copyright © 1994 and 1995 by Deborah Atwood (received 4 Aug 95)
A Moment in Time is the story of Laurie Cuthbert, a British Vampire, and takes place in the year 1998. It is a background story from my Vampire campaign.
"These habits of yours have got to stop."
Laurie chuckled at the expression on his brother's face. "Really, Jeffrey? And what habits are those?" Standing slowly, he walked over the bar in his study and calmly poured himself a brandy. He offered the bottle to Jeffrey, who refused with a wave of his hand and an expression of disgust. Laurie's smile widened. "So, what is it that offends you? My habits of eating and drinking something other than blood? I realize I no longer need it for sustenance, but I find it a delicious pleasure difficult to cure myself of." He sipped at the brandy slowly, enjoying the taste. "I find it a pity so few of our kind can still enjoy the lovely tastes of this world."
Across the room, Jeffrey Cuthbert glowered at his younger brother. "You know that is not the habit I am speaking of." Crossing the room, he sharply took the glass from Laurie, spilling the contents onto the rug. The wet stain slowly spread as both stared down at it.
Slowly Laurie raised his eyes to meet his brother's. A faint hint of anger was banished quickly. "Really? One could never tell by your actions. Do you realize what it will take to clean that stain?"
Laurie frowned. "You have never had an appreciation for the finer side of life." He reached for the glass still held loosely in Jeffrey's hand, stopping only when the other clenched his hand shut, tiny shards of glass joining the stain littering the carpet. Laurie only shook his head, refusing to meet his brother's eyes. "Overly dramatic. One might almost think you have been persuaded to take up acting."
"I am not here to speak of myself, but of you, Lawrence." Jeffrey brushed his hands off, walking away, while Laurie merely poured himself another glass. When Jeffrey turned back, the younger of the brothers was seated again on the sofa, legs crossed, the glass already half-empty and held loosely in one hand.
Laurie smiled. "Ah, yes, concerning my bad habits. And what habits were those?"
"The way you involve yourself with these mortals is distasteful."
A single eyebrow rose. "And your abomination is not?" Laurie hid a smile as a single thought passed through both minds, remembering the unnaturally created childe of Jeffrey's. "After all, what you did to sire Karen..."
"What I do does not matter!" Jeffrey bellowed, losing composure momentarily. "This is *my* city and I am in control here. You answer to me."
Laurie shrugged. "And you find my involvement with mortals a problem. Cest la vie." He finished the final swallow of his brandy, and stood, walking over and opening the door to his study, smiling politely at the slim, dark-haired girl in the hallway. Turning back to Jeffrey, he saw that his brother had manage to compose himself once more, his expression the usual calm mask. "I believe Karen is waiting for you, brother."
"If I find that you have allowed another mortal to glimpse the truth about us, *brother,*" Jeffrey said darkly, "I will be forced to take action, no matter what your connections with the elders of our race. It is I who hold power in London, and it is I who decree what is proper behaviour."
"Of course, my Prince," Laurie smiled. "Of course, I'll do whatever you want, whatever you desire. I live to serve you."
Both heard the sarcasm. Both chose to ignore it as Jeffrey left, and Laurie shut the door, his lanky body dropping back onto the sofa, head cradled in his hands. "Damn you, Jeffrey," he muttered. "Just because someone decided to make sure we couldn't die doesn't mean we can't care about those who can."
"Are you all right?"
Laurie's head snapped up at the sound of the voice. His assistant stood in the doorway, hair pulled back in a ponytail, still dressed in running clothes, obviously just back from a jog. He had to smile at the worry on her face. "Yes, Melody, I'm fine. Just another argument with Jeffrey."
She came up behind him, fingers digging into his shoulders. "Over what this time? How you run the Chantry? Or is Eric coming to visit again and Jeffrey can't stand the thought?"
Laurie allowed a shiver to run through him at the sound of his sire's name. "God forbid Eric drops in again. A century without him would do me just fine. Mm, don't stop."
Melody laughed. "Hedonist. You just keep me around because I give good backrubs."
Laurie's head dipped, allowing her better access to his shoulders. "No, I keep you around because you are the most gifted human mage I know in this forsaken land. And despite what Jeffrey thinks, our kind cannot do without humans."
"You argued over me?" Melody stopped in surprise, fingers resting lightly on his shoulders.
Laurie gave her fingers a reassuring squeeze. "Not you in particular. Just my tendency to become... involved... with humans in general."
She walked around to sit beside him. "He doesn't seem to me like someone who should throw stones."
"He's not," Laurie admitted, "but he has always been the sort to act as if he were always right. Even when we were children." He sighed, then stood. "Melody, do you think you can handle things around here on your own for a while?"
"Don't let him scare you off!" Melody insisted, her green eyes glittering angrily. "You have just as much right to do what you want in London as he does."
"Of course I do," he replied easily, loosing the tie he had worn in honor of the business meeting with his brother. "Which is why I'm going to take a vacation. Right here in town." He grinned easily. "I don't give up Melody. I thought you knew that."
She found herself grinning back. "Of course. Take your time; I'll keep everything under control."
"Thanks, girl." He dropped a kiss on her forehead and hurried off to pack a few necessary items.
"Can I get you something?"
The girl was buxom and leaning over the table suggestively, breasts almost brushing Laurie's arm. He smiled distractedly, muttering, "Red wine," as he waved her away.
She pouted, straightening up. "Will that be all, sir?"
He glanced up, seeing her smile at him and pose. "The wine will be all," he said firmly. She frowned and walked away, leaving Laurie to survey the club again.
A typical club in this new era of darkly gothic music. Laurie felt this new generation was the most comfortable he had found since his own birth time. With his pale skin, long hair, dark clothes and flowing shirt he fit in as if he were born to this time instead of centuries before. The music swirled around him, an underlying beat almost like a heartbeat seeming to crawl inside his soul. So many people... so fragile.
"Here's your wine." The glass was set down with a slight thunk, and the girl waited only long enough to get her pay before hurrying off to a more accomodating customer. Laurie didn't even notice her leave.
He drew a tiny bead from a pocket, and dropped it into the wine, swirling it with a finger as the deep red liquid grew cloudy and thick. He sucked the finger clean, watching the dancers speculatively. Spotting his quarry, he quickly downed the contents of the glass, leaving the empty behind on the table, as he walked away, licking his lips clean.
"Would you care to dance?"
The young man looked up, surprise mirrored in his chocolate eyes. Laurie smiled reassuringly, "Of course, if you would prefer not to..."
The man smiled then, sliding off the bar stool. "No, actually I'd love to."
"Well then." Laurie held out a hand, clasping the strangers firmly in his own. He drew him out to the dance floor, already moving to the slow beat of the music.
Dark hair, cut shorter than most of the others in the club, and those deep chocolate eyes. Laurie had to smile at his quarry. He slid his hand's around the other's back, pulling him closer as they swayed to the beat.
"Isn't this where you deliver a corny line?" the stranger inquired, chuckling. "Or shall I play the dominant and do the honors?"
Laurie frowned, stepping back slightly. "Just because we are both men does not mean we need to play at any roles." Perhaps he had made a mistake. But he had been days watching him... days before deciding to approach. He had considered every option, and this seemed to be the correct one. Had he been wrong?
The stranger shook his head, smiling. "I'm sorry. I'm not very good at this."
