CHAPTER FOUR - DEATH AWAITS US
Hans appeared at Demetrius’ side with a large goblet of blood. There was an anticoagulant mixed into it so that it didn’t clump. In the low light of his room, he doubted Alex would notice anything strange about his “wine”. Hans had even brought the decanter generously filled.
“Thank you, Hans,” he murmured. “I think I will need quite a bit of this.”
Alex’s very presence was a test of his already thready self-control. He downed the one glass in a single swallow and Hans promptly refilled it. He was halfway done with that one when the boy spoke.
“Do you want me to go? I can see you aren’t well. I don’t want to distress you further,” Alex said softly.
Demetrius looked up to read the boy’s expression and body language. Alex’s regretful tone has indicated that he did not wish to go and the rest of him confirmed that. Stormy eyes stared into Demetrius’. The boy wavered, clearly wanting to come near, but forcing himself not to and honor Demetrius’ request.
Good boy. Stay there where it would take me but half a second to reach you if I lost control. But your slight distance lets me continue to play the part of a man and not a ravenous beast.
“No, Alexander. I do not wish you to go. You are the most exciting thing that has happened to me in some time,” Demetrius said.
“Oh, I’m – I’m honored? I guess that’s the right word. You’re the most exciting thing to happen to me to.” Alex blushed and the color ran down his neck and beneath the collar of his shirt. The scent of Alex’s blood increased as the crimson liquid flooded the boy’s skin.
Demetrius drank the rest of his second glass of blood and stuck it out to be refilled. Hans obliged. The fledgling’s eyes flickered up to Demetrius’ face.
Han’s voice was low as he asked, “Are you sure that you don’t wish to be alone, Demetrius? I could escort the boy back downstairs.”
“No, Hans. I wish him to stay.” Hearing the sharpness in his tone, his vampiric nature showing for a moment, he softened his voice and said, “Thank you for asking, but I am quite set on having Alexander remain.”
“Of course,” Hans murmured, withdrawing behind his chair.
I shouldn’t have Alexander stay. It is foolish and dangerous. Yet … he is here. And here is where I wish him to stay.
He had already consumed more blood in one sitting that he normally did in a week, but his starving body had to be distracted from Alex’s rich, flowing living blood. He did not expect to satisfy his body with the blood in his glass as opposed to the hot liquid in the boy’s veins. But the cool blood he gulped would stop him from being a slave to his animal impulses. He did not wish to leap across the room, pin Alex to the door and rip open his throat with his teeth. The though of the boy’s heart beating rapidly only to slow and slow and slow until it stopped had him drinking the third glass down. His stomach groaned with the alien amount of liquid, but he would not hurt the boy.
“You said that being with me is the most exciting thing to happen to you, Alexander?” Demetrius asked.
The boy nodded after giving Hans a curious look. Was there a touch of jealousy already there in those stormy eyes? His vampire nature naturally attracted his prey to him, but they usually were not jealous of others. They were too enthralled with him to notice anyone else. But just as Alex had seen him when he did not wish it, the boy seemed unique in this ability, too.
“I’m sorry that the club has not lived up to its reputation then,” Demetrius said.
Alex’s gaze shifted back to him and another blush cascaded down his body. “The club’s great, but … I think this is better.”
“Talking to a sick, old man? Hmmmm, you have interesting ideas of what’s better.” Demetrius shook his head.
Alex’s eyebrows crawled up into his hairline. He clearly did not think of Demetrius as old and the Master Vampire knew that he appeared a man in his late twenties despite his millennia of life. “I’d tell you that you aren’t old, but I think you already know that.”
“Is there something that I do not know?” Demetrius asked.
Alex’s head lowered and an uncertain sad smile played over his pink lips. “The way you described yourself as – as sick made it seem like you thought you had nothing of value to offer anyone. That you couldn’t be interesting or exciting anymore.”
Demetrius stilled. “Did I? Perhaps I think so.”
