CHAPTER 11

 

Xavier found Dominic still in the kitchen, although Gabriel wasn’t around. The remnants of dinner smelled absolutely wonderful and Xav concentrated on trying to not let his belly growl. He gave his friend a sheepish little smile. 

“Dom…I’m sorry I stormed off like that.”

Lord Warren swept a gentle hand around the back of his neck and pulled his head in, kissing him softly on the brow.

“What’s done is done,” he said pragmatically. “Though I cannot say with my hand on my heart that I was not a little irate about it, the moment has passed. Did you two patch it up?”

He steered Xavier to the table as he was speaking and sat him down in front of a large hollow bottomed plate, more like a shallow soup dish, and a set of pricey looking silver cutlery that was as heavy as it looked. There was still a very tempting aroma wafting from the covered pan on the stove although the dishes waiting for the large stone sink by the window suggested that his hosts had already eaten. Xavier sat, feeling like a contrite six-year-old for pissing Dominic off. 

“Um, yeah,” he answered as little flashes of just how well they had made up zipped through his head and made him smile. “I really am sorry Dom. I don’t know why I got so mad.”

“Hmm, let me guess,” Dominic mused, filling his bowl with a delicious smelling helping of meaty stew and cutting him a handful of slices of fresh bread to help mop it up. He put the pan on the cast iron trivet at the head of the table and sat down opposite Xav with his chin on the backs of his hands, contemplating the younger man with a slight twinkle in his eye. “Perhaps a certain Mr. Vampire seems to take you for granted a little too much? Could that be part of it? I’ve already chastised Gabriel Arden for his part in the charade, by the way. And I’m not angry with you. It’s not fair that you were caught in the inevitable crossfire between Gabe and Rayne. Gabriel can’t help himself. Rayne…”

Dominic hesitated for a moment then shook his head. “I’m just not sure.”

Xavier looked at his plate for a moment, a little frown creasing his brow. “I don’t know that he takes me for granted so much. He just… has a shit load of boundaries. It just got to me to have it pointed out to me again how much he doesn’t tell me.” And it had hurt, a lot, to feel so marginalized. Xav spooned up a huge mouthful of the stew, he really was hungry, especially after such an energetic day. He shook his head slightly as he chewed and swallowed. “I told them earlier they were like two kids on a playground running up and pulling each other’s pigtails.”

“That’s just what they’re like!” Dominic chuckled. “And we all know why boys and girls do that, don’t we? They can play the ‘I’m not even going to stoop to his level’ card as much as they like but they don’t fool me. And I’m pretty sure they don’t pull the wool over your eyes either.” 

He smiled conspiratorially at Xavier, but it was not an entirely happy smile. Xav was quiet again for a few moments. He was wondering about Dominic’s unhappy look. Maybe Dom wasn’t as cool with sharing his boyfriend as he’d seemed. Xav cleared his throat after eating another bite. 

“Does that bother you?” he asked, a little hesitantly.

Lord Warren sighed and pushed a long-fingered, sun-tanned hand through his halo of silver and gold curls. He was a handsome man, who definitely did not look his age, but the tell-tale anxiety was there in his face. Gabriel was a natural flirt, in that they were well matched, but he was also a good 30 years Dominic’s junior, by Xavier’s reckoning.

“I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” he responded diplomatically. “And when those two ‘play’ believe me, more than just fur flies!”

Now Xavier’s expression turned very thoughtful indeed, but he let the subject go because it seemed to be making Dominic unhappy. He concentrated on eating instead and it was perhaps a good thing they’d stopped talking about that particular subject because it was about then that Gabriel wandered back in from outside.

Xavier was not quite sure what to say to him. He’d apologised to Dominic because he’d felt bad after Dom had gone to the trouble to invite them here and cook and everything, but he wasn’t sure how he felt about Gabriel right now.

Dominic moved to his feet and rattled a few pans in the sink, but Gabriel took a place at the table, not quite facing Xavier but close enough that the younger man could meet his eye without cricking his neck if he chose to.

“You all right, mate?” he asked in a sober tone. “I didn’t mean fer you to get all riled about what I said. I was just pokin’ a bit of fun at him, I never thought like how it might hurt you. But it weren’t meant, honest. Sorry.”

Dominic glanced over his shoulder at the gangling Roma with a brief expression of surprise. He turned away to hide it just as quickly though.

Xavier leveled a look at Gabriel and there was no mistaking that he was silently weighing the sincerity of that apology. That single glance took some of the youth off him for a moment and gave a brief glimpse of the jaded, wary young man behind his normal carefree facade. Then he offered a little half smile and shrugged, and all seemed right again. 

“S’okay,” he said by way of accepting the apology for what it was. “So, you never did answer if you changed into a puppy when you were little.”

Gabe cracked a tiny smile too and shook his head.

“Sorry to disappoint you, I was a hairy baby, but I didn’t start feelin’ the urge to shift until I was a bit older.” He looked at Xavier with puppy-dog eyes though. “What a night that was!”

Xavier seemed unusually interested, or maybe not so unusual. After all, how often did one get to meet a werewolf? His curiosity was killing him. “Did you know what was going to happen? I mean, did you know you were a werewolf already or was that when you found out? How long does it take to shift? Does it hurt? Do you mind my asking? Can I see you do it?”

Dominic managed a slightly longer look over his shoulder, he was trying not to laugh this time. There was something so childlike about Xavier’s enthusiasm. Most adults recoiled with horror at the idea of anything remotely out of the ordinary. Mind you, the boy had been sharing his body with a vampire for the past couple of months!

Gabe chuckled too, relaxing as he figured Xav clearly wasn’t all that mad at him.

“Nosy, aren’t you?” he remarked, winking to show the younger man he wasn’t offended. “I kind of knew I was different, I got two were uncles and my grandfather on me da’s side is a shifter too. The family was expectin’ one of us to have the curse an’ I was the lucky pup!” He grinned at Xavier now. “I was born with hair all over my body but it dropped off when I was about 6 months old. I didn’t shift for the first time till I was near’ thirteen though. I was a late starter, my kin had been expectin’ it for about 18 months. For a couple of moons before, I got the wanderlust, real bad. Bad even for one of the people, an’ we’re always on the move. I just wanted to be off, explorin’, finding wild places where there was no folk. At finish my gramps took me off wanderin’ over the moors and sleepin’ under the stars. When the moon finally came full, he shifted to ‘is wolf form and so did I. Bein’ up close with him when it happened must of triggered me off.

“We ran together and he showed me how to hunt that first night. The shift hurt pretty bad when it was happenin’, but weres heal fast in shifted form so it didn’t hurt for long once my wolf was out. And Gramps stayed with me the whole time so I wasn’t really scared.”

“Liar,” Dominic teased. “You told me once that you screamed like a baby the whole time and he was mortally ashamed of you!”

Gabriel flipped him the bird and pulled a face. “Who’s side are you on? That was pretty low, Lady W.”

Xavier grinned. He had listened intently to everything Gabe said, while still managing to put away most of the food in front of him. 

“Do you remember everything when you shift back?” He asked this question slightly more cautiously.

“Course I do,” Gabe’s broad grin returned and he winked at Xavier again. “The wolf is me and I am the wolf. Wolf memories are hard to describe though. When I’m shifted I sense things very different to what I do in this shape. The wolf scents and it tastes, it hears everything, the wolf don’t think in words, Xavier. It thinks in smell-o-vision!” The curl of his lips was almost lascivious now. 

Xavier finished off the stew and he cocked his head slightly. Gabe’s senses might be sharper in his wolf form, but Xav was willing to bet they weren’t exactly at ordinary human level in his current form either. It made him wonder what he must smell like to him right now to put that look on his face, like he wanted to eat him up. 

“Do you shift right into a wolf, or do you have a form in between?” he asked to distract himself from the idea that Gabriel might be able to smell what he and Rayne had just been up to, and also thinking of things he’d seen in movies.

Gabriel leaned back comfortably in his seat as Dominic returned to the table and poured more wine for the three of them. Lord Warren leaned over to kiss his younger lover affectionately and Gabe reached up and stroked his hair before they drew apart again. There was a tenderness in his dark eyes, that Xavier had not seen before, when he returned his attention their guest.

“When the moon’s not quite full I can do a kind of semi-shift. I’m still mostly human but the wolf genes run stronger in me, I’m taller and lots stronger when it happens.”

“His libido is pretty high as well,” Dom grinned wickedly and reached for his glass.

Gabriel shook his head but he was chuckling quietly again. “I can control how and when that happens too,” he explained. “But with the full shift, when the moon comes proper full I have to turn, no fighting it. I don’t have no human control over what happens then neither.”

“He can make a total shift without the moon being full,” Dominic added, sipping his wine. “It’s harder to do the further he is from the moon’s zenith but it can be done.”

Xavier fell quiet as he took in all the information he’d been given. He got the feeling that Gabriel probably didn’t answer these kinds of questions for many people. He was still more than a little fascinated, although his questions seemed to have run out for the time being. All except one, which he hesitated in asking again because he thought it might be rude.

He fidgeted around in his seat for a little while before he just had to spit it out. “So…when you shift, can I watch you do it?”

Gabe glanced at Dominic who was smiling knowingly into his wineglass.

“Fearless, ain’t ‘e?” the were remarked.

“Well, he’s one of ours, of course he is,” Lord Warren observed, diverting his smile onto Xavier.

Gabriel cleared his throat.

“I’m not shiftin’ into a cuddly puppy dog, no matter what shit Wylde feeds you,” he said plainly. “When I shift, I’m a bloody great big wolf, with a wolf’s appetite, d’you understand?”

“Gabriel usually goes somewhere out of the way to make the shift,” Dominic added, rather more diplomatically. “He’s aware that his Wolf can be quite… alarming for the uninitiated.”