Laurie began to move off the floor, drawing the other with him to a table in the corner of the club. "Perhaps we should talk." It would be better to find out he were wrong now, rather than later. And only honesty would tell. "Do you drink brandy?" At the stranger's nod, Laurie caught the waitress and gave her the order, before settling in at the table. "Now." He smiled at the man across the table. "Where should we start?"
Dark eyes blinked once and then looked away, off to the dance floor. "Maybe we should start with introductions."
"Lawrence Cuthbert. Most people call me Laurie."
The other smiled. "Ryan James." He looked just a little more comfortable, and Laurie began to relax. He was moving too fast. He hadn't made a mistake, just a miscalculation.
"Tell me a little about yourself," Laurie encouraged.
Ryan shrugged. "There isn't really much to tell. I'm a student at the university. Majoring in biostatistics. Its a good enough field." He seemed to be defending a choice he hadn't made.
"Good enough," Laurie agreed. There was a long silence, as Ryan toyed with his drink. "Can I be honest?" Laurie finally broke the silence. "Would you prefer if I let you be?"
Ryan glanced up sharply. "No, it isn't that at all." His eyes softened as he looked at Laurie. "Actually, I..." He shrugged. "Its just that I had a companion, and he only moved out about a month ago. I guess I'm not as over it as I thought."
"It does take time," Laurie agreed, reaching out to take Ryan's hand. When the other didn't resist, he squeezed gently. "I'm sorry to have to have moved so fast."
Slowly Ryan's other hand stole up to cover Laurie's. "Its all right. I was just a little scared for a minute there." He stood, still holding Laurie's hand. "Let's try this again. Would you care to dance?"
"I'd love to." Laurie smiled, allowing himself to be led to the dance floor.
As they danced, Ryan relaxed, his body swaying closer to Laurie's until the two relaxed together on the dance floor, moving easily in synche. Laurie ran a hand over his back, hand drawing up over his shoulder, then touching the pulse on his neck. It fluttered quickly under his touch, as Ryan's head fell to Laurie's shoulder, exposing the neck to his touch.
Laurie licked his lips, trying to hold the hunger at bay. The night was growing late, and the hunger came from desire more than any true need for sustanence. Gently he pressed a kiss, feeling the pulse jump as Ryan sighed. Then he drew away. "I think perhaps its time for me to go," he said softly.
There was a flicker of regret in Ryan's eyes. "I don't live in the dorms. I have a private flat now that Evan's left."
Laurie allowed his regret to reach his eyes. "Its too soon. You need more time." He slid his hand away from Ryan's neck, over his shoulder, down to his hand. With a gentle squeeze, he stepped away. "Perhaps tomorrow evening you'll be here again?"
Ryan smiled at him. "Perhaps." There was a teasing glint in his eyes.
Laurie returned the smile. "Then perhaps so shall I."
It wasn't until the doorbell rang a second time that Laurie woke. He blinked twice into the darkness, hand swinging out automatically to catch the switch on the light. A glance at the clock confirmed his suspicions... daylight still lit the outside world. The sun would be setting soon, but it still seemed early to him. Grumbling, he threw a robe over his shoulders and stumbled into the living room of the small flat he had rented.
He leaned heavily on the intercom button. "Yes?"
There was a pause, then the distinctive beep telling him the button downstairs had been pressed in response. "I'm sorry, did I wake you?"
Laurie tried to recognize the voice, but couldn't. Salesman, most likely. "Something like that, yes. Is this important?"
Another pause. "I'm sorry," the voice repeated. "I'll come back later if you'd like."
"No, I'm awake now." Laurie sighed, and slipped his arms into the robe, fastening the belt about his waist. "What are you selling?"
"I'm..." The pause this time seemed to go on forever.
"Yes?" Laurie prompted, beginning to grow impatient.
"I'm not selling anything." The words seemed to tumble out in a jumbled heap. "Its Ryan."
Laurie relaxed against the wall, hand automatically reaching for the buzzer. "Come on up."
He could hear the footsteps moving slowly up the two flights of stairs, then approaching his door. He swung it open before Ryan had a chance to knock, motioning for him to step inside. Once the door had shut behind him, Ryan simply stared quietly at Laurie, taking in the robe, the disheveled hair, and the imprint of the pillow still on his cheek. With all the shades drawn, Laurie stood half in shadow, and Ryan shrugged helplessly.
"I really am sorry. Melody warned me that you're not usually up until 6 or so, but I got impatient." His voice trailed off towards the end, like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
Laurie flashed him a reassuring smile, while wondering how Melody had managed to get on a first name basis with his new contact already. "Its quite all right. Why don't you fix yourself something in the kitchen while I go shower?" He pointed in the appropriate direction.
"Would you care for tea?" Ryan called after him.
"Yes, no sugar or cream," Laurie called back, then shut the door to his bedroom. He took the cordless phone into the bathroom with him, and started the water running before dialing.
"Hello?" Melody sounded a bit rushed.
"You've met Ryan," Laurie said flatly. "Not to mention told him where I'm living. Would you care to enlighten me how this came about?"
Melody chuckled. "Well, you did tell him your real name. He's a bright boy, and an attractive one at that. He did a little research, found out about the school, and showed up on the doorstep this morning. When he asked for you, one of the students sent him to me, since you're officially on holiday. He didn't want to say how he had met you, but I figured out enough to realize that you've already fascinated him. Not bad for a few day's work."
Laurie scowled at the phone. "Thank you for your opinions."
"Any time." There was a pause before Melody asked, "You aren't simply using him to pay back Jeffrey, are you?"
"No, I saw him a while back," Laurie admitted. "I had been thinking about it, and I just needed to get away from things right now, and Ryan seemed like a pleasant way to do it."
"He seems vulnerable."
Laurie remembered the look on Ryan's face when he talked about his last lover. "Yes, he does. But don't get all mothering over him. I'll take care not to hurt him."
"I thought as much, but I wanted to check," Melody admitted. "Take care of yourself, Laurie."
"I will. And you do the same."
Laurie set the phone down on the sink, then stepped into the shower. He washed quickly, and toweled dry, his long blond hair hanging loose down his back. He threw on a pair of dark gray sweats, then rejoined Ryan in the living room.
"You look much more awake," Ryan smiled.
"I feel it," Laurie admitted. The phone call and shower had given the sun time to set completely, and he *felt* much more awake. Seeing Ryan sitting there reminded him that a drink would be in order when possible, but now just wouldn't be a good time. And Ryan wouldn't be a good victim.
Laurie accepted the cup of tea Ryan offered, and sipped at it slowly, not certain where to start. Ryan looked uncomfortable, perched on the very edge of the sofa where he sat. Laurie avoided sitting there, choosing a nearby chair instead. "Now." He smiled pleasantly. "What is it I can do for you?"
Ryan actually blushed lightly. "Actually, I don't go to that club very often, but I hoped... that is, I wanted to get together with you anyway."
"Do you like the theatre?"
Ryan cocked his head, a slight smile on his face. "Love it. But I don't have a budget that allows me to go often."
Laurie picked up the phone, already dialing. "Thankfully, I do. As well as a friend who has been trying for weeks to get me to see his latest show." He paused while the phone rang, then smiled when he heard his friend's voice. "Remember those tickets you keep trying to force on me?" He chuckled at the response. "All right, all right. You're not trying to force them on me. Would you perhaps be able to set me up with two seats for this evening?" His smile grew. "Under my name at the box office? Thank you, I do appreciate it." He set the phone down and took in Ryan's wide-eyed look. "All settled. We've got an hour or so before we should be there, so would you care to go for a bite first?"
