They aren't mine.

Italicized sentences are thoughts.

Individual italicized words are for emphasis.

Trials and Tribulations

Julian Luna listened in amused disbelief as his childe tried to explain the man's most recent actions. Leaning back until he found the most comfortable position in his ergonomic, and extremely expensive, office chair which was upholstered in the finest, most butter-soft, leather Julian's money could buy, the Prince of San Francisco's Kindred steepled his fingers in front of his face, both thumbs resting under his chin. This should be good, he thought as he peered across his fingertips at the man sitting before his desk. I wonder how much rope I'm going to have to give him before he realizes I'm not buying his story.

Detective Frank Kohanek was not having a good day. First: his partner, brood-brother, and, not to be ignored, Ventrue Primogen, Sonny Toussaint, had ordered him to drop the investigation of a suspect. Second: Frank had not dropped said investigation. How was he supposed to know Vernon Maslow was the human kin of Seattle's Prince, and how was he supposed to have known Prince Samuel had already advised "Prince " Julian that he would "deal" with his pimp descendant. Besides, Sonny hadn't actually told his partner that Frank couldn't follow Vernon - Frank just wanted to verify that the man left San Francisco. Yeah, he knew Sonny had told him Maslow was leaving - but Frank just wanted to be sure. How in the world could anyone imagine that Frank Kohanek's mere presence could possibly be intimidating? And, last, but certainly not least, Frank was hurt. His motives had been misinterpreted. In fact, he was especially hurt he had to explain himself to Julian, much less have had Sonny all but drag him here, … and Julian was just sitting there - nodding politely with every point Frank made.

Frank sighed. His sire, and Prince, was not buying his story. The nodding, along with the look of polite disbelief, on Julian's face made that fact increasingly, and excruciatingly, obvious. Damn! I've seen that look in his mismatched eyes before. I'm going to have to "perform one of the least pleasant of my duties and obligations to him as his childe"- I'm going to have to accept his judgment. Shit! I might as well stop wasting both our time. He could hardly wait to see what Julian would come up with, Frank thought wryly as he sat up straighter, looked the man straight in the eye and said as quickly as possible, "Sonny ordered me to drop the investigation of Maslow, told me the little creep was leaving and to let him go … And then I followed the little so-and-so to the airport."

At least he avoided mumbling, was the first thought that crossed Julian's mind. His left eyebrow rose as he tilted his head back, letting it rest against the back of his chair and meticulously studied the ceiling over his still steepled fingers. "And you followed Mr. Maslow to the airport," he murmured contemplatively, before dropping his gaze to stare into Frank's face, noting the unease playing across his childe's features. He must have fed recently; there's a faint hint of pink to his skin. He never did lose the ability to blush after I embraced him. The palms of Julian Luna's hands hit his heavy, antique rosewood desk with a loud slap as, pushing himself up from the desk, he rose to his feet. "So, Frank … what you're telling me is that your brood-brother, and Primogen, never told you that you couldn't follow Mr. Maslow." Julian 's lips were pursed as he nodded judiciously at Frank's reply.

"I see," the Prince said calmly, his voice thoughtful. "You didn't want to follow the order you were given, so you parsed the words to give yourself justification to go around it. Is that an adequate description of your actions," Julian voice was deceptively polite as, with a serene smile on his lips, he strolled around his desk and stopped in front of the, by now, uneasily shifting detective. The Prince's hands were stuck casually in his pockets as he stood gazing down at his childe's reddening face. He's definitely fed recently, Julian thought irreverently before moving to perch on the left arm of Frank's overstuffed wing-backed chair. As Kohanek's head turned toward the Prince, Julian looked straight into the man's startled eyes and stated firmly, "That was not a rhetorical question, Frank. Did I just describe your motivation for disregarding Sonny's order?"

Damn! Frank realized as he stared back into Julian's one black and one brown pupil. He's got his head tilted to one side and that damn left eyebrow of his is raised too. I hate it when he has that expression on his face. Polite, dispassionate, and intimidating - The man is good at what he does. Frank also thought he could detect a faint hint of disappointment in his sire's face and posture. Sinking deeper into the overstuffed chair, he ran his right hand through his dark brown hair and sighed, before glumly conceding, "Yes, Sire. That is an accurate description." - An uncomplimentary and uncompromising one Julian, but fundamentally accurate. Unable to break eye contact with the man, Frank was reminded of similar past discussions. He was now certain the emotion he saw reflected in Julian's eyes was disappointment. "Damn, Julian," he sighed, again running his hands through his hair which by now was in serious need of a comb's attention. "I'm sorry, but …" his voice trailed off as he heard Julian's voice interjecting with the Prince's own comment on the situation.

