Chapter 16 - Abyss


For disclaimer see chapter 1


Callum

He is standing there. He is just standing there, in the middle of the dance-floor, among all the others, moving slightly to the rhythm of he music, smiling at me alone, committing sexual harassment because of being. And while I hardly manage to keep my heart from racing, I can but try to keep my mind from wandering. I don't know why I've come to this gay bar, maybe just to see if it's still the same it used to be, or maybe to move a bit among the living, if you'll excuse my blatancy. It is indeed just like it was when I first came here, years ago, but I have changed, and thus I resumed to remain sitting at the bar, sipping my drink, then leave. God, he's gorgeous.

With our kind, we don't need to ask where someone comes from, or why he's there, that much I've already learned. He must be one of us, because I can clearly feel the headache, although it is a bit different from the headache I had when I saw Marcos; that, in turn could be due to the altogether bizarre situation. I also learned that the words "I do not come for your head" are most reassuring, while not always true, whereas the simple information about one's name can drive you out of town, because most of the times it is a challenge. Coming from Chris, though, the words "I do not come for your head" don't bear anything reassuring. The only thing I know right now is that he has, indeed, not come for… well, my head as in 'top of body.' I wonder where his sword is, but I discard the thought as unimportant right now.

It's not that he is extremely handsome, at second thoughts. If you have any time for second thoughts, that is. His presence makes you run on the ancient part of your brain only, the one some people call the lizard brain, which makes second thoughts extremely difficult. To start with, his skin is fairly dark, not as dark as in "Central Africa," but comparable to your average "North African Arabian." His hair, though, is a kind of golden brown, falling over his shoulders in long tresses. It doesn't fit, and yet is totally fitting the way he is as a whole. His eyes strike me most. They are a shade of light grey, I have no idea how those eyes come with a face like this, old, Egyptian pharaoh style features now splitting into a wicked smile, luring me away from the bar and onto the dance floor, knowing it all at a glance, and devouring me even before I can say the first word.

What I know at first glance is, this guy is bad, really bad, especially for me. After all, it is those men with undeniable power that attract me most, and although I am with one of the most powerful men in this city, I know I cannot fight it, and I will just love whatever he will do. The only thing I can do is follow his call and let it happen. He introduces himself as Chris, and I know instantly that this isn't his real name, and if I'm lucky I'll never learn about it, because only then I'll have a wee chance to get out of this alive. While introducing myself, I come to my senses again, only slightly, but enough to take in the whole situation.

He is standing in this bar as if he had been waiting for me. This would be highly improbable, for I haven't been to that bar like, for ages, and yet it is more than pure coincidence that I come across another immortal (I just make up my mind that he is one of us) in a gay bar. Great God, this man is evil, and I cannot fathom the depths of his soul. I force myself to look into his eyes once more, and he begs me follow him with a gracious gesture of his heavily silver ringed fingers, strange thing on his hand, if you give it a thought, and then we just walk outside, into my destiny, which in his case is a white BMW with tinted glasses.

What can I do but sit down next to him? He smells as expensive as he's dressing, something very exotic with a lot of cardamom in it, I notice before my heart leaps once again, and we kiss until I have to lean back and catch some breath.

"We will go to my place," he states without further ado. I catch myself nodding with assent, although I still don't know if this will cost me my head, or my soul, or whatever. It's early evening, I will have to go to the ward later tonight, this is crazy, I shouldn't have gone to this bar, never again, great God I'm on fire. We don't talk much. There is nothing to talk about. The moment he touches me, I know I'm lost. There is something about his glittering hands, his voice, something about the way he moves, some ancient art in all of this, I just cannot resist. But finally I force myself to talk again, even if it merely comes out as a whisper. "I won't be able to stay all night, I'll have to go to work again tonight…"

Starting the car, Chris flashes me an extraordinarily mysterious smile. "We won't need the whole night, my dear. The compulsory follows the free." With this, he drives us to his condo; unnecessary to say, it is – apart from Luna Manor – the most expensive address I've been to in my whole life. It looks faintly familiar. I think I've seen something like this in an Egyptian museum…