“You’re wrong though,” Alex said firmly. His head raised and he pinned Demetrius where he sat with an incisive gaze. “Sickness doesn’t diminish people. It brings their core to the surface.”
Demetrius’ brow was furrowed. He didn’t expect such a sentiment from a teenager. “You sound like you know something about this.”
Alex though bore no trace of any prolonged illness. Even those that had been brought back to full health always showed some faint trace of what they had gone through. Alex had no such signs. But somehow death and illness had touched him.
Again the boy’s head lowered. “My dad.”
“He died of a long illness?” Demetrius guessed, feeling a shard of sadness work its way into his chest. His sense that Alex had been scarred from an early age by loss was correct.
Alex nodded. “I – I took care of him for three years. He needed help with everything in the end. I fed him and clothed him, but – but we talked.” Again, Alex sent that piercing look towards Demetrius as he continued, “I got to know who my dad was during those years in a way that I wouldn’t have if he had been well. The sickness tore down the walls between us and I – I got to see him. Not just as my father. But as a man. Someone who was really remarkable.” Alex’s hands fisted in his lap. “I’m honored that I did. That is one thing I can never regret about those years when he was ill.”
“You must have been but a child when this happened,” Demetrius said softly. He didn’t think that Alex was exaggerating his role in caring for his father, but that meant there was no other adult to help them.
“Yeah, I was. My mom … she’s not a caregiver I guess you would say. That’s okay,” he quickly added. “We’re not all made for that. And like I said, I was glad. Really glad I had that experience with him.”
Demetrius tried to imagine a young boy dressing his father, helping him from his bed, giving him medicine, and cleaning up his accidents. That a child would do that for a parent was remarkable, but to have that child find a privilege in such service was amazing. “He was lucky to have you then.”
“I was lucky to have him. Sometimes it feels like it happened so long ago. Other times, I swear I smell his cologne and turn around expecting him to be there.”
“That is the way of death. In some ways it does not seem so powerful compared to love,” Demetrius murmured.
For one moment, he thought of his own father. The man had died thousands of years ago. He had no pictures of him. Nothing to remember the contours of his handsome face or his powerful hands. There were so many he had known who had died and been forgotten. It was the only way to preserve his sanity. The sadness would have crushed him under its weight if he didn’t strictly regulate his thoughts to the present. But here, in a few words, Alex had conjured up a past long dead.
“I’m sorry. I can see I’ve depressed you and that wasn’t at all my purpose,” Alex said.
Demetrius looked up at the boy. There was a wry smile on his beautiful face. “You did not. I was just remembering my own father. I had put him out of my mind. He deserved better than that.”
Hans jerked almost imperceptibly when the Master Vampire spoke of his family. Demetrius had always kept his past shaded from his fledglings. Beyond his own desire not to remember and drown in an avalanche of memories, he wanted them to cleanly break from their past lives and cleave to him.
Hans must wonder why I share this with a mortal and not with my fledglings.
“Well, my point was that you mustn’t denigrate yourself or what you offer just because you’re ill,” Alex said. “It’s not just for you that I say this, but for all who could know you.”
Demetrius slowly nodded. “I will take your words under advisement. They seem much wiser than someone of your age.”
“Again, you make yourself seem like an ancient!” Alex teased.
“I feel it some days. Hans, bring that chair over for Alexander. He has done enough standing, I think.” Demetrius pointed towards another high backed chair in the corner.
Hans set down the decanter and lifted the heavy chair with ease. “How near?”
“There is fine.” Demetrius indicated a spot that was about four feet away. He couldn’t have the boy too close, but he did want him nearer. “Please sit down, Alexander.”