"But you just can't bring yourself to trust Sonny enough to follow his orders, at least, not without checking things out yourself first." Julian commented matter-of-factly. Turning his body to the right, Julian's all too discerning eyes watched the emotions playing across the face of his most recently embraced childe. He may have 'forgiven' Sonny for concealing the fact that my eldest was Kindred, but Frank's never forgotten it and, ever since, my youngest has always taken it into account when he deals with his brood-brood brother. I know he knows and understands Sonny had no choice and I know he agrees with why I ordered Sonny to keep him in the dark.

Julian suspected at least part of the reason his newest childe clung so tightly to his distrust was because the man was upset with himself for being, what Frank would consider to be, so easily fooled. Julian sighed as he thought of the other occasions he and Frank had had variations of this discussion. At least he's inventive. Frank's never ignored authority in the same way twice and he values my approval. He's never ignored my authority. His thoughts are obvious. He senses my disappointment, and he appears to be as tired of these discussions as I am. Julian meant this 'discussion' to be their last on the subject.

"Frank," he said. "Yes, I am feeling disappointment, but I knew when I embraced you that you had 'authority issues.' I also knew getting you used to our authority structures would be the hardest thing for me to teach you." A short laugh made it past Julian's closed lips. "You couldn't even follow human authority lines when you were still human. We first met after you had been ordered to drop your investigation of my companies and activities. You were also ordered to leave me alone, several times in fact," Julian commented dryly. "We know how well that worked - Don't we, Frank?" he asked, the sardonic amusement evident in his voice before he continued. "Your complete inability to follow that first order in regard to me and mine is what started the chain of events which have led you to your current situation."

With that last comment, Julian stood. Frank's eyes followed his sire's pacing figure as the Prince headed toward the fireplace and, once reaching his goal, turned and paced back past Frank's chair until he reached the sideboard against the opposite wall, pausing occasionally in front of Kohanek's chair to stare speculatively at his increasingly uneasy childe. Finally coming to an abrupt stop in front of the chair and turning to face Frank, Julian continued the conversation from where he had left off.

"We've had variations of this discussion several times now, Frank. It's true I had hoped that, after the last time, we wouldn't have to have it again, but here we are - again." Julian Luna's shoulders and arms rose and fell in a slow shrug. "Yes, I'm disappointed, but you needn't worry that I'm giving up on you," he said calmly.

Leaning forward, he carefully placed his hands on the arms of Frank's chair and stared, nose to nose with the man, as he continued their conversation. His voice was soft and warm as he said firmly, "We're just going to have to try harder." Julian grinned and pushed himself upright.

A wince flickered across Frank Kohanek's face as he sighed, before saying wryly, "Is this where you tell me you're more stubborn than I am, and then you come up with some 'lesson' that I'm really going to hate?" Oh, Shit! That grin on Julian's face just got wider. If he wasn't the sober, responsible Ventrue Prince that I know he is, I'd say that was a shit-eating grin I'm seeing on his face. Frank's eyes closed. I'm really going to hate this. Julian's way too pleased with himself. He's just standing there - with that damn smile plastered all over his face.

I appear to have sufficiently impressed Frank, Julian thought, pleased with his childe's response. I'd better put him out of his misery before he manages to embed himself in that chair. Stepping backward, the, by now, thoroughly amused Prince rested one hip against his desk and said brightly, "You need to learn to trust Sonny - So, we're going to have a trust-building lesson."

Frank stared, unable to look away, as one of Julian's well-shod feet started idly swinging and he heard his sire saying, "You have two choices, Frank. You can spend one week shadowing your brother, doing everything he tells you to do, without question, and without hesitation, or …" Julian's voice hardened, "… You can spend two weeks in the Prison of Light and then spend two weeks shadowing Sonny."

Trust-building lesson; Julian's studied too much psychology. Frank slid further down into his chair. If he slid any lower he'd be on the floor. Hell: Julian probably knew Freud, Jung and, for all I know, he was best friends with B. F. Skinner. The man is all too good with the behaviorist crap. He's sure better at it than all those boring psych instructors I had in college. Geez, why doesn't he just lock Sonny and me in a room until we kiss and make up?

Julian's lips were quivering. Frank's shields were a little low. He could clearly hear his childe's thoughts. Julian could also feel Frank's embarrassment at the realization he was projecting his thoughts, especially when Frank realized just what he was projecting. The Prince was impressed. He hadn't believed Frank could sink any lower in that chair without sliding onto the floor. Julian just loved it when one of his plans came together. He opened his mouth.

"Frank, you need to answer me," Julian said patiently, "Unless, of course, you want me to choose which option for you." Julian's lips were twitching as he made his last comment. Shifting his weight, his eyebrows rose as he sat, patiently waiting for Frank's response.

Frank realized Sonny had been following Julian's order by concealing his Kindred nature from Frank when Kohanek had first found out about the existence of their species. Now that Frank had been Kindred for almost a year and a half, he also realized his brood-brother had had to follow Julian's order. Julian's both sire and Prince to him. Julian is sire and Prince to me as well. My partner swore the same oaths of loyalty to our sire as I did, and Sonny's nothing if not loyal. My mind knows that, but my heart says he's my partner and we're supposed to protect each other.

