Lucky knocked gently on the door of Josef's study, and waited. Only a few seconds later, he called out to her to enter.

He stood as she approached, smiling. "To what do I owe the pleasure, doll?" he asked.

She cocked her head a little to one side, and smiled back. "I brought you something."

"Goody. I love surprises. Especially from you."

"Hold out your hand."

Josef narrowed his eyes slightly and gave her a speculative look. He ran a quick finger around the inside of the collar of his dark striped shirt, loosening the tie slightly, but extended his other hand palm up, the fingers loosely cupped.

"You've got a poker game later, right?"

"First Friday of the month, so yes, babe. Why?"

Lucky brought a hand out from behind her back, holding the cords of half a dozen gold-topped vials of blood. Poker chips. She laid them in his large hand and shrugged slightly. "Thought you could use a little addition to your stake. Maybe they'll bring you luck."

Josef's eyebrows quirked upward in surprise. He stared down for a moment at the vials, hot against the cool skin of his palm. "This is—generous, Lucky."

"Not especially. Granted, it's not as pleasant as—donating—directly, but hey, it's the thought…"

Josef looked down at her, his eyes intense. He opened his mouth as though to speak, and Lucky caught the barest flash of fang. Then he turned away, staring out the glass wall into the early night. Lucky watched as his hand closed around the small vials, wondering suddenly if she'd made a mistake, if she'd somehow angered him. When he did speak, his voice was very low.

"Lucky," he said, "what do you want from me?"

She was silent for a long time, thinking how best to word what she felt. At length, she said, equally quietly, "Just the opportunity to show my—devotion."

"Your love, you mean." He could feel the blood in the vials cooling in his hand even as he spoke.

"All right, if that's how you want to put it, yes."

Josef's head bent, and his shoulders dropped a little. "I should never have let it go so far. Not with you, not with the others."


"No. It was a weakness. I have—I had—rules, Lucky. And one of the first ones is, don't get involved emotionally. Not with freshies."

Lucky felt the tears rising behind her eyes. "None of us asked for that, Josef. And I can't speak for the others, but I thought you knew I understand—understand that—dammit, I only wanted to please you. I only ever want to please you."

"Do you understand how much evil I've done? Centuries of it. The big evil is bad enough, but the little ones go on and on. And I don't believe in regrets."

"And how many times have you been told you're full of shit?"

Josef swung around, looking up at her from under his eyebrows. "Several."

Lucky just looked back at him, unblinking.

"Okay, more than I care to recall. But that doesn't erase the fact that I am very much not the man you think I am."

"How do you know what I think?"

"Because I can feel it in your blood." He paused. "I knew when it was just about the bite, and I knew when it changed."

Lucky shook her head slowly. "Josef, if you think for me it was ever just about the bite—you're very much mistaken." She turned to go. "I'm sorry if I displeased you, Josef. I am sorry."

"Wait." He closed his eyes, inhaling her scent, drawing in all of her essence that he could. He sensed no anger in her, no regret, and he thought bitterly that her attitude only made it all worse.

"I don't," she said, "have your centuries of wisdom and experience, Josef, but I do know everything ends. So perhaps it's time you learned to accept that we care about you, and enjoy it for as long as it lasts."

Josef looked down at the vials in his hand, and carefully selected one of the oddly heavy little containers, separating it from the rest. He looped the cord over her head, watching as the vial fell to rest between her breasts.

"I like your blood best straight from the source, babe," he said. "Tastes much better that way. And I think you should know, I'd never gamble with blood from you—from any of you. Private stock and all that." He caressed her face lightly. "But I may want to talk to you after the game."

Lucky smiled. "Do you want to know what color my new nightie is?"

"Surprise me, doll."

Lucky smiled and squeezed his cool hand briefly. "Count on it."

After she departed, Josef stared again out of the glass wall of his study. One by one, silently, he opened the other vials and drained them to the dregs.

Until he came to the last one. Opening that, he focused on the scent. Then, slowly, he replaced the ornate metal cap, and, tightening it carefully, tucked it away in a pocket. He wasn't much for talismans, but maybe for some things he needed a tangible reminder. Even transient pleasures, or perhaps especially transient pleasures, deserved to be savored.