For disclaimer, see chapter 1
I am sitting at my desk, still holding the receiver in my hand, still watching the phone in disbelief. I just received a phone call that made a big lump of ice form in the region of my stomach. I can hear the blood rush in my head, and I don’t know what to think. In fact, I cannot think at all, or at least not hold on to my thoughts, just like everything else they presently have a tendency to slip away.
Maybe it’s the voice that worries me most. It is this smug, jovial voice of a person who is used to talking to people, and used to talking people into telling him things, and above all, used to using that talk against you with a warm smile. He is a reporter all right. I really believe he is. But, what is more, he is a blackmailer. And he’s just blackmailed me.
It did come as a shock. I had almost forgotten about that part of my past, and now it all comes back to me, all fresh as new. And, Jeez, he knows so much of it: about the boy, about the parents, about the report and all that. Of course, he doesn’t know all of it, and he obviously wasn’t interested in my point of view, the fact that I got involved with a fifteen year-old when I was nineteen is quite sufficient, thank you very much. The sum he demands for is silence is ridiculously high. I’ve already signed the contract for the house. I don’t know what to do.
But I will have to pay, because if this story appears in one of the newspapers, my career in the States is over. Pedophile working as pediatrician, what a hilarious header! The fact that I didn’t know about the boy’s age (believing he was well over 21, which he looked; things like this do exist), and that the whole case was settled without the court having to intervene, is of no importance at all. The fact stands for itself. The more I think about it, the worse does it get.
If I tell Daedie about it, he will make sure that this reporter won’t live another night, let alone live to post his article. I know he’s killed people before, and he knows my opinion on this topic. What is more, I wouldn’t want to be involved in murder, nor would I want Daedie to kill for me. The thought alone is absurd. Especially now that Daedalus has just left the prison of light, the mere thought of getting him involved in anything like this makes me feel sick.
I need to get the money, and pay I will. Maybe I’ll convince my beloved Nosferatu afterwards that it’s all for the best. Maybe he’ll promise to leave the man unharmed, although in private I wish this guy would get paid for his atrocious plotting in quite a different currency… That thought now is absurd, too, but it gives me some sort of primal satisfaction.
How shall I live through this? How shall I manage my daily routine, now that the old wounds have started festering again? Why does the past never cease to catch up with me?
I wish I could die.
I will drag myself through the day instead, hoping for Daedie to turn up soon.
Three days have passed now, and the money has been transferred as arranged. The crook never shows up in person, of course, and although I would be too happy to face him and give him some word about his behaviour, it is nevertheless good that he stays away from the hospital. The chance to stumble across Daedie would be much too high, and we can’t risk that. Not that the guy knows what he’s missing, of course.
It was all the money I could shell out, now that the house is bought and the second rate for it will soon have to be paid. I am working in a kind of trance during daytime, and spending the better part of the night with my beloved Nosferatu, yet I believe he doesn’t suspect anything. And I can but hope that my compliance didn’t make things worse. I couldn’t afford another sum that high. Tonight, Daedie will be late, and l have to catch up with my paperwork. While I’m busily shuffling through the files, the phone rings, and I just know it is that reporter again.
It’s him. He wants more.
Now, I am at a complete loss. There’s only one chance: In spite of my former reluctance, I’ll have to ask Daedie for some money. I am sure he won’t hesitate to lend me as much as I need, but I still don’t know where to start. What is more, I must not tell him in any way what the money is for. I feel like the little boy who broke the cookie jar.
We are sitting on my sofa, snuggling against each other, without a word. I don’t feel like sex today, and Daedalus is obviously happy with whatever intimacy he can get. He just can’t take his hands off me, or his lips, right at the moment, and inhaling my scent must be like a drug for him, the way he’s snuffling his way up and down my neck. Slowly, I feel inclined to change the topic, or, more precisely, to drop the topic I wanted to talk about and to go on with our non-verbal communication that usually leads to a greater exchange of caresses and body liquids. But I must force myself to talk about my problem. He’ll find out eventually, so why not tell him now. Reluctantly, I put my hands on his face and make him look at me. "Wait... I must ask you a favour."
Daedie throws me a glance, then goes on working his way up my collarbone, answering with his lips to my skin, "Of course."
I still don’t know how to start, and hi administrations are highly distracting. It’s like jumping from a fluffy hot tub into cold water. Just to jump. "Uhm… You don’t happen to have a certain surplus this month?" I name the sum.
"Is Julian not paying you enough?" I hear Daedie’s muffled voice.
"Julian? Wha…" For a moment, I am on quite the wrong track. Julian, paying me for… the blood doll business…? But that isn’t what Daedie intended to say, is it. "Oh. Well, yes, certainly." I can feel that I’m blushing. "I… I… can’t tell…" I grin wildly, making a complete fool of myself, and I’m glad he can’t see my face.
Daedie won’t miss a beat. "Of course I can give you the money."
"Great." I give a sigh of relief. "I’ll repay you as soon as possible."
Now, Daedie looks up at me and smiles. "You know that the best tactics to beat a blackmailer is to blackmail them."