He couldn't blame Julian either. The Prince had been trying to maintain some semblance of the Masquerade by limiting the number of Kindred Frank knew and he also suspected Julian had put Sonny there to protect him both from other Kindred, and from himself. Much as Kohanek hated to admit it, Julian had been right. He had needed protection and if he had known Sonny was Kindred that knowledge would have made it harder for his partner to protect him. He'd have fought the man at every step, possibly even to the point of attacking Sonny in the first days and weeks after Alexandra's death.

Feeling a slight breeze, Frank looked up to see Julian crouched before him. His sire's hand was reaching out to grasp Frank's chin. Raising his childe's chin until Kohanek's eyes met his, Julian said softly, "I know your feelings were hurt when you had to discover Sonny was Kindred on your own and I know you feel he betrayed your partnership. I also know you realize why he concealed that part of his nature from you." He gave a slight shake to the clean-shaven chin in his hand before continuing. A faint trace of sympathy was reflected in his eyes as he said, "You have one minute to answer me, or I choose for you!"

The left side of Frank's mouth rose to form a wry half-smile. "I choose Sonny."

Julian's hand dropped as he rose to his feet. Reaching down, he grabbed Frank's arms and pulled the man to his feet. "Good," he said briskly. "Let's go find your brother and tell him the good news." There was a satisfied smile on Julian's face as he put an arm around his youngest's shoulders and steered Frank out the door.

Sonny Toussaint, Ventrue Primogen, eldest living childe of Julian Luna, brood-brother and partner to Frank Kohanek, finished typing the last word of his report. What a stupid case, he thought as he sighed in relief and clicked send. Vernon Maslow was an idiot. His three times great-grandson's idiocy didn't say much for Prince Samuel's leadership capabilities. If someone couldn't even handle their own family, how could they handle a whole city's worth of potentially feuding Kindred clans? Sonny's derisive thoughts continued. Even his late brood-sister Alexandra had known better than to involve the police in any blatantly illegal activities. She knew Julian would have had to react and she would have not liked that reaction. Alexandra had hated the times Julian put any kind of controls on her. Maslow had not been subtle when offering his bribes and recruiting some of the newer recruits to act as his enforcers had not been appreciated. Julian had been furious when he'd found that several Brujah officers had been among Maslow's recruits - surprisingly, so had Cameron - or maybe it wasn't so surprising. Cameron was a far better Primogen than his predecessor, the late Brujah Primogen Eddie Fiori had been.

Sonny's lips curled upward into a thoughtful smile. At least the man appeared to care for and protect his clan and clan mates. A few years had passed before the Brujah had appreciated what their new Primogen was doing for them. Eddie had encouraged the clan, and especially his own get, to run wild. Cameron was an exponent of tough-love - he reined in his clan's excesses. There were no more young Brujah robbing gas stations and Mah Jong parlors under Cameron's leadership. In fact, there were very few of Eddie's get left amongst San Francisco's Brujah - They'd either died their final death or left the city. The man did like to claim he was neither brutal nor stupid.

Now, if Julian and Cameron could just put aside their differences enough to cooperate, Sonny would be a happy and contented kindred. As the Prince's eldest living childe, Sonny knew it would be all but impossible for his sire to forgive Cameron for extinguishing Julian's sire, and the former Prince, Archon, and impossible for Cameron to forgive the unjust extinguishment of his clan mates at Manzanita all those years ago. Sonny did hope they would be able to set aside their animosity for the good of the city's Kindred - not to mention the Masquerade. In many ways Cameron reminded Sonny of a Brujah version of his sire. Both Julian and Cameron had a passion for justice, both fiercely protected those they considered their own and neither of them were brutal or stupid. Each of them also knew that you did not become, much less remain, Prince of a City unless you could convince the clans you could be trusted with the power they gave you.

In spite of the fact both men were furious with each other, Sonny was more confident of his sire's ability to tolerate Cameron than he was with the Brujah's ability to tolerate Julian. Sonny's sire was older, and he was also determined to keep the peace. Julian was also Ventrue and well-versed in subsuming his temper to the needs and responsibilities of his position. As Prince of the City he did rule by the law and if Sonny's sire believed Cameron's continued existence was best for the city, then Julian would work with the man - it would be petty not to and whatever else Julian Luna was, he was very rarely petty.

The Ventrue Primogen's concerns over the Brujah Primogen's emotional control stemmed from the fact that Cameron was Brujah. The definition of a Brujah was emotional volatility. A Brujah had a much harder time learning to control their temper - and Cameron had been embraced for less than twenty years. Toussaint found it hard to believe the Brujah Primogen would not continue his schemes to get revenge on Julian.