“Wolves don’t usually attack humans, though, unless they’re defending themselves or starving, right? I just figured since you said you can control it…” Xavier said reasonably. “But if you don’t want me to see it’s ok,” he added, managing not to sound too disappointed but wanting to talk Gabe into letting him see a werewolf shift just the same.

“I’m a human being who just ‘appens to be a were. I’m not a freak show, Xavier.” Gabriel said it quietly enough but there was a small edge of bitterness in his tone, the first he’d heard from the normally amiable Roma.

“Shhhh…” Dominic put a hand on the back of his, his expression both protective and conciliatory. “He doesn’t mean it in cruelty, he’s just fascinated, darling.”

“I didn’t mean to make it sound like that.” Xavier agreed softly, wincing a bit. He’d just gotten a wave of something more than the merest prickle of irritation Gabe’s tone suggested. That was definitely a sore spot with him, if the emotions that just rubbed him raw were any indication.

“He knows that, darling,” Dominic said reassuringly because Gabriel was still brooding, even though he forced a reluctant half smile.

He had the kind of face that misery sat ill at ease upon. His smile when it happened was such a natural thing that it seemed wrong to see him look unhappy. Dominic too was troubled by it and cupped his face to plant a gentle kiss on his lips.

“The moon will be full in a few days,” he said softly. “You feel it in your blood don’t you, my love?”

Gabriel nodded gravely. Then he looked at Xavier with a little more frankness.

“I’m not offended, babe. Just… I get kind of… edgy when the moon’s close. Like I need to burn off energy.”

“It makes him amazing in bed,” Dominic laughed huskily.

“I’m always amazing in bed, babe,” Gabriel countered, the smile returning to his lips at that remark.

Xav relaxed again as Dominic easily soothed nerves and smoothed things over. It also helped that their gentle banter was generating a little glow of happy, loving warmth off both of them. Xavier smiled again too, although his thoughts naturally drifted toward Rayne when he thought of amazing in bed, especially after their most recent round of lovemaking. His expression softened and took on a slightly sultry cast that made what he was thinking about as transparent as glass.

Gabriel’s smile quickened a little more. There was an indecent glint in his dark eyes too, which took in Xavier as well as his lover.

“Is Deadboy gonna sulk upstairs all night now he’s got what he was after?” he asked, letting Xavier know that not only had he guessed what was on his mind but Gabe knew that Xav had let Rayne feed from him tonight as well.

“He’s not sulking,” Xav said, just a hint defensively. Rayne didn’t need defending of course, but Xavier couldn’t help being protective of him. He smiled again though and put on a very innocent expression as he added, “I think he’s just wore the fuck out.”

“Funny that, cos you don’t look too worn out?” Gabriel winked at him. “Look like you could go a good few rounds more, in truth!”

Xav chuckled and shook his head. “You don’t give up easy, do you.”

“I haven’t even started yet!” Gabriel assured him.

“Well, you better give it a rest. I don’t think Rayne likes you flirting with me all that much.”

“Why d’you think I do it?” Gabriel winked at him again. “That and you’re proper tasty lookin’, by the by!”

“Gabe!” Dominic warned with a shake of his head.

“Well, it’s true.” The were pouted slightly, waiting for his mate to crack a reluctant smile. “And since I’ve done his boyfriend, it seems only fair.”

Dominic’s eyes had begun to narrow but either Gabriel wasn’t about to take the hint or he said it deliberately. Xavier was pretty sure it was the latter. He folded his arms on the edge of the table and the little smile that had been tugging one corner of his mouth looked more like a smirk now.

“You keep doing that, saying shit you think might shock me. Are you trying to cause trouble between him an’ me? Or do you just think I’m stupid and need to be enlightened ’bout what I’ve got myself into? Or maybe you think it’s a game, huh? See if you can fuck me so you can rub Rayne’s nose in it?” Xavier’s eyes glinted across the table at him and although he was keeping a cool head now his hot temper probably wouldn’t need a whole lot of pushing to lash out, werewolf or not.

Gabriel, to his credit, did not flinch in the face of Xavier’s heated response. He sat back with a little nod of his head and murmured; “So you reckon the only reason I’d want to do you would be to get Wylde’s back up? Int’resting.” He chuckled quietly to himself. “Not that it ain’t intricately satisfying to get Deadboy’s prickles ruffled once in a while. But I’d have a go even if you wasn’t with anyone at all. I acksherly jus’ reckoned it would be fun.”

Xavier’s expression didn’t waver as he hid the bit of confusion and doubt Gabriel stirred. He was good at keeping the mask of easy going self confidence in place. He’d learned young that if you showed doubt or fear it meant you risked exposure, risked looking like prey, and when you were on your own that was a very dangerous thing to do.

“Why do you like picking on Rayne so much? You afraid of him or what?” Xavier’s redirection was not as smooth as usual, but he didn’t really care just then. If Gabe wanted to play armchair psychologist he could have some of it back.

“I can always get a rise out of ‘im, that’s why,” Gabriel’s grin restored itself to default mode on his face. “No point in pokin’ a sore if it don’t bleed. And Mr Deadboy likes to try an’ convince people that he’s above stuff like emotions and whatnot. He don’t feel nothin’, he’s had it soooo hard! Well if that’s right a little bit of teasin’ shouldn’ get to ‘im so bad, should it?”

“Your problem,” Dominic pointed out to his lover, “is that you can’t see a hornet’s nest without trying to poke it with a stick. Given that you’re supposed to be a pacifist, that’s a bit two-faced really, darling.”

Xav shook his head slightly. 

“Pacifist or not, you like picking on him. There’s only two reasons to pick on someone. You’re either afraid of him or you got a crush on him,” Xavier remarked with a sage grin that said without words which he’d put his money on.

“No were of the Arden line is afeared of any vampire!” Gabriel declared with a disgusted snarl. “They’re all disgusting pond slime at the end of the day, cold as fish and tight-arsed as bankers, but scary? Huh!”

Xavier blinked and he would have sworn on anything that Gabriel actually got a little bigger right before his eyes. His posture had taken on a more aggressive tilt, the snarl in his voice wasn’t entirely human sounding. Xav figured he should have been intimidated as fuck, but all he could think was he had poked a raw nerve there! The only problem was that Gabe hit him with enough emotional backlash it almost knocked him out of his seat. Xavier kept his cool though. 

“Well, then I guess you must have a crush on him after all,” he said perfectly deadpan.

“Christ, save me from that!”

Rayne was so tightly shut down that the first any of them knew of his presence were those five, low husky words, spoken from the shadows of the hallway, just beyond the kitchen door. He moved into the light, still more wraith than tangible being and Gabriel physically bristled.

Dominic moved to his feet smoothly, coming towards him. “They’re only teasing one another, darling.”

Xavier didn’t turn to face Rayne. He wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone but he was afraid just then to take his eyes off Gabriel Arden, for even a moment. He hadn’t consciously set out to push the other man’s buttons, but he couldn’t in all honesty say he was unhappy he’d scored a few points back for a change. Xav wasn’t vindictive by nature but it was a relief not to be the one being prodded to annoyance.

“You know…” Xavier said, the kid in him unable to leave well enough alone. “It sounds an awful lot to me like you’re trying to convince yourself how much youdon’t like him.”

Rayne caught one of Dominic’s hands and drew it to his mouth kissing it as he swayed almost drunkenly into the kitchen, stripped to the waist, the top button of his tight, dark jeans still undone. He stroked one cool-fingered hand slowly down the side of Xavier’s neck, caressing the dimple marks left by his fangs.

“The only thing Gabriel Hardon doesn’t like is that us deadboys pull all the hotties. The pretty twinks can’t get enough of us. Even Lady W loves to feel sharp teeth in her flesh. Isn’t that right sweetheart?” He looked across at Dominic with a lazy little smile.

 

“Don’t cause trouble, Ray. Not tonight,” the older man implored him in a low tone.

“Don’t worry, babe,” Gabe growled. “If he starts something I’ll finish it for him.”

“You wish.” Rayne said the two small words in a coldly malevolent tone. His smile had fangs. “I’m stronger than last time, Gabriel. This time it’ll be a straight fight. And you won’t find me such a pushover.”

The tension level in the room suddenly leaped so high Xavier felt it wrap around him like a living thing, making him wince and choking off his air as he was caught between the two of them. He didn’t dare say anything now for fear the slightest provocation would set that tension off like a powder keg.

Dominic was less restrained. He caught Rayne’s hand in both of his, bringing the vampire around to face him.

“Please!” he repeated earnestly. “I have a ritual in five days and I really need my wing-man. In one piece.”

Rayne’s pale eyes travelled over his face slowly, as if he could memorise Dominic that way. He smiled at last, a quiet little twitch of the lips that acknowledged his friend’s desires.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be on our best behaviour,” he murmured at last. His gaze travelled to the dark, hostile eyes of the watchful Roma and he added; “Won’t we, sweetheart?”

Gabriel got to his feet and walked out through the darkened winter garden in stony silence. In his wake, Rayne seemed to deflate slightly as if some tension flowed out of his body with the were’s departure. He turned back to Xavier and offered a humourless smile.

“See, I can play nice.”

Xavier let out a shaky breath he hadn’t even known he was holding and slumped in his chair. He wasn’t sure what had just happened exactly, but he’d sensed something and it left him feeling drained and achingly tired now. He looked up at Rayne with confused and worried eyes.

“How long you been there?” Xav asked as it occurred to him to wonder how much of their conversation Rayne had overheard.

“Why? You got a guilty conscience?” Rayne bent and kissed the top of his head to show that he wasn’t entirely serious. He still looked tired though, as if the show of power had taken more out of him than he would admit to. “Really, I only just came down.”

He glanced at Dominic; “Is Gabe genuinely that screwed up about me being here? We’ll go back to London if we’re fucking with your chi, Dom.”