For a moment, words fail me. Then it slowly dawns on me that he has known it all the time, and was just patiently waiting for me to tell him, but if this is the case, of course, the man must be in great danger. The thoughts storm through my mind, racing with each other.
Daedalus patiently turns to his former activity again and adds, talking into my skin: "Nevertheless, I will lend you the money."
"You’re the wisest, best, and most beautiful being I’ve ever met," I exclaim, overly dramatically due to relief, hugging him close, almost choking him (if that sort of thing was possible), and gladly prepare to let the topic fall in favour of nicer things.
Daedi submits to my intimacies, nevertheless continues, "I doubt that. Now will you tell me the rest of the story?"
I feel my heart fall. Had I thought a moment ago that he is in the know and everything will be fine, I am obviously mistaken. But then again, if he doesn’t know it all, there’s still the big chance that this nasty reporter of mine won’t survive another night if I tell him now. I brace myself and say as solemnly as possible in my momentary position: "Promise me something."
"Anything." Daedie has turned his interest towards my hands now, and fusses over kissing my palm. Strange, but quite stimulating. And quite distracting.
"Oh. Good. Listen... Please promise me not to kill him."
He halts for a second. "Why should I want to kill him?"
"Why?" As I had been convinced this is the only way they deal with matters like that, I am at a loss again. "Oh, but I thought…"
He helps me out, reading my thoughts, "You thought that because I am Kindred this is the only means at my disposal to resolve a conflict?"
"Why, yes," I blurt out. Then I calm down, growing aware of my own narrow-mindedness. "Sorry. So, you won’t kill him."
"And how long have you known?"
"Since about fifteen minutes ago." He smiles at me smugly.
"I don’t understand…" As usual, I allow myself to think aloud. "Oh. I see. You’ve been rambling through my mind again."
His smile broadens. "You’ve been shouting it rather loudly, I couldn’t ignore it."
"I bet I did," I agree, full of relief. "You’re right. And above all, beautiful." I have to add this, because it simply is true. He is beautiful to me, and he’s always been.
Of course, his opinion on the matter differs greatly. "Callum."
I explain, "You remind me of Ganesha, the Indian god. Do you know him? He has an elephant head, greyish skin, and big ears. And he is beautiful. He is the god of the tradesmen, wanderers, and artists." I go on a bit babbling about this newly found imago of his, until I realize that he has ceased caressing me, and simply gapes at me.
Like most of the times when my big Nosferatu friend is deeply stirred, he remains silent, staring into nothingness. I know I won’t convince him of my words, and yet he knows that I believe in what I say. I share the silence for a moment, and then clear my throat, coming to a decision – and changing the topic. "That guy… He’s a reporter."
Again, Daedie surprisingly fast recovers from his reverie. "Really. Which paper?"
"The San Francisco Times. But I don’t know his name. At least, I don’t think the name he gave me is his real name… Daedie, look, he knows things about my past… Things I didn’t tell even you."
"Your secrets are your own, and they should remain so," he answers stiffly. "This man is behaving dishonourably if he doesn’t respect that."
"Yeah, honour, great thing. Maybe I don’t deserve better."
Before he can retort anything, I engulf him in a bear hug and finally tell him all about it. Daedalus listens intently, it is clear that he had no clue up to now, and when I’ve finished my little story, his expression is quite stern. "Leave this man to me, and don’t pay."
Fighting back the panic that’s about to rise again, I ask: "You won’t harm him in any way?"
Insufficient. And sufficient for another wave of panic. "Daedie, please."
His stern expression turns into a mild one. "I know the man who owns the paper he is working for."
I was a bit slow to catch on, but finally I understand and give a soft laugh. "It’s Julian, isn’t it," I say.
And I'm right: Julian again. I wonder whether this guy owns the whole city, or only the best parts of it. Daedalus leaves me shortly after our talk, because there are some things to be settled now. I trust he will not harm the man, but he will talk to Julian about the further proceedings. I don’t know why I am so damn protective about this scoundrel who has already relieved me of all the money I have, but it has probably all to do with morale and integrity. The other thought, the lurking one, is that Julian is behind all that. It’s a mean thought, but I can’t help having it.
After all, it sounds just too easy now, Daedalus giving in to all I say, taking care of the matter, talking to Julian and so forth. I’ll have to find out if there’s a "big scheme", sooner or later, or if I’m just a lucky guy. I’ll have to thank Julian for his help, if things develop like Daedalus promised they will. That implies that there will be a second date with my Latin Lover Prince. Well, at least, it’s a good reason for meeting him again. Remembering our first night together, I’m all anticipation.
It’s time for the next move, too. Dr. McKay is on his way.
"I can't have one of my reporters breaking the law and blackmailing upstanding citizens," Julian, predictably, told me. "He'll be out of a job and out of this city before the end of the week."
I inclined my head in gratitude and took my leave, thanking the gods that our relationship is so different from that of other Kindred and their princes. No mentioning of any debt owed, no condition, just help asked and given in response to necessity. Now Callum may rest easily.
Julian Luna truly is an amazing individual. In spite of his low opinion of my Callum, he never hesitated when I brought the matter to his attention. It may, of course, be that as owner of the paper in question he simply can't tolerate such unseemly conduct among his employees, but I suspect he may be overcoming his prejudices and be beginning to see Callum as I do.