Sonny shook his head. Enough retrospection, he told himself. He needed to clear his thoughts. His eyes danced with delight as he leaned back in his chair and thought of his partner Frank Kohanek. There was a broad smile on his face as he considered the events of the last three days. Sonny was well satisfied with Julian's answer to Frank's latest attempt to ignore Sonny's authority. Glancing to his left he saw his brood-brother was just finishing the man's own report. Sonny Toussaint gave himself a mental pat on the back and imagined his lips curving into a wickedly gleeful smile.

Fifteen minutes later, Sonny was tossing his car keys into Frank's outstretched hand.

"Where to Sonny," Frank asked as he put the car into gear and glanced behind to verify no one was behind the Nissan.

"Joseph's," Sonny said brightlyas, eyes forward, he stared serenely out the windshield in front of him. A slight smile flickered briefly across his lips when he heard Frank's barely audible sigh, "Oh, great!" Sonny's head swiveled to his left: Frank's fingers were beating a rapid, staccato rendition of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" on the steering wheel. "Frank - Is that "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" you're beating out on my steering wheel?" Curiosity in his tone, Sonny asked in mild bemusement, "I didn't know you were old enough to remember the Charlie Daniel's Band."

Sonny's checks ached with the effort to restrain the broad smile that was threatening to break out across his face. His Nissan Sentra four-door roared out of the parking lot before he could speak again. Frank was overreacting. Toussaint sat, relaxed in his seat as the car continued on its' way to both Sonny's and Julian's favorite tailor. In spite of the fact that Frank would wear the suit Julian had given him before the presentation to the Kindred of San Francisco that had signaled his brood-brother's release from childehood, the man still treated a trip to the tailors as if it were a combination of a visit to the dentist and the boogeyman. Sonny meant to do his best to alter that pattern.

Julian's eldest 'son' had been watching his 'brother' from the corner of his eye as Sonny tried to stay relaxed. Unfortunately, his head kept bouncing against the back of the seat every time they flew over the crest of one of San Francisco's innumerable hills. Damn, but Frank was tense - and all because of an impending trip to the tailor. Kohanek's attitude was really starting to irritate his partner. Julian and Frank aren't the only 'stubborn' ones in this family.

"Frank, slow down!" he snapped. "Thank you." Sonny sighed gratefully as the car slowed to a less spine-jarring pace. Rolling his head to the left he let it rest against the headrest as he noted Kohanek was watching him out the corner of the man's eye. "Find a place to pull over. We need to talk."

Well, that was without question or hesitation, he thought as Frank swerved into a nearby parking space and turned off the engine. Unbuckling his seatbelt, Sonny turned to face his partner's profile. The man was staring out the windshield, face and eyes forward, both hands still on the wheel.

"Frank … 'little brother', look at me," he coaxed. When his 'brother's' head slowly turned to look at him, Sonny Toussaint asked quietly, "Were you terrorized by a tailor in your cradle, Frank?" He did not hide his exasperation as he spoke. Sonny's right hand rose in response to Frank's reply.

"I know you're worried about IA thinking you're on the take if you get nice clothes, but Frank -honestly, they're not going to bother you - and not just because of Julian either. You make enough money to afford a decent suit or two. You've got a great stock portfolio and most of it was gained well before you were embraced. It's all well documented. Your parents weren't so poor that they didn't leave you a little something, and you've used what you were left and what you had saved to create a better and larger portfolio. You're frugal - that's well known too.

Pointing his right index finger at Frank in order to better emphasize his points, the intensity of Sonny's voice increased as he continued. "Now that you've stopped twitching every time you wear that suit you got from Julian: Yes, I'm talking about the Armani one, not that old polyester thing you got from Sears back when the Earth was young and Elvis still walked the land: Have you noticed how much better our interviews with the business and political elite go? Their staff doesn't turn us away at the door, or hide us away as soon as we walk through that door. We don't scream "cop" to anyone who walks through their door. In other words, we don't scare away their visitors. Appearances can be everything, Frank."

Over the years, Sonny had learned a great deal about patience from Julian. He was drawing on those lessons now as he nodded in response to Frank's comment. "Yes, Frank. No one has confessed just because we're wearing Armani, but it does get us through the door without a warrant or the threat of one, and being subtly well-dressed without being flashy will generally be taken as a sign of discretion and stability. Of course, it doesn't always work." Sonny kept nodding as Frank's comments kept coming. "Some people are jerks no matter what you do. That's why Senator Jacobs is now Prince Walter's ghoul.

"Prince Walter of D.C.," Sonny commented helpfully when he noticed the look of complete incomprehension on his partner's face. Frank was staring back at Sonny. His eyes were blinking slowly and his mouth was slightly open, the left side of his upper lip was curling up questioningly. "Oh, that idiot Mulder's boss," Sonny said briskly. I knew he'd remember that one. Frank will never forget the man who helped to provoke him into his 7-Eleven fiasco. None of Julian's childer ever forgot the first time they provoked their sire's wrath or, as Julian liked to put it: "When he had to perform one of the more unpleasant of his duties and obligations as their sire." Sonny smirked. "Skinner made Mulder into his ghoul too.