“You’re a good boy, Ray,” Dominic cupped his face and kissed him softly on his cool, smooth forehead. “And I wouldn’t dream of being such a terrible host. It’s just the full moon. He’s always spiky around about this time of the month. And he’ll get it out of his system, the usual way.”

Lord Warren smiled grimly at them. Rayne made a noise somewhere between a snort and a sigh. “I’m stepping on his Alpha Male toes. Shit! Dunno why I can’t just roll over and beg for him, heh! It would make life a lot easier. Not like I’m insecure about myself, is it?”

He winked at Xavier rather more playfully, still glowing from their unbelievable session earlier. Xav was looking very sated and pleased with himself as well. Some of the worry left his eyes and he reached a hand up to gently tug Rayne down into his lap for a snuggle.

“I hope you guys can get it out of your systems soon,” Xavier chuckled darkly. “Preferably before you both start pee-ing on my leg to mark your territory or something!”

“No worries,” Rayne perched on his knee with a more purposeful grin. “You’remy bitch, sunshine!”

He snatched a quick kiss. Xavier poked him in the ribs. 

“Mm, I’ll try an’ remember that next time I’m making you scream and moan,” he grinned.

Rayne shivered with pleasure but he glanced across at Dominic as he laughed; “You see what I have to put up with. You give them an inch…”

Lord Warren perched on a chair at one corner of the table, looking across at them with a fond, tolerant smile.

“Time was that you wouldn’t give a single millimetre,” he remarked. “I like the new, improved version. Xavier, I think you’re good for him.”

“Shhh, Dom!” Xav said in mock alarm. “You’ll totally ruin my plans for domestication.”

“Domestication? Christ!” Rayne murmured. “I’ve got Arden trying to rape me, or eat me, and Sunshine here trying to tame me like a fuckin’ guinea pig. I can’t win, can I?”

“No, you can’t. So you might as well save yourself some trouble and just give in to me. I promise you won’t regret a minute,” Xavier said, placing a warm kiss at the nape of Rayne’s neck.

Watching the pair of them snuggling like kittens created a sensation of warm and fuzzy well-being somewhere in the depths of their host’s kind heart. Dominic Warren had watched over Rayne for more than fifteen years, since he was first Turned, and came to the High Priest in despair, looking for a way to end his existence.

Since that time he had seen Rayne grow in strength and self-belief but he had never quite lost the niggling worry that one day someone would bring him news of the vampire’s True Death. The self-destructive streak in him was very stubborn, but Dominic believed that he had seen a mellowing in Rayne since he met Xavier. Maybe, finally, this time someone had come into his life who couldmake a difference.

“Xavier, darling, how do you do it?” he sighed, resting his chin in the cup of one hand as he observed them dreamily. “Rayne never listens to anyone. He’s famous for it. How do you make him do that?”

Xavier had his arms wrapped loosely around Rayne’s waist and his cheek rested on his shoulder blade. It was a frivolous question but Xavier’s tone was on the serious side when he answered, “I don’t make him do anything, Dom.”

It was maybe more of an answer than Xavier realised. The joking about domestication aside, he didn’t try to make Rayne do anything. He didn’t want to box him in, chain him, change him, make him into something else, as so many people that entered into relationships did with their partner. Rayne made him happy, made him crazy, pissed him off no end at times, and for all that he loved Rayne the way he was, even when he wanted to tear his hair out with frustration.

Maybe it was just that they understood each other. Their pasts were so eerily similar in many regards. Whatever it was, Xavier had never known anyone that made him feel quite the way that Rayne did.

“I’m not that different, Dom.” Rayne Wylde glanced speculatively at his friend. He trusted Dominic not to feed him bullshit. The old queen teased him endlessly but he always told it straight when it was important. “Am I?”

Lord Warren nodded his head slowly. “I can see it. Gabriel can see it. You’re no angel, I doubt that will ever happen. But you’ve got a mellow side that I’ve never seen before.”

“It’s always been there,” the singer protested, looking a little bit awkward now. “Maybe you just weren’t looking so hard.”

“Even your aura is less spiky,” Dominic said with a smile.

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” Rayne snuggled into Xavier’s arms enjoying the warmth and even enjoying the banter to a degree. He did feel at ease with Xavier, it was true. But had it changed him so much that other people noticed it? That was a conundrum for sure. He glanced at Xav curiously now. “What about you? Do you think I’m different?”

Xavier smiled at him and lifted one shoulder in a little shrug. “Maybe a little bit, but I don’t think it has much to do with me,” he said. 

Rayne had died after all, like for real died, crossed into some place not in this world and then found his way back. That had to change a person.

“Hmmm…” Rayne looked thoughtful now. His gaze had moved into that faraway place that it sometimes went and his eyes darkened slightly as if the observation provoked a memory he was not prepared to face. “I guess if the change is an improvement I can learn to live with that.”

Dominic deftly moved the subject on to waters less deep and the three of them spent the rest of the evening chatting amiably. Gabriel did not return, and that both relieved and bothered Xavier. The relief was for obvious reasons, but it did make him feel bad that they seemed to have chased him away. Dominic didn’t seem overly concerned though and they talked and drank wine until Xavier started yawning and Rayne took him back upstairs to bed; this time to sleep.

Xavier slipped down into dreams quite easily once they were back under the light, fluffy duvet on their wide, comfortable mattress. The day had genuinely worn him out and he still was not fully healed after his ordeal in London. His vampire lover lay curled around him for over an hour, listening to the gentle sounds of his breathing and enjoying the steady pulse of his heartbeat. He smelled too enticing though. If Rayne had less willpower it would have been all too easy to bite him again and drink his fill. He held back.

At around two thirty in the morning, he extricated himself gently and pulled on his jeans and a loose, zip-up top, then padded downstairs to the winter garden for a smoke. The house was quiet and in total darkness but Rayne did not need the lights on to see his surroundings. The external doors were closed but not locked and he let himself out into the moonlight.

Dominic had not been wrong earlier, the moon was almost full and he bathed in the cool, silver blanket of light, almost bright enough that even a mortal would be able to find his way easily. What a mortal would not see was the aura trail of a frustrated werewolf, dark and slippery as blood, as it wound across the silvered gardens below and disappeared through the gateway they had followed into the woods this afternoon. Rayne contemplated it in grim silence, then stubbed out his cigarette and followed it beyond the garden wall and away beneath the canopy of the densely growing trees.

His pulse was racing as he felt the darkness wrap around him once more, the moonlight reduced to mere razor shell strips of illumination as it lanced down through the leaves and branches overhead. His adrenaline too was high, though not out of fear. The time had long since passed when he feared what a were could do to him, certainly this were. No, his blood ran fast in his veins out of a feeling of delicious anticipation.

“Where are you, Mr Wolf?” he crooned low, as he prowled the woodland pathways, breathing in the cold, loamy scent of the wilderness and the hot, rank traces of flesh, fur and lupine sweat. “I know you’re close. Why don’t you show yourself? Scared I’ll pull your tail?”

He drew to a halt in a small clearing near to the brook where he and Xavier had left the path yesterday. Now he unzipped his hooded jacket and slid it off, arching his back, letting the moonlight throw silver stripes across his bared torso and the faint, white scars that webbed his flesh there. His fingers moved to the buttons of his jeans and as they did, he heard a rustling and a soft crack somewhere just behind his left ear.

Rayne turned at once and his sharp eyes caught the blur of darker shadow as it moved through the very edge of the tree line, vanishing behind a bank of scrub set away from the trail. His breathing quickened automatically and his pupils widened and darkened hungrily. Without looking down he unfastened one button, whispering; “Come on then. Show Xavier he was right. Come and get what we both know you want, Wolfie. Then maybe we can settle down and stop being so fuckin’ snippy with one another, yeah?”

When there was no response from the bushes where the shadow lurked, Rayne drew an impatient breath and stepped closer. His fingers worked on the second button as he reached the border of the trail and edged closer to the undergrowth. Then he stopped.

It was quiet; much too quiet, as if even the trees were holding their breath. He had a fleeting sensation of something moving, but not beyond the bushes. Moving behind him!

This time he did not even manage to turn before the full force of the black wolf struck into him from the other side of the trail.

“How the fu…?” Rayne managed to yelp, and then it slammed into his back and the pair of them tumbled headlong into the undergrowth, rolling and snarling as they went down in a tangle of flailing limbs and broken twigs.

Rayne threw himself into the roll. The undergrowth whipped across his back and sides like a cat-o-nine-tails but he pushed the sharp burn of pain down as he turned under his assailant, fangs extended in a defensive snarl. Gabe growled back in his face as he slammed the little vampire down on his back in the shrubbery and came in for a bite. Rayne’s knee jerked up hard and fast between his legs and Gabriel took evasive action.

Rayne was impressed. He was a fast mover. Any mere mortal would have been curled around his nuts by now but Gabe was up and off him, panting and snarling. Though he still moved like a human, the were was all dark fur and flashing fangs. His eyes glistened like wet coal in the darkness as he came in again, slightly to the side, curving like a sliced shot, aiming for the throat. The vampire rolled hard and he slammed down on bare earth with a grunted curse. They came up on all fours simultaneously, Gabriel shaking his heavy, white-streaked, sable mane. Rayne’s eyes gleamed ice-green in the moonlight.

“Too slow!” he hissed furiously.

Gabriel’s taloned paw slapped him across the face from out of nowhere and put him on the floor. The werewolf cracked a lupine grin, tongue lolling.

“Too fuckin’ clever by ‘alf!”

Rayne tried to roll out of trouble again but the blow to the head disoriented him. It took fractionally longer to spot and right himself. A mortal would be comatose and bleeding from the ears but he did at least manage to stagger to his hands and knees before Gabriel barged into him and hurled him down on his back again. This time manacles of muscle and claw curled around his wrists, pinning him to the ground. The werewolf crouched over him, huffing rapidly as he stared down on his captive.