"Love to." The younger man stood and walked over to face Laurie. "I hope you haven't thought I'm being forward about all this."
"Not at all," Laurie assured him. "It rather flatters me. At my age, I'm not used to being chased."
"At your age?" Ryan laughed. "You can't be more than a few years older than myself."
And with many more mistakes like that, I'll not make it to much older, Laurie cautioned himself. "I'll just be a moment while I change." Back in the privacy of his bedroom, he looked in the mirror. Tall and slim, his features were those of a man in his early 20s. But Laurie knew that he had already lived for centuries when Ryan was born. He had watched humans live and die, and had even seen other vampires die. He shook his head, partly dried strands of hair flying wildly. It wouldn't do to think of death at a time like this. It would only depress him, and destroy his evening with Ryan. He quickly changed into something more appropriate for an evening at the theatre, dropping the sweats and slipping on black slacks, a ruffled white shirt and a gray vest. He tied his hair neatly back in a ponytail, and composed his expression. No more thoughts of death, only of life.
When he returned to the living room, Ryan was scanning one of the few books Laurie had brought with him to the flat. He held it up, asking with a smile, "Tantric ritual?"
"An old friend of mine was interested in the concept," Laurie explained, taking the book that contained some of the notes he, Jim and Linnette had once made. "He thought it really might work."
"Really." Ryan seemed amused, and vaguely interested.
"Of course, it never did."
The lie felt bitter on Laurie's tongue, but the concept of sharing the magical work he had done with his old friends, with someone new just didn't feel right.
It left a feeling of friction between the two, Ryan sensing he had done something wrong, and Laurie not quite sure how to relax and begin to enjoy the evening again through the intruding memories. But by the time they finished dinner and reached the theatre, running late after slow service in the restaurant, they had both relaxed and begun to enjoy the evening again.
The lights were blinking, signaling the show about to begin, as Laurie and Ryan slipped into their seats. The opening music stole over them, and Laurie rested his hand on the arm of the chair between them. By the time the first line was spoken, Ryan's hand had already covered Laurie's, and the two sat through the show with fingers entwined.
As the lights slowly came up for intermission, Laurie disengaged his fingers from Ryan's. "I'm going to get a bit of something from the bar. Would you care for anything?"
"White wine would be nice," Ryan decided. "Thank you."
Different, Laurie decided as he walked away. Ryan was definitely a breath of fresh air for him. He was nothing like the others he had associated with in recent years, either male or female, and for that he was thankful. He wasn't looking for anyone to replace the others. He wasn't sure what it was he *was* looking for. But he hoped he had found it in Ryan.
"You do realize, you are doing exactly what Jeffrey did not want you to do."
The voice was slightly breathy and low, and held a hint of steel. Laurie turned to find Karen standing just behind him, elegant in her low-cut navy evening gown. In her heels she stood tall enough to look him in the eyes, and her gaze was calm and even.
"Is my brother here as well?" Laurie inquired mildly.
"Thankfully, no," Karen admitted. "And I'll even offer to keep quiet this once."
"For a price," Laurie muttered.
"It is a simple one," she agreed. "Stop seeing that mortal."
"Can you prove he is mortal?" Laurie knew it only took him one look to know a mortal from a vampire, but for Karen it wouldn't be so easy.
"In time, but he would likely be dead by then, and the point would be moot." Karen smiled idly. "Would it not?"
She truly was his brother's child, her lazy smile mocking him. He could win, he knew, but did he really want Ryan to be the chess piece in a game between himself and his brother? That had never been his intention. An escape, some peace and quiet, and a loss of memory. Why couldn't it be that simple?
"Well?" she prompted.
Laurie's eyes narrowed as he moved up to the bar. He glared at her briefly, then turned to order two goblets of a good white. Accepting the glasses, he raised one between himself and Karen. "To my brother. May he never find out about my companion. The war we would have over your mind would be terrible to behold." He took a slow sip, watching her eyes.
She took a slow, deep breath, only for show. "You may have a point, and you may not. For now I will not tell him. But in time, never fear, he will learn on his own."
"I don't doubt it," Laurie agreed. "But then it will be between him and me. This is an argument that you and Ryan have nothing to do with." He raised a hand to catch her arm, fingernails biting into the soft flesh. "And you should remember that little detail next time you approach me. If you attack those who are in *my* protection, my brother can afford *you* little protection from me in return."
Karen's blue eyes darkened, and she seemed almost ready to growl. After a moment of locked eyes, she angrily yanked her arm from his grasp. Angry red marks stood out against her white skin, and thin rivulets of blood ran down to her elbow. "Agreed," she hissed. "You may war with your brother all you like. Do not involve me."
"Agreed." Laurie smiled pleasantly, sipping at his wine as she walked away, her back stiff and heels striking the floor sharply. Such a pleasant girl, in some ways, and one of the more skilled actresses he had known. But she deserved his brother, and Jeffrey's straitlaced ways. Her spirit wasn't free enough for independance.
The lights were already flickering when Laurie slipped back into his seat, handing Ryan's glass to him. Neglecting to let go, he held the glass to Ryan's lips, tipping it slightly while the other man sipped at the wine. "I am sorry to take so long," Laurie whispered. "I met an old acquaintance in the lobby, and the conversation took longer than I would have expected."
"That's quite alright." Ryan licked a stray drop of wine from his lip, extracting the glass from Laurie's fingers, then turning back to face the stage. "I saw an acquaintance of my own."
Laurie watched the other man carefully, following his gaze. Perhaps a few rows down, and several seats off to the left, a stranger turned and smiled in their direction. Brushing his brown locks out of his eyes, the stranger nodded politely, briefly, then turned away. Laurie felt Ryan's body stiffen next to him, and a bite of jealousy shot through him. "Is that him?"
"Who? Him?" Ryan nodded in the direction of the stranger. He blushed slightly. "Actually, yes. That's Evan. I... I think I mentioned him to you last evening?"
"Yes, I believe you did." Laurie's voice masked his emotion, sounding dead even to his ears. "Is he with his new companion?"
"He claims it didn't work out." Ryan's voice sounded slightly choked. "He's with his sister tonight."
Laurie sat silently, turning his concentration to the stage before him. The characters were still there, and just as believable as before, butit seemed something was missing. Technically, it was truly an excellent production, and Janine was in her element in the starring role. He would have to introduce Ryan to her after the show. Perhaps...
He glanced over to see that Ryan seemed to be having as much difficulty concentrating on the story as himself. "You miss him," he whispered softly, his hand covering Ryan's on the arm of the chair between them.
Ryan shrugged. "I suppose I do." He bit his lip, and glanced again at Evan, whose dark head was bent in conversation with the girl sitting next to him. Ryan's eyes hardened slightly, and his back stiffened. "But it was his decision, and it was probably for the best." His hand turned over under Laurie's, ending up palm to palm, fingers entangling together. "After all, if he hadn't walked out on me, I wouldn't be here with you."
The jealousy seemed to subside somewhat, and Laurie took care to squash it completely then. He raised Ryan's hand to his lips, gently kissing the fingertips. "I'm sorry to say it, but I'm glad he walked out on you then."