But…" leaning closer, he continued his lecture, "… sad as it may be, how you present yourself is as important with the middle class and above as it is when you're dealing with gang members and street people. It's just that you have to present yourself differently with each group and the clothes you wear are a part of the difference," Sonny said emphatically, his right index finger jerking forward with every point he made. "Clothing is one way people judge strength, status, and authority - It's a way to define yourself. If you dress like a used car salesman, people are going to treat you like a used car salesman." He leaned further forward until he could whisper in Frank's ear, a half-grin on his face as he confided, "They run as fast and as far away from them as they can get!" Laughing at the sour expression on his partner's face, Sonny Touissant, Ventrue Primogen, reached out and lightly smacked the side of Frank's head with the back of his hand.

"Seriously, Frank, unless you're trying to blend in with the gangs or the street people, a good suit is more likely to be a positive than a negative. You want to get ahead in the department … Don't you Frank?" At Kohanek's nod, Sonny continued, "Well then: If you want to get ahead, you need to not only act the part … you need to look it! You've already managed to convince Kwan and Captain Miller you're not the volatile cowboy-cop you used to be. Now you need to convince them you're able to move effectively in all layers of society and yeah, Frank, that involves dressing the part." He then patted Frank's cheek, "So deal with it 'little brother!' Now …," he paused, before saying nonchalantly, "… can we go to the tailor-shop, please?" Sonny turned back to face forward in his seat and, refastening his seat belt, he let his head fall back against the head rest, smiling as the car pulled smoothly into traffic.

It had been three days since Julian had decided he and Sonny should be joined at the hip and Frank Kohanek was waiting for the next shoe to drop. I wonder what my 'brother' has planned for 'us' now, he thought sardonically as he finished his report and hit send. Sonny hasn't come up with anything I can't stomach so far. Come to think of it, he never has. All he's done is try to stop me from some of what he considers against the best interest of either the Kindred or me. He frustrates me. Our sire released me: I'm supposed to know how to not endanger the Masquerade. I really should be able to make those kind of decisions on my own, but damned if Julian doesn't agree with Sonny whenever 'Mr. Primogen' and I disagree. Now I'm stuck at his house for another four days, following his orders, listening to the rest of the department commiserating with me about my sewer problems and how 'lucky' I am that my partner's spare room was available. My car needs the engine replaced too. I wonder if it was Sonny or Julian who thought that one up. Frank sighed as he stood up.

Lieutenant Kwan looked over toward two of his more effective detectives as he left his office for the day and calling out to them, said, Hey, Kohanek - Toussaint, the Captain wants you two to take the Deleray surveillance Monday." Walking toward the door, he stopped in front of them to say, "Sorry to hear about your car, Frank. It's a good thing you were already staying at Sonny's, at least you can share a car. See you Monday."

Frank snatched the car keys out of the air. He didn't mind driving his partner's car. The Sentra handled well and the suspension all but guaranteed a smooth ride. "Where to, Sonny?" he asked as he put the car into gear and glanced behind to verify no one was behind them. He couldn't keep the whispered, "Oh, great!" from passing his lips when he heard Sonny mentioning the name of the most prominent, and discrete, Kindred tailor in the city ... the favorite tailor of both his partner and their sire. Frank's right foot hit the gas as he backed out of the parking space and roared out onto the street.

I'm not hesitating and I'm not gonna question him. Nope, nope, nope, not gonna question him, Frank thought as his fingers unconsciously beat out a tattoo to "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Frank had grown up with a Country-Rock loving father who thought the Charlie Daniels Band was the greatest thing since sliced bread. "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was Frank's favorite song. Who couldn't love a song with a line like "You Son-of-a-bitch, I'm the best there's ever been."

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his partner's head bouncing against the head rest every time they flew over the crest of one of San Francisco's innumerable hills as Sonny's car sped toward Joseph's. Oops, Sonny wants me to slow down. Could my brood-brother and Primogen possibly be upset? I believe he is, Frank thought as he realized he was traveling a bit faster than he'd intended to. Now he wants me to pull over and 'talk', Oh joy - Frank saw an open space and quickly pulling into it, shut off the engine.

Unfastening his seat belt, he turned his head slowly to his right. Terrorized by a tailor? Frank mentally conceded a point to Sonny as he continued turning his head until he was staring, lips twitching, into his partner's slightly annoyed face.

"Sonny, I'm a detective - not the Chief of Police or the Commissioner. People will think I'm on the take if I start wearing Armani, or even worse, tailor-made clothing," he protested. "... Besides, I don't like being stuck with pins," Frank snapped impatiently.

Damn, Sonny's using logic against me. No fair 'big brother.' I have made some good investments and I do have a great portfolio. Frank was busy congratulating himself for his financial competence before the thought occurred to him that Julian's Ventrue blood running through his veins had changed him. OH. MY. GOD! I'm actually preening at Sonny's comments on my investments. I'm recognizing them as the complements that they are. I am a Ventrue.

