Daniel awoke with a cry. Damnable nightmares. He could barely remember this one. Could have sworn that it had started off as quite a good dream before it had soured. He shakily brushed his hair back from his forehead. He started when he felt the bed shift under someone else's weight.

"Alexander? What are you doing in my bed?"

"We're changing the rituals." His friend informed him in a voice that held all the rage and inflexibility of death.


"We'll have to work twice as hard to make up for the wasted time, but I am sure we can get it all accomplished before that infernal thing comes here." Alexander sat up, scowling at the room.

Daniel trembled. He had never seen the older man enraged. It was terrifying. "How are we changing the rituals? What kinds of changes? Weren't they always to stave off the shadow? To hide me from it?"

Alexander gave him a look.

Daniel dropped his eyes, started to worry a loose thread in the blanket. "You don't have to tell me. I am sure I wouldn't understand it anyways."

He yelped as a strong hand yanked his chin up, then his mind skittered to a halt as withered lips closed over his with a ferocity he had never known in his twenty-eight years.

"I'll be damned." Alexander snarled as he pulled away, "If I give you to that smug, bastard, thing!" He got out of bed, reached down and traced with one finger Daniel's cheekbone, following down the curve of his face to the edge of his lips. "I have been a fool, little one. Age and loneliness and despair have made my mind slow." His expression gentled as Daniel looked up at him in an amazement almost akin to fear. "Just because you were born human doesn't mean you have to remain one. Then we can be..." He trailed off, eyes seemingly mesmerized by his thumb running along Daniel's lower lip.

"We can be what?" Daniel prompted, the slightest hint of a quaver in his voice.

Alexander's mouth twitched into a crooked smile. He leaned down, Daniel at first flinched away, but then held still as Alexander kissed him again, gentler than the first one, lingering. Alexander rested his full weight against Daniel, bearing the younger man down onto the bed. The baron pulled away, only to come back when Daniel made a small sound of loss.

Finally, he flung himself out of Daniel's embrace-Daniel was quite surprised to realize his hands had crept up to clutch at the baron's shirt-and stalked to the door muttering about needing to make preparations for the changed rituals.

He paused, hand resting on the doorknob. "I didn't mean for this, but now that I am committed to this contest I will win it. I think it might be the sweetest victory I will ever claim."

The smile he threw over his shoulder at Daniel was a thing made up of possession and madness. "You'll dine with me tonight after the ceremony. I made you a promise last night and I find myself fully intending to keep it." His eyes glittered as he gazed over Daniel's sleep rumpled appearance. "And we won't be interrupted this time." He left.

Daniel laid back down, stunned. His fingers traced over his lips. What was that all about? Alexander hadn't promised him anything last night. Something stirred at the very edge of his mind. He hadn't, had he?