During the hours to come, I don't have much time to think, but in-between, just once, I wonder whether Daedalus is already searching for me. Then again, Chris is more than distracting. The things he does and says go beyond anything I know. He is wicked and mean, and at the same time oh so efficient and the fucking best lover I've ever had. It's unbelievable. Of course, I will go back to Daedalus and stay with him and never see Chris again, but right now, I indulge in Chris' skills and let myself sink deeper and deeper into his web of sin. I'm drowning… in his hands, the pretty things on his fingers make my mind swirl, and in his voice, soft like liquid gold…

I'm drowning…

The late night round in my ward was quiet, and all children are sound asleep. This is good, of course, because I had not intended to spend more time there than absolutely necessary; I have other, more important things to do, and Chris was waiting for me. He took me to the hospital, and although he told me that I can take my time, I knew that he was impatient to see me again. This guy is so unbelievably gorgeous.

He is also actually very helpful; he even asked me about the children, although I am quite convinced that he is not the person to be interested in medical matters. Anyway, as he was almost pressing me about my work, I told him everything about it. This was even more rewarded because he is such a good listener, and he always knew the right questions to ask; about where the children were from, and what had happened to them. Especially Daniel seemed to hold his interest, and he was so honestly concerned about his future and his whereabouts. Really, Chris is such a nice guy. I feel like I've known him for ages, and I utterly trust him.

I have to work the early morning shift, too; there is no way around this. Fortunately, I can stay with Chris and he takes me back to the hospital when it is time. Although the night is really short, I do not feel tired at all and set to work with a quiet and balanced ease I've missed for months, if not for years. Only once, I come to think of Daedalus, this strange and ugly fellow, but the thought of him distracts me too much from my work and threatens to spoil my mood, and so I put it aside. I do not even know where it came from.

The children are extraordinarily quiet today, they look at me in awe and cooperate nicely, and I feel that I am finally getting the respect I deserve. Chris reconfirmed this, and he reminded me of my position as ward doctor. He is right about this, of course, as always, and even the personnel seems to notice the difference.

I arrange for Chris to pick me up at my house later this night, because I do have to look at the building proceedings. On my way home, I stop at a Mediterranean Deli and provide a few things I've missed long since on my menu. Then, with an interesting Egyptian song on my lips I must have heard yesterday night, I drive to my house. Voices from below reach my ears, and I remember that a couple of Daedalus' men are still working down there in the cellar.

Thank God the work will be finished soon, so that I will have the house to myself. They are dreadful people, and the thought of them spending the whole night in my cellar makes me sick. Continuing to hum the music Chris and I listened to last night, I prepare the food and sit down to eat in the living room. Thinking of him brings a bright smile on my face, and I can feel that I'm blushing. He did wicked things to me, and I love it.

When I notice a slight movement from the corner of my eye, I look up and see Daedalus stand in the doorway. He has obviously come in from the garden; his shoes are full of soil, and right now I remember that he wanted to do some gardening for me. I hope he won't spoil the carpet, though. In order not to be impolite, I look at him, but I am certainly in no mood for a friendly chat with the personnel.


Daedalus

I have noticed Callum coming home, but, unlike all the times before, he does not go down into the basement to greet my clanmates, nor does he come to find me in the garden. This is unusual, but, judging from the fact that he's singing, I assume that he's in a good mood, so nothing untoward seems to have occurred.

And yet, something feels wrong. It's too insubstantial to qualify, yet I notice something amiss; either the presence of something that wasn't there before, or the absence of something that's always been here. Or both.

Finally, finding myself unable to concentrate on anything but Callum, I give up my puttering in the garden and enter the house to find him in the living room, eating his breakfast. He looks up, but he says nothing, no word of greeting or acknowledging of my presence. No smile lights his face. If anything, he seems almost angry at the sight of me.

"Callum?" I say softly. "What has happened?"

He meets my eyes briefly before turning back to his meal. "Nothing," he says shortly. "I don't have much time, I'll be going out again."

It's all I can do to keep the alarm and hurt out of my face and voice. Approaching him, I reach out, intending to take his hand the way I've always done almost since the moment we met, but the look in his eyes tells me more clearly than words could have done that he would refuse me, maybe even pull his hand away. Rather than facing such a substantial sign of his rejection, I abort the movement and merely fold my hands in front of myself, looking at him. "Is everything all right?" I try again.