Alex brightened and bounced over to the chair. He sat down easily even with pants that seemed so tight they could have been painted on. The leather showcased his long muscular legs. His broad chest was also on display in the body-hugging shirt. The black of his clothes accentuated the fairness of his face and complexion. A flush of pleasure heated Alex’s sharp cheekbones and full lips. The boy’s beautiful body and face matched his equally bewitching interior. Demetrius poured himself a fourth glass of blood and kept it close at hand on the side table. He remembered how he used to live with people as lovely as Alex at his side. Talking to Alex reminded him of those old times, but it was so much better, because the boy was much more interesting.
“You can leave us now, Hans,” Demetrius said.
Hans stilled for a moment and he turned wide blue eyes on him. “Are you –”
“Certain? Yes. Just … remain close by. In case Alexander should need something and your assistance would be required.” Demetrius instructed. He did not think he would be inclined to attack his lovely guest any longer, but just in case he wanted Hans within earshot.
Hans nodded. He turned a curious eye onto Alex. He was clearly wondering if he would have a new brother soon. But Demetrius would not do that. The risk of death was greater than eternal life. Only if the mortal was sure to die did he ever offer the gift of vampirism. Almost all mortals perished and did not turn. It was a natural curb to a world full of immortal vampires and mass starvation for all.
As soon as Hans had left the room, Alex said, “He seems pretty protective of you. Is he – uhm, your boyfriend?”
Demetrius nearly spit out the blood he’d drunk. “Boyfriend? No, he is … he is family.”
“He’s related to you?” Alex looked both surprised and relieved.
Definitely jealous. Foolish child.
“In a way. I have taken in many people into my home over the years. My blood relations are all dead so I have made a family for myself,” Demetrius said.
“Oh, so you adopted him?”
“Something like that.”
“You mentioned others. Are any of them here at the club?” Alex asked.
“Yes, I have four people close to me. Hans is only one of them,” Demetrius said. “The others work in the club.”
“That must be nice. It’s just my brother and me. I’m the oldest so I guess I have the twin pleasures of being in charge and having to figure out where we’re going,” Alex said with a self-conscious laugh.
“It is nice. I think … I think you would like them. Perhaps I will introduce you to them another time.” Demetrius wondered at himself as he said this.
He intended to see Alex again. He wanted the boy to know his fledglings. The danger of what they were being found out was always a possibility. He and his fledglings had gifts that allowed them to make mortals forget, but Alex had proved so far to be beyond his abilities. He wasn’t sure if Alex could be made to forget if he discovered their secret. He never acted this precipitously for these reasons, but he found that he did not regret it this time.
“Is your mother passed on, too?” Demetrius asked.
“Mom? Oh, no! We live with her and – and Greg.” When Demetrius gave him a confused expression, Alex added, “You’re wondering what I meant when I said it was just my brother and me, right?”
“Sometimes a parent can be there physically, but not in any other way.”
“That’s a good way of putting it.” Alex raked his teeth over his lower lip as he debated saying anything more.
“Does talking about her make you uncomfortable? We could discuss more innocuous things,” Demetrius offered. The boy’s confession about his father might have made him leery to burst out with more personal information.
But Alex shook his head. “Not at all. I was just thinking about how easy it is to talk to you. I feel I could tell you anything. I know that’s like a cliché, but … but I really feel that way.”
“You can tell me anything, Alexander. You are … safe telling me anything,” Demetrius said. He was careful with how he used the word safe. In some ways, a mortal was never safe with a vampire. The vampire was so much stronger and the vampiric gifts caused mortals to fall victim so very easily. But any secrets that Alex had were truly safe with him. He would not judge nor reveal them to anyone. He knew the value of silence and had lived too long to be shocked by much of anything anymore.
Alex smile softly. “Thank you.” His hands rubbed nervously over the palms of his pants. “Mom isn’t really … well, she has limits, you know? She relied on Dad to take care of us so when he died she was left with a job that she wasn’t really good at.”
“So you take care of your little brother?”
“Yeah. His name’s Peter. He’s a handful, but really pretty awesome for a little brother,” Alex said with obvious fondness.
“And this Greg you mentioned? Who is he?”
Alex’s expression went rather flat. “That’s our stepfather.”