Ryan's eyes shone as he smiled in return. "Then so am I."
Their attention turned back to the stage, the story engaging their interest again. When Laurie glanced back at Evan one last time, the other man was staring back at the two of them, his expression unreadable in the darkness. Smiling to himself, Laurie released Ryan's hand, and dropped his own arm around his companion's shoulders. A gentle tug, and Ryan leaned into him, head dropping onto Laurie's shoulder.
As Laurie watched, Evan turned away again. Laurie smiled in the comfortable feel of Ryan nestled against him, and resolved to enjoy the rest of the show.
"You brought me a gift!" The beautiful blonde swept Laurie and Ryan into her dressing room, enveloping Laurie in a warm hug. The silk of her dressing gown tickled his face as she drew her hand over his cheek and chin. "How wonderful of you." She then turned her attention to Ryan, grasping his shoulder firmly, and surveying his face and build. "An attractive one as well. Is he mine to keep?"
Ryan paled, and Laurie bit back his laughter. "No, Janine, he is my companion for the evening. I knew you would never forgive me for seeing your show without stopping backstage, so I persuaded Ryan to accompany me." Stepping forward, he gently disengaged her fingers from Ryan's shoulders, and pulled Ryan back, sliding one hand down to catch a hand in his own.
Janine pouted. "You are no fun, Laurie. You never were."
Laurie's smile was fond with remembrance. "Then your memory is failing, my lady."
Her momentary lapse was replaced with a sunny smile. "You are quite right, Laurie. You can be more than fun when you want to be." Her attention snapped back to Ryan. "Keep him, child. He will amuse you and enjoy you."
Ryan's face flooded with color. "I..."
"Don't listen to her," Laurie whispered, barely loud enough for Ryan to hear, the warm breath softly tickling his ear. "Janine has always run off at the mouth when she shouldn't. Just pay her no mind, and you'll be happier."
"Are you going to introduce me properly?" Janine smiled, as if she had no idea what Laurie had just said; both knowing that she had heard it perfectly well.
"Janine Sanders, please meet Ryan James." Laurie gave Ryan's hand a gentle squeeze. "Ryan, Janine is one of the foremost actresses of the era."
"Your show was wonderful," Ryan enthused, beginning to relax.
"Really?" Janine had never been one to resist praise. "So tell me," she motioned to a couch, and both settled down, "what did you think of the staging in the scene where..."
Laurie stepped away as the two dropped into an enthusiastic discussion of the production. While Ryan obviously had no background in the theatre, he knew what he enjoyed seeing, and had very definite opinions..And Janine, of course, loved to play to an audience, and Ryan was momentarily captive.
After more than an hour, Ryan glanced over to where Laurie stood, a half smile on his face as he watched the pair chatter. Laurie's smile broadened at the look of dismay on Ryan's face. "I'm so sorry. I believe I was distracted."
"Janine will do that to anybody," Laurie assured him. "If I hadn't expected to spend time backstage, I never would have brought you here."
"It has been a lovely visit." Janine languidly rose from the couch, one arm outstretched to Ryan. He helped her to her feet, gently kissing the back of her hand. "Please, do bring your companion again," she smiled as she said it, but it held the sound of an order to Laurie's ears.
He cocked his head, eyes narrowing slightly. Following her gaze to Ryan's neck, he shook his head slightly. Janine began to pout, but pushed Ryan towards Laurie. Ryan, oblivious to the byplay, merely walked over to stand by the door. "I'd love to come by again, sometime, Janine, if you wouldn't mind."
"As soon as we get the chance," Laurie assured her, ushering Ryan out the door before Janine could protest.
"You sound upset."
Laurie's eyes widened, surprised that Ryan had caught that, then he frowned to realize the jealousy that must have displayed so briefly on his face and in his voice. "She would eat you alive," he muttered.
"I doubt that." Ryan laughed.
"You'd be surprised." Laurie's voice was too low for Ryan to hear, then he smiled brightly. "Would you prefer me to admit that I'm jealous?"
Ryan stopped walking, turning to face Laurie. "Are you really? Why?"
Laurie shrugged, and simply drew Ryan towards him, kissing him gently. He stepped back, trying to measure the bewildered expression in Ryan's eyes. So young, so alive. There was a hint of bitterness as Laurie said, "I'm not sure why I'm jealous. But I am."
Ryan turned away, and began walking again. He was silent until they reached the car, and Laurie began to drive away. When he finally spoke, his voice was low, "Have you slept with her?"
Ryan nodded. "She seemed... familiar."
"We've known each other a long time." Laurie's fingers tightened on the steering wheel slightly, thinking just how long that time was. "And yes, long ago in our past, we were rather intimate."
Ryan was staring out the window, the back of his head to Laurie, gazing into the darkness. "It couldn't be that long ago."
"Long enough." Laurie tried to put an end to the queries with a note of finality. It worked, and the silence grew uncomfortable.
Laurie reached out, fingers falling softly on Ryan's shoulder, until the younger man turned to face front once more. Laurie let his hand fall down over his shoulder, clasping Ryan's hand in his own. No response. His hand fell to the seat between them, and Laurie started drum against the leather seat.
"I don't know how you do it."
"Do what?" Laurie kept his voice casual, wishing he dared look inside Ryan's mind, but hating the idea of invading his privacy that way.
"I think I'm jealous," Ryan admitted. "I keep thinking of you and Janine, and wondering... why did you stop seeing her? How can you be such good friends now? I don't think I could ever be friends with Evan again. And..." his voice trailed off, and there seemed to be a small catch in his throat. "If you had a relationship with her, a normal relationship, whyever would you want one with me?"
Laurie's hands clenched in surprise. He couldn't keep the anger from his voice. "What the hell do you mean by that?"
Ryan shrugged, turning to look back out the window again. "If you sleep with women, if you *can* sleep with women... I just don't understand what you want with me."
Laurie jerked the steering wheel hard, stomping on the brakes to skid to a stop at the side of the road. Luckily, at that late hour, it was nearly deserted, and the one lone car behind them swung around easily. He gave himself a few seconds to calm down. "What, exactly, is it that you are trying to say, Ryan?"
Ryan swallowed hard. "Do you have to make this so difficult? You know what I'm like, what my preferences are. I thought..." he blushed, barely visible in the darkness. "I thought you were the same. But I guess you're not."
"Are you saying that because I have, in the past, had a relationship with a woman, that I'm not good enough for you?" Laurie's voice was dangerously low.
"No!" Ryan's voice echoed in the confines of the car as he shouted his surprise. "Its just that a man wanting a woman is normal..."
"Are you trying to say that my wanting you is not normal?"
"Its perfectly normal, for me," Ryan allowed, "but not for you."
"Oh, bloody hell," Laurie swore. "Look, Ryan, there are a lot of things you don't know about me, that you may never know about me, and that you may not understand." Running his fingers through his hair in frustration, his fingers caught in the ribbon holding his ponytail and he yanked it out. Long blond strands framed his face, slightly tangled from the ribbon having been removed. "Ryan, my relationship with Janine, or with anyone else in my past, has nothing to do with might happen between us. Nothing."
Ryan's chocolate eyes reflected in the lights of a passing driver, and Laurie read confusion, insecurity, and a glimmer of hope. He sighed, deciding to forget talking about it. Reaching out, he clasped Ryan's shoulders and pulled him close, kissing him gently. "There," he said softly, "does that make my point?"