“I let you ‘ave that one,” Rayne told him, meeting that colourless glare with a bone-freezing glower of his own.

“Get out of it then.” Gabriel laughed coarsely. “I’m gonna have you, Wylde. I’m gonna make you howl like a bitch tonight.”

“I didn’t howl for you last time,” Rayne reminded him tersely. “What’s so different now?”

Gabe’s head came down and he swiped his rough, searching tongue slowly up his captive’s bared chest, then licked his neck almost playfully, like a pet dog.

“Stop that!” Rayne struggled with him but his lack of a good feed was counting in his opponent’s favour tonight. He knew that Gabriel was a match for him physically. He had more height and a longer reach, and he was not quite so hungry. The were could at least enjoy ordinary food. “I’m not… Christ, Gabriel! Stop fucking licking me, will you!”

“Admit you want me and I’ll stop,” Gabe rumbled softly.

Rayne’s eyes widened in a defensive glare. “You fuckwit!”

“I weren’t sure last time. It weren’t like you could get yerself out of it,” the were pointed out. “Those tricksy bastards ‘ad us by the short and curlies. We was stuck in that well and there wasn’t no way out. And you was a lot weaker than you are tonight. Which leads me to think that maybe if you didn’t want it, you could have thrown me off by now.”

Rayne shuddered at the memory. Last time he had taken a break at Dominic’s place he’d been drawn into some business that his host’s coven had been pursuing. People with preternatural gifts, people like himself and… yes… like Gabriel had been disappearing. And the pair of them had almost been caught in the trap. Except that when their captors lured them into the same trap, via different entrances, they hoped the vampire and the werewolf would fight to the death for their entertainment.

What actually happened on the night of the full moon was almost certainly notwhat they had expected.

“I let you do that to me because the other option was getting my fucking head ripped off,” Rayne hissed at him vehemently.

“But you liked it,” Gabriel grinned down on him infuriatingly.

“No… I think you’ll find the word you’re looking for is… tolerated!” Rayne scowled back at the were, still fighting the powerful talons that held him pinned by the wrists to the dirt beneath his naked back.

“So that’s why you shot your load for me, more than once?” Gabriel teased, licking him more slowly, drawing the rough surface of his tongue in an incessant line up the vampire’s heaving sternum and across his left collarbone to his exposed neck.

Rayne bucked and struggled under him, conscious of the tingle of heat low down in his loins, stirred up now by the memories and Gabriel’s persistent tongue.

“Cut. It. Out!” he yelped. “Like I… ahhh… Jesus! Like I had any other choice when you’d been boning my arse for about twelve hours! You think my prostate has a mind of its own, huh?”

“I know it does!” his assailant chuckled. “Ahhh, Wylde. You can pretend all you like that you didn’t want it, but these tell a different story.”

He let go of Rayne’s wrists so fast that the vampire took a moment to acknowledge that he was loose. By that time, Gabriel was running the backs of his claws slowly over the moonlit, silver scars on his heaving flanks. Rayne’s eyes travelled down to the physical evidence of that night spent under Henning Szarbo in his SM club in Paris, then back up to Gabriel’s pensive stare, faster than a mortal could blink.

“That… that was different,” he faltered.

“Yep. It was. Because you asked for this,” Gabriel acknowledged.

“You fucker! Did Dominic tell you?” Rayne’s hands slapped up against Gabriel’s thickly furred chest and he shoved the wolf back from him a couple of inches.

“He told me enough. Told me that you were almost dead in a were bar in France and the bloke what did it to you said you never asked him to stop.” Gabriel’s eyes turned a shade darker, virtually black against the pale moonlight. “Even I’d not stoop so low, Wylde. I don’t like your kind, but I’m not into vampire snuff.”

“Henning didn’t kill me,” Rayne said atonally, his long pale fingers curling in the dense black fur of his opponent’s chest. “We fucked, and he set his claws in me and made me bleed but yeah, I asked for that. I didn’t ask him to end it for me and he wasn’t the one that staked me.”

Gabe looked at the scars again, shaking his head.

“What the fuck was he? Tiger? Some massive fucker!” he exclaimed incredulously.

“He was… don’t laugh at this… he was a bear,” Rayne said in a neutral tone still.

Gabe kept his face straight but he murmured; “Stands to figure!”

“Shut up!”

“So you had the urge to bottom and you needed some fucker that could top you proper,” Gabe summarised neatly. “Time was that you’d never even think of not being on top, Wylde. What’s going on in your pretty dead head?”

“Leave it!” Rayne warned him, though he accepted that he was in no shape or position to make demands of any kind right now.

“Uh-huh,” Gabriel shook his head. “Not gonna leave it now. You’ve brought me too far, Wylde. Why you givin’ it up when you’d never let no one so much as slip you a finger before?”

“You don’t know anything about me so stop trying to pretend you do,” Rayne managed to wriggle out from under him this time.

Gabriel let him get halfway back to the path before he pounced and dragged the small, cold, scentless creature back under him, falling onto Rayne with a crunch that might have meant permanently broken ribs for anyone human. Rayne made a small, involuntary noise, but he didn’t protest. The were moved his hot, furry body slowly against his naked back, growling low in his throat at the sensations aroused by having Rayne half naked under him.

“Tell me what you want,” he rumbled hungrily.

“You know what I want.” Rayne closed his eyes. His body was overwhelmed by the soft, thick fur that surged against his skin. He soaked up the heat of Gabriel’s body and inhaled the powerful, musk scent of horny wolf that emanated from his captor’s slowly bucking groin. “Just… do it, will you!”

 

“Not yet… I wanna hear it from you, Wylde. Tell me what you want,” Gabriel hunched over him and surged against him full length, like a great, furry wave of darkness. Rayne wriggled into the thick pelt and whimpered huskily at the feel of it, hot and alive against his skin.

“Fuck you!” he gasped, as furious with his own treacherous body as he was with Gabriel Arden.

“Uh-huh… not what I wanna hear, Wylde. You come down here of your own will, and you was shuckin’ your clothes like you wanted to wear some wolf fur, just a few minutes back.” Gabe’s tongue traced the undulating line of his backbone, all the way up into Rayne’s dark, silky hair. “Get those pants down, deadboy! Undo that last button and I’ll do the rest. You know you want me to.”

Rayne huffed restlessly. He felt the animal hunger ranging under his skin, making his fingers twitch towards the silver buttons of his fly. Now, lying here under Gabriel Arden he felt the last, missing pieces of the jigsaw of memories slot into place. It had felt good under Xavier this afternoon but he had been aware that submitting to his sexy mate opened a door in his subconscious that had not been there before. Now he knew where that door led.

He reached down and popped the final button of his flyer, sliding the tight black denim down off his skinny hips. Thick, warm fur engulfed his naked buttocks, brushing up against his skin, caressing the backs of his thighs. And a long, searingly hot wolf-cock jutted up hungrily between his legs, pulsing and rubbing on his scrotum and balls. Rayne felt his own prick answer it, stiffening away from his naked body as he reveled in the power and potential dominance of his mate.

“Tell me what you want,” Gabe Arden growled again in a low, guttural tone. “Tell me and I’ll do it.”

Rayne closed his eyes. He swallowed the bitter taste of bile and rubbed himself keenly back up against Gabriel’s surging body.

“Fuck me,” he said hungrily. “Mount me and fuck me, Gabe. I’m your bitch tonight.”

“Oh yeah, that’s more like it,” Gabriel made a rumbling sound somewhere between a tiger’s purr and a motorbike being started. His fingers, that were almost human, closed around Rayne’s upper arms, drawing them back. His nails were more like animal talons and they bit into the soft white skin mercilessly as he pulled Rayne to his knees and lined up the head of the long, bone-cored shaft of his lupine cock against the soft, pink pucker of Rayne’s exposed arsehole.

The vampire struggled instinctively as he was pulled back slowly onto Gabriel’s thick, curved shaft. He ground his teeth furiously as that long, hard, animal cock bucked into him. Extended fangs sank into his lower jaw, drawing blood. The wolf was holding his arms and he could taste the spill of his own blood, dripping onto the dead leaves beneath him as Gabriel rode him vigorously in the woods. Soft fur caressed his bare back and buttocks and the contrastingly unyielding shaft between his cheeks pumped and stretched him hard, quickly lighting a fire under his sweet spot.

Rayne shivered with loose-limbed pleasure as Gabriel urgently stroked into him, fucking the tension out of his body hard and fast, the way he liked it. He could feel the wolf’s hot breath on the nape of his neck and strong fingers that were not quite taloned wolf pads on his upper arms, digging into the soft flesh and firm muscle below. Gabriel scrabbled to his feet, squatting over the vampire as he held Rayne’s upper body down hard with his hands and rutted savagely with him.

Rayne’s fingernails dug into the loose soil and decomposing leaf matter beneath him as he searched for something to hold onto, something to stop Gabriel forcing him across the clearing and out onto the path with every thrust. He could feel the cool, clean-smelling earth on his face and chest as powerfully as the hot, rank, furry scent of horny wolf on his back. Above all of that he inhaled the smell of blood, not just of his own but of Gabriel Arden’s pounding life force and the blood of whatever small beast he had hunted and killed earlier in the night. The blood was still matted in the fur of his semi-shifted body, reminding his mate that he was not all human.

The cock sliding roughly inside him was certainly not human. It felt more like an expensive dildo, firm and unbending inside him, but sheathed in velvet soft skin that moved with the sensitive muscles of his rectum, slipping and stroking over his clenching innards until he could not fight the low moan that rose in his throat. Each solid stroke drove a growl of need out of him, making him grip and writhe around the long, curving shaft in his anus.