“Oh?” Demetrius prompted not wanting to ask anything definitive. He wanted to hear what Alex had to say without guiding him.
“Yeah, they just got married. We moved here to live with him a month ago. He’s a cop.” The boy chewed his inner cheek and looked distinctly unhappy.
“He is very strict?” Demetrius guessed.
He wondered if Alex would get beaten if this Greg found out about him visiting Sanctuary. He’d seen many sadists who hid behind the badge and uniform of authority just so they could break the law themselves. Was that why Alex disliked his new stepfather? He saw no evidence of bruises or indications that Alex was hiding injuries. Demetrius hands curled around the arms of the chair and the wood creaked ominously. He forced himself to take a breath and release his too tight grip. It was just the thought of someone hurting Alex was unacceptable.
Alex shook his head. “No, not really. I don’t know him well enough – we haven’t had a chance to test him really – to know that.”
“You do not like him,” Demetrius said as a statement rather than a question.
Alex nodded glumly. “I can’t tell you why. He’s just … off. And Mom, other than Dad, has really bad taste in men.”
“There have been other stepfathers?” Demetrius’ jaw ached as he clenched it. Had any of these stepfathers taken advantage of this beautiful young man?
“Yeah, a few.” Alex caught sight of Demetrius’ face and the boy quickly sat up straighter. “He’s not abusing me or anything. Really!”
“He isn’t … but will he try?” Demetrius asked.
“No. He hardly looks at me. I don’t interest him thank God,” Alex admitted. “It would be nice except for the fact that he’s really nice to Peter.”
“Ah.” Demetrius’ lips writhed back from his teeth in disgust. “A pedophile?”
Alex didn’t immediately dismiss the suggestion. “He hasn’t done anything. I’ve told Peter to never be alone with him.”
“But how realistic is such a stricture?” Demetrius asked softly.
Alex chewed his inner cheek again. “Maybe I shouldn’t have left Peter tonight. But Katie’s there. Katie’s the babysitter. And Mom and him are out.”
Seeing how alert and worried Alex had become, Demetrius cursed himself. “Forgive me. I did not mean to worry you about your brother. I am sure that everything is fine.”
Alex’s bright eyes rose to meet his. “But you aren’t sure.”
Demetrius stilled then he nodded. “There are many … predators out there, Alexander. But I do believe based on what you said that your brother is safe for the evening. You cannot spend every moment by his side. And, as you said, Greg has done nothing.”
“Not yet.” Alex shook himself. “I have to stop bringing up these dark topics.”
“What shall we discuss then? The weather?”
“It is a very fine evening,” Alex joked.
Demetrius’ head turned towards the open window. A warm night breeze came in. “It is beautiful.”
“Considering this is probably another dark topic, I’ll still risk asking, are you – I mean does your illness confine you inside?” Alex leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. His beautiful face was open and clearly wanting to know. “I mean – you don’t have to tell me. And if I’m prying just tell me and I’ll quit.”
“It is fine. Considering you found me collapsed outside, you must be curious,” Demetrius said. He drew his fingers along the seam of his pants as he collected his thoughts. “My nerves are shot is the best way of putting it. Noises, scents, or even a gentle breeze all send my senses into overdrive. Sometimes merely being touched is agony.” He drew his arms up protectively around his chest. “Tonight was the first time I’ve ventured outside willingly.”
“Oh, God, and then the music happened and I kept you out there!” Alex looked stricken.
Demetrius shook his head. “You are not to blame. I was glad to stay. You are quite … compelling.”
“Me?” Alex flushed so beautifully again.
Demetrius wondered what it would be like to have his lips pressed to that skin as it turned such a delicate pink. He would feel the rush of heat and the scent of so much blood near the surface would cascade over him. He took a long swallow of blood. “Yes, you.” He cleared his throat as a rush of desire had his incisors aching. Better to turn back to more innocuous thoughts. “But we were speaking of my illness. It – it restricts me to the second floor of this house.”