"Yes, of course it is." Callum looks back at me, and the expression in his eyes is hard. "Look, I've had a long day and a short night, and I'd like to be alone."

"Will I see you later today?" I know I'm begging, but I can't help it. This is what I've always feared – that it will end, that I will lose him, that the times of love and friendship with him will pass and never come again.

But he gives me no respite. "No, most certainly not."

It's painful. It actually hurts like a physical injury. "I see," I force out, hanging on to my dignity by a fingernail.

Callum looks up again, and now I can see what is definitely a spark of anger in his eyes. "Would you just leave me alone."

The anger in his eyes sparks my own, forces me to remember the times when something like this happened to me before. This time it's different. This time I have invested too much of myself. I don't have to lie down and just take this. I won't be sent away like a dog. So I continue to stand there, staring at him, forcing him to make his position clear, reminding him that it's not wise to antagonize me. After all, I have killed him once before, and not in anger.

But even now, my Callum is courageous. He puts down his fork and meets my eyes. "Listen, I don't want to talk to you, and I don't want to see you, not today, and not tomorrow. And I most certainly don't want you to stare at me like that, you ugly scarecrow!"

I can feel the growl deep in my chest, and my hands twitch, but I restrain myself. There has to be an explanation, I tell myself, something that will make sense of his behavior, something that will keep my world from falling to pieces around me. Calling upon my powers, I read his emotions, but all I can gather from what I see is that whatever love he might have felt for me is gone.

Suddenly, despair is very close to engulfing me after all, but I fight it back down. There is still one chance, one possibility to deny this nightmare. I've promised him that I won't do this, that I'd respect his privacy and not use my powers to pry, but I have no choice. I must know.

Passing a hand over Callum's eyes, I ruthlessly grab hold of his mind and order him, "Tell me what has happened."

"I had a drink," Callum says without expression. "I went home. I went to work. I went home. I had dinner."

I feel like taking hold of his shoulders and shaking him until the truth falls out. That can't have been all. I have to believe that he wouldn't just stop loving me from one day to the next. Surely it can't all have been an illusion. Surely there was more to what we had than just... than just...

But no matter how differently I phrase my question or how much pressure I exert on his mind, I can't find anything. Nothing to explain, nothing to excuse. I have to accept that this is indeed how it ends.

My vision turns red as my eyes start blazing with a mixture of rage and despair, and then I ask the last, the only important, question. "Do you truly wish me to leave?" It will be impossible for him under the influence of my powers to be anything other than truthful.

Callums voice doesn't waver as he drives the stake into my heart. "Yes, I do. I never want to see you again."

I can hear myself make a sound like something dying. But no; there's no such respite for me. I can't die. I can't evade this feeling. I'm dead already, ancient, eternal. And I'll keep feeling this pain until my Final Death.

With the force of my despair getting very close to overwhelming me, my mind releases its hold over Callum's, and I take a step back to stare at him. I can't think. All I can hear is a wailing in my mind. It's over. It's really, truly over.

"Hey, you're still here," Callum's voice reaches my ears. "Don't you get me?" He leans closer. There's an odd expression on his face, in his intonation. "Didn't you read the signs? I never loved you."

I can feel my lips draw back from my fangs and my hands tense in expectation of tearing into his flesh, to take revenge upon him for hurting me so. Oh yes, the Beast is very close to the surface. I know my eyes have changed color, and I know that he is no match for my anger, and even his immortality won't save him when I tear his body to shreds and devour him. I even take a step towards him, and the sounds I can hear myself making don't sound even remotely human. Then I raise my hands, talons extended towards him, eyes fixed upon his unflinching blue-eyed stare behind his glasses. The Beast is about to break free -

"It's over," Callum goes on, blithely ignoring the warning signs. "And take your freaking work force with you."

There is a flash behind my eyes, and I strike out in one blinding manifestation of fury. At the last moment, I redirect my strike onto the table instead of at Callum. Amidst a clatter of dishes and silverware, one of my talons catches in the tablecloth and rips the whole thing down, leaving a furrow in the wood but Callum unharmed.

I still love him, and I could never hurt the one I love.

"As you wish," I force out when the clattering stops, my voice barely recognizable even to my own ears. And then I turn and stalk out of the room without a backward glance, to the stairway, down to the basement.