Lust raked his belly and loins like hot claws as he bucked into each cock-thrust, letting Gabriel bury that bone in him all the way to his heavy, hairy balls. The were’s big bollocks slapped against his own as he fucked Rayne harder and faster, panting with wolfish enthusiasm astride the smaller creature.

“You are one damned fine bitch,” Gabriel grunted approvingly. “Just like I remember it, babe.”

“Shut up!” Rayne hissed through clenched teeth. His fangs were pressing painfully into his lower jaw now but he refused to open his mouth. If he did, then he would almost certainly scream and he wasn’t about to give Gabe Arden the satisfaction.

“To late to have second thoughts, deadboy,” his mate chuckled huskily. “I’m nearly there now. No point playin’ ‘ard to get. We both know how much you’re likin’ this.”

“Jesus! I preferred the bear, they don’t talk as much!” Rayne panted, writhing against the shifting loam and leaf-bed as Gabriel too adjusted his stroke and position.

He slowed, pulling back a little and panting rapidly, letting Rayne know that he was genuinely close. In full wolf form he would not have stopped until his knot swelled inside the little vampire and his seed began to flow. Semi-shifted, he still had that thread of human consciousness that told him it would be more fun to prolong the act.

“And I forgot, you don’ like to talk do you, Wylde? Don’ like getting things off of your chest the usual way. You prefer to spill your guts for real.” Gabriel hunkered down over him and let go of his mate’s slender arms. He licked at the blood he had spilled, unafraid of tasting Rayne. The vampire had not fed properly in days. He was below full strength and his blood was little more than water even having sipped from Xavier in bed this evening.

Now Gabriel’s claws were tickling across the vampire’s heaving belly again, stroking over the scars on his soft, pale skin. Rayne tried to push them away but Gabe was faster, grabbing his skinny wrists and pushing them up above his head. He pinned Rayne’s hands with one of his own then returned the other to the soft belly flesh, caressing more insistently. In this position he could feel the wet head of Rayne’s erect dick nodding against the backs of his fingers.

“You wanna fight me still? I can feel it in you, bloody mental you are!” Gabe panted in his ear. He pushed one hard talon fiercely into Rayne’s belly and the vampire’s lithe body gripped his dick hard.

Rayne uttered a series of short, strangled noises as he bucked his hips hard against Gabriel’s slowly thrusting groin. The claw slid out of his flesh and blood flowed thinly over the were’s groping fingers.

“Tell me why you like it,” Gabriel breathed. “I know why like it. I’m the hunter, you’re the prey, yeah? But what do you get out of this?”

“You’re the analyst, the Healer, the… what the fuck do you call it?” Rayne spat at him vehemently. “You tell me! Shrink my head. I know that gets you hot!”

Chovihano,” Gabriel breathed along the curve of his neck. “Patrinyengo. I am Healer and weaver of spells. And, yeah, I know. You been putting scars in your flesh long before you was Turned. Letting out the blood to take the pressure out of your brain, just like the doctors of old used to leech their patients, yeah? It feels good, don’t it? Being in control, makin’ your own pain, not lettin’ someone else do it for you?”

“Get off me!” Rayne planted his hands flat to the floor and pushed back hard. He almost managed to dislodge the powerful Roma were but Gabriel’s hands were on his hips before he could scrabble clear, pulling him back.

“Not yet,” he growled in a low, smoky tone. “Not yet. I’m not done with you my little wolf bitch.”

“No!” Rayne threw himself down and twisted violently under Gabriel, fighting the wolf’s superior reach and weight with all his strength as something dark and sinuous and malevolent began to coil and stretch in his brain, unfolding slowly, revealing its dark heart. He felt Gabe’s long, curving rod rake around inside him and cried out involuntarily.

Gabriel’s growl deepened and he shifted around to stop his cock being twisted half off inside Rayne then pinned the vampire to the floor and pushed deep into him again, burying himself inside as his captive thrashed and struggled under him. Rayne was half turned about, he had one knee over Gabriel’s shoulder, the other hooked around his thrusting hips as he was slammed onto his back on the forest floor again. The were fucked him hard, one hand pressing down on his belly, the other keeping the raised leg from lashing out at his head.

Rayne went for his face, clawing at him like a cat and this time Gabriel lost his temper. Both hands moved to the vampire’s slender thighs, wrenching them wide and he loomed over Rayne, backhanding him into the dirt. His teeth rattled in his head as the werewolf’s fist connected with his skull and Rayne greyed out for a moment under him.

“Please!” he whined frantically as he passed out.

When he came to his senses everything was quiet, but Gabriel was still kneeling over him, head down, blood flowing from the gashes Rayne had put in his face and chest. His sides were heaving as he controlled his Wolf with a supreme effort. The vampire could feel the thickness of his cock-knot inside his own ring, holding Gabriel Arden in him like a mating dog on a bitch.

“Uhhhh… fuck! No!” he groaned despondently.

Gabriel’s head lifted and he exhaled a sigh of relief. “I thought I’d hurt you!”

“You fuckin’ did!” Rayne touched the side of his face which was still hot with the pain of Gabe’s knuckles and the backs of his claws. He supposed he was fortunate that Gabriel hadn’t lashed out at him open palmed. That might have cost him an eye.

“I’m sorry,” the were told him contritely. “But you hurt me first.”

“I don’t have the energy to argue about this,” Rayne grumbled. “Just get off me, will you.”

“I can’t,” Gabriel panted. “Not till I’ve done cumming and my knot goes down.”

Ohh Jesus!” Rayne shook his head but that wasn’t a good idea. He was still seeing stars for several seconds afterwards. “Smacking me into the floor made you come?”

“Nope,” Gabriel forced a pained grin. “You buckin’ and fightin’ like a little wildcat underneath me made me come. Fuck it, Wylde, that felt amazing!”

Rayne shivered and Gabriel was immediately more careful of him. He eased the vampire’s knees together, moving them back towards his chest so that he could slowly turn with Rayne until the trembling little creature was lying on his side and Gabe was able to spoon up against his back.

“Is that better?” he asked, sliding his arms around Rayne’s quivering body.

“No.” Rayne said in a small, fragile voice.

“Why did you come for this if you didn’t want me to do it?” Gabe asked him, nuzzling his cold, white shoulder gently.

“I… I dunno,” the vampire whispered.

“You’re the only one that does know,” Gabriel countered solemnly. “I can have a guess if you want.”

When his belligerent, shuddering mate said nothing, the were kissed his shoulder softly. His clawed hands moved very gently up and down the lean, cold line of Rayne’s waist.

“You’re beautiful, you know that?” he growled huskily. “Even knowin’ what you are I can’t fight that. There is somethin’ irresponsibly sexy about you, Wylde. Somethin’ that draws me to fuck the breath out of you.”

Rayne closed his eyes, swallowing the lump in his throat. He gasped softly at the feel of Gabriel stroking slowly in him again, only moving less than an inch within him, locked into his body by the thickness of that cock-knot behind his straining ring. He wanted to slash at his own flesh and cut Gabriel out of him. But simultaneously he wanted to feel the were’s powerful, hairy body over his again, pumping him hard until he could not breathe.

“You like being with someone stronger don’t you? You can shuck off the responsibility then. Pretend it was someone else’s choice?” Gabriel hazarded. “Are you gonna tell Dom that I raped you?”

Rayne shook his head at once.

“Good.” Gabriel nuzzled the back of his neck. He rubbed himself full length against Rayne, enjoying the way that the little vampire returned the movement, squirming in his arms and pushing his silky white arse into his thrusting crotch. “By the horned God you’re hot for it, aren’t you?”

“I just needed… I needed to fuck without feeling anything,” Rayne said in a trembling voice. “I needed to feel empty.”

“Why?” Gabe breathed in his ear. “Because of him… your ex? Or because of what that fucker did to you when you was a kid?”

Rayne stiffened in his arms and struggled again. In that moment another memory wrenched free of the dark cloud wrapped around his past. He felt it crawl over his skin like an army of malevolent ants; the touch of unwelcome hands under his clothes; a hatefully familiar voice telling him so blandly that he could whine all he liked but no one would ever believe it; that this… fucking, was all he would ever be good for.

And god, you’re good, Ray. Feels so good like this! 

He shut his eyes tightly, pushing it away from him with all his inner strength, though he knew in that moment that he would never be strong enough. The last memories were clicking down, sliding into place like knives between his ribs. 

As he quivered, Gabe wrapped around him like a furry blanket and stilled him with his whole body.

“Ssshhhhhhhh,” he exhaled slowly.

“Dom ‘told’ you?” Rayne hissed incredulously. “He told you I was abused? He swore to me that he’d never tell anyone!”

“And you asked a lot of him, expecting him to carry a secret like that on his own,” Gabriel rebuked him. “Dom’s a good man but he’s not strong. He feels too much for a man. The Goddess flows through him and he has her mercy and her sympathy but not her strength. Your secret was eating him up and so I made him share it. I’ve known for a long time.”

“When we… when we were in the trap… did you know then?” Rayne half-turned in his arms, looking at Gabriel searchingly.

Gabe nodded his head once, his eyebrows coming together slightly. He saw the flash of anger in Rayne’s pale eyes and his grip tightened on the vampire’s lean body once more.

“You fucking treacherous bastard! You knew I’d been raped and you… you did that to me!”

“I knew you could take it, Wylde. I’d never have tried otherwise,” Gabriel said softly. “Maybe my Wolf wouldn’t have been strong enough to kill you but I didn’t wanna take that chance and fight you instead. Dom would have had me skinned. And you liked it, don’t lie to me. I could feel how much you were likin’ it when we practiced. And how much you like this, now.”

His hand stroked Rayne’s belly again and slid down to the stiffness of his dick, rubbing the swollen flesh against the cold, silken skin of his stomach as he humped against Rayne’s tight arse. The little vampire said nothing. He could not speak. The words were like stones in his gullet and he thought that he would be sick if he had to try and talk.