The thought is both calming and disturbing.
Even though the fact remains that Julian is emphatically heterosexual, there is the growing fear that I could easily lose Callum to him if he ever put his mind to it. Julian always gets what he wants, whom he wants. If he ever wanted my Callum, I wouldn't stand a chance.
Giving in to my predilection for self-torture, I sit down at my desk to look into the small mirror situated next to it.
The sight that greets me is, admittedly, not quite as horrendous as the reflection I saw in the underground lake on Crete all those centuries ago. Gone are the scales and the horn-like protuberances on my forehead, the reddish sores all over my body. Time and alchemy have slowly formed my face and form into something I can look at without feeling disgust, but some aspects still resist all my attempts of changing them. Deep-set eyes that look black and lifeless in this dim light; gaunt, angular features, a grotesquely enlarged, bald head and ridiculous ears, grey skin, pale lips, monstrous teeth – compared with Julian's handsome, even features, his smile, his charm, his beautiful body, it doesn't take a genius to guess whom Callum would choose. Surely, it's merely a matter of time before this dream will come to an end.
I look over to the chest that holds my alchemical equipment. Maybe it's time for another treatment. If I can further reduce even one aspect of the Nosferatu curse, it may buy me more time with Callum.
But my last attempt showed me that my hair growth formula is still far from perfect; cartilage reconstruction is tricky and usually requires several attempts to achieve satisfactory results, and bone regrowth is a time consuming and painful process which would completely put me out of commission for a least three nights. All of this doesn't take into account the setback I usually suffer before a true equilibrium between alchemy and blood is achieved, and those consequences tend to leave me weak and irritable and of no use to anyone.
No. I don't have time for this. I have a house to rebuild.
With that thought in mind, I turn the mirror away and begin to compile a list of things I'll need during the first step. There's a DIY store nearby that sells both plants and construction materials that'll receive a visit from me before the night is out.
This time, Julian picks me up with his car; that is, a limousine with dark tinted windows, driven by a chauffeur, is waiting in the side-street by the hospital, and Julian is sitting in the rear, patiently waiting for me to join him. From this point of view, I could easily get used to luxury, had there not been this strange episode with some kind of gangster boss back in my "then" days; a memory that cautions me that I shouldn’t make the same mistake twice, especially not "now."
He smiles at me this special semi-smile of his, and although we are being watched by the driver, he almost answers my embrace. I am both perplexed and pleased about this change of demeanour, as showing feelings of friendship hasn’t been an essential part of the Julian I’ve known before. And, what is more, he looks as cute as ever, especially when he is smiling. "Cute" is an attribute he would probably never allow anyone to utter, not even me; although I believe he thinks low enough of me to take it for granted, just because I can’t help thinking it…
So, we are sitting here, the car is comfy, the guy is great, this one here is looking his best, too, and everything is just fine. Julian looks at me expectantly, still smiling his enigmatic smile. I smile back. "So? Where to, my Prince?"
This evokes a little laugh. "I thought we were going out today. Isn’t that what you wanted us to do?"
I feel that I’m blushing, and in order to prevent myself from going sissy again, I dig up the most male part of my personality, leaning back and giving Julian the McKay Stare. "You’re right, Julian. And that’s what we’re gonna do." While racking my brains where I expected us to go, I hear myself rattling on, "It seems we’re both in for black tie, so… take us somewhere expensive. And then I’d like to go dancing. And then maybe you could show me the Haven. Daedalus has told me about it, and I’m dying to get to know your personal Elysium."
I halt. Julian, who has meanwhile signalled the driver to get going, is now watching me with another kind of smile, one that tells me that his majesty is highly amused. "My personal… Elysium. Yes, Callum. Why not." He eyes me from top to toe, for one long precious moment, maybe out of habit, before adding, "We have a lot to talk about, don’t we."
I slowly realize what I said, and before he can add anything else, I add, "I didn’t mean the state of perfect happiness after death, it’s only a word Daedalus told me about. Elysium; well, it’s just a word, eh?" Listening to myself, I grow aware that I’m digging myself in even deeper, but I can’t stop now. "I mean, not just a word, of course, and talking about perfect happiness, well, that is something we’ve already had, if I’m not mistaken." I feel hot now. I'm talking way too much.
The corners of Julian’s mouth are twitching, but I still can’t make out in which way. So, maybe he understands I’m not being serious, or maybe he is just entertained by my helpless babbling. I try a last stand. "Julian, your pose doesn’t help me. Look, the whole situation is still new to me, being immortal is still new to me, and looking at you like this, sitting next to you like this, well, it all just reduces me to some kind of… rabbit. Sorry."
Now he smiles at me openly, and I am relieved to find no scorn. He bends forward for a moment, scanning me like a bird of prey, before he leans back again, slightly nodding to himself. "I understand, Callum McKay. You may rest assured that I have no intention to reduce you to anything, especially not anything of the rodent kind." I can see he is enjoying himself greatly. "May I suggest we go to Tassilo’s first. The choice of the dance floor, though, will be yours. And then… we’ll see."