“What about going outside when it’s quiet? You know walking underneath the moon or something. Can you do that?”
“I haven’t dared,” Demetrius confessed.
He imagined walking down Arkham’s shadow-haunted lanes with Alex at his side. He would be able to tell the young man the stories of each place. Arkham had more secrets than most of Europe. Alex’s bright inquisitiveness would enjoy knowing some of them. The night would be blessedly quiet and if he was overcome, Alex had shown himself to be quite capable at helping him.
“But you ventured out tonight,” Alex said. “I know it didn’t end well, but maybe – maybe you could try again when DJ Crisis isn’t here.”
“Perhaps.” Demetrius narrowed his eyes at the young man even as he smiled. “Did you gently nudge your father like this, too?”
Alex flushed and nodded. “I did. I told him that part of his depression was from being inside all day. That anyone would feel bad if they did that. I cajoled him outside. While he could still walk, we would head over to the library. He loved to read. In the end … that’s what he asked me to do when he couldn’t see much anymore.”
Demetrius saw the sadness fall over Alex’s features again. “I am not dying, Alexander.”
Alex’s head lifted up, his mouth opened in an ‘o’. “I – oh, I – didn’t mean to suggest you were!”
“I know. I am telling you this, because I do not want you to worry. Mine is a simple nervous condition. Well, perhaps not simple. But it is not killing me,” Demetrius explained.
I was killed long ago.
Relief flashed across Alex’s features. “I’m so glad of that.”
“I also tell you this so that you are not – concerned about becoming close to someone who is ill again and would leave you,” Demetrius said.
Already I speak of closeness. Is this madness?
“It wouldn’t matter to me either way. I’d want to get to know you no matter what.” Alex leaned more towards him. The boy was practically falling out of the chair as he yearned to come closer to the Master Vampire.
“It would be sensible if you were. You’ve already had to go through losing someone to a long illness once. Why would you wish to expose yourself to such heartache again?”
That is what I do. What I have done. The desire not to be left alone has caused me to act in ways that I would not have otherwise.
“The only problem with that is that death is always with us, isn’t it? If you’re alive, there’s one certainty and that is that you’ll die,” Alex said.
Demetrius knew that was not true. There was another way for some. A way to escape death forever if one could survive the path. He just smiled in response.
At that moment, Hans knocked softly and came in. “Forgive this interruption, but Alexander’s friend is looking for him.”
“Darin noticed I was gone?” Alex laughed. “I’m shocked. I figured he’d be too busy trying to pick people up.”
“He seemed most … agitated,” Hans said.
Demetrius had thought to object to cutting his time with Alex short, but exhaustion was already tugging at his limbs. His self-control would be frailer if he were tired. Perhaps he should let the boy go for now. “You should go to him, Alexander. It is not polite to leave the one who brought you.”
“No, I guess not. I would never have come here without him.” Alex rose from his chair. Demetrius moved to get up, but Alex waved him back down. “Sit. I’m good.” He hesitated a moment, biting his lower lip. “Could I – I’d like to see you again. You don’t have to answer know. I’ll just leave my number and if you want to call me –”
“Hans, take his number and give him my private line,” Demetrius interrupted. He gripped the chair again. His vampiric instincts were not to let the boy leave.
But I must and I will. For I will see him again. Foolish or not. Dangerous or not.
Alex grinned as Hans tapped Alex’s number into his phone and texted the boy Demetrius’ line. This time Hans did not look surprised at Demetrius’ request. The Master Vampire wondered if he had already talked to the other fledglings about his bizarre behavior regarding this young man.
“This way,” Hans said, gesturing for Alex to follow him out of the room. “I will take you to your friend.”
Alex wavered for one moment in the threshold. He looked at Demetrius as if to memorize him. “I’ll talk to you … soon, right?”
Demetrius smiled. “Yes, Alexander. It will be very soon.”