “Come in, come in! Aiden back to D.C.?”

“All week,” Xavier began, laughing as Chase ran into him and gave him a big hug. Ruffling the boy’s hair, he continued, “I’ll be looking for a storefront for my gallery and trying to make arrangements to buy the house!”

“It’s a wonderful place, and it’ll be nice to have you guys close, for William, for everybody…. Plenty of room for kids there, too!” Steve said.

Xavier raised his eyebrows with a gentle smirk. “Well, it’ll be nice to be close to you guys and William of course! As for kids, talk to Aiden. I’d love to fill a couple of bedrooms, but….”

“We’ll work on him,” Steve said, laughing, as Xavier took a seat. “Why don’t you come over for dinner tonight? Aiden’s not coming back is he?”

“No, he’ll probably come tomorrow night and then on Thursday for a long weekend. When the house is ready, he can do most everything there, or rent an office,” Xavier said.

“If you bought a building for your gallery, you could convert the upstairs into office space and rent to his company and anyone else to help cover your operating costs,” Steve suggested.

Xavier nodded, “I was thinking of buying one of the nice old buildings downtown which would be perfect! There are some three- and four-story buildings with nice storefronts on ground level…. It’d be a good investment; you know me, I never know what to do with it all!”

“Speaking of which…. Do you know how much your sister and brother-in-law left for William?” Steve asked.

“Well, Aiden tells me that the estate is worth about $75 million when it’s all liquidated, plus the insurance. I thought it was a little light, as my sister and I split over $200 million from our parents, and Alex’s family was well-off as well,” Xavier said.

“That’s because they had Swiss accounts which William has direct access too, so no estate taxes.” Xavier nodded, as it explained a lot, but he didn’t ask how much. William had shown himself to have a good head on his shoulders. “Are you helping him with it?”

“Funny story—he actually hired this guy he met at the symphony,” Steve said with a laugh.

“He what?” Xavier coughed.

Steve shook his head. “I know! But I met the guy; he’s the real deal! Young though, just graduating….  I decided to hire him to work for me, and I’ll help oversee William’s money.”

“Talking about Dave?” William asked coming down stairs, his hair still damp.

Steve nodded. “I’ll ask him and his fiancée over so you can meet him, Xavier….”

“Good idea,” William said before kissing Chase on the cheek. “You ready to go down to school, Uncle Xavier?”

“Sure! Let’s head out, buddy! Aiden’s people sent all the paperwork we need on the plane that was sent to pick him up this morning, so we’re all good!” Xavier replied.

Xavier and William rode in relative silence, and when they arrived, their visit to the school was fairly standard, filling out paperwork, then a quick tour of facilities. Then they met with the headmaster, Dr. Felicity Strong.

“So what do you think of our little school?” she asked them with a smile as they sat down.

“It’s beautiful,” Xavier said, nodding.

“And I’ve got friends here…. Can I ask you something?” William said.

“Of course, William,” Dr. Strong replied.

“I’ve had trouble in school before…. I don’t always do well in a rigid environment. Steve Abernathy said your school values independence, but I … well, I’ve had some bad experiences,” William said nervously.

She looked down at his file and nodded, “So I saw….” Tossing the file onto her desk, she leaned forward. “Our school was founded on a British tutorial model, but we’ve grown a lot since those days, so we do have lectures and regular class sizes, but … all of our courses are required to have an extensive guided independent study component, like a semester long research project or a science project. You’ll get individual guidance on your project, as well as access to librarians to help you research, but within reason you are your guide in this component! How does that sound?”

“Different,” William smiled.

“Well, tomorrow you have testing all day, just to give us an idea about where you are in your studies. Bring some tennis shoes and a set of school gym clothes as you’ll have a physical assessment with our director of athletics and physical education. I think you’re going to fit in here!” Her smile was warm and comforting, and William smiled back. But then she took her glasses off, and asked, more softly, “May I ask you a question?”

“Yes,” he answered, fairly sure he knew what was coming.

“Given what happened with your family and the recent … incident at school targeting your friends, we will need to be able to guarantee the security of our students,” she said gingerly.