With this, my humble self is left speechless, and we go to the most secluded and expensive restaurant in the whole area. Apart from the fact that everybody seems to know Julian, and that we get a very good table (although I recall that a table in this restaurant has to be booked at least half a year in advance) and that everybody seems to take it for granted that Julian is going out with a guy, and that all this is just a bit too posh for my taste – apart from all those facts it’s still too good to be true. And the lad is so full of himself he’s almost floating.
I sit down next to him and shake my head in disbelief. After the appropriate questioning glance from Julian’s side, I answer, "You’ve planned all this meticulously, or else I can only conclude that you can read minds."
"There has been a bit of planning on my side, and I can indeed read minds, to be honest," he replies, "But don’t overestimate the significance of our meeting, Callum. May I remind you that I am an important member of this city, which implies a lot of business dinners. I am at this place every week, and this table is reserved on a regular base. You wanted something expensive, and this is your lucky day. No romance. No special treatment."
"Aw, Julian, you’re tough," I say, adding in my mind, ‘Don’t I deserve a special treatment, just a little bit?’
He shows his half-smile again. "Had you become my childe, I would think differently. But the way it is, you should be aware that I tolerate our meetings out of curiosity, nothing more."
I feel the heat grow in my stomach, even before the first course arrives. "Tolerate, Julian? Just tolerate? Excuse me, but our last… meeting looked quite a bit more than just a… what? a kind of business dinner. And could it not be, Mister Luna, that you just like to spend an evening with me, maybe even like to share some nice… experiences, like the things we did?" I’m angry now, and confused, and afraid of what will become of this.
Julian looks at me as if he’s just grown aware of his mistake, cocking his head here and there, slowly making up his mind what to say next. Finally, he lowers his glance and utters, "I am sorry that this evening has taken a direction neither of us was prepared for. Maybe we should call it a day."
Before he can stand up, I close my hand over his. "Wait, Julian." My anger blows over as fast as it had come, and suddenly I am afraid of losing him. To my surprise, he remains seated, and doesn’t even pull back his hand. "Look, I’m sorry," I continue. "I didn’t mean to spoil it." The waiter approaches, and I dutifully take my hand away just in time. Julian sends him on another round, with the excuse that we haven’t chosen yet, but of course I can't put my hand back onto his. Feeling that I still haven’t lost him up, I go on, "I don’t know how we came to this point. Let’s start again. All I wanted to say is how grateful I am for your help with that reporter, and how nice it is to be with you. Everything else can wait until we are some place else, where the situation isn’t so damn formal and we can talk more… freely. Please, Julian."
He shakes his head laughing quietly, and I take it the evening is saved, after all.
We don’t talk much over the meal, just like the last time we met. I notice that he isn’t hungry for mortal food today, or else he doesn’t want to strain himself with all the stuff that won’t be of much use to him, anyway. I wonder whether he’s hungry for something else… He must have seen the flicker in my eyes, and his glance tells me that he is. I smile softly, turning our quiet conversation into something like a flirt. Then he breaks the spell in order to claim the bill, and I remind myself to be patient.
Back in the car, I ask, "Where is it you usually go dancing?"
"I don’t go dancing."
I laugh, and giving in to my suddenly folly mood I try to imitate Bela Lugosi, declaring: "I do not drink… vine… And I do not go… dauncing… I just listen to zer musick of zer night and vatch ozzers tvist zeir ankles."
Julian joins the laughter. "But it is true," he says. "If you want to go to a disco, feel free."
"Don’t tell me you don’t know how to dance."
"I do. The classical range, waltz, two-step, tango, and the like."
"I will drink wine, though. But I’ll… vatch."
"You’ll vatch." I realize we’re flirting again. As this is one of those rare situations I intend to enjoy up to the last bit, I gulp down any smart comment on watching other guys dance, and dare trail Julian’s jaw line with my fingertips, just a bit. He shakes his head again, still smiling, catches my hand and won’t let go for another precious little moment.
But instead of doing something reasonable like kissing it or at least stroking it or something like that, he simply puts it back on my knee and turns to tell the driver where to go. We go to the club I mentioned in the restaurant, wisely omitting the fact that it’s a gay bar. Nevertheless, Julian looks quite relaxed up to the moment when we sit down in one of the corners. Only then he turns to look at me. "There’s no women in here."
I grin back. "Nope, there’s no women."
His eyes narrow, just a bit. "What’s this kind of club, then?"
"I thought you knew," I reply, playing the innocent. "It’s a gay club."
He hesitates, and stands up again, but instead of running away he only takes off his tie, slips out of his jacket, and leans back, obviously enjoying the whole thing. It’s my turn to stare. He looks at me with professional naiveté, then grins mischievously. "You wanted to dance. Have a go, Dr McKay. I’ll have a vine and vatch. "
I am too surprised to feel rebellious any more, and the thought of Julian watching me on the dance floor is quite stimulating, too. What is more, he doesn’t only watch me, but he scans the whole dance floor, and it doesn’t take much to understand that this is his personal salad bar. But of course, it makes perfect sense: Julian obviously realizes that the choice of his victims has just doubled in size. It’s not what I had in mind, but to him it must be quite some prospect. Suddenly, one of the guys is standing next to him, and Julian actually gets up. I feel a burst of jealousy in my guts, and am by his side in an instant.