Gabriel’s cock in his passage was a hot, soothing pleasure on the other hand. It was like having a fire-brand slipped into his arse, only the fire was liquid and it moved against his muscles and his skin feeling sinfully good inside him. As he rubbed himself on Gabriel’s powerful body, the Wolf began to ease him up onto his knees again.

Rayne did not fight it this time. He let Gabe mount and ride him, stroking against him as he straddled the were’s lean, hairy thighs. The vampire whimpered softly as he felt Gabriel thicken and burst in him, filling him with a slow, creamy heat. The whimpers rose to a low moan in his chest as he rode on the hot spike in his passage, driving it deeper as he felt the hard knot begin to melt, releasing him.

Gabriel’s fingers moved to his cock, stroking rapidly just beneath the throbbing head as he growled his pleasure, seeding his naked mate copiously. Rayne shuddered as the thrusting in his narrow channel edged him up fast and hard. He mewed with need as the cum spurted from his cockhead and Gabriel’s hot, panting breath poured over his neck and chest. The wolf eased back, slipping out of him easily and letting him go.

Rayne crawled away from him but only as far as the edge of the path, flopping down on his belly there and huffing quietly. He was sore and stretched inside but tingling with warmth as well. Gabriel sprawled on the ground, head cradled in his arms, watching the vampire warily.

“You awright?” he asked at last.

“No.” Rayne curled up, wrapping his arms around his head, trying to shut everything out.

“You didn’t remember, did you? Before tonight and my dick inside you, you didn’t remember your uncle had raped you when you was a kid?” Gabriel shook his head, furious with himself for being so insensitive. Because when they had been caught in the trap together, Rayne had known about Dominic telling him. It had been another gap in his memories until tonight. “I’m sorry, Wylde.”

But Rayne was gone. When he looked up the vampire wasn’t there, he’d gone without a sound. His clothing was still spilled on the ground and Gabriel gathered it up and limped wearily back towards the house, hoping that would be where Rayne fled to.

Xavier slept like a stone, just like he had on their first night in Dominic Warren’s home. All the energy they built throughout the day seemed to go right into speeding along his healing, and something about that knocked him out better than the pills the doc had given him. It wasn’t until sometime in the morning that the dreams snuck up on him.

He was in a moonlit wood, standing in a small clearing. The trees swayed and sighed around him and he saw a man removing his clothes and then he recognised Gabriel Arden. The were turned suddenly, alarm on his handsome face. A face that looked several years younger than the Gabriel Xav knew.

“What are you doing here? Get out of here!” the wolf snarled at him.

“I-I…I’m sorry…” Xavier stammered. He couldn’t take his eyes off Gabriel though. Something was happening, his body was changing, growing larger, and he suddenly threw his head back with a sound somewhere between a scream of pain and a fearsome howl. Xavier stumbled back several steps as flesh and muscles rippled, skin darkened and fur grew. He stood transfixed until the transformation was nearly complete, only it wasn’t a wolf or a man in front of him but something in between, and it scared the shit out of him.

Xavier turned and ran. He somehow knew he shouldn’t, that this was the worst thing he could do, but he couldn’t help it. He ran and ran and he could hear the wolf-man behind him giving chase… and then the forest was gone and he was running through the London streets and he found himself at the back door of the old theatre Clint had taken him to. He pushed inside, heart still hammering and shaking from head to toe. The theatre halls stretched out and twisted and turned, maze like until he felt completely lost. He started to hear voices somewhere ahead, low whispering furtive voices and he slowly followed them.

After what seemed like forever wandering in the maze he came to a door and opened it. He was immediately grabbed and dragged inside. Hard hands shoved him down onto the concrete floor. The harsh smell of fuel and oil hit him, disorientating him. He could see Clint sitting on a table and the boy seemed scared shitless. He was biting his lip and he looked so much like a young version of his father it almost broke Xavier’s heart.

 

“Let me go!” Xavier yelled, struggling with the larger man holding him down as panic shot through him in icy spears. He realised then that it was the same man he saw in his other dreams, the one on the street that Clint had mockingly warned him about; the one in the alley that took the place of the real thugs that had jumped him; the one in half a dozen less formed dreams he’d experienced. Now the shadow had caught him and Xavier was so scared he started to scream.

The man held him down tightly, a gruff merciless laughter filling his ears as he bound his wrists with rope that bit into his skin.

“Let me go! Let me go!” Xavier yelled as he was yanked up on his feet and his arms were pulled up tight over his head. He could barely touch the floor on tiptoe now. Clint was still sitting on the table, his eyes wide and terrified, a helpless whimper coming from his lips. Laying next to him was a needle and syringe.

Xavier began to kick and struggle, panic gripping him. He felt his bladder let go in abject terror. 

“NO! NO! Let me go!” he screamed and thrashed around in his dream…

…and in his sleep, until he finally managed to twist himself out of the nightmare and into the waking world. He had kicked the duvet off and he lay in the centre of the bed in a tangle of sheets. Xav was shaking like a leaf, cold sweat trickled down his spine, and he tasted bitter bile at the back of his throat. Desperately, he struggled out of bed and raced to the bathroom knowing he was going to puke. Fortunately he made it to the toilet and heaved up what little was left in his stomach.

It was about then that he realised he had woken up alone. He was relieved Rayne had already gotten up. The nightmare had left him shaken and he still felt traces of fear. The sky outside the bathroom window was a uniform pearl grey, a clear, crisp, dawn light that cast no shadows.

Xavier went to the sink and washed his face, noticing as he did that most of his bruises were virtually gone. Other than a bit of an ache still along his side where the ribs had been broken he couldn’t tell by looking in the mirror that anything bad had happened to him. He was not as shocked or scared by the revelation today as he had been the day before, either.

Wearily, he got into the shower, hoping to revive himself and wash away the dredges of the nightmare, but the feel of it lingered even as he toweled off and dressed.

Heading downstairs he felt as grey as the day outside, quiet and subdued. The house seemed to agree with him, for it was quiet and subdued as well. Dominic was not in the kitchen this morning nor were there the usual attendant delicious smells. That was okay though, Xav didn’t think he could eat today.

There was no sign of Rayne or Gabriel either, and that worried him slightly. He hoped nothing had happened. As he wandered through the house in search of signs of life he heard music playing softly. Not Dominic’s normal sugary pop stuff either; Tchaikovsky, if he was not mistaken, and he knew he wasn’t.

The music led him to the library, only it was empty of occupants. Xavier walked over to the full length windows and looked out on the overcast day, wondering if it was going to rain or just stay like this. With a sigh, he dropped into a chair and listened for a while, but he wasn’t soothed. He still felt disturbed and a little queasy from his dream.

Finally Xav got up. He had to do something other than sit there and think. Cautiously at first, he moved around the room, stretching a little, working on pivots and balance points, just letting the simple graceful movement of his body distract him from his thoughts. Resting his fingertips on the back of the couch he used it as an impromptu barre and began a series of plies, eleves and battements. 

Leaning over the balcony railing on the almost hidden mezzanine level of the high-ceilinged room, Dominic watched the young man exercising gracefully below, his movements tailored beautifully to the gentle roll of the music. At last, when Xavier was not executing a pose that might see him fall over if startled, he cleared his throat and applauded softly.

“I didn’t know you were trained in ballet, Mr Gavrilov. You are full of surprises,” he called down. “Do you like The Sleeping Beauty then?”

Xavier stopped what he was doing almost guiltily, as if he’d been caught in some illicit act. He looked up at Dominic and seemed relieved to see he was alone up there. 

“Umm, yeah,” he answered awkwardly.

Dominic smiled at him and made an inviting gesture. Xavier made his way up the spiral stair in the corner of the library and over to Dom, who ignored his apparent discomfort. “Did you ever think about dancing with a company?”

Xav smiled sheepishly back at him. “It’s pretty hard to get in with a ballet company, Dom. It’s very competitive. You have to be more than just good at dancing, you have to make it your life.”

Dominic didn’t say anything, just looked at him expectantly, as if he saw this for the excuse it was. Xavier fidgeted under his gaze for a moment. 

“C’mon Dom. If I was like six foot maybe I could get an audition, but at five-eight I’m not tall enough for most of the required male parts.”

“In classical troupes perhaps,” Lord Warren smiled at him genially, gesturing towards one of the comfortable recliners he had on the balcony. “But there are plenty of modern ballet ensembles nowadays that would snap you up, I’m sure. You danced for a living in Frisco, didn’t you? Was it such a large step to being part of a recognised dance troupe?”

Xav dropped gracelessly into the chair with a little huff of laughter, the movement at odds with the way he usually moved. “Stripping is not the same as ballet. I couldn’t very well do both and I made a lot of money doing what I was doing, Dom,” he answered and gave a casual shrug, wanting to change the subject. “Do you know where Rayne is?” 

“I’m not sure…” Dominic reached for the glass of minted tea by his side and pretended engrossment. He was no better at lying than Rayne, so at least they had something in common. Xavier wasn’t a mind reader though, or maybe he just wasn’t expecting Dominic to lie to him. 

“Oh…” He gave Dominic an odd look. “…are you all right?” 

“Mm-hm,” Dominic murmured, still twirling the long handled silver spoon idly in his tea.

Xav frowned at him. “Dom…is there something wrong?” 

He was starting to get worried now. Dominic definitely looked cornered. He shook his head quickly, his moss-green eyes widening over the lip of his glass.

“No… there’s nothing to worry about, absolutely nothing…” His words trailed off in the face of Xavier’s sceptical stare. “Ermmm… well… he may still be down by the bathing pool. Gabriel said something about him probably needing to feel clean.”

Xavier’s gaze narrowed on Dominic. 