Ryan sat back slightly, a quirk of a smile barely beginning. "I think so. Care to reinforce it?"
And Laurie did.
"Would you like to do something this evening?"
Laurie yawned, as he smiled at the phone. Even after two weeks, Ryan still called him before sundown. Someday, perhaps, he'd change, but Laurie enjoyed his enthusiasm. And his company. "Did you have something in particular in mind?"
"Well," Ryan hesitated. "We've done *something* just about every night, going to the club, and the theatre, and..."
Laurie frowned. Ryan's insecurity must be wearing off on him, he decided, as he asked, "Have we been spending too much time together?"
"Not at all!" Ryan insisted. Laurie could almost picture him grinning on the other end of the phone. "I was just thinking that perhaps it might be nice to have a quieter evening. I could pick up some fish & chips on my way over, and a bottle of good rosi. What do you say?"
"Sounds wonderful," Laurie agreed. "Give me a half hour to crawl out of bed." He was still smiling at the click of the phone, then yawned again. Slowly he climbed out of bed, forcing himself to stay awake. It wasn't long to dark, but it was hard to stay awake during even the shortest of daylight hours. A slowly warming shower helped, as well as the eventual setting of the sun.
He dressed carefully, but casually. Grey slacks, a black T-shirt. He didn't bother to dry his hair, simply tugging it back with a leather strip. No socks or shoes either. He always preferred his freedom, and if they weren't going out, there was no need for formality.
When the doorbell rang, he hurried to get the buzzer. Ryan's footsteps moved slowly up the stairs, and Laurie had the door open to greet him. At the sight of Ryan's smile, Laurie forgot what he had planned to say. "Hi."
"Hi yourself," Ryan returned the smile. He stopped a short way from Laurie, smiling shyly. "Well?" Holding out a bottle in a bag, he added softly, "Here."
Laurie stepped back from the door, motioning for Ryan to step in as he took the bottle from him. "Not bad," he decided, scanning the label quickly.
"I've got dinner as well," Ryan reminded him.
"Wonderful." Laurie watched as Ryan moved to the table and began to lay out the meal. Ryan was comfortable in Laurie's flat, finding the plates and silverware easily. "Wine glasses are above the sink," Laurie offered, when Ryan faltered.
"Thanks." Ryan walked back, slipping the bottle from Laurie's hand. "Would you care to join me?" He filled both glasses, then handed one to Laurie. "You're being terribly quiet. Is something the matter?"
Laurie shook himself slightly. "No, no, nothing." He forced a smile to his face, trying to shake the nervousness he felt. Ryan was one more man, one more relationship. One more meal. After centuries, that was the only sane way to see it.
Ryan raised his glass. "To two weeks."
"Two weeks, and more," Laurie agreed. Stepping forward, the took he glass from Ryan, kissing him quickly. "Let's get to dinner before it gets cold." He smiled softly. "Its always best to eat a meal hot."
Both were silent during the meal, Laurie reflecting on his plans for the evening, and Ryan silently observing. Once everything was finished, the table cleaned and the dishes taken care of, Laurie felt a familiar hunger and an equally unfamiliar set of nerves fall over him. "Perhaps you'd care to watch the telly?"
Ryan shrugged. "Its up to you. To be perfectly honest, I just couldn't stand the thought of spending another evening wearing something dressy and uncomfortable." He gestured at his jeans and T-shirt. "As much as I've enjoyed the theatre and shows and dinners, I'd much rather just spend time with you," he admitted, blushing slightly.
Laurie began to relax. "Then perhaps a show or two." Snagging the remains of the wine, and the glasses, he led the way into the living room.
Settled in on the couch, Laurie draped an arm about Ryan's shoulder, enjoying the feel of the younger man cradled against his side. As a comedy droned on across the room, Laurie ignored it, gently stroking Ryan's neck, feeling the pulse jump under his fingers.
"Much better," Ryan whispered. His hand had settled on Laurie's knee, and stayed there, fingers splayed over the leg. "Don't stop," he sounded surprised when Laurie's fingers left his neck.
Laurie chuckled. "Don't tell me you have a sensitive neck." He could feel the heat rising under his fingertips as Ryan blushed.
"That could make the evening very interesting. You might say I have a fondness for necks myself." Laurie sat up, turning to face Ryan. He took the younger man's chin in his hand, tipping his head back. "Now, where is best to start?"
Laurie began to nibble just below Ryan's ear. He worked his way down, licking at the side of the neck, arriving finally at the crest of the collarbone. Ryan sighed, his head dropping back, exposing more of the tender flesh. Laurie drew back, and held his breath, bringing the sudden hunger back under control.
Ryan's eyes flickered open, and he pulled himself forward to glare at Laurie. "Don't you dare stop again," he ordered. There was a sudden confidence in his voice as he pulled Laurie forward, kissing him firmly. "You started this," Ryan muttered against his lips. "And we're going to finish it."
Laurie smiled. "Damn straight." And then bent back to what he had been doing. He could feel the hunger still, but something else interfered. No matter how strong the thirst was, the desire was stronger. As clothes slipped over skin, and Ryan's hands gently, then roughly, caressed his body he realized that Ryan was far more than another simple mortal.
"Please, Laurie," Ryan whispered. His lover didn't have to ask what for, stroking him. Ryan was breathing hard as Laurie moved up over him, back to the soft skin of the neck. Ryan sighed at the touch of his lips, fevered passion clouding his eyes.
Laurie couldn't restrain himself any longer, either hunger for Ryan's body or his blood. As his teeth slipped into the vein, he could feel Ryan's body shudder against him as his own tremors began.
Laurie gently licked Ryan's neck, feeling the wounds close beneath his tongue. Slight tremors still shook his body, and Laurie simply held him, waiting for the tremors to die down.
The sounds of the telly still sounded across the room, and one show ended and another began before Ryan stirred and sat up. He silently reached down, picking up discarded clothing, sorting out the items.
"Going somewhere?" Laurie asked mildly.
Ryan glanced over in surprise. "Its gotten pretty late. You usually kick me out right about now."
Laurie stretched lazily along the couch, drawing Ryan's attention easily to him. He smiled and licked his lips. "What if I asked you to stay tonight."
"I'd ask if you're sure," Ryan told him, chocolate eyes serious.
"Dead serious," Laurie assured him. "Do you have anything to do tomorrow? I'd love to keep you to myself tonight."
A slow smile began to spread across Ryan's face, the light reaching his eyes quickly. "And I'd love to stay."
Laurie stood, taking the shirt from Ryan's hand, dropping it back on the floor. Taking his hand, he drew him towards the bedroom in the back of the flat. "There's only one condition to this," he cautioned. "Don't you dare wake me up during the day tomorrow."
Laurie laughed at the answer. Thankfully, all the windows were magically barred. He doubted Ryan would ever keep that promise. And he didn't care. He'd taken care of his thirst. Now he wanted to spend the rest of the night enjoying his time with Ryan.
"I'm in love." Laurie's voice fell flat into the silence.
"You don't sound happy about it." Melody commented dryly as she looked up from her stack of paperwork. Catching sight of the expression on his face, her eyes widened slightly. "Oh my, you don't look happy either."