Fortunately, the guy knows me, and without a word turns to go to another table, throwing me an almost apologetic glance. Julian, though, is not amused. "Why, Callum, I was not aware that I am under your protection." His tone of voice is cold.
"But it's all right if I'm under yours," I reply. "You know what I think? I think it was all a setup," I add, suddenly bold.
He halts and looks at me, one long penetrating glance. Then he smiles again, this annoying enigmatic smile, and I still don't know, and I'm growing really annoyed. "Stop playing games with me, Julian Luna," I say. There is an awkward pause. "Anyway, if you want to drink someone’s blood tonight, it should be mine."
His eyes are on me, still hard, but I sense his thirst is stronger than his wish to chide me. "We should leave. Now."
I pick up his jacket, making a move to help him with it, but he merely grabs it and strides in front of me without turning. I hurry to catch up with him, the limo starts before I've closed the door, and in less than a quarter we’re back at his place. No one talks of the Haven any more, and I, having other things on my mind, am careful to avoid the topic. I follow Julian to his study, where he drops onto his sofa and only then looks up to meet my eyes, and the look in his eyes is, for lack of a better word, primal.
I stop, and suddenly strangely touched by the surrealism of the situation, remain standing in the doorway. We look at each other. There is something more going on between us, apart from an almost palpable affection, something like a weird desire, something like thirst, something else maybe, that has nothing to do with Julian or me, and that is totally different from what we shared last time. I can feel it is dangerous. I could lose myself in it, and then I’d lose everything else, too.
Fighting for control, I sit down next to him. And still, we don't touch. When I finally dare speak, I find my voice nice and calm, just like it’s supposed to be. "Julian. It’s okay now. Whatever you want."
And although I have been expecting it, the attack comes so suddenly. He swoops down on me, ripping my shirt, then sinks his teeth into my shoulder with a desperate muffled cry, drinking like he is dying from thirst, and I can only so much as try to fend him off before he kills me. Finally, our breathing calms down a bit, and although I am exhausted in a most vital way, I hold Julian in my arms, stroking his back soothingly. He is still making these harsh little moans, it almost sounds like sobbing. I hear the noise of my own heartbeat ringing in my ears, and I couldn’t tell if it is because of the blood loss or because of the thing I’m about to say. Finally, I have the guts to speak. "It’s not me who should hold you like this, Julian. Right?"
I hear another muffled cry as an answer, still only half human, and ignoring the fingers digging painfully into my back, I rock him gently, or maybe I’m just swaying by myself, I couldn’t tell, the world is reduced to a single cell, with Julian and me and a sofa, and I feel drunk, and I want to have sex with him, right here and now, I know he feels the same, I just know it, we are both highly aroused, and then we’re sharing this wonderful long and deep kiss. And the spell breaks.
"Leave." Julian’s voice is still rough, yet unmistakable and imperious.
I force a smile, wiping my taste off his lips with my finger. "I will, Julian. But promise me one thing."
"Talk to him."
With this, I go home.
It's been more than the three nights I promised Frederick, what with the Brujah altercation laying me up and the things happening with Callum, but now we're finally gathered for a night of playing. And since the sewer access was completed yesternight, I have spontaneously decided to host the clan meeting in my new haven, in the basement in Callum's - in our - house.
The other Clans don't know a lot of things about us, and that's the way we like it. They think we're sewer-dwelling wretches who have no joy in unlife except in the trading of information, and that we're lonely and miserable (and dirty) most of the time. While that still may be true, we do have fun with each other occasionally – no, make that as often as we can. Even Toreador have nothing on our parties (and I should know, since I've been an unseen and uninvited guest at several of Lillie's "occasions"), but our gatherings always serve two purposes besides having fun: furthering Clan unity, and keeping one step ahead of the Oldest Ones.
I hope I'll never have to tell Callum about this insidious and ever-present sword of Damocles hanging over my head whenever I venture away from the warren or out onto the surface. He'd probably insist on my staying in the sewers – just when I've come to accept the idea of living in a house like a normal man. No. I will not think of the Nictuku tonight. Having fun, and furthering Clan unity – that's what this night will be all about.
I watch my clanmates as they arrive. There are not many left in the aftermath of Goth and his wretched plans. While we, as a whole, do not look on our antitribu with the same unconditional hatred as the other clans do, the decision Goth put before us touched an ancient nerve, and the temptation to disregard the Masquerade and return to the old ways was great. Consequently, I am not sure I can entirely trust those that remained.
With three exceptions. Gary and his childe Horse arrive together, Gary moving his bulky, wart-covered body with surprising agility, while Horse, so called because of his protruding teeth and no less bulky form, ambles along with the gait of a large bear. They call out the ritual greeting before entering my haven, and I welcome them without hesitation. I have known Gary for decades; he was one of the first Nosferatu to settle in the Bay area, embraced in the Old World like myself. Listening to him reciting Shakespeare (whom he professes to have known in person when he was still breathing) with the Middle English accent of the times is an unforgettable experience. He, Horse (whose real name is Winston, but hardly anyone calls him that), and Frederick, his other childe, were the only ones who did not forsake me for Goth.