“We have private security,” Xavier answered. “How much additional security would make you feel comfortable, in addition to the people who will be focusing on protecting our boys?”

“Your boys?” Strong asked.

“We have men watching Chase, Matt and Edward, as well as William,” Xavier said.

“Well, two men on each main entrance and a few in the parking lot. We could do with an upgrade of the surveillance system we use to monitor the halls, as well,” she said.

“Consider it done,” William said, as the woman looked surprised.

When she looked at Xavier, the man shrugged. “Don’t ask me! He’s paying….”

“Do you think Sebastian could provide the men?” William asked Xavier.

“I’m sure he will if you ask,” Xavier said. “I could call Sam….”

William shook his head, no. “I’ll take care of it! Thank you, Dr. Strong…. Please let me know how much your security upgrade will cost, and I’ll see that it’s fully covered!”

“It could be $50,000,” she said, hesitantly. William smiled at Xavier and reached into his pocket, pulling out a check book. He quickly wrote out a check and handed it to the woman.

She nodded. “This is very generous,” she said, putting the check for $100,000 in the lock box in her desk. “We’ll be sure to get top-of-the-line equipment!”

“Just let us know if you require anything else,” Xavier said as he rose, shaking the woman’s hand. William did the same, and they made their way out to the car.

“So, what are your plans for the rest of the day?” Xavier asked.

“Sarah, Steve and Chase were going to go with me to get my school uniforms and other stuff later this afternoon,” William said.

“Want to ride into town with me and look at a couple of buildings? I’ve scheduled a couple of visits to some places where my gallery might fit,” Xavier offered.

“Sure,” William said, enjoying the rare time alone with one of his last living relatives. The first two buildings were post-WWII construction in an aging section of a fair neighborhood, and while they were nice, the neighborhood wasn’t a great fit for an art gallery. The third building was mid-1920’s construction—pretty brick with Art Nouveau features. The neighborhood was a little dilapidated, but there were signs of new life. A few other older buildings had been bought and restored, and some restaurants were opening in the near future.

Xavier was still skeptical until the agent took him inside. The storefront had been nicely refurbished at some point, and the ground floor had high ceilings, which would be perfect for installation art, and a very nice office.

“So what’s the catch,” he asked, “besides the neighborhood?”

“Actually, the neighborhood is growing in popularity with young professionals…. They can afford nice houses here and renovate to suit, so it’s an up-an-coming area,” she responded.

“But?” Xavier insisted.

The woman looked nervous. “Weird things go on here. Noises, things like that, maybe a sighting or two. It scared off some of the tenants upstairs!”

“Ghosts?” Xavier asked almost laughing.

The woman took it as incredulity—if she only knew—and shrugged. “You know people!”

“What else?” Xavier asked.

“There are two tenants and they aren’t interested in leaving, and they have leases for as many as three more years. Either the seller will have to pay them off, you can honor their lease at far less than the rent you could get, or get them to sign a new lease with you and voluntarily break their old lease,” she said.

“Hmmm…. How long has the building been on the market?” Xavier asked.

“Six months,” the agent responded.

“Why’s that, if this neighborhood is so up-and-coming?” Xavier prodded.

“Hard to get commercial financing now…. By the way, do you have a lender?” she asked.

“Yes…. We’ll get to that later! Asking price?”

“It was $2.4 million, but recently dropped to $1.8 million,” the agent said.

“Why’s that?” William asked, and the woman winced.

Xavier smiled and answered him, “Because he needs the cash! Tell your client if he’ll take $1.6 million, I’ll pay cash and take care of the tenants, so he’ll have no legal worries….”

The woman frowned but walked away to make the call. Momentarily, she looked over her shoulder and said, “$1.7 million?”

“$1.5 million,” he replied without humor.

She shook her head and whispered fiercely into the phone. “Is $1.6 million still on the table?” she asked at last.

“For about 45 seconds,” Xavier pressed.

“He’ll take it,” she answered immediately, “if we can do the deal this week….”

“No problem,” he replied. “Have your legal people call my lawyers’ numbers,” he said, handing her two cards. “Cash is ready to transfer when the papers are signed, if the inspection papers are up-to-date.”

“We had a state-certified inspector in two months ago; if you’d like you can have your own people in,” she said.

“If your guy checks out, that won’t be necessary,” Xavier said, shaking her hand. After she was gone, Xavier smiled at William. “I guess you can see we’re cut from the same cloth! We get straight to the point and don’t dawdle!”

William laughed and nodded. “How are you going to deal with the tenants?”

“I’m going to refurbish the floor below them into really nice offices and leave their floor as-is! They can move into the nice offices and make a new lease with me, or keep their offices upstairs until the current lease runs out, and I won’t renew them. Then I’ll refurbish their floor too and charge what I want!” William laughed and nodded, and they hopped in the car to return to the Abernathy home.

Xavier had more errands to run, so he just dropped William off, and Sarah, Steve and Chase immediately came outside and got in the car to take him shopping. They picked up five days worth of school clothes and some other things he’d need, like a new backpack and some pens and notebooks.

That evening, Xavier returned and enjoyed dinner with the family, and just relaxed with William afterward, talking to the boy and catching up on all that happened between the bombing and his arrival in Richmond.

When Sam called, Xavier and William were brought into a conference call with Avery and James. Together, the five men arranged a schedule for training with Avery in William’s inter-dimensional room. Sam and Avery would open a door from Sebastian’s house into the room, and they’d meet there daily. It would also provide another avenue of escape should something require their immediate evacuation.

With that all set up, Xavier bid the family goodnight and drove off to his hotel, while Chase and William went upstairs. The next day would be their first day in school together so they both went straight to bed.

***

In a darkened bunker in his arctic facility, Sammael stood before the sarcophagus of Sekhmet and placed his hand on the lip, speaking the incantation and causing the door to swing open.

“Magnificent,” a creepy, lisping voice spoke from behind Sammael’s left shoulder. His voice left an almost greasy feeling on those who heard it, a need to wash. It was the voice of the “god” of famine. Sammael looked at Aethon with the look of a gourmand inspecting beef that’s a little off. “She was a legend in her time!”

“As were you,” Sammael responded.

“Yes, but she had style! A lot like you, actually…. A little mad and bent on destruction!” Seeing the anger in Sammael’s face at being called mad, Aethon giggled a high-pitched, hysterical giggle and slapped Sammael on the back. “Oh, unknot your panties, Sammy!”

Sammael shook his head and returned his attention to the sleeping ancient before him. She had no will to awaken, no desire to slake. Every perversity she had desired, she had already known to the point of boredom. “Wake up, bitch!” Sammael said, smacking her face.

“That’s one way to do it,” Aethon giggled, but Sammael could feel only the mildest of flutters deep within her psyche.

Placing two fingers on her temple, he closed his eyes and penetrated deep into her mind, not bothering to ease his way in. A human would have died from the pain alone, but Sekhmet was only mildly annoyed until Sammael “found” her, that last inkling of the will to exist. “You have ten seconds to rouse yourself or I’ll reduce you to ashes and send you off to face hell!”

Her eyes snapped open, glowing furious red streaked with black. Her features changed, growing demonic, claws lengthening, and she pounced fiercely on Sammael. “How dare you awaken a sleeping god?”

Sammael grabbed her arms and easily restrained her before tossing her painfully against the far wall some twenty feet hence. “Shut up, vampire! You are … no better than a leech! You are a scavenger, not worthy of serving me! But if you do, I shall allow you to live.” The fury on her face was awesome to behold, but as she looked into his smiling eyes, she felt something she hadn’t felt since before the dawn of civilization: Fear.

“Who are you?” she demanded, with a catlike hiss.

With a giggle, Aethon stepped up beside him, shaking his head. “Dear sister, silly girl! This is the prince of darkness,” he added with a silly grin and insane eyes.

“Right,” she said dismissively, scowling. “And you are?”

“I am Aethon!” he said with a wide-eyed smiled.

Her eyes widened at that. “You I know! And you work for him?”

“My reputation precedes me?” he asked with a surprised grin, clapping his hands together with a pleased look. “And this gloomy Gus is Sammy….”

“Sammael,” the demon boomed, causing the room to vibrate beneath her feet. “The first angel to oppose heaven’s rule, rightful ruler of this world! Now, will you serve me, or will you perish?”

She glared at him, but nodded slightly. “Very well! What do we do?”

“For now, we wait! There is one more,” Sammael sneered.

“Resheph,” she whispered.

“Yes,” Sammael smiled his hollow smile. “Very good!”

“It only makes sense…. After him,” she said, nodding to Aethon, “and me, Resheph was the vilest creature known to mankind! Excepting you of course….”

“Thank you for that,” Sammael smirked. “But right you are! Your kind has become soft! They live amongst the humans, hiding in plain sight. We’re going to drag them into view and scourge mankind as in days of old!”

Sekhmet grinned. Perhaps she could still learn some new pleasures from these two. Meanwhile, Aethon bounced up and down on his heals clapping like some clinically insane cheerleader.

“Best of all,” Sammael added, “my nemesis is an old acquaintance of yours. Hesed ben Nahor, who calls himself Sebastian….”

“Resheph’s girlfriend,” Sekhmet snorted derisively. “I felt sure he’d get himself killed ages ago! And he’s your opposition? Perhaps you aren’t what you seem….”

Sammael glowered. “Do not imagine that I need you! You merely suit my needs,” he whispered. “Sebastian is the single most powerful person in this world! He is the leader of all beings who walk in darkness, beneath the angels…. It was he who long ago slew Resheph!”

“Resheph is dead? At Hesed’s hand,” she asked, sounding surprised.

“You didn’t know,” Sammael asked curiously.

“It was just before I slept. One day I no longer felt his presence; I assumed he’d gone to sleep as well…. Little Hesed, eh? He always quaked like a servant girl in my presence! Yes, perhaps this will be fun….”

Sammael laughed darkly, as the wind howled outside, swirling the snow around chaotically.

***

That evening, Richard and Peter slipped out of the house dressed in dark clothes. As they walked, Richard explained how to read people, how to discover and lure targets, and some basic rules for hunting. The young football player would have little trouble with the tactical aspect of it, but he was having trouble with the mental aspect. He couldn’t seem to dominate the minds of his targets. So he’d have to resort to charm, at least to begin with. After a long evening of practice, it was time to feed.

“What about him?” Peter asked, pointing to a boy of perhaps fifteen, with olive skin and brown eyes. He was slender and a little effeminate.

“Why him?” Richard asked.

“Because he’ll follow me, even if I can’t make him,” Peter said, laughing for the first time since Richard could remember. The man just nodded.

Peter sauntered out, every bit the cocky jock and “accidentally” bumped into the boy, knocking him to his behind. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” Peter said kneeling down beside the boy, casually running his hand down the boy’s arm. “Are you alright?”

“Yyyyeah,” the boy said shakily, his voice soft and smooth, and a little higher than Peter might have expected. He blushed brightly as Peter caught him staring at his package.

“Let me help you up,” Peter said, taking him under the arm and lifting him to his feet. Casually running his hand down the boy’s side, Peter noticed him shift uncomfortably. “I’m really sorry…. I’m Peter, by the way,” he added, smiling cutely and looking away trying to act shy.

“I’m Rory,” the boy answered, taking the offered hand and holding on too long.

“Listen, I … I don’t mean to assume, but would you like to hang out? I’m kinda bored and I don’t have any friends in town,” Peter said, shifting on his feet, still avoiding eye contact. But he smiled inside, feeling the boy’s heart beating faster.

Trying to be calm, Rory said, “That … would be cool!”

“You wanna come back to my place? I live over on Mulberry Lane,” he added, knowing that the address would put the boy at ease. “I can give you a ride home after….”

“Sure,” the boy nodded with a blush, and as they walked off, Peter snaked an arm around his shoulders. To the outsider it was a gesture from a good buddy, but it made Rory hard as a rock. Out in the parking lot, Peter unlocked the BMW and Rory’s eyes widened. When Rory slid into the passenger seat, Peter started the car and put a hand on the boy’s inner thigh.

Hearing him gasp, Peter smiled and asked, “You don’t mind, do you?”  Swallowing, Rory shook his head, no, and Peter smiled. “Good!” Then he leaned over to kiss the boy, but passed his mouth, planting his soft lips on the boy’s smooth, graceful neck, inhaling his clean, boyish scent. The boy’s heartbeat pulsed beneath his lips, and the hot blood called out his fangs. As he kept licking and kissing the boy’s neck, Peter’s hand went to Rory’s crotch.

Peter unzipped him and released his throbbing member. Rory’s hand grabbed at Peter’s, and Rory moaned. “Oh God, is this happening?” the boy asked.

“Absolutely, gorgeous!” Peter whispered throatily, before sinking his fangs into the boy’s neck. Rory cried out in pain before he began to moan, moving his other hand to the back Peter’s head, running his fingers delicately through the dark brown hair. Peter’s excitement grew as he felt Rory climax.

Peter was only vaguely aware of Richard opening the door.        “Peter! Peter, you’re killing him!” Richard pulled Peter’s head roughly from the boy’s neck and healed Rory’s wounds. The boy was weak, but he would recover. Richard planted a false memory in the boy’s head, and they dropped him at home. “Peter, you have to be more careful! We can’t just kill people!”

“It was a rush!” Peter smiled.

“You did seem to be enjoying it,” Richard said, grumpily, and Peter rolled his eyes.

“Jealous?” Peter asked.

“Frankly? Yes.” Peter laughed, but Richard was obviously not amused. When they arrived back at the mansion, Peter went to Richard’s room, but the man went to the garage and tinkered most of the night away.

At last, Peter showed up at the door to the garage. “Are you coming?”

“Not tonight,” Richard said, not looking Peter’s way. But his resistance faded as he felt the strong arms slip around him from behind, Peter’s chin resting on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, baby! I got caught up…. It didn’t mean anything!” Peter whispered.

Richard sighed. “I know it can be … intoxicating! But you’ve got to control….” He was cut off by the feeling of Peter’s lips on his cheek. Peter grabbed his hand and led him back to the room. When Richard crawled under the covers, Peter cuddled into him and rested his head on Richard’s chest, and was finally able to sleep. Richard held him softly and wondered whether Peter would ever really recover. Something was missing, something was different, but with the boy sleeping in his arms, he couldn’t bring himself to think too much about it. Meanwhile Peter dreamed fitfully of pain and torment, dreams of suffering relieved only by death, dreams of revenge and dreams of silence.

***

On Tuesday, when Matt burst in, he found William and Chase dressed and ready in their uniforms eating breakfast at the island in the kitchen. “Sorry about yesterday, guys!” he said with a laugh.

“It’s okay,” Chase laughed. “So did we miss anything important?”

“Nothing you can’t make up!” The boys talked as they waited for the buses, and William noticed Matt looking back and forth between their rings. “You know, guys, people are going to notice those!”

“SO?” Chase asked. “Everybody already knows about us….”

“They know you’re dating, they don’t know you’re like … married or something!” Matt replied.

Chase choked, and William asked, “What are you talking about?”

“Come on, I’m not stupid! Those aren’t promise rings, are they Nancy?” Matt asked with a smirk.

Chase laughed and shook his head. “Matt, you’re right…. People can assume whatever they want, though!”

“Alright! Just saying,” Matt said, now shaking his own head. “So what are they?”

“When you said wedding rings, you were close enough,” William responded. Keeping the details to the minimum, he added, “That’s why the rabbi stayed after you guys left.”

“We could have stayed, it would have been cool,” Matt pouted a bit.

“Sorry, bud,” Chase said, patting his shoulder. “It was private…. When we do it for real, you’ll be there, I promise!” Matt nodded and they climbed onto the bus, where both Susan and Maria demanded to see William’s gift. Both boys dutifully put their hands up, bringing a round of squeals and incomprehensible girl noises.

“They’re so … different!” Susan said.

“They are unique,” William smiled. “There aren’t any more like these anywhere!”

“You’re so sweet,” Maria said, gushing, causing Chase to giggle and William to blush.

When they arrived at school, William gave Chase a quick kiss on the cheek and went to the office, while Matt and Chase went to class with the girls. “Can I help you?” the older lady at the desk asked with a Scottish accent. “Oh! You must be Mr. Jennings! I’ve got a schedule for you here somewhere…. Oh, here it is!” AP US History, AP English, Biology, Trigonometry, PE and Latin IV—basically his schedule from home. “And here is Ms. Frasier…. She’ll be giving you a quick orientation this morning! A better tour, rules and regulations, that sort of thing…. Ms. Frasier?”

“Hi,” she said, blushing, as she led him out of the office. “It’s Gwen, by the way….”

“William,” he responded.

“So, you’re new here?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’ve been in Richmond for a while, but not in school…. I’ve been staying with Chase Abernathy,” William said.

“Oh,” she exclaimed, her eyes widening. “You’re him!”

Now he blushed. “I suppose so,” he answered shyly.

“I just, I mean…. I didn’t recognize you in the uniform! I saw you beat up those guys who were picking on Matt!” she said.

“It was nothing,” William replied.

“Believe me, it was something! Those guys are menaces…. So you’re Chase’s?”

“Boyfriend? Yeah! It’s alright, you can say it,” he laughed. She nodded and they walked on in silence.

“So, what’s he like?” Gwen asked.

“What do you mean?” William asked, laughing.

“Nothing…. It’s just, he always seems so nice and happy and all! But, what with him being … you know … is he really that…. I don’t know, that’s not coming out right at all!”

“It’s okay!” William laughed. “There’s nothing fake about him at all! He really is that sweet, that bubbly, all the time…. You should get to know him!”

Gwen gave him a tour, showing him more of the little details than he had seen before, like special features of the library, and introducing him to personnel, like the librarian and the PE teacher. Then they went back to the library and she went over the school’s policies with him and had him sign the honor code and things like that. Then she showed him where his classes were, before delivering him to the counselor who would be testing him.

After school, he met up with Matt and Chase at the bus, and they rode home together. “So how was it?” Chase asked.

“Kind of overwhelming…. I’ve been out of school for so long, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but … it definitely seems better than my old school!” William said.

Chase squeezed him, and said, “Plus you get to see me some during the day!”

“Give it a rest, guys,” Matt groaned, causing Maria and Susan to laugh.

“How’s Edward, by the way?” William asked.

“He’s doing better…. His mom is still driving him to and from school, as his arm is still hurting, but otherwise, he definitely has been in a better mood! You’ll probably see him tomorrow; I think you have a couple of classes together,” Susan said.           

“You guys want to hang out this weekend?” Chase suggested, and both girls and Matt agreed immediately, and they made some plans.

When Matt, Chase, and William got off, Matt and William saw the old man sitting on the porch waiting, so Matt waved to them and ran to his house to get into something more comfortable. “Rabbi Roth!” Chase called, surprising William.

“How did you know?” William began to ask, but Chase’s exaggerated expression made him laugh. Of course he knew who it was!

“Hi, boys! How was your first day, William?” Sam asked.

“Good…. I guess it’s time for training?” William replied.

“Afraid so! Why don’t you run upstairs and change into something more comfortable?” The two boys ran upstairs and changed, and Chase sat down at his computer to work. William kissed him on the cheek with a smile and came back downstairs. Then he accompanied the man to the shed and led him into the inner room. Sam drew a door and then contacted Avery, linking the two locations and opening the door. From the room, William could see the basement of Sebastian’s mansion and the two handsome men waiting to enter.

“Please, come in!” William invited, and James and Avery stepped through in sporty outfits.

“William, it’s good to see you again,” Avery said, hugging him, and James shook his hand. Looking around, Avery said, “It’s getting a little crowded in here! If we’re going to train, we’re going to need room.” With a flourish, he pressed outward to his left and right, palms parallel to the walls, and the walls moved away from him. Then he turned and did the same. The room expanded around him until it was huge, the size of a small athletic complex, but its decor remained unchanged, only expanded, and William’s doors and safe remained where they were, only further away. “That’s better!”

Avery looked at William with an appraising smile. “So, how much training did you do with your dad?”

“Mostly defensive, with some basic offensive,” William replied.

“That sounds like Alex,” Avery said with a smile. But he added, “In these times, we’re going to have to perfect your offensive skills! But first, let’s test your defensive magick….” Avery backed up toward a wall, and Sam did the same. “I’ve been working with James for a little bit, and he’s something of a prodigy, it seems…. I’m going to get him to attack with some of the spells he’s mastered and I want you to defend yourself only!” Both boys nodded.

James began by conjuring an energy ball and tossing it at William. None of them knew what would happen as William remained perfectly still, not raising his hand or speaking to defend himself. But the ball simply dissipated in midair. “Impressive,” Sam whispered to Avery, who nodded. When James responded by tossing four or five fireballs in rapid succession, William smiled and whispered a soft incantation and it was as if a mist enveloped him, dousing the fires. James raised his arm quickly and a bolt of electricity flowed from his arm. What William did then surprised them all, as he raised his arm and took the bolt directly, absorbing its energy.

Avery stepped forward, clapping. “Your father was a great teacher, young William! An impressive display! Don’t feel bad, James, I suspected as much. William’s father was … amazing! Sam, would you mind?”

William, who had been smiling, blanched at the prospect of being tested by a general of the Society of Magick. Sam smiled as he took James’s place. “Don’t worry, William, we just need to know how skilled you are so we can teach you!” Sam called from a distance.

William nodded, and gulped as the man began forming his own energy ball. When the huge orb began speeding at him, he raised his arms, exerting enough force to slow the energy ball to a stop a few feet from him. Then with a massive push, he sent it speeding back at Sam, who repeated his feat. This time, the ball came within a few inches of William and he forced it into the earth, dissipating its energy. And when the man repeated James’s electricity spell, William countered by raising an earthen wall from the ground in front of him.

Avery nodded to Sam, whose grandfatherly smile beamed pride as he stepped aside. So William stood across the room from Avery Salazar. When the man’s hazel eyes began to glow brightly, William had no idea what was coming until vines burst from the earth and began to wrap around him. William responded with a deadly spell, which caused the vines to wither wherever they touched him. Avery smiled and winked as an energy ball struck William in the back, knocking him to his knees.

“How?” William asked, and Avery pointed to a far corner, where an energy ball formed.

“If you can do it here,” Avery pointed to the palm of his hand, “why can’t you do it anywhere?” As he spoke, the energy ball began to move, its swerves carefully controlled by Avery’s mind.

“How did you kill the vines?” James asked.

Avery cut in and answered, “A forbidden spell….”

“Forbidden by whom,” William asked, curiously.

“By the Society of Magick, nearly a century ago…. But you boys aren’t bound by its rules now; you aren’t members! And I think that even its members will need to recall some forgotten, forbidden magick before our battle is over!” Avery said.

“What is the Society of Magick?” William asked curiously, as Sam had mentioned his father worked for them before.

“The Society of Magick is a kind of guild of free magicians who work for the Shadow Council. Sam Roth is one of the generals of that order. When I was a Consul, I was special Consul for the Society. Rather than governing a region, I governed the Society,” Avery said.

“Sort of like Secretary of Defense?” James asked.

“Exactly!” Avery responded.

“So, do Sarah and those other wizards work for the Society?” William asked.

“Ah, no…. That’s complicated!” Avery said. “Wizards and witches the world over are governed loosely by a monarch, presently queen of the witches…. She’s more like the pope than an earthly king, as she doesn’t command the loyalty of all witches and doesn’t enforce her rule by might but through spiritual leadership. She does have her own armies, battle wizards, to protect and defend the interests of magical folks the world over.  She has pledged her support for Sebastian as long as the threat remains! Her armies have their own military structure parallel to those of the guild of the Society, and many members of the Society have allegiances to the queen, but their primary military duty is to the Council. It’s complicated, but it has rarely led to conflicting allegiances, as witches and wizards are generally supportive of Council directives….”

“With one exception,” Sam added, looking at Avery. “Relations have been tense since the Council sent Avery to Ashaer prison! That’s why your father, Aiden, Xavier, and I all left, or were pushed out of, the Council. We actively opposed the sentence….” Avery nodded to the man, a silent thanks.

Avery then explained to William why he had been sent to the prison and how Sebastian brought him back. “I hope Xavier’ll forgive Sebastian…. He did all he could, and he didn’t forget me!”

William nodded. “I think that Sebastian’s helping us will help smooth things with Xavier. In time….”

Then the boys got to work, conjuring energy balls and fireballs and tossing them at the two powerful wizards, gaining power and focus with each attempt. Then, Avery taught them a new spell. Conjuring up a humanoid image, he concentrated on its location and called out, “Incendere!” Immediately, the figure burst into flames. “A very powerful spell, not to be practiced except on dummies! This spell must only be used with the intent to kill. It is particularly useful … on vampires,” he finished quietly, looking at James almost apologetically.

“It’s okay,” James said. “Some of our enemies are very powerful vampires. We need to know how best to deal with them!”

“Good, then! Let’s get to work….” Avery conjured more of the figures to practice on, and had the boys both start. By the end of their session, William was able to light the clothes of the figure on fire, and James was just getting able to control his concentration and really mean what he was saying. “That’s enough for today, boys!” Avery said at last. After quick goodbyes, Avery and James retreated to their home and the portal was shut. But the door was permanent, so a bit of magick from a person on each side would be able to open it instantly.

William and Sam walked up to the house, where the man chatted with Sarah and Steve before bidding them all farewell. Then William went upstairs to shower and get into some clean clothes before he and Chase joined Sarah and Steve for dinner. After cleaning up the kitchen, William joined Chase to cuddle in front of the television ‘til bedtime.

The next day, William caught up with Edward at school who did look a lot better. He didn’t look so anxious, and when confronted by this fact, Edward confirmed that he was seeing a therapist who spent a couple of days a week at the school to meet with students. Edward had also talked with Chase some, which definitely helped him feel more at ease. William had his suspicions that Chase had probably helped Edward with a little more than talking, perhaps a little healing energy. He’d have to ask that later, though.

As William and Edward walked down the hall, their path was blocked by a couple of big guys. “So it’s true. You’re here? We thought he was Chase’s boyfriend,” they said, taunting Edward.

“Don’t you guys ever learn?” William said, dropping his bag.

But before anyone could say anything, a tall, powerful looking boy stepped up behind them, putting a big hand on one of each bully’s shoulders, giving each a punishing squeeze. “Hey, guys,” Carl said, smiling brightly at William and Edward. “The football team came to roll out the welcome mat?”

“You could say that,” William said, laughing and picking up his bag. “How’s it going, Carl?” he asked, knowing that as long as the conversation continued, the painful grip Carl was putting on the boys would continue.

After a few minutes more, he let them go and told them, “You guys … might want to avoid these guys from here on out!” Then Carl walked with them toward a class they all shared, putting a hand on Edward’s shoulder as they talked. William noticed a couple of young wizards blending into the crowd as the incident was controlled. So Sebastian’s reinforcements had arrived.

Actually, Edward and Carl got along quite well, despite the cute young Englishman’s shy bookishness, as Carl had quite a good head for literature. Plus, Carl liked soccer, the only sport Edward cared anything about. William smiled as he heard Carl whisper to Edward later, “I heard what you did for Chase! That was awesome! Does it hurt?”

Edward blushed cutely and nodded, “A little, every now and then, mostly just a warm throbbing….”

Carl looked at the bandaged arm with something akin to awe as he touched it with unexpected gentleness. “You know this makes you the biggest bad-ass in school? I mean you’ve been shot! And you aren’t even bitching about it!” William smiled at what Carl was trying to do—build Edward up a little, like he would a new guy on the team. For his part, Edward could talk about little else but Carl at lunch, telling Susan about how the big jock thought he was a bad-ass!

As the week passed without further incident, William fell into a comfortable pattern at school and at home, with daily training with Avery, James, and, usually, Sam, followed by dinner with the family and evenings of homework and relaxation with Chase. Life took on a sense of normalcy he had forgotten was possible. It couldn’t last, he knew, but he’d enjoy it while it did.