"I'm happy," Laurie muttered, dropping his lanky frame onto the couch in his office. "And I'm not happy." He ran his fingers through his hair, drawing the long strands back, then dropping them so that they hung over his face. "Dammit, I just wasn't expecting to fall in love."
Melody walked over to the couch, settling carefully next to him. "I take it this is that fellow who stopped by a few weeks ago?"
"Ryan, yes," Laurie agreed. "We've gotten quite close since then." He leaned forward, chin on his hands. "The thing is, Melody, Ryan's mortal. Therefore, he's dinner. And that's all he should be to me." Leaning back again, he sighed dramatically. "A damnably attractive goblet of blood."
Melody chuckled. "*I'm* mortal. Am I just dinner?"
"While I have nibbled on your neck on occasion," Laurie admitted, "you're not just dinner to me. But I wouldn't say I'm in love with you, either."
Melody considered him as he sprawled across the couch. His face was paler than usual, and his clothes wrinkled. The shirt looked slept in, and his eyes were drawn together. It almost looked as if he had worry lines appearing by his eyes. "This is really bothering you, isn't it? You really are upset that you're in love with him." She covered his hand with her own, squeezing gently. "Why is it so bad?"
"He's mortal, dammit!" Laurie jumped up and stalked away, pacing around the room. "Vampires can't fall in love with mortals. It just doesn't happen. It isn't worth anything. Mortals *die*."
Melody didn't try to hide her smile. "And vampires don't."
Laurie crumpled, as if he'd been struck, ending up semi-seated on the floor. "No, you're quite right. Vampires most certainly do die. And almost as unexpectedly as mortals do."
The thought seemed to hang in the air between them, how despondent Laurie had been returning from the States nearly a year before. It had been months before he could stop his frenzied work long enough to confide in his partner. She had done her best to comfort him, but he hadn't been the same since. She'd hoped this vacation would help him forget the young lover who had died in a firebombing in San Francisco.
Laurie sighed. "I deserved it. You *are* right. I shouldn't hold it against him that he's mortal."
"You don't seem any happier," Melody observed.
"No," he sighed again, "I'm not. I'm almost beginning to wonder if Jonathan is right. Maybe I should stop involving myself with mortals."
"Close the school? Abandon me?" Melody teased.
"I already told you, you're different. You don't count as a mortal."
"I'd love it if you'd remind the deities in power when it comes time for me to die," Melody quipped.
Laurie forced a smile. "I could fix that mortality problem of yours in an instant."
"You could do the same for Ryan if you wanted, as well."
"If *he* wanted," Laurie looked away. He walked over to the window, and looked out into the cool night. "I've never discussed it with him. It just hasn't come up."
"I've tasted his blood, yes," Laurie answered her unasked question. "But we haven't talked about it. He hasn't asked any questions, and I haven't felt like volunteering."
Laurie shrugged. "A week. It's..." He drew a deep breath, filling his lungs slowly, feeling the pressure of the air inside. He didn't need to breath, but it still helped calm him, letting the air out little by little while he tried to put his thoughts together. "I can't resist him. I barely taste him, and he is so... his neck is so sensitive, he's so responsive. The reaction he has to everything is part of what I love about him. I want to keep giving him that joy."
"So *do* it."
"How?" He sounded helpless, confused, and Melody suddenly felt far older than him. "I don't know how to do it, without changing him somehow. I have to explain everything to him, and I'm afraid it will make a difference." His fingers tightened on the windowsill, nails digging tiny half moons into the wood. "I've never actually had a relationship with someone who didn't know who I was, or what I was, before it began."
"Does he love you?"
Laurie shook his head. "I don't know."
Melody approached to stand behind him, hands on his shoulders, massaging gently. "Have you told him you love him?"
Laurie's head dropped forward, hair shadowing his face. "No."
"Then what do you think your next step is?"
Laurie straightened, shrugging her touch off. "You really believe in honesty, don't you."
"Lying is making you miserable," Melody confirmed. "I'd rather have you sitting here telling me you love him and being happy about it, rather than worrying about what he's going to do when you tell him you're an evil creature of the night. So just go and do it."
Laurie walked over to the desk, and yanked a drawer open, pulling out a brush. He tugged it through the tangled strands, grunting with the pain as his hair resisted being brushed. Finally the long locks hung straight around his face, and he dropped the brush back into the drawer, drawing out an elastic instead. He quickly braided his hair, and twisted the elastic firmly around. A single strand escaped, falling across his nose when he turned back to look at Melody.
"Fine, I'll do it your way." His back was stiff and resolute. "You're right. Whether he rejects me, or agrees with me, or..." Watching, Melody saw his shoulders suddenly slump, then Laurie turned to face her again. "Whatever he says, you'll still listen to me, right? Even if I did say you didn't count."
"I'll still listen to you." Melody smiled encouragingly. She had never seen Laurie this nervous, this insecure. "That's what friends are for, to pick up the pieces."
Laurie clasped her hands, squeezing tightly, then releasing. "Thanks. Wish me luck."
"Good luck." Melody smiled at the closing door. "But I doubt you'll need it."
Laurie hit the buzzer, even as it sounded through his flat. Whistling, he strode to the door, and whipped it open. Footsteps were still coming up the stairs. "Hello, Ryan," he called out cheerfully.
"Is that his name?" Jeffrey's voice was dry and his expression sour as he came into view. "I take it you are expecting his company this evening."
"As a matter of fact, I am." Laurie turned on his heel and walked away, leaving Jeffrey in the doorway. "Come in," he called back, "and shut the door behind you. *Both* of you."
Jeffrey stepped inside, and motioned for Karen to follow. As he removed his gloves, Jeffrey surveyed the flat, while Karen hovered near the door.
"You don't have to be on guard duty," Laurie told her, still smiling. "No one is going to be attacking you here, and Ryan isn't a hunter."
"You trust mortals too easily," Jeffrey reminded him. "What evidence do you have that he can be trusted?"
Laurie smiled. "None at all, without going into his mind." His eyes hardened suddenly. "And don't order me to do that, Jeffrey, either as brother or Prince. Because I won't. I *do* trust Ryan, and that is something you will have to learn to understand."
A hint of bitterness crossed his face as he turned to Karen. "As for yourself. I thought you had made me a promise."
She lowered her eyes. "I had agreed not to tell Jeffrey, that is true." Laurie saw the flash of anger in his brother's eyes, but Karen carefully did not look at either of the men. "But I also agreed that while I would not aid him, nor would I hinder him."
"You are kindred," Jeffrey reminded him. "And *he* is human. He is cattle, good only for manipulation or dinner."
Laurie raised an eyebrow, a bit of humor returning. "Oh? And what would you do during the day without your human servants? Do you trust them?"
"I *control* them."
Laurie shuddered delicately at Jeffrey's statement. "You would have done well in the feudal age, brother. What a pity you can't return London to that time." He walked away, and busied his hands arranging a setting for two on the table. "But whether you control the mortals who protect you during the day or not, the fact remains, you cannot control me. And as I control the Chantry, I doubt you wish to cross me, either. I will take any action against Ryan as a direct action against myself." Laurie's expression was mild as he turned to face Jeffrey once more. "Is that clear?"
"And should you reveal yourself to that mortal, I will accept that you have broken the Masquerade and deal with you accordingly." Jeffrey's voie was deep and solemn. "I believe Vienna will agree with any action I might take."