Camilla is next to arrive. She halts outside, visibly hesitant. “I, Camilla, wish to visit you in your new haven, Daedalus,” she calls, her voice strong despite her hesitation.
“Welcome, Camilla,” I reply, and she enters, looking around out of her permanently changed reptilian eyes.
I wave her over to the area of the basement I've cleared of building paraphernalia for this meeting. A loose circle of pillows and blankets on the bare floor indicates that this will not be a formal clan meeting, and she visibly relaxes. Inclining her head to Gary and Horse who are already seated, she takes a seat, smoothing her black dress and folding her legs underneath herself.
“I commend your idea, Daedalus,” she says. “We cannot afford any more friction, and our losses were great.”
“Thank you, but it wasn't my idea,” I refute. “Frederick informed me that I should stop sulking already.”
She smiles, and Gary laughs softly. They start exchanging anecdotes about Gary's childe while Fox's voice calls out the greeting.
I welcome her in and hardly have time to settle her before Joshua, our newest clanmate, arrives, looking nervous. It's his first clan meeting. He isn't even acknowledged yet, having been embraced mere weeks ago. His ritual greeting, though, is firmly worded – obviously Camilla coached him well.
He finds a seat next to his sire, who reaches for his hand and smiles at him in her gentle way. Fox, meanwhile, the red splotches that cover most of her skin and gave her her nickname garish in the low lights, is playing with her single braid of hair, something most of us envy her for.
Next, there's Patty, a small thin Nosferatu with an aptitude for computers who rarely ventures away from her haven. Sure enough, she starts fingering her PDA as soon as she has found her pillow next to Fox.
Then George arrives, mumbling the greeting and finding a pillow out of the way. The way he looks, his slow way to move and the unblinking manner with which he stares at everyone have contributed to his nickname “Crocodile George”.
I look around, counting bald heads. As usual, Frederick appears to be the last to arrive, and I assume that he has once more been designated to bring the refreshments. And speaking of which... I move to the refrigerator and take out a handful of coke bottles, pre-empting Frederick but proving that I can be a good host. I must remember to thank Callum for being thoughtful enough to stock up.
Sounds of delight greet the sight of the vile brown sugar water. I roll my eyes and line up my red wine next to my pillow.
Frederick chooses this moment to amble through the sewer exit, calling out in his hoarse voice, “Yo, boss! I mean, may I, Frederick, be permitted to unload myself upon one of those pillows I spy in your haven?”
“Freddy...” Gary chides wearily with an apologetic glance in my direction.
I merely grin. Frederick is capable of adhering to the Traditions to the letter if and when he chooses to do so, but his position as my second grants him a certain leeway which he frequently makes full use of. He has also brought a large, squirming sack, guaranteeing him to be everybody's favorite clanmate for the evening.
Holding it up, he rasps, “Everybody check their ghouls. I think these are wild – I caught them near Golden Gate Park. But it can't hurt to be too careful.”
The assembled Nosferatu briefly close their eyes, mentally contacting their ghouled rats and shaking their heads one by one. I refrain, since I never ghoul rats. They are too short-lived even if sustained by our blood, and it is always painful to lose a ghoul. The last animal I ghouled is a crow, and he is over one hundred years old. I love him dearly.
A hissing sound proclaims the opening of the coke bottle, which I take as a sign to open the proceedings. “Thank you all for coming to my new haven. From now on, I can either be reached here or in the gatehouse. For all of you who don't know – Callum McKay, who lives here as well, is exempt from the Tradition of the Masquerade, since, contrary to appearances, he is not a mortal. I trust him completely in all matters, and you may do so as well. In return for our trust, he has agreed to provide the clan with shelter here in this house. Therefore, from this night on, this house is one of our official wayplaces.”
Murmurs greet this announcement, but from my clanmates' grins, I take it that this extension of our resources is well-received.
“As for this night's entertainment,” I go on, “I have decided to call an Aranta-Shadur.”
There are some cheers at this, while Camilla leans close to Joshua to explain about our ritual hunt, in which the participants are required to “steal” one specified item from a non-Nosferatu without being noticed, bring it here as proof of the deed, and then return it to their owner before morning. The losers are those who are caught, and of course, the difficulty of the assigned task varies with the respective Nosferatu's accomplishments.
“Here are the tasks,” I say, handing out pieces of paper to each Nosferatu present. To my delight, no one bows out, not even Gary, who mumbles something about “needing the practice”. “There is a number of waterjets near exit 25 to everyone's disposal. Does anyone require clarification?”
They read their tasks. Giggles and groans abound. One of the groans is emitted by Frederick, who has just discovered that I tasked him with stealing Julian's diary. Joshua, who is not even acknowledged and therefore on shaky ground with the breaking of any law, is merely required to bring one of Sasha's CDs – a harmless enough task, since I know her to be absent from her haven for the whole of the night and probably during the next day.
No one needs clarification, so they are off, leaving me to my wine and my thoughts.
I wonder where Callum is. I had hoped to be able to introduce him in person to my clan, but obviously, he has plans for the night, plans he neglected to tell me about. I have sworn to myself to respect his privacy, but at the moment, it is taking all my willpower to stay here and not find out what he is doing.