As Frank was basking in his brood-brother's back-handed approval of his financial acumen, he realized he did value Sonny's opinion. His thoughts were getting too weird . He needed to lighten things up and there was one flaw in Sonny's argument. "Armani's not going to make someone confess, Sonny." Frank's tone was dry as he made the comment.

I probably am overreacting, but the clothes thing bores me. Who wants to stand around comparing fabrics, and getting measured, and coming back for fittings, and getting everything just right. My Sears suit saw me through Court appearances. Now he's talking about cheap suits and Elvis.

"Hey, Buddy, I was alive when Elvis was still in the building," Frank protested. "I was maybe six or seven at the time … but I was still alive.

Who's he talking about now? Frank's face went blank and his mouth hung slightly open as his left upper lip started to curl upward. He wondered if his face was showing the incomprehension he felt. Who, or what, the hell is Sonny talking about? Julian is Prince here and his sire, Archon, was the Prince before him. Who's Prince Walter? Ah … why didn't he say that asshole Mulder's boss.

Frank Kohanek remembered Fox Mulder all too well. The annoyingly insistent FBI agent had made a thorough nuisance of himself. Frank snorted … and his sire thought he couldn't take no for an answer. Compared to Fox Mulder, Frank knew he was the soul of rationality and prudence - even before Julian had embraced him. He still hadn't forgiven the persistent pest for separating him from his sire when Frank had been too new a Kindred to be able to maintain his own emotional control. Between the idiocies of Assistant DA McMasters and 'Special Agent' Mulder, Frank's mental shielding had been in shreds by the time he and Sonny had responded to a robbery call at one of the local 7-Elevens on the way back to Julian's home. He could admit it now, at least to himself - He had needed Julian.

His sire could have stopped his frenzy before it started. Hell, Frank wouldn't have been able to leave the car when he saw the perp about to shoot his partner. Julian would have stopped him before Frank could do more than think about joining Sonny. Kohanek would rather have had his sire explain how dangerous his intervention, at that time, could be, both to himself and the Kindred, than the later 'explanation' he had been given.

Sonny had done his best to stop his partner, but Frank hadn't …, with a mental wince he realized, he hadn't trusted Sonny enough to be able to deal with the homicidal little creep. Kindred life was complicated and at times perilous. Sonny was the Primogen of their clan and Frank had to concede that his partner had more experience as a Kindred than he did. As it was, Sonny had had to make several attempts to talk him down. Julian had been furious when he leaned of the incident. Frank's sire had certainly made sure his newest childe had understood the importance of protecting the Masquerade - and the cost, to all concerned, of breaking it.

Enough retrospection! Frank mentally shook himself out of his reverie. What was his partner saying now - A used car salesman? Ow - that hurt. He wasn't that bad - was he? Frank nodded in agreement with his friend's comment. Of course, he wanted to get ahead in the department. With a sigh, he turned back to the wheel, shifted the car into gear, and pulled smoothly into traffic.

Before opening the tastefully, and discretely, inscribed door, Frank turned to his partner and, in a gesture of surrender, his palms facing forward, held his hands level with his shoulders, and said, "O.K. Sonny, you convinced me. I do want to be more than a detective. I'll get a new suit and I'll even throw in a new shirt and tie: Just don't think I'm going to be coming here often," Frank warned, before grinning as he held the door to the dreaded tailor shop open and waved his friend through. As Sonny walked through, he thought in satisfaction, Frank's in a much better mood. Whether he realizes it or not, he is becoming more Ventrue. Every time I bring up the subject of status and clothing … Sonny laughed to himself. Only a Ventrue would have perked up the way he did when I complimented his financial acumen.

Sonny Toussaint sat back on his heels and contemplated the expanse of newly laid tile in his entryway. Finished at last! As he looked across his foyer, he saw an expanse, small as it was, of maroon and grey terra cotta. I'm glad Frank suggested the grey with the maroon. The maroon by itself would have overwhelmed the browns and tans, he thought as he turned to look through the rounded arch behind him at the southwestern colors decorating his living room.

Turning back to his foyer, he saw Frank place his hands on his thighs and sit back on his heels, before grinning at Sonny and saying, with a grateful sigh, "Looks nice - doesn't it. Would you like to do the patio next? It wouldn't take that long … maybe, only another day. We're off again on Wednesday … we could start now and finish then."

Sonny Toussaint blinked. His 'brother' certainly knew how to keep someone unbalanced. It was hard to stay annoyed with the man for long. Just when he'd exasperated you the most, he'd come out with something like this. Frank Kohanek truly was a little shit, albeit an extremely thoughtful one. His partner's offer was tempting, but he didn't want to impose on the man's good nature. He wanted his brood-brother, friend, and partner to follow his orders. It wasn't as if he gave a lot of them; but when he did give an order, it wasn't because he liked to hear himself talk. Sonny wasn't looking for free labor, although he might take Frank up on his offer later - if his friend was still interested in a few weeks.