Eyes locked, neither would look away. "My sire might have something different to say," Laurie said simply. He held his brother's gaze a moment longer before purposefully turning his back. "May I get you something?"
He heard a small sound, as if Karen began to speak, before Jeffrey interrupted. "No, we will be leaving soon."
"Not soon enough," Laurie muttered. He didn't care if he was overheard, Jeffrey already knew his opinion.
When the bell to the flat rang, Karen reached the door before Laurie could, swinging it wide.
Ryan stopped in the doorway, looking curiously into the apartment. "Am I interrupting something?"
Laurie sighed. "No, come on in. I've got everything set up for dinner, if you don't mind eating in."
"Not at all." Ryan stepped in, and watched as Karen closed the door behind him. She merely watched him in return, a slight smile on her face. Looking away, Ryan stepped close to Laurie. "Are you certain I'm not interrupting? I can always stop back later." He chuckled softly. "And after I was so careful not to call and wake you up this evening, too."
Laurie stifled a groan at the frown on Jeffrey's face at the last comment. "They were on their way out anyway." He motioned towards the couch. "This is my brother Jeffrey, and the lovely young lady at the door is his companion Karen." Laurie slid an arm around Ryan's waist, tugging him gently closer. "Brother, this is Ryan." Laurie smiled at his companion, then kissed him, deepening the kiss as Ryan responded.
Ryan drew back after a moment. "If we start now, we'll never have dinner," he reminded Laurie. After a glance at Jeffrey, he added, "And I don't think your brother approves."
Laurie hid a smile at his brother's glowering expression. "My brother has never approved of my lifestyle," he agreed. "And he likely never will. He will simply have to learn to agree to disagree."
Jeffrey stood, tugging black gloves over his hands. "Perhaps," he acknowledged. "But that is something we can discuss later. For now, you would do well to remember what we have already discussed this evening."
"As would you," Laurie agreed. He watched as the door swung shut behind the other two, then slowly dropped his strong hold on Ryan. "As would you," he repeated softly.
"Your brother doesn't approve of me."
Laurie had to smile at Ryan. "Not at all. He has never approved of me. You are merely a facet of that disapproval."
"I'm not causing you any family problems, am I?" Ryan's chocolate eyes mirrored his concern. "I'd hate to think I'm coming between you and your family."
"You would not be the first thing to come between us." Laurie sighed. "My relationship with my brother has never been a good one, and the years have only made it worse." He flashed a bright smile and drew Ryan to him. "But that has little to do with tonight. Did you have any plans for the evening?"
Ryan laughed and grinned, eyes dark with desire. "Dinner, and maybe desert." He frowned as Laurie pulled away from him, turning his back. "What's wrong?"
Laurie kept his back to him, tongue running over his sharp canines. It took a minute before he was under control again. "Nothing." he managed to keep his voice from shaking. "The argument with Jeffrey must have bothered me more than I thought."
"Are you certain you want company this evening?"
Laurie didn't say a word, merely walked into the kitchen and returned with a tray. "And let my homecooked meal go to waste? I hardly ever cook, so you must at least try it." His grin showed his return to good humor. "After all, I may not cook like this again for years."
"It looks wonderful." Ryan took the plate of fetuccine from the tray and set it on the table. Moments later they were seated, and Ryan made a noise deep in his throat. "This is wonderful. What do you mean you won't cook again for years?"
It would be the perfect moment. Laurie slowly chewed, swallowed, and tried to work up the nerve to say it. Then a sip of wine. When he looked at Ryan, he was smiling back, waiting. "Its an exaggeration." Laurie sighed, mentally cursing himself. "I'm an excellent cook, but I so rarely do it. My friends say its like I cook only once every decade." Which is true, he admitted to himself.
Ryan accepted the answer, silently finishing the dinner. "I hope I'm around the next time you decide to cook, then." He flashed a quick grin, then disappeared into the kitchen with the dirty dishes.
Something turned over in Laurie's stomach. Next time... he liked the idea. Standing, he shook his head. Melody was right. He had to talk to Ryan, and soon.
"Where are you wandering off to?" Ryan was behind him, arms around his waist. "You look like you're a million miles from here."
"Just thinking of you." Laurie sighed as one of Ryan's hands caressed his chest. He could feel Ryan's body against the length of his back, cheek pressed into Laurie's shoulder. "Where do you want me to be?"
"Here," Ryan whispered. "In my arms. Now." He groaned softly. "Please?"
Laurie turned in his arms, forgetting everything else. "Damn." He kissed Ryan, nibbling on his lower lip until Ryan began to moan. He stepped back long enough to allow both to shed their clothes quickly, then their bodies entwined again.
"Please?" Ryan's voice was choked, barely a whisper.
"No." Laurie slowly pushed Ryan down to the floor, covering his body with his own. "Not yet."
Skillfully he stroked Ryan's body to the breaking point, not allowing him his release. When Ryan could only whimper incoherently, Laurie finally gave in, sinking his teeth into the vein as they both slipped over the edge.
Laurie lay half on top of Ryan, his head cradled against Ryan's shoulder, one leg and one arm splayed over the other man's body. With one hand, Ryan gently stroked Laurie's hair.
"I wish it could be like this forever."
Laurie suppressed a shiver. "Just like this?" He chuckled. "Do you want to live forever?"
Ryan was silent a moment. Then he sighed. "Its a nice dream, isn't it? Never dying, I mean. Never having to grow old and die."
Laurie slipped away and propped himself up on one elbow. "What if it were possible, I mean. Would you want to live forever?"
"Its impossible." Ryan discounted the idea.
"But what if, Ryan?" Laurie smiled, and poked him in the ribs, getting a laugh in response as Ryan tried to move away from the tickling. "Play the game. *What if* it were possible to live forever? Would you?"
Ryan locked his hands under his head, elbows out, staring up at the ceiling. "Is there a price?"
Laurie shrugged. "There's a lot of different ways to be immortal. According to fiction anyway." He took a deep breath. "What if you were a vampire?"
"A vampire?" Ryan sat up suddenly, laughing. "You mean the kind of guy who runs around in a cape saying, 'I vant to suck your blood'?"
"Well, the bloodsucking type anyway." Laurie frowned as Ryan started to laugh again. "You're not playing the game, Ryan."
"All right, all right." Ryan swallowed and managed to stop laughing. "I'll try to take you seriously." He sat and thought, chewing on his lip. Laurie watched him, catching his eye long enough to catch fleeting thoughts and emotions.
"I..." Ryan hesitated.
Laurie felt a sudden fleeting moment of horror from Ryan.
"Would I have to kill?" His voice dropped to a whisper.
Laurie shook his head. "No killing. Just small sips of blood." He licked his lips unconsciously "Your victim probably wouldn't even notice."
Ryan was silent for long enough that Laurie wished he dared peer inside his mind to see what he was thinking about.
"I don't think I'd like it."
Laurie hid his disappointment. "Why not?"
"I'd hate to see everyone I know die. I'd hate hurting people just so that I could live."
"What if it didn't hurt them?"
Ryan rolled over, his back to Laurie, curled up in a ball. "It wouldn't matter if it hurt them or not. I'd still be robbing them of something they couldn't live without, just to sustain my own life. It wouldn't be right."
Laurie stroked his back, his expression sad. "Its only make believe, Ryan." He tugged on his shoulder until Ryan turned to face him again. He smiled reassuringly. "Vampires aren't real."