“And why would he feel like that?” he asked with quiet suspicion.

“I… I have no idea,” Dominic lied, bald-faced. He looked unhappy about the deception though, and anxious too.

Xav snorted and shook his head. “God Dominic, you’re an even worse liar than Rayne!” 

He sat there for a moment, trying to decide if he was angry or not. Mostly he felt tired, although that was probably still left over from the nightmare. 

“Well, I guess they got it out of their system,” he sighed at last.

“I’m not so sure,” Dominic murmured with a little sigh. “Gabe could barely speak. He just sloped off upstairs to the bedroom and threw himself in the shower. He’s been sleeping it off since.” He hesitated then added; “There was a lot of blood on him. Whatever happened, it wasn’t ‘kiss and make up’.”

Xavier gave him a level stare. “I didn’t say it was kiss and make up. I said they got it out of their system, or I hope so at least. Fighting or fucking, either way.”

Xavier wasn’t as alarmed as he might have been. After all, Gabriel was in one piece and he wouldn’t have really hurt Rayne, and Xav knew how fast he healed. Then again, he remembered, wounds inflicted by a were didn’t heal so fast. Maybe he should be worried. 

“I’m gonna go find him,” he said, getting up.

Dominic sighed wearily and set his glass down on the table.

“Be careful,” he advised at last. “I can’t stop you but bear in mind that if he’s chosen to lick his wounds down there, out of the way, maybe he doesn’t want to be found just yet. I say it as a friend, and as someone with plenty of experience of vampire moods, not to piss on your party darling. Now give this old woman a hug before you go.”

Xavier gave him a hug and kissed his cheek before heading out of the library at a trot. He went upstairs again to grab a sweatshirt against the chilly day but once he was there he slowed down a bit. He didn’t think he should just sit here and wait for Rayne to come back, but giving him a little more time probably wouldn’t hurt.

Instead of heading immediately out the door he turned the other direction and headed toward Dominic and Gabriel’s bedroom. He wasn’t sure which door it was, so he walked silently, hoping he’d hear a snore or the deep even breathing of sleep, something to tell him which one to try first. He didn’t hear anything at all, but he needn’t have worried, a tingle of energy through his fingers as he stretched them towards one of the doors told him straight away which the right room was.

He put his hand on the door handle and paused, debating if he should knock, which would only be polite. Then again, waking Gabe up wasn’t terribly courteous either. In any case, Xav wasn’t in a sensitive frame of mind right now. He turned the handle and let himself in as silently as he could.

Inside the bedroom heavy drapes had been drawn over the windows blocking most of the wan light outside. Gabriel lay on his front, sprawled across the huge four poster bed with a pillow clutched under his head and nothing but a sheet pulled up to his waist. He had his back to Xavier and his dark hair tumbled down his naked back like a waterfall.

Xavier moved around the end of the bed on cat quiet feet. He hadn’t made a sound but as he drew up to the edge of the bed Gabriel’s eyes opened, glinting through a tangle of black and white-streaked hair and a low rumble began deep in his throat, somewhere between a tiger’s purr and the growl of a wolf. Xavier stood his ground though. 

“What happened? What did you do to Rayne?” he demanded quietly.

The growl died in Gabe Arden’s throat and he rolled slowly onto one side, the sheet almost falling down from his hips, and propped himself on one arm to push the cascade of his mane out of his face with the other hand. The cheek it had covered was still scarred raw as if something, or someone, had clawed frantically at his face during the night. He had been lying on a towel which was also dotted with blood from his chest and belly. The damage there was harder to see because Gabe was still pretty hairy, even in human form.

It must have hurt too. He was moving slowly and stiffly. His voice was a deep, lupine rumble that Xavier felt in his chest.

“I didn’t do anything he didn’t want,” the were said, equally quietly. “We’re honours even, I’m thinkin’.”

Xavier stood there, jaw tight and body tense, obviously fuming but he couldn’t have explained at what exactly. He wasn’t normally one to start a fight but right then he could have cheerfully beat the shit out of Gabe Arden, and for no good reason at all. That he couldn’t do it just pissed him off even more.

He made a sound, half angry and half disgusted and turned to go but Gabe snatched his wrist before he took more than a single step. Xavier immediately twisted and yanked his arm away so violently Gabriel had to let go or hurt him.

“You didn’t have to do whatever he asked you know!” he snarled at the other man, knowing even as he said it that it was a ridiculous statement and he was taking his anger out on Gabe when it didn’t really belong there.

“He didn’ have to come lookin’ for it, Xavier,” Gabriel pointed out reasonably enough. “But he still did. Don’t take umbrage with me, babes. Wylde can look after himself.”

Xavier glared at him a moment more, trying to get a rein on his seething temper. He drew in a deep breath through quivering nostrils and another before he trusted himself to speak. “Yeah? Well, the last time he ‘looked after himself’ by searching out a were, someone put a stake in him, and I felt it almost like it happened to me.” 

Gabriel went very still and quiet as he let Xavier pour out his anger. He almost seemed to vanish from the younger man’s internal radar. When Xav was done dressing him down, he said; “No one’s gonna do that to him here, babe. The estate is warded, nothing gets in that we don’t know about, ‘kay?” 

No, it was not okay, but Xav felt a small bit of the anger drain off of him anyway and he could think clearly again. “Is he okay?”

“Wylde might be sore for a couple of days but he’s not gonna die. On my life!”

Xavier’s shoulders slumped as if the anger had been the only thing holding him up. He sighed; “I’m gonna go find him.” 

Gabe sank back down on the bed too, like a big, hairy dog, panting softly in pain. “You mind him, he’s remembering stuff hard and fast and he’s in a bitch of a mood. I thought the moon took me funny!”

Xav nodded once and moved to leave. He stopped at the door though and looked back to see Gabe watching him go. “Guess you couldn’t take him as easy as you thought you could, huh?” He winked at him and closed the door quickly before Gabriel could comment.

Once outside though, Xavier took his time. For one thing he didn’t really know where he was headed, and for another he needed some time to calm himself. He still didn’t understand entirely why he was so upset, although he was more worried now than angry. As he walked through the fallen leaves he tried to let his mind just drift, not actively looking for Rayne but letting his feet carry him along.

The first pearly grey hints of daylight were seeping into the eastern sky when Rayne finally stopped stumbling, naked, through the woods and forced himself to walk more slowly. Gabriel had not given chase but he was not fool enough to believe that this was because the Romany Healer had quit stalking him. Gabe was nothing if not persistent. He was not in pursuit though. The forest was silent, beyond the usual sounds of rustling leaves and small, scurrying animals. Rayne stopped and sat down on a fallen trunk, examining the soles of his feet, which were cut to ribbons. His heart was still thumping.

In the quiet of the morning, his memories began to drop into place like the tumblers on a lock, one slotting in neatly behind the next. And with each piece his heart grew darker. Gradually he began to shake again, feeling every muscle, every nerve seize frantically as he remembered. His head sank into his hands and he sobbed like a child then, thrown back into the nightmare, the puzzle that had plagued him ever since he knelt by Kevan’s grave in Manchester, wondering why it felt wrong, troubled by the darkness that interrupted his grief.

Now he understood why Xavier brought him such joy. He had sensed mirrors of his own internal chaos in the younger man. And Xavier did not bring those same demands to the table that he had from other lovers. With every mate he had ever taken there was a pattern, either one pattern or the other. He was the supplicant, bent to the will of a man he wanted to please, as he had been with Brian as a boy, as he had been more or less with Kevan. Or he was the bully, subjugating a younger, more unworldly mate, the way he had with Danny and with Matt.

No one had ever come to him as an equal before. No one had ever been with him who could stand up to him yet not overwhelm him completely. He was not sure what to do with the knowledge.

When his tears finally dried, he pushed himself to his feet and carried on walking. The woods gave way to a sprawling orchard of apple and pear trees, planted with delicious randomness and spreading out onto a rolling lawn that led in turn to the curve of the bathing pool, a lake in effect, that cupped the eastern edge of the Warren estate. There was a boat house there, a little pagoda of hand-carved wood like an elven grotto among the apple trees, and a long wooden pier reaching out into the deeper water.

He walked out onto the rough boards and watched the sun rise with tears shimmering in his eyes. Then, as the water turned gold he lifted his hands and dove into the heart of it, feeling the shimmering chill of the lake engulf him. It turned to dark crystal as he plunged into its depths, astoundingly clear, but deep and black beneath the lilies. Rayne swam hard, fighting the ache in his muscles, then pushed for the surface and broke into the pearly golden light of morning, shaking the water from his hair and disturbing the veil of mist that covered the pool.

Dominic had found him there when he passed that way on his morning run but did not disturb him. Rayne was lying on his back on the very end of the pier, soaking up the sunlight. His aura was peaceful, but sad. Gabriel had already limped home by then and Lord Warren knew the tale. He wanted more than anything to ask what had happened but he kept his peace. He felt guilty enough for the way the truth had come out. Rayne would come to find him if and when he was ready to talk.

And that was where Xavier found his lover, still lying on his back on the end of the long wooden jetty, with one knee drawn up, the other leg outstretched, a hand draped across his belly and its mate dangling limply down towards the water below. His dark hair spilled over the weather-bleached wood and his eyes were closed. As Xavier came closer he could see that there was a dark mottled bruise on one side of his face that almost enclosed his left eye. And there was blood between the fingers of the hand that lay on his stomach.

Hot anger bubbled up in Xavier once more, but this time he knew its source. Even knowing full well Rayne had gone looking for a fight and more, even knowing Gabriel had probably been the one to come out the worse for wear, he was still immensely angry to see Rayne had been hurt. The anger was like a sun flare though, quick and hot and then gone. It had to be gone, because Rayne needed him to be cool headed right now.