"Thanks for the offer, Frank, but I think I'll wait on the patio for a few weeks. In the meantime, let's get cleaned up," Sonny said as his face lit up with a broad smile. "There's several bottles from that new micro-brewery waiting for us in my kitchen. If you still want to help with my patio in a few weeks, I'd be glad to have you."

An hour and a half later, Frank and Sonny were comfortably ensconced in two of the Ventrue Primogen's deck chairs, enjoying Sonny's exceptional micro-brew find as they watched the Hunter's Moon hanging over San Francisco Bay. Frank sighed in contentment as he took another swallow from the large glass tankard clutched in his right fist. Holding the glass up to the moonlight, he watched the orange glow blend with the amber coloring of the beer.

"This is great, Sonny! Where did you find it? It's the best brand you've found so far."

He said Shasta Mist Brewery. Damn. That's one more reason for me to be grateful for Julian's embrace. Both my sire and my brood-brother have good taste in liquor. Julian's wine cellar is truly exceptional and he has no qualms about sharing a glass or three with his childer, especially since he considers the appreciation, and discrimination, of fine liquors as an important part of a Ventrue education. Sonny had chosen to specialize in beers and ales, and Julian's eldest wasn't shy about sharing either. Life was good.

Leaning back in his red, wrought-iron deck chair, Sonny turned his head to look across the intricately patterned wrought-iron side-table separating the two men as he watched Frank's obvious enjoyment of his beer. He's developed a better palate since our sire embraced him. He used to think Mick Dark was the highlight of beer drinking satisfaction and that Gallo Rose was a fine wine.

Frank's definitely in a mellow mood, Sonny thought with amusement as he watched his friend's eyes as they followed the shifting patterns of orange and amber light reflecting through the tankard's glass sides. Toussaint's lips curled upward into a gentle, satisfied curve. At least, my brood-brother's never mistrusted my selections or judgments in regard to liquor. He likes my beer.

His slight smile broaden into a wide grin as he said, "Shasta Mist Brewery is one of my better finds." Sonny raised his tankard of Shasta Mist Station House No. 4 Ale to his lips and swallowed several ounces before carefully placing the tankard on the table between them. He then stretched his legs before him, crossing them at the ankles and rested his arms on the arms of the chair, leaving his head lying relaxed against the back of the reclining chair. Sonny's attention was divided between the beauty of the full moon floating over the Bay, and Frank. The weather was perfect. A faint hint of chill was in the air, but it was still perfectly comfortable. They'd recently fed. Life was good. His partner was cooperating and had actually managed to follow every directive Sonny had given during the last week. Frank was actually paying attention to what he said, instead of standing there and letting the words take a trip through his head via his ear canals. Maybe the worst was over and his partner's mistrust would fade.

Now, the man was laughing and describing that idiot thief they'd brought into the station on Friday. Sonny found himself laughing along with Frank. What a reflection on the state of modern education. The fool couldn't even read well enough to know the name of the group he planned to use his pick-pocketing skills on.

Sonny and Frank had been the lucky two to get the call. They'd had to call the Fire Department to pry the hapless idiot out of the Convention Center ductwork. 'Mr.' Martins would have to have chosen the National Sheriffs and Deputies Association's Annual Convention to practice his trade. The bemused detective shook his head in disbelief. Their thief had such a poor grasp of the written English word he hadn't had a clue as to who he was stealing from. Ah …, this Johnny definitely couldn't read. Toussaint's laughter died down to snickers. Frank was in a good mood. It was time to talk. His mouth opened.

"Yeah, that was fun, especially when you told the Lieutenant you didn't know "why Johnny couldn't read." I don't think I've ever since Kwan crack up like that before and you said it with a straight face too. I'm impressed partner." He paused before laughing and saying, "I think Kwan was impressed as well, and speaking of impressed … You've also impressed me for the last week. Thank you," he said sincerely.

I know you've found it hard to trust me with more than your life in the last five years." Sonny reached for his beer and took a hefty swallow before continuing. "You were my partner, Frank, and now you're my brood-brother as well. I was, am, and will be loyal to you, but we both know that my, and your, first loyalty, is, and should be, to our sire, and Prince: In other words, to Julian." Sonny was firmly unapologetic.

Gazing across his tankard of Station House No. 4, Frank watched his friend speak. Sonny's earnest concern was endearing. Kohanek slid down into a more comfortable position on the lounge chair. Once Sonny had finished, Frank spoke. "So, 'big' brother, since I'm the 'little brother' in this relationship, does that mean I get to bring all the questions I'm too embarrassed to ask Julian to you?" Frank looked expectantly toward his brood-brother and Primogen.

Sonny raised his tankard to his lips and took a thoughtful sip of the contents. What's he thinking of now? "Sure, Frank, what do you want to know?"