Thoroughly stirred by the discussion I had with Julian, and especially by the revelation that came out of it, I have been driving around idly for some time before my car finally takes me home again. When I open the door to my new house – our house – I immediately sense that we have guests, or rather, that my dear Daedalus has them. There is a roar of laughter coming up from the cellar, and some distinctive – and some quite indistinctive smells, too, that all hint at the still unfamiliar circumstance that these guests are far from human.
I take it Daedalus has made himself at home down there, and that his friends, or as he puts it, his clan, have accepted the fact that this is his new home. I feel utterly glad about it and thankful, not only because my supply of coke was not in vain, but also because this is a demonstration of loyalty he urgently needed. In order to show my gratitude, I am about to go downstairs to tell them in person, but then I hesitate.
After all, they are not like me, very much so, and apart from what I’ve already seen, they have a thing about their exterior. Maybe some of them do not want to see me at all, or rather, they do not want me to see them. I should respect that, and if I ever plan to get to know them, I should announce my appearance well in advance. Besides, I am rather tired now, and I will only have a couple of hours of sleep, because just then, I remember that I have a date with Chao-dai the next morning.
Groaning softly at the unusual schedule and everything this implies, like, being immortal and needing to guard my own head and the like, I go to our new bedroom. And I smile upon entering it. Daedalus must have been working in the house and garden again. Every time I come home, there are new changes. What is more, he has produced a couple of enchanting ancient looking pots with some kind of palm trees that make the winter garden look like something from a movie. It is somewhat kitshy, true, but I allow myself to like it nevertheless.
Upon lying down, I hear another wave of laughter carry from downstairs, mixed with some stranger sounds I can hardly interpret as human. I close my eyes, knowing that right now, my house probably is the damn best guarded residence in the whole city, and I do intend to get used to those sounds rather fast. Those folks are Daedalus’ family, hence they are my family, too - to some degree.
Before sleep can cradle me, my thoughts wander back to the remarkable night I shared with Julian, and I immediately feel hot again. There’s no denying it, I can feel it so clearly, I am falling in love with him, too. It’s not his looks only. Well, of course it’s his looks, too, but I could simply go back to the club and pick my choice among at least five guys who equal him in looks and packs. None of them, though, would also equal him in spirits, let alone in intelligence. That’s tempting. And it’s so not good.
Shame on you, Callum McKay. Shame that you dare betray the one you love dearly, not only in your thoughts, but also in your heart and groin. But before master sleep finally carries me away, another thought slips through my mind: they belong together, Julian and Daedalus, do they not, and if so, why should I not love them both.
It's early next evening. I have spent the day in the cellar, amidst the remains of last night's party, which really took off to impressive heights after the shadow hunters had returned victorious. Soon, almost everyone was high on sugar, and the racket we made must have been heard throughout the house.
The smell of tobacco smoke is still heavy in the air. It was day already when the last of my Clanmates left my new haven to return to their own, and I suspect that most of the intimacies that began here were continued elsewhere, and not just by couples, either.
For the first time, I feel wistful, not indifferent, at the thought of being left out. I suppose that's something I have to thank Callum for. He showed me what I've been missing all those centuries. Oh yes, and what a delightful way of teaching me he has, my beautiful Callum!
But for now, it's a new night. My mind is filled with plans concerning the rebuilding of our house, things I have to verify, materials I have to obtain, but most of all, it is filled with exuberance. I realize that I haven't felt this... alive in a very long time.
Still considering plans, I return to Julian's compound and to my old having in the gatehouse. My desk is covered with drawings, schematics, plans and jotted down notes; testimony of an early morning fit of creativity that assailed me two nights ago. Smiling, I look over the sheets. A rose garden. A fountain. A deck. A drawing of some winged creature I made that same morning shortly before succumbing to the day's lethargy (and I have no idea where that came from). I pick it up to toss it, but then I resolve to show it to Callum. He may enjoy analyzing it before I discard it.
I have to talk to Callum. It's his house; I'm merely the architect. The plans for the remodeling should be his. Lots of things we have to discuss; I realize I don't even know if he likes rose gardens. Or sundials.
Which reminds me of the fact that I should inform my prince of my plans.
Julian is sitting at his desk as usual when I enter his study, but unusually, he practically jumps to his feet as soon as he notices me. Even more amazingly, he comes towards me and makes a gesture I'd interpret as an aborted hug if I didn't know better. While I'm still staring, Julian nonchalantly places his hands behind his back. "Good evening, Daedalus."
I recollect myself. "Julian. There is a small matter I have to inform you about." My heart is beating again, I notice. Strange how often it has done that since I met my Callum, after decades of resting still and cold in my chest.
"Wine?" Julian returns cordially.
I incline my head. "Yes."
He smiles at what appears to be a memory, but doesn't let me in on it. I don't press him, content to wait in silence for the completion of our little ritual - the opening of the bottle and the filling of the glasses.
"I'll be away from my haven for longer periods of time from now on," I intone when we have taken the first sip. Julian just looks at me expectantly, so I go on, "I can of course be reached via my usual cell phone number during those times."