He knew that Rayne was aware he was there, although he did not turn his head or stir at all. It was disturbing to see him look so lifeless in this peaceful idyllic setting. If he hadn’t known better he would be more than a little panicked. Rayne had to be freezing as well as hurt and it was all Xav could do to keep from scooping him up to hold him like a child. That would probably not be received well.

He came to a stop beside his lover and lowered himself on his haunches, hesitating for a moment before he touched him, a gentle brush of fingers along his shoulder. 

“Rayne…” he called him softly.

Rayne’s eyes opened briefly, the green faded almost to a pale gold next to the huge darkness of his pupils. They were red-rimmed and sorrowful in the brief instant before his lashes flickered over them and he turned his head away with a little sigh.

“I’m sorry.”

The sadness washed over Xavier, nearly choking him and he dropped his caution in favour of his concern. Going down on one knee he unzipped his sweatshirt, slipped it off, and pulled Rayne into his arms, wrapping the garment around him. 

“Don’t say that. You don’t have anything to be sorry for,” he said, shocked at how chilled Rayne was in his arms.

“You don’t need to do that,” Rayne mumbled, sleepy with the cold. “I’m not gonna get any warmer.”

He did not fight Xavier’s attempts to wrap him up though. The boy was so warm, even without his sweater on. And the lovely familiar heat and scent of him folded around Rayne with the borrowed garment. It filled him with so many conflicting emotions that he did not know whether to laugh or cry. In the end he did both, to his embarrassment, breaking down in Xavier’s arms with a choking sob.

 

Xav pulled him close, his arms wrapping tight around Rayne’s body. 

“Shhh…” he whispered soothingly and kissed his hair. His hands moved in slow caresses over Rayne’s skin as he held him and let him sob. He wished more than anything that he could fix what was wrong, slay the demons plaguing his love, but of course he couldn’t do either for him. He could be here though, he could hold him and be the strong one for a while.

When Rayne’s sobs finally died to a few shuddering hiccups Xavier wiped the tears from his cheeks with gentle fingers. “Do you want to tell me what happened?”

For a moment the vampire just shuddered in his embrace, huffing softly, his pale face wet with spilled tears. There was something akin to fear in his eyes, which was a revelation and a shock for Xavier. He had seen his lover angry, and despondent before but never afraid.

“I remembered something,” he said at last, in a small, broken voice. “I remembered something that I’d rather stayed forgotten.”

Xavier kissed his temple very softly, his hands still moving in slow soothing circles on Rayne’s back. 

“You can talk to me about it if you want to, sweetheart, but I’m not going to make you,” he said. He knew when it was okay to push, and when it wasn’t.

Rayne shook his head slowly. He reached for one of Xavier’s hands but then held back at the last moment from taking it.

“I think that if I look too closely at it right now I’m either gonna be sick or I’m going to have to rip someone’s head off,” he said, gaining a little control of his speech now that he was slowly drawing warmth from the young man beside him. “Jesus Xavier, how could I have been so fuckin’ naive? I feel as if… as if Gabriel drew a curtain back for me and it showed me a whole other side of myself. A person I hadn’t even realised I could be. And now I just wish…” he stopped and swallowed hard, lowering his head so that his dark, wet hair spilled around his face like so many sodden reeds. “I wish I’d never found it out. I wish I could have gone on being that person that you rescued and brought back from Naples. I wish I could just wipe it out of my head completely. Forever!”

Xavier’s fingers closed around Rayne’s hand. He sat there for a long quiet moment before he spoke, choosing his words carefully.

“Part of you wanted to know, Rayne. Part of you wanted to remember it all. You’ve been seeking people out, putting the pieces back together since Paris. Just like you sought me out,” he said and paused to take a breath. He couldn’t seem to block other people’s emotions from seeping into his conscious right now, but he could still lock down his own fairly well when he applied himself, and right now he had everything locked up tight and hidden as deep as he could go.

He was terribly afraid, both for his lover and for what this revelation might do. He had told Aldo that it wasn’t fair to keep the truth from Rayne; that he needed to have his memories and be whole again. He still believed that, yet he couldn’t help wondering if, now that the vampire had all those memories in place, he would push him away again. If that was the price he had to pay for sticking by Rayne until he was well and whole again, then he must bear it, and he had known it might come to that when he had come to London with him. It would probably break his heart beyond repair this time, but he had promised Rayne he would be there for him.

Rayne looked at him earnestly now.

“Is that what I was running away from when I went missing in Paris?” he pondered aloud. “All this time, ever since it happened, I’ve been taking a conscious step away from it? I don’t know, it’s still like a blur in my mind. Like looking through a steamy window. I can’t deal with this now. All I know is that I was so happy, and now…”

He tried to curl up and bury himself in his arms, rocking steadily back and forth as he struggled with the truth of who and what he was. Xavier let him shift but didn’t let him go entirely, still keeping his arms around him gently.

“Ray…does it really make that much difference? Weren’t you the one saying just last night that the past is the past and it doesn’t matter? Why should knowing everything about what happened to you destroy all the happiness you’ve found now?” He paused when Rayne wouldn’t look at him and continued. “I’m still here, it doesn’t make any difference to me, I’m not going anywhere.”

Rayne looked up at him then, a kind of childlike bewilderment in his big green eyes. He caught his breath for a second, blinking at the younger man like a small, damp owl.

“You mean that?” he whispered, as if he didn’t quite dare believe it. “Xavier, I’m not… Jesus! You’re a bright, gorgeous, sorted kid and you’ve got everything ahead of you and you’ve no idea how badly fucked up I can get. I don’t want to drag you down into that. But no one ever…”

Rayne stopped and caught his breath on another little sob as he reached an internal decision, to tell the truth, finally, for better or for worse. “You know what was the worst thing? The most horrible thing of all, even more horrible than being lied to and used and… fucked… and treated like a fucking toy by someone that should have looked after me?” He swallowed hard, wrestling down the tears and shaking his head angrily. “Afterwards… it went to court, and I had to stand up in front of my family and in front of complete strangers and tell them all the disgusting things that my own uncle made me do. And he sat there smiling, the cunt! But that wasn’t the worst thing. After they’d sent him down and I went home it was like… what the fuck am I meant to do now? No one ever told me what would happen next or how I was meant to deal with it, Xavier. And the worst thing… the very worst thing, even worse than my mum being not there, almost… my own dad couldn’t look at me. He couldn’t look me in the eye and he wouldn’t touch me at all. And I just… I just wanted him to hold me and tell me it was… it was… going to be all right!”

He buried his face in his hands and the tears came again, spilling through his long, cold fingers like rain.

Xavier was very, very glad he had already clamped down so hard on his own emotions. As it was he had a hard time swallowing around the tight knot in his throat and felt a cold lead ball churning sickeningly in his stomach as Rayne revealed this dark secret. He held Rayne and rocked him gently and murmured soothing things into his damp hair and skin as he broke down and cried again.

Black and evil things from his own past tried to claw their way up and he resolutely held them down because he didn’t think he could deal with that and comfort his lover. When Rayne’s tears slowed again and he had his head resting on Xavier’s shoulder and Xav was literally holding him in his lap he finally thought he could speak again, although his voice came out raw and hoarse.

“You know…” He had to clear his throat before he could go on. “You know…after my mom died, when I got a little older, and I wasn’t so scared any more, I thought about going back and telling someone about what my mom’s boyfriend had done to me. I’m glad I didn’t have to go through facing him in a courtroom though. That must have been so hard for you.”

He lifted Rayne’s chin with the edge of his finger and kissed him lightly. “I wish I could go back in time and hold you then, Rayne, and tell you it will be all right. I can’t go back, but I can do it now.”

Rayne gazed into his eyes like a drowning man, filled with a last dying hope. He leaned into Xavier’s warmth gratefully.

“Please…” he whispered. “Oh… please!”

Xav wrapped his arms tightly around Rayne’s shuddering body, closing his eyes tight against the sting of tears in his own eyes as Rayne buried his face into his shoulder and soaked his tee shirt with his tears. 

“Shhhhh…shhhh….Ray, it’s gonna be alright. I promise you it’s going to be all right,” he murmured huskily over and over as he held him and rocked him gently. “He’s long gone and he won’t ever hurt you again,” Xav told him, kissing the top of his damp hair, running his hands soothingly over his back. “I love you Rayne. No matter what happened before, none of it matters, and none of it was your fault.”

Rayne curled into his arms, still dazed and weak from the unanticipated flood of emotion. In over twenty years he had never let down his barriers like this and he was still slightly scared that it was the wrong thing to have done. Xavier was bold and brave but was he really up to this? Could he really take everything that Rayne was on board and soak it up?

But when he considered the other option, which was to close the walls around himself again, and maybe this time lose him forever… He did not think that he was ready to do that. Right now he could not move forward without Xavier by his side.

Tomorrow was another day, but today he would take things one breath at a time.

“You are unbelievable, do you know that?” he whispered softly into the warm skin at the curve of Xavier’s shoulder and neck.

Xav shook his head slightly. He didn’t think he was anything special. “Are you ready to go back to the house sweetheart? I could probably carry you but more than likely I’d trip over some goddamn tree root and drop us both on our asses.”

“My hero!” Rayne laughed weakly at that and shook his head. “I can walk. I’m gonna need to feed really soon though. I feel totally shit!”

“You didn’t take much from me last night.” Xavier said. “You could take a bite from me now, if you wanted.”

“You’re still recovering, sweetheart.” Rayne slid one arm through Xavier’s and levered himself to his feet, swaying slightly. “I need a serious feed, and I don’t want to take that much from you. I think you need it more than I do right now.”

He leaned into Xav though and touched his cold lips softly to his lover’s. Xavier brought his hand up and slid his fingers around to the back of Rayne’s neck, taking a moment to kiss him properly before they started to walk up the dock and back to the house.

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