"I know," Ryan admitted. "All those thoughts of losing people, and dying, and killing... it gets to me."
"Don't." Laurie shushed him with a kiss. "Don't even think about it. This is life." He allowed his hands to wander, bringing Ryan quickly out of his depression.
This time when he drew out the lovemaking it was slow and languid, no hurry, no fever pitch. A strong reaffirmation of life and the living.
"Maybe not forever," Ryan whispered when it was over. He didn't try to suppress his yawn, curling his sated body into Laurie's.
Laurie sat up, hand still stroking Ryan's side. In moments Ryan was asleep. With a little effort he slipped inside to read a few residual thoughts. Ryan was horrified at the idea of vampirism, at the idea of what Laurie did.
"I love you." Laurie brushed away the tear that fell onto Ryan's back. With another few moment's effort he was inside his mind completely. Everything laid bare before him. He didn't look, couldn't look. Didn't want to know how Ryan really felt about him. It didn't matter anymore.
Ryan would never understand who Laurie was. He couldn't tell him, he couldn't not tell him. If he kept him, Jonathan would use him. Laurie shivered at the image of Jonathan with his lips at Ryan's neck.
It would be better this way. Better to end it now, before the caring got to be too much. Better to let go.
Laurie sat at the desk, a mound of paperwork before him, the pen dangling between his fingertips. Melody hadn't bothered to knock before walking into his study, and he hadn't even noticed her arrive. She stood there, watching him as the cap of the pen slipped between his teeth and he gently chewed on the tip, brows furrowed in concentration.
"Hard at work?" she broked the silence.
His head snapped up. "What in bloody hell are you doing here?"
"Checking up on you," she admitted. "You've been a bear the last few days. Last I knew you were in love. Want to talk about it?"
Laurie leaned back, placing the pen between his teeth again. Seconds later he yanked it from between his lips and slammed it down on the desk, glaring at it. "I think I need a drink," he muttered. "Want to go with me?"
Melody looked him over. Physically he looked fine. Better, in fact, than he had since coming back from the States. But his eyes were shadowed. "Let me get my coat." She stood, then paused. "We are talking about alcohol here, right?"
"Just get your coat."
He met her at the door, ignoring the flirtations of one of his older students.
"You're breaking Amery's heart," Melody informed him as they walked to the car.
"I don't mix business and pleasure," he reminded her. "The students are still children. I don't involve myself with children."
"Where are we going?"
She waited for an answer, more concerned when he was silent. His face was unreadable as he drove. "What did Jeffrey have to say yesterday?"
His back stiffened. "Nothing important."
"He doesn't usually stop by the school."
"No." Laurie's voice was cold. "And he needn't have bothered this time."
His fingers tightened on the wheel. It had been a short visit, Karen hovering in the background like a dutiful shadow. "I see you are back at work." Jeffrey's voice was cool, clipped.
"Here and at the chantry," Laurie told him. "Is that good enough for you?"
"Until you step outside the bounds again."
The brothers had stood nose to nose then, and Laurie's eyes darkened with crimson anger. "Leave him alone. He is no longer a part of this."
Now Laurie's fingers loosened again from the steering wheel as he pulled into the parking lot. The neon sign above the entrance glowed garishly into the darkness.
Melody reached out, her hand light on his shoulder. "Are you sure this is a good idea? Isn't this where you said you met..."
"Yes." He didn't let her finish the thought. "I want a drink. Maybe a dance." He smiled wryly. "Humor me."
He slipped out of the car, walking around to get Melody's door for her. As they walked into the club, she reached for his hand, their fingers entwining.
The music surrounded them, enfolding them in the pulsing beat. Melody squeezed Laurie's hand as he silently led them to a table in a corner, with easy sight of the dance floor. "Two glasses and a bottle of red." He waved the waitress away quickly and settled in, slumping down in his chair.
Melody tried to talk, but he refused to answer, staring at the dance floor. When the wine arrived, he poured two glasses, handing one to her, and toying with the other, barely sipping at it.
She followed his line of sight to the twisting bodies on the dance floor. The music settled into a slower beat, and slowly the bodies resolved into couples, bodies linked and swaying on the floor. And it made sense.
She had only met him once, but she knew who Laurie was watching. She reached out and covered Laurie's hand with her own. "Who is he with?" she whispered.
"Evan. Ryan had just been left by him when I met him." He slipped his hand free from Melody's and quickly down his glass of wine, pouring another.
Out on the dance floor, Ryan caught sight of the table in the corner and smiled. Laurie couldn't help but smile in response. Ryan tugged at his companion's shoulder and they stopped dancing. It took a moment while Ryan drew Evan behind him through the crowd. Laurie took the time to compose his expression and his thoughts.
"Hi, Laurie." Ryan's voice was cheerful above the din of the music. "Evan, this is the wonderful friend I told you about."
"A pleasure." Evan's eyes reflected his confusion, a slight recognition of Laurie mirrored there. "Ryan told me how you encouraged him to give me a second chance. I'm grateful."
"Is it all working out?" Laurie was surprised his voice didn't sound more choked. It felt as if his throat were closed.
"Wonderfully." Ryan gave Evan an impulsive hug, his chocolate eyes showing desire. "Its better than before, and everything is out in the open." Evan smiled in response, their eyes caught. Laurie turned away slightly, unable to watch the silent exchange.
"I was overreacting, nervous," Evan admitted. "But I realized how much I missed Ryan, especially when I saw him at the theatre with you. I was so relieved when Ryan told me it was nothing serious."
Laurie quickly finished his second glass of wine. Melody frowned at his pale face, the faint red glow in his eyes. She poured him another glass of wine and quickly wrapped his fingers around the stem. His voice was soft, "I'm glad its all going well."
"Thanks to you." Ryan slipped out of Evan's embrace. Giving Laurie a quick hug, he dropped a kiss on his forehead. "I really do appreciate everything you did for me."
Laurie reached up, his hand trailing briefly over Ryan's cheek before he jerked it away. "It was a pleasure." He swallowed hard. "If you need anything, you know I'll be there."
"I know." Ryan drew away, moving back close to Evan. As he slipped his arm around Ryan's waist, Evan leaned down and whispered something into his ear. Ryan's eyes lit up and he smiled back. "Let's dance," he whispered throatily.
"You okay?" Melody asked softly. Laurie's eyes were still fastened on the two men who had moved back onto the dance floor, bodies seeming glued together.
Laurie shook his head. "Let's dance." He dragged her out to the floor, fingers digging into her wrist. She slid into his embrace, wrapping her arms around him, hardly flinching when his arms pulled her roughly against him.
"I'm going to miss him." His words whispered softly against her cheek.
"I know," she said. "What happened?"
He shook his head. "I couldn't do it. He hated the idea of what I am. I had to let him go."
"He seems so..."
"I erased... changed how he felt about me." A tear rolled down his cheek, falling against Melody's. "I had to."
Melody caressed his back. "You still love him."
She pulled his head against her shoulder. Her hands stroked his back, comforting, drawing out his emotion. She could feel his shoulders silently heaving, the damp from his tears soaking her blouse. While the music turned fast she continued to hold him and simply sway.
A Moment in Time is copyright © 1994 and 1995 by Deb Atwood. A single hardcopy is permitted for personal use only. Story may not be distributed without express permission of the author.