"Ah. I see. Does it have to do with our Scottish friend?"
"Indeed, it has." Scottish friend? Something must have happened between them to explain this complete change of attitude towards Callum, but I'm much too excited to give the matter much thought. Fighting to keep my voice level, I inform Julian, "I'm building a house."
For some reason, he doesn't seem to share my exuberance, but this doesn't put me off in the slightest. "To be precise, the house already exists. I'm rebuilding it."
"Your house." His tone of voice sounds odd.
"Callum’s house," I clarify. "He invited me to live with him."
His reaction to this joyful news is not at all what I expected. Julian glares, downs the wine in one go, puts down the glass with unnecessary force, and walks to the fireplace to stand with his back turned to me.
Confused, I watch him, trying to discern the cause for his sudden mood change. He almost seems angry. How could something that brings me so much joy be a source of anger for him? As always when in doubt, I fall back on the letter of the Law. "I will, of course, continue to be available, should you require my services as your enforcer," I tell his back, feeling my way blind through the obstacles of his displeasure.
"As my enforcer?" He turns to look at me. "Just as my enforcer?"
Ah. So that's what this is about. "Of course not. You will always remain my friend." As if he could ever doubt that!
He seems brittle. "I wanted to talk to you about something. But as things stand, this isn’t the right moment…"
"The night is still young," I try to reassure him. "I’m listening."
A sigh escapes Julian. He seems ashamed of it, and it almost appears as if he would blush if he could. Then he sits down, visibly trying to regain his composure. "Under these circumstances, I… No, I can’t."
Now I'm worried. "Julian, what is it? You know I… will do whatever I can."
For a moment, he merely looks at me in silence. Suddenly, he gives a soft laugh. "You’ll never change, will you? Always so… concerned…"
"Does it have to do with Callum?" I ask slowly.
"Yes and no. No, actually… It has to do with us."
"If you are concerned that our relationship will change because I'll be spending time away from this house, I assure you that this won't be the case."
"And I am sure you mean well." Again, I notice an odd tone in his voice.
"Of course." I'm still confused.
Julian sighs again, this time more, shall we say, princely. "I know." He looks away in thought. "Do you remember when we first met?" he goes on after a pause. "You were always concerned, from the very beginning. Always caring…"
Of course I remember. I had a lot to be concerned about back then, considering Julian's position and the pressure he was under starting almost the minute he was acknowledged. Archon was a strict sire, who frequently demanded too much of his childe. I also think, as I did then, that Julian was made Archon's Enforcer much too soon. It was not my place to criticize the Prince of the city, though, so I did what I could for Julian behind the scenes, and often in the shadows, or in my haven - coming to his aid, comforting him after a particularly harrowing assignment, or just talking to him. "I have always found our friendship very rewarding," I say with feeling, "and I would not change it for anything."
"Neither would I." He looks at me with an expression I can only call sentimental.
"Does this put your mind at rest, Julian?" I ask hopefully.
"Actually, it doesn’t."
"Then, what must I do?"
"I… Will you sit down, please?"
Confused once more, I do as I'm told.
"Not there. Here." He gestures at the sofa he's sitting on.
Again, I comply without a word, sitting down next to him.
Julian looks at me for a long moment. "I remember every single night, or so it seems. You were the only one who cared for me, then. And you still are."
"Archon cared for you", I argue. "He may have had an unusual way of showing it, but that makes it no less true."
"Archon lied to me," he says gruffly. "He never behaved like a father. You never lied to me."
At that, I smile. "No." On the contrary. I've been brutally honest if the occasion demanded it, but I've never lied. His friendship is far too precious to me for that.
"What I wanted to tell you… I don’t know how to put it." He reaches out to put his hand on my shoulder. "Don’t get me wrong, Daedalus." Now he can but whisper. "You always behaved like a father to me. And I swear to God, I wish you had been the one."
His words move me deeply, and now I'm the one who has to keep myself from reaching out to my friend. Instead, I look down onto my hands. "I doubt you would have enjoyed a Nosferatu's existence," I murmur. Looking up again, I meet his eyes. "But I, too, have sometimes wished that you had been my childe."
Julian hesitates as if struggling with a decision. "Do you remember how you held me in your arms when I was desperate and afraid?" he finally says. "After Manzanita?"
"I'll never forget it."
He looks away. His voice is hoarse. "Would you… hold me like that again?"
Oh, Julian. Speechless, I open my arms, and he comes into them with a sigh of relief that affects me profoundly.
As I sit holding my friend, his hesitant voice reaches me. "And if you… had been my sire all the same? And if you… still are…?"
There's some obstruction in my throat. When I finally get past it, my voice sounds deep and hoarse, just like his. "Clan barriers have always been unimportant to us. I'll always be there for you in whatever way I can."
To my dismay, Julian starts sobbing softly. Overcome with emotion myself, I can but hold on to him, be there for him like I have in the past.
"I love you," Julian whispers. "You know I do."
"I know. And I love you."
I hold on to him as if I'd never let him go. My prince. My friend.
Finally, Julian calms down enough to be able to look at me again, and he solemnly kisses my hand.