Frank waited until his brood-brother had the glass to his lips and was starting to swallow before saying, with all the earnestness Sonny had just complimented him on, "How do you avoid looking constipated when you're about to shift forms?"

Ale flew from Sonny's lips as he started laughing hysterically. Barely managing to set the rest of his tankard of ale back on the table to his right, he fell back in the chair howling, his head bouncing off the back. Damn. He had the most entertaining brood-brother in the city … and one of the most irreverent. As his laughter started to die down, Sonny noticed the blood tears running down his face. Something soft and wet hit the side of his head. Automatically grabbing the object, he realized he was holding a warm towel. Frank must have gone into the kitchen. Quickly wiping his streaming eyes and face, Sonny threw the towel back to his smiling brood-sib.

"That's quite the gift for charming informality you have there, 'little brother.'" Sonny grinned at his laughing friend.

"I try, Sonny. I really try …" Frank grinned back as he raised his glass in salute "… but I really would like to know if there's some way to avoid looking constipated. It's so undignified."

He means it, Sonny realized with surprise. He's either more Ventrue than I thought, or he always had Ventrue traits. Come to think of it, there's always been a strong streak of control-freak about Frank. 'Big brother' leaned to his right. "Well, little brother," he confided in a loud whisper, "you can try to think serene thoughts."

"Does it work, Sonny?" Frank leaned to his left until his head was almost touching Sonny's.

"Not for most of Julian's line. We're a pretty serious bunch. Alexandra's the only one who managed it. So you do have a chance, Frank." Sonny said dryly. That was a heavy sigh. Damn. "Have you tried checking those books you were so fond of back when you first found out about the Kindred or, you could try checking with Daedalus. If the Nosferatu can't find information for you, it doesn't exist."

"I can't go to Daedalus!" Frank sounded horrified as he jerked his head away from Sonny's and, sitting back in his chair, turned to stare at the Ventrue Primogen. His eyebrows were raised almost to his hairline and his eyes were wide as he said, "It's embarrassing enough just thinking of asking Julian about it. I can't go to someone outside the family!"

Sonny was having a hard time keeping a straight face. This meant a lot to Frank. Sonny had worked too hard to get Kohanek to trust him. He didn't want to hurt his partner's feelings, but this was funny. I won't tell him the specifics, but I must remember to thank Julian for providing me with such an entertaining brood-brother. Frank doesn't even realize how much he's telling me. You really did want that embrace, didn't you little brother? Sonny's eyes narrowed as he indulged in some shrewd speculation. He wanted Julian to be the one to do it too. The little shit! Frank's not stupid - no matter how much he acts like it. I'll bet his subconscious was working overtime here. I can't see him admitting it to himself - at least not before the act. He had to have realized how bad a combination we would have made if I'd been the one to sire him. I'd never have been able to been able to get the cooperation out of him that Julian has.

Frank's a surprisingly thoughtful addition to our family as well. He's actually worried about Julian's feelings and our sire's position in the community. He's right. The whole city would be watching every time Julian shifted and laughing too. Sonny pressed his lips firmly together and desperately pretended he was analyzing the composition of the liquid in his glass. He longed for a mental scrub brush to wash from his mind's eye the image of Julian's face when the whole city started discussing his sire's shapeshifting techniques.

Frank was a loyal childe, and he did appear to have taken all of their sire's many lectures on the appropriate time and place to exercise his 'charming gift for informality' to heart. Constipation, Damn! His lips quivered. There was a Conclave on Thursday, all the other Primogen would be there - and Sonny was going to have to keep a straight face.

Finishing the last swallow of his ale, Frank set the empty tankard on Sonny's patio table and rose to his feet. Sonny could use a refill too. 'Big Brother's' so busy trying not to bust out laughing, he'll never realize I'm gone until more of that Station House No. 4 starts pouring into his tankard.

"I'll be back with more beer." Sonny barely registered the words before Frank was back with a pitcher full of ale. A wide and engaging grin was on Kohanek's face as he held the pitcher invitingly over Sonny's glass. "Frank …," Sonny looked up and laughed, "… You don't need to stand there miming a butler." Frank's head was tilted to his left, he had a towel over his left arm, and his eyebrows were bouncing up and down. The man's expression screamed - inquiry. "Just say 'want some more beer, oh great, wonderful and wise big brother of mine.'" Sonny's eyes were wide open and blinking slowly. He was being careful to keep his expression and voice earnest.

"Want some more beer, oh great, wonderful and wise big brother of mine?" Frank's lips were twitching as he parroted Sonny's comment.

"Why, yes, little brother, I would love …" Sonny started to say solemnly. "Oh, … just pour the beer, you goof," he laughed.

Waiting until after Frank had refilled his own tankard and was settled comfortably into the other lounge chair, Sonny raised his freshly filled tankard and said, "To Family, and to Regularity." Life was good, he thought as he watched in contentment, snickering as Frank collapsed into helpless laughter. Gotcha, 'little brother.'