My clanmates look up from what they are doing to stare at me. Obviously, they can easily discern that something is wrong even without the benefit of Auspex. "We are finished here," I grate before they can ask. "You can go home. We... can go home."


Callum

Shortly after the ugly ones left, Chris picks me up with his white BMW. As soon as I set eyes upon him, my heart starts singing, and like before, I have this unbelievable feeling of longing and belonging, I want to fly into his arms and stay there forever. As soon as I see him smile, I feel that everything else grows unimportant, the whole everyday life melts away from me, and I am free.

He takes me to his place again, of course. I wonder why I bought the house, anyway. I forgot the reason why. I won't need it, I want to be with Chris. He has an unbelievably beautiful apartment in the middle of the city, it must cost a fortune, but he's also unbelievably rich, so I guess it's just the right thing for him. The interior is an expensive and very tasteful mix of Egyptian and Greek styles, I love it very much. I love him very much.

Like last night and the night before, we have this unbelievable sex together, he seems to know me through and through, and he is such a wicked and experienced lover. I adore him. He is like the god of lovers. The way he moves, the way his dark skin glistens in the dim light, even his eyes seem to glow in the dark, every now and then. Yes, he must be a god. And I am his servant.

Just when I am about to fall asleep, though, he asks me something strange. He asks about the children, although he must remember that I've already told him everything. But now, he wants to know where Daniel has gone. I want to serve him, I would do anything to please him, yet I have to disappoint him here, because even I don't know where Marcos has gone, and apart from some short phone calls, I haven't yet received the letter Daniel had promised to write.

In spite of my endeavor to be as helpful as possible, Chris seems to get angry at me. I am shocked about this fast swing of mood, and I desperately try to cheer him up. But he won't let me. He lifts up his ringed hand, and suddenly I get this headache again, and I cry out in pain. While I still wonder what is going on, Chris puts his arms around me and comforts me with his soft voice. I just don't know what happened. I feel weak, almost feeble, and for the first time since we met, I am scared.

When Chris takes me to the hospital in the morning, I feel sick, but he reassures me that everything will be fine after I've gone to work. I want to believe him, like always, but I feel a certain hint of doubt in my guts. Nevertheless, I set to work. Like I feared before, I can hardly concentrate on the conversation with my little patients, and when a little girl finally asks me if I'm not feeling well, I agree and go home.

What the hell is going on? My mind is in a turmoil, I almost swoon when I enter the house, and when the door closes behind me, I actually have a nervous breakdown. I sit down in the entrance hall and cry, and when I'm finished, there is no other sound than my own breathing. The house is so empty, so cold, and so lonely. I enter the living room and search for – what? Somebody who would take me into his arms, but who? Chris promised to call around eight, so I've only four hours to myself. Maybe I should lie down.

My eyes fall on the answering machine, and I see the little red light blinking. After I rewind and press 'play,' Chao-dai's voice rings out. He says that, as far as he can remember, we had a date in the morning, and he missed me. My head starts spinning again, I faintly remember that I should be there every morning to learn something, but I simply forgot what it was. It can't be that important, so I delete the message and walk to the bedroom veranda to lie down.

When I come to stand beside the bed, my foot touches something hard that gives a slight clinking sound, and I see a pair of heavy chains under the bed, the purpose of which I can't even guess. How kinky. They must have been here before I moved in. The headache grows stronger yet, strange, I thought I couldn't get any kind of disease, but maybe I simply overworked and it will possibly go away after some hours of rest. I lie down and immediately fall asleep.

The doorbell wakes me from my slumber, and Chris seems quite annoyed when I inform him that I have to take a short shower before joining him. Instead of coming in, he prefers to wait in the car. This strikes me as odd, but I don't argue. I haste to shower and change, I hate to let him wait, and as soon as I see him, I long to be with him again. When I finally sit down beside him in the car, he is royally pissed. I try to find out why, because he can't have been waiting more than 5 minutes, but he refuses to talk to me. In silence, we drive to his place again.

There, in his splendid apartment, it happens for the first time that we start to discuss, and I soon find out that this isn't your usual lover's quarrel. I merely asked him whether he could help me out with some memory, because I seem to have forgotten important parts of what happened last week, but it seems to be like a cue for him to turn mad. Whatever I say, Chris seems to be indomitable in his fury. I suddenly remember last night, the headache comes back, and the whole world seems to turn into a nightmare.

Out of the blue, Chris yells at me in a strange language, something I've never heard before, and his voice sounds so strange, so deep and unnatural, as if something else is talking out of him. This is not my Chris, at least not like I've know him before. I still try to calm him down by talking to him like I would talk to my patients, but this won't make it any better, in fact, it only worsens the matter. Then, his eyes seem to glow again, a bright and shining yellow flash, just for a moment, as if a lamp has been switched on and off behind his orbs.

I find myself sitting down in a corner of the vast apartment while Chris slowly seems to calm down. He ignores me, but even when I try I cannot get out. There are no doorknobs on any doors, and I don't understand the mechanism, it must be hidden. Hence, all I can do is remain sitting in my little corner like an idiot, waiting for him to remember my existence. After a while, he comes to me and helps me get up, and his smile is as bright as ever. I cannot help it but smile back, and the making up sex is just glorious. And yet… I just don't know what this is all about, and the little grain of doubt wants to grow.


Daedalus

I have managed to reach my haven without mishap. My composure seems surprisingly intact. There is a great calm within me, an emptiness that is almost the absence of feeling, but I'm aware that this is deceiving. I know I must be in shock, and like a large boulder that, after millennia of resting in one place, has suddenly lost stability and is about to cause a ravine, my despair is about to crash around me and consume my mind. I have to be somewhere safe when that happens, and preferably alone.

I come to stand next to my chair, looking around. No one here. Good. Maybe a glass of wine, even though there is nothing to celebrate. Definitely a cigarette. I will wait a while, until I can be certain of myself, and then I'll need to go hunting. Going hungry and despair is a bad mixture. Later, I'll inform Julian that he won't have to do without his enforcer for extended periods of time after all. He, at least, will be pleased.

I'm quite proud of my rational thought processes. Maybe I can avoid after all what is nowadays called crashing and burning.

It is the sight of the half-finished sundial in my work study that finally does me in.

No more Callum, I suddenly realize. I'll never hear his voice again, feel his body again, look at him again. Like I always feared, he has stopped loving me. I'll never finish the house, never share the evenings with him on that small rise in our garden watching the ships. His garden. Never mine. It was all an illusion. I'm alone again.

Suddenly, the howl is outside of me. Then my talons are out, something crashes, something rips beneath my hands. Dust rises around me. There is red wetness on my face, on my hands, on my clothing, and a great pain in my chest.

I'm aware that I'm no longer alone only when I suddenly hear voices. Someone whom I should know calls "Code Red"; there is a flurry of activity and more shouts, but I pay none of it any heed. Strange how easily blood is absorbed by plaster... I never knew that there was natural rock behind the bricks of my walls...

Then something hits me hard in the back and shoves me forward, and a sharpened tip of wood protrudes out of my chest. I look down on its bloody end even as I abruptly lose control of my limbs and fall to the floor in an ungainly heap, hitting my head on the stone floor. A cloud seems to lift from my mind as I lie motionless, staring into the upside-down face of a Nosferatu bending over me from behind me.

Frederick. Lowering a crossbow.

Code Red, I suddenly remember. Kindred out of control – possible breach of the Masquerade. I invented that, made it part of the guidelines for this domain. I also stipulated that this was the only circumstance that warranted the use of the stake with impunity.

I've been staked. By my second.

There is the sound of shuffling feet and the sheathing of blades of various sizes, but no one says anything for a while. I can hear myself making a sound halfway between a croak and a groan, and my right hand twitches. Otherwise I'm incapable of movement, paralyzed by the stake. The air smells of fear and rage. And of vitae. My vitae.

Frederick's hands grab me under my shoulders and pull me into a more comfortable position, but I notice that he wisely doesn't remove the stake yet. He'll make a good Primogen one night, I find myself thinking with some pride.

That's the moment when I realize the frenzy has passed.

Frederick, too, seems to think so. "Okay, boss?" his raspy voice comes.

I can't speak, of course, but I fix my eyes on him and blink twice.

"Okay, um... What's the sum of digits of twenty-three?" he asks me. Obviously he doesn't quite trust me yet. I must have made quite a spectacle of myself, I conclude ruefully.

A Kindred in frenzy would be incapable of answering that question, but I blink five times without hesitation.

It seems to reassure him, for he folds his spindly fingers around the stake and pulls it out of my chest without effort. "There's some rats nearby," he rasps, grabbing the stake and the crossbow and stepping smartly out of my reach. "I'll be goin'. Have fun clearin' up all that."

"Frederick," I call after him, getting to my feet and brushing off my clothes.

He halts and turns around, his Roswell alien face full of worry. I don't blame him. Staking your Primogen is not something you do every night, and the total loss of control incurred is not something we normally deal with very well, Code Red or no. And despite his strength and speed, he wouldn't stand a chance against me in a fight if I wanted to take my rage out on him.

"Good shot," I merely say, nodding at the crossbow hanging from his hand. It will have to suffice as thanks until I've gathered myself more and he can be certain that I mean it.

He grins and leaves me amidst the destruction of my haven.

I look around without seeing. The frenzy may have passed, but my despair has not. It will not for some time. Years, maybe decades. But now that I'm no longer feeling the rage of injury, I can at least grieve.

The night has passed, or a large part of it. It's hard to tell the passage of time. I was vaguely aware of Frederick poking his head into my haven once again at one point, and I'm afraid I've snarled at him, maybe even thrown something. There was no room for anyone else here with me and my despair. Like the wounded beast that I am, I crawled into the darkest corner I could find and stayed there, unable to even lick my wounds.

Finally, the tears have stopped coming, and the pain has dulled to manageable levels. Time to stop mourning the passage of something that elevated me above my fellow monsters for a while. Time to rejoin the undead.

But of course, it's not that easy. After restoring some sort of order, I've tried painting, but for once my emotions are too turbulent for the intricacies of colors and shapes. Next, I've paced the confines of my haven like a caged tiger, back and forth, back and forth, trying to find solace in movement, but of course, physical exertion won't soothe my mind. I can't get tired, have been unable to for millennia. The only thing that would truly help would be a fight, something immediate and threatening enough to take my mind off my Callum.

Where are the lupines when you need them?

So, finally, I flop down onto my favorite chair which has thankfully been spared the effects of my frenzy, staring morosely into mid-air and wondering when I forgot how to deal with situations like this. Caine knows I've gone through something similar often enough to have more than enough practice by now. Shaking my head at myself, I light up a cigarette, something I tend to do when I literally don't know what else to do.

There is the sound of footsteps on the stairs. "Anybody home?" Julian's voice calls overly merrily.

I had not thought it possible in my current state, but the sound of his voice actually brightens my heart. "Julian." My voice is rough from using nothing but animal sounds for so long.

The Prince correctly interprets that as an invitation to join me in my haven. He steps down and approaches, an open wine bottle and two glasses in hand. Wisely, he merely glances at the evidence of destruction I haven't been able to erase without commenting. Throwing me a searching glance, he says, "I had a feeling that I should join you."

I force a smile, vaguely surprised that I actually manage it. "We have been here before," I comment.

Julian frowns. "What do you mean?"

"You always seem to have a feeling such as this when I finally find myself alone again." Another one of our rituals, enacted more often than I care to count. I fall in love, I lose my love, and Julian is there with his wine and his company.

But this time, Julian flatters me by looking utterly surprised. Pulling up a wooden crate, he brushes the dust away with his hand and sits down next to me without a word. In lieu of speaking, he reaches out a hand to pat my knee, a vaguely preoccupied expression on his handsome face.

After a pause, I say, "I should not be surprised."

"Well, I sure am," Julian comments dryly.

I throw him a sidelong glance. "I had no reason to hope that it would last as long as it has."

Julian smiles one of his heartstopping smiles. "You're selling yourself cheap again."

Am I, Julian? I don't think so. If anything, I vastly overestimated my market worth by allowing myself to dream. And after thousands of years and hundreds of unhappy endings, I certainly should know better.

"What exactly did happen?" Julian asks after a pause.

"He told me he never wanted to see me again."

"He did?" Julian clears his throat. "Well, I… I'm sorry. What else did he tell you?"

I look at him. If I didn't know better, I'd think he thinks that it has somehow to do with him. I mentally shake my head. Sometimes, Julian tends to assume that the world revolves around him, and I don't blame him. In this city at least, after all, it does.

But not this time, Julian. This time Callum fell out of love without your help. "He said that he does not love me any more. I didn't need to hear any more than that."

"But… He cannot mean this, after all the other things he said."

"But he does," I grate out. "I looked into his mind, Julian. There is no explanation except that which he has given me."

"You looked into his mind," Julian repeats, frowning. "I fear you lost me there. Is there anything else he told you, anything that would… explain what he said?"

"No."

Julian sighs.

"I tried to find an explanation just as much as you are," I go on tonelessly. "I asked him." Again and again. Oh, how I asked him, trying to find an answer, an explanation, anything but this abrupt ending, this sudden death of everything we had built together. "But there is nothing."

Julian looks at me, and something is working inside him. "I met with him only a couple of nights ago. He didn't say anything."

"A couple of nights ago, everything was fine. This happened tonight. Without warning."

Julian gets up. "This just doesn't make sense. I can't believe it. I will talk to him."

I look up at him, hopelessly. "Don't you think I tried that?"

He sits down again. "Of course."

"I saw that he told me the truth. I must accept it." Accept it and move on, like I did so often before. But this time, it will be harder than ever before. This time, I had too much time to get used to the thought of an "us". My Callum. I even called him that in my mind. It will take so long to undo this, so much pain will have to be worked through, that I am daunted by the task ahead of me.

Julian looks at me with an odd expression. "Whatever may happen, my dear friend, it's not over yet." He reaches out and takes my hand. "I've known you to be a man who won't give up that easily."

"Giving up and accepting reality are not the same thing," I argue. "I was… deceived by an illusion, and now I see true."

"This was no illusion, Daedalus, although it might be hard to believe. This was love. Callum… is different." There is a strange intensity in his tone.

I close my eyes in pain. "Julian, please don't make this harder than it already is."

But he won't let this rest. "It's… he… He showed me that… it is conceivable that… a man can love another man…" He trails off, and I stare at him. But before I can find the words to voice my amazement, he goes on, "And he was quite aware that we… that you and I… may harbor deep feelings for each other. The only thing I can think of is… but that would be too cruel, and he is not that calculating." At this point, he apparently realizes that he is babbling and stops.

I'm still staring at him.

"I would like to stay with you tonight," he declares.

This is not part of our ritual. At some point, we have left the safe confines of that which always happens when I have lost my love, which is that we share a glass of wine, talk about some commonplace occurrences, and then he leaves me to myself.

I open my mouth, but nothing comes out.

He takes my hand, and then he kisses it as if I were the prince, and puts his forehead against it the way I always do with his hand.

"Julian...?"

"Whatever happens," he says hoarsely, "I'm with you, my friend."

Words still won't come. Helplessly, I rise from my chair, wanting to show him my appreciation for his presence here, now, and, yes, my love for him. Fortunately, Julian, too, gets to his feet, so suddenly all is very easy, and I simply take him in my arms.

He readily returns my embrace. It is like coming home.

"I am considering spending the night with you," Julian says softly, "as in, sharing your bed, but I can't imagine us playing the doggy game." He pulls back and smiles, apparently a little embarrassed.

I return his smile. Truth be told, neither can I. Not right now. Generally speaking however, I can, and I have. Often. This is of course not something I can tell him. I'm a member of his Primogen Council. It is my duty to advise him, to speak out if I think his decisions are wrong. And I'm Nosferatu. We abide by the law, and if Julian makes decisions that go against Kindred law, I'm obligated by clan policy to vote against him. I'm also his enforcer, and in that position I can afford impure thoughts about him even less.

None of which has kept me from having them. How could I not have them? He is so beautiful, so powerful for his young age. So incredibly charismatic and attractive. So unattainable for the likes of me.

True, he's never treated me like other Ventrue normally treat us. That's not Julian's style. He's always gone against convention. Offering the Gangrel Primogen a position as his bodyguard and thereby inviting him into his house has only been one of many decisions that set him apart not only from other member of his clan, but also from most princes.

He interrupts my thoughts by moving his head towards me in a way that I, with my recently gained experience, can't misinterpret. And then our lips meet, and for a moment, I even forget about my pain, about my Callum, about all other mortals